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Bella and me - David Peattie version!by Deborah Underwood

Congratulations, PiBoIdMo-ers! You’re more than halfway home! (56.6666% home, but who’s counting?)

At this point in the game, you may be a little stuck. Believe me, I know the feeling. When I’m devoid of ideas, sometimes remembering the origins of an existing manuscript yields clues about how I might forge ahead.

So, in hopes that it might help you, let me share the genesis of Here Comes the Easter Cat, illustrated by Claudia Rueda. The book resulted from three things that happened in June of 2011:

1) I was floundering around looking for inspiration, so I wrote to a friend, the founder of an animal museum. I asked if there was a kids’ book she saw a need for, something that might be helpful to her in her work. She mentioned that a woman she knew had trouble finding suitable Easter books for her vegan book review site. I didn’t find the idea of writing an Easter book particularly compelling, so I thanked her and promptly forgot about her suggestion. (Or so I thought!)

2) A few weeks later, I had a weirdly illustrator-centric week. I had coffee with one visiting illustrator, coffee another day with two others, and lunch with a local illustrator friend.


3) Several days after that, I was sitting on my bed, still trying to come up with a viable idea. My cat Bella was sprawled in front of me, so I idly doodled a cat. The cat looked grumpy. I asked why, and, to my surprise, the cat held up a sign with the Easter Bunny on it. Intrigued, I continued to ask the cat questions, and Here Comes the Easter Cat took shape.





Why did I decide to draw? I’m not sure, but I’ll bet it was because I’d just talked with all those illustrators.

And why did the Easter Bunny show up on Cat’s sign? Undoubtedly because my friend had mentioned that Easter book a few weeks earlier.

So the book idea came about because:

  • I actively sought input from someone outside my usual circle.
  • I took off my pajamas—horrors!—and got out into the world, and in doing so, learned more about how illustrators work.
  • I gave myself the space to think (sitting on my bed, trying to be receptive) and to play (doodling).

So I was active, and I was passive. I soaked up information from others, and I experimented with something outside my area of expertise. If any of those elements hadn’t been present, I suspect there would be no Cat.

Here are my original sketches alongside Claudia Rueda’s terrific finished art:




In particular, the drawing component was critical. So I encourage you to play around with doodling or sketching, even if you think you’re not an artist. Here Comes Easter Cat came out earlier this year, Here Comes Santa Cat was just released, and two more Cat books are in the queue. I’m very, very glad I did that first Cat sketch.

One more thing: when I began Easter Cat, I was not thinking of the market. I was definitely not saying, “What the world really needs is an 80-page picture book!” or “I’ll bet my editor is dying to see a stack of sketches by someone who can’t draw!”

Rather, I was having a conversation with Cat for the best of reasons: it amused me. It made me laugh. And what I loved turned out to be what my agent and my editor loved, too.

I am embarrassed to say that I need to remind myself of this over and over. It’s so easy to get caught up in questions like “What do editors want?” and “What can I sell?”

When really, the critical question is, “What do I love?”

So write with your heart. And draw! And if one of your sketches starts talking to you? You should probably pay attention. Best of luck!


Deborah Underwood grew up in Walla Walla, Washington. When she was little, she wanted to be an astronomer. Then she wanted to be a singer. Then she wanted to be a writer. Today her jobs are writing and singing. Two out of three’s not bad! (Okay, she also wanted to work in a piano factory and paste the labels on new pianos, but let’s just ignore that one.)

She’s the author of THE QUIET BOOK, THE LOUD BOOK, PART-TIME PRINCESS, the SUGAR PLUM BALLERINAS series (with Whoopi Goldberg), and, of course THE CAT books, among others.

When she’s not writing, you might find her singing in a chamber choir, playing a ukulele (very badly), walking around in Golden Gate Park, baking vegan cookies, or petting any dogs, cats, pigs, or turkeys that happen to be nearby.

You can connect with her at or on Twitter @underwoodwriter.


Deborah is giving away one copy of EASTER CAT and one copy of SANTA CAT!

eastercat  Santa Cat

These prizes will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for these prizes if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

by Deborah Underwood

It’s the end of the month. Hooray! And congratulations!

If you’re brilliant, you have thirty picture book ideas, all of which can be transformed into stunning manuscripts. If this is you, stop reading here; take the rest of the day off.

If you’re like me, however, you have thirty sparks. Thirty scraggly shoots. Thirty teensy brown-paper-wrapped parcels of hope.

Now it’s time to test them for viability.

Here’s the image that always comes to my mind during this part of the process: I’m in a dentist’s chair. The dentist pokes and scrapes at a suspicious tooth, gently at first, then harder, then really hard. I silently pray, “Please don’t find anything wrong. Please. Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease.”

My ideas are my babies. I love them. But my ultimate goal is to get manuscripts out into the world. If an idea isn’t strong enough, better to let it go than to spend the next month banging my head against my desk.

So here are some suggestions as you begin your deliberations:

1)  Check for competition.
If my idea hinges on a distinctive title, I Google and hope the title doesn’t turn up elsewhere. If it centers on an unusual animal or situation, I go to or Books in Print and search for similar books. If it’s a hook-y concept, and I can’t remember if I’ve seen it before, I ask around (a good children’s librarian can be your best friend for this type of thing).

2)  Make sure the plot—or the concept, for concept books—is strong.
Sometimes I turn an idea over and over in my mind and come to the sad realization that it’s just not different or special enough. Out it goes. But if you have a great character drowning in a mediocre idea, toss him a life preserver; maybe you can find him another home.

3)  Think about marketability.
We all know the picture book market is tough. If I have a choice between developing a high-concept story or a clever but obscure idea that will require a book with expensive flaps, pull tabs, and a triangular fuchsia mirror, I’m going to go with the former.

4)  Don’t think about marketability.
Ha—fooled you! It’s good to be aware of trends.And if an editor says she’s looking for a book about platypuses, and you happen to have one (or think you can write one), you’d be silly not to give it a shot.


If you have a potentially hard-to-market idea that you really, truly love, an idea that floods you with energy and fills you with joy, here’s my advice, courtesy of Admiral Farragut: Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

We simply cannot allow our creativity to be controlled by conventional wisdom. I know everyone’s saying picture books need to be—what is it now, less than seven words long? Maybe it’s six this week.

You know what? I’d bet good money that in the next year or two, some brilliant, 2,000-word picture book will take the publishing world by storm. It will be a bestseller. It will be adored by both critics and kids. And it will exist because some writer had the courage of her convictions, and because some editor was gutsy enough to take a chance on it.

I adore Press Here by Hervé Tullet. Is it character driven? No. Did Tullet write it because he read a market update saying, “Editors are seeking unconventional, graphic-driven books that readers can poke with their fingers”? Unlikely.

I’ll bet he wrote it for one reason:

The idea delighted him.

And now it delights us.

We want to write great books. And greatness does not come from following trends. It comes from breaking boundaries. So let’s get out there and break some, shall we?

Deborah’s picture books include The Quiet Book, The Loud Book, A Balloon for IsabelGranny Gomez & Jigsaw, and the forthcoming Part-Time Princess and The Christmas Quiet Book. Deborah is the author of the easy reader Pirate Mom, and she co-writes the Sugar Plum Ballerina chapter book series with Whoopi Goldberg. She has also written more than 25 nonfiction books for kids. Please visit her online at

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