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by Tammi Sauer

When writing picture books, I like to challenge myself to try new things. With TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE!, for example, I wanted to tell a real deal story for the younger crowd that incorporated a wide variety of trucks and as few words as possible. I also loved the idea of framing a story using the familiar kids’ game “Duck, Duck, Goose.”

Three things in particular helped me to create this 45-word story about a silly goose who, unbeknownst to him, creates—then fixes!—a terrific truck traffic jam. Those three things were mentor texts, art notes, and flexibility.

  • Mentor Texts:

I studied the books RAIN! and NO DOGS ALLOWED! by Linda Ashman. Linda is a master at creating books with limited text. She even shared the manuscripts for these books on her website, lindaashman.com.

One thing I learned from Linda’s examples was that it was helpful to paginate my limited-text story. Not only did paginating my story allow me to better visualize each spread, but it pushed me to establish the necessary pacing of the story and provide compelling page turns as well.

  • Art Notes:

In TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE!, the pictures convey the bulk of the storytelling. Many spreads contain only one word. Three spreads are wordless. But here’s the thing. Each spread in this 40-page book is necessary for the story to build to a climax and an eventual resolution. This means Zoe Waring, the oh-so-awesome illustrator, had to present a truckload of information in her art.

Typically, I only include a few art notes in my manuscripts. This was not the case withTRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE! In my notes, I had to share what was not readily obvious in the text…which was A LOT.

These are the original opening spreads for TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE! (The art notes are presented in brackets. The text is presented in boldface type.):

End Pages
[A roundabout is filled with bustling traffic. Its central island is a lovely area.]

Title Page
[Goose is packing a big picnic lunch for himself. A map shows his intended destination is the center of a roundabout. It looks like the perfect spot for a picnic.]

4-5
[At roundabout.]
Truck . . . [pickup truck]

6-7
Truck . . . [dump truck]
Truck . . . [mixing truck]

8-9
GOOSE!
[Goose interrupts the flow of things to get to the center of the roundabout. He’s holding a picnic blanket, umbrella, goose crossing sign, etc. He has so much stuff he can’t carry it all at once.]

  • Flexibility:

After Zoe completed the first couple of rounds of sketches, it was obvious that some things weren’t quite working. Jill Davis, the editor, Rachel Zegar, the art director, Zoe, and I did lots of brainstorming to make this seemingly simple story less complicated.

One suggestion I made, for example, was to set up the story a bit more specifically in the very beginning. Now, before we even see the first truck, we see Goose holding a to-do list.

This is the new text addition:

PICNIC TO-DO LIST:

Choose picnic spot.

Pack a big lunch.

Take everything I need.

Not only does this addition clearly let us know what Goose’s goal is from the start, but we know a little bit about his personality right away, too. He’s a guy who tends to go a little overboard. The art shows that he packs everything from bananas to a swim floatie to a giant red piano for his picnic that takes place just a few feet from his house.

TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE! sold in a two-book deal to HarperCollins. Goose and company return for more mayhem next summer in the companion book, GO FISH!

Tammi Sauer is a full time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has sold 29 picture books to major publishing houses including Disney*Hyperion, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish. She wants you to know that no geese were harmed in the making of this book. Visit herr at tammisauer.com.

Tammi is giving away a copy of TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE! to one lucky duck commenter.

Leave a comment below to enter. A random winner will be selected in about two weeks.

Good duck! (Err, LUCK!)

by Tammi Sauer

I have been a part of Storystorm (formerly known as PiBoIdMo) ever since Tara introduced it back in 2009. Each year, as a guest blogger, I have shared one of my idea-getting strategies. I’ve mentioned everything from “celebrating the weird stuff in your life” to starting with a setting to playing with various structures. Each year, I have also accepted the challenge to come up with at least 30 picture book ideas.

And, each year, do you know how many of my 30+ ideas are good ones?

25? 10? 5?!

The answer is 1. Occasionally 2.

My other 29+ ideas? They are okay ideas. But okay ideas do not result in offers.

During PiBoIdMo 2013, I jotted down this snippet of an idea: funny rules for having an unusual pet.

I felt the idea had potential. But I needed a story. I needed a beginning, middle, and end. I needed a character readers could care about. I needed conflict. I, um, needed a lot.

Also, around this time, I had been wanting to write a book using the how-to structure.

Hmm.

Then one spring day, while I was in PetSmart with my son, everything clicked.

I saw a rack filled with brochures. Each brochure provided information on caring for a particular pet. There was a brochure on dwarf hamsters, a brochure on guinea pigs, a brochure on geckos.

 

I suddenly knew exactly what I needed to do! I was going to write a pet care guide for a lion!

My favorite part about working on this manuscript was that I wanted the text to play the straight man to the art. I wanted the text to read as if caring for a lion is easy. I wanted the art to show that it is anything but. Because of this, I included more art notes than usual.

CARING FOR YOUR LION sold at auction to Sterling.

We ended up finding the perfect illustrator in Troy Cummings. Not only did Troy get the humor of the manuscript, but he amped it up to ridiculously wonderful proportions. Plus, he created the purrr-fect case cover for this book. (I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I won’t reveal it here.)

This is what Kirkus had to say about Caring for Your Lion:

“Sauer’s terse text, presented as the steps in the care manual for the lion, are tongue-in-cheek smile-inducing, as are accompanying black-and-white diagrams from the manual. However, their interaction with Cummings’ full-color, digitally created illustrations of a light-brown-skinned child and the full-grown male lion that was delivered instead of a kitten are laugh-out-loud fun. Allow plenty of time to giggle over the details.”

I am so grateful to Tara for creating this challenge. Because of StoryStorm, the following books got their start:

  • Nugget & Fang (HMH, 2013)
  • Your Alien (Sterling, 2015)
  • Your Alien Returns (Sterling, 2016)
  • Caring for Your Lion (Sterling, 2017)
  • Truck, Truck, Goose! (HarperCollins, 2017)
  • Wordy Birdy + a sequel (Doubleday BFYR, 2018, 2019)
  • Knock, Knock (Scholastic, 2018)
  • Go Fish! (HarperCollins, 2018)
  • The Farm that Mac Built (HMH, TBA)
  • Quiet Wyatt (HMH, TBA)

Plus, I recently received an offer on a book that began as an idea in StoryStorm 2017. I think this world needs Tara Lazar Day. Until then, I came up with one small way to celebrate Tara. One of the aforementioned books is dedicated to her.

Tammi Sauer is a full time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has sold 29 picture books to major publishing houses including Disney*Hyperion, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish (but no lions). Visit her at tammisauer.com.

 

Tammi is giving away a Caring for Your Lion prize pack to one lucky commenter. A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

This pack may or may not come with a real lion.

You’ve been warned.

by Tammi Sauer

I am a huge fan of Storystorm (formerly known as PiBoIdMo). Many of my books started right here!

YOUR ALIEN, my book with Goro Fujita, for example, first appeared on my 2012 PiBoIdMo list. That year, I decided to step away from the classic picture book structure which has served me well in many of my books including BAWK & ROLL!, MOSTLY MONSTERLY, and PRINCESS IN TRAINING, and I challenged myself to try other approaches. I wrote ROAR! (Paula Wiseman/S&S, 2015), a book entirely in dialogue. I wrote MARY HAD A LITTLE GLAM (Sterling, 2016), my first rhymer. I also really, really, really wanted to write:

  • a circle story*
  • told in second-person narration**
  • that starred a little alien***.

I mean, who doesn’t?!

To come up with the plot for this manuscript, I asked myself the biggest two-word question I know:

whatif

  • What if…a little alien accidentally crash-lands in a boy’s yard?
  • What if…the boy wants to keep him?
  • What if…the boy takes him to school?
  • What if…the boy and the alien have an amazing day, but, when nighttime comes, the boy discovers something is wrong with his alien?

Each of these questions pushed me to consider what happened next in the story. If one question took me to a dead end, I gave myself a detour. I simply asked myself a new “What If..?” question.

The sequel, YOUR ALIEN RETURNS, debuted in October. I used the “What if…?” approach for determining the plot for this book as well.

youralienreturns-cover
youralienreturnsspread1

youralienreturnsspread2

Maybe you’d like to give the “What if…?” approach a try.

Select one character and one situation (or choose your own!). Ask yourself, “What if…a (character) (situation)?” Next ask yourself, “And then what? And then what? And then what?”

charsitch

*Circle Story: what happens at the very end of the story echoes something that happened in the very beginning of the story
**Second Person Narration: addresses the reader directly and uses the pronouns “you,” “your,” and “yours”
***alien
_________________________________________________________________________tammisauer-authorpic-2015bwTammi Sauer is a full-time children’s book author who also presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has sold 28 picture books to major publishing houses including Disney*Hyperion, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. In addition to winning awards, Tammi’s books have gone on to do great things. CHICKEN DANCE: THE MUSICAL is currently on a national tour, NUGGET & FANG was a featured book at the 2015 Scholastic Book Fair, and YOUR ALIEN, an NPR Best Book of 2015, was recently released in Italian, Spanish, Korean, and French which makes her feel extra fancy.

You can learn more about Tammi and her books at tammisauer.com.

prizedetails
alienbuttonsAttention, earthlings! Tammi is giving away a signed copy of YOUR ALIEN RETURNS, a bookmark annnnd an out-of-this-world alien button.

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

Meredith Mundy headshotby Meredith Mundy

I recently celebrated my 20th anniversary as a children’s book editor. (Still loving it as much as ever!) One of the questions I am still asked most often is why an author and illustrator so rarely collaborate directly. Why WOULDN’T it be a great thing for the two creative parents to discuss and brainstorm? Why don’t I encourage lengthy Skype chats about their amazing book-to-be? What’s up with those control-freak publishers anyway?!

Most people assume the worst: surely author and illustrator are kept apart so the publishers can hold all the cards, hoard all the power. But I am here to tell you this couldn’t be further from the truth! The reason editors and art directors keep the wordsmith separate from the artist is to allow for maximum inspiration and creative freedom on BOTH sides. Authors needn’t weigh down their manuscripts with descriptions of scenery or characters, and illustrators are allowed unencumbered freedom to conjure with paintbrush or pixels the story’s characters and surroundings without trying to match an author’s vision of them.

I’d like to share three very recent examples of how well it can work out when an author trusts an illustrator and refuses to define how a character should look or how a plot should unfold visually:

  1. When Tara Lazar sent in her hilarious picture book manuscript for NORMAL NORMAN, in which a scientist attempts to pin down a definition for the word “normal,” I needled her to tell me more. Who exactly is this scientist? And who—or what—is Norman?? But Tara could not be persuaded—she had complete faith that illustrator Stephan Britt (AKA S.britt) would know exactly what to do with the scientist narrator and his or her mysterious test subject. It was fascinating to see Stephan experiment.
    .
    First Norman looked a bit like a lion.Normal Norman stripe sketch

    Then he looked more like a friendly monster.

    Normal Norman colorful sketch (1)

    Finally Stephan found exactly the right Norman.

    Normal Norman unicycle

    Who knew he would be a purple orangutan in square-frame glasses?!

    And much to our surprise, the scientist turned out to be a young Latina girl in black Mary Janes and a stylish bob. This certainly would NOT have been the case had Tara (or art director Merideth Harte or I) attempted to sway Stephan in some definite direction.

    normalnormancoverfinal

  2. Tammi Sauer is another author who very rarely includes illustration notes in her manuscripts. When I acquired YOUR ALIEN, I asked Tammi what the lost extraterrestrial in her story might look like, and all she would say is that she hoped it would be so adorable that readers everywhere would wish for an alien to crash land in THEIR front yards.

    youralien
    By giving illustrator Goro Fujita complete carte blanche to imagine the cutest alien in the whole universe, Tammi got exactly what she’d hoped for. See for yourself!Your Alien interior-endpaper
  3. My final example of an author bravely allowing an illustrator’s inspiration to take the driver’s seat is Kim Norman and her charming THIS OLD VAN, sung to the tune of “This Old Man.”
    .
    This Old Van book coverNot only did she boldly leave wide open what exactly the characters should look like . . . she also left the entire ending up for grabs! In this rollicking picture book road trip, a pair of hippie grandparents receive a very important invitation from their grandson. Soon they are zipping cross-country in their trusty old van, which must deliver them to their destination in time for The Big Event. But WHAT IS THAT EVENT?, I kept asking Kim. She assured me that illustrator Carolyn Conahan would come up with something PERFECT, but I was too anxious. Surely an illustrator would want some guidance from the author on something as crucial as the ending, wouldn’t she?? Reluctantly, at my insistence, Kim brainstormed a few ideas—perhaps the grandson was starring in the school play or had a big solo in a recital? Carolyn wisely ignored the illustration notes and surprised us with a grand finale so clever that any alternative is unthinkable now: of course the grandson is racing his own miniature version of the old van in the Downhill Derby!

    This Old Van interior - right side of spread

For those of you writing picture books, I challenge you to leave 50% of the inspiration to an illustrator. You are not alone and by no means have to do all the heavy lifting. Write the story and then step away. And for those of you illustrating picture books, I challenge you to ignore any illustration notes that don’t inspire you! Trust one another from afar, inspire one another at a distance, and then get together AFTER the book is printed to celebrate what your wonderful, individual, untainted visions brought into the world.


Meredith Mundy, Executive Editor at Sterling Children’s Books, has always had a passion for character-centered picture books with heart, but she is also seeking everything from funny, original board books to unforgettable middle grade novels to gripping contemporary YA fiction. While she enjoys editing lively nonfiction, she wouldn’t be the right editor for poetry collections or projects geared primarily toward the school and library market.

Meredith is very proud to be blogging alongside such a wonderful group of people, including five stellar Sterling authors/illustrators whose picture books are among her very favorites: Josh Funk, Tara Lazar, Kim Norman, Tammi Sauer, and Liza Woodruff.

PrizeDetails (2)
Want to give the slush pile the slip? Want to know what advice a seasoned picture book editor would give you? Now’s your chance! Meredith is giving away a free picture book critique.

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize 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!

Tammi.authorpic2015by Tammi Sauer

A few months ago, I introduced a new character—Ginny Louise. In Ginny Louise and the School Showdown, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, it’s clear that Ginny Louise’s defining characteristic is that she is irrepressibly cheerful. No matter what comes her way, she is happy, happy, happy.

ginnylouisehighrescover ginnylouise.spotart1

Soon afterward, another character of mine crash-landed in a boy’s front yard. In Your Alien, illustrated by Goro Fujita, I wanted to create an irresistible alien that every earthling would love to have for his or her very own.

youralien alien

In my latest book Roar!, illustrated by Liz Starin, a young boy is the main character. His defining characteristic is that he wants, wants, wants to be a big, scary, fire-breathing dragon.

7a_COVERroar.trio

Knowing those characters inside and out helped me to make each book feel authentic.

Sometimes I really struggle to come up with an irresistible character. This calls for some brainstorming. By figuring out the details about a character, I can often uncover his or her story.

For this brainstorming exercise, fill in as many blanks as you can. You won’t use a lot of this information in your manuscript, but these details will help you to get to know your character. Sometimes all it takes to get a story started is discovering a character’s disposition, pet peeve, or fear.

Who knows? Maybe YOUR character is just what an editor is hoping to introduce to the world.

PB CHARACTER BIO
BASICS
Type (kid, monster, chicken, alien…):
Name:

FAVORITES
Color:
Food:
Item of clothing:
Book:
Type of music:
Class:

EXTRAS
Disposition:
Hobbies:
Talents:
Pet Peeves:
Flaws:
Secret:

THE BIG THREE
What is his/her biggest fear?
What does he/she want more than anything?
What is stopping him/her from getting it?


Tammi Sauer is a former teacher and library media specialist who has visited hundreds of schools and spoken at various conferences across the nation. To date, Tammi has sold 24 picture books to major publishing houses (Bloomsbury, Disney*Hyperion, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling). In addition to winning awards, her books have gone on to do great things. Mostly Monsterly was selected for the 2012 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program. Me Want Pet! was recently released in French which makes her feel extra fancy. And Nugget and Fang, along with Tammi herself, was featured on the Spring 2015 Scholastic Book Fair DVD which was shared with millions of students. Visit her on the web at tammisauer.com.

PrizeDetails (2)
Tammi is giving away a signed copy of ROAR!

ROAR!, written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Liz Starin, stars a little boy and two dragons who discover what it takes to ignite a friendship.

The trailer for ROAR! includes cameo appearances from some of today’s fiercest authors and illustrators. You’ve been warned. Please view responsibly.

.

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Tammi is ALSO giving away a picture book critique!

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

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!

tammiforsiteby Tammi Sauer

Psst. Hey, you there. Yes, you. Do you want to wow an editor with your next picture book manuscript? Great!

It only takes one thing. Come up with the next Fancy Nancy, Olivia, or Skippyjon Jones. Editors are wading through their slush and/or agented submissions in the hopes of finding an irresistible, can’t-put-down, character-driven manuscript. They want manuscripts that make them feel something and a great character can do just that.

Examples of strong characters in picture books:

OLIVIA by Ian Falconer
Olivia is a feisty little piglet who has too much energy for her own good.

FANCY NANCY by Jane O’Connor
Nancy is very into fanciness whereas her family is not.

SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner
Skippyjon Jones is a little kitty with a big imagination.

A PET FOR PETUNIA by Paul Schmid
An exuberant Petunia wants, wants, wants a pet she really shouldn’t have.

DINOSAUR VS. BEDTIME by Bob Shea
The seemingly unstoppable Dinosaur is very much into his own bad self.

CLARK THE SHARK by Bruce Hale
Clark has super-sized enthusiasm which leads to all kinds of mayhem.

Developing a unique and engaging character like the ones listed above, however, is a huge challenge.
When I’m working on a new picture book manuscript, I remind myself that if people don’t care about my main character, they won’t care about my story.

I always keep A.R.F. in mind.

A stands for Active.
I want my main character to be doing something. No one wants to read about a kid who just sits on the couch all day with a bag of Doritos.

R stands for Relatable.
I want my main character to connect with readers. I want readers to think, “Yeah, I know what that feels like.”

F stands for Flawed.
I want my main character to have some sort of flaw. Nobody longs to read about little miss perfect. Yawn. Perfect is boring. A flawed character is much more interesting. A bonus? A flaw often increases the story’s tension and makes the character more endearing and root-worthy to readers.

In my latest book, GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL SHOWDOWN (Disney*Hyperion), illustrated by Lynn Munsinger(!!!), Ginny Louise is the new kid at school.

ginnylouise.spotart

But Truman Elementary is no ordinary school. This is made clear at the very beginning of the book:

The Truman Elementary Troublemakers were a bad bunch.

Especially these three: Cap’n Catastrophe, Destructo Dude, and Make-My-Day May.

Day after day, these scoundrels made waves.

They dodged danger.

And in the classroom?

You don’t even want to know what went on.

ginnylouise.spread1

Ginny Louise is Active. She happily goes about her school day. She paints, she sings, she learns things. All the while, she is oblivious to the fact that everything she does drives the Truman Elementary Troublemakers bonkers.

Ginny Louise is Relatable. She doesn’t fit in with her classmates in the classroom or out on the playground. (Readers can empathize with her because everyone has experienced the feeling of not fitting in at one time or another.)

Ginny Louise is Flawed. She only hears what she wants to hear. This results in all kinds of miscommunication.

By the book’s end, this active, relatable, flawed character turns things around at Truman Elementary. Well. For the most part. 🙂

GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL SHOWDOWN debuts TODAY! Next summer, Ginny Louise and the rest of the gang return for more mayhem in GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL FIELD DAY.

ginnylouisehighrescover

And now it’s a great giveaway for GINNY LOUISE!

Leave a comment naming your favorite PB character and you will be entered to win a signed, first-edition copy of GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL SHOWDOWN!

One comment per person, please. 

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

Tammi Sauer is a former teacher and library media specialist. She has sold 23 picture books to major publishing houses. In addition to winning awards, her books have gone on to do great things. Mostly Monsterly was selected for the 2012 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program. Me Want Pet! was recently released in French which makes her feel extra fancy. And Nugget and Fang, along with Tammi herself, appeared on the Spring 2015 Scholastic Book Fair DVD which was seen by millions of kids across the nation. Tammi’s books Ginny Louise and the School Showdown (Disney*Hyperion), Your Alien (Sterling), and Roar! (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman) debut in 2015.

You can visit Tammi online at tammisauer.com and at picturebookbuilders.com.

tammiforsiteby Tammi Sauer                                                             

For PiBoIdMo 2012, my blog post focused on a variety of ways a writer can structure a picture book.

This time around, I wanted to share a different approach to framing a story.

*drum roll, please*

THE HOW-TO… STRUCTURE

The How-To…Structure offers readers information on, you guessed it, how to do something.

Keep in mind, however, this structure isn’t just a list of bland, disjointed steps for accomplishing a task. Nope. Nope. Nope. These steps (along with the art) need to tell a real deal story. There should be a beginning, middle, and end. There should be characters, conflict, plot, setting…. There should be opportunities for your readers to feel something.

Some good examples of books that use the How-To… Structure are as follows:

Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

vampirina

So You Want to Be a Rock Star by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Kirstie Edmunds

rockstar

How to Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan , illustrated by Lee Wildish

babysitgrandpa

How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth by Michelle Robinison, illustrated by Kate Hindley

washwoolly

Your Challenge: Jot down a few possibilities for some How-To… books of your own. It might help to think in terms of a title. Even easier, just fill in the blanks to the prompts below and see where they take you.

How to__________

Guide to Being a ________

The __________ Handbook

This is what happened when I just filled in those blanks:

How to Catch a Dragon

Guide to Being a Big Brother

The Pirate’s Handbook

Extra Credit: Analyze the picture books I mentioned earlier in this post. How did those authors incorporate the How-To…Structure? Do you see some sort of story arc in these books? Did you notice any special word play? The rule of threes? What did you find particularly satisfying in those books?

Happy brainstorming, everybody!

guestbloggerbio2014

Tammi Sauer is the author of Nugget & Fang, Princess in Training, and many other picture books. She has another eleven under contract. Her latest manuscript sold at auction. It followed the How to…Structure. Ooh.

You can visit Tammi at tammisauer.com and at picturebookbuilders.com.

prizedetails2014

nuggetandfang

Tammi is giving away a signed copy of Nugget & Fang which won the 2014 Oklahoma Book Award, made the 2014 Texas 2X2 Reading List, and will be one of the featured books at the 2015 Scholastic Book Fair. Nugget & Fang was a PiBoIdMo 2009 Success Story.

Tammi will also give a picture book critique to another lucky duck winner.

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!

 

tammiforsiteby Tammi Sauer

For me, the absolute hardest part about the picture book creating process is coming up with a good idea. A wow idea. An irresistible-to-editors idea.

One approach that has worked for me is to brainstorm a list of potential titles before I even know a single word of a manuscript. I keep in mind that I don’t want a book of mine to have just any title. I always try to have a title that pops. Why? The title is a writer’s first chance to make a good impression and hook a possible agent/editor/reader.

Two of my books started with a title.

One day, while waiting for my daughter to find a book at the library, I sat down on a bench. Next to me was a book on etiquette. I flipped through the book and came across the words “princess in training.” My first thought? That would make a great idea for a picture book….and…

princessintraininghres

…In fall 2012, PRINCESS IN TRAINING, illustrated by Joe Berger, made its debut.

Another day, I was playing around with words that rhymed with names. As I brainstormed, the words “Quiet Wyatt” popped into my head. QUIET WYATT recently sold to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR.

My latest manuscript is the result of a title that grabbed hold and said, “You must drop everything and write this.” So I did. A good title can be very pushy. And intoxicating.

If you want to come up with a title as a starting point, consider using these strategies:

  • Showcase a Main Character

examples: Vampirina Ballerina; Fancy Nancy; Scaredy Squirrel

  • Focus on the Setting

examples: Cowboy Camp; In the Small, Small Pond; The Library

  • Create a Sense of Suspense

examples: The Monster at the End of This Book; Do Not Open This Book

  • Utilize Fun Language Play

examples: Chicks and Salsa; Hush, Little Dragon; Llama, Llama Misses Mama

Side Note: I happen to be wildly jealous of the upcoming books There Was an Old Dragon by Penny Klostermann and Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen simply because I am gah-gah over those titles. Why didn’t I think of those titles?! Why?? WHY????

Your Homework Should You Choose To Accept It: Brainstorm at least five titles. That’s it. No need to know the nitty-gritty of what is to follow. Just jot down those titles and maybe, just maybe, a story will sneak up on you.

Extra Credit (because I am a true blue nerd who loves extra credit opportunities): Go to the bookstore and jot down the titles of the books you see. Perhaps one of those titles will be the perfect trigger to help you come up with your next big idea.

guestbio

Tammi Sauer has sold 16 picture books to major publishing houses. Four of those books got their start through PiBoIdMo. In addition to winning awards, Tammi’s books have gone on to do great things. Cowboy Camp was developed into a musical in Katy, Texas. Mostly Monsterly was selected for the 2012 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program. And Chicken Dance was released in French which makes her feel extra fancy. There’s more fun stuff at TammiSauer.com.

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Sink your teeth into this prize pack that features Tammi’s latest release: one personalized copy of NUGGET & FANG, one super shiny poster with a teacher’s guide on the back, and two Nugget tattoos that look fabulous on any bicep (or fin).

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Nugget & Fang is a 2009 PiBoIdMo Success Story!

And…Tammi’s also offering a picture book critique to another lucky winner!

This prize pack and critique 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!

nuggetandfangDudes, it’s new Tammi Sauer! YES!!!! *Jersey fist pump*

Ya know Tammi, right? She’s the most prolific picture book author this side of the Atlantic! (And that side, too.)

An annual contributor to Picture Book Idea Month, Tammi has dispensed invaluable picture book pointers about story structure, celebrating the weird stuff in life, and putting a twist on the familiar. She’s also a regular PiBoIdMo participant, and NUGGET AND FANG is her success story from the November 2009 event!

So the unlikely underwater duo are here today to chomp away! (Don’t worry, Tammi’s here, too. Fang didn’t gobble her up.)

Tammi, what about unlikely friendship stories makes them so fun to write?

If two characters are at odds in some big way, that immediately builds in tension and offers real deal conflict. This can provide great opportunities for humor, too. That’s fun stuff! Some unlikely friendships deal with issues such as neatness versus messiness or quiet versus loud. The quandary that my characters face is clear–sharks and minnows aren’t supposed to be friends because everybody knows sharks EAT minnows.

Sharks are popular characters these days! What makes FANG stand out in the world of storybook selachimorpha? (Yes, that is a real word. I looked it up. Honest.)

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Michael Slack’s first sketch of the carnivorous chums.

I love that I have a contender in storybook selachimorpha. It sounds super sophisticated. As for Fang, he stands out among regular sharks because he has a huge heart. Yes, he’s toothy, but, holy mackerel, my guy is irresistible. If I were a minnow, I’d be honored to be his friend.

What are some of your favorite unlikely friendship stories/books?

My Favorite Unlikely Friendship Story of 2012 was BOY + BOT by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. That book is brilliant in 2,465 different ways. Plus, Ame has blue hair. (Tara’s note: sometimes it’s pink or purple, or even rainbow leopard.)

A fun and endearing unlikely friendship story that just came out this past February is WOOBY AND PEEP written by my oh-so-fabulous critique partner Cynthea Liu, illustrated by Mary Peterson. (Hey, WOOBY AND PEEP are coming soon to a blog near you. Umm, this one.)

If NUGGET and FANG could endorse their book personally, what do you think they would say?

Nugget: Holy mackerel! Get your fins on this book. It’s FANG-tastic!

Fang: Sink your teeth into our book. It’s a total NUGGET of awesomeness!

Well, I’ve got a nugget of awesomeness for you, dear blog readers: a “NUGGET AND FAN” (not a typo–you’re a fan already, right?) prize pack, including a signed first edition, a teacher’s poster, and adorable tattoos you can slap on any fin (or bicep). Just leave a comment or question for Tammi to enter and a winner will be chomped up later this month! In the meantime, go visit these seaworthy sidekicks!

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In past PiBoIdMo posts, I’ve encouraged you to…

This time around, I want to focus on structure.

Just like houses and dinosaurs, every story needs an underlying framework.

  

Most of my books follow the Classic Picture Book Structure:

  • MC has a problem
  • MC faces obstacles that escalate
  • MC encounters a black moment in which things can’t possibly get any worse
  • MC figures out how to solve the problem
  • MC grows/changes by the book’s end

My latest book, PRINCESS IN TRAINING, is an example of this.

Behold!

Princess Viola is great at skateboarding and karate-chopping, but she’s lousy at the royal wave, walk, and waltz. The king and queen are not pleased. What’s a princess to do? Attend the skill-polishing Camp Princess, of course. In the end, it’s a good thing Viola is made of tougher stuff. Who else will save the day when a hungry dragon shows up?

This is how the Classic Picture Book Structure works with PRINCESS IN TRAINING:

  • Princess Viola Louise Hassenfeffer has a royal problem. She is not an ordinary princess and the kingdom is unhappy about it.
  • Princess Viola faces three obstacles at Camp Princess (she is unable to properly master the royal wave, royal fashions, and royal dancing).
  • A hungry dragon shows up at Camp Princess.
  • Princess Viola uses her unique skill set to save the day.
  • Princess Viola may not be an ordinary princess, but she is deemed the darling of her kingdom anyway.

Although the Classic Picture Book Structure is my super-favorite way to frame a story, there are a variety of other options. Below are many of them along with some examples.

Circular:
The story’s ending leads back to the beginning
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie; When a Dragon Moves In

Concept:
The story focuses on a single topic or category
All the World; Kindergarten Rocks; Hello Baby!

Cumulative:
Each time a new event occurs, the previous events in the story are repeated
My Little Sister Ate One Hare; I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

Mirror:
The second half of a story echoes what occurred in the first half of the story
Old Bear and His Cub; Boy + Bot; A Sick Day for Amos McGee

Parallel:
Two storylines are taking place at the same time
The Dog Who Belonged to No One; Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

Reversal:
Character and/or plot is portrayed in a way that is opposite from the norm
Bedtime for Mommy; Children Make Terrible Pets; Little Hoot

This month, I’m challenging myself to come up with at least one story idea for each of those frameworks. C’mon, groovy PiBoIdMo people. Who’s with me?

Tammi Sauer has five picture books debuting in 2012: Me Want Pet!, illustrated by Bob Shea (Paula Wiseman/S&S); Bawk & Roll, illustrated by Dan Santat (Sterling); Oh, Nuts!, illustrated by Dan Krall (Bloomsbury); Princess in Training, illustrated by Joe Berger (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma, illustrated by Victoria Hutto (Sterling). She recently sold two books at auction to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The idea for one of those books—The Farm that Mac Built—sprang from her 2011 PiBoIdMo Idea List. It has a cumulative structure. Ooh.

And another “ooh” for you: there’s a PRINCESS IN TRAINING prize pack waiting for a lucky PiBoIdMo’er who completes the  30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. Comment on this post AND complete the challenge to be entered (you’ll be asked to take the “PiBo Pledge” on December 1st to verify you have 30 ideas). A winner will be randomly selected in early December. Good luck!

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

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