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by Tammi Sauer

In the spring of 2013, two unlikely friends swam onto the picture book scene—Nugget and Fang. From the start, Nugget & Fang, written by me and illustrated by Michael Slack, did really well. I was proud of our standalone. It never even occurred to me to write a sequel.

Then in 2017, my new editor at Clarion, Lynne Polvino, asked if I’d be interested in revisiting a certain underwater world.

Now, all these years later, my favorite fishy friends are back in the SEA-quel, NUGGET & FANG GO TO SCHOOL.

When Fang the shark is invited by his friends to attend Mini Minnows Elementary, he thinks it’s a great idea! But then his first day of school arrives . . . and suddenly, he’s not so sure. He’s not very good at reading or math. He doesn’t exactly fit in with his classmates. And the teacher looks crabby! Can Fang’s best friend, Nugget, and the other minnows help him discover that school really is FANG-TASTIC?

When a publishing house asks you to write a sequel, please know this situation comes with advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

  • You already know your characters.
  • You already know the tone.
  • You already know the style.
  • You already know the voice.
  • You already know the general setting.
  • You already know the basic pacing.

Disadvantages:

  • The book needs to be written.
  • The book needs to be at least as good as the original, preferably better.
  • The book needs to appeal to fans of the original as well as to people who have never read it.
  • The book needs to meet a deadline.
  • The book needs to get approval from the publishing house, and, if the book does not get this approval, you can’t submit it elsewhere. Plus, you, um, still have to write a sequel that gets approval.
  • The book needs to be similar to the original. Oh. But it needs to be different, too.

But how do you actually write a sequel????? In my experience, such a task involves gallons and gallons of tropical tea, endless quantities of chips and salsa from Torchy’s Tacos, and a critique group that reminds you that you can do this.

These are the three things that were most helpful to me as I wrote Nugget & Fang Go to School:

  1. I read the original. Then I read it again. And again. And again. After that, I read it again. This not only helped me to dive back into Nugget and Fang’s world, but it helped me to rediscover the rhythm of their story.
  2. I typed out the text of the original and paginated it. This gave me a clear and concise visual of my pacing and page turns. I kept the paginated text of book 1 right next to me as I worked to create the text for book 2.
  3. I played with words. (Book 1 incorporated lots of wordplay so book 2 had to have that as well.)

First, I compiled a list of the wordplay that I had used in book 1:

  • Holy mackerel!
  • Swim for your lives!
  • Sounds fishy to me.
  • Oh, my algae!
  • I feel seasick!
  • Have you lost your gills?
  • Catch of the day
  • Fang’s heart sank.
  • You’re fintastic.
  • Fanned his gills.
  • Wrung his fins.

This served as a cheat sheet. I knew what wordplay absolutely could not go into book 2. I then wrote a long list of different potential wordplay to use in the sequel. These are the items that made their way into book 2:

  • Other fish in the sea
  • Oh, my starfish!
  • Swim for cover!
  • Cool as a sea cucumber
  • School of fish
  • Crabby
  • Sea of faces
  • Fang-tastic
  • Best friend in the whole underwater world
  • Made a splash
  • A fish out of water
  • There was nothing fishy about that.

Having lots of new wordplay to choose from allowed me to give book 2 a similar feel to book 1, but it helped me to make the new book fresh as well.

Overall, writing a sequel is quite a challenge, but, if my editor asks me to write another book about Nugget and Fang, well, wild seahorses couldn’t pull me away!

Luckily, wild seahorses aren’t pulling away our giveaway—a copy of the chummy SEA-quel to one lucky blog reader. Leave a comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks!

Good luck!


Tammi Sauer is a full-time author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has 28 published picture books with major publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic Press, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Her book Your Alien, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was recently made into a musical that is currently touring planet earth. (Well, the United States anyway.) Visit her at tammisauer.com and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.

by Meredith Mundy (from 2015)

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:

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

 

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

 

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 cover

Not 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 was formerly Executive Editor at Sterling Children’s Books. She now serves as Executive Editor of the Appleseed imprint at Abrams.

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!

 

by Tammi Sauer (from 2012)

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 dark 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 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!; The Quiet Book

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 Storystorm people. Who’s with me?

Tammi Sauer has been a guest blogger for every year of Storystorm, even when it was called that thing no two people pronounced the same, PiBoIdMo. Learn more about Tammi at her super-snazzy new website tammisauer.com.

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!

 

by Tammi Sauer

Back in 2009, Tara first prompted us to join her on her challenge to generate 30 ideas in one month’s time. That year, I wrote a blog post about an idea-getting strategy that worked for me, and I have written about a different approach every year since.

In the spirit of Posts of Storystorm Past, however, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite strategies for brainstorming ideas. It’s something I share at writing conferences and school visits. It’s simple.

Celebrate the weird stuff in life—it’s good material for stories.

Many of my books got their start by some weird thing that happened to me.

One day, for example, I was hard at work and under a deadline. Everything was going well until, in the course of less than 30 minutes, the FedEx guy knocked on my door, the phone rang, the doorbell rang, the dog barked, and someone added me to a group text which included approximately 827 people who suddenly had lots to say.

All of these distractions made it hard for me to concentrate, and I just wanted Calgon circa 1980 to take me away.

 

That evening, I got to thinking I needed to write a book about a character who grew more and more frustrated by distractions. After all, frustration was a relatable experience.

This led to KNOCK KNOCK (Scholastic Press), illustrated by Guy Francis. The story is told almost entirely through knock-knock jokes and the art. It stars a bear named Harry who is all set to hibernate. Then, just after he tucks himself into bed, a friend unexpectedly shows up at his door. Then another. And another. Soon Harry’s house is filled with friends, and, just when he is about to flip his over-exhausted lid, Harry realizes his pals are there for a very good reason. They’re throwing a surprise happy hibernation party for you-know-who.

Another example of a weird thing in my life that led to a book involved the fine art of procrastination. One morning, while I should have been writing but I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed instead, I clicked on the link to Jama Rattigan’s latest blog post. On that particular day, Jama was featuring the wonderful work of artist James Ward.

See for yourself:

Well! The second I saw that big, hairy bear in those giant red underpants standing in a pile of cake crumbs, inspiration hit. I had to write a story about a character who loved cake as much as this guy did.

The result? That bear became Moose in I LOVE CAKE! (HarperCollins), illustrated by Angie Rozelaar.

So yay for procrastination!

Think about the weird stuff in your life. These things can be big or small. Jot down a few examples.

1.

2.

3.

Later, choose one for a story starting point. Keep in mind that this idea should just serve as the seed for a story rather than a factual recount of every little detail about a particular weird thing.

I say we celebrate annoying times, sightings of big, hairy bears in giant red underpants, and everything else in between. You never know where those weird moments might take you.

Tammi Sauer is a full-time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. Her 25th picture book was recently released. She has many more books on the way as weird stuff seems to happen to her all the time.

Tammi is happy to report that, at long last, she has a real-deal, fancy website courtesy of her very first writing friend, Flora Doone of somethingelseinc.com.

Please check out Tammi’s new site at tammisauer.com and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.

  

Tammi is giving away copies of two of her upcoming books! There will be one winner for each title.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

 

Disclaimer: These are not Tammi’s abs.

by Tammi Sauer

People go to the gym for various reasons. Some want to stay fit. Some want to lose weight. Some want to fulfill the dream of getting a six-pack.

But that six-pack doesn’t just happen. It requires a lot. I can think of at least six things that need to go into the mix:

  1. fuel,
  2. a personal trainer,
  3. consistency,
  4. stretching,
  5. a workout buddy, and
  6. some rest and recovery.

This is my 2018 six-pack:

    

    

Wordy Birdy  (Doubleday Books for Young Readers)

“Sauer’s fun-to-read text and Mottram’s detailed and hilarious illustrations seamlessly meld into a cohesive whole.”—School Library Journal

But the Bear Came Back (Sterling)

“There is plenty of humor in the details of the colorful, fine-lined art, but this is largely a poignant story, one that could add a nice variety of flavor to storytime.”—Booklist

Go Fish!  (HarperCollins)

“A fun summertime romp—hook, line, and sinker.”—Kirkus

Knock Knock  (Scholastic Press)

”Saturated colors, animated characters, and silly jokes will ensure repeated readers. An appealing read aloud choice on hibernation and friendship.”—School Library Journal

Quiet Wyatt (Clarion)

“A humorous friendship story with a little bit of an ironic twist.” —Kirkus

Making a Friend (HarperCollins)

“A sure recipe for making a friend…real or snow.” —Kirkus

While I didn’t set out to have six books published in one year (that would be bananas), those same six things—fuel, a personal trainer, consistency, stretching, a workout buddy, and some rest and recovery—played a big role in making this six-pack happen.

Fuel:

Your body needs water and the proper foods to reach its potential. To write a picture book, you must have fuel, too. You need to feed your muse and writing ability. But how? Read and analyze(!!!) other picture books! Go to the bookstore or the library, grab a pile of books (mostly ones published in recent years), and STUDY them. Break them apart and figure out what makes them work. And once you finish that? Well, grab another pile.

Personal Trainer:

Getting guidance from an expert in the field can prove beneficial in achieving this fitness goal. As a writer, you can gain valuable insight from others as well. Attend conferences. Take a class. Watch a webinar. Find a mentor. Study resources on how to write picture books—my personal favorite is Linda Ashman’s The Nuts & Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books.

Consistency:

Acquiring that toned set of muscles requires regular effort. When I first decided to try writing picture books, I’d write for a couple of month, take a break for a few weeks, write for a few days, take a break for half a year…. This didn’t help me to improve as a writer. It was only when I made writing a priority that I acquired noticeable gains. You need to show up to the page (even when you don’t feel like it—maybe especially when you don’t feel like it) and be willing to put in the work.

Stretch:

Some pre-workout stretching can help you to avoid muscle strains and cramping. Stretch as a writer, too. Instead of writing the same sort of story over and over again, attempt new approaches. Try different points of view. Try different structures. Try to tell a story entirely in dialogue or a story that’s told almost completely through the art or one that is (gasp!) a rhymer.

Workout Buddy:

A workout buddy joins you at the gym and knows firsthand what you’re going through because he or she is going through it, too. This person can motivate you to keep at it and get better. As a writer, critique partners and critique groups not only cheer you on as you do the work, but, even more importantly, they push you to improve your craft.

Rest and Recovery:

You can’t go to the gym every minute—your body needs time for rest and recovery. Writers need these times, too. Go for a walk. Meet a friend for lunch. Visit the beach or a museum or your great aunt Mildred. Take time to experience life and refill the well.

This six-pack of writing tips has served me well over the years. In the words of Hans and Franz, I hope they PUMP YOU UP.

Tammi wants to share her six-pack with you.

For a chance to win one of these books, leave a comment on this post. (One comment per person, please.)

SIX WINNERS will be randomly selected in two weeks.

Good luck!


Tammi Sauer is a full-time author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has 25 published picture books with major publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic Press, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. In addition to winning awards, Tammi’s books have gone on to do great things. Nugget & Fang was made into a musical and is currently on a national tour, Wordy Birdy was named a Spring 2018 Kids’ Indie Next pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Month, and Your Alien, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was recently released in Italian, Spanish, Korean, and French which makes her feel extra fancy. Visit her at tammisauer.com.

by Tammi Sauer

Over the Storystorm years, I have shared many of my idea-getting strategies.

This time around, I want to focus on using a familiar song, nursery rhyme, or chant as a starting point.

While I had heard of this writing exercise many times before, it wasn’t until I saw it presented in Linda Ashman’s (super amazing!!!) resource, THE NUTS AND BOLTS GUIDE TO WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, that an idea popped into my head.

This is what I saw in Linda’s book:

Rework a song or chant. Try rewriting a familiar song, chant, nursery or jump rope rhyme. Here are a few suggestions, but feel free to come up with your own:

  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
  • Baa Baa Black Sheep
  • She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes
  • I’ve Been Working on the Railroad
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • You Are My Sunshine
  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat

And this was my idea: Mary Had a Little Glam.

I knew I had to write that story. And, once I felt brave enough to tackle rhyme, I did. Lucky for me, Vanessa Brantley-Newton agreed to illustrate the book.

There are many great examples of books that have sprung from this approach. These are just a few of my favorites:

  • HUSH, LITTLE DRAGON by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
  • I AIN’T GONNA PAINT NO MORE! by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow
  • THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT by Penny Parker Klostermann, illustrated by Ben Mantle
  • TEN ON THE SLED by Kim Norman, illustrated by Liza Woodruff
  • THIS OLD VAN by Kim Norman, illustrated by Carolyn Conahan

In February, the adorable TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR written by Kate Dopirak and illustrated by Mary Peterson will zoom onto the scene. (And both ladies will be guest blogging for Storystorm later this month.)

In March, MARY HAD A LITTLE LAB written by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis will prove quite inventive.

While these books follow the same basic rhythm and rhyme scheme as the song, nursery rhyme, or chant they were based on, keep in mind that you don’t have to marry yourself to this approach. You can use one of those things to simply trigger the basic idea for a story as well.

My upcoming book with Dan Taylor, BUT THE BEAR CAME BACK, for example, got its start when I was listening to NPR. They played the old song “But the Cat Came Back.”

Right away, I thought about what it would be like if a rather large and completely unexpected animal would show up at a kid’s house and decide to make himself at home.

While I didn’t mirror the actual song in my book, I used its title as a stepping stone.

BUT THE BEAR CAME BACK debuts this April from Sterling.

So give it a try. Think about those familiar childhood songs, nursery rhymes, and chants then brainstorm a few picture book title possibilities of your own.


Tammi Sauer is a full time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has sold 30 picture books to major publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Her book WORDY BIRDY, illustrated by Dave Mottram, debuts on February 6. This book got its start in StoryStorm. It was idea number 19 on her 2014 list.

You can learn more about Tammi at tammisauer.com, read her posts at picturebookbuilders.com, and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.

Tammi is giving away a copy of the soon-to-be-released WORDY BIRDY to one lucky duck commenter.

Tammi is also giving away a picture book critique. Ooh.

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!

 

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!

7ate9

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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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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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