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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.

prizeinfo
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).

nuggetandfangprizes

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.)

firstnuggetandfang

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!

nuggetandfangprizes

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!

Two books with exclamation points in the title!

So now we have two winners whom I hope will have exclamation points burst over their heads!

The winner of ROBOT ZOMBIE FRANKENSTEIN! is:

Brianna Soloski!

The winner of OH NUTS! is:

Maria Johnson!

Ladies, look out for an email from me.

And tomorrow everyone’s a winner because I’m announcing the guest-blogging line up for November’s PiBoIdMo! Exclamation point palooza!!!!

OMG! I’m having a fangirl moment. Somebody fan me and feed me chocolate. (No, not YOU. Get Ryan Gosling.) Because not only is the brilliantly prolific author Tammi Sauer here, but she brought along the stars of her newest picture book, OH NUTS!

      

Thankfully I have Billy Bush helping me out (who will do as a Ryan Gosling substitute in a pinch). Billy’s qualified to interview Miss Universe contestants, so he will no doubt pose the tough questions to our guests Cutesy, Blinky and Bob. He caught them on last night’s Emmy’s Red Carpet.

Take it away, Billy.

Billy: Wow, so great to see you Cutesy, Blinky and Bob, stars of OH NUTS! Thanks for stopping to talk. You look fabulous. Tell us, who are you wearing?

Cutesy: Carolina Herrerra’s “Forest Dwellers” collection.

Blinky: Um, obviously Bob. Will someone please peel him off my back?

Bob: Wait, I was supposed to get DRESSED?

.

Billy: So you guys reached the pinnacle of popularity but then retreated from the limelight. What caused you to give up show business? Was the pressure just too much?

Blinky: Well, dude, we realized we had to be true to our inner chipmunk, you know?

Cutesy: Plus, all those flashing lights kind of wrecked my mascara.

Bob: Huh?

.

Billy: But your fans really want you to get back into the game. We heard that Alvin and his crew rejected an offer to star in “The Hunger Games IV: Acorn Atrocity”. Will you be lobbying for those roles now?

Cutesy: Our agent definitely wants us to consider it.

Blinky: Like whoa. It would be an awesome opportunity to showcase my six-pack.

Bob: I like noodles.

.

Billy: Do you think you’d like to branch out into other forms of entertainment? You know, become a triple-threat with a triple-threat?

Cutesy: We’ll always stick together, but we each have something special to give the world. Soon I’ll be launching my very own line of accessories called Chic Chipmunk.

Blinky: ABC wants me to be the next Bachelor.

Bob: I’m going to…wait…I forget.

.

Billy: How would you like to be remembered and immortalized by your fans?

Cutesy: We just want everyone to remember that chipmunks are people, too.

Blinky: I’d really like a street named after me.

Bob: I’d really like a nap. And a taco.

.

Billy: Oh wow, here comes Brangelina…so…SCRAM!

Cutesy: You know, we have a nickname, too. It’s “Blutesy”.

Blinky: I like it!

Bob: Hey, where’s the “Bob” in that?

.

Well, thanks Billy Bush, Cutesy, Blinky and Bob for the interview. And thanks for leaving behind an autographed copy of OH NUTS!

One lucky US resident will win it, just leave a comment to be entered! A winner will be randomly selected one week from today. Good luck!

And don’t forget to check out the rest of Tammi Sauer’s books. I mean, there must be a million of them now.

Me announce winner of ME WANT PET contest.

But first, if you a parent/caregiver/teacher with picture book kids, subscribe to blog (see left column). Me have more book contest soon. Comment on this post if you new subscriber and you can win THREE PICTURE BOOK PRIZE PACK (BOY + BOT, EXTRA YARN, ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT)! Me pick winner APRIL 1. THIS NO APRIL FOOL’S!

Now ME WANT PET winner.

It be Anna, age 9! ConBATulations!

Now me show you more great pets!

Isaac, age 6:

This Kid Erik, age 10:

Josie, age 8:

Jordan, age 6:

Renn, age 5:

Me and Tammi Sauer thank all kids who draw pets!

Maybe Tammi write SEQUEL!

OOGA!

ImageOoga!

Know Tammi Sauer? She write new book. She write good book. Bob Shea draw picture. It ME WANT PET!

(Me read to five-year-old class. They giggle. They snort. They LOVE!)

Cave Boy star. Cave Boy want pet.

He find pet. Mama say no. Gah!

He find new pet. Papa say no. Gah, ug!

He get new new pet. Gran say no.

Cave Boy sad. Me sad. You sad!

What Cave Boy do?

Me no tell.

You read book. Ooga!

So…

Daughters want draw. I ask, “What pet you want Cave Boy have?”

Daughter Eight draw dinosaur. Me say no. Too stompy.

Daughter Five draw giraffe. Me say no. Too tall. No fit cave.

You have kid? Kid draw Cave Boy and new pet. Send to tarawrites (at) yahoo (dot) com by March 13. Me post here. Me pick pet. Kid win book.

OOGA!

Tammi Sauer author. She write many, many kid book. Book like CHICKEN DANCE and MOSTLY MONSTERLY and MR. DUCK MEANS BUSINESS. You visit her: TammiSauer.com. OOGA! (Ooga not book. Me like say OOGA!)

by Tammi Sauer

When Tara asked me to contribute a post to PiBoIdMo 2009 I was honored. And, truth be told, scared. For me, getting a Really Good Idea is hard. Crazy hard. How could I possibly offer idea-getting strategies to others when I felt this was the toughest of all the writing challenges?

Well, that November I wrote the blog post. I also pushed myself to come up with 30 ideas. Whew. Wasn’t easy. It took me every bit of that entire month to get those 30 possibilities on paper. Most of those ideas were tiny snippits. A character. A title. A phrase.

One of those snippits, however, seemed as if it might have potential. Nugget and Fang. I thought the unlikely best friendship between a minnow and a shark might have the makings for a story. I brainstormed. I jotted down a first draft. And a second draft. And a third draft. With each draft the story got a little tighter, the word choice got a little better, and the humor got a little stronger. But I never really got that YES feeling from the manuscript. So…I put it away for a few months. Then I wrote a fourth draft. And a fifth draft. And I put it away for a year.

Then, in March 2011, my week to submit something to my critique group came around. I had recently finished my latest manuscript and I needed SOMETHING to send the oh-so-awesome PBJeebies. So I dug through my files. And found two old friends. Nugget and Fang. I read the most recent version. Then I revised. And revised. And revised some more. I started to get excited.

I sent the manuscript to the PBJeebies, and they pushed me to revise the manuscript a little more. That YES feeling came around. I shared the manuscript with my agent.

These are my favorite three sentences from her response:

“I absolutely love this manuscript! It’s hilarious, original, and wonderfully paced—with totally fun illustration possibilities. Yay!”

Oh, happiness! Oh, time-to-print-out-that-message-and-tape-it-to-my-computer!

The manuscript went Out There.

Months went by. Then I got the call. And I got ANOTHER call.

Two fabulous houses were interested.

After much careful consideration, I decided Nugget and Fang belonged at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Nugget and Fang is scheduled for a Summer 2013 release. I’m hoping it makes a really big splash.

Tammi Sauer, who owes an ocean-sized thanks to Tara Lazar.

Tara’s Note: Aww, shucks. I owe big thanks to you for being such a great role model!

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

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

THE UPPER CASE:
TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY
illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 1, 2019

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

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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