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Kim and Bookie

by Kim Norman

In a not-very-long-ago life, I was a graphic artist. The first order of business in the ad agencies where I worked: strong slogans. If you were a fan of AMC’s Mad Men, you probably know leading man Don Draper’s alliterative name is no accident. Alliteration is a handy gadget in the ad copywriter’s tool bag. The human ear is tuned and attracted to alliteration. There’s no question alliteration makes a tag line memorable:

“Put a tiger in your tank”
“Melts in your mouth”
“Fly the friendly skies…”

Why not open Don Draper’s bag of tricks for ourselves? First, let’s play with alliteration. Through a random Google search of “things that start with g,” I landed on this helpful page of alphabetically arranged objects:

Scanning the G list, pairing words, my mind positively pops with possibilities.

Gorilla Garden
Grizzly Girl
Golden Galoshes


Open a new browser window and search for “adjectives that start with G,” and you access a further trove of ideas. Add those to your nouns:

Giggly Goldfish
Groovy Grapes
Gassy Grasshopper
(Oops, sorry. I have an 8-year-old’s attraction to scatology.)


Don’t tie yourself to that one alphabetical collection above. It’s missing lots of useful nouns. Search the net for other lists, too.

The one thing I suggest you avoid in this exercise is alliterative names, (Squeaky Squirrel, Rowdy Raccoon and the like). Because they can feel old fashioned and clichéd, many editors are skittish about alliteratively-named characters, although I was unconsciously guilty of it myself with my story about Percy, the pug. But the book was simply titled Puddle Pug, and we don’t learn the main character’s name until we open the book.

Next in the copywriter’s bag of tricks is rhyme. Social science studies reveal rhyme as a powerful persuasion technique. Whether it’s classic end rhyme:

“The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup”
“Plop plop. Fizz fizz. Oh, what a relief it is”

…or clever internal rhyme:
“Please don’t squeeze the Charmin…”

…rhyme works.

Let’s go back to that alphabetical list of nouns above. When you spot an object that catches your eye, (preferably an animate rather than inanimate object) open a new browser window and go to

Paste in your chosen word. I’ll try “puppy.” A slim selection rhymes with the entire word, but if I search with just one syllable, “pup,” I spy great possibilities:

Buckle up, pup!
What’s up, pup?

Even slant rhyme or borrowed vowel sounds will work:

Grumpy puppy
Puzzle puppy
Puppy hunt

Still a Gorilla_COVER Two of my books coming out next year benefited from rhymes that popped into my head. I don’t know exactly what sparked Still a Gorilla, (Orchard, 2016) except I remember scribbling the words on a scrap of paper while wandering around an elementary school library. The paper stayed in my wallet for weeks. After I discovered it during another school visit, I mulled over the idea during a long drive. By the time I got home, I’d outlined the basics of the book in my head, as well as a few of the rhyming stanzas.

A robot manuscript based on “The House that Jack Built” was also improved by a rhyming title tweak. My editor, Meredith Mundy, suggested I come up with a different name for the main character, since “Jack-built” stories are becoming ubiquitous. I’m glad she did. I think The Bot that Scott Built (Sterling, 2016) is even more catchy!

The picture book that evolves from this exercise may end up with a title very different from the Don-Draper-inspired pairing that sparked your story. That’s fine, although I would argue that editors are people, too, who may be as subject to advertising psychology as the rest of us. If a Draperesque title attracts an editor to your manuscript? Presto! Perfect payoff!

Kim Norman (posing with Bookie, one of her half-pug muses) is the author of more than a dozen children’s books published by Sterling, Scholastic and two Penguin imprints. Among them is TEN ON THE SLED, (Sterling, 2010), I KNOW A WEE PIGGY (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012), a Texas “2×2 Reading List” selection. Her most recent title is THIS OLD VAN, published by Sterling Children’s Books, and illustrated by Carolyn Conahan. Kim is represented by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency in San Diego. Because Kim visits dozens of schools around the country every year, she maintains a website devoted helping authors learn the ropes of school visits at

Kim’s own website is at

PrizeDetails (2)

Kim is giving away a signed copy of THIS OLD VAN!

This Old Van book cover

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

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

  • You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  • You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  • You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Good luck, everyone!

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.


  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.

    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!

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


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

illus by Ross MacDonald
October 1, 2019

illus by Vivienne To
Spring 2020

illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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