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#FirstPictureBook

The Remember Balloons — Winner of the 2019 Golden Kite Award

"I'd been recording my grandparents' histories on a voice recorder. Perhaps that had something to do with the turn my manuscript took—the voice recorder made the memories a solid, tangible thing I could put in my pocket."—Jessie Oliveros

 

Congrats to author Jessie Oliveros for winning the SCBWI's Golden Kite Award for her #firstpicturebook THE REMEMBER BALLOONS! To celebrate, I'm reposting her Q&A.

 

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Is is a Blog Birthday or a Bloggerversary? Either way, it’s time for a #Giveaway!

My blog is three years old this week—so let’s celebrate with a #giveaway! Enter for a chance to win my #firstpicturebook NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL and AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MOTH. Thank you for reading and good luck!  Rafflecopter giveaway

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PEDRO'S PAN: A GOLD RUSH STORY

Elementary school teacher Matthew Lasley grew up fishing, mushing dogs, and panning for gold in Alaska.   After writing a  traditional biography of Alaskan miner Felice Pedron, an unlikely narrator popped into Matthew’s head and transformed his #firstpicturebook into a humorous and playful one.  Debuting February 19, PEDRO'S PAN “is sure to appeal to educators, especially those teaching about the various gold rushes in western American history...[and] the amusing adventures of Pan and Pedro hold broad appeal for read-alouds with many and varied audiences beyond the classroom. A sweet little nugget of a story" (Kirkus Reviews).

 

Q. Was PEDRO'S PAN the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?

A. No. My first story was bad….real bad. It has potential, but it is sitting in a drawer waiting to be reshaped into something greater. This was, however, my second or third story.

 

Q. What inspired PEDRO'S PAN?

A. My family grew up mining in the interior of Alaska and in the Klondike. Felix Pedro, whom the story is based on, was a prominent prospector of legend having founded the last great gold rush of the Americas in Fairbanks. We drove by his monument every time we went to town. 

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. I am a fan of alliteration. It makes things more memorable. I had the two characters and they both started with "p". The subtitle "A Gold Rush Story" was added on by the publisher to clarify the theme of the story.

 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?

A. I do both actually. Most of my work is done on a computer, but I do like to generate ideas on paper. It is faster and messier and without needing to be organized. When I am brainstorming, I am pretty messy and working on more than one thing at a time.

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

A. My favorite part is the vulnerability of Pan and his struggle with his identity. That was not part of the original story. The original story was written as a biography of Felix Pedro. That wasn't working, then one day, after letting the story rest, Pan's voice popped into my head and I told the story from his point of view and that made the story.  

 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 

A. Pedro was a real person. While we know him as Felix Pedro, he was an immigrant named Felice Pedroni. Many of the other prospectors that he worked with came from the western gold fields and morphed his name into the Spanish version we know today. Pan is a gold pan, but Pan went better with Pedro, so that is how I got the names.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?  

A. I wanted to find a way to explain the process of prospecting and panning without being didactic. I found that when I gave the story to Pan, he was able to explain in his words what he was trying to do. His voice is one of innocence and uncertainty, which I felt that children could identify with.

 

Q. Why did you write PEDRO’S PAN in the present tense?

A. Since Pan is telling his story, I wanted the readers (children) to understand how Pan was feeling. Feelings can be unreliable when told in the past tense because you already know the outcome. Pan never directly says how he feels, but since the story is taking place now, the readers can empathize and infer.

 

Q. Did you outline your story first or did you create your story while writing it? 

A. I had written a 1500 word biography as an outline. This story sprung from that when I changed it from a biography to a fictional story. When I wrote this story, it literally poured out. I had brainstormed a couple of things and knew where I wanted it to go, so I let it. 

 

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?

A. I had written a lot for the back matter and presented some of it to my publisher. My editor asked to see it and said that they wouldn't likely be able to use it all, but asked to see all that I had. When she saw it, she asked if I could condense a couple of things as she wanted the biography of Felix Pedro, instructions on how to pan for gold, and fun gold facts.

 

Q. Did PEDRO'S PAN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. This is the crazy thing — this was my first submission to a company of my very first story. Everything fell into place for this. I submitted the biography to be critiqued at a local SCBWI conference and got some good feedback. About six months later I submitted the current story to our local SCBWI spring writing retreat and had my manuscript read by a prolific local children's book author, Tricia Brown. She had once worked as an acquisitions editor, and after reading my story, told me I needed to submit it to Graphic Arts Books. They happened to be opening back up their Alaska Northwest Books imprint and were looking for children's books. I was able to get in on the ground floor and had no delays in getting into a print cycle, so from acquisition to release was about 18 months!

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on PEDRO'S PAN.

A. I was elated. I felt so blessed. God had brought my wife into my life to help me reach my writing goal, then He found me a champion for my story who got me in at the right place at the right time.

 

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 

A. None. My publisher had an idea. I did let them know what kind of work I wanted to see, or more specifically what I did not want to see.

 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?

A. I was amazed. My vision was limited and when I saw what Jacob Souva did, I was so excited. His attention to detail and color was fantastic.

 

Q. How long did PEDRO'S PAN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. Just over a year and a half. The editing went quickly and Jacob was excited and pumped out some great early work which helped speed up the process.

 

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?

A. I was lucky and there was not a whole lot that had to be changed. I trusted my editor to suggest changes she felt were needed. Most of it was structure to tighten it up a bit.

 

Q. When you read PEDRO'S PAN to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. The part where Pan feels he is a fools gold pan usually gets a big "awww" and they really like the picture of him sliding down a mountain.

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for PEDRO'S PAN? If so, what kind?

A. My wife helped me design small pins as well as bookmarks. We did the pins first to hand out at conferences and the bookmarks after we received the final pictures and some of our first reviews.

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. I know you are excited about your story and think it is great (and it is by the way), but you need to get advice from other writers by joining critique groups. Then let your story set for a couple of months and focus on other things so that when you come back to it, you have a fresh set of eyes.

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. Everyone has  different methods of writing. What I like to do is enter in small contests that challenge me to write frequently and concisely. Many blogs and sites usually have them during various holidays. Susanna Leonard Hill usually does them and they are quite fun. She also gives people the opportunity to practice the pitches. I like to respond to them and think of how I would pitch this story having never read it. These things help me sharpen my skills and keep me actively producing.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I have a sci-fi that is stalled. I have a middle grade that is in the revision stage. I have a chapter book series that is going out on submission to editors. I have a few picture books that are being pitched to agents. But a lot of my time and energy outside of work is going to the launch of Pedro's Pan.

 

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:

A. I am a school teacher and I am going to do a book launch at my school. It will be a part of our Family Literacy Night at Lake Otis Elementary on February 19th. Then that weekend, I am planning to do a book signing at our local Barnes and Noble, details still forthcoming on that.

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A. My website is www.matthewlasley.com

On twitter at @Lasley_Matt

And wandering the creeks during the summer looking for a little gold in my pan.

Book trailer for PEDRO’S PAN

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The Full House and the Empty House


Illustrator L.K. James likes working with contrasting ideas and the idea that household objects can reflect a personality. Today she tells how she used these concepts to build her #firstpicturebook THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE—"an original, deftly crafted, and entertaining picture book story . . . certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to family, elementary school, and community library collections " (Midwest Book Review).

 
Q. Was THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it? 

A. No, but it was the first one I finished and the first I tried to get published. 

 

I don't remember what the first one I wrote was about, but at the time I wrote The Full House and the Empty House, I was interested in Aesop's Fables. I tried to write a handful of stories aimed at turning the form on its head. Stories that had some ambiguity and couldn't easily be boiled down to one glib moral. Most of these were very bad, but it was a very useful exercise. 

 

Q. What inspired THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE?

 A. At the time I was drawing a lot of household objects, and thinking about the role they play in our lives when we are young and old. How they project and inform our identity and how they often express our relationship with the material world. 

 

I was also playing with these personified houses with arms and legs who would eat dinner together and dance around and go walking through the forest. I liked the idea that the things inside a house-character could express their personality. 

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

 A. The title of the first draft was just "The Empty House." As the story evolved, it became less about that house and more about the two houses' relationship, so the titled evolved too.

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

A. My favorite scene to draw was all the stuff flying around inside the Full House when it dances. This was one of the images I wanted to draw from the beginning, so it was always in the first draft, and it never really changed because it was one of the images from which the rest of the story grew.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person? 

A. I wanted to avoid favoring either perspective of my two main characters, and that was most easily done in third person. I wanted this story also to feel outside of time, almost like a fable, so again the third person perspective felt appropriate. 

 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE? 

A. At first, the whole story was just a few lines of prose: when the Full House danced, the beautiful things inside it jangled around, and when the Empty House danced, it could jump high into the air because it was so light on its feet. From that the rest of the story grew as I began to ask myself what this relationship meant and how it might be explored.

 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?

 A. The image of the houses and many of the objects in them had been floating around my sketchbook when I drafted the written version. The next step was thumbnailing, which brought them both together. Doing so changed the story a lot. The images pushed the narrative in unexpected directions, and the narrative brought out new images that hadn't been there before. 

 

Q. Did THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

 A. Yes, plenty. I was lucky enough to pitch this book in person to Ripple Grove Press at a conference. As a bookmaker and printmaker, I was able to show the publisher a physical prototype of the full book during the pitch, and I think that was a big help. So much of my idea was already alive in the colors, the paper, the book design, and the printing process of my dummy. I think that it allowed them to trust my vision more easily than if I had emailed them a PDF of a storyboard or a written synopsis. 

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE.

 A. I was thrilled, of course, and grateful. But also nervous—it is my first book.

 

Q. How long did THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

 A. About a year and a half—the offer came after I pitched the book in August 2017, and the publication date is February 5, 2019.

 

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?

 A. In the first draft there was an image of a sandwich flying apart in mid-air inside the Empty House. I loved it because it was kind of funny, and sandwiches have always been one of my favorite things to draw. I ended up cutting it, though, because although it expressed the right action, it didn't express the right feeling for that moment in the story. 

 

Q. When you read THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

 A. My favorite part of reading to kids is when they get lost in the details of the interiors—for example, there are these funny framed pictures of other houses hanging on the walls inside the characters, like family photos in a world where everyone is a house. There are little sub-narratives like that all throughout the book, and I love it when kids notice those.   

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

 A. Always be collecting ideas and don't be afraid of abandoning a story if it isn't working. I like to brainstorm ideas a lot, and then see what I'm still excited about the next day. I hate feeling trapped in a story I don't like, so I'm always trying to keep story-generation process as fluid as possible.

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

 A. Sometimes I force myself to write a new story start to finish in 30 minutes, then do that for ten days in a row. Most of it is junk, but it gets me thinking in unexpected ways and generates lots of raw material—which is far better than agonizing over the perfect story or staring at a blank page.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

 A. Right now, I'm working on a book about a duck who lives in a hotel and doesn't know what it's like to be outside in the wild. I like working with opposites or contrasting ideas (full/empty, inside/outside, wild/tame) and seeing what happens when you shake them up. 

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

 A. My work is on Instagram (@lkjamz) and my website (lkjames.com).

 


Pre-order The Full House and the Empty House 

 

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THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS

Lindsay Leslie adores mechanical pencils, thinking up book titles, and breaking through the fourth wall. Today she talks with us about how these loves, along with a smushed book cover, contributed to the creation of her #firstpicturebook. “A winning story about handling the unknown and asking for help” (Publisher’s Weekly), THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS “will urge readers to be brave and turn the page” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, it wasn’t. In fact, I started my writing adventure with a chapter book series. I have three of those books finished and they are collecting dust in my computer somewhere. My first picture book I wrote is keeping my chapter book series company. Some day I might break them out, but for now I thank them for what they were … stepping stones to get me where I am today.

Q. What inspired THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?
A. My love of breaking the fourth wall and my own personal battles with anxiety. Plus, stepping on one of my son’s picture books and feeling its spine give.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title picked me. One day, I walked into my youngest son’s room, and it was as if the idea pole-vaulted from the floor and into my ear. I had accidentally stepped on one of my son’s picture books, and thought, I just broke its spine. Then my mind zigged and zagged from this book has a spine to what if it were spineless to this book is spineless. I looked at my son and shouted, “This Book Is Spineless!” I couldn’t let the idea go. It kept begging me to write it. With the majority of my books, I need to have the title first before I can begin writing. It’s like knowing the name of a person. It leads me to where I need to go.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A mixture of both. I knock out my first draft on the computer and I edit on paper. I need to print it out and rip it up with my trusty mechanical pencil. I LOVE mechanical pencils.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The beginning. There is a page turn in this book that I adore, and I think it will grab the reader’s attention. And, no, it wasn’t in the first draft. The first draft of this book was a bonafide messy mess. In fact, someday I would love to share my first draft and show folks where a book can go with revision, the help of critique partners, and the golden touch of a fantastic editor!

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. I told this story in first person, because I wanted the physical book, the book the reader is holding, to be the main character.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?
A. None of it. And, again, my first draft was hideous. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do with it, but because I am a pantser (meaning, I don’t outline) I had to see where my mind would go with it. There were elements of the first draft I kept, but the manuscript changed a bunch. (Thank goodness.)

Q. Did THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. For some reason, I did not traditionally query this manuscript very much. I did participate in a lot of hashtag events on Twitter, like #pitmad and #pbpitch, and did not get any favorites. I’d say I received 10 rejections on this piece. Overall, I’ve received about 35 rejections from agents on my work before I found representation.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS.
A. Oh, I loved this moment. I was at the cleaners picking up the dry cleaning. My older son, who was nine at the time, was at my side. My phone pinged, so I looked to see who sent me an email. All I had to read was the subject of the email. It read: THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS Offer. I couldn’t speak. I just began to jump … and jump and jump and jump. Up and down. And then I started to point at my son and then I pointed at the lady behind the counter. All I could say was “YES! YES! YES!” My son began to jump with me and he said, “Mom, why are we jumping?” That was the most adorable thing. And then the tears started to roll. I will never forget that Jack Brown Cleaners, the look on the lady’s face behind the counter, which was somewhat of a bemused look, and the fact that my son will jump up and down with me before knowing why.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Page Street Kids is my publisher and I try to find all the words to express how wonderful and collaborative they are. I was provided with three illustrators to choose from, which worked great for me, as I was feeling more than overwhelmed. At this point, I was so focused on climbing the hill toward a book deal, my mind hadn’t worked through the scenarios of what happens once the book deal is signed. I received all the assurance from Kristen Nobles and Charlotte Wenger at Page Street Kids that there was no wrong choice. So, I went with the aesthetic I was drawn to most, and that was Alice Brereton’s dramatic, geometric, quirky, and colorful illustrations.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. What jumped out to me was the connection between Alice and me through my words and through her illustrations. It’s like we got each other and we had yet to meet. We were having a discussion through our preferred way to communicate. Me with words. Her with art. I trusted her implicitly and was blown away by her unique approach to the concept.

Q. How long did THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer on June 27, 2017, and the book hits the shelves on Feb. 19, 2019. So, less than two years. It’s been a buckle-your-seatbelt-and-hold-on kind of ride.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. I almost had to change the title, but my editor and I worked on a compromise, so the title could remain. The title led me to the story, and I felt the title made the story and makes the book stand out. In terms of adding to the story, yes! My editor really pushed me to dig in with the voice of the character, as well as look deeper into my word choices and the impact on the overall story. A great editor, like Charlotte Wenger, will see how to make your story shine even brighter!

Q. When you read THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Definitely the page turn at the beginning of the book.

Q. Did you create any book swag for THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS? If so, what kind?
A. I did. I have some temporary tattoos, because I think all kids should be wearing Alice Brereton’s art! I also have bookmarks and postcards, which will pull double-duty. Not only am I promoting THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, but also NOVA THE STAR EATER (Page Street Kids). NOVA is my second picture book, illustrated by John Taesoo Kim, and will hit the shelves on May 21, 2019.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Only you can write you, so tune out the noise, focus on your craft, and enjoy the process.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. My favorite marketing tip is to participate and say yes. Be part of the writing community. Show up. When you show up, it shows you care and then opportunities begin to present themselves.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am diving back into a middle grade novel that I finished a draft of a year ago. It’s been speaking to me, and I’m also writing many new picture books. I can’t have just one project.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:
A. Yes! I’m launching my book at my local indie bookstore, BookPeople. It’s on Feb. 23 from 2-3 p.m. for all you folks in Austin, Texas (https://www.bookpeople.com/event/lindsay-leslie-book-spineless). I’ll also be at TLA this year and part of the What’s New With Texas Picture Book Authors and Illustrators roundtable on April 15 from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. Find me, connect with me! I’m active on Twitter at @LLeslie, and I love to pay it forward by offering free picture book manuscript critiques there. I’m also on Facebook at @AuthorLindsayLeslie and kind of active on Instagram at LindsayLeslieWrites. And, please visit my website at lindsayleslie.com.

Thanks for having me, Karlin, and congratulations on SERENA: THE LITTLEST SISTER! I look forward to seeing it on the shelves in May!

If you have read THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, please consider writing a review:
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21 children’s publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts

Happy New Year! Next week I will post a new #firstpicturebook Q&A. Until then, if your 2019 resolution is to submit your unagented children’s book to publishers, check out my list of publishing companies that review unsolicited manuscripts. (Join SCBWI and you’ll receive The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children which includes a master list of children’s publishers and agents.)

Remember, you can’t control a publisher’s decision to acquire your book. But you can control meeting goals like submitting your work to publishers. So make sure your manuscript is submission-ready and start working on your resolution today!

Albert Whitman & Company

Arthur A. Levine Books

Boyd Mills Press

Cameron + Company

Charlesbridge

Chronicle Books

Creston Books

Dial Books for Young Readers

Enchanted Lion

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Flying Eye

Flashlight Press

Holiday House Books for Young People

Lantana

Lee and Low Books

Page Street Kids

Peachtree Publishers

Quarto

Ripple Grove Press

Sterling Publishing

Tilbury House

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Top 10 #firstpicturebook Tips of 2018

As 2018 winds down, I just want to say how grateful I am to all the writers who have contributed to this blog. I learn something new in each interview and hope you do too. I will be back next month with new Q&As for 2019. Until then, here are my favorite #firstpicturebook tips from 2018. Click on the author’s name to read the full interview.

Happy Holidays!

“I have a folder on my laptop of transcriptions of other peoples’s stories. When I’m sitting down to write, I might read through a few of them before I begin, so I can get into the rhythm of writing a picture book on one blank page, single-spaced. That has really changed how I write.”— Amanda Moeckel

“Participate in the kidlit community. It is an incredibly generous and supportive group of people! Volunteer for your local SCBWI conference. Join an online writing challenge. Review books on your blog. Give shout-outs on social media for deal announcements, book birthdays, awards, … anything! Don’t think of other kidlit folks as competitors. Think of them as cheerleaders. When you reach out, others reach back.”—Laura Renauld

“My favorite writing exercise is going for walks and making myself think on the story. What is working, what isn't, what will make your story slightly different. The mindful walk helps shape the story.”—Robert Broder

“If you are a debut author, find a debut group! If they are full, create another.”—Jessie Oliveros

“I attended my first kidlit conference in July 2016, and booked in for manuscript assessments with a couple of editors. I just wanted to get feedback to see if I was on the right track with my writing, but happily I actually got a contract from one of the editors I saw there. ”—Kellie Byrnes

“In the later stages of writing, I like to storyboard my books or make a picture book dummy. (Debbie Ohi has a great storyboard template here). I quickly sketch with bad stick figures, just to get a sense of scene. Mostly I see how the text reads page to page: where the page turns might be, how the scenes change, and where I need to trim my text for pacing.”—Sarah Jane Marsh

“when you’re stuck on what to say, sometimes it can help to imagine you are writing a book for your own 8-year-old self. What book would have helped that kid? Or delighted them?”—Elizabeth Lilly

“Every year my critique group retreats to a cabin in Alabama for a writing weekend! We follow a schedule of working, eating, walking and critiquing each day. It has proven to be really productive AND fun!”—Shanda McCloskey

“one fun exercise is thinking of an awesome book title and what would be the cover for it. Sometimes that’s enough to come up with a complete story!”—Aura Lewis

“When I’m working on a piece, I ask questions like who, what, why, where, when and how over and over again. I always think universal — similarities and differences. Most times those questions are being answered while I pace back and forth talking out loud to myself.”— Baptiste Paul
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#firstpicturebook flashback

“I had a dream about a chicken and an old woman. When I woke up I wrote it down, but I changed the old woman to a little girl.”—From Susan Montanari’s #firstpicturebook Q&A on MY DOG’S A CHICKEN.

In March 2016, I interviewed Susan Montanari about creating her #firstpicturebook MY DOG’S A CHICKEN—“a fun twist on the wacky new-pet story, with an enthusiastic heroine and a sassy chicken to boot” (Booklist). So what has Susan been up to since her debut? HIP HOP LOLLIPOP, THE GROSSEST OF THEM ALL, and GOLDILOCKS FOR DINNER. To read Susan’s #firstpicturebook Q&A, click here.

To learn more about Susan’s other books, follow these links:

HIP HOP LOLLIPOP (illustrated by Brian Pinkney)—“a read-aloud treat that is sure to enhance the nighttime ritual.”—Kirkus Reviews

THE GROSSEST OF THEM ALL (illustrated by Jake Parker)—“This lesson in decorum is cleverly oblique, and its unapologetic protagonist compares favorably with those of boy-centric picks like Carolyn Beck’s cautionary Richard Was A Picker (2010) or William Joyce’s autobiographical Billy’s Booger (2015).”—Booklist 

GOLDILOCKS FOR DINNER: A FUNNY BOOK ABOUT MANNERS (illustrated by Jake Parker)—coming July 2019!

If you have read Susan’s books, please consider writing a review:
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KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG

Artist Amanda Moeckel believes in the power of dreams and daydreaming. Her #firstpicturebook appeared to her in her sleep. Now KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG is available in bookstores and listed on @MatthewWinner’s September 2018 list of “seriously outstanding books.” Read Amanda’s Q&A to learn how she turned her dream into her debut.

Q. Was KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It’s not. I had written a handful before this one. The first one was called Little Heart, and it’s about a girl who finds a series of posthumous signs that her grandmother is still with her. That’s still sitting on my shelf, fully illustrated, but I have been told by various people in publishing that I should wait until my third or fourth book to tackle death.

Q. What inspired KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG?
A. The idea for this story came to me in the same way the song comes to Khalida. I was half-asleep, and the story downloaded into my head, almost fully formed. I had gone to bed with a prayer every night for about three weeks, that a story would come to me in my dreams— one that was for only me to tell. I saw a few of the major scenes and the full plot, although the character was a boy.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The marketing team at Page Street Kids decided to include Khalida’s name, but it was originally called The Most Beautiful Song. Actually, the first draft was called Magnum Opus, and I really liked that, but the first draft also included Khalida touring with her beautiful song and building a career on it. Thank goodness for professional editing.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Both. I usually start by hand in a sketchbook with a series of words and rough sketches, then I write a draft on the computer. Sometimes I’ll start with notes on my phone if I’m out and about when an idea comes.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite spread is when Khalida plays in front of a crowd. I also like when she sneaks to the piano at night. Both were in the first vision I had of the story.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. In that first vision I received of the story, I heard the name of the character, which sounded like “Kel-” something. When I found the name “Khalida” which is an Arabic name meaning “immortal,” it was perfect. A good song lives forever.

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first, second, or third person?
A. Third person felt most natural. I’ve also heard in writing classes that it’s the easiest to get published.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG?
A. I knew it all, but also knew a lot of extraneous information. So instead of trying to figure out where the story was going to go, it was more of an editing process.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The images came first. They usually do for me.

Q. Did KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes, one. I am unagented, so when it was time to show this story to publishers, I had to find the opportunities myself to get it in front of them. I did this solely through SCBWI. I had an opportunity to submit to Elizabeth Bicknell at Candlewick after a conference, and she graciously rejected it with helpful feedback. The funny thing is, Kristen Nobles who eventually loved it, worked alongside Elizabeth as Art Director at Candlewick for many years, even during the time in which I submitted. It just goes to show you that two people at the same house can feel vastly different about a story. I met Kristen the following year at SCBWI, and gave her my postcard. She looked at my website, asked if I had stories to go along with some images, and the rest is history.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG.
A. Utter joy! Then stage fright. Then calm relief that I’d be finally making a published book.

Q. How long did KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. My timeline was six months.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. There was a spread in the end where the song was coming from all the homes in the town. It looked similar to the first spread, but instead of the ghostly song swirling toward one window, it was colorful, coming out of many windows. We moved it to the endpapers, then cut it out altogether. I was okay with editing it out, even though I loved the visual. I think the book is stronger with the current ending.

Q. Have you read KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes! Good question. There seems to be an air of satisfaction in the room at the ending. Almost a sigh. It’s a quiet book, so there isn’t a lot of laughing. I am inspired to bring more humor into my next book. Not because I’m unhappy with this one, but because now I have a son and making him laugh is my new addiction. I totally get now why parents want funny books for their kids.

Q. Did you create any book swag for KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG? If so, what kind?
A. I made a coloring sheet!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Read and read and read and read. Then read some more. Picture books, that is. Go to the library and take home a stack of books over and over again. My library has a request shelf, as I’m sure most do… so I research online, request the books I want to read, then go pick them up. It takes no time at all, and I LOVE coming home with a new stack of books every week.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I like to transcribe other published picture books. Writing the manuscript first is important. For those of us who are author-illustrators, this might not seem intuitive. It’s really hard to envision the story on one page, if you’re used to creating page turns. But publishers want manuscripts. So I go to the library, take home a stack of books, and whichever ones feel similar to my story— whether in tone, pacing, subject matter, whatever— I transcribe them. I have a folder on my laptop of transcriptions of other peoples’s stories. When I’m sitting down to write, I might read through a few of them before I begin, so I can get into the rhythm of writing a picture book on one blank page, single-spaced. That has really changed how I write.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. My next submission!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
http://amandamoeckel.com
http://twitter.com/amandamoeckel
https://www.facebook.com/amandamoeckelillustration
https://www.instagram.com/amandamoeckel/

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ODE TO AN ONION

A writing instructor in the Bay Area, Alexandria Giardino was translating a memoir when inspiration struck. But her #firstpicturebook manuscript was rejected, again and again. Just about to give up, Alexandra then received an offer on ODE TO AN ONION—“a sweet story about the creative process” (Kirkus Reviews) and reviewed last week by the New York Times as one of the “Picture Book Biographies to Dazzle a Fact-Loving Child”.

Q. Was ODE TO AN ONION the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. ODE TO AN ONION is officially my second picture book manuscript, which I started working on in 2013. I had the seed of an idea for my very first picture book in 1999, and that book is still evolving! The story was originally about an elderly, blind pelican and a young pelican that takes the old pelican for one last flight over a bay. The story has morphed into one about two snow monkeys. I just cannot let go of the story’s heart, which is about how a younger animal thanks an older animal for all that it has learned. Maybe one day the story will be publishable!

Q. What inspired ODE TO AN ONION?
A. I was inspired to write ODE TO AN ONION by a memoir I translated, called MY LIFE WITH PABLO NERUDA, written by the poet’s wife, Matilde. In that book, Matilde described the whimsical garden of her childhood home. It was a place where celery and garlic grew amid rose bushes. I just knew it would be a perfect place for a children’s story.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. ODE TO AN ONION is based on Pablo Neruda’s poem, “oda a la cebolla.” We only changed the article “the” to “an”!

His poem is featured in the back matter, both in the original Spanish and in my own English-language translation. Throughout the story, including in the artwork, there are many nods to the poem, such as “their stalks do look like swords.”

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of ODE TO AN ONION is when Pablo’s mind and heart explode with inspiration to write a poem for the humble onion. I wrote so many drafts of this story, but I always knew that the climax would be the moment of inspiration. Seeing Felicita Sala’s visual rendering of that scene made me so happy because she brought the moment to life in a whimsical and dramatic way.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this story?
A. ODE TO AN ONION is not precisely nonfiction because it is not a true story. Instead, it is inspired by true events. That said, it is heavily researched and documented, so I am confident that the spirit of the story honestly reflects the spirit of Pablo and Matilde’s life together, as well as his odes and their lively garden at their home in Santiago, Chile. To write the story, I drew on Matilde’s memoir, Pablo’s odes, and the time I spent living in Chile, where I visited their home multiple times.

Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?
A. I decided to focus on a single moment in the life of a poet, a moment when the writer is struggling and needs to find inspiration. Monica Brown had already written a lovely full biography of Pablo Neruda, so I wanted to offer readers a more poetic and metaphorical story about him.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. ODE TO AN ONION includes a brief biography of the poet and his wife, along with “oda a la cebolla” and my English-language translation of the poem.

We also included my favorite image of the couple, a photo that centers your attention on Matilde, who is playing guitar and singing. For me, this book is just as much about Matilde, an artist in her own right, because she inspired Pablo and so often cheered him up.

Q. Did ODE TO AN ONION receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. ODE TO AN ONION was rejected many times! Querying can be such a depressing process. I sent the manuscript to about forty agents, and I also sent it to one publisher directly. That publisher was very close to buying it, but ultimately passed.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on ODE TO AN ONION.
A. I had received what I thought was my final rejection, and I was about to put the story away for good. I felt that maybe the book just wasn’t meant to be. Around that time, I had been working closely with Amy Novesky on editing the story, and much to my surprise, she pitched the book to Cameron Kids. They immediately made an offer. This all sounds like such a cliché publishing story. But this is how it really happened: just as I was about to give up, the book found the perfect publisher. Cameron Kids loved my story and has championed it all the way.

When they made an offer to me, I cried. Also, I saved the envelope that Amy sent to me with the final draft and offer. I will always cherish that envelope.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. Cameron Kids gave me a big say in selecting the illustrator. I sent them many ideas, and when they found Felicita Sala and recommended her for the project, I knew she was perfect. I love her style, which felt midcentury and European in its sensibility.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I learned so much from watching Felicita’s process. I got to see the earliest color palettes and renderings of Pablo and Matilde. I also saw the first storyboards. Because I have a lot of primary-source material about Pablo and his life, I was able to share images with Felicita so that the book would be visually accurate. For example, she originally Matilde depicted her with brown hair. I told Felicita that Matilde had auburn hair, and now in the book, Matilde has the most beautiful red hair!

We had two possible jacket covers, and I loved both. We ultimately went with the one that features Pablo very prominently. The other cover art has been used as a poster and on other publicity materials.

I deeply appreciate how much Felicita co-created a book with me, by bringing her own voice and style to the project.

Q. How long did ODE TO AN ONION take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I signed my contract in late 2016, and the book was released in October 2018.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. No. In fact, in the editing process, the senior editor at Cameron Kids, Nina Gruener, made an edit that I loved! She suggested the line about the tomatoes and fennel “doing a tango.” (I had written that they were “fighting like siblings”.)

Q. When you read ODE TO AN ONION to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Kids always laugh at the line about the tomatoes and fennel doing a tango.

Q. Did you create any book swag for ODE TO AN ONION? If so, what kind?
A. We made posters, bookmarks, and post cards for bookstore and school events.

I also made coffee mugs with the cover art on them for myself and a few family members, and I made a special gift for myself: a canvas tote bag with cover artwork on it. I use the tote bag to carry the book and my special green pen to all my events. By the way, Pablo only wrote in green ink, so I only sign my book in green ink, too!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a trustworthy and smart critique group. I have been part of a writing group since 2013. We meet on the first Friday of the month. I also have three other writer friends who swap work with me. Their feedback is vital. You just have to have other readers show you what isn’t working and why.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. In terms of marketing, I strongly suggest building community online, reaching out to writers whose work you admire. Share your work by supporting other peoples’ work. We are in this together. I really believe in that ethic.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have three picture books in the works. Two are inventive nonfiction, and one was inspired by a friend’s young son, who had a most unusual request for Santa.

Q. Was there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)?
A. This fall, we had an official launch at the best bookstore on the planet, Book Passage, in Corte Madera, California. Book Passage maintains a lively writing community and hosts hundreds of writing groups, readings, classes, and public events. I am so lucky to live near that bookstore and call the place my friend.

Since then I have visited five other wonderful, locally owned bookstores, and I will visit sixteen schools.

Photo highlights of all of these events are posted on my website.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
My website is www.alexgiardino.com.
Twitter handle is @Alex__Giardino
Instagram is alex__giardino
My direct email is alexgiardino.writes@gmail.com

Come visit me online and say hello!

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