My #FirstPictureBook

Snow Sisters

January 15, 2018

Tags: SNOW SISTERS, Kerri Kokias, Teagan White, Knopf, 2018

SNOW SISTERS by Kerri Kokias and illustrated by Teagan White (Knopf, 2018)
I have a lot in common with author Kerri Kokias. We both love Shel Silverstein; we both dream about creating store window displays; we both started writing when we became stay-at-home moms; and we both wrote picture books about sisters. But Kerri worked as an ice cream server so she’s way cooler!

In the Northeast, we are getting ready for the next snow storm so it’s perfect timing for Kerri’s #firstpicturebook SNOW SISTERS—“captivating and even surprising” (Publishers Weekly) and “chock-full of ideas for fun on a snowy day” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was SNOW SISTERS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A: Heck no! The first picture book I wrote as an adult hoping to be a published author was called Journey to Dreamland. It’s still available if anyone wants to publish it. I can almost guarantee it would put kids to sleep! And I mean that because I hadn’t yet learned how to develop characters, form a satisfying narrative arc, leave room for the illustrations to tell part of the story, etc. I had a lot to learn about the craft of writing before I got from the stage of being able to string words into a sentence to being a published author. At my count, SNOW SISTERS was my 13th manuscript that I not only wrote but worked consistently to revise.

Q. What inspired SNOW SISTERS?
A: I’ve written about this particular topic on Tara Lazar’s blog. My short answer is SNOW SISTERS is the convergence of three separate ideas. I had been thinking about writing a story in mirrored language for quite some time. One day, I saw a tweet where an editor questioned why there weren’t any books about characters who hated the snow. I thought that the mirrored language structure could work with that concept. After playing around with it for quite a while, I realized I wanted two characters and remembered another long ago story idea I had with two sisters who were opposites. Through the process of writing and revising, the story didn’t end up implementing the ideas in the way I first thought. The sisters aren’t really opposites, they just have their own distinct personalities, which gives them room to connect in unexpected ways. And neither hate the snow, they just interact with it differently. And that specific editor didn’t connect with the story…but someone else did!

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A: The title tells what the book is about, fits in with the mirrored structure of the text, and suits the acoustics of the story.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A: Great Question! I think my favorite part is when the sisters physically come together in the end. For most of the story they are separated and each doing their own thing—yet connecting in subtle ways which readers will discover with each reading. But the moment their parallel stories meet really packs a nice emotional punch. And yes, it was in the first draft.

Q. How did you decide whether to tell the story in first or third person?
A. It was easy to decide on third person because I wanted the two sisters to be weighted equally in the story. They are equally the main characters.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SNOW SISTERS?
A: None really. I knew I wanted to tell a story in mirrored language, but the setting, characters, and narrative arc developed over time, and didn’t fully come to life until Teagan White illustrated it. It was both fun and frustrating, but mostly fun, to work the elements of storytelling into so few words and such an exact structure.

Q. Did SNOW SISTERS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A: Yes, SNOW SISTERS received 6 rejections. And you know what? Those publishers wouldn’t have been the right fit for this book. You want to catch that editor/publishing house who share your vision because they are the ones that can help the book to reach it’s full potential.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SNOW SISTERS.
A: I’m not a highly emotive person, so when my agent called me I was very happy but I wasn’t jumping for joy, or crying, or anything. I mostly felt a tremendous sense of relief because I had been working at this for so long and wasn’t going to stop. After the call, I had a bunch of nervous energy because I wanted to wait to tell my family and friends in person. I vacuumed because I couldn’t sit still and it gave me an excuse to bounce off the walls. (Do I know how to celebrate, or what?)

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A; More than I expected. This particular book is very illustration driven though, so that might be why. The great bulk of my manuscript was illustration notes because I thought it was best for this particular story to have all of the character development, and the majority of the plot portrayed in the illustrations, rather than with words. I was so grateful when, immediately after making the offer, my editor reached out to ask what kind of artist I was drawn to and to show me some of the people she was thinking of. It was clear we already had a similar vision, but we went back and forth a little bit and the Knopf design team suggested Teagan. I wasn’t familiar with her work so I’m so grateful that the designers at Knopf were.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A: The fist time I saw the sketches I was like, “These are sketches?” They looked like final art to me. I also remember noticing the way that Teagan had so seamlessly worked in so many little details into every single illustration, even in those first sketches.

Q. How long did SNOW SISTERS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A: 33 months.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A: Read picture books. Old ones. New ones. Ones that you love. Ones that you don’t. Join SCBWI and participate in their programming.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A: Yes! Years ago I was at a regional SCBWI retreat where writing coach and editor Kendra Levin shared a guided visualization on meeting your character. It was so outside the logical/analytical way my brain works that I knew I needed a recording. I go back to it again and again, especially when I’m beginning or ending a project, or am stuck on something. Lucky for everyone, it’s available on her website. http://kendracoaching.com

Q. What are you working on now?
A: At this exact moment I’m between writing projects and schooling myself on marketing and publicity. I’m taking some time to work on my public speaking skills and developing school visit curriculum.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
https://www.kerrikokias.com
https://twitter.com/KerriKokias
https://www.facebook.com/kerri.kokias

Learn more about Teagan White at:
www.teaganwhite.com
https://www.instagram.com/teaganwh/
https://www.instagram.com/tinymothstudios/

More information on SNOW SISTERS!
http://www.rhcbooks.com/books/533419/snow-sisters-by-kerri-kokias-illustrated-by-teagan-white

I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES

January 8, 2018

Tags: I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES, Alison Goldberg, Mike Yamada, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016

Happy 2018! Let’s start this year off with some love. Alison Goldberg’s #firstpicturebook “celebrates a love that’s longer than the longest train and stronger than the strongest excavator” (The Boston Globe) and “will appeal to kids who love vehicles of all sorts” (Kirkus Reviews). 
And a portion of book proceeds from I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES will support the Campaign to End Childhood Hunger (led by the Food Research and Action Center).
What could be more lovely than that?

Q. Was I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
 A. I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES was the fifth or sixth picture book manuscript I wrote. The very first one I attempted is about a girl named Genevieve who lives in Iceland and has a very special bond with a glacier. That early story is buried on my computer, but is one of the seeds for the middle grade novel I’m working on right now.
 
Q. What inspired I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES?
 A. When my children were toddlers they adored trucks and trains. For my son, this love lasted for several years. We read many vehicle books and spent hours visiting construction sites, standing on bridges to watch trains go by, and sought out events like tractor parades. After a while, these vehicles captured my imagination.
 
The bedtime game, “How much do you love me?” turned into a comparison of the size, strength, and length of all things that go. After many nights of coming up with these examples for my own children—longer than the longest train, stronger than the strongest excavator, taller than the tallest crane--I thought this could be a fun take on a love book.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
 A. My original title was “Longer Than the Longest Train,” but since it is a love book my editor encouraged me to include the word “love” in the title. I remember a day of brainstorming titles with my neighbor while my kids jumped on her trampoline. We pulled “miles and miles” from the first stanza of the story which seemed to captured the breadth of these many vehicles.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
 A. Right now my favorite part is seeing the words come to life through Mike Yamada’s amazing illustrations!
 
Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first or third person?
 A. The story is written in first person to capture the intimacy of a parent, grandparent, or other caretaker expressing their love for a child.
 
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES?
 A. When I look back at the very first version of this story, the superlative statements were always in there, as well as the sentiment, but the structure differed. It took awhile to figure out the best way to build the stanzas so they had a repeating structure and captured layers of meaning with few words.
 
Q. Did I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
 A. This story received about ten rejections and went through a bunch of revisions. This is the first picture book my agent and I submitted to editors. I’m so grateful for all of the editorial notes I received--I learned so much through the process! Ultimately, I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES found the perfect home with Janine O’Malley at Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES.
 A. I was at the playground with my children when my agent, Kathleen Rushall, called with the offer. At that exact moment my daughter got her finger stuck in a hole in a picnic table. I hung up the phone to help her. Thankfully, we got her finger out of the hole quickly and I was able to call Kathleen back to celebrate.
 
Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
 A. My editor shared Mike’s portfolio early on in the process. When I saw Mike’s dynamic and playful illustrations I was absolutely thrilled.
 
Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
 A. Mike creates such unique and exciting perspectives. The plane on the cover is flying toward the reader!
 
Q. How long did I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
 A. Two and a half years.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
 A. Connect with other writers to share information, support each other through the highs and lows, and build a writing community.
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
 A. This is less a writing exercise and more about process. When I’m looking for inspiration I like to go on “writing walks.” I set out with an intention for a problem that I’m trying to solve away from the computer. As ideas come to me, I’ll stop and type notes into my phone.
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. More picture books and a middle grade novel.
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. I can be found online at www.alisongoldberg.com and on Twitter @alisongoldberg.
Book trailer: http://alisongoldberg.com/books/i-love-you-for-miles-and-miles/
I also blog about activism in children’s literature at M is for Movement: https://misformovement.org

A list for NADIA readers

January 3, 2018

Tags: NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL, Karlin Gray, Christine Davenier, HMH Books, Nadia Comaneci

Often, when I read my #firstpicturebook NADIA to kids, I am rewarded with the question, “You mean this book is about a real person?”

I love this question because I think it means that illustrator Christine Davenier and I did our jobs—we translated a true event into an entertaining children’s story. “What’s the real Nadia look like?” is usually the next question.

Fortunately, the publisher included two pictures of Comaneci on the back flap. But kids always want more. So over the holiday break I put together a list of online media that kids can review after reading the book (with supervision from an adult, of course). It’s my gift to the NADIA reader who wants to learn more and to parents and teachers who want to enhance the reading experience (or just need a few minutes to dart to the restroom or get a cup of coffee).

Happy New Year—here’s hoping 2018 is a perfect 10 . . . or at least not a 1.0!

Top 10 Links to Click after Reading NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL

The Olympics Where Are They Now? If you have 9 1/2 minutes, this is a nice up-to-date video on Nadia Comaneci.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: COMANECI’S UNEXPECTED PERFECT 10 (3 1/2 minutes)

Nadia talks about gymnasts she admires, past and present. (3 1/2 minutes)

Nadia reviews her performances at the 1976 Olympics (2 1/2 minutes)

Highlights of Nadia’s routines at 1976 Olympics. (2 1/2 minutes)

More highlights set to music. (3 minutes)

Cute video of Nadia and her husband Olympic Gold Medalist Bart Conner (1 1/2 minutes)

BBC The Conversation: Audio between Nadia Comaneci and Simone Biles (2 minutes)

The Olympics On the Record: Nadia Comaneci (5 minutes)

Photos from The Guardian’s 50 Stunning Olympic Moments. See any familiar images?

And if your reader wants to be Nadia in a game, here is Nadia’s free app