#FirstPictureBook

SCARECROW MAGIC

October 30, 2016

Tags: SCARECROW MAGIC, Ed Masessa, Matt Myers, Orchard Books, 2015

Ed Masessa's work includes managing selections for Scholastic Book Fairs, critiquing books, and writing children's books. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller THE WANDMAKER'S GUIDEBOOK but today he looks back at his first picture book, SCARECROW MAGIC—"Halloween-worthy chills for any time of year." (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Q. Was SCARECROW MAGIC 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’ve written at least 20 picture manuscripts but Scarecrow is the first one that has been published. Which means there are many more to come! My very first attempt (some 15 years ago) was about a woodpecker with a soft beak – quite a handicap. I still believe in that one and plan to make some adjustments to make it more relevant to the current diversity initiatives that are sweeping the publishing industry. I might have been ahead of my time.

Q. What inspired SCARECROW MAGIC?
A. Like many of my generation, The Wizard of Oz was my favorite movie as a child. It was shown once a year on TV and it wasn’t until we got our first color TV that I realized that part of it was filmed in color. The flying monkey scene might have been terrifying if I hadn’t been so inquisitive. As they threw Scarecrow’s straw all around, I always wondered what happened to his bones. I thought it would be a cool tribute to my childhood imagination to create a scarecrow with a skeleton.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I tend to believe that a full moon holds a bit of magic that is capable of making strange things happen. Add a scarecrow, and there you have it.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. When they are playing jacks and eating snacks and treats that have the odor of feet. My original draft spent too much time on the set-up and not enough time having fun. I started adding more games and coming up with gross ideas and that’s when the story took off.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. Honestly, I never considered telling it any other way.

Q. Was SCARECROW MAGIC always in rhyme or was there another version in prose?
A. The story was always intended rhyme. That said, I’ve heard many editors at conferences tell authors that they really don’t like to see submissions written in rhyme. Yet so many picture books are rhyming. The trick is in making it rhyme with a natural cadence. I have a musical background which I think helped.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SCARECROW MAGIC?
A. I knew the beginning and the end, and that I wanted it to be a fun book to read aloud. Everything that happened in the middle evolved over the course of many revisions.

Q. Did SCARECROW MAGIC receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. My agent, Marcia Wernick, helped me polish the draft and sent it to a half dozen or so editors over the course of several months. They all came back with a “well done, but…” And all of the ‘buts’ hit upon a central theme – the story dragged. So I kept the bones of the story and went to work on picking up the pace and the fun factor.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SCARECROW MAGIC.
A. I was so happy I almost hung up the phone without asking how much the publisher was offering.


Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Most picture book authors are not given the opportunity to select an illustrator, but because I’ve been working in children’s publishing for 20 years, I was allowed to offer some suggestions. Matt Myers was my first choice and I was elated that they agreed.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I thought it was brilliant! He totally captured the balance between fun and scary. And the back cover concept was amazing! I never saw that coming and actually laughed out loud when I saw it.

Q. How long did SCARECROW MAGIC take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About two years, but I think part of that was because it is definitely a Fall book.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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, but I liked the character so much that I wrote a sequel… that will probably never be published. It was a heartwarming Christmas story with Scarecrow helping an abandoned puppy. And even though I had Scarecrow dressed in a ratty old Santa suit, there was a lot of resistance to using a scarecrow as a “Christmas” character. I’ve not given up, but I may eventually give in and turn the scarecrow into a snowman.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about SCARECROW MAGIC?
A. Some of the hand-drawn pictures I get are pretty funny – and usually better than I could have done.

Q. When you do readings of SCARECROW MAGIC, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. When Scarecrow jumps into the pond with just his underwear on. I didn’t write that into my notes and never saw it coming. But Matt has a terrific sense of humor and knew that any scene with underwear would tickle a kid’s funny bone.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. If something isn’t working, don’t force it. Just scrap it and find a different approach. There are very few bad ideas but lots of bad execution.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share? I love going to art shows and museums.
A. My favorite exercise is taking a piece of art or an ancient artifact and creating a story about it. I just let my imagination run wild. The more bizarre the better, because usually I will hit on something that can be fleshed out. There is a lot of truth to the adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am revising the sequel to the Wandmaker, my first novel which was published in May. Wandmaker’s Apprentice is due out in Summer 2017. I am also working on my next picture book as well as a chapter book series that pays a bit of homage to one of my childhood heroes, Ray Harryhausen.

To learn more about Ed Masessa and his books, visit his website.

LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST

August 15, 2016

Tags: LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST, Josh Funk, Brendan Kearney, Sterling Children's Books, 2015

Author Josh Funk has two upcoming picture books but today he talks about crafting his very first picture book, LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST—"a ripping barnburner full of outlandish action, heroic and dastardly characters, roller coaster rhymes and some absolutely fabulous illustrations by Brendan Kearney" (David Henry Sterry, The Huffington Post) .

Q. Was LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast was definitely not the first (or second ... or third) manuscript I ever wrote. The first was about a fox and a squirrel and involved a mystery about a missing guitar. And it was ... pretty terrible. But I spent well over a year revising it - and it was a fantastic learning experience. Looking back on it, I realize that I'd have to completely rewrite it for it ever to fit today's picture book market (or just be any good). But I learned so much as I revised it. And I continued to write new manuscripts as I learned. One of which was Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast.

Q. What inspired LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST?
A. I had been writing picture book manuscripts for a while and was always on the lookout for new ideas. One Saturday morning I came down for breakfast and asked my kids what they wanted to eat. One said, "Pancakes!" and the other said, "French toast!" - and they argued for a bit. When I checked the freezer, all we had were waffles. It was on the way to the diner that I thought it might be fun to see a pancake and French toast arguing.

I asked my kids what a pancake and French toast might fight over and one of the kids said, "Syrup." I thought that was a brilliant idea. But I can't remember which of my kids said it. And now, years later, the kids fight about which of them came up with the idea. So what started with two kids arguing, continues today ... with two kids arguing.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The names of the characters were always pretty descriptive and different, so Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast was the title since the very beginning.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is probably the bean avalanche. Not only is the two-page spread extremely colorful (illustrator Brendan Kearney once told me it took an entire week for him to color in those beans), but it's just such a silly thing to happen.

It was not part of the first draft. The first draft was actually just the two main characters arguing about who was more deserving of the syrup-- it was more of a debate. One of my critique partners made the comment that it needed more action (thanks, Jane). That's when it turned into a race.

I will say that the bean avalanche was something I mentioned in my cover and query letters, cause I thought it was a pretty descriptive and different thing.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Most of it has to do with the fact that the story is written in rhyme. The way it flowed, I needed certain syllables in the right places and 'Lady' just fit. In the very very very first draft, Sir French Toast was actually Mister (because two syllables were needed). It was suggested I stick with the royalty theme (thanks, Carol!) and go with something like 'Sir' - so I did. And that's why the fourth line of the book is "sat Lady Pancake beside Sir French Toast." I used 'beside' as a two syllable replacement for the word 'and' when 'Sir' was originally 'Mister.'

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. Because there are multiple main characters, this seemed to fit best. I must admit though, it just came out this way at the start and I never considered changing it.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST?
A. I knew the two characters, the setting (inside the fridge), the conflict (only one drop of syrup was left in the bottle and they both wanted it), and the ending (I'm not telling here). None of that changed along the way. Almost everything else did.

Q. Did LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I sent it to 36 agents. Two responded as if they read it. Ten sent me form rejections. The other 24 were black holes (I never received a response). So I gave up on agents.

I sent it snail mail to 10 publishers that accepted unsolicited submissions. One sent back a rejection. 8 never responded. So that all adds up to 45 rejections and ...

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST.
A. On the evening of October 30th, 2013, I received an email from an editor at Sterling saying they found my manuscript in the slush pile and they would be taking it to acquisitions the following week. While I was excited and encouraged, I'd had some close calls that didn't go through in the previous few months so I didn't get overly excited until ...

Eight days later I was at The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA (a local writing community), a few hours early for a picture book critique group (I hadn't yet critiqued the manuscripts we were going over that night) when I got the email. No one else was around, so I screamed a little. I giggled a bit. I called my family to tell them. It was pretty exhilarating!

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. None. Sterling told me that they'd found an illustrator and sent me a link to Brendan Kearney's website. I was psyched. From the very beginning before I saw any of his sketches, I knew he'd be pretty perfect.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Brendan had put so much thought into not just the main character, but so many of the side characters as well. Lady Pancake's whipped cream hair with a cherry and wafer crown along with Sir French Toast's strawberry hat blew me away. None of that was in my text. All he had were the character names. The rest came from Brendan's imagination.

And the cover is perfect. The color (bright turquoise-green) pops off the shelf, along with the embossed gold foil! And it's got so much tension and action built in to the illustrations. I love it!

Q. How long did LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Just under 22 months. Which is fast. Almost lightning fast for a picture book non-sequel where the author and illustrator are not the same person.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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. Nope. I wouldn't change a thing!

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST?
A. Strangely, a lot of kids wonder whether Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast will ever get married (or if they already are married). I do know that if they did start a family and have kids, their children would definitely be crêpes (French pancakes).

Q. When you do readings of LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The twist ending.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. I've put together a set of Resources for Writers on my website. But the most important thing I'd recommend is that you keep writing. As I said earlier, my first manuscript was terrible. My second was a little less terrible. Every book you write is likely to be better than the last, especially if you're going to conferences, getting feedback, learning about the industry, making (and learning) from mistakes, and more. I can't tell you how many times I've heard keynote speakers say that finally, it was their seventh book written that became their first one published. So keep writing. And keep writing new things.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have two new books: Pirasaurs! (Scholastic) illustrated by Michael Slack and Dear Dragon (Viking/Penguin) illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo. Next spring (2017), Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast: The Case of the Stinky Stench will be released. And then a few more are on the way after that.

To learn more about Josh and his books, visit his website.

THE PEDDLER'S BED

July 11, 2016

Tags: THE PEDDLER'S BED, Lauri Fortino, Bong Redila, Ripple Grove Press, 2015

Library Assistant Lauri Fortino is a strong supporter of library and literacy initiatives and the creator of Frog On A Blog, a forum for writers and fans of children’s picture books to share their views on all-things picture books. But today she shares the story of how she created her first picture book, THE PEDDLER'S BED—"a quirky little tale that expresses the core message of kindness and hospitality, sharing what you have with others, no matter how humble or how fine" (Midwest Book Review).

Q. Was THE PEDDLER'S BED 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 have written several picture book manuscripts, both before and after The Peddler’s Bed. My first picture book story was called Freddy Bear Goes Here and There, which I completed while taking a children’s writer’s course back in 2005. The story has gone through several revisions and title changes (and rejections) since then. I just recently dug it out again for even more revisions. It’s barely recognizable now as the story I wrote over ten years ago.

Q. What inspired THE PEDDLER'S BED?
A. My inspiration for THE PEDDLER’S BED came from a sense of gratitude I felt toward family and friends for their generosity. When my husband and I first got married, much of our furniture was given to us, including our bed. The story is all about kindness and generosity and I really feel the world could use more of both.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title just came to me when I knew the story was going to be about a peddler who tries to sell a bed. The title for The peddler’s bed never changed.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the little man’s dog Happy. He was in the story from the beginning. I’m pretty sure my dog influenced my decision to include a canine companion in the book.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. At the time, I was writing all of my stories in third person and hadn’t considered anything else. I’ve become more comfortable experimenting with different points of view now. I’m even working on a story that breaks the fourth wall.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE PEDDLER'S BED? 
A. I had a rough idea of what the story was about, how it would begin, and how I wanted it to end. But my plot was disjointed. I had to work on connecting the dots from beginning to end in a way that made sense.

Q. Did THE PEDDLER'S BED receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Before sending the manuscript to Ripple Grove Press, I had sent it out only twice, and received back two rejections.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE PEDDLER'S BED.
A. There was a message on my answering machine when I arrived home from work (I work at my local public library) from Rob Broder, president and founder of Ripple Grove Press, saying he’s interested in THE PEDDLER’S BED and to call him to discuss a possible contract. Well, I must have replayed the message at least four or five times to be sure I was hearing correctly. Needless to say, I was thrilled!

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. Rob and I discussed illustration style and he asked me to name a few books with styles that I thought were a good fit for the story. We seemed to be in agreement about what direction to take the art. Then Rob contacted Bong Redila to see if he’d be interested in illustrating the book. I’m super pleased with Bong’s illustrations. They’re so colorful and unique.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The first thing that jumped out at me was that the peddler’s cart looked very different from what I had envisioned. But that was perfectly okay. I loved the sketches! It’s fascinating to see how an illustrator takes your words and ideas and brings them to life.

Q. How long did THE PEDDLER'S BED take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I signed the contract October 31, 2013 and the publication date was September 1, 2015, so nearly two years. But I received my author copies in April of 2015.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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’m sure there’d be a lot of things I’d change if I picked it apart, but I try not to do that. As writers, our inner editors are always talking, making us believe what we’ve written isn’t ready, finished, or good enough. Sometimes you just have to put him/her on mute and let it go.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE PEDDLER'S BED?
A. This isn’t from letters, but from talking to the kids about the book after I’ve read it. The book ends with the little man asleep on the bed on his front porch. I like to ask the kids how they think the little man will get the bed inside the house. One child said he’d prop open the roof and lower it down. You can’t beat the ingenuity of kids.

Q. When you do readings of THE PEDDLER'S BED which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. What gets the best reaction actually happens before I read the book. Because there is a dog in the story, I like to share a picture of my dog with the kids. I show them a blown up picture of my dog with crazy, static-zapped, fly-away hair and tell the kids he was having a bad hair day. They love it!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read bunches of picture books, especially new ones! Go to the library and raid their New Picture Book shelves. If you want to get published the traditional way, it’s important to really get a feel for the format and a clearer picture of what publishers are publishing and what’s selling in the current market. That said, don’t try to copy what others have done. Create something new. Write the stories that only you can write.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m working on several picture book manuscripts as well as a children’s chapter book. My goal this year is to find a literary agent to represent my work.
To learn more about Lauri, visit her website

THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT

May 30, 2016

Tags: THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT, Penny Parker Klostermann, Ben Mantle, Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015

Today we are chatting with former teacher and current picture-book writer Penny Parker Klostermann. Her second book, A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE, is due out next year. Here she looks back at creating her first picture book, THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT—Named Best in Rhyme 2015 in conjunction with the Rhyming Picture Book Revolution Conference.

Q. Was THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT the first picture book manuscript that you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was not the first. If I checked my files correctly, it was the twelfth. The first one I wrote was titled THE IMAGINATION SITUATION. It is still sitting. I've revisited it a few times to see if I could find my way to revisions, but so far it's a no-go.

Q. What inspired THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT?
A few things.

A. First, I knew I wanted to do a retelling of THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY. In fact, I just counted my ideas for a retelling in my list of PIBOIDMO (Picture Book Idea Month) ideas over the years and I have twenty-one different main characters that I thought might work for this book and none of the ideas say "dragon." But I still kind of count this as a PIBOIDMO idea, as the spark was there.
Second, for about two years I took pictures of clouds that took on familiar shapes. One evening I photographed one that looked just like a dragon and I thought what a great main character a dragon would make if I could just find a story for him.
Finally, one day I was determined to find a main character for my retelling and I visited Tara Lazar's list of 500+ Things Kids Like. There was dragon again. I started writing and the the rest is history.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Once I had the first thing the dragon would swallow, it made sense for that to be my title.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Probably the annoying steed galloping around at a terrible speed. In my first draft I had a horse that galloped and trotted around, of course. A member of my critique group suggested the steed since it fits with knights and castles. I was embarrassed that I'd missed that wonderful detail. Yay for critique groups!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. That was an easy decision because I mirrored the original.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT?
A. Only about fifty percent. My first draft was 274 words. The final text is 481 words.

Q. Did THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT receive any rejection letters? Yes. If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Ten, counting submissions to both agents and editors.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT.
A. Total excitement. And disbelief! Really this reaction was when my agent, Tricia Lawrence, let me know there was strong interest. But, my editor, Maria Modugno, wanted revisions. I think that's pretty typical for a first-time author. I imagine she wanted to see if I had it in me. Plus, my story was in rhyme so revisions can be tricky. After I came through, we got an official offer.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Maria did ask if we had suggestions and we gave a few. Really, I didn't expect to be asked so I didn't have a strong feel. Then when Maria said her first choice was Ben Mantle and Tricia and I saw his work we were delighted.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I loved how he captured the dragon's personality. And the color palette is perfection. Ben Mantle nailed the whole thing and added so much to the story.

Q. How long did THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Just under two years.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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 wouldn't change a thing. I felt very lucky to have an editor who attended to every detail and was determined to make the book the best it could be.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT?
A. The most memorable thing so far is a drawing of my dragon that was given to me by a 3rd grade girl. She drew it during my presentation at her school. I loved that she loved my dragon enough to draw him. And she did a fabulous job.

Q. When you do readings of THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Kids love the spread where the dragon is completely bloated and roars, "Okay . . . enough! I've had enough— More than enough of this swallowing stuff." The dragon is so fat that it's hard not to laugh. And, of course, the BURRRRRP! spread is a favorite, too.

Q. What is your #1 tip on writing picture books?
A. Join SCBWI. There are a lot of resources out there, but SCBWI led me to most of them. Sorry, I can't just stop with one :-) Remember that even though revision is hard, that's usually where the magic happens.
Read! Read! Read!
To learn more about Penny Parker Klostermann and her books, visit her website

PENNY & JELLY: THE SCHOOL SHOW!

April 25, 2016

Tags: PENNY & JELLY: THE SCHOOL SHOW!, Maria Gianferrari, Thyra Heder, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015

Maria Gianferrari writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with dog, Becca as her muse. Maria has several books forthcoming, including a second to PENNY AND JELLY: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder. Today she tells us how her first picture book was created.

Q. Was PENNY AND JELLY the first picture-book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book that you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, I believe my first was TERRIFIC TONGUES, which began as a poem. It’s a concept book about cool animal tongues which still retains some of its original poetic elements. It was acquired by Boyds Mills Press. They’re currently seeking an illustrator.

Q. What event or person inspired PENNY AND JELLY?
A. PENNY & JELLY was literally inspired when my daughter, Anya, who was around 5 at the time, began playing a harmonica, and our dog, Becca, joined in song. It was so funny, and adorable and sweet that I decided I must write about it. It was also very much inspired by Anya and Becca’s relationship: Anya’s an only child, and Becca is like her dog sister/playmate.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The original title of the book was PENELOPE, UNTALENTED. However, because I received a two-book deal, we needed a title that could carry to the second book, so Penny & Jelly was born!

Q. What is your favorite part of PENNY AND JELLY? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the “Best Friend” ending. The story originally ended with the lines, “They were not in tune./But their duet had harmony.” Though I loved the feeling and humor in the lines, I knew it wasn’t quite finished yet. It took awhile, and then I finally had that “a-ha” moment, and the pieces came together in the ending.

I also love the cross-outs, my friend and critique partner Lisa Robinson’s idea. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Penny’s lists.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Jelly was always Jelly—I just loved the sound of it. It’s funny-sounding, and it also felt like the kind of name a young kid might select for a dog. As I mentioned above, Penny was originally, Penelope. I liked the classic nature of the name, and again, it has some inherent humor. I love the rhythm of Penny & Jelly, and how they’re reminiscent of peanut butter and jelly, both in tone and in the idea that they’re complementary.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I’m not really sure. I guess I wanted an overarching narrative voice, and it felt like it worked. It began in third person, and I didn’t veer from that during revision.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began to write PENNY AND JELLY?
A. I knew that it was going to be a story about a bond between a girl and her canine BFF, but it took some time to come up with the talent show plot. After I figured that out, I wanted it be untraditional in terms of the talents, to be a story of creativity and resilience.

Q. Did PENNY AND JELLY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes! I checked my records and it received eight rejections before it was acquired by the lovely and amazing, Cynthia Platt.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on this book.
A. Complete and total elation! I did a dance around the living room with Anya. Becca looked at us like we were crazy. A one book deal would have been fantastic on its own, but to have gotten a two-book debut deal was totally surreal.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for PENNY AND JELLY?
A. Cynthia was kind enough to show me some of Thyra’s early dog sketches and sketches of Penny, and I was in love! I could tell she was a dog lover like me. Her sketches had so much personality. I knew Cynthia had found just the right illustrator.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I LOVED them! I was in total awe of the way that Thyra portrayed both Penny & Jelly with such tender humor and feeling, and how she added layers of visual playfulness to the text. There are so many cute details. I especially love Penny’s mismatched socks.

Q. How long did PENNY AND JELLY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Cynthia is incredibly smart and extremely organized; Thyra delivered the art quickly, despite the fact that she was also busy with her debut, Fraidy Zoo. The offer came in February 2013, and it was released in July 2015, which is amazingly fast.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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! I love it just the way it is!

Q. When you do readings of PENNY AND JELLY which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. There are a few sections where people chuckle: the VOILÀ page (where Jelly is dressed up—who hasn’t done that with their dogs?). I think the magician part also gets a few laughs. The ending usually elicits more of an “Awww!” which is really nice.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Don’t give up! Even though picture books are short, they’re not easy to write. They often undergo multiple revisions and entirely change shape. It takes time to improve your craft. Keep reading; keep writing and join a critique group for feedback.

Thanks for having me here, Karlin! Congrats on your own debut, NADIA!

To learn more about Maria, visit her website and on Facebook.

CONTEST CLOSED Win a copy of PENNY & JELLY: THE SCHOOL SHOW! (U.S. Residents only.) Leave a comment to enter. The winner will be announced on Monday, May 2.