What inspired their picture books? How did they pick the titles? What did they do when they received an offer on their #firstpicturebook? In this weekly Q&A, writers share their experiences and tips. This week's writer is SUSAN HOOD!


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BAXTER'S BOOK

May 22, 2017

Tags: BAXTER'S BOOK, Hrefna Bragadottir, Nosy Crow, 2016

Originally from Iceland, Hrefna Bragadottir has lived in the UK for the past 14 years and earned an M.A. in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Arts. During her final year at Cambridge, she created a project that would turn into her #firstpicturebook, BAXTER'S BOOK—"the story of a peculiar blue birdlike creature who auditions to be in a book, but doesn’t conform to expectations. Simple words and comic pictures let us know that even the odd deserve attention" (The Sunday Times).

Q. Was BAXTER'S BOOK the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Yes, it was my first picture book. I did an MA in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, and it was part of my final year masters project. I'd had lots of concept ideas during my time on the course, but BAXTER'S BOOK was the first one I wrote from start to finish.

Q. What inspired BAXTER'S BOOK?
A. That's a very good question. I guess BAXTER'S BOOK was born out of my own insecurities as an aspiring writer/ illustrator. I was nearing the end of my masters degree and I still had no idea what to write about or what my 'voice' as an illustrator should be, yet alone how to get anything published! I remember a few of my tutors saying how important it is to write from the heart but I didn't really know what my heart had to say. I had been to a lecture about popular animals featured in picture books and I remember thinking 'What about the less conventional animals? Surely they deserve some attention, too! A few days later I did a doodle in my sketchbook of two unusual looking creatures having a conversation about how they would never make it into a book. And that's when the idea for BAXTER'S BOOK was born.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. When I first drew the character I decided to call him Nelson. I'm not sure why I picked that name, it just seemed to fit very nicely. The only problem with it was that the title didn't tell the reader what the book was about, and the publisher felt we needed to include the word 'book' in there. Nelson's Book didn’t sound quite right so I searched for lots of names beginning with B, and found Baxter!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. It's usually a bit of both. I start with a concept and make little doodles and notes on random pieces of paper. I tend to work much better on cheap paper that I can throw away as I find sketchbooks a bit intimidating, especially brand new ones! There's something about a pristine sketchbook that stops my creativity from flowing freely - I somehow become too concerned with getting it right first time. Once I've gathered lots of sketches and notes together, I then type anything about the character that comes to mind, and try not to worry too much about the content during the early stages of an idea.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of BAXTER'S BOOK is when he disappears behind the stage curtains and thinks to himself 'What if I'm not good enough to be in a book?' It pretty much sums up how I felt about embarking upon a new career at the time, but it's also something that children can relate to as they go through the process of discovering who they are. I guess that's what my tutors meant when they told me to write from the heart. It was always in the first draft but my editor very cleverly made it a double page spread to give that moment a bit more drama.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. I decided to name the other characters by their animal names Wolf, Lion, Bear and Rabbit, to keep them as generic popular picture book animals with lots of 'book acting' experience.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. I played around with telling it in third person, but it just didn’t feel as strong. I wanted Baxter to talk directly to the reader in the present moment to get a better sense of the journey he goes on. It keeps it short and sweet.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing BAXTER'S BOOK?
A. That's an interesting question. I guess the idea was floating around in my head for a while and I had to brainstorm different scenarios before the ending got resolved. My housemate once told me it's so important to let ideas grow by nurturing them. She used to refer to it as putting them in a 'greenhouse' until they're strong enough to grow outside by themselves. I think so many great ideas get dismissed too early and it's such a shame. They need time and patience to flourish.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. It was a mix of both. I drew Baxter once I had the concept idea for the book, but then the images evolved with the words, and vice versa.

Q. Did BAXTER'S BOOK receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Baxter's Book got picked up at our London graduation show, so I was fortunate enough to not have to go through that process.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on BAXTER'S BOOK.
A. I was absolutely over the moon, but also a bit overwhelmed as everything happened so quickly. I had several publishers interested in the book as a result of the show and an agent who wanted to represent me. It was very surreal to go from quite a lot of self doubt to suddenly having so much interest in my work.

Q. How long did BAXTER'S BOOK take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in February 2014 and it got published in February 2016, so two years.

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. Yes, I really loved the name Nelson, so it took a while to adjust to Baxter. But it's funny because I don’t even think about it now!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Patience and lots of perseverance. It's a very slow moving industry so if you get a book deal, don’t give up your day job until you have a few more projects on the go.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. As I'm brainstorming story plots, I find it very helpful to consider how the characters are feeling, what they like or dislike and why? A lot of it will be unusable waffle, but it frees me up and stops me getting a writers block before the idea has had space to grow.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm currently illustrating a text by another author, but I'm not sure how much I can say about it at this stage. It's being published next year…. I've also got an idea for another picture book, but it's still growing in the 'greenhouse' so isn't quite ready to face the world yet.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
Website: www.hrefnabragadottir.com
http://belllomaxmoreton.co.uk/portfolio/hrefna-bragadottir/
Twitter: www.twitter.com/Hrefna_Braga
Instagram: www.instagram.com/hrefnabraga/
Facebook page: Hrefna Bragadottir Illustration

THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ

March 13, 2017

Tags: THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ, Curtis Manley, Kate Berube, Paula Wiseman Books, 2016

"Many of my manuscripts have received several rejections. Several have received many rejections." But finally, one of Curtis Manley's manuscripts became his #firstpicturebook. THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ is "a marvelous debut”(Publishers Weekly starred review) that "makes a fun read-aloud, especially for cat lovers, literacy lovers, or anyone looking for a great story” (School Library Journal starred review).

Q. Was THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Not the first picture book I wrote—I wrote the first one in 2000 (I still really like it and need to figure out how to revise it to make it work). Not even the first picture book I sold—that one won’t come out until April 2017 (because sometimes there are big bumps in the road!).

Q. What inspired THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ?
A. When I started working on the story in early 2009, I was remembering when my daughter began reading middle-grade novels. She sank so deep into those books that she was in another world—and it was not the world in which her mother and I were asking her to get ready for dinner! So that’s what the first version of the story was about—a boy whose best friend (his cat) gets lost in books. Gradually the story changed so that the boy teaches the cat to read. And then two cats were being taught, but reading didn’t come equally easily to both...

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The earliest versions of the title were always similar to the final title. It seemed a good idea to use the title to make it clear what the book was about (at least on one level). It also seemed like a title that would make people think “What? Can cats really be taught to read?” Of course, some people might worry, wondering if their cats have been reading all along, unbeknownst to them…

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I really like many different parts of the book, but the spread with all the drawings is one favorite. Was that in the first draft? Nope! It first appeared in the draft that got the offer—but in fact previous drafts had hinted at something under the bed (but even I—the author—had missed those hints).

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. I chose “Nick” because I thought that name would work well for any boy the illustrator might draw. For the cats, I didn’t want “cute” names; I wanted distinctive names that adults would recognize from some of the classic books referenced in the story. “Verne” seemed fitting, and “Stevenson” was actually a perfect match for a cat who’s a reluctant reader…

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. The first four years of my working on it, the story was in first person. I felt that made it more immediate. But first person isn’t always the best choice for a read-aloud. My editor asked me to try it in third person; that allowed the humor to come out more, so we kept it that way.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ?
A. I think I had a good idea of the whole story—but, as I mentioned above, the story changed so that isn’t the one you’ll read in the published book.

Q. Did THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Many of my manuscripts have received several rejections. Several have received many rejections. But for this book, my agent’s choice of the first editor to send it to was perfect: that editor liked it right away. Not that the editor immediately yelled, “Sold!”—there were extensive revisions before that happened.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ.
A. Relief! After three rounds of revisions, one right after another, I was just glad the story had sold so that we could be finished with all those rewrites. Famous last words! Immediately after the offer there were two more rounds of revisions—and two additional rounds several months later! It was some of the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. It’s unusual for the writer to have much say in the matter. But I’m grateful I was shown the samples and sketches as the work progressed.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. My editor needed to be sure that any illustrator chosen had good cat-drawing abilities, so she asked the illustrator she had in mind—Kate Berube—for some samples. Kate’s sample cats had just the right dynamic and charm for the story—and behaved like the cats we ourselves have had over the years.

Q. How long did THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took just a bit more than two years. That’s pretty common with picture books for which the author is not creating the illustrations.

Q. When you do readings of THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Kids like to recite the words that are spelled out on the flash cards that Nick uses. They also love to meow and hiss along with the cats!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. If you’re serious about writing for children, join SCBWI. But even more important than that is to find a critique group of like-minded children’s writers (which SCBWI can certainly help with) who can give you a wide range of feedback on your manuscripts and story ideas. A good writing group can help its members bootstrap themselves from being writers to being published authors. It’s happened for many of the folks in my group.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I’m not sure I’d call it an exercise, but (no matter where I might be) I try to always write down any story idea I have—because if I don’t, I’ll likely forget it. If I forget it, I can never work on it and turn it into something—and there’s no guarantee I’ll ever recall it again. On my computer I keep a file with all my ideas, and I look them over every so often. I never know when I’ll think of the perfect detail or situation to turn a specific idea into the core of a future book.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just sold my first nonfiction picture book manuscript, but I’ll likely be working closely with the editor for several months to get the text “just right”. And I try to have four or five new manuscripts that I’m working on—or at least thinking about—at any given time.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. www.curtismanley.com

Thanks so much, Karlin, for inviting me to appear on your blog!

THE NIAN MONSTER

February 27, 2017

Tags: THE NIAN MONSTER, Andrea Wang, Alina Chau, Albert Whitman, 2016

A former environmental consultant, Andrea Wang has written several nonfiction books but when she came across an old folktale, the idea for her #firstpicturebook was born. Today she shares the story behind THE NIAN MONSTER—a "fun-filled holiday adventure" (Foreword Reviews) that "thrills but doesn’t threaten" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Q. Was THE NIAN MONSTER the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. THE NIAN MONSTER was probably the fifth or sixth picture book manuscript I’ve written. The first picture book was a story about a young boy who is a spy for a secret environmental agency. It was too big a plot for a picture book and has since been transformed into a middle grade novel.

Q. What inspired THE NIAN MONSTER?
A. I came across the old folktale about the Nian monster and was intrigued because I’d never heard it when I was a child. I like stories about monsters and I especially like trickster tales, so I thought I’d try to write a retelling in a contemporary setting.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I’d initially titled it The Return of the Nian Monster, but since very few people were familiar with the original folktale, it didn’t feel quite right. Shortening it to just The Nian Monster seemed like a good way to introduce readers to him.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. [Spoiler Alert!] My favorite part is when the Nian monster’s jaws get stuck together with sticky rice cake. It wasn’t in the first draft or the second, but when I finally hit upon using traditional Chinese New Year foods to defeat Nian, that scene appeared right away.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. The Nian monster was already named, so that was a given. I chose Xingling’s name based on what it means – “born with a clever nature.”

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. I think using third person retained the sort of timeless, folktale quality of the story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE NIAN MONSTER? 
A. I stayed close to the structure of the original folktale, where the monster is defeated by a person who figures out his three weaknesses. I knew I wanted the protagonist to be a smart and brave girl, and that the tricks used on Nian in the folktale wouldn’t work on him anymore. Everything else I figured out through many revisions.

Q. Did THE NIAN MONSTER receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. THE NIAN MONSTER received about 8 rejections from editors, which really wasn’t bad. Two of those rejections were after the manuscript had been taken to acquisitions, though, which was hard.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE NIAN MONSTER.
A. I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. To be honest, I had forgotten that I had submitted the manuscript to Albert Whitman because it had been so long (nearly 18 months). And to suddenly be plucked out of the slush pile felt unreal.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor, Kristin Zelazko, was very kind about receiving my suggestions for illustrators and passing them along to the art director. They didn’t end up choosing anyone I had suggested, but I really could not be happier that they selected Alina Chau. I didn’t think that as a debut author I would be so lucky as to have someone of her caliber illustrate my book.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I was blown away by the colors and the culturally-accurate details. Alina made the story come alive!

Q. How long did THE NIAN MONSTER take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in February 2015 and the book was released on December 1, 2016, so it was just a couple months shy of two years from start to finish. It sounds like a long time, but the months just flew by!

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 didn’t have to edit much of the original manuscript that I submitted, which was great. All my “darlings” stayed in the story. There’s one line, though, that I think I’d change now that I’ve read it out loud so many times: “Nian’s wide, wicked jaws were stuck fast.” I keep stumbling over the “stuck fast” part. I think I’d either leave out the word “fast” or replace it with “together.”

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE NIAN MONSTER?
A. I haven’t received any letters from kids yet, but at one storytime event, a girl said she thought Nian was cute and cuddly. But after I read the part about Nian eating entire villages, she announced that he was mean and she didn’t like him anymore! (I wouldn’t like having a monster threaten to eat me, either.) Another child told me that she would defeat the monster with chocolate cake, which sounds like a great idea to me. Especially if it’s a flourless chocolate cake – those things are deadly! :)

Q. When you do readings of THE NIAN MONSTER, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I do an interactive storytime which was created by Kirsten Cappy of Curious City DPW (www.curiouscitydpw.com). I have a giant Nian monster mask and the kids can come up and “feed” him the food items mentioned in the book. There are fireworks at the end of the story and each child gets a paper bag to fill with air and pop. They all love making noise and helping me send away the Nian monster!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Persist! Keep reading, studying, writing, revising, and submitting.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. One of my new favorite exercises is by Jean Reidy, a friend and agency-mate. She has “10 Power Premise Questions” on her blog here (http://jeanreidy.com/2013/09/does-your-picture-book-premise-have-power/) that help you figure out if your picture book idea has what it takes to sell. I find it to be a handy, quick, but not necessarily painless way to sort through my ideas and decide which one to work on next. It’s especially helpful if you participate in Storystorm (formerly known as Picture Book Idea Month) and don’t know which idea to work on first!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m working on a middle grade coming-of-age novel about a young Chinese girl who moves from Boston’s Chinatown to rural Ohio. I tend to keep my WIPs close to my chest, so that’s all I’m ready to say about it now.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My website is www.andreaywang.com
Twitter: @AndreaYWang, although I’m still learning the ropes with Twitter.
Facebook: andrea.c.wang
Instagram: @andreawhywang.

Thanks so much for interviewing me and I hope to see you and your readers around online!

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU

February 12, 2017

Tags: WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU, Susan Farrington, HarperCollins, 2016

After mixed-media artist Susan Farrington created a MTA poster that was displayed in hundreds of NYC trains, publishers asked her if she had any ideas for a children's books. Susan answered with her debut author/illustrator picture book WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU—"a bright and appealing lap-sit choice (School Library Journal) that "speak[s] joyfully to the happy chaos of family life” (Publishers Weekly).

Q. Was WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. The first picture book I wrote was called 'These Are A Few Of The Scariest Things'.
The text and cadence was based on the song 'My favorite things', so right there I had a problem with copyright. I still love the book and the idea of using a safe space (a child sitting on the lap of a loved one) to help kids talk about and overcome fears.
I did have an agent and publisher who were interested but we could not get the OK from the copyright division of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Q. What inspired WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU?
A. I have two daughters, They are now 17 and 20. There were so many times when they were growing up when I thought, 'gosh, I love that'... many of those observations made their way into 'What I Love About You!'

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Originally it was going to be "Do You Know What I Love?', but changing it to 'What I Love About You!' seemed a stronger choice.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The page where the parent and child are holding hands... 'Do you know what I love? I love when you hold my hand.'
Then on the next page it says... 'And when you let go to make new friends', that's my favorite.

Q. How did you decide to tell the story in first or third person?
A. It seemed natural to tell the story in the first person. I wanted the child to feel the parent/caregiver was speaking directly to them.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU?
A. The concept started as a list and then evolved to include both the things we love about our children as well as acknowledgements that not everything is always perfect.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I had the outline of the story done and then worked on some of the illustrations.
The dummy of the book contained 4 finished illustrations as well as rough sketches of the remaining pages.

Q. Did WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I was lucky in that I was asked if I 'had any children's books in me' from two publishers after they saw my poster on the NY subway.The poster was in hundreds of trains in NYC for the year 2014, you can see it here http://www.susanfarrington.com/mta-ny-poster.html.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU.
A. Over the moon happy! I had always dreamed of doing a children's book, so it was literally a dream come true!

Q. How long did WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About two years. I was told up front that there was a long lead time and that proved to be true. I was given about a year to complete the art; the following year was printing/color corrections and other tweaking.

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. There were two things that I wanted which were ruled out in the beginning of the process—handmade type that was multicolored, and a mirrored surface at the end. The editor and art director explained why these things needed to be changed and I deferred to their expertise.

Q. When you do readings of WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The children like the page where the creature sings very loud... it gets a lot of laughs.
The parents respond to my favorite pages: 'I love when you hold my hand...and when you let go to make new friends.'

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write something that you would want to read over and over again.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Start with a rough outline of your story, lay it out as it would read over 32 pages. Play with the rhythm until the flow feels right. Don't be afraid to start over. Have fun.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have a follow up book tentatively called "How to be a friend'. I'll keep you posted on it's progress!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.:
susanfarrington.com
https://www.etsy.com/shop/susanfarrington
https://www.facebook.com/susan-farrington-482547581810699/
https://twitter.com/sus_farrington
https://www.pinterest.com/susanfarrington/

SALAD PIE

January 30, 2017

Tags: SALAD PIE, Wendy BooydeGraaff, Bryan Langdo, Ripple Grove Press, 2016

A contractor for an educational research foundation and a global relocation company, Wendy BooydeGraaff is also the author of a book which has inspired several children to go outside, pick up shiny gum wrappers at the park, and add them to a pretend pie. Today she talks to us about her #firstpicturebook SALAD PIE—“a fine addition to collections in need of imaginative friendship tales” (School Library Journal).

Q. Was SALAD PIE 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, I wrote many things before SALAD PIE, and the first picture book manuscript I wrote and sent out was about the ubiquitous story line of a new sibling, so while I still think the manuscript is cute, it’s locked away in my files.

Q. What inspired SALAD PIE?
A. My creative and imaginative daughter, when she was two years old, going on three.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. This is one of those times when the title came first, and then the story. My daughter and I were at the park and she was playing pretend and said, “Salad Pie,” which I thought was so clever and creative that I repeated it in my head over and over all the way home. Then, during her rest time, I scribbled out the first draft of the story.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Well, let me answer that creatively. In the first drafts, the ending was different. I had Herbert sitting down to enjoy Salad Pie with Maggie, and then he forgot to pretend to eat the pretend pie. He took a real bite of leaves and gum wrapper and crab apple, which I thought was quite funny and ironic (especially to adults). I agreed to change the ending for Ripple Grove Press, and I think it is a much better ending for this story, and it now highlights Maggie’s acceptance of Herbert and his ideas for their next playdate.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. The names Maggie and Herbert are right there in my first handwritten draft. They just seemed like the right names that fit the characters; my subconcious chose them.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. Third person allows the reader to see the actions of Maggie and Herbert and make their own judgements.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SALAD PIE? 
A. The entire story came out in the first draft. After that, it took many readings and critique group meetings to make sure the story was saying what I thought it did. That’s always the trick of writing for me: to make sure I’m saying what I think I’m saying.

Q. Did SALAD PIE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes, I had some rejections but the number is locked in a secret vault. ;)

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SALAD PIE.
A. Well, Ripple Grove Press had my manuscript for eight or nine months. I had politely nudged them twice at three-to-four month intervals to determine the status of SALAD PIE, and both times they asked for a little more time. Then I came back from a short vacation and heard the message on my home phone that they wanted to talk to me. I started getting excited, and sure enough, when I called back, Rob said they wanted to publish SALAD PIE. There were very few edits, mainly the ending, which he told me about before I signed the contract. Then we went over the manuscript a few more times, especially after the initial sketches were in, to make it perfect.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. They asked for input, so I sent some ideas of illustrator styles, but they chose the illustrator, Bryan Langdo.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The first illustration I saw was a character sketch of Maggie with her curly hair (which I loved because I have very curly hair) and puddle jumper boots. I thought her fun-loving, inventive personality was captured perfectly. The cover shows Maggie overjoyed with her invention, and Herbert in the background. I’m very happy with it.

Q. How long did SALAD PIE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Just under two years.The verbal offer was in June of 2014, the contract was signed eight days later, and SALAD PIE was released on March 1, 2016.

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’ve read this book aloud in book stores, on Skype visits, in real classrooms, and I don’t have any words or punctuation I want to change. This is surprising, because I am a nitpick, but also a tribute to Ripple Grove Press’s process, which was very careful and not rushed.

Q. When you do readings of SALAD PIE which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Invariably, when Maggie and Salad Pie tumble down, down, down the slide…and I turn the page and—nope, I’m not going to tell you. You have to read the book! But at readings, I always get a reaction.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Spend lots of time thinking about the words you write, rereading them and making sure they really are the words that are telling the story in the best way possible.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. There are many writing exercises that I love, but I think my favourite stems from people-watching. Sit on a bench somewhere and watch the people who pass. Ask questions about them. Where are they going? What job do they do? Once you see someone that sparks your imagination, gather in as many details as possible about that person and then write. Make up everything you don’t know, from where they live to what books they read. It doesn’t matter if that person leaves—maybe it’s even better—because now you are in the realm of fiction, using your imagination to springboard there.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on more picture books and a middle grade manuscript.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A:
website: http://www.wendybooydegraaff.com/
Read about many other picture book authors and illustrators at On the Scene in 2016: https://onthescenein2016.wordpress.com/
Connect and share your favorite outdoorsy books on:
@BooyTweets: https://twitter.com/BooyTweets
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/wbooydegraaff/salad-pie/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14531750.Wendy_BooydeGraaff.

WHERE ARE THE WORDS?

December 11, 2016

Tags: WHERE ARE THE WORDS?, Jodi McKay, Denise Holmes, Albert Whitman, 2016

This month Jodi McKay's debut picture book will be published and today she found all the right words to tell us about WHERE ARE THE WORDS? Leave a comment below to win a copy!

Q. Was WHERE ARE THE WORDS? the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. WHERE ARE THE WORDS? was definitely not the first story I wrote. There are at least a dozen that came before all of which are tucked away waiting for their turn to be revised.

I actually happened to come across my first manuscript (which I wrote and illustrated) the other day when I was cleaning out the deepest recesses of my basement. Believe me, that’s where it belongs. It was a collection of rhyming poems about different half kid, half animal characters. That’s right, humanimals. Good thing it didn’t work, eh?

Q. What inspired WHERE ARE THE WORDS??
A. I spend a lot of time staring at my computer, willing words to appear on the screen. It was one of these intense staring episodes that I wondered why I couldn’t find the right words for a story and then I thought, Hmmm can I write about that? “Of course!” I answered myself, “But you need to do it in a different way.” So I went through my mental list of possible characters and came across the punctuation marks. It all came together very quickly after that.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I honestly didn’t think that this would remain the title. It’s just what I kept asking myself for so long and still do for that matter. Even now, as I write the answers to these questions, I’m going back and forth looking for the right words. It’s crazy, but it’s part of my process.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love when Exclamation Point is trying to catch Run, Jump, Skip, and Hop. The words are doing exactly that, running, jumping, skipping, and hopping away from Exclamation Point which makes a funny and very active scene. Denise Holmes, the illustrator of this book, did a great job making that spread come to life.

This idea of trying to catch words came a little later in the revisions. I always had Exclamation Point trying to wrangle the words, but it wasn’t as literal as this.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. Well, for a couple of reasons. One, I figured that if I wrote it in first person, then these unconventional characters may feel more relatable and two, I wanted this to be a simple story with a twist. I imagined children reading it and discovering that the characters speak as their roles dictate. That, to me, would be an incredible learning opportunity.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing WHERE ARE THE WORDS? 
A. I knew the problem and the characters rather quickly and I knew that I wanted the characters to speak in a way that shows their punctuation roles. After establishing the three main characters, Period, Question Mark, and Exclamation Point, I needed to add in other punctuation marks and figure out how they could or maybe weren’t able to help Period reach his goal of writing a story. I wanted there to be a sense of teamwork woven into the story so I really tried to have each character be important to creating that theme.

Q. Did WHERE ARE THE WORDS? receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I am prefacing this with the statement that this is a highly unusual situation and I was very lucky to have experienced this.

I received one rejection from an agent who favorited it on #pitmad. I then sent it to an author whose critique service I had won in a contest. She offered a few suggestions and then asked if I would be interested in sending it to her editor. Um, heck yeah! I sent it to her editor at Albert Whitman and waited for a couple of months with no word. Assuming this meant no, I started to query it. Two weeks after I sent three queries out, I opened my email and there it was, an offer to publish a story about punctuation marks trying to find words to write a story.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHERE ARE THE WORDS?
A. You know that feeling when you are about to go over the top of the first hill of a roller coaster and you want to puke and laugh at the same time? It was kind of like that. I called my husband who immediately thought someone had been in a horrible accident because I was cry-yelling. Then I just kinda sat and let it sink in. Once the initial shock left my body I allowed myself to be excited. I am not a very excitable person so this was a big deal.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. None at all, I just got really lucky. Denise is an extremely talented artist who took punctuation marks and gave them life. I had no idea how that was going to happen, but she did it and now the book is so much more that I had imagined it could be. I am very grateful to have been able to work with Denise.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I really liked the mannerisms of the characters. Their facial expressions are fairly simple, but the way their arms move and how they are positioned really gives a sense of personality and adds more heart to the story. I also loved the colors that Denise used.

Q. How long did WHERE ARE THE WORDS? take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It has been almost two years and like most published authors will tell you, the two longest years of my life. I have learned a lot about the publishing process and about myself in that time so I appreciate it all of it.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Find your people first. Not your wife or husband, not your best friend, but people who know what writing is like and who can offer you not only specific support (say that 5 times), but honest and experienced feedback about your manuscripts. The kidlit community is vast and wonderful. There are published and pre-published authors available to share knowledge and writerly love for anyone who seeks it. These are the people you want in your corner as your write your stories. I could not have done this without my critique groups, SCBWI, and all of my online author friends who have so graciously given their wisdom. Find your people.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I am a big advocate for a good story arc and I try to make sure that I hit all of the elements of the arc by asking myself this: Who, Wants, But, So, Then, Sign off. In other words, the main character has a goal, but something stands in his/her way of achieving that goal so he/she tries three different and increasingly harder ways of reaching that goal (failing each time), then the main character learns something or changes in some way that helps him/her finally get to that goal. All is well so the story wraps up usually in a funny, circular, or open ended way. Getting all of the key parts of a story down is an art form that I am still working on, but I like to start there.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am currently working on a picture book idea that hit me while I was supposed to be relaxing at the end of a yoga session. I don’t normally think about mice as I sink into child’s pose, but once they popped in my head they wouldn’t leave me alone. Very chatty, those mice.
I’m also revising several stories that I plan on sending to my agent soon. She is very editorial, which I love so I anticipate revising some more afterwards.

Thanks for having me on your blog, Karlin!

Jodi would love to hear from you! You can find her on:
Her website- www.JodiMcKayBooks.com (Look for the teacher’s’ guide!)
Email- Jodi@JodiMcKayBooks.com
Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/JLMcKayBooks/
Twitter- https://twitter.com/JLMcKay1

A WINNER WAS EMAILED AND THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. To celebrate WHERE ARE THE WORDS? publication, Jodi is giving away a copy of WHERE ARE THE WORDS? Simply comment below to enter. One comment per person, US addresses only, please.

MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS

November 21, 2016

Tags: MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS, Linda Vander Heyden, Eileen Ryan Ewen, Sleeping Bear Press, 2016

It's been a long road to publication. But after running a business and raising a family, Linda Vander Hayden finally reached her destination—publishing her first picture book! Today she shares the story behind MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS—"an appealing and appropriate addition to the nature shelf in the preschool and early elementary grades" (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. My first picture book was a very long story about a crabby cat. I spent hours researching publishers who would love my story. I sent it out into the world and waited…and waited. Finally—a response! It was a form rejection (with many more to follow). Not one to give up easily, I revised my story, cutting the word count in half. Surely, now they would be interested. Alas, no. Though disappointed, I learned a lot from those rejections. It is all part of the journey.

Q. What inspired MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS?
A. For a long time, I’ve been concerned about what is happening to the monarchs. Once it was common to see many of these beautiful butterflies throughout summer and fall. Now, people report not seeing any or very few. Some of the challenges our monarch friends face are changing weather patterns, pesticides, herbicides, roadside mowing, and habitat destruction.

One day, while walking my dogs, I found the milkweed along the side of our quiet road had been mowed. Milkweed is vital to monarch survival. Monarch caterpillars were clinging to the drying plants. Seeing this was upsetting. The monarchs are in trouble, and I wanted to share their story.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I loved the alliteration. And I love Irish names. My grandfather came to this country from Ireland when he was only 16. My sisters and I visited his childhood home a few years ago. It was an amazing experience!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I have several. One, in particular, is when Mr. McGinty and his dog, Sophie, are rescuing the caterpillars. People pass by and shake their heads wondering why he bothers. But Mr. McGinty isn’t worried about how he is seen by others. He only wants to help the monarchs.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Mr. McGinty seemed to be the perfect name for this kind-hearted, energetic man who cares so much about nature. And I chose the name Sophie for his dog, because I thought it sounded gentle. Sophie adores Mr. McGinty and is always ready to share in his adventures, including a monarch mission!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. It really wasn’t a conscious decision. The story just seemed to flow onto the page that way. I think using third person makes it more relatable to children. They can see themselves in the story and identify with Mr. McGinty’s love and concern for the monarchs.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS?
A. I knew about half the story when I began writing. Over the next couple years, with numerous revisions, the rest of the story took shape. I was also very fortunate to be part of the SCBWI mentorship program. I am so grateful to my mentor, who helped with final revisions.

Q. Did MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It definitely did. I think most manuscripts receive rejections. Perhaps some stories are acquired right away, but they are probably few and far between. I received about seven rejections before learning that Sleeping Bear wanted to publish this story.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS.
A. I’m taking a deep breath here. My mother had passed away the month before, and I was (and still am) feeling her loss deeply. My mother was always in my corner. She told me to never give up on my writing. We were at our daughter’s home the evening my agent called with the exciting news. It is hard to describe the combination of sorrow at losing my mother so recently and the elation I felt when I learned of the offer from Sleeping Bear. I wish she could have been here to share my happiness, but I believe she knows.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Sleeping Bear chose Eileen Ryan Ewen to illustrate the book, and I am delighted with her vision of Mr. McGinty and Sophie! MR. MCGINTY’S MONARCHS was a debut book for both of us!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. It was thrilling to see this story come to life at last! I loved Eileen’s portrayal of Mr. McGinty. It was so different than how I pictured him. And so much better! I couldn’t believe it when I saw Sophie. She, too, looked very different than what I had pictured. What struck me immediately was that Sophie looked exactly like the dog my mother had when she was a little girl. Eileen had never seen a photo of my mother’s dog!

Q. How long did MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took about a year and a half from the time I received the offer until the book was released.

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 honestly can’t think of anything I would change. The story teaches while it entertains, and Eileen’s illustrations are beautiful. I also think the author notes are fun and kid friendly. I love reading this story to students and seeing their enthusiasm as they listen and later share their own butterfly stories with me.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS?
A. Yes, one little girl told me, “I want to be a superhero butterfly when I grow up.”

Q. When you do readings of MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The children have lots of fun following Sophie throughout the story. They love her hairdo when she visits the classroom with Mr. McGinty! And I hear them “Oooh” and “Aaah” when they see Eileen’s full-page spread of the monarchs being released.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. The best advice I can offer would be to join SCBWI. This organization offers many opportunities to grow as a writer and/or illustrator. I would also say be patient. It can be a very long road to publication, but along the way, you’ll meet supportive, talented people who will often be willing to help you achieve your goals. And as my mother once told me, “Don’t give up.”

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I don’t really have a favorite writing exercise, but as I write, I try to use active verbs and make sure I’m showing (not telling) how my characters are feeling. I’ve also learned to remember to leave room for an illustrator to work his or her magic.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. For several years, I’ve been working on a manuscript about a red-tailed hawk that was injured in a landfill. When I heard about him from his rehabber, I knew I wanted to share his story. It’s taken a long time (and many different versions), but I think it’s finally coming together.

To learn more about Linda, visit her website

TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK

November 7, 2016

Tags: TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK, Shana Keller, David C. Gardner, Sleeping Bear Press, 2016

Shana Keller is a busy writer, mom, wife, and traveler but today she takes some time to talk about her first picture book, TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK—"a lovely book about time, patience and genius in its purest form" (Black History Channel).

Q. Was TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK 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, Banneker was not my first picture book. I’ve written several. The first one was about storms and it is currently unpublished.

Q. What inspired TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK?
A. The fact that I had never heard of him until my 1st grader came home with an article about his overall achievements. Intrigued, I began to research him.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Through trial and error. I knew that I wanted his name in the title, and luckily my editor supported that.

Q. What resources did you use while researching TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK? 
A. I started off with the library of course and read everything I could get my hands on, which wasn’t much compared to say, Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman. A lot of previous books published about him were no longer circulating. I ended up finding several books online and frequenting used bookstores both at home (Pennsylvania) and one state over (Ohio)! After initial reading, I contacted the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park & Museum. That visit led to meeting one of Banneker’s collateral descendants, which led to meeting others, and then the opportunity to interview them. I also went to the Maryland Historical Society and was able to find some of those hard-to-find books and see original documents that mentioned Banneker.

Q. How did you decide where to start and end this nonfiction story?
A. The more I researched him, the more it felt right to focus his story on the achievement that everyone supported during a divisive time in our history, and one he did of his own volition. It’s noted that people came from near and far to see his clock.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is when he realizes he can cure wood. That’s problem solving and perseverance at its best! Yes, that part made it in the book.

Q. Did TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes. Seven (I believe), and one request for a myth, rather than a historical biography, which was still a rejection but encouraging nonetheless.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK.
A. Pure shock and joy. I read the email about thirty times. Then read it out loud to my husband. I know I scared him at first. He thought something really bad happened because of my total shock!

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. I didn’t have any initial input, but fortunately they paired me with an amazing illustrator. My input came afterwards when the sketches were made.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. It was kind of like reading the offer letter again. Pure joy and excitement.

Q. How long did TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. We were fast-tracked, which I know is unusual. It only took one year.

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. Not a thing! I love it.

Q. Can you share any memorable parts of letters from kids about TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK?
A. We gave my daughter’s teacher a book for their classroom library. They made a thank you card with a picture of the pocket watch on the front. It is the sweetest card ever.

Q. When you do readings of TICKTOCK BANNEKER'S CLOCK, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. When Banneker sets his clock on the mantel, that sense of pride pervades.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Find a topic you love or a person you love and go with it.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Journaling, but not for me, it’s for my characters!

Q. What are you working on now?
I have several on-going projects. I’m working on two other picture books, both historical, and literally as of Saturday, a new middle-grade story has sunk itself into my mind! I’m obsessed with it.
To learn more about Shana Keller and her projects, visit her website

THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS

October 24, 2016

Tags: THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS, Brittany R. Jacobs, POW!, 2016

Brittany R. Jacobs writes and implements educational curriculum and is the illustrator of MIA LEE IS WHEELING THROUGH MIDDLE SCHOOL. But today, she is talking to us about writing and illustrating her first picture book THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS—"a playfully illustrated, gratifying, and thoughtful look at what it takes to make friends" (thepicturebookreview.com).
Q. You have illustrated books before THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. Ironically enough, I started out as an author/illustrator, and was asked to do the illustrations for the Shang sisters' middle grade novel after I had already signed the contract and submitted the final artwork for the Kraken. The middle grade novel's production was so much faster than the Kraken and ended up in print before my book. So my transition was going from writing and illustrating to just illustrating. It was nice to have all of the editorial issued hammered out before I joined the team!

Q. Was THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Not even close! About 9 years ago I attended my first class on writing for children at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, MN and subsequently wrote my first picture book manuscript (dummy actually because I did the illustrations too) entitled What's That Awful Smell?! Well, it turns out that the awful smell was that dummy! Of course I didn't know it then, but looking back it makes me cringe to see what I produced in the early stages of this career. I still have the manuscript, and all of the rejection letters that it accumulated, as well as the DOZENS of other manuscripts I have written/illustrated over the years. Before I got picked up by my agent I had accumulated a whopping 287 rejection letters with various dummies! I think one of the main reasons I stuck it out all these years is because I was naive enough to think that I was always around the corner from success!

Q. What inspired THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS?
A. One cold February evening I received an email from Clelia Gore, asking me to join in on a call for a picture book dummy. Dozens of author/illustrators were contacted and we were given two weeks to create a picture book dummy with 3 final art spreads and a full manuscript about the Kraken. I immediately got to work, and - spoiler alert - I got the gig! I liked the idea of the Kraken trying to make friends, but inadvertently scaring everyone away because of his monster's stereotype and having another "monster" helping to bridge the gap.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I didn't get to pick the title for this book. I had pushed for Here Comes The Kraken, but through the editorial process they came up with the current title. Now seeing the book from a bit of a distance (meaning I haven't worked on the kraken since January) I can see that they were right, and the title they chose is perfect!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the very last spread/line, "Well, all but one." I love the idea that it only takes one person (or fish) to make a difference. It is one of the only things that remained from the original draft. Everything else (text and illustrations) went through round after round of edits.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. In the beginning I toyed around with telling the story from the Kraken's point of view, but I wanted to show why the fish don't like him. He's big and scary and has a terrible temper. Bringing the narration out to third person allowed for the reader to experience more of the characters.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS?
A. I start out with pictures first, and then whatever the pictures don't convey I fill in the gaps with text. At the beginning I knew the start and the ending, but it took several drafts to figure out the 'rules' that drive the story.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. Ha, got ahead of myself there! Well, like I said, I illustrate first and then go back and fill in the text. By "illustrate" I mean thumbnail on a small scale. In fact, if someone else looked at my initial sketches they would probably only see scribbles. These thumbnails are a point of reference for myself. Once the text is nailed down then I go back and flesh out the sketches to scale and then work on color.

Q. Did THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. We had one heckuva time selling the Kraken, and it was because of the artwork. About 20 houses turned us down because they didn't love my illustration style. There was even a point where I considered selling the manuscript and letting someone else do the artwork. Thankfully Pow! saved the day and offered a contract for both text and illustrations, and we ended up with a lovely book.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS.
A. I cried. A lot! I was in the car and got a call from my agent, and I knew even before I answered that this was it. I kept myself together while on the phone with Clelia, but as soon as I hung up then the water works started! I had been trying to get published for 8 years and had heard, "Thanks, but no thanks" so many times that when I finally heard "Yes!" I just lost it.

Q. How long did THE KRAKEN'S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I signed the contract in November of '15 and it hit shelves October '16, so a little less than one year. This is a very tight timeframe! Two weeks after the contract was signed 4 final art spreads were due, and the text and art all had to be turned in by early January.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read, read READ! Get your hands on as many picture books as you can! You need to know what's out there, and what's selling in order to sell something yourself.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I LOVE poetry starters! They are simple, fast and wildly creative ways to keep the juices flowing.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. My agent and I are in the process of pitching a WILDly fun picture book, I have illustrations for another BEARy good picture book project out for review, and I just signed a contract to write a resource book for librarians on how to transform libraries into Adventure Learning Centers. Lots of fun projects!

Again, thank you so much Karlin!
To learn more about Brittany and her books, visit her website.

TOBY

September 19, 2016

Tags: TOBY by Hazel Mitchell, first picture book, Candlewick, 2016

Originally from England, where she attended art-college and served in the Royal Navy, Hazel Mitchell now lives and works in Maine. She has illustrated many books for children including Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl, Animally, and Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? But today, she is talking about her author-illustrator debut, TOBY. "This familiar story with a family cast not often seen in picture books will warm dog-loving hearts.—School Library Journal

Q. You illustrated several books before TOBY. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. That's a good question. I have always written, but I've always been an artist first, even at school. It's what I was best at. But throughout my life I've always tinkered with story ideas. Finishing them was the big problem! It's easy to start, right? I think we all have a mountain of unfinished projects in drawers or under the mattress. So, I went to art college, art became my career (I worked as a graphic designer until I came to America in 2000). When I began to finally think seriously about trying to get work in the children's trade book industry, it was natural that I'd showcase my artwork first and that's how I got my first books to illustrate. But I was still working on stories. It was a great learning curve illustrating first and I enjoy collaborating very much with authors. But I still wanted to write my own books! And I wanted an agent and I wanted one who would represent my writing too. So I figured I'd better start finishing my story ideas. I'd been rejected by agents in the past (part of the course), but when I started to write about Toby finishing the first draft/dummy happened in 4 weeks. And strangely enough, my agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd., signed me 4 weeks after that! This is my first book as author and illustrator. It's different in several ways from being illustrator only. When you receive a manuscript to illustrate, the idea is all ready conceived, you are working with someone else's idea. When it's your story, you are working on both sides of the fence at once. When I'm illustrating someone else's book I am always conscious of their words, hoping they will like the finished product and that I will do them justice. When I was illustrating my own book I felt like I had a split personality in some ways. I am looking forward to working on more of my own stories, but I also want to work on other manuscripts too ... because it's a wonderment drawing things you would never have conceived yourself.

Q. What inspired TOBY?
A. Toby, my poodle! I adopted him from Houlton Humane Animal Shelter, Aroostook, Maine in fall 2013. I posted a lot about him on social media and his development as a very fearful dog. People really loved him. It was actually Harold Underdown who suggested I write a book about him. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. It was always 'TOBY'. My editor (Liz Bicknell) and art director (Ann Stott) at Candlewick threw some other ideas on the table, but 'TOBY' was the final choice.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I have a lot of favorite parts, because although Toby is adopted in the book by a fictionalized character, much of what happens is from real stuff that happened with Toby. I think my fav scene is the part where the boy, who is Toby's new owner, comes downstairs when Toby's howling, gives him a toy rabbit and sleeps next to Toby to sooth him, (my husband did that the first few nights Toby was with us). And yes it was in the first draft (and we had about 5 drafts!).

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. This is easy - I only have one named character! The boy and the Dad in the story are unnamed. Although Dad calls the boy 'Bud' affectionately. I don't know if that is his real name. My husband calls his son 'Bud' occasionally.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first person or third person?
A. Originally I wanted it to be almost wordless. But as I worked on the story with my editor and art director, we felt more words were needed. So it's mostly conversational in graphic panels, with some short lines in first person to lead the reader from one scene to another. It's good for the parent to have something to read aloud and not just to look at the pictures and also gives the child something to linger over.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing TOBY?
A. Hmm. A fair bit. I knew that it was about my dog in a fictionalized setting. (Writing about me would have been boring ... and the child is someone the reader can identify with). But I didn't know the ending. Well I did, but I didn't know how I would get to it. And a LOT changed in revisions!

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I started this process doing lots of scenes about Toby that I sketched and then linked together. There where very few words. As the story grew in revision more words were added, and taken away, and added. It was an interesting process and very different from how I imagined it worked in the beginning of my career... write a manuscript - draw the pictures. It's a BOOK!

Q. Did TOBY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Easy again ... NONE. My agent signed me on the strength of Toby and Elizabeth Bicknell at Candlewick bought it. (But if you want to see my big pile of rejection letters from all my other projects, I can count them).

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on TOBY.
A.*&^#%#^%^^!%^()))!)**#&^#^%^ SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!
But I also need to add to this that while the manuscript was being considered at Candlewick, the real Toby went missing! He was gone for eight days (and he had never even really been out of our garden!). There was huge search for him locally, people were holding their breath on social media and checking in to see if he had been found. At that time no one even knew the book was on submission! Luckily Toby found his way back ... if he hadn't I didn't know if I could have done the book. Talk about high drama ...

Q. How long did TOBY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. The offer was made Labor Day 2014 and publication day is Sept 13th 2016. So almost exactly 2 years!

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today? (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. That's hard. There are always things you want to change. Images you wish you could do over ... I don't think there is anything I want to add. We did edit out one scene though, where Toby licks the boy's hand when he is sleeping. Toby did that to me the first week he was with us. He wouldn't touch us when we were awake. But it wasn't moving the story forward in the book. Kill your darlings!

Q. What is your #1 tip for writing picture books?
A. Write what's in your heart.

Watch TOBY's book trailer.
To learn more about Hazel and all her books, visit her at her website.

A winner has been selected and the contest is now closed. Thanks for participating! To celebrate TOBY's publication, Hazel is giving away a copy of TOBY. Simply comment below to enter. One comment per person, US addresses only, please.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

August 22, 2016

Tags: THE SOUND OF SILENCE, Katrina Goldsaito, Julia Kuo, Little, Brown, 2016

Katrina Goldsaito worked as TV journalist and producer in Tokyo and is currently writing a YA novel. But today she tells us how she created her first picture book, THE SOUND OF SILENCE—"An inviting tale that will stretch inquisitive and observant young minds—and may even lead children to a greater appreciation of that golden commodity, silence" (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was THE SOUND OF SILENCE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?)
A. THE SOUND OF SILENCE was somewhere in a pile of ten manuscripts that my partner and I decided to write in ten days. Every night after my epic days as a TV Journalist in Tokyo for NHK-World, I’d come home and write a picture book. We’d sit on the floor and I’d write a page and hand it to him to illustrate. Every day for ten days. A very early (and nearly unrecognizable) draft came out during that creative sprint.

Q. What inspired THE SOUND OF SILENCE?
A. The story is one my father told us growing up—of a musician who was also my dad’s neighbor (and who I later found out was the famous contemporary composer Toru Takemitsu) told my father that his favorite sound was the sound of silence.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. It was such a long process! There were emails! And committees! And brainstorms! And I still am not sure about it—mostly because when you google it you get Simon and Garfunkel. (Who I love).

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. That’s such a wonderful question, because I love the end, and your follow-up question is making me realize that the ending is the heart of the story. The heart was there in some form even in the earliest drafts. Rewriting was all about revealing the heart, all about making sure that every piece of the story is beating along with it—but it was there all along (just like the silence that little Yoshio finds!)

Also, I love Julia’s aerials in the spread with the family eating and Yoshio taking a bath, gorgeous. (And the bamboo grove. And the end. And EVERYTHING. Juliaaaaaa!!!!)

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Yoshio is my dad’s name, and your question is making me realize that no one else has names in the book!!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. Hmm, I never thought about telling it in anything but third. (Just as the novel I’m working on can’t seem to be in anything but first). I think it’s about how it appears in my imagination—the voice is clear to me from the beginning.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE SOUND OF SILENCE?
A. Originally the story had a few focuses—one of which was that the boy was always late to school (That got completely jettisoned, thank goodness), the other was that he was connecting with different traditional artisans, which was focused into the one character of the koto player. Bethany Strout was the genius behind making her a woman—one of my favorite changes that came with art.

Q. Did THE SOUND OF SILENCE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It didn’t. Though I did work with Alvina Ling at Little, Brown for almost a year before it went to acquisitions. I learned everything in that year, it was such an incredible gift, that mentorship.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE SOUND OF SILENCE.
A. Tears. :)

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. A lot! I was very lucky that this was such a collaborative process and the editorial team was so respectful and interested in my thoughts on illustrators. We had such a similar vision for the book, and we all knew that Julia was and is the perfect artist to create Yoshio’s illustrated world.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Those last pages. Ohhh, I love them so much. In those last pages when he finds silence I feel like Julia and I are so perfectly in sync. I still get a little teary when I read them.

Q. How long did THE SOUND OF SILENCE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. 5 years! 6 if you count the year before it sold. I loved that it took so long. I loved working on other projects and knowing it was in the wings waiting, and telling people about it and preparing for it to show up in the world. I wouldn’t have sped it up at all.

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. Not a single thing.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write what you love, write something that you want to spend a long time with (because it can take a long time) and be relentless in your love of the book and your love of the craft. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. That ten books in ten days exercise was amazing. Just committing to creating no matter what happened: no matter if we were tired or bored or feeling insecure, that we would make no matter what.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm performing at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco (Om I'm Home) where I'm pouring tea for visitors in my own version of a Japanese tea ceremony. We continue to make WeDokiDoki. A new picture book is with my editor, my first YA novel, Otemba is nearly ready for submission; and I am always lovingly dipping into a memoir project called The Last Speaker of a Secret Language.

To learn more about Katrina and her projects, visit her here or on Twitter at @inlovethere

THE BEAR AND THE PIANO

July 25, 2016

Tags: THE BEAR AND THE PIANO, David Litchfield, Clarion, 2016

David Litchfield's illustrations have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and books. Starting in 2010, he did a drawing every day for a year and later hosted a Ted Talk about how that changed his life. Today he talks about how he created his first picture book THE BEAR AND THE PIANO—"one of those rare books that children can return to again and again through the years, each time finding new meaning appropriate to their varying ages and stages” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. You had illustrated several book covers before THE BEAR AND THE PIANO. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator?
A. Well actually, THE BEAR AND THE PIANO is my first ever book. I got the gig before any other commissions, which was strange as I had no experience of narrative illustration really. My editor Katie Cotton must have just seen the desire I had to create books and took a huge leap of faith in signing me up to do the book.

After I pitched the idea to Katie I drew the thumbnails and the rough version of the book as well as a few full colour spreads. This took me a couple of weeks working around other jobs in the evenings, etc. But thankfully, Katie was impressed enough by this to say yes and commission the book.

Since then, I have taken on a fair few projects for other authors. This is a very different process as you need to take on board the authors viewpoint for the world they have created.
Each way of working has their own enjoyable challenges and unique processes to follow.

Q. What inspired THE BEAR AND THE PIANO?
A. I think when you want to follow a certain dream you have to step out of your comfort zone. And also I think so many people are moving around and moving away these days that's it's sometimes important to remember your roots and where you come from. But obviously told in a very sweet, friendly way.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I liked how it was a matter of factly style title. It describes what the main story points are and I think that's quite cool.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I really like the giant theatre spread with the bear playing the grande piano in front of all of those people. This was one of the first images I sketched out and I could see it perfectly in my head. I'm really happy with how that spread turned out actually. From an illustration point of view I think it's a pretty good drawing (in my humble opinion). From a story point of view I think it's a good visual device of showing how far the bear has come and how different his life is compared to when he was playing on the tatty old piano in the forest.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. Ooh, I don't know actually. It just was a natural thing. I didn't really think about it at the time. But now that I am thinking, maybe it's because if I had have written it from the Bears perspective and have the bear narrate it would have broken the Magic a bit. After all, if the bear can talk and tell us the story, it's not to far to stretch our belief that the bear can play the piano. So maybe, sub consciously, that's why I wrote it in the third person.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE BEAR AND THE PIANO?
A. All of it. actually, I sketched it out in my sketchbook before writing a word for it. Once I had the pictures mapped out it was quite easy to add the words. I think that's actually my favourite way of working.

Q. Did THE BEAR AND THE PIANO receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It didn't actually. It may sound like I'm showing off a bit, but my first ever pitch meeting with a publisher was with Katie at France's Lincoln which went great and she loved the idea and the book got signed up. So, yep, no rejections (feel slightly smug now).

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE BEAR AND THE PIANO.
A. I remember I left France's Lincoln offices and went to Starbucks and had a sausage sandwich. I rang my wife and told her the good news and then emailed my agent. I then floated on a cloud of joy home from London to Bedford. It was a bloody brilliant day.

Q. How long did THE BEAR AND THE PIANO take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It was a fairly quick process. Pretty much 1 year exactly. I got the green light on the project from France's Lincoln in September 2014 and then it was published in September 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. There was an extra spread which had the Bear running through the city streets just before he heads back to the forest. But part of the process of working with Katie was looking at what worked for the story and what might slow it down. This was a fantastic learning curve and even though I loved the look of the city spread I could see that it just wasn't needed at all. But to be honest I really don't think I would change anything within the book. I'm really rather fond of It :)

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE BEAR AND THE PIANO?
A. I've had some great letters from kids who have read the book. I love getting letters. A couple of weeks ago I even got given a book drawn by a 7 year old girl called 'the bear & the Trumpet' which was inspired by my book. I'm even a character in the book which is amazing.
I still can't get over the fact that the book I drew in my cramped little spare room in our old flat is now being read by children all across the world. It's amazing really.

Q. When you do readings of THE BEAR AND THE PIANO, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The big reveal at the end when the bear returns home is always nice. In fact I did a reading at a primary school last month and the teacher started crying at that point. It was a bit awkward. But also lovely and funny.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Being passionate about what you do, and having a strong portfolio is helpful (if you want to illustrate too).

But what I have learnt is that a good idea and a good concept can impress anyone. I think that publishers like to work closely with authors and illustrators in developing an idea. So the fact that The Bear & the Piano was just a very loose idea—literally just a paragraph synopsis and a few sketches—when I pitched it, was actually something that worked in its favour.

To learn more about how David created THE BEAR AND THE PIANO, visit his blog.

THE WILLIAM HOY STORY: HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME

July 18, 2016

Tags: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY: HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME, Nancy Churnin, Jez Tuya, Albert Whitman, 2016

Nancy Churnin is a theater critic and busy baseball-loving mom to four boys but today she tells us about the long road to publishing her first picture book THE WILLIAM HOY STORY—"a rewarding read-aloud choice for baseball fans" (Booklist) and a New York Public Library Recommended Book.

Q. Was THE WILLIAM HOY STORY the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. There have been so many manuscripts over the years, I can’t remember which was first. But one I remember most fondly is Monroe and the Mousecracker, Sweet! about a mouse who dreams of starring as the Mouse King in The Nutcracker. It’s still in my file cabinet and it still makes me laugh!

Q. What inspired THE WILLIAM HOY STORY?
A. I became friends with a Deaf man named Steve Sandy, whose decades-long dream is to get William Hoy in the National Baseball Hall of Fame., where William would be the first Deaf player to get that honor. I wanted to find a way to help. I thought of the most powerful people I knew and I realized: kids! I will share the story of William Hoy with kids and they will write the letters and send the drawings that will make it happen. At that point I had not yet realized there was more to writing picture books than putting down whatever came into my head and stuffing the results in file cabinets. Slowly I realized I had to learn the craft. So I took courses and challenges and got critiques and wrote, wrote, wrote while Steve kept me going with fabulous primary source material and patiently answered question after question after question about William Hoy and what it was like to grow up Deaf in the late nineteenth century.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Wendy Grencik, my wonderful editor at Albert Whitman & Company, picked the title. It is simple and to the point and I really like the second part of it: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY: HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME.

Q. What resources did you use while researching THE WILLIAM HOY STORY?
A. Steve Sandy provided me with reams of newspaper articles about William Hoy from the 19th century and beyond as William lived 99 years from the presidencies of Abraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy! Steve is friends with the Hoy family and, through them, was able to supply me with family pictures, too. I did my own searches and was lucky to get the encouragement and support of Texas Rangers Hall of Fame announcer Eric Nadel. He wrote a book for adults about baseball that includes Hoy and fact checked my baseball details. I am so proud that Eric wrote a blurb for the back of my book and has been reading it to kids as part of his Texas Rangers Summer Reading program.

Q. How did you decide where to start and end this nonfiction story?
A. It took me a long time to realize that the heart of the story was how his difference — his Deafness in a hearing world — was his gift to baseball. Because he was Deaf, he signed. He taught those signs to the umpires so he could play the game he loved. Those signs, which we still use today, make baseball a better game for everyone. Once that came to me, I realized I need to begin with the signs (his mother giving him Deaf applause when he practiced his throws as a boy) and finally show how he was loved by the fans when they greeted him with Deaf applause as his mother had done. The connecting thread was the applause. I used it to connect from the time he was a boy to a young rookie ballplayer to a successful and popular ballplayer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. It wasn’t there in the first draft literally, but I like to think it was waiting to be fished out of the initial sea of words. The Deaf applause, which is in three key places, is my favorite part—especially at the end when it brings a tear to his eye. It brings one to mine as well. Every time.

Q. Did THE WILLIAM HOY STORY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. The rejection letters came in three phases. The first phase was for the version of the story I wrote before I realized I needed to study this craft. There were lots of those! The second phase was after my lovely agent, Karen Grencik, took me on hours after reading the version I had written after taking multiple courses and challenges and gotten help from fabulous critique partners. Those were personalized and regretful rejections which were a big step up from the form letters I had gotten after submitting to the slush piles. The third phase came after I carefully considered a common thread in the comments in the rejections. I had a brainstorm and got the idea of transforming a straightforward biography to a narrative about how signs changed his life and how he used them to change the lives of others for the better. That got a couple of rejections, but when Karen sent the new manuscript to Wendy, Wendy responded affirmatively that same day!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE WILLIAM HOY STORY.
A. Utter, pure elation. Joy for me, for Steve, for William Hoy. Thankfulness that this opportunity was opening for me to fulfill my promise to myself, to Steve, to William Hoy and to give this happiness to my family.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Wendy picked the illustrator, Jez Tuya, and he’s been wonderful! She shared early sketches with me and my only comments were regard to historical accuracy, particularly that in the early days no one wore baseball gloves. Through Steve, I was able to supply Jez (through Wendy) lots of historical photographs. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by how Jez melded accuracy with a bright friendly style that kids love.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. William Hoy was coming to life. It was like finally getting to meet someone you have corresponded with for years but never got to meet in person!

Q. How long did THE WILLIAM HOY STORY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Sixteen to seventeen months depending on how you count it. We received the offer in October of 2014. Then everything was quiet until the summer of 2015. Suddenly everything had to be proofread and questions had to be answered very quickly! There was some more back and forth in the fall. Then THE WILLIAM HOY STORY was published March 1, 2016 although people who pre-ordered were able to get it in February of 2016.

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 love the book as is, but I have lots of extra anecdotes I like to bring to my presentations and kids and adults seem to enjoy getting extra inside information about his sense of humor, his honesty, and what an all around good guy he was.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE WILLIAM HOY STORY?
A. They are all wonderful and I treasure them all! Here are a couple that the kids addressed to the National Baseball Hall of Fame:

From Shylah D.: Mr. Hoy never gave up despite his inability to hear. His story shows how important it is that no matter what your handicap or disability is, to never give up on your dreams. If you work hard, they can come true. I will remember this story for the rest of my life. I know if it touched me, it will touch other kids just like me. Please enter Mr. Hoy into the Sports Hall of Fame. His story needs to be shared and heard by everyone.

From Payton N.: He's a big influence in many peoples lives including my little brother Tyler. Tyler is also deaf and he also plays on a baseball team but they're called The Angles. Their team is undefeated and I'm so proud of him! If you put William Hoy in The Hall of Fame it would make a big difference in his life. I really hope this letter convinces you because I told my brother I would try and I hate to make him sad.

From Elizabeth: I am an eleven year old girl who enjoys watching a baseball game. William Hoy changed baseball for everyone, and he's not in your hall of Fame! I don't understand why not!!!!! He was an amazing baseball player who was just DIFFERENT! William Hoy should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it's silly if you don't see that!

Q. When you do readings of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The kids get really quiet when he is bullied, particularly by the pitcher who tricks him into thinking there’s another pitch coming because he knows William was too far away from the umpire to see that he had three strikes. Their eyes get big when William gets his big idea and starts scribbling on his pad. They are so joyful at the end when they can see what it means to him to be greeted by the crowd with Deaf applause.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write the story you believe with your whole heart needs to be in the world, that will make a difference in children’s lives. When you commit to that story, you are an advocate for that story and you will become an unstoppable force. Sure, the story may need to be rewritten or reworked a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand times. You have to be open to learning, to growing to learn, to give the story everything it needs to breathe. Don’t make it about you because if you do your feelings will get battered and bruised. Make it about the story. You serve the story and your job is to keep going until you get it where it needs to go.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you recommend?
A. If you are writing a non-fiction biography, ask yourself what was the person’s dream when that person was a child. How did the dream change over time and how did the person make the dream come true? Can you feel the desire for that dream as intensely and urgently as your character? When you do, start writing!

Q. What are you working on now?
I am thrilled to report that my second book, another non-fiction picture book, Manjhi Moves a Mountain, will be published by Creston Books, in Fall of 2017. It’s the true story of a man who was motivated by love to move a mountain, using only a hammer, chisel and his own persistence. The amazing Marissa Moss is the editor and I am thrilled to report that I’ve seen some of the early illustrations by the fabulous Danny Popovici. Plus I have several manuscripts in progress and I have treated myself to Kristen Fulton’s amazing WOW retreat for children’s book writers July 17-23 for a week of writing, rewriting, and inspiration.

To learn more about Nancy, visit her website.

NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN'T SIT STILL

June 5, 2016

Tags: NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN'T SIT STILL, Karlin Gray, Christine Davenier, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, first picture book

Thank you to all the writers who have participated in this blog. I love learning about how someone travels from a moment of inspiration to a finished piece of work! I hope this blog is useful to other picture-book writers and encourages them to write on!

To mark my June 7th book launch, I'm answering this week's Q&A about my first picture book,
NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN'T SIT STILL.

Q. Was NADIA the first picture-book manuscript that you wrote? If not, what was the first picture book that you wrote and what happened to it?
A. My first picture-book manuscript was about a boy who couldn't find anyone to play with on the playground. It's just kind of sad and a little abstract. I don't think it's a story that kids would want to read over and over again so it hides in a drawer somewhere.

Q. What inspired NADIA?
A. My writing instructor was reviewing some nonfiction picture books and I couldn't remember reading a nonfiction picture book when I was a kid. I thought back to my six-year-old self and wondered, who would I have wanted to see in a picture book? The first name that popped into my head was Nadia Comaneci. I loved gymnastics and would have clutched a book like that close to my heart.

Q. What kind of resources did you use while researching NADIA?
A. Everything I could find: Olympic coverage, interviews with Ms. Comaneci, newspaper and magazine articles, and books—Nadia Comaneci's two autobiographies along with Bela Karolyi's autobiography were essential! The official websites of Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner, the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, and the Olympic Studies Center were also key resources.
Some of these can be found on my Pinterest page along with some videos of Comaneci and my messy first page draft.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. At first, I wanted the word "hope" to be in the title because Nadia's name means "hope" and she was an Olympic-hopeful-turned-champion. But I didn't come up with anything that I liked. In reading Nadia Comaneci's autobiography Letters to a Young Gymnast (Basic Books), I learned that she was a rambunctious toddler who had tons of energy. She wrote, “If I wasn’t playing soccer or climbing trees, then I was doing cartwheels. The freedom of movement was intoxicating, and I could never stand still.” While I was writing my book, I also had a three-year old who loved to fling himself from couch to couch. (And honestly, he still does.) Constant movement was a theme on the page and in my own living room. The two collided and created NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN'T SIT STILL.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of the text: "Soon, Nadia was flying from bar to bar, from floor to vault, and high above the beam." This wasn't in my first draft. My first draft: "Nadia practiced and practiced and practiced even more until she performed her routines perfectly." Bleh, boring! Around the second or third draft, I focused on "show don't tell" and brought in the image of flying. It was also a good way to cover the four areas of women's gymnastics in one sentence. At a school reading, the librarian asked what the kids liked about the book and one boy recited that very line. I almost cried.

For several reasons, my favorite illustration is Nadia flipping on the beam. First, I have a distinct childhood memory of staring up at the TV and watching in awe as Comaneci danced, flew, and flipped on a four-inch beam. Second, this illustration is based on a famous Olympic photo where the photographer shows several frames within one combination of moves. Finally, the illustration is such a great foil to the previous beam illustration where she falls off in her first competition. Thank you Christine Davenier!

Q. How did you select the time frame for NADIA?
A. For me, the heart of the story is how a "flaw" fueled the way to excellence. So I started the story when Nadia was a four-year-old bouncing off the walls and getting into trouble and ended it when she was 14 and made Olympic history. I love how illustrator Christine Davenier used the same idea for the first and last page but also showed Nadia's transformation.

Q. Did NADIA receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh yes, it was rejected by several publishers and agents. I remember one agent said that although she was passing on the book, she could see that I wrote nonfiction very well. That was such an encouraging rejection! I continued to receive rejection letters after my offer. Happily, I tossed those in the trash.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on NADIA.
A. One day I received an email with NADIA in the subject line. I assumed it was another rejection letter. Instead, it was an HMH editor saying she would do triple back flips if I'd accept her offer. I jumped up and down and called my husband and parents. Neither answered. I couldn't tell anyone until I told them so I kept texting my husband, "Good news, good news," until he responded. He came home, grilled steaks, and opened a bottle of champagne.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. My editor Kate O'Sullivan was kind enough to ask me for suggestions although I knew I didn't have a say in the matter. She was so excited when Christine Davenier accepted and I trusted her completely. I can't imagine anyone else illustrating NADIA.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Christine Davenier's artwork reminded me of "swimming through an ocean of air"—words used by sportscaster Jim McKay when he described Comaneci at the '76 Olympics.

Q. How long did NADIA take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Three years. My editor told me in the offer letter that she wanted to publish it in time for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

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 love to cut text that doesn't move the story forward so I don't miss anything that was edited out. (For example, my first draft had a sentence or two describing Nadia's mother as a homemaker and her father as a mechanic. Those descriptions were not essential to the overall story so I took them out.) I do regret that I wasn't able to get an interview with Ms. Comaneci. I think having a Q&A in the back matter would have added another layer of meaning. I should have tried harder but I wanted to respect her privacy.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about NADIA?
A. After my first school visit, I received a package of letters from the kids. They were all so sweet and encouraging. One wrote, "This book was amazing. We think you should keep up the good work because we want to read more, thanks." I might wallpaper my office with it.

Q. When you do readings of NADIA, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. When Nadia receives the score of a 1.00, the kids get fired up: "What?! That's not fair!" It's the same reaction the crowd had that day in Montreal. The kids settle down once they learn it was really a 10.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those of us who want to write picture books?
A. I think all the doors in my head burst open when one of my writing instructors said: "Write your first draft fast and don't stop to correct anything. Just get it all out. It might terrible and that's ok because no one else will see it but you." Then go back, again and again, and revise. Characters, dialogue, plot points, and themes will emerge. And guess what—if you end up hating it, you toss it in a drawer. No big deal.

Q. What else are you working on?
A. I'm always working on nonfiction and fiction picture books. On my desk, there is a box of working manuscripts with stories about presidents, magicians, explorers, athletes, mermaids, monsters, scarecrows, cats, mice, and one sad moth. I hope they behave when I turn off the lights.

Come visit me this summer at these book events.

FINDING WILD

May 2, 2016

Tags: FINDING WILD, Megan Wagner Lloyd, Abigail Halpin, Knopf/Random House, 2016

Megan Wagner Lloyd has helped organize community literacy and art events and taught creative writing to fourth graders. She is allergic to all animals with fur or feathers but that doesn't stop her from embracing nature. Today she shares the story behind FINDING WILD—a "sparkling debut" (Publishers Weekly) in bookstores May 10th. (more…)