#FirstPictureBook

PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON'T DO BEDTIME!

April 23, 2018

Tags: PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON'T DO BEDTIME!, Cate Berry, Charles Santoso, Balzer + Bray, 2018, #firstpicturebook

Cate Berry is a faculty member with the Writing Barn in Texas and also speaks at schools, libraries and conferences on such topics as "Gender Stereotyping and Poetic Devices" and "From Stand Up to Sit Down: Funneling Surprise and Stand-Up Comedy into Humorous Picture Books." Inspired by a class assignment, Cate wrote her #firstpicturebook which will be published on May 8th. Today she talks to us about crafting PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!—a Junior Library Guild selection and “a definite do for bedtime” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was close to my first book. I took two picture book classes at the Writing Barn in Austin, Texas (And I am lucky enough to teach there now). During my second class we were given the assignment of writing a bedtime book. I got a jump on the assignment and wrote this very quickly. It’s one of the few times something has come out “whole” and not needing a lot of revision (because that NEVER happens, as we know).

My very first picture book manuscript was called Puffin and Slip. It follows two creatures in a faraway galaxy. They are separated but stay connected through the moon and their special friendship. That manuscript is in a drawer right now but I think you’ve awoken my curiosity again! Thank you and I’ll keep you posted.

Q. What inspired PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!?
A. As I stated above it was a class assignment. But also, as I examine it closely years later, it was a love letter to my children. They are only thirteen months apart and when they were little acted as one unit. Plus, they hate bedtime. Can you tell?

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Oh, that’s a fun topic. The book was originally titled This is Not a Bedtime Book. In the end, we wanted something a little more original and full of the voice of the characters. I brainstormed a list and Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! was a favorite with the Harper Collins/Balzer+Bray team. I’m so glad we changed it. I really love the final title.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I write by hand but I also write a lot on my iPhone notes app. I heard an interview with Annie Leibovitz talking about how the best camera to use was the one on you all the time. She champions iPhone photography and that got me thinking about using my Notes App for writing while I’m out in the world. There are so many opportunities to write: waiting for the dentist, right before your household wakes up, when insomnia hits in the dead of night. It’s freeing to just swipe over to an app and jot down inspiration when it hits.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of the book is probably the double spread of the “turn” or climax of the book. Penguin & Tiny Shrimp’s anti-bedtime shenanigans have reached a fever pitch and Charles Santoso’s illustrations are just so joyous and fun. He really captures my heart in that spread because it epitomizes being a kid.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I’ve been asked this a lot and I wish there were a snappier answer. But the truth is they just came to me very suddenly while I was drafting. You have to pay attention to your story when things are flowing. Things were definitely in “flow” that day.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person? 
A. A teacher of mine from grad school once said, “Every writer gets something for free.” My “freebie” is dialogue. It comes very organically for me. This entire book is told through dialogue and that is very much my voice as a writer.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! ? 
A. Well, my subconscious knew quite a bit since sleuth bedtime tactics had been my life for so long with small children. I think when I started the story I knew they would end up passing out at the end. I can’t believe in a story fully until I know the ending.

Q. Did PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh yes. It was on submission for several months and we received around 8-10 rejections. But then, presto we got several offers all at once. The book ended up at auction with four publishing houses. It sounds cliché, but I guess the take-away is that you should never give up on something you believe in.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! 
A. My agent called me and I had to pull over because I was driving. I screamed, of course, and then cried. I was very, very happy. Getting a book published relies on a lot of things lining up perfectly. I feel grateful every day for this opportunity.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor was open to suggestions from me. I requested that she consider Charles Santoso among others. She was charmed by the idea of Charles illustrating the book and we were both thrilled when he agreed.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Oh. They exceeded my expectations. Not only were they adorable but also they were also full of personality and verve. I don’t know how Charles did it. I have so much respect and admiration for illustrators in general. It was such a gift when the first sketches came in.

Q. How long did PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!  take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I believe we sold the book in the fall of 2016. It debuts May 8, 2018.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. That’s a great question. There was not much editing on my end. However my editor did nudge me to perfect some of Tiny Shrimp’s lines, adding more specificity. I’m so glad she did as it goosed the humor, in my opinion, and made his character that much more fun.

Q. Have you read PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!  to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I have read the book to lots of kids! I think the biggest laugh always happens when the Uni-Hippo makes a surprise entrance. I think my biggest thrill is seeing kids delight in two aquatic creatures bounding into zany adventures avoiding sleep. It’s every kid’s fantasy, or at least the kids I know. ☺

Q. Did you create any book swag for PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!? If so, what kind?
A. Yes! My sister is a wonderful designer and she and I have just ordered postcards for librarians, bookplates, stickers and buttons. I also made an invitation for the book launch on May 20th at the indie bookstore BookPeople in Austin, Texas. You’re all invited!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Read, read, read and then read more picture books. Don’t underestimate how much you’re learning about the form while you read picture books, especially aloud.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I try to write something every day even when I have just a few minutes. One of my advisors in grad school taught me this. It can be as small as a picture book title idea or a stanza in a poem. But it does wonders for keeping your creative wheels greased.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m in the middle of revising four picture books and I’m on my third major revision of a middle grade novel. I’m also dabbling in non-fiction picture books. It scares me because the research is so interesting I’m afraid I’ll fall down the rabbit hole and never come out!

I’m also reminding myself every week to pay it forward and be generous about helping other writers as much as time will allow. That’s important to me: connection and community.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. I love to hear from kids, readers, and writers! You can find me here:
www.cateberry.com
Twitter: @cberrywriter
Insta: @cateberryatx
Cate Berry Reads PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON'T DO BEDTIME!: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7_kfuwBfvPc

THIS IS IT

March 26, 2018

Tags: THIS IS IT, Daria Peoples-Riley, Greenwillow Books, 2018, #firstpicturebook

When Daria Peoples-Riley was nine years old, she got her first job in the children’s section of her hometown library. Later, she became a teacher and now she is a full-time author/illustrator. Released last month, her #firstpicturebook THIS IS IT is “a beautiful tribute to the power of dance” (Kirkus Reviews) that “shows a girl gaining confidence in herself—an important message for all children” (School Library Journal, starred review).

Q. Was THIS IS IT 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! Ha. The first picture book dummy I finished and submitted to agents was called Joy Ride, and it was rejected over and over and over again. 

Q. What inspired THIS IS IT?
A. THIS IS IT was inspired by my daughter. She is an aspiring classical ballerina, and I originally wrote the poem as a gift to give to her on the day of her first audition. After I enrolled in an online picture book class, I was asked to illustrate a manuscript. I didn’t have a manuscript, so I pulled out the poem to illustrate and it became a picture book in the class.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. It was the last line of the poem, and it resounded the loudest to me. I thought it was fitting for a few reasons. First, there are only a few "This Is It" moments in life that can potentially alter the course of our destiny. It’s important for us to recognize these moments as they occur instead of in retrospect when often it’s too late, and we regret not making the choice we deeply desired. And, all of those choices determine our journey to becoming the best version of ourselves. We only have one journey, and one opportunity to accomplish all we dream and imagine for ourselves. This is it. The sooner we realize this, the better. And I hope children and the adults who love them receive that message after reading THIS IS IT.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Both. Often, in the early stages, I write by hand . And, as I get further along, I move to my laptop. But truth be told, I’ve written entire manuscripts on my iPhone. 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? (Please send an image from the book or link to book trailer.)
A. The middle spread. It’s a visual representation of surrender. Whatever happens, happens. Whether we succeed or fail, let it be. We’re here. We’re trying. We’re not eliminating ourselves by not showing up. And yes, it was in the first draft, and the first final art sample I submitted.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person? 
A. The poem came in second person, and it made sense because of all of the affirmations the shadow speaks to the heroine. 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THIS IS IT? 
A. All of it. It came out in one draft mainly because I never intended it to be a picture book. It was written from a mother’s soul to her daughter's heart, and that came from a place I'm not sure any other stories will ever come from again.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. As I revised the text once it was acquired, my editor and I settled on the text first, and then I revised the illustrations.
 
Q. Did THIS IS IT receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh yes. Everyone rejected it in the first round. 6 or 7
times. But!! One of the rejections held a gem of advice that helped me revise it, and in the second round, it sold in a preempt within 48 hours. 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THIS IS IT.
A. Well, I was sitting with my mother as we were waiting for my grandmother to go into surgery. Marietta called me, and something told me the book sold before I answered the phone. I stepped out of the pre-op room , and when Marietta told me the news, I accidentally kind of, sort of, might've shrieked in celebration, and my mom came out and yelled at me. I took the phone call in the restroom to continue  my celebratory dance. When I shared the news with my mom, we all got a little weepy. It was really special. Both my mother and my grandmother's mother tried to be published, so I felt like all of our dreams came true. 

Q. How long did THIS IS IT take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in April of 2016, and its publishing date was February of 2018. 

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. I was really pleased with every word. There was one line, in particular, that was changed in copy edits, but I was just as happy with my revision as I was with the original line.  

Q. Have you read THIS IS IT to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes! Many times, and they all giggle when it says, "Shake it baby. SHAKE. IT. BABY." Then, they shake it. Haha!

Q. Did you create any book swag for THIS IS IT? If so, what kind?
A. I made bookmarks, posters of the cover, and little tote bags for the book launch.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Write a story for the audience of the one child who needs to read your story, and her story will touch the hearts of all the children who need to hear her story too.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Be yourself. There is only one you.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am illustrating a book by Jessica M. Rinker called Gloria Takes A Stand about the life of Gloria Steinem (Bloomsbury, 2019), and I am working on my next picture book with Greenwillow for Summer of 2019.
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
dariapeoples.com
Twitter and IG: @dariaspeoples
Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzzKIhf45A4

GLORIA’S VOICE

March 19, 2018

Tags: GLORIA’S VOICE, Aura Lewis, Sterling, 2018, #firstpicturebook

Aura Lewis studied psychology in college but changed paths when she earned her MFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts. Guided by her admiration for feminist Gloria Steinem and her love of 60s-70s fashion and design, Aura created her #firstpicturebook GLORIA’S VOICE—“a subtle ode to an iconic figure of quiet “strength and enormous influence.” (Publishers Weekly).

Q. Was GLORIA’S VOICE 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!

Q. What inspired GLORIA’S VOICE?
A. I’ve always been interested in the women’s movement, feminism and gender studies. When I thought of writing a picture book biography, I thought of Gloria Steinem- I’ve always admired her, and in a way I also identified with her story, of someone from a small town wanting to go to New York to do something big. This was combined with my love for 60s and 70s fashion and design! I was excited to portray that era. When the idea came to me I knew I had to make it.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title was actually suggested to me by my agent at the time :)

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Both! I have a sketchbook where I write ideas, and then I organize them on the computer. I actually also write a lot on my phone when I'm commuting!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Hmmm. I think my favorite part is the “poster” spread where Gloria and Dorothy go on the road. The idea to make it this way came to me pretty late in the process of making the book.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction story?
A. I read books, articles and interviews by Ms. Steinem and about her. I watched lots of interviews with her as well as documentaries about the time period. I loved the research part!

Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?
A. Good question! At first I tried to fit in Ms. Steinem’s whole life. But, I realized after a few drafts that the story arc would be better if it ended much earlier (after the publication of Ms. Magazine.) Ending it there gave the book a better rhythm and an ending with a look to the future.


Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. It was a really organic process—I wrote and drew and wrote and drew until everything came together. The words helped me figure out the spreads, but sometimes I changed the text and pacing of the manuscript in order to fit with the images that I thought would work best.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. I have page-by-page notes, with information I wanted to include but couldn’t fit in the story itself. In the notes, I also explain some of the details in the illustrations that have a back story. We also included a biography of Gloria Steinem and a list of other children’s book titles about women’s empowerment.


Q. Did GLORIA’S VOICE  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on GLORIA’S VOICE.
A. I was SO excited! I was really, really sick that day—I completely lost my voice so I couldn’t shout for joy. I did do a very happy dance though- and then collapsed on the bed:)

Q. How long did GLORIA’S VOICE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Just a little over a year!

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. I feel like there’s always something I could change or add about the art or text! In all of my work, I am learning to put it out there and let it be what it is.

Q. Did you create any book swag for GLORIA’S VOICE? If so, what kind?
A. Yes! The publisher made some beautiful posters and buttons to go with the book.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Here are a few tips that really helped me:
1. Read a ton of picture books so that you’re really familiar with the genre.
2. Read a great book about writing for kids (there are a few excellent ones out there!)
3. Learn to make a book dummy and mock-up a story in 32 pages (even if it's just words and scribbles!) This will help so much with pacing, storytelling and structure!


Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I like to try different things at different times, but one fun exercise is thinking of an awesome book title and what would be the cover for it. Sometimes that’s enough to come up with a complete story!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m working on my next book, THE ILLUSTRATED FEMINIST. It’s an illustrated handbook for adults and YA about American feminist history, coming out in 2020 with Abrams.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. I’m on instagram & Twitter:  @auralewis
Website: Auralewis.com
Book discussion guide

THE FIELD

February 25, 2018

Tags: THE FIELD, #firstpicturebook, Baptiste Paul, Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth, 2018

Baptiste Paul is a dad, sports fan, woodworker, gardener, and school speaker. On March 6th, he will also be an author. Today he does a quick Q&A of his #firstpicturebook THE FIELD—an “excellent” (Kirkus Reviews) and “engaging book . . . sure to resonate with children who are passionate about soccer and even those who simply enjoy lively play. (School Library Journal)

Q. What inspired THE FIELD?
A.The inspiration for THE FIELD came about as a result of my childhood experiences. The idea for the story came while playing outside in the rain with my children. They were so happy running in rain, splashing in pools of water and rolling in the dirt. I saw myself in them and, although our childhood experiences were totally different, we found joy in the same exact thing.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I like every part of the book. One of my favorite parts is when the kid is chasing the animals off the field. It was something we did everyday before we started our game. This scene was in the first draft and it was the only part where I included illustrator notes.

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. Kids getting into a little scuffle after a rough tackle from one of his friends was cut from the book. I believe that part was important simply because, there were days we got into scuffles with each other but we always found a way to settle our differences before the game ended.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Live life deliberately and ideas will find you. Record moments for later use. What works for one person might not work for the other. With life constantly evolving around me, I walk around all day with a memo book and a pencil tucked above my ear to record those moments.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A . When I’m working on a piece, I ask questions like who, what, why, where, when and how over and over again. I always think universal — similarities and differences. Most times those questions are being answered while I pace back and forth talking out loud to myself.

Q: Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, etc.)
A. Website
Twitter: @baptistepaul
Watch THE FIELD book trailer

THE WEAVER

February 5, 2018

Tags: THE WEAVER, Qian Shi, Anderson Press, 2018

Animator and illustrator Qian ('Chen') Shi grew up in Shijiazhuang, a northern city in China. Her short animation Shoe won two awards and she worked as an artist on Tim Burton’s movie “Frankenweenie.” She’s a little bit afraid of spiders but that didn’t stop her from writing her #firstpicturebook THE WEAVER—a “beautiful and wise” (Kirkus Reviews) story that “integrates facts about the natural world with this unusual arachnid adventure (The Irish Times).

Q. Was THE WEAVER 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 Weaver indeed is my first ever picture book manuscript. But the first manuscript I wrote was for an animated short film Shoe, which was completed some year back. Eventually I’d like to adapt this short film into a picture book.
 
Q. What inspired THE WEAVER?
A. The short answer is that I saw a piece of leaf stuck in the middle of a spider web, somehow this scene just got my imagination going. The full answer is that THE WEAVER is a story about what I have been through my life — I’m originally from China and have lived in Norway, Denmark, and the U.K. My life was formed and transformed through all the years of moving around. It hasn’t been the easiest experience, partially due to my ever-growing collection of books, things, and even furniture! Finally, I was quite into the idea of minimalism. Although I have to admit that I would probably never be able to be a minimalist myself, I have given a lot of thought about it. So when I saw this leaf on the spider web, the story of THE WEAVER formed in my head.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title “The Weaver” came sort of naturally when I was already working with my editor Libby (Andersen Press). Stanley the spider is a web weaver, as spiders do, but he also weaves his imagination as a way of creativity. It just felt right to call this book “The Weaver”.
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I would say I write by doodling on the paper.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Perhaps it is the first spread—“Every spider leads a life of adventure”—as it sets the key tone of the entire book with spiders flying around holding a piece of leaf or flower. I had been doodling them even before I had the entire story figured out. I knew I wanted something magical and poetic for the story.
 
Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Coming up with a name for the main character was the hardest thing! Both Libby and I had suggested quite a few names to each other. We wanted something catchy, but none of them felt right. So “he the spider” didn’t have a name until the project was almost completed. Then I went to this Stanley Kubrick exhibition and thought—Stanley Kubrick was a collector. He was so creative and did lots of great movies which influenced generations of artists and filmmakers. Stanley works with Spider too!
 
Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person?
A. I didn’t duel on this for very long. It felt natural to tell this story in third person. Stanley didn’t talk in the entire book. His thought process and conflict through the journey is internal, also instinctual. Using first person might make the story too analytical.
 
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE WEAVER?
A. After I saw the leaf on the spider web, I went on a short train journey. During the 45 minutes on the train, I pretty much thought through the whole story in broad strokes. Then later on, I sat down and figured out a much more fine-tuned story arc.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The story and the image sort of came at the same time. Sometimes certain images come first. I doodled the moments of what the main character Stanley would do when he collects things. The final illustration came a little later, after I had done some more research on plants. If you remember, there was a 100-day challenge on Instagram. I participated in it by drawing plants, flowers and leaves everyday, which was preparation for this project.
 
Q. Did THE WEAVER receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes, of course. It’s inevitable to get rejections, especially in the beginning. I went to Bologna Children’s Book Fair to present my book idea rather than sending out submissions. During the fair, I got both interest and rejections. But because I’d shown the book idea to so many people within a short amount of time, I also quickly learned that it’s quite subjective whether this publisher/editor/art director likes your idea or not. Each publishing house has their own set of style and lists of interests. Don’t let this make you lose confidence. Always look for feedback and suggestions and consider them. You might pick up some really good ones!
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE WEAVER.
A. YAY FINALLY!
 
Q. How long did THE WEAVER take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. 1 1/2 years. I’m not used to the turnaround speed as I normally work in advertising/animation which is always in a rush. But it’s incredible to see what goes on behind a printed book. Sometimes things take time and it’s worth waiting.
 
Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. I’m quite lucky. The initial story which I presented was pretty much intact. Throughout the collaboration with my editor and art director, we added a few things, improving the story here and there.
 
Q. Did you create any book swag for THE WEAVER? If so, what kind?
A. I haven’t created book swag but I am thinking about printing wrapping paper with the endpaper designs.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read lots and lots of picture books. Read classic picture books - they’re classic for a reason. You can learn so much from them! And write your story ideas down—even if you’re not 100% sure yet, they might just need some more time to mature.
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Once I joined a writing workshop with Barbara Slade who gave us a great advice. First, write down all the things you imagine that could happen in the story. Don’t judge, just write them down. Then once you’ve got enough material, look through them and edit. Use the ones that make sense, put away the ones that don’t work. You can repeat this process a few times, eventually you will get a story that can even surprise you.
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. Recently I was just finished up a couple of short animation clips for promoting The Weaver (http://www.qianshi.co.uk/illustration.html) And I’m currently exploring the next idea for a picture book!
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. My website: www.qianshi.co.uk
Instagram: @qian.shi
Twitter: @qianshi_design
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/QianShi.Illustration/

I LOVE YOU, BUNNY

January 29, 2018

Tags: I LOVE YOU, BUNNY, Alina Surnaite, Lincoln Children’s Books, 2018

Alina Surnaite left Cambridge School of Art with an M.A. in Children’s Book Illustration and with a book contract! Like her artistic hero Maurice Sendak, she doesn’t believe in shying away from exploring darker themes. Alina’s #firstpicturebook I LOVE YOU, BUNNY is a bedtime book about overcoming those nighttime fears that all of us have had. Thank you Alina for participating in the Q&A and congrats on your debut!

Q. Did you work as a book illustrator before I LOVE YOU, BUNNY? If so, how did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. I was studying and making my own picture books. I was fortunate to get an offer for my Master's Project (I Love You, Bunny) when I finished the MA in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. I have been working on a few self-initiated projects illustrating classic children's fiction. It allows me to experiment with techniques and character designs.

Q. Was I LOVE YOU, BUNNY the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was my sixth picture book story. The first one was Little Frog from Trash Kingdom about a young frog's journey outside his pond. It was created during the week-long Summer School at Cambridge School of Art and was very different from my current work. It did receive interest from a few publishers, but Little Frog is now quietly sitting on my shelf with other dummy books.

Q. What inspired I LOVE YOU, BUNNY?
3. My younger self when I used to wake up at dawn, my little sister and her bunny toy, my cat-loving mum and our childhood tabby cat. A handful of other books from different authors also influenced my story, including Komako Sakai, Eileen and Marc Rosenthals and Alexis Deacon. I was also inspired by the dark autumn days in the UK and beautiful sunrises.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The book was titled Morning Monster first, but my publisher and I changed it later.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I really like this ending scene, which is also part of the cover, with the characters happily reunited and having a well-deserved rest. It was not part of my first draft, but is a much better ending for a bedtime story.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I like simple and short names, such as Suzy. The cat was hunting in the morning mist in my original story so I called her Misty.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. My editor suggested to add a narrator as my original story did not have one and thus could not be read as a bedtime story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing I LOVE YOU, BUNNY? 
A. I had an idea of a girl waking up at dawn and discovering night creatures. It slowly developed as I received feedback from my MA tutors and course mates, which I am very grateful for.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I wrote it as a short poem first, then started sketching and storyboarding.

Q. Did I LOVE YOU, BUNNY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No. The publisher approached me just before the MA Children's Book Illustration degree show with an interest in my Master's Project. 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on I LOVE YOU, BUNNY.
11. A lot of excitement with a bit of fear of the unknown. 

Q. How long did I LOVE YOU, BUNNY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Two and a half 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. I liked the endpapers that were part of my first draft, but were a bit too scary for a bedtime story about the fear of darkness. I am happy with the yellow endpapers and the nice vignettes to start and end the story in the final book.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
14. Don't get too precious about your work and never take any critique personally. Seek constructive feedback on your book (such as in SCBWI critique groups, writing retreats, and workshops with industry people), be open to changes, but also know your values and listen to your heart first.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I like writing down observations and ideas on my phone whenever something inspires me, sometimes it turns out rhymed, sometimes not. I wish I had a daily writing exercise to practise my writing skills. 
As for marketing, I think that you have to show your voice in your social media posts as well as in your books. It is a new form of storytelling and, ideally, your posts should be adapted for each specific platform, which takes time and practice. Posting regularly helps, even if weekly.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Two very different picture book stories. One is a project about sharing space that I started during the last term of my MA studies. The other one is part of a narrative non-fiction series featuring twin sisters enjoying nature and different seasons.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My website: www.alinasurnaite.com
I can also be found here:
www.twitter.com/alinasurnaite
www.instagram.com/alinasurnaite
www.facebook.com/alinasurnaiteillustration
www.alinasurnaite.tumblr.com

Thanks for inviting me for this nice interview on your blog, Karlin!

This is not a Valentine

January 22, 2018

Tags: THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE, Carter Higgins, Lucy Ruth Cummins, Chronicle Books, 2018

Elementary school librarian, book blogger, and Emmy-winning visual effects and motion graphics artist Carter Higgins is here today to talk about her #firstpicturebook. The title popped into her head while riding a bus and, from that spark, she created THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE—“A sort of anti-valentine for those who want to show the ones they love they care without being all mushy (or spending any money). (Kirkus Reviews

Q. Was THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was not! The first picture book manuscript I ever wrote is long gone and pretty bad. It was unrefined and uninformed, but it was really good practice material.

Q. What inspired THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE?
A. Kids and how honest they are—even when their truthfulness might feel a little rough around the edges. I thought of the title first, and then figured who might be saying that and why.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I didn't pick it as much as it just landed with a thud in my head. I do remember where I was—getting on a shuttle bus to head to my school fair. It's been a good reminder to always keep your brain open. You never know when a mundane moment might make a spark.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Oh, this is tough. One of the most rewarding things about making picture books as an author is that you can be a fan of your own book. Once it leaves your hands, an illustrator works their magic, and the whole thing is ushered by sharp, talented editors and art directors—it's a solid team effort.

My favorite part of the book is the picture on the title page—a moment not reflected in the text at all. A little girl slips her friend a Valentine. That's it. On the next page, before the text begins, we see his reaction to such sweetness. The text, then, becomes his response to her actions—bumbling, awkward, friendly love. The text invoked that visual story for Lucy Ruth Cummins, but (I hope!) she didn't feel at all directed by it. It's such a wonderful surprise of making picture books.
I am so lucky that Lucy is the illustrator of this book. She is so very brilliant and I love her work here so much.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second or third person?
A. This is Not a Valentine is written in second person, which wasn't so much a conscious decision as what felt exactly right for this story—I never even tried it in another point of view. It feels both personal and immediate, and also universal. The reader can take on the feelings of humility and hope that our hero has. You become very invested in his success or failure because you are right there with him. And don't all crushes feel oh-so-immersive? It was a perfect choice for this story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE?
A. Not much at all, which was also the joy of writing in second person. It allowed me to figure out who was telling the story, based on who he was talking to.

Q. Did THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It didn't, because we only submitted it to my editor at Chronicle Books. She was working on my first book already, and we wanted her to see this one as well.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE.
A. This was the third book I have sold, and the feeling of awe and thankfulness and sheer delight has not changed with each of them. There's nothing like that yes!

Q. How long did THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. We received an offer in the spring of 2015, and its publication date is December 26, 2017. Just in time for Valentine's Day!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. I'd read everything you can get your hands on. The best picture books are created by people who are true fans of the form.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Turn off the internet!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. My next book with Chronicle Books comes out in March of 2018, Everything You Need for a Treehouse, illustrated by Emily Hughes. It is stunning and I can't wait to share it!

I'm also revising a middle grade novel and working on more picture book ideas. A little momentum always helps.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. I blog at Design of the Picture Book: http://www.designofthepicturebook.com. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram @carterhiggins.

Snow Sisters

January 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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