My #FirstPictureBook Q&A

IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND

September 18, 2017

Tags: IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND, Naseem Hrab, Josh Holinaty, Owlkids Books, 2017

Former librarian and current Marketing Director at Kids Can Press, Naseem Hrab knows how long it takes to make a book. But even she felt like it took forever to publish her #firstpicturebook IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND—“A fast-moving text that speaks to the fear children have about being the new kid anywhere in life….especially welcome on the shelves for back-to-school storytimes and shared readings” (School Library Journal).

Q. Was IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Nope, it was not the first picture book manuscript I wrote. In my early twenties, I wrote a story about a little girl who didn’t like the lunch her mom packed for her. My story was unoriginal and didn’t really have a compelling narrative—there are plenty of published books that tackle that topic better than my attempt. And I got a very kind, personalized rejection letter from the publishing company I had sent it to. Ten years later, I started taking improv classes and I finally learned how to craft a story.

Q. What inspired IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND?
A. The story is inspired by my own experiences making new friends—I was the new kid in fourth grade. Sometimes, this loud, gregarious part of my personality comes out when I’m meeting new people and it feels like it’s TOO MUCH!!! And when I was a kid, I once tried so hard to make friends with this one kid that I made her cry. Yikes!!! I think I’ve learned a lot since that time in my life.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title popped into my head when I was writing the book. I like to write drafts with a title in mind because it helps me to frame up the narrative. Later on, after the book was accepted at Owlkids, a few different title options were suggested, like “Ira Crumb: New Kid Seeks Friend,” but I always felt like IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND fit the book best because it seems to make people laugh when you say it (“He’s just a pretty good friend? Not a GREAT one?”) and because of the double meaning—Ira is a pretty good friend and he also makes a pretty good friend in Malcolm.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Both! Typically, when I start working on a story, I'll write by hand using a pencil or a really inky pen—something that lets me write really fast and loose. In these early stages, every idea matters, so I avoid using an eraser or crossing anything out. My notes start out so messy! As the narrative starts to reveal itself, my notes will get neater and neater and that’s a sign that things are cooking, so I move to my laptop.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. One of my favorite parts of the book is when Ira lets an anteater know he’s got a booger in his nose cave. It definitely wasn’t in the first draft—I came up with the line much later on.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Sometimes I choose the names of people I know and, other times, like with the name Ira Crumb, a name pops into my head and feels right. (Also, in super early drafts, Ira was a small piece of cake, so that’s how he originally got his last name.)

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I feel like the story is told in a combination of third-person narrative and first-person action and dialogue. The narrator’s descriptions and Ira’s reality are kind of at odds with each other in certain moments, and this dichotomy makes for a lot of humorous moments.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND?
A. I wanted to tell a story about an animal interviewing potential new friends, and then that turned into a story about a piece of cake trying to make friends, and then that turned into a kid who tried too hard to make friends. So, I guess I didn’t know much when I started writing the story!

Q. Did IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Ira came to be published in a neat way: I had workshopped Ira in a writing club I had formed with a few publishing and librarian folks. (I’m a former librarian and I work as a marketing director for a children’s publishing company.) One of our members, Karen Li, is the editorial director of Owlkids. After reading the manuscript in our club, Karen asked me to submit it to Owlkids. The manuscript was presented to their editorial board under the pen name Abe Bishop and that was that!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND.
A. OMG. DREAMS *CAN* COME TRUE. And then I bawled.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Karen is incredibly collaborative, so we discussed what style we thought might be the best fit for the book and we were both on the same page. When she put forth Josh Holinaty’s name, I was super excited—I was familiar with his work in children’s books. I love how sophisticated, energetic and colorful his illustrations are.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Josh’s illustrations are so expressive and lively. He is so good at capturing emotion and movement. Ira has a larger-than-life personality and Josh made that personality a reality. Also, Josh and I seem to find the same types of things funny, so I was thrilled with all of the humor that he brought to the story. His illustrations make me laugh out loud!

Q. How long did IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About two-and-a-half years. Owlkids expressed an interest in publishing Ira in January 2015 and the book was released in August 2017. I’ve worked in book publishing for over ten years and I know it takes a long time to make a book, but this felt like FOREVER to me.

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. When I first sat down with my editor to discuss the manuscript, I said, “I’ll change anything you want, but I can’t take out the ‘You’ve got a booger in your nose cave, pal!’ line. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever written.” And she said, “Hmm … I was going to ask you to consider taking that line out.” I didn’t take it out and I don’t regret it. I think it’s the line that kids will find the funniest. That said, the thing with editorial feedback is that you normally should listen! Because 1) your editor wants to make the best book possible with you, and 2) you have to trust that if she suggests you change something, it’s because what you’ve written might not be working. And it’s your job to figure out solutions to the issues your editor points out. I love that quote about “killing your darlings” that’s attributed to every great writer, so let’s quote Stephen King’s version: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Focus on capturing emotion in your story. How does your character feel about what is happening to them? If you focus on your character’s emotions, their reactions and actions will reveal themselves to you. And if I had to give a #1.5 tip, it’d be: finish every draft you start.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. My favorite writing exercise is writing a “vomit draft.” It’s important to realize that nothing is going to be perfect in your first draft (or even a second or third draft), so you need to get something, anything, down on paper to give you something to work with and build on. My favorite marketing tip is: write a great book that people will talk about. Word of mouth is the #1 best way to get your book into the hands of readers.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Right now, I'm working on a draft for a potential Ira Crumb 3. The second book in the Ira Crumb series is coming out in Fall 2018 and it’s tentatively titled IRA CRUMB FEELS THE FEELINGS. I also have a picture book coming out with Groundwood Books in Spring 2019—it’s called WEEKEND DAD and it’s completely different than the Ira books. It’s more serious and was inspired by my tenuous relationship with my father. I'm also working on a few other picture book ideas.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.
NaseemHrab.com
Instagram: Naseemo
Twitter: @Naseemo