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Q&A Blog

Review These #FirstPictureBooks

There are many ways to support debut authors, such as writing online book reviews. More reviews = more visibility. But authors can feel awkward asking you to do that. So, inspired by Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s popular blog post, I will ask for them. Have you read these #firstpicturebooks? If so, what are your thoughts? C’mon—add some stars to a book’s life! (And I’ve made it SUPER easy for you by including direct book links to GoodReads, Amazon, and B&N!)

 

Lovely Beasts

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Paul and His Ukulele

GoodReads

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Ode to An Onion

GoodReads

Amazon

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Khalida and the Most Beautiful Song

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MAYBE THE MOON

“The favourite pages seem to be the first ones – everyone loves to spot all the animals, and wherever they crop up again and can be spotted later in the book is popular.”

—Frances Ives

 

Inspired by her own experience of moving to London from the countryside, Frances Ives wrote and illustrated her #firstpicturebook. MAYBE THE MOON reminds us that whatever the differences between people and places, we are all united and are never alone when we share the same moon. Today Frances tells us how she created her debut picture book.

 

Q. Was MAYBE THE MOON the first picture book manuscript you ever created? If not, what was the first picture book you created and what happened to it?

A. It was! I started a very rough draft when I was at university, and never quite let go of the ideas behind it – I'm really pleased I didn't now!

 

Q. What inspired MAYBE THE MOON?

A. I think my main inspiration is my own experience of changing environments – I'm originally from the countryside, and have lived in London for about nine years altogether. I believe that you can really change your own experience of environments by embracing all the positives you can find, and if you need to as I do, finding the areas of quiet amongst the bustle.

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. With the help of my publisher – we felt it just brought the whole message of the book together and of course, it mirrors the text on the final page.

 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?

A. The illustrations and story go hand in hand for me, and notes are often scribbled on the edge of rough pencil drawings, so the story is created from there and mostly by hand!

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

A. I love the night time cityscape, which has been in the drafts from the very beginning of the idea. It really sums up the whole message for me, as Eric sees the grey city in a whole new light with his friends…. It was also my favourite to make, which I'm sure influenced my decision!

 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 

A. The only named character is Eric – he's been called this since the first draft nearly a decade ago! I think it was just an unusual name that I liked. A little bit of unknown information – his friends are called Ralph and Jess, and the sausage dog is called Reginald, but I like to ask children what they would like to call the animals when reading it to them; my favourite so far is 'Frog the Dog'.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person? 

A. When creating the story we were imagining it being read aloud, and by using the third person we could give the impression that the narrative voice was whoever was reading the book to a child. We were really keen to give Eric his own voice as well, though, which is why the rhyming verse is in the first person.

 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began creating MAYBE THE MOON?

A. I had an idea of the arc, what I wanted to happen, and the illustrations I wanted to make, and that really influenced the story. 

 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?

A. My initial ideas tend to start visually, and are influenced by the sort of images I would like to produce. I worked really closely with the publishers to help develop the story further, which was really helpful – especially for my debut book!

 

Q. Did MAYBE THE MOON receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. No! I was incredibly fortunate that Michael O'Mara were the first to take a look at the whole premise and come back to me with a positive answer! I know that this isn't the case for most people, and I fully expect to have a few rejections in the future.

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MAYBE THE MOON.

A. I'm aware this sounds like a pun – but I was over the moon! I wanted to get to work straight away, and make the most of an opportunity I couldn't quite believe was happening!

 

Q. How long did MAYBE THE MOON take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. 14 months in total, from my contract being signed until publishing date.

 

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. There are always little details that I want to add, and I'm a bit of a quibbler so will always look back and critique my own illustrations, or think 'why didn't I add an extra flower there? Or an extra bird? Or change that expression slightly?' I think with an extra page I would have really expanded on all the fun things Eric and his friends could get up to in the city.

 

Q. When you read MAYBE THE MOON to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. The favourite pages seem to be the first ones – everyone loves to spot all the animals, and wherever they crop up again and can be spotted later in the book is popular.

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for MAYBE THE MOON? If so, what kind?

A. My publisher created some lovely little charm bracelets with silver crescent moons on them, which they sent out in PR packs, and it's been lovely to see them on wrists over twitter and instagram.

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. Don't give up on an idea, but be prepared to compromise too.

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. As above, just keep going and don't lose faith. It's ok to put something to one side for a while (in my case it was several years!) but if you believe it can work you can find a way.  As far as marketing goes, social media can be an excellent tool, but don't let it swallow you up!

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I've got a couple of other pitches that I'm working on, and I'm excited to work up the roughs for those! I'm also working on some personal artwork, to push my own practice.

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A. You can find me at '@francesives' across all my social media accounts, apart from facebook where I had already inconsiderately taken my own name… so I'm Frances Ives Art on that page.

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WHEN A TREE GROWS

“I knew the beginning and end would mirror one another, but the mushy middle was created as I wrote. I cut the scenes that didn't feel funny enough or have great illustration potential.”

—Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

In addition to working in the fields of college administration and teaching, Cathy Ballou Mealey has also been a crossing guard, hash-slinger, gift-wrapper, pet sitter and—her favorite job—"Mom." This month she adds debut author to that list with the publication of her #firstpicturebook WHEN A TREE GROWS. “Laugh along as a story about a tree in the forest comes full circle, bringing three creatures along for a bumpy but fun ride” (Kirkus Reviews).


Q. Was WHEN A TREE GROWS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?

A. OZZIE THE OYSTER was the first picture book manuscript that I finished, an entry for the Cheerios "Spoonfuls of Stories" contest. Ozzie is still languishing on my hard drive, trying to imagine how he will get back his (lemon) zest for life.

 

Q. What inspired WHEN A TREE GROWS?

A. I was out in the woods, enjoying a nature hike with my family when we heard a distant, creaky Crash! Was it a falling tree? An animal? We froze, listened and after a long silence, hiked on. I began to wonder: What if that crash had scared a bear or frightened a deer?

 

Building on that "OR" question, I framed a wacky story with two different possible outcomes, one rather expected and one funny, unexpected outcome. Readers will find that "OR" spotlighted on the bottom corner of each recto page with a clever curled paper art effect.

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. The original title was WHEN A TREE FALLS. My editor suggested that "GROWS" would be a stronger title, neatly tying the end to the beginning.

 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?

A. I wrote TREE on the computer, then cut each scene into separate strips of paper. I added some stick-figure critters by hand, and moved text around with sticky notes until I had the funniest possible sequence of events.

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?

A. When Squirrel decides to return to the forest, he writes a letter to Moose. What happens to the letter is my favorite, funniest part of the book.  That sequence has not changed since draft #1.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person and present tense?

A. The action-oriented sequence of events really called for third person, present tense format. I didn't even experiment with other versions.

 

Q. Did you outline your story first or did you create your story while writing it? 

A. I knew the beginning and end would mirror one another, but the mushy middle was created as I wrote. I cut the scenes that didn't feel funny enough or have great illustration potential.

 

Q. Did WHEN A TREE GROWS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. My agent sent out two rounds of submissions, and it was not a fit for four houses. We received one offer and one request for a revise-and-resubmit.

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHEN A TREE GROWS.

A. Yippee! And "Should we open some wine to go with this meatloaf?"

 

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 

A. Sterling suggested three potential illustrators – all fantastic. There was something to love about each and every one, but Kasia Nowowiejska's adorable forest animals won our hearts.

 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?

A. The warthog! Kasia is from Poland, and I loved the European flair in her forest sketches. The cover was not finalized until the end. I love the shiny copper foil lettering!

 

Q. How long was the publication process for WHEN A TREE GROWS from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. Three years, four months. When the PW announcement was published in March 2017, I could officially share the news with everyone that TREE was becoming a book.

 

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. An early draft had a sweet city scene between Squirrel and a pigeon, but it didn't make the final cut. I thought three animal characters were enough for this book.

 

Q. When you read WHEN A TREE GROWS to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. They love to see Squirrel scooping coins out of the fountain to buy a bus ticket home.

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for WHEN A TREE GROWS? If so, what kind?

A. Sterling is compiling an activity kit with simple mazes, word searches, coloring pages, etc. I've dreamed up a craft project using a paper plate to create kid-sized moose antlers. I can't wait to share it with kids!

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. Never leave home without your library card!

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?

A. Paste your PB draft into a word cloud generator like WordItOut or Wordle to visually gauge the frequency of words in your text. A word cloud can help you find terms to cut or replace with stronger choices.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. Next up for me is a still-secret picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel are involved. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021.

 

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)?

A. I am collaborating with our town Tree Committee and Library on exciting launch events this spring. Look for details on my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

 

Q. Where can people find you?

A. Please come connect and say hello! Tell me if you've seen a Moose in real life, or if you need a recipe for cardamom crème cupcakes.

Website: https://cathyballoumealey.wordpress.com/about/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CatBallouMealey

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cathy.mealey

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/catballoumealey/

 

 

 

 

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BIG CAT

Get to know your characters inside out. Take your characters and put them into scenarios you won't necessarily find in the book. I do this through drawing, by drawing them in different settings, such as their home, their classroom, on holiday. But I'm sure the same thing can be achieved through writing too.

—Emma Lazell

 

Inspired by her naughty cat, Emma Lazell wrote and illustrated her #firstpicturebook while finishing her Masters of Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. At her graduation exhibit, a publisher spotted it and now BIG CAT is ready to pounce onto  bookshelves!

 

Q. Was BIG CAT 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 the first that I finished and felt happy with! I'd written and illustrated a few before but never got them quite right, or managed to get to an ending I was happy with. In some cases, the story worked, but the illustrations didn't, or vice versa. With BIG CAT everything clicked.

 

Q. What inspired BIG CAT?

A. My Cats! BIG CAT started out as a story all about an oversized domestic cat, based on my naughty cat Ruby. It was a few drafts on that BIG CAT became… without revealing any of the story… the Big Cat that he is.

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. I don't fully remember, the title just seemed to fall into place. I think for a long while the story was just called Cat.

 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?

A. By hand, usually while story boarding. I like to be able to lay things out visually and quickly and whenever inspiration comes to me.

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

A. There are three moments I really like: the big tiger reveal for its saturation of orange; the tiger tea party; and the moment where Isobel realises how fun Big Cat is, compared to grandma's other cats.

 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?

A. I didn't have a particularly difficult job here, as my main characters have very self-explanatory names: Grandma and Big Cat. Isobel, the little girl, is named after my younger sister, although her name doesn't actually appear in the story.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?  Q. Why did you write BIG CAT in the past tense?

A.(Answering the two questions above together) In both cases this wasn't a conscious decision, more something that just happened as I wrote. The writing voice I used didn't really change at all from the first conception and drafting of the idea.

 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?

A. The images definitely came first. I feel as if I am an illustrator who has somehow fallen into being a writer too. But pictures certainly come first, because that's what I am used to. I think very visually and pictorially and know exactly what will happen visually, before even beginning to think about a written story. Since BIG CAT, I have actually tried to work the other way round, and write first, but it doesn't work for me.

 

Q. Did BIG CAT receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. No. I was really lucky with BIG CAT. I finished it during my Masters in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, and it was spotted by my lovely publishers at my graduation exhibition.

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on BIG CAT.

A. Over the moon of course!

 

Q. How long was the publication process for BIG CAT— from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. Almost exactly a year, I signed a contract in Spring 2018, and BIG CAT will release in the UK on the 4th April 2019. But it went to print in much sooner than that. I worked on it between May and October and I received the first proofs in late October, and the first advance copy in December.

 

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. For a long time, BIG CAT had a different, more abstract cover that I felt really happy with. But it wasn't commercial enough. It took persuading and hard work to create the new cover, but it was definitely the right decision. I'm so much happier with the final cover. It's really easy to get attached to a piece of artwork or writing and much harder to see the benefits of changing it. But in this case it was definitely the right decision.  

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. Keep going! Expect and allow your idea to change and morph continually. Lay your story out visually from word go to get the pacing and exciting page turns. You'll know when something clicks.
 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. Get to know your characters inside out. Take your characters and put them into scenarios you won't necessarily find in the book. I do this through drawing, by drawing them in different settings, such as their home, their classroom, on holiday. But I'm sure the same thing can be achieved through writing too.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. Top secret at the moment, but I can say, if you quite liked BIG CAT but you're more of a dog person, then this will be the book for you!

 

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:

A. Yes! BIG CAT book launch will be the 10th April, at Heffers Bookshop, Cambridge, UK

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A. Find out more at www.emmalazell.co.uk or find me on instagram and twitter @emmallazell

 

BIG CAT will be released in the UK on the 4th April 2019. Available to preorder now. Coming soon to the US and Commonwealth. 

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HER FEARLESS RUN

“I was also very fortunate that Kathrine [Switzer] read the F&G and went page by page with me to ensure that everything was as accurate as possible. I can't say enough about her…she is just as amazing as you would expect her to be.”

—Kim Chaffee

 

Described by her former students as the “best second-grade teacher ever,” Kim Chaffee is also a mom, marathon runner, and now—a debut author. Her #firstpicturebook HER FEARLESS RUN celebrates the first woman to ever officially run the Boston Marathon and is a “biography that goes the distance!" (starred review, Kirkus Reviews).


Q. Was HER FEARLESS RUN the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it? 

A. HER FEARLESS RUN was more like the 6th or 7th manuscript I ever wrote. The first story I ever wrote was about a boy who loved bananas so much but he left his peels all over the place so his mother banned him from having them anymore. That story is currently in the drawer :)

 

Q. What inspired HER FEARLESS RUN? 

A. I was inspired to write HER FEARLESS RUN when I heard Kathrine talking about her 1967 Boston Marathon experience at the Boston Marathon in 2016. As I runner, I never thought twice before signing up for a race that someone might tell me I couldn't because I was a woman and I realized that I have Kathrine to thank for that. After looking to see if there was a picture book biography out there on her already, I was thrilled to see that there wasn't and knew I needed to write it!

 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book? 

A. The title, HER FEARLESS RUN, was not the title I submitted. It used to be The Right to Run. The subtitle has always been the same. When I signed the contract, Charlotte Wenger and Kristen Nobles suggested we change the title to FEARLESS, which I loved! Then, after talking with the sales and marketing teams at Macmillan (Page Street Kids distributes through Macmillan)- they suggested a change. HER FEARLESS RUN was created by the wonderful collaboration of minds at Page Street Kids!

 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer? 

A. I always brainstorm and start writing on my yellow legal pads with Ticonderoga #2 pencils — creature of habit! Then, once I feel like I'm getting into a groove, I move over to the computer and continue working there.

 

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction book? 

A. I was very lucky that Kathrine has written an autobiography, Marathon Woman. It was extremely helpful for my research. I also used some newspaper articles and some short video clips that Kathrine made for makers.com. I was also very fortunate that Kathrine read the F&G and went page by page with me to ensure that everything was as accurate as possible. I can't say enough about her… she is just as amazing as you would expect her to be.

 

Q. Did you outline your story first or did you create your story while writing it? 

A. I am definitely a plotter! Yes, I did work out some sort of outline before I began drafting but, after revisions, the final text is far from what was originally intended. 

 

Q. What information do you include in the back matter? 

A. The back matter explains how Kathrine did not intend to deceive anyone when registering for the race…she wore lipstick and earrings to run that day…as well as how Kathrine continued to fight for woman's equality in the field of running after that historic day. I also mention how Kathrine continues to inspire and support women through her charity, 261 Fearless, Inc., which connects woman all over the globe and provides opportunities for them to find their strength and self-esteem through running and walking. I'm so honored to be running this year's Boston Marathon as a charity runner for 261 Fearless, Inc!

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on HER FEARLESS RUN. 

A. I had been going back and forth with my editor on revisions so I was hoping things were going in the right direction toward an offer but I never let myself believe it. I tried to stay positive, thinking that at the very least I was getting professional feedback that would make my story stronger. When I finally got the email that had the word OFFER in the subject line, I gasped and walked away from my computer, without even opening it! I made my husband read it first because I couldn't believe it was actually happening!

 

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 

A. Page Street Kids was awesome about giving me input into the illustrator. My editor, Charlotte Wenger, sent over a few illustrators to consider. I picked a favorite and it just so happened that Charlotte and Kristen picked the same illustrator! Hooray for Ellen Rooney and her artistic brilliance!

 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover? 

A. Ellen's art is so incredibly stunning! I am so lucky she said yes to this project! The color choices and the strong emotion she conveys through her art take my breath away!

 

Q. How long was the publication process for HER FEARLESS RUN—from the time you received an offer until it was printed? 

A. I received the offer in May 2017 and the book will publish April 2, 2019. Almost 2 yrs!

 

Q. When you read HER FEARLESS RUN to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction? 

A. I love this question! The part that gets the best reaction is when a runner shoves the race official off the course after he tries to take Kathrine's numbers. That part gets lots of cheers!

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for HER FEARLESS RUN? If so, what kind? 

A. Swag is so fun and there are so many options…for now I have bookmarks and stickers but am looking into temporary tattoos and perhaps pencils. I love swag so I need to pull myself back from going overboard!

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers? 

A. I think my #1 tip for picture book writers is to keep going. Rejections happen and yes, they hurt, some more than others. But try to look at it as weeding out the wrong people to publish your book, to make way for the right one. HER FEARLESS RUN received some rejections and I am so glad it did! Kristen was the perfect person to publish this story because it meant as much to her as it did to me and that feels like the way it should be.

 

Q. What are you working on now? 

A. I just started research for a new picture book biography that I am really excited about and feel a strong connection with the subject…wish I could say more but you know how that is! :)

 

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details: 

A. Yes! I have a local launch on April 6 at 11:15 at The Bookery in Manchester, NH which I am so excited for! The following day I get to launch the book at Brookline Booksmith with Ellen Rooney, the illustrator! And on April 12, Ellen and I will join the one-and-only Kathrine Switzer at an event in Boston to celebrate her, the 261 Fearless charity runners (I am one of them, too) and we'll sign books, too! 

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

Twitter: Kim_Chaffee

Facebook: www.facebook.com/KimChaffeeAuthor

Instagram: kchaffeebooks

www.KimChaffee.com

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