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Q&A Blog

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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THE LOST BOOK

“Recently, in order to learn more about writing, I started transcribing the texts of picture books that I like. This exercise helps me notice such details as punctuation marks, repetition of words and phrases, words in capitals, page breaks, etc., and better understand how the author approached the text.”

—Margarita Surnaite

 

While studying illustration at Cambridge School of Art, Margarita Surnaite drew a sketch of a rabbit that caught her instructor’s attention. Margarita started to build a story around that rabbit and today it is the star of her #firstpicturebook as an author/illustrator. Published by Andersen Press, THE LOST BOOK is a "lovely book [that] embeds a message about the importance of reading and the issue of overuse of technology in an appealing fantasy adventure.... An excellent read-aloud choice" (starred review, School Library Journal).

 
Q. Was THE LOST 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. No, it wasn't. My first picture book that I showed to publishers was called "Different" and it was my Bachelor's degree final project. I submitted it to Nami Concours, an international children's book illustration competition held in Korea, and it won an award. This gave me confidence that picture book making might be the right path for me. When I created this project, I knew very little about the picture book market. The book turned out very experimental and dark so eventually I decided to shelve it.

 

Q. What inspired THE LOST BOOK?

A. One day, during my MA Children's Book Illustration studies, I was presenting new book ideas. What caught my tutor's attention, however, was a sketch of a rabbit holding a book and sitting next to people looking at their phones. I realized that this sketch had the potential to turn into a story, so I started developing the rabbit character and building the world around him. It's amusing to think that "The Lost Book" wouldn't exist today if my tutor hadn't brought my attention to that sketch.

 

Whether intentionally or not, my stories almost always originate from my observations or personal experiences. While developing "The Lost Book", I became very aware how distracted people have become, especially due to their digital devices. The scenes of the human world in "The Lost Book" were influenced by my experience of visiting London. 

 

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

A. I came up with this title early on. I made a list of potential titles, but "The Lost Book" seemed like the best choice to me. I liked that this title could have a literal and metaphorical meaning, which was fitting for the story. I'm glad that my publisher decided to keep it.

 

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

A. I write and draw both ways. I brainstorm ideas and develop my characters on paper and then create finished dummy books on the computer. While I'm working on a dummy book, I like to print out sheets with thumbnail-sized spreads and make edits with a pencil. I make new printouts with each round of revisions. I also print out, cut, and glue together mini dummy books to check how the pacing and page turns work. I always keep a notebook around that I use for messy drafting and problem solving of my stories. 

 

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

A. The spread with the escalator scene is probably one of my favorites. It was already in the first draft. 

 

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

A. I chose my main character's name "Henry" spontaneously. I can't remember when and why I decided to name him that, but for some reason it felt right.

 

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

A. In my first dummy book the story was told in first person. But a year later, I revised the story and wrote it in third person instead. I wanted to use more than one point of view.

 

Q. Why did you write THE LOST BOOK in past tense?

A. It felt natural to tell the story in past tense.

 

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

A. I started by developing my characters first. I drew them over and over again until I had some idea of who they are, what they want, and what kind of world they live in. Then I began to piece the story together by making a storyboard. 

 

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

A. The images appeared first. I figured out most of the story through sketching and storyboarding. Words came later in the process.

 

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

A. Yes, a few. I didn't actively submit to publishers though. As an MA Children's Book Illustration student, I got to exhibit "The Lost Book" at the graduation show in London and at the Cambridge School of Art stand during Bologna Children's Book Fair, which were attended by industry professionals. 

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE LOST BOOK.

A. I got the offer on December 22 so it felt like receiving an early Christmas gift. I was very excited but also slightly worried about all the work and creative challenges waiting ahead of me in order to complete this book. 

 

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

A. I received the contract at the beginning of 2017 and the book came out in 2019. It took over two years. However, I started developing the story in autumn 2014.

 

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. Luckily, the majority of the story stayed the same. I had to take out one spread because the dummy book was longer than 32 pages. However, I am happy with the changes that my editor suggested. 

 

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

A. I made some bookmarks and a book trailer. 

 

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

A. It sounds cliché, but read as many picture books as you can. I was skeptical hearing this advice over and over again from different picture book writers. In the past year, however, I finally started to understand its importance. Reading picture books is key to learning the craft of picture book making.

Don't read picture books just for pleasure. Study them. Read them silently. Read them aloud. Analyze them inside out: the text, the illustrations, the design choices, the plot structures, etc. Ask yourself what makes them work and what doesn't. Read a wide range of picture books such as classics, award-winning, bestselling and newly released books. Explore books in genres, subjects, and styles that usually don't appeal to you. 

 

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

A. When I read picture books, I'm naturally more drawn to images than text. Recently, in order to learn more about writing, I started transcribing the texts of picture books that I like. This exercise helps me notice such details as punctuation marks, repetition of words and phrases, words in capitals, page breaks, etc., and better understand how the author approached the text.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I'm working on my second author-illustrated picture book. Publication is planned for 2021. I'm also developing new picture book stories to query literary agents this year.  

 

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

A.

Website: www.margaritasurnaite.com

Instagram: @margaritasurnaite

Twitter: @msurnaite

Book trailer for THE LOST BOOK

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MIRA'S CURLY HAIR

MIRA'S CURLY HAIR By Maryam al Serkal and illustrated by Rebeca Luciani (Lantana Publishing, April 2019)

“If you are a novice as I was, don't be afraid to attend a course.

It might be very helpful and beneficial for you to find your niche.”

 

Dubai writer Maryam Al Serkal was inspired by her daughter’s feelings about her curly hair.  After attending a children's book workshop, she wrote her #firstpicturebook manuscript. Next month, that story will be published by Lantana Publishing. MIRA’S CURLY HAIR "does a lovely job weaving in various cultural realities with a universal theme of self-acceptance.... [and] adds depth and beauty to the growing collection of hair-themed picture books for the very young" (Kirkus Reviews).

 

Q. Was MIRA'S CURLY HAIR the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?

A. In fact yes, this was the first manuscript that I ever wrote. I attended a children's book workshop at a literature festival and at the end of the workshop the participants were asked to produce a piece of writing and that was the birth of my manuscript.

 

Q. What inspired MIRA'S CURLY HAIR?

A. I like writing about things that are relevant to me. MIRA'S CURLY HAIR is about my daughter and how, at a very young age, she started to notice the differences in appearance she had with other people. The most significant to her was her hair.

 

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

A. Mira is my daughter's name and I wanted the title to be straight forward as the book is.

 

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

A. I love to write by hand but sometimes the handiest thing at my disposal would be the notes app on my phone. It's easier to continue the flow of work when I don't have to retype everything on my computer, the app is synced to my devices which gives me a seamless flow of work.

 

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.)

My favorite part is when Mira realizes that her hair is not as different as she thought.

 

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

A. The main character is Mira, after my daughter, and then her mother is referred to as Mommy.

 

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

A. I felt that writing this story in third person could make it more relatable to the reader and listener.

 

Q. Why did you write MIRA'S CURLY HAIR in the past tense?

A. There is a level of dissatisfaction that the main character has with her appearance, I wanted the reader to feel that this was in the past but eventually it was going to change which it did at the end of the story. 

 

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

A. I had a pretty good idea of what the ending of the story would be. I initially wrote it as a rhyme. I eventually diluted the rhyming a bit but I find that my writing flows easily when writing poetry. I love writing poetry. My favorite children's author is Dr. Seuss. I also think it's tricky to write poetry for kids because it either seems forced or not very rhythmical. Personally, it's a challenge that I enjoy.

 

Q. Did MIRA'S CURLY HAIR receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. I didn't receive any rejection letters for Mira's Curly Hair. I guess I was lucky!

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MIRA'S CURLY HAIR.

A. It really is indescribable. I was very nervous when I sent in my manuscript. I was hopeful but had resolved to manage my expectations and try to handle the rejection in a way that would push me forward. To be very honest I was at a very challenging time in my life and when I received the offer I was thrilled. It gave me a sense of achievement. 

 

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

A. Rebeca Luciani, the illustrator, was suggested by my editor and after I saw her initial drawings, I knew that she was the only one who could bring the story to life.

 

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

A.The first thing that jumped out at me was how well Rebeca had captured Mira with her mischievous look. It spoke to my heart. She also captures the essence of the Arabian culture without making it overbearing.

 

Q. How long was the publication process for MIRA'S CURLY HAIR  from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. I would say it took over a year and a half.

 

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 would have liked to keep it in rhyme, but I have full faith in my editor and what she sees as fitting better in the current children's book market.

 

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

If you are a novice as I was, don't be afraid to attend a course. It might be very helpful and beneficial for you to find your niche. 

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I have a few more children's books manuscripts that I am working on.

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

A.

www.themaryamwrites.com
My Twitter and Instagram account is @themaryamwrites.

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WHERE IS YOUR SISTER?

WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? By Puck Koper (Two Hoots, Macmillan, April 2019)

“I really like to make projects and books about everyday life, the day to day things we all struggle with or enjoy.

So I get a lot of inspiration from my own life or stories from other people.”

 

Illustrator Puck Koper lives in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on the most Dutch street you can imagine—complete with sailing boats, drawbridges, and a windmill. Inspired by her childhood visits to department stores, Puck created her #firstpicturebook WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? which includes some extra storylines for observant readers. 

 
Q. Was WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? 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! It is my very first book. It was my graduation project for the Master Children's Book illustration at the Cambridge School of Art in the UK. And at that time the story didn't have any text. Which was quite hard, having to tell the story with just pictures. But later when it got picked up, my publisher and I decided to give the story text. And I am really pleased we did! 

 

Q. What inspired WHERE IS YOUR SISTER?

A. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. She lives in the city centre of Rotterdam and we would always go shopping. Just like the twins in my book, I would stand on the escalator, without being able to look over the edge. And one of the spreads in the book, shows the shoe department, that was my favorite place as a child. You wouldn't believe how happy I was when I finally fit into the smallest women sized shoes! You could leave me there for hours. 

Since then I've always had a fascination for department stores. It's the best place for people watching, one of my favourite pastimes. While working on the book I spent a lot of time in John Lewis in Cambridge. The perfume department is the best place to observe fancy ladies in their natural habitat. It was hard to not put everyone I saw into my book. 

 

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

A. At the time of my Master, when the book didn't have text yet, I was struggling with one page—the page where Mum discovers that Harriet is not behind her anymore. Because I felt it needed the text: "Where is your sister?" But it being a wordless book, that was a bit of a difficulty. I discussed it on a walk along the river Cam with my dear friend Angela. And she suggested, why don't you make that the title. And after that I never changed it, it just fit.

 

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

A. I make all my drawings by hand. I fill sketchbook after sketchbook and wouldn't even know how to draw directly with the computer. However, I do use the computer to colour my artwork. While working on this book on the course, I was planning to screen print the illustrations. But by using the computer, I've found a way to skip some steps in the screen printing process. A great way to get the feel of a screen print, but it saves a lot of time and is easier to edit. 

 

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

A. Oh, that is a really tough question! I had so much fun making this book! Coming up with this whole store, all the departments, and especially all the people in the shop. If I had to choose it might be the endpapers. While I used to dream about my own very own picture book, the endpapers always felt as the most exciting part! And making these endpapers was maybe the most fun of all. I think it's because it's the last thing I made and it finishes the book perfectly, they make it a real book. They feature all the people you can spot in the book. And on the last endpaper, they're all on their way home, with their shopping bags. I've added a couple of extra storylines for the observant readers. For example, there's a thief in the store you can follow. I wanted to make a book you can read more than once, and really hope that every time you read it, you notice something new. 

 

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

A. The story is told by Harriet's sister. I really like it when books are written from the perspective of the child. And I loved to give this book an extra layer. I think her comments make that it's not just a simple chase through the store. 

 

Q. Why did you write WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? in present tense?

A. My book is written in present tense, for me that's the only way it can be told. It really adds to the excitement in the book.

 

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

A. Most of my stories are created while drawing, with playing around on the paper. Drawing different characters is something I have done since I was very little. And while drawing them, I get to know them and figure out their story. I really like to make projects and books about everyday life, the day to day things we all struggle with or enjoy. So I get a lot of inspiration from my own life or stories from other people.

 

Q. Did WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. No, it didn't. Quite the opposite actually! When I presented the book on the Master's graduation show I got so many interest that I had to turn down quite a lot of publishers when I chose Two Hoots, Macmillan. I still can't believe it! Those weeks, having the show, all the stress and all the love. It was incredible.

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHERE IS YOUR SISTER?

A. I was over the moon! I couldn't believe anyone wanted to publish my book. It was on my way to the Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy, two years ago. And I had the most amazing week, knowing that very soon my book will be among all those incredible books!

 

Q. How long was the publication process for WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? — from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. It took quite some time. Which is very normal in the publishing world. But I think it also had to do with the fact that this is my first book. It was all new to me. I worked and reworked the story for about a year. While in the meantime moving back home to Rotterdam, after living in the UK for almost 2 years. The whole process of planning, storyboarding and sketching was quite long. But the actual finished illustrations just took me a couple of weeks. And they were the most amazing weeks, just doing what I love most, having everything thought out already. When I just had to do it. It felt incredible!

 

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. Working on a book like this takes time, which means I made so many drawings that didn't end up in the book at all. I've got illustrations to fill 5 books. But that's how it works. I did have to kill some darlings, but just because there are not enough spreads to show them all. 

 

Q. When you read WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. There is a part in the book where mum screams “HARRRRIET!” which everyone loved at the graduation show.

But because the book isn't out yet, I haven't had the chance to read it to children. When you think about it, it's quite funny how only adults are involved in the process of making a picture book. I look forward to having kids myself, so I can test my ideas in the middle of the process and get inspired by how they see the world.

 

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

A. Instagram, it's an incredible tool, to show your work and to get inspired. Don't be afraid to post stuff! Which is something I am saying as much to myself as to you, haha!

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. At the moment, I am working on two new books, a series of screen prints, and lots of exciting new things. My next book is about a boy that's moving to a block of flats. 

 

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

A. 24th of April I will have a book launch together with Jessica Meserve and Celina Buckley, at the bookstore Heffers in Cambridge, UK. 

 

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

A.

https://puckkoper.portfoliobox.net/about-me-4

https://www.instagram.com/puckkoper/ 

 

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DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR: THE STORY OF HELEN FRANKENTHALER

“Children love the movement and dancing words that are threaded throughout the book.

They love to spin, whirl, and waltz as I read it.

They want to get up and move around, and it's so fun to see them

imitate the motions Helen used as she created her art.”

 

Elizabeth Brown is a professional violinist, film producer, and college teacher. And now, after three years of waiting for her #firstpicturebook to be published, Elizabeth is an author. DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR:THE STORY OF HELEN FRANKENTHALER is a Spring 2019 Junior Library Guild selection with "textual descriptions of Frankenthaler's process [that] are gorgeous" (Kirkus Reviews).

  
Q. Was DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?

A. I have an MFA in Creative Writing and spent years in writing classes, writing in other genres, and teaching writing at the college level before I started writing picture books.

DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR: THE STORY OF HELEN FRANKENTHALER is my debut picture book, but it's the third picture book I wrote. My first and second picture books are releasing from other publishers soon! 

 
Q. What inspired DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR?

A. I first learned about Helen Frankenthaler in a modern art history course in college. My professor emphasized her work in the course as she was one of the major abstract expressionists in the 20th century and overcame the male-dominated art world at the time, which was very difficult to do at that time! I thought writing a picture book biography of her early life would work well as a book for young children, and I am so happy that Abrams thought so as well! In my author's note in the back matter, I discuss my inspiration in more detail. 

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

I chose the title to emphasize Helen's movements around the canvas and her methods of applying paints, making the colors "dance" on the canvas. Also, since Mountains and Sea was the painting that led to Color Field movement, I definitely wanted to make sure this came across in the title. 

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

I write by hand until I'm pretty confident I have a very solid draft. Before I even write anything though, I have done lots of thinking, freewriting, answering questions about the character and/or topic until I feel I am ready to begin working on it as a book. Then I start to storyboard it and outline it in a book dummy to see how the idea might work as an actual picture book. I keep writing by hand until I feel I'm ready to start typing it out. I then type it, print, read, and make revisions by hand in it, and then type, print again, make revisions, continuing in this fashion until I feel it's really close to a final submission ready draft. Then I create another book dummy to see how it all works out and keep revising if necessary. Finally, I begin reading the manuscript out loud many, many times, and make tiny edits over and over, until I feel the manuscript is ready to submit to my agent. 

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

My favorite part is the ending. I chose to make it a lyrical ending as it not only hints at Helen's life and success as an artist following Mountains and Sea, but it also defines the essence of Color Field painting and that she will live forever through her art. This ending came in later drafts; it wasn't in the first draft.

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

A. I used many primary sources, including interviews of Helen Frankenthaler, studying her art work, especially Mountains and Sea, I watched documentary films of Helen as she created her paintings, and I also used reputable secondary sources about Helen written by art historians. The most important part of my research was the help and vetting of the manuscript by the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. This was crucial to the success of the book, and I can't thank them enough for all their help!

 
Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?

A. The book focuses on Helen Frankenthaler's early life, from young childhood through age 23, after she completed her game-changing Mountains and Sea. I knew that I wanted to focus on this timeframe as it highlights how much Helen's development began in childhood and how she built on that through her young adult life and beyond. This timeframe also allowed me to highlight her love of color, her struggles to overcome her father's death and the male-dominated art world, and set the stage for showing how emotion and nature are rooted in all of her work, both of which formed in childhood. The timeframe also works well for a picture book biography where showing a slice of her life allows for more focus on essential aspects in her life and work while appealing to picture book readers.

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

A. The back matter contains more information on Helen Frankenthaler, photos of her, a photo of Mountains and Sea, an author's note, an art activity based on Helen's soak-stain technique, quotes and their sources, and a selected bibliography. 

 
Q. Did DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. My agent sent it out to about ten editors, and we sold it in this first round of submissions!

 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR.

A. My agent called me when we received the offer from Abrams, and of course, I was thrilled beyond anything! I was going to be a children's book author!


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

A. I was given a chance to weigh in, and I was thrilled when Aimee Sicuro was selected as the illustrator. Her ability to capture the colors and Helen's personality and interweave these throughout the book was amazing. Her illustrations are stunning and add so much to the story.

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

A. All the luscious color! Aimee definitely understood Helen's art process and worked this in throughout the entire book. Her gorgeous art complemented the text so well. I am so fortunate to have her as the illustrator. 

 
Q. How long did DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. About three years. I received the offer in the spring of 2016, and the book releases on March 19, 2019. 

 
Q. When you read DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. Children love the movement and dancing words that are threaded throughout the book. They love to spin, whirl, and waltz as I read it. They want to get up and move around, and it's so fun to see them imitate the motions Helen used as she created her art. I hope they'll try the art project at the end of the book! I hope the book inspires them in their own artistic and creative pursuits, now and in the future.


Q. Did you create any book swag for DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR? If so, what kind?

No, I haven't yet, but I do see myself doing an art activity for school or author visits.

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

The #1 tip is to keep writing, no matter what! I also suggest that picture book writers develop a love for revision. Revision is where the artistry of writing happens. I can't imagine being a writer and not loving revising since as writers we will be revising so much! One never really stops revising a book I feel. There are so many ways to tell a story – as a writer, it's so important to grasp this and then be able to embrace it. Love the journey and the process!

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

A. I don't really have a favorite writing exercise. I just have my process, and I stick to that as it works for me. I do find new exercises to try, and it's nice to add those in to my process if they work for me. Mostly, I love good old-fashioned freewriting as a way to solve problems I may encounter as I draft a story. This has always helped me in my process.

 
Q. What are you working on now?

A. I am working on more picture books!

 

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

A. I look forward to connecting! You can find me at:

Website: www.elizabethmbrown.com

Twitter: @ebrownbooks

Instagram: @elizabethbrownbooks

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ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY  

An illustrator and theater designer, Yevgenia Nayberg grew up left-handed in the former Soviet Union. This experience inspired her to write her #firstpicturebook. ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY is a Junior Library Guild Selection and "the story of coping with any society's rigid norms and finding avenues for self-expression. . . . so jovial and bighearted, you wish it upon all oppressed lefties" (Kirkus Reviews).


Q. What inspired ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY?

A. The book is loosely autobiographical and based on my childhood experiences growing up as a lefty in the former Soviet Union.

 

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

A. My original title was THE SECRET SOCIETY, but my publisher felt that it was important to introduce the character in the title. After much discussion, we arrived at the current title.

 

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

A. On the computer and on my smartphone.

 

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 the ending, where Anya says good-bye to her Secret Society. It's a bittersweet moment and feels very personal to me.

 

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

A. That's an easy question! I have a difficult name for English speakers, so all I had to do is to pick an easy to pronounce short Russian name. Anya was the first name that came to mind. 

 

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

A. It helped to put more distance between myself and the character.

 

Q. Why did you write ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY  in past tense?

A. It is the story from the past, so that seemed like a natural choice.

 

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

A. I wrote the story first, but I have a permanent collection of images in my head, an image bank if you will. Some of the images had already existed, they were just waiting for the right text.

 

Q. Did ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. I think it received around ten rejections and a couple of "yes" letters.

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY.

A. A mix of excitement and relieve.

 

Q. How long did ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY  take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. Almost 2.5 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. There was a storyline in the book about secret messages that Anya wrote using mirror writing—something that I do on occasion.  I really wish we kept it.

 

Q. When you read ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. This came as a surprise, but kids like the part in which I talk about the secret world inside Anya, that only the left hand could express. I thought this was a rather sophisticated passage and was so happy to see that kids got it.

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY? If so, what kind?

A. I am still new to the marketing game and have not made any physical swag. I animated my own book trailer, which was a big project for me!

 

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

A. Learn to switch your attention to other projects!

 

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

A. Maybe an illustrator tip instead: storyboard everything and check for the flow of color throughout the book.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I am finishing up my next book, THE RUSSIAN TYPEWRITER ADVENTURE, which is coming out in 2020. I am also obsessively working on a new picture book about Mona Lisa, street art and New York City! 


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

A. My website is www.nayberg.org I am on Facebook as myself, and on Twitter and Instagram as @znayberg

 

View the book trailer for ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY  

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The Remember Balloons — Winner of the 2019 Golden Kite Award

"I'd been recording my grandparents' histories on a voice recorder. Perhaps that had something to do with the turn my manuscript took—the voice recorder made the memories a solid, tangible thing I could put in my pocket."—Jessie Oliveros

 

Congrats to author Jessie Oliveros for winning the SCBWI's Golden Kite Award for her #firstpicturebook THE REMEMBER BALLOONS! To celebrate, I'm reposting her Q&A.

 

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Is is a Blog Birthday or a Bloggerversary? Either way, it’s time for a #Giveaway!

My blog is three years old this week—so let’s celebrate with a #giveaway! Enter for a chance to win my #firstpicturebook NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL and AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MOTH. Thank you for reading and good luck!  Rafflecopter giveaway

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PEDRO'S PAN: A GOLD RUSH STORY

Elementary school teacher Matthew Lasley grew up fishing, mushing dogs, and panning for gold in Alaska.   After writing a  traditional biography of Alaskan miner Felice Pedron, an unlikely narrator popped into Matthew’s head and transformed his #firstpicturebook into a humorous and playful one.  Debuting February 19, PEDRO'S PAN “is sure to appeal to educators, especially those teaching about the various gold rushes in western American history...[and] the amusing adventures of Pan and Pedro hold broad appeal for read-alouds with many and varied audiences beyond the classroom. A sweet little nugget of a story" (Kirkus Reviews).

 

Q. Was PEDRO'S PAN 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. My first story was bad….real bad. It has potential, but it is sitting in a drawer waiting to be reshaped into something greater. This was, however, my second or third story.

 

Q. What inspired PEDRO'S PAN?

A. My family grew up mining in the interior of Alaska and in the Klondike. Felix Pedro, whom the story is based on, was a prominent prospector of legend having founded the last great gold rush of the Americas in Fairbanks. We drove by his monument every time we went to town. 

 

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

A. I am a fan of alliteration. It makes things more memorable. I had the two characters and they both started with "p". The subtitle "A Gold Rush Story" was added on by the publisher to clarify the theme of the story.

 

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

A. I do both actually. Most of my work is done on a computer, but I do like to generate ideas on paper. It is faster and messier and without needing to be organized. When I am brainstorming, I am pretty messy and working on more than one thing at a time.

 

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

A. My favorite part is the vulnerability of Pan and his struggle with his identity. That was not part of the original story. The original story was written as a biography of Felix Pedro. That wasn't working, then one day, after letting the story rest, Pan's voice popped into my head and I told the story from his point of view and that made the story.  

 

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

A. Pedro was a real person. While we know him as Felix Pedro, he was an immigrant named Felice Pedroni. Many of the other prospectors that he worked with came from the western gold fields and morphed his name into the Spanish version we know today. Pan is a gold pan, but Pan went better with Pedro, so that is how I got the names.

 

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

A. I wanted to find a way to explain the process of prospecting and panning without being didactic. I found that when I gave the story to Pan, he was able to explain in his words what he was trying to do. His voice is one of innocence and uncertainty, which I felt that children could identify with.

 

Q. Why did you write PEDRO’S PAN in the present tense?

A. Since Pan is telling his story, I wanted the readers (children) to understand how Pan was feeling. Feelings can be unreliable when told in the past tense because you already know the outcome. Pan never directly says how he feels, but since the story is taking place now, the readers can empathize and infer.

 

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

A. I had written a 1500 word biography as an outline. This story sprung from that when I changed it from a biography to a fictional story. When I wrote this story, it literally poured out. I had brainstormed a couple of things and knew where I wanted it to go, so I let it. 

 

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

A. I had written a lot for the back matter and presented some of it to my publisher. My editor asked to see it and said that they wouldn't likely be able to use it all, but asked to see all that I had. When she saw it, she asked if I could condense a couple of things as she wanted the biography of Felix Pedro, instructions on how to pan for gold, and fun gold facts.

 

Q. Did PEDRO'S PAN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. This is the crazy thing — this was my first submission to a company of my very first story. Everything fell into place for this. I submitted the biography to be critiqued at a local SCBWI conference and got some good feedback. About six months later I submitted the current story to our local SCBWI spring writing retreat and had my manuscript read by a prolific local children's book author, Tricia Brown. She had once worked as an acquisitions editor, and after reading my story, told me I needed to submit it to Graphic Arts Books. They happened to be opening back up their Alaska Northwest Books imprint and were looking for children's books. I was able to get in on the ground floor and had no delays in getting into a print cycle, so from acquisition to release was about 18 months!

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on PEDRO'S PAN.

A. I was elated. I felt so blessed. God had brought my wife into my life to help me reach my writing goal, then He found me a champion for my story who got me in at the right place at the right time.

 

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

A. None. My publisher had an idea. I did let them know what kind of work I wanted to see, or more specifically what I did not want to see.

 

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

A. I was amazed. My vision was limited and when I saw what Jacob Souva did, I was so excited. His attention to detail and color was fantastic.

 

Q. How long did PEDRO'S PAN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. Just over a year and a half. The editing went quickly and Jacob was excited and pumped out some great early work which helped speed up the process.

 

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 lucky and there was not a whole lot that had to be changed. I trusted my editor to suggest changes she felt were needed. Most of it was structure to tighten it up a bit.

 

Q. When you read PEDRO'S PAN to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. The part where Pan feels he is a fools gold pan usually gets a big "awww" and they really like the picture of him sliding down a mountain.

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for PEDRO'S PAN? If so, what kind?

A. My wife helped me design small pins as well as bookmarks. We did the pins first to hand out at conferences and the bookmarks after we received the final pictures and some of our first reviews.

 

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

A. I know you are excited about your story and think it is great (and it is by the way), but you need to get advice from other writers by joining critique groups. Then let your story set for a couple of months and focus on other things so that when you come back to it, you have a fresh set of eyes.

 

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

A. Everyone has  different methods of writing. What I like to do is enter in small contests that challenge me to write frequently and concisely. Many blogs and sites usually have them during various holidays. Susanna Leonard Hill usually does them and they are quite fun. She also gives people the opportunity to practice the pitches. I like to respond to them and think of how I would pitch this story having never read it. These things help me sharpen my skills and keep me actively producing.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I have a sci-fi that is stalled. I have a middle grade that is in the revision stage. I have a chapter book series that is going out on submission to editors. I have a few picture books that are being pitched to agents. But a lot of my time and energy outside of work is going to the launch of Pedro's Pan.

 

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

A. I am a school teacher and I am going to do a book launch at my school. It will be a part of our Family Literacy Night at Lake Otis Elementary on February 19th. Then that weekend, I am planning to do a book signing at our local Barnes and Noble, details still forthcoming on that.

 

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

A. My website is www.matthewlasley.com

On twitter at @Lasley_Matt

And wandering the creeks during the summer looking for a little gold in my pan.

Book trailer for PEDRO’S PAN

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The Full House and the Empty House


Illustrator L.K. James likes working with contrasting ideas and the idea that household objects can reflect a personality. Today she tells how she used these concepts to build her #firstpicturebook THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE—"an original, deftly crafted, and entertaining picture book story . . . certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to family, elementary school, and community library collections " (Midwest Book Review).

 
Q. Was THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE 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, but it was the first one I finished and the first I tried to get published. 

 

I don't remember what the first one I wrote was about, but at the time I wrote The Full House and the Empty House, I was interested in Aesop's Fables. I tried to write a handful of stories aimed at turning the form on its head. Stories that had some ambiguity and couldn't easily be boiled down to one glib moral. Most of these were very bad, but it was a very useful exercise. 

 

Q. What inspired THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE?

 A. At the time I was drawing a lot of household objects, and thinking about the role they play in our lives when we are young and old. How they project and inform our identity and how they often express our relationship with the material world. 

 

I was also playing with these personified houses with arms and legs who would eat dinner together and dance around and go walking through the forest. I liked the idea that the things inside a house-character could express their personality. 

 

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

 A. The title of the first draft was just "The Empty House." As the story evolved, it became less about that house and more about the two houses' relationship, so the titled evolved too.

 

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

A. My favorite scene to draw was all the stuff flying around inside the Full House when it dances. This was one of the images I wanted to draw from the beginning, so it was always in the first draft, and it never really changed because it was one of the images from which the rest of the story grew.

 

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

A. I wanted to avoid favoring either perspective of my two main characters, and that was most easily done in third person. I wanted this story also to feel outside of time, almost like a fable, so again the third person perspective felt appropriate. 

 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE? 

A. At first, the whole story was just a few lines of prose: when the Full House danced, the beautiful things inside it jangled around, and when the Empty House danced, it could jump high into the air because it was so light on its feet. From that the rest of the story grew as I began to ask myself what this relationship meant and how it might be explored.

 

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

 A. The image of the houses and many of the objects in them had been floating around my sketchbook when I drafted the written version. The next step was thumbnailing, which brought them both together. Doing so changed the story a lot. The images pushed the narrative in unexpected directions, and the narrative brought out new images that hadn't been there before. 

 

Q. Did THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

 A. Yes, plenty. I was lucky enough to pitch this book in person to Ripple Grove Press at a conference. As a bookmaker and printmaker, I was able to show the publisher a physical prototype of the full book during the pitch, and I think that was a big help. So much of my idea was already alive in the colors, the paper, the book design, and the printing process of my dummy. I think that it allowed them to trust my vision more easily than if I had emailed them a PDF of a storyboard or a written synopsis. 

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE.

 A. I was thrilled, of course, and grateful. But also nervous—it is my first book.

 

Q. How long did THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

 A. About a year and a half—the offer came after I pitched the book in August 2017, and the publication date is February 5, 2019.

 

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. In the first draft there was an image of a sandwich flying apart in mid-air inside the Empty House. I loved it because it was kind of funny, and sandwiches have always been one of my favorite things to draw. I ended up cutting it, though, because although it expressed the right action, it didn't express the right feeling for that moment in the story. 

 

Q. When you read THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

 A. My favorite part of reading to kids is when they get lost in the details of the interiors—for example, there are these funny framed pictures of other houses hanging on the walls inside the characters, like family photos in a world where everyone is a house. There are little sub-narratives like that all throughout the book, and I love it when kids notice those.   

 

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

 A. Always be collecting ideas and don't be afraid of abandoning a story if it isn't working. I like to brainstorm ideas a lot, and then see what I'm still excited about the next day. I hate feeling trapped in a story I don't like, so I'm always trying to keep story-generation process as fluid as possible.

 

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

 A. Sometimes I force myself to write a new story start to finish in 30 minutes, then do that for ten days in a row. Most of it is junk, but it gets me thinking in unexpected ways and generates lots of raw material—which is far better than agonizing over the perfect story or staring at a blank page.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

 A. Right now, I'm working on a book about a duck who lives in a hotel and doesn't know what it's like to be outside in the wild. I like working with opposites or contrasting ideas (full/empty, inside/outside, wild/tame) and seeing what happens when you shake them up. 

 

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

 A. My work is on Instagram (@lkjamz) and my website (lkjames.com).

 


Pre-order The Full House and the Empty House 

 

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