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HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW

HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW by Natalia O’Hara and Lauren O’Hara (Puffin, 2017)
As children, sisters Natalia and Lauren O’Hara adored the tales their Polish grandmother told on snowy nights and planned to create their own stories one day. Now all grown up, script editor Natalia and set designer Lauren have created their #firstpicturebook together. “Children who love eerie stories will be fascinated" (Publishers Weekly) by HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW —“a handsome debut picture book...beautifully designed" (The New York Times ).

Q. Was HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A: HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW  was the first picture book we worked on. We never imagined it would get picked up because it's our first, and also it's really a dark story. What we said to each other was "let's do a dry run". To give us the chance to develop our storytelling skills in a low-pressure way, and also learn how things like applying for agents worked. When we were picked up by an agent, and later a publisher, we were astonished. 

Q. What inspired HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW?
A: A lot of different things—fairytales, Eastern European illustration, animated films. But most of all it's a personal story, rooted in our own childhood, about struggling with who you are.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A: It was the obvious choice really. We were asked at one point to change it to HORTENSE VERSUS THE SHADOW, which made sense, but we thought that sounded like a prizefight.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A: I plan and draft in a scribbly old notepad and then type up the first full draft later.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A: Hmm. I like how the bandits are hidden on every spread, but Hortense doesn't notice because she's busy fighting her shadow. That was a second draft solution I found to the problem of how to introduce the true antagonists at the start, but subtly enough that we didn't tip our hand that it's not the shadow Hortense needs to fear.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A: This book only has one named character, the little heroin Hortense. I made a list of names that sounded like they were out of a gothic novel, then we picked the one we liked best. Gothic because it's a genre where you incarnate the terrors young women face, which is what I wanted to do. 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW? 
A: The idea was clear up until where Hortense cuts off her shadow. I had to figure out what happened after that, though I knew the shadow would have to save Hortense somehow.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A: I came up with the story and then told it to Lauren. She liked it, so we both went away and started work, talking as we went to sort through our ideas. So the story came first and then the words and images followed hand in hand.

Q. Did HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A: Seriously Karlin. So many. We wrote to every agent we could find, and only one (the wonderful Angharad Kowal at Kowal Stannus Agency), was interested. But after all that, eight publishers wanted the book, which goes to show that sometimes even agents misjudge the market.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW.
A: Disbelief and joy. Our agent called me to say she'd closed a deal with Penguin Random House and then I called Lauren to tell her. We were both laughing with surprise and delight.

Q. What is the best part about working with your sister? What’s the worst part? 
A: The best part is it it feels like we never left the sandpit at the bottom of the garden, the worst part is she finishes her coffee in meetings and then drinks mine.

Q. How long did HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A: Just under 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: There's a page where Hortense leaves her house at night and the text says she sees nothing, just the dark. It used to be a double-page spread and it was quite lyrical and Lauren's image was wonderfully evocative, but unfortunately it had to be squeezed into a single to fit the standard 32-page format.

Q. Have you read HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW to any kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A:  That's always so fun! I don't know why but they really love the bit where the shadow turns into a bear. I'd thought it was quite scary but they laugh their heads off.

Q. Did you create any book swag for HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW? If so, what kind?
A: Lauren designed wrapping paper, christmas baubles and bunting for bookshops. She used to be a designer so she's great at that kind of stuff.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers or illustrators?
A: Something we've found useful is the discovery that criticism is a bullseye pointing to a problem that the critic might not have worked out. So if your agent or editor says "You need to introduce your antagonist on page 3", it's possible that's not what you need to do at all, but there's almost definitely something wrong with page 3.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A: I make spider diagrams and lists when I'm blocked.

Q. What is your next project together?
A: It's a picture book called THE BANDIT QUEEN about a baby girl who's raised by bandits. HORTENSE AND THE SHADOW is a restrained, quiet book so we wanted to do something full of colour and chaos. It's published by Puffin, and out in October this year.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A: Our website is nataliaandlauren.com and our Instagram/Twitter handle is @oharasisters. 
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THE BOOK OF MISTAKES

Corinna Luyken submitted manuscripts and book dummies to publishers for 16 years! But it wasn’t until she was inspired by a series of mistakes that she created what would become her #firstpicturebook. Today she talks to us about perfection, progress, and the process of making THE BOOK OF MISTAKES—“a striking debut picture book" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) that “lifts to the level of the sublime the idea of putting one’s slip-ups in perspective” (The Wall Street Journal).

Q. Was THE BOOK OF MISTAKES 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 wrote quite a few manuscripts before The Book of Mistakes! I also made 4 or 5 fully illustrated book dummies. But the first manuscript I ever submitted to publishers (back in 2001) was called Sore Feet. It was the story of a small shoe shop and it’s owner, Cornelius O’Leary. I received a few personal rejection letters for that story, which kept me going for years!

Q. What inspired THE BOOK OF MISTAKES?
A. It started with a series of mistakes. For years I drew with pens because I liked the fluid feel of ink on paper. I liked how, with pen, a line can take on a life of it’s own. But often that life would lead to shapes and marks I hadn’t intended and could not erase. Because I loved to draw - and loved to draw with ink - I learned to deal with those accidents. If I messed up something in a face, I’d add glasses. If I didn’t like the way I’d drawn a hand, I might add gloves. And somewhere along the way I learned to enjoy how each mistake forced me to find a new way of looking at the world.

And I began to wonder if celebrating mistakes was something that could be taught.

In my years working as both a teaching assistant and artist in residence in elementary schools, I started to notice a pattern. In every class there would be one or two kids who, within minutes of starting to draw, were raising their hand asking for another piece of paper. They didn’t like what they were seeing. They wanted to start over. They wanted to make it perfect. It became my job to help them see the possibility in that mistake, to see how they could keep going and transform their drawing or painting into something that they still might love.

This all came home for me when my daughter was four years old. At that age she loved everything she drew. She didn’t see mistakes, only pattern and line and color and texture. And she LOVED to draw. Then one day, while drawing, she burst into tears and threw her paper on the ground. She had made a mistake. She couldn’t fix it.

And it broke my heart.

Not yet, I remember thinking. Not her. Not already. Not now.

So I wrote this book. For her. For them. For me. For anyone who has ever made a mistake.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title came before anything else. Originally, I was thinking of something along the lines of The BIG Book of Miskakes, which was a phrase that I wrote down in my notebook a few years before the rest of the story came along.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The thing that made me laugh out loud, when I was writing the story, was the frog-cat-cow. Which I still love. And of course the tree! I drew the tree seven or eight times to get it just right (in part because it crosses the gutter twice) and I never got tired of redrawing it. Both of those were in the first draft. But I also love the spread where you see the silhouette of the forest, and just the topmost hint of the girl’s glasses. That page turn makes kids gasp when I read it in classrooms. One or two kids will see it first, and let out an audible “oh!” and then suddenly all the kids are looking to see what they saw, and then there will be a chorus of oohs and ahs and kids saying “It’s her! I see the girl!” It’s so fun!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. The first half of the book came to me, all at once. And that was just the way it arrived! The second half was another matter, and took an entire year to sort out.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE BOOK OF MISTAKES? 
A. I had a pretty good sense of the first half of the book. Which, at the time, I thought would be the entire book. I knew I wanted to include real mistakes that I make when I draw… so that first part was pretty easy. Originally, the story ended with the giant tree. And a line about how she wasn’t a mistake but was meant to be. But when I sent it along to (my now agent) Steven Malk, he felt like the ending could be stronger. It took me almost a year to find another way to end the story. It wasn’t easy, and I experimented a lot. And so I started to experiment with big splashes of ink. After that, it all came together pretty quickly, and the book doubled in size!

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. With this story, the words and pictures came simultaneously.

Q. Did THE BOOK OF MISTAKES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A It didn’t. I have received many rejection letters—I’d been sending out manuscripts and book dummies for almost 16 years. But when I wrote The Book of Mistakes I knew it was better than anything else I’d written. So I sent it to Steve Malk, an agent at Writers House, with fingers crossed. And fortunately, he loved it (except for the ending). But it was still an entire year of revising the story before I came up with the ending as it is now. At that point he signed me on as a client and we sent the book out. It ended up going to auction, with five publishers interested in it. That part all happened very quickly, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So it was seventeen years of very slow progress and then a few weeks where everything came together very quickly!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE BOOK OF MISTAKES.
A. I was over the moon! My husband and I both were. We jumped up and down a LOT. It was a pretty incredible time.

But then, pretty quickly, I realized there was still a lot of work to do! Which is a good thing, because in the end it is our relationship with the creative process (not the excitement of finding an agent and having a manuscript published) that will feed the next project, and the next…

Q. How long did THE BOOK OF MISTAKES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It was very close to finished when we submitted it, but I did have to ink up some of the final scenes and redraw the tree, and then assemble some of the bits and pieces in photoshop. All of that back and forth with the publisher took another year.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. Yes! There was a part in the original story that had to go. A boy, with extra wide fingers.

I still love him. But early on, Steve said something about how I was starting to repeat myself with that character and line. And as soon as he said that, I realized he was right, it had to go.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. It takes patience and persistence, nothing in this industry moves quickly. (They call it the hurry up and wait industry for a reason.) But if you really love what you’re doing, if you’re passionate about making books for kids, you will persist. And your art will get better because of that. I have a favorite quote from Ira Glass that are worth repeating here:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me. 
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years that you're making stuff, what you're making isn't so good. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.  
And the thing that I would say to you, with all of my heart, is this—most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work went through a phase—they went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.  And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you've got to  know it's normal.  And the most important thing you can do—is do a lot of work.  It is only by going through a volume of work that you will catch up and close that gap.  And the work you're making will be as good as your ambitions. 
I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes a while.  It’s gonna take you awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. And you've just got to fight your way through that— okay?” 

—Ira Glass 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. As far as writing or illustrating exercises, I would just recommend this Chuck Close quote! Which I have found to be absolutely true and incredibly helpful. So much so, that I’ve quoted in a few other interviews, but I think it bears repeating over and over (and over) again:
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you're sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that's almost never the case.” 

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just finished illustrating a book called Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have A Horse, written by debut author Marcy Campbell, which is coming out August 14, 2018 from Dial Books. It is essentially a story about compassion and kindness. And seeing the world a bit differently. (The publishers description is: “Adrian Simcox tells anyone who will listen that he has a horse--the best and most beautiful horse anywhere. But Chloe does NOT believe him. Adrian Simcox lives in a tiny house. Where would he keep a horse? He has holes in his shoes. How would he pay for a horse? The more Adrian talks about his horse, the angrier Chloe gets. But when she calls him out at school and even complains about him to her mom, Chloe doesn't get the vindication she craves. She gets something far more important.”)

So now I am working on two new projects—one is my next book as author/illustrator. It is called my heart, my heart and is a meditation on/celebration of the heart. The art for that one is all monoprint printmaking and pencil, so it will look quite different from The Book of Mistakes!

I am also illustrating a middle grade novel by Carolyn Crimi, called Weird Little Robots, which will be released from Candlewick in the spring of 2019.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A:
www.corinnaluyken.com
t: @corinnaluyken
IG: corinnaluyken
fb: corinna Luyken illustration
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THE FIELD

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

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

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

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. Kids getting into a little scuffle after a rough tackle from one of his friends was cut from the book. I believe that part was important simply because, there were days we got into scuffles with each other but we always found a way to settle our differences before the game ended.

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

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

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

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

This Valentine’s week, let’s treat ourselves to a box of chocolates and rereading these lovely #firstpicturebook Q&As:

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU: “It seemed natural to tell the story in the first person. I wanted the child to feel the parent/caregiver was speaking directly to them.”

ANIMALS SPELL LOVE: “A wise author listens to and learns from editors for whom his/her book isn’t a “fit.”

LOVELY: “I wrote most of this book on post it notes.”

I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES: “When I’m looking for inspiration I like to go on ‘writing walks.’”

THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE: “The best picture books are created by people who are true fans of the form.”

I LOVE YOU, BUNNY: “I wrote it as a short poem first, then started sketching and storyboarding.”
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THE WEAVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. How long did I LOVE YOU, BUNNY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Two and a half years.

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. I liked the endpapers that were part of my first draft, but were a bit too scary for a bedtime story about the fear of darkness. I am happy with the yellow endpapers and the nice vignettes to start and end the story in the final book.

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

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

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

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

Thanks for inviting me for this nice interview on your blog, Karlin!
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This is not a Valentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 2018! Let’s start this year off with some love. Alison Goldberg’s #firstpicturebook “celebrates a love that’s longer than the longest train and stronger than the strongest excavator” (The Boston Globe) and “will appeal to kids who love vehicles of all sorts” (Kirkus Reviews). 
And a portion of book proceeds from I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES will support the Campaign to End Childhood Hunger (led by the Food Research and Action Center).
What could be more lovely than that?

Q. Was I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES 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 LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES was the fifth or sixth picture book manuscript I wrote. The very first one I attempted is about a girl named Genevieve who lives in Iceland and has a very special bond with a glacier. That early story is buried on my computer, but is one of the seeds for the middle grade novel I’m working on right now.
 
Q. What inspired I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES?
 A. When my children were toddlers they adored trucks and trains. For my son, this love lasted for several years. We read many vehicle books and spent hours visiting construction sites, standing on bridges to watch trains go by, and sought out events like tractor parades. After a while, these vehicles captured my imagination.
 
The bedtime game, “How much do you love me?” turned into a comparison of the size, strength, and length of all things that go. After many nights of coming up with these examples for my own children—longer than the longest train, stronger than the strongest excavator, taller than the tallest crane--I thought this could be a fun take on a love book.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
 A. My original title was “Longer Than the Longest Train,” but since it is a love book my editor encouraged me to include the word “love” in the title. I remember a day of brainstorming titles with my neighbor while my kids jumped on her trampoline. We pulled “miles and miles” from the first stanza of the story which seemed to captured the breadth of these many vehicles.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
 A. Right now my favorite part is seeing the words come to life through Mike Yamada’s amazing illustrations!
 
Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first or third person?
 A. The story is written in first person to capture the intimacy of a parent, grandparent, or other caretaker expressing their love for a child.
 
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES?
 A. When I look back at the very first version of this story, the superlative statements were always in there, as well as the sentiment, but the structure differed. It took awhile to figure out the best way to build the stanzas so they had a repeating structure and captured layers of meaning with few words.
 
Q. Did I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
 A. This story received about ten rejections and went through a bunch of revisions. This is the first picture book my agent and I submitted to editors. I’m so grateful for all of the editorial notes I received--I learned so much through the process! Ultimately, I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES found the perfect home with Janine O’Malley at Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES.
 A. I was at the playground with my children when my agent, Kathleen Rushall, called with the offer. At that exact moment my daughter got her finger stuck in a hole in a picnic table. I hung up the phone to help her. Thankfully, we got her finger out of the hole quickly and I was able to call Kathleen back to celebrate.
 
Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
 A. My editor shared Mike’s portfolio early on in the process. When I saw Mike’s dynamic and playful illustrations I was absolutely thrilled.
 
Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
 A. Mike creates such unique and exciting perspectives. The plane on the cover is flying toward the reader!
 
Q. How long did I LOVE YOU FOR MILES AND MILES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
 A. Two and a half years.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
 A. Connect with other writers to share information, support each other through the highs and lows, and build a writing community.
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
 A. This is less a writing exercise and more about process. When I’m looking for inspiration I like to go on “writing walks.” I set out with an intention for a problem that I’m trying to solve away from the computer. As ideas come to me, I’ll stop and type notes into my phone.
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. More picture books and a middle grade novel.
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. I can be found online at www.alisongoldberg.com and on Twitter @alisongoldberg.
Book trailer: http://alisongoldberg.com/books/i-love-you-for-miles-and-miles/
I also blog about activism in children’s literature at M is for Movement: https://misformovement.org
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A list for NADIA readers

Often, when I read my #firstpicturebook NADIA to kids, I am rewarded with the question, “You mean this book is about a real person?”

I love this question because I think it means that illustrator Christine Davenier and I did our jobs—we translated a true event into an entertaining children’s story. “What’s the real Nadia look like?” is usually the next question.

Fortunately, the publisher included two pictures of Comaneci on the back flap. But kids always want more. So over the holiday break I put together a list of online media that kids can review after reading the book (with supervision from an adult, of course). It’s my gift to the NADIA reader who wants to learn more and to parents and teachers who want to enhance the reading experience (or just need a few minutes to dart to the restroom or get a cup of coffee).

Happy New Year—here’s hoping 2018 is a perfect 10 . . . or at least not a 1.0!

Top 10 Links to Click after Reading NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL

The Olympics Where Are They Now? If you have 9 1/2 minutes, this is a nice up-to-date video on Nadia Comaneci.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: COMANECI’S UNEXPECTED PERFECT 10 (3 1/2 minutes)

Nadia talks about gymnasts she admires, past and present. (3 1/2 minutes)

Nadia reviews her performances at the 1976 Olympics (2 1/2 minutes)

Highlights of Nadia’s routines at 1976 Olympics. (2 1/2 minutes)

More highlights set to music. (3 minutes)

Cute video of Nadia and her husband Olympic Gold Medalist Bart Conner (1 1/2 minutes)

BBC The Conversation: Audio between Nadia Comaneci and Simone Biles (2 minutes)

The Olympics On the Record: Nadia Comaneci (5 minutes)

Photos from The Guardian’s 50 Stunning Olympic Moments. See any familiar images?

And if your reader wants to be Nadia in a game, here is Nadia’s free app
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