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True Story Blog

#FirstPictureBook Flashback: PENNY & JELLY

In April 2016, I interviewed Maria Gianferrari about her #firstpicturebook PENNY & JELLY: THE SCHOOL SHOW (published in 2015). So what has Maria been up to since then? The sequel to PENNY & JELLY along with six other books! To check out her #firstpicturebook Q&A, click here.

To learn more about Maria’s other books, follow these links:

Penny & Jelly books:“Craft-minded kids will particularly enjoy watching Penny at work. … A pleasure for reading aloud.”—Booklist

Officer Katz and Houdini: “An entertaining romp about rivalry and friendship."—Booklist

Hello Goodbye Dog: “Effortlessly inclusive, Gianferrari and Barton's creative Hello Goodbye Dog becomes an inviting mirror or window for any child, welcoming every reader in."—Shelf Awareness Review, starred review

Coyote Moon: “’Yip-yip-yip-yip!’ indeed, for this sympathetic portrayal of a not-often-celebrated creature who shares our world."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Terrific Tongues: “Perfect for a group storytime, this is a useful addition to the wonders-of-animals shelf."—Kirkus Reviews

Hawk Rising: “This captivating introduction to the red-tailed hawk concludes with more than a half-dozen facts about the common bird of prey and further reading."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Operation Rescue Dog: Coming September 2018!
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10 Writers Talk Titles

How did you pick the title for your #firstpicturebook? Ten writers answer this question below. Click on the quote to flash back to the original Q&A.

Maryann Cocca-Leffler: There was an old ad for Prince Pasta on TV …Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day…which was catchy. I wrote to the Prince Pasta Company to make sure there was no problem using my title. It was Okayed and the title stuck.

Susan Montanari: In the dream the woman said, “That’s not a dog it’s a chicken.”

Maria Gianferrari: The original title of the book was PENELOPE, UNTALENTED. However, because I received a two-book deal, we needed a title that could carry to the second book, so Penny & Jelly was born!

Emma Bland Smith: JOURNEY is the name that a child (actually two children in different states) submitted in a naming contest sponsored by a conservation organization, Oregon Wild. (The full name of the book is JOURNEY: Based on the True Story of OR7, the Most Famous Wolf in the West.) I love the name because it evokes the wolf’s adventurous spirit.

Karlin Gray: In reading Nadia Comaneci's autobiography, I learned that she was a rambunctious toddler who had tons of energy.... While I was writing my book, I also had a three-year old who loved to fling himself from couch to couch. Constant movement was a theme on the page and in my own living room. The two collided and created NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN'T SIT STILL.

Heather Lang: “Queen of the Track,” was one of Alice’s nicknames. Although she wasn’t treated like a queen by society, she behaved like one and really did dominate the track for a number of years in sprinting events and the high jump. The title also worked nicely with the ending—the King presents Alice (“the Queen”) with her gold medal.

Ammi-Joan Paquette: Originally the book was called simply TRACKING FAIRIES. However, my editor felt this could invoke a harsher feel: ‘tracking’ in the sense of ‘hunting’ (poor fairies!). My writer friend Natalie Lorenzi suggested the “Tiptoe Guide” portion, which I think did a brilliant job of softening and tying the whole title together. I love the result!

Jodi McKay: I honestly didn’t think that this would remain the title. It’s just what I kept asking myself for so long and still do for that matter. Even now, as I write the answers to these questions, I’m going back and forth looking for the right words. It’s crazy, but it’s part of my process.

Wendy BooydeGraaff: This is one of those times when the title came first, and then the story. My daughter and I were at the park and she was playing pretend and said, “Salad Pie,” which I thought was so clever and creative that I repeated it in my head over and over all the way home. Then, during her rest time, I scribbled out the first draft of the story.

Cheryl Keely: The original title was Here to There and Me to You. I liked the thought of bridges making connections and bringing people together. I really liked the line in the book containing those words. It seemed to me to sum up the best connection of all – me to you and you to me. A Book of Bridges was added later to make it clear that the book was about bridges. It helps to let readers to know what a book is about!
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10 More Tips for Writing Picture Books

Here is a list of tips pulled from previous posts. Click on the quote to read the writer's entire Q&A.

Laban Carrick Hill: "A picture book is not a word book. The words in a picture book need to serve the illustrations, not the other way around, even though the illustrations would not exist if not the words had been written first. What I tried to do was provide artfully descriptive language that would be a springboard for the illustrator to do their thing."

Abraham Schroeder: "If you can't stop thinking about even the faintest notion of an idea, a character, a little phrase, write it down and see what it turns into. Many times I've jotted down an idea that I think is totally silly, but after considering it objectively, sometimes months or years later, I realize there might be a whole a lot more to it."

Maria Gianferrari: "Don’t give up! Even though picture books are short, they’re not easy to write. They often undergo multiple revisions and entirely change shape. It takes time to improve your craft. Keep reading; keep writing and join a critique group for feedback."

Megan Wagner Lloyd: "Find your unique voice and trust the illustrator (aka keep your art notes to a minimum!)"

Sylvia Liu: "I had known about the award for over a decade. After I started writing picture books, I kept the award in the back of my mind each year, but it wasn’t until I wrote A MORNING WITH GRANDPA that I felt I had a story that was suitable for the contest."

Susan Hood: "An interesting exercise is to type out the text of a favorite picture book and then compare it to the finished book. It will help you see how the text works hand in hand with the art to create something new."

Emma Bland Smith: "My process is always something like this: I write something. I think it’s great. I send it to my critique partners. They tell me everything that’s wrong with it and how to fix it. I lick my wounds for a few hours or days. Then I take their advice and revise it. Repeat several times."

Penny Parker Klostermann: "I took pictures of clouds that took on familiar shapes. One evening I photographed one that looked just like a dragon and I thought what a great main character a dragon would make if I could just find a story for him."

Karlin Gray: "I thought back to my six-year-old self and wondered, who would I have wanted to see in a picture book?"

Donna Mae: "I took on self-publishing as a personal challenge. I had an overwhelming feeling of Do This Book By Yourself."
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Maria Gianferrari writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with dog, Becca as her muse. Maria has several books forthcoming, including a second to PENNY AND JELLY: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder. Today she tells us how her first picture book was created.

Q. Was PENNY AND JELLY the first picture-book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book that you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, I believe my first was TERRIFIC TONGUES, which began as a poem. It’s a concept book about cool animal tongues which still retains some of its original poetic elements. It was acquired by Boyds Mills Press. They’re currently seeking an illustrator.

Q. What event or person inspired PENNY AND JELLY?
A. PENNY & JELLY was literally inspired when my daughter, Anya, who was around 5 at the time, began playing a harmonica, and our dog, Becca, joined in song. It was so funny, and adorable and sweet that I decided I must write about it. It was also very much inspired by Anya and Becca’s relationship: Anya’s an only child, and Becca is like her dog sister/playmate.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The original title of the book was PENELOPE, UNTALENTED. However, because I received a two-book deal, we needed a title that could carry to the second book, so Penny & Jelly was born!

Q. What is your favorite part of PENNY AND JELLY? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the “Best Friend” ending. The story originally ended with the lines, “They were not in tune./But their duet had harmony.” Though I loved the feeling and humor in the lines, I knew it wasn’t quite finished yet. It took awhile, and then I finally had that “a-ha” moment, and the pieces came together in the ending.

I also love the cross-outs, my friend and critique partner Lisa Robinson’s idea. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Penny’s lists.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Jelly was always Jelly—I just loved the sound of it. It’s funny-sounding, and it also felt like the kind of name a young kid might select for a dog. As I mentioned above, Penny was originally, Penelope. I liked the classic nature of the name, and again, it has some inherent humor. I love the rhythm of Penny & Jelly, and how they’re reminiscent of peanut butter and jelly, both in tone and in the idea that they’re complementary.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I’m not really sure. I guess I wanted an overarching narrative voice, and it felt like it worked. It began in third person, and I didn’t veer from that during revision.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began to write PENNY AND JELLY?
A. I knew that it was going to be a story about a bond between a girl and her canine BFF, but it took some time to come up with the talent show plot. After I figured that out, I wanted it be untraditional in terms of the talents, to be a story of creativity and resilience.

Q. Did PENNY AND JELLY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes! I checked my records and it received eight rejections before it was acquired by the lovely and amazing, Cynthia Platt.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on this book.
A. Complete and total elation! I did a dance around the living room with Anya. Becca looked at us like we were crazy. A one book deal would have been fantastic on its own, but to have gotten a two-book debut deal was totally surreal.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for PENNY AND JELLY?
A. Cynthia was kind enough to show me some of Thyra’s early dog sketches and sketches of Penny, and I was in love! I could tell she was a dog lover like me. Her sketches had so much personality. I knew Cynthia had found just the right illustrator.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I LOVED them! I was in total awe of the way that Thyra portrayed both Penny & Jelly with such tender humor and feeling, and how she added layers of visual playfulness to the text. There are so many cute details. I especially love Penny’s mismatched socks.

Q. How long did PENNY AND JELLY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Cynthia is incredibly smart and extremely organized; Thyra delivered the art quickly, despite the fact that she was also busy with her debut, Fraidy Zoo. The offer came in February 2013, and it was released in July 2015, which is amazingly fast.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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. No! I love it just the way it is!

Q. When you do readings of PENNY AND JELLY which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. There are a few sections where people chuckle: the VOILÀ page (where Jelly is dressed up—who hasn’t done that with their dogs?). I think the magician part also gets a few laughs. The ending usually elicits more of an “Awww!” which is really nice.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Don’t give up! Even though picture books are short, they’re not easy to write. They often undergo multiple revisions and entirely change shape. It takes time to improve your craft. Keep reading; keep writing and join a critique group for feedback.

Thanks for having me here, Karlin! Congrats on your own debut, NADIA!

To learn more about Maria, visit her website and on Facebook.

CONTEST CLOSED Win a copy of PENNY & JELLY: THE SCHOOL SHOW! (U.S. Residents only.) Leave a comment to enter. The winner will be announced on Monday, May 2. Read More 
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