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Get That Raccoon Off the Table: Why Voice Matters in Picture Books

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, CraftLindsay Ward2 Comments

Sometimes I think one of the hardest parts of my job as a children’s book author is to keep my own voice in check when I’m writing. I’m constantly asking myself, would a kid say that? I think this is one of the reasons that creating a strong voice is incredibly difficult. We, as children’s book authors and illustrators, have this wonderful task to create meaningful literary experiences for children. We get to introduce them to new places, experiences, and voices. But in doing so create a new challenge for ourselves. How do we keep our own feelings, opinions, and reactions out of the voices in our books? How do you write a character that can make their own decisions, without your bias?

Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t write your own experiences into a character. Obviously writers do that all the time. I myself do it. But what I’m talking about are the characters we write that aren’t us, who have an entirely different experience than we had, intentionally. It’s our job to offer up a fully developed voice in the context of the world we’ve created for them. And that’s no easy feat! 

Many times, I have read manuscripts where I see authors infiltrate the text. A character starts saying or doing something that seems odd or inconsistent with what we know about them. It’s really easy to let yourself slip in under the radar without realizing it. I've done this many times. For me, it’s not until I read the words aloud that I can catch myself and make the correction. To avoid this, I try to get to know my characters as best I can so they become fully independent from me.

I start by determining who they are. What are their likes? Dislikes? Hobbies? What is their environment? Who surrounds them? What do they care most about? Least about? How do they fit within the story I'm trying to tell? The list goes on and on. I make an entire character chart with this information. Keep in mind I write picture books. I don’t write novels. But I try to approach my characters as if I do.

I can tell you that Dexter T. Rexter’s favorite ice cream is Mint Chip, with rainbow sprinkles. I’ve never used this detail about him in any of the Dexter books, but I’ve spent enough time getting to know him, writing and rewriting him, that I know without a doubt, he's Mint Chip all the way. This may sound silly. But there is a method to the madness. The more you know your characters the better you will be able to write them and, in my case, draw them, independent of yourself.

When I sit down to write Dexter’s voice, I don’t even feel like I’m writing anymore. It’s as if he’s sitting beside the computer, telling me what to type, and I'm simply listening. He's very indecisive, neurotic, and slightly bossy because that’s just who he is. It isn’t so much that I can hear his voice when I'm writing, but I can hear the pacing, syntax, and structure of how he would speak. I know immediately if he would or wouldn't say something and if he would, how he would deliver it. Which takes time to develop with a character. I’m three books in with Dexter and I’m still learning things about him.

Age is equally important in developing voice too. Especially when you write for kids. You need to understand the age group you are writing for. How old are they? Where are they cognitively and behaviorally? What is challenging for them? How can they connect with your story? If you’ve written a character, who's supposed to be four years old, but acts and talks like an adult, then you aren’t paying attention to age and you won’t connect with your readers.

Before I had kids, I wrote about my experiences as a kid. I am an only child, so my voice seeped into my work. When Blue Met Egg is my love letter to New York City, after living there one summer during college. I was inspired to write Please Bring Balloons because my parents met painting carousels at an amusement park. This worked for me then because that was the point. I was trying to speak to the type of kid that I was. My early books are all about adventure and escapism because that's what I loved to read about as a child.

But now, it’s become more about being a witness, than first hand experience. I’m watching my kids see the world for the first time. And in doing so, I’m seeing things in ways I haven't since I was a child. As an adult it's really easy to forget how small moments can be so impactful when you're young. I find myself writing about their experiences as I witness them unfold. My books have become more and more voice driven, because those are the type of books that make my kids laugh and connect.

Recently, I was reading Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri, (the same creators of Dragons Love Tacos) with my oldest son, who’s three. He loves that book. The first time I read it to him, I thought, I don’t get this. Why does he think this is so funny? And then it dawned on me. Duh! It’s silly. There isn’t anything to get. That’s the point. It’s a ridiculous book about a raccoon who loves pizza but rarely gets to have any because he’s always being chased off by the pizza man wielding a menacing broom. Thus the Raccoon Sniffing Broom Bots. I could continue the synopsis…but you should probably just read Secret Pizza Party because it is silly, ridiculous, and your kids will love it. The narrator's voice is written in a way that not only makes my son laugh, but it makes me laugh too because phrases like 'sweet sassy molassy' are hilarious. If that doesn't make you laugh when you read it, then I don't know what will. When driving to get pizza recently, my son shouted "GET THAT RACCOON OFF THE TABLE!" I couldn’t stop laughing. It was random and completely out of the blue. Just like Secret Pizza Party. And I knew exactly what he was talking about when he said it. 

My son also sings the Dexter song constantly (so much so there are days I regret writing it in the first place.) He doesn't understand that I wrote Don't Forget Dexter, or even the song for that matter. He doesn’t care. He’s three. But he’s my barometer now. He's in my target age group. If he likes it, then I must be doing something right. Right?

I mean isn’t that the ultimate test? Not how much you love your work? That's easy. But a kid. A real, live kid, who doesn’t get caught up in the bias. They just like it because they like it. It makes them laugh. Or think. Or feel connected. They are seeing your book for the first time, fresh and new, absorbing everything you have to offer them. And that's the best part about this job. Writing a book that a kid wants to read over and over again and becoming apart of their reading experience with their family.

I have read Secret Pizza Party more times that I can count. It's got 'pizza' and 'party' in the title. This book was always going to go over well with my son (who loves pizza). But the narrator's voice is what really sells it. It's the way the narrator tells Raccoon's story, empathizing with Raccoon's plight in life (lack of pizza), while pointing out the humor of it all. Kids connect with Raccoon. They get him. They are him. Because voice matters. Always.

So go out there and write some amazing voices. 

Until next time, happy writing!

Lindsay

What's Up On Deck? Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse Blog Tour Stops by Critter Lit! Check back next Thursday to read my interview with debut author Marcy Campbell.

Book Reviews | August 2018

Recommended Reading, Book ReviewsLindsay WardComment

Welcome to Critter Lit Book Reviews! The first Thursday of every month Critter Lit will review two newly released, outstanding picture books.

So without further ado, Critter Lit's picks for August 2018:

Drum roll please....

Alma by Juana Martinez-Neal

Published by Candlewick, April 2018

I love everything about this book. The words. The story. The art. Everything. This book just makes you feel good when you read it. It's one of the few books that I've actually hugged after reading.

Meet Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela. Alma thinks her name is too long. "My name is so long, Daddy. It never fits."

Alma's father grabs a family photo album and sits down with Alma to explain the origins behind her beautifully long name. Alma meets Sofia, Esperanza, Jose, Pura, and Candela, learning that she shares something with all of them. But Alma-- that's a name all her own.

This book beautifully celebrates what it means to be proud of who you are and where you come from. I can't think of a more important book to share with our kids right now.

ALMA is Juana Martinez-Neal's debut picture book as an author and illustrator. And what a stunning book it is. Definitely a favorite this year.

For more information on Alma click here. Or to learn more about Juana's work, visit her online at www.juanamartinezneal.com or follow her on Twitter @juanamartinez.

Look by Fiona Woodcock

Published by Greenwillow Books, July 2018

LOOK literally asks you to look at it, how clever is that?! And it makes me happy every time I do. The colors, style, and creative approach are composed together in such a charming, accessible way, that this book is fun for any reader.

LOOK begins with two siblings waking up for the day before heading to the zoo with their mom. Each word used in the text is a double-letter word. The sibling's day is filled with animals, encounters, and objects that all contain a double "o": zoom, zoo, kangaroo, scoop, shampoo, book, moon, beginning and ending with "look."

I was so impressed by the creativity and cleverness of this book. Initially, I thought this book would be a concept book only, simply listing double-letter words. But Fiona Woodcock weaves a story into the concept seamlessly. Each page felt like a wonderful surprise. My favorite page includes panda bears that "boogie." Bonus...Fiona's last name has a double "o" too. 

Oh and did I mention the art was created using BLO pens?! Growing up in the 90s, this warmed my heart. In case you aren't familiar with BLO pens, click here. You're welcome.

For more information on Look, click hereOr to learn more about Fiona's work, visit her online at www.fionawoodcock.com or follow her on Twitter @FionaWoodcock.

Interview with Picture Book Author Tammi Sauer

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward76 Comments
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I'm so excited for today's post! Starting this month, Critter Lit will be posting a new monthly feature, interviewing veteran picture book authors and illustrators! How exciting is that?! I can't wait to share with you the awesome line-up of authors, illustrators and author/illustrators to come! My hope is that their advice and insight will inspire you to go out there and create!

If you tuned in to Critter Lit last Thursday, you already know that we are big fans of TRUCK, TRUCK GOOSE! in my household, so naturally I was thrilled to hear there was going to be a sequel: GO FISH! by the fabulously talented Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Zoe Waring (whose illustrations are oh so cute!) Critter Lit shout out to Zoe and her adorable illustrations!

  Go Fish!  Written by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Zoe Waring

Go Fish! Written by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Zoe Waring

I've been a fan of Tammi Sauer's work well before I was a mom reading her books with my kiddos. My first encounter with her work was as a bookseller, before I was published. Mostly Monsterly, illustrated by Scott Magoon, is one of my favorite picture books, because I believe baking and sprinkles do make everything better. Personally, I think we all need WWBD (What Would Bernadette Do) bracelets for a little guidance every now and then.

Needless to say, I'm honored to be interviewing Tammi Sauer this week! Make sure to comment at the end of this post for a chance to win one of Tammi Sauer's new picture books: GO FISH! and KNOCK KNOCK, which are both equally hilarious and charming. 

So without further ado, please welcome Tammi Sauer! 

Where do you live?

My family and I live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish.

How many years have you been in publishing?

Cowboy Camp, my first book, debuted in 2005. It's still in print. Yeehaw!

How many books have you published?

I have 23 published picture books. I have another 10 that are under contract. 

Do you write full-time?

I am a full-time writer, but I spend a lot of my time presenting at schools and writing conferences across the nation.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I never set out to be a writer. My plan was to be a third grade teacher. During my senior year at Kansas State University, however, I had the best teacher of my life. Dr. Marjorie Hancock began every class in a beautiful way--she shared a picture book. This class involved a lot of reading, but it involved a lot of writing as well. One day, Dr. Hancock pulled me aside and said, "Tammi, you have a gift with words. You should pursue publication." Knowing Dr. Hancock believed in me helped me to believe in myself.

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

I love when something I have written really connects with a kid. I recently received a video from a mom that featured her reading GO FISH! to her toddler. The kid was belly-laughing the whole time. I'm honored that something I created played a part in such a great mom and kiddo moment. I also receive the best mail from kids. One of my favorite letters ended with the line, "Do not tell her this, but I like you more than Kelly Clarkson." Another favorite letter ended with a line that might be the loveliest compliment I have ever received:  "You make me light up like Christmas lights." Awwwww!

What do you find difficult working as an author?

For me, the absolute hardest part about the picture book creating process is coming up with a good idea. A wow idea. An irresistible-to-editors idea.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

When I visit schools, I always tell kids to celebrate the weird stuff in life. The weird stuff is good material for stories. 

KNOCK KNOCK, for example, got its start from a weird thing that happened to me. One day, I had a ton of work to do, but I kept getting interrupted. My doorbell rang. My phone rang. My dog barked. Everyone in the entire world texted me 362 different times. The more interruptions that came my way, the more frustrated I got. 

Later, I got to thinking that maybe I should write a story about a character who grows increasingly frustrated because he gets interrupted again and again and again. But, in the story, I wanted all of those interruptions to end up being a Very Good Thing. I also wanted those interruptions to be funny.

So, yes, apparently, I now have this brand new book all because I was really annoyed one afternoon. Hooray!

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I like it to be quiet when I write. That helps me to get in the zone. I also like a 32oz. cup of unsweetened mango ice tea. I have a cup of it next to me right this very minute.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing?

I wish I had known all of the stuff that needs to go into a picture book! This is my all-time favorite quote about writing picture books: "My main considerations for any picture book are humor, emotion, just the right details, read-aloud-ability, pacing, page turns, and of course, plot. Something has to happen to your characters that young readers will care about and relate to. Oh, and you have to accomplish all that in as few words as possible, while creating plenty of illustration possibilities. No easy task."--Lynn Hazen

I would have loved to have had this advice from day one!

Tell us about your newest books?

GO FISH! (HarperCollins), illustrated by Zoe Waring, features Goose and his friends. The group sets out for a fine day of fishing, but things don't exactly go as planned.

For this book as well as for the book Truck Truck, Goose! which features the same cast, I had a specific audience in mind. I wanted to give kids who are just starting to read the opportunity to feel like accomplished readers. To do this, I kept the text in each manuscript to a minimum and included a lot of art notes. Zoe's charming and hilarious art tells the bulk of these stories.

  Knock Knock  Written by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Guy Francis

Knock Knock Written by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Guy Francis

KNOCK KNOCK (Scholastic Press), illustrated by Guy Francis, stars a bear named Harry who is all set to hunker down for hibernation, but his woodland friends have other ideas. 

While this book is written almost entirely in knock knock jokes, it contains a real deal story with characters, conflict, and commotion. What is more, it's full of humor, but it has lots of heart, too.

When writing this book, I not only wanted to tell a story in an entirely new way, but I wanted the text to encourage lots of audience participation. I've test-driven this book at school visits, and it's been a huge hit with the crowds.

What’s up next for you?

In September, a quiet kid gets paired with a noisy kid in Quiet Wyatt (Clarion), illustrated by Arthur Howard. And in November? A beaver and a raccoon make a big discovery in Making a Friend (HarperCollins), illustrated by Alison Friend. 

In 2019, my pals Wordy Birdy and Nugget and Fang will be back in Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants (Doubleday), illustrated by Dave Mottram, and Nugget & Fang Go to School (Clarion), illustrated by Michael Slack. A new character will be joining the mix, too, in A Little Chicken (Sterling), illustrated by Dan Taylor. This book stars Dot. She's a little chicken who, let's face it, is a little chicken. 

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors?

Yes! Find a good critique group. Not only will you receive valuable feedback on your manuscripts and/or art, but it's so nice to have people to celebrate and commiserate with! Make sure, however, that the other members of your group are at least as good as you are--preferably better. You want these people to push you to make good things great. 

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

While I am a huge fan of The Breakfast Club, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and The Goonies, top billing goes to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I love you, Ferris!

Thank you for chatting with us today Tammi!

Tammi Sauer is a full time author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has 23 published picture books with major publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic Press, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. In addition to winning awards, Tammi's books have gone on to do great things. Nugget & Fang was made into a musical and is currently on a national tour, Wordy Birdy was named a Spring 2018 Kids' Indie Next pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Month, and Your Alien, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was recently released in Italian, Spanish, Korean, and French which makes her feel extra fancy.

For more information about Tammi Sauer or her books, visit her online at www.tammisauer.com or follow her on Twitter @SauerTammi

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of GO FISH! or KNOCK KNOCK by Tammi Sauer?! Comment on this post below. Two winners will be selected Thursday, August 2nd!

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for Critter Lit's August Picture Book Picks!

Raising My Market

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

These days, I'm surrounded by trucks. Literally. If it's not the toy trucks I'm constantly picking up around my house, it's the real ones driving up and down my street. We live in a national park, so there are always front loaders, dump trucks, and skid steers readily on display, working on the trails, dealing with fallen trees, or some other park-related need. And this week, my neighbor is having his driveway paved, so bonus, we have a cement mixer on full display. My two-year-old is in heaven. He could sit and watch these trucks all day long. Seriously. Needless to say, he loves trucks. Here's a sampling of our current bedtime rotation:

Notice a pattern? All trucks, all the time in this house! I had always heard that kids go through phases. The truck phase. The dinosaur phase. The princess phase. And so forth and so forth. But it's not until you're in the midst of it that you realize how all-consuming it is. Obviously, my household is currently living through the truck phase.

This is the first time I've experienced being a parent of the same age group I'm writing books for. It's a rather strange thing. Every night we read three books, and my son always requests at least one book he specifically wants to read. The rest are up to me, which allows for some variation. Thankfully, most of the books he loves, I love too. But then again, I do this for a living so I'm picky about what I add to our home library.

Over time I started to notice a pattern amongst all the books he loves. And no, it's not trucks. We do actually read books without trucks in it...sometimes. Trucks or not, all the books we end up reading together over and over again offer additional details in the pictures for my son to spot. He pours over each page, trying to find Goldbug (Cars and Trucks and Things That Go) or Zombie Truck (Monster Trucks) or identifying all the different types of trucks (Truck Truck Goose). More importantly, though, he can connect to the characters. He's at an age where he understands wanting to help (Little Blue Truck), being sad or protective (The Digger and the Flower), getting confused (The Mixed-up Truck), or being impatient (Sheep in a Jeep). All of these books have total kid appeal. Does it get cuter than Betsy Snyder's elephant driving the fire truck on the cover of Tons of Trucks? No, it doesn't. Could you get a better hook than Anika Denise's Monster Trucks? Nope. Because kids LOVE monsters and trucks! It's brilliant. We literally read that book on repeat.

The 2-3 age is amazing. Kids are sponges, soaking up everything you give them. His memory astounds me and he is learning words at such a rapid rate. One night we were reading Truck Truck Goose, which if you haven't read it, only contains a few words. My son didn't know the word "piano" before reading that book. But he kept seeing Goose pulling around a big, red piano on each spread. Which is a hilarious thing to drag to a picnic in the first place. But that's what makes this book so great. Because kids drag around ridiculous things all the time. Like when my son goes to the potty and has to bring his monster truck with him. He's not going to play with it in there. He just wants to know it's close by. Like Goose and his piano. My son kept asking me what the piano was until he'd committed it to memory. Now we read that book and he points out the piano every time. The word piano isn't even in the book. But the story and illustrations provided him with a new vocabulary word and an interactive way to learn it. Now that's pretty cool.

So what does this all mean? It means don't underestimate kids. Ever. THEY ARE REALLY SMART. Seriously, they pick up on everything. Recently, I had a conversation about using the word "digger" vs. "excavator" in one of my books. The concern was that kids might not know the word "excavator," which is a fair point, some may not. But in all the time I've heard my son talk about trucks, he's never once said "digger," unless he's referring to a name like Digger in The Digger in the Flower. Because he knows it's an "excavator." It's like those kids who can't spell their own name, but they can rattle off the most ridiculously long dinosaur names, unpronounceable to most adults. Unless of course, your household is going through the dinosaur phase...in which case, kudos to you!

So if you don't have a kid on hand to watch like a science experiment for your next book idea like I do, then you need to do your research. Read everything you can get your hands on in the age group you are writing for. Which books are doing really well in that group? Which books aren't? Find the pattern, then find the hole and figure out how you can fill it. I don't think I would be creating a wheel-based board book series with HarperCollins next summer if it weren't for my two-year-old and his obsession with wheels and all things trucks. It's a strange thing to be raising my market, but I'm having a blast.

Until next time, happy writing!

Lindsay

(Want more info on the books I mentioned? Click on the cover images above.)

What's up on deck? Check back next Thursday for an interview and giveaway with GO FISH and KNOCK KNOCK author Tammi Sauer!

Interview with Author/Illustrator Sandra Salsbury

Illustrators, publishing, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay WardComment
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This past spring, I had a wonderful experience participating in Writing with the Stars, a contest for aspiring authors and illustrators to win a free three-month mentorship with a published author or author/illustrator. The contest is run by Tara Leubbe and Becky Cattie, two sisters, who not only write together, but take the time to run this contest, offering wonderful opportunities to unpublished authors and illustrators. Which as you know, is what we are all about here at Critter Lit.

Make sure to check out Tara and Becky's website if you haven't already done so: www.beckytarabooks.com. The contest will start up again this December.

Contest applicants get to submit their work (either a manuscript or dummy) to a mentor of their choice. I was stunned with all the amazing work I was sent as a mentor. It was such a difficult decision to pick one mentee to work with, but ultimately Sandra Salsbury's work stood out to me immediately. The first thing I noticed was how well she handled her medium, watercolor. But the second, and what really struck me, especially with regards to picture books, is how great she is at composing different perspectives of storytelling.

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I've had the opportunity to get to know Sandra and her work these past few months while mentoring her on her book dummy, MR. FLUFF IS MISSING. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do!

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So without further ado, I'm thrilled to introduce Sandra Salsbury!

Where do you live?

I live in Berkeley, CA, just below hills full of hiking trails and down the street from one of the best bakeries.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I originally enrolled in art school because I loved to draw, but I spent most of my time floundering around with my art, not really knowing what I would do with it after graduation. It had never even occurred to me that there were people out there making picture books. In my last semester I ended up, on whim, enrolling in a children's illustration class with a local illustrator, LeUyen Pham. This was back in 2006, so there was no way for me, nor any of my classmates, to know what a gift it was to be taught by someone like LeUyen. It felt like there was suddenly a place where my art made sense and it was almost absurd that it hadn't occurred to me before. I ended up enrolling in an MFA program after to focus my portfolio on children's illustration and creating picture books has been my goal since then.

Can you share a bit about your process?

My process sort of looks like thinking, then writing, then drawing, then rewriting, then redrawing, and then more thinking and drawing and writing. My stories go through many iterations, first in my head, then in a word document, then on sheets of paper with squares printed out. I usually work in three different sizes of sketches. The smallest is to figure out the overall flow of the story and the pages are small enough that they all fit on one sheet of paper (I will do 3-6 of these, typically). The next size is to figure out the composition of each page. I try to draw 4-8 versions of the page to find the best one. Sometimes the first one is the one that works, but sometimes it's the 8th. The largest size is the most refined version and it's the pages I use for my dummy. Some pages will only have one version, but some will have to be drawing again and again, as I made small changes in the story. And even at the end, you don't know how well a story works until you have put it together into a little book with pages that turn, so I end up with 5-8 final dummies. While working on the dummies I will also do character sketches and art samples to figure out my style and by the time I get to the final paintings, all the hard work is done so I put on an audiobook and get some "reading" done while I paint.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I am lucky to live right next to a number of beautiful trails and it seems like my brain does its best thinking while my legs are moving. If I am stuck on a project or I can't think of an idea, the solution is always to take a long walk. Sometimes I have to take a lot of walks, but eventually when I let my mind drift away from the problem at hand or I stop trying to come up with a good idea, something will pop into my head. The best answers are the ones that feel obvious because then you know they are simple enough to work.

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Art supplies you can't live without?

Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper. I have tried switching papers, but I am so familiar with the way the paper absorbs paint and water, that using anything else feels like learning how to paint all over again. People always ask about paint brands and brushes, but paper is the true hero of watercolor paintings.

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Favorite illustrators?

What an impossible question! I love Holly Hobbie's watercolors, Judy Schachner's expressions, Dan Santat's design, Jon Klassen's simplicity, LeUyen Pham's body language, Lorena Alvarez's colors, Chris Appelhan's characters...

Dream project or book to work on?

My dream project is just to write and illustrate (and get published!) my own story. I want to take something from an idea in my mind to a book on a shelf.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

The Princess Bride. Any other choice would be inconceivable.

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Want to know more about Sandra or her work? Visit her online at www.sandrasalsbury.com or you can follow her on Twitter @SandraSalsbury

Book Reviews | July 2018

Recommended Reading, Book ReviewsLindsay WardComment

Welcome to Critter Lit Book Reviews! The first Thursday of every month Critter Lit will review two newly released picture books, representing two categories: WORDS and PICTURES, that are especially worth while and must reads. So without further ado, Critter Lit's picks for July 2018:

Drum roll please....

W O R D S

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We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Published by Disney-Hyperion, June 2018

So I'm already pretty partial to orange dinosaurs, but I knew this book would be a keeper even before I had the chance to read it, simply because the title is so great. WE DON'T EAT OUR CLASSMATES is the newest book from author/illustrator extraordinaire, Ryan T. Higgins. We are big fans of the MOTHER BRUCE books in this house, so I had pre-ordered this book ages ago. But it wasn't until it arrived in the mail recently, that I finally got the chance to take a peek....

Meet Penelope Rex. A small(ish), orange, adorable T. Rex who is about to start school. And like most kids, she's pretty nervous about it.

"Penelope's mom bought her a new backpack with ponies on it. Ponies were Penelope's favorite. Because ponies are delicious."

"Penelope's dad packed her a lunch of three hundred tuna sandwiches and one apple juice."

The big day arrives, and it turns out Penelope's class is filled with...CHILDREN! And Penelope loves children. Because children are delicious. But we don't eat our classmates, right? Well, Penelope does, which makes it that much harder to make friends. Soon, all of Penelope's classmates are afraid of her. So she decides to befriend the class pet, who just might give her a dose of her own medicine. Hilariously written, with spot on pacing, this book is a must have for any library or picture book collection. Not to mention the art is great, as always, with any Higgins book. A perfect back to school read aloud.

Click here for more information on We Don't Eat Our Classmates

P I C T U R E S

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Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Published by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, April 2018

This is quite possibly the most beautiful book that Sophie Blackall has done. Which I realize is saying a lot because she's already won the Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie, but this is hands down my favorite.

I've been a huge fan of Blackall's illustrations since being introduced to them as a bookseller with the Ivy & Bean series. She has created such an amazing body of work as an illustrator, but HELLO LIGHTHOUSE is simply stunning. Blackall has taken everything into account when creating this gorgeous book, from the art itself to the trim size, which reflects the height of a lighthouse. The entire book is masterfully crafted together. I especially loved her use of patterns to emote the feeling of the ocean as the story progressed and the circular spot illustrations to recreate the intimate setting of a lighthouse.

But the page where she shows the lighthouse in the fog is on a whole other level. The delicacy of the line work and feeling that she creates is so incredibly lovely. This book made me feel nostalgic, lonely, happy, and sad all at once. HELLO LIGHTHOUSE is a wonderful look at a job and the life of a lighthouse keeper that has been lost to technology. A must own for any picture book collection. If you haven't done so make sure you spend some time with this beautiful book.

Click here for more information on Hello Lighthouse

Q+A: A Quick Note on Art Notes

Illustrators, Authors, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Recently, I was asked a question about the placement and use of art notes in a picture book manuscript. I get this question a lot. Especially from picture book authors-only. Most illustrators understand when they do and don't need to art note, especially since they have the advantage of knowing what will or will not be illustrated along with the text. So if you're an author only, you have to get creative, and consider the illustrations as you write your text.

So, when should you art note your manuscript? Here is my simplest explanation:

ONLY INCLUDE AN ART NOTE WHEN IT IS IMPERATIVE TO UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT.

Here's an example: say your story is about a monster that only exists in the art. You never mention the monster in the text. The story isn't about the monster. It's about the boy the monster follows around. But in order to know that the monster exists when reading the manuscript, you need to include an art note. Make sense?

Or....

Let's say your story has an action sequence, with a lot of sounds and fun read-aloud bits. But it's not necessarily clear what is actually happening in the action. Art note it. This means the illustrator will understand your intention, but be able to amplify the sounds you've provided to marry the art and text together fluidly.

Now that you know when to art note, what should an art note look like?

I prefer to italicize and change the text color of my art notes. So if the manuscript text is in black (which all of yours should be, this isn't fourth grade, and pink isn't an acceptable font color for submission!), then I like to pick a light to medium gray for my art notes. And yes, even as an illustrator I use art notes. I probably use more art notes that an author-only does. I know what I want spreads to look like, so sometimes I will be very specific in my art notes, especially during the submission process. Editors are not always visual people, and the art director won't be reading your manuscript first, an editor most likely will. So make it easy for them to understand. Don't give them a reason, like lack of clarity, for them to pass on your manuscript.

This is what an art note in one of my manuscripts typically looks like:

[Art Note: ... ]

For me, using italics and changing the text color to gray, helps the art notes stand out from the body text. Not only do I think this helps anyone who is reading my manuscript for the first time, but it also helps me during the revision process.

Where should you place an art note within the manuscript? Before or after the scene to which you are referring?

Usually, I place my art notes after the scene I'm referring to in the art note. But you can also list them first. It just depends on what the scene requires and why you are using the art note in the first place. For example, if you need the art note to set a scene, that either has no text or very minimal text, I would suggest listing it before. I've done this from time to time when I'm planning to use an art note as a way to clarify what I will be showing in the art, that won't be explicitly said in the text.

So what should you keep in mind when including art notes? Here is a few tips that can go a long way:

TIPS FOR USING ART NOTES

- Always read your manuscript aloud. To yourself and to others. You should be doing this regardless, but it will definitely help you understand if you need an art note or not.

- If you are an author-only, consider how your text will allow an illustrator to add their mark to the story. Have you left enough room for them? A truly successful picture book is one that effortlessly marries the art and text together, even if it's done by two different people.

- Don't be descriptive. Again, only art note if it's imperative to understanding the text. Don't add in art notes with descriptions of the characters, what they are wearing, the setting, etc. If the reader will need any of these things to understand your story, then you need to art note it. But otherwise, you are trying to micromanage the illustrations and you need to stop. As an illustrator, I can tell you, it's very annoying.

So go out there and art note correctly, or not. Either way, now you know, and hopefully this post will help you when deciding whether or not to include an art note in your manuscript.

If you have a question you'd like to see answered here on Critter Lit, please email me at lindsay@critterlit.com.

Until next time, happy writing!

A Bad Case of the Hypotheticals

Authors + Illustrators, publishingLindsay WardComment

They'll always be a reason not to do the work. Not to write. Not to draw. Not to read. Trust me, I get it. With two boys under the age of 3, my stack of books to be read is epic. I feel like there is never enough time in the day and I find myself wishing I could do more of a lot of things. But the trick is to make it count, right?

I happen to work some unusual hours seeing as my husband and I both work from home and we've decided to stay at home with our boys, splitting work shifts while the other watches the kids. It's a bit crazy, and every day is different, but it works for us. My first two hours of work happen first thing, from 5-7am. And I have to make them count. If there's one thing having kids taught me it's that procrastination is simply NOT an option. I literally don't have time to waste time because at the end of those first two hours, my eight-month-old will want to eat, and he doesn't really care that I need five more minutes to finish up. Or that I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to because I spent the first hour wasting time online.

So how do we make time to get the work done? Create books? Write? Draw? Read? If you're just starting out, unpublished, and trying to get your foot in the door, you probably have a day job. So there goes a vast amount of time you could be dedicating to your writing or drawing. The good news is, that day job can actually help you tremendously. I haven't had a day job for a long time now, but I did when I first started out. Before I was published, I worked at a children's book store in Brookline, Massachusetts. (Shout out to Terri and The Children's Book Shop!) It was a great experience and I learned a ton about the picture book market. I had the chance to read the latest books and see what contemporary authors and illustrators were doing in the business. It also got me out of my own head sometimes, which as a creative, can be imperative.

I worked five days a week, then I'd go home, eat dinner, and sit down in my make-shift studio space, and work again. But this time on writing or illustrations for my portfolio. I spent three years sending out postcard mailers, every three months, to any art director whose address I could find. Years went by and I never heard anything. It was a tough time, filled with a lot of self-doubt and a bad case of the hypotheticals.

It's really easy to get caught up in playing out all the scenarios that can happen. I'm super type A, which means I generally overthink things to death. As I sat at my drawing table night after night, I would obsess over getting published, breaking through, or meeting the right art director who'd finally give me a shot. Here's the thing though-- I had to give myself a shot first. If I didn't believe I was talented enough to publish a book, then how could I expect anyone else to?

Unfortunately, the kidlit industry, is a one in a million. Literally. Not everyone gets to do this. So many things have to line up. It's like fate. Or a romantic comedy (although at times it feels like a tragedy). But at the end of the day, you either do the work or you don't. All the stars could align and you finally get your shot, but if you don't have the work done and haven't put in the time, it won't matter, and the opportunity will pass you by. It's easy to say you'll get around to it someday. But let's be honest, you won't. You have to make time for your craft. Ideally everyday, and if not everyday, regularly in a schedule that works for you. Even if it's just an hour a week you carve out for yourself to write or draw, take it! It's a start, and hopefully that one hour will become important enough to you, that you'll make time for another hour, and another hour, until you find you've created enough time for yourself to follow your dream and really make a go of it.

I tend to get caught up in the hypotheticals particularly when I'm in the midst of a submission. After all this time, I still do it, even though I know better. I worry over if anyone will like my work or the dummy I've spent months fine tuning. Will it sell? Will it ever see the light of day? Or will it just end up in a drawer? If it does sell, who will buy it? Will I be working with a new publisher? Which then brings on a whole new list of worries: Will we work well together? Will our visions for the book align? The list goes on and on. Thus, a bad case of the hypotheticals.

But none of that really matters at the end of the day. Because it's about the work. Once it's out there, you've done your job. And whatever the result, you have to be okay with that. Trust what you've put out there. And if it's not that one that makes it, try again. And again. And again. This industry is a numbers game. Be your biggest advocate. Pick yourself up and keep going.

Even now, I'm still not used to rejections. I think it's safe to say that none of us are. But with each one, you can get a bit tougher, a bit stronger. Be open minded. Listen to constructive criticism about your work, and then discard the stuff that doesn't resonate with you. I find that the criticism that I get the most upset over, or react the strongest to, is usually the one thing I need to address. At the end of the day it's your work, and you have to do what feels right for you and your book.

Ideally, when I go out on a submission, I always want to sell the book, obviously. I try not to worry about how I will feel if it doesn't sell. Which is tough, because I've put months of work into something that may never make it on a book shelf. I recently went out on submission with a new project, that I knew was a long shot, considering the concept. But it made me laugh every time I worked on it, so I wanted to try it out in the marketplace. Unfortunately, although I had a lot of editors think it was funny too, it ultimately wasn't the right fit for anyone. And that's okay. I can't control what other people think about my work. Nor can you. But you have to keep trying.

So I still get up every morning and do the work. I write about what I think is funny. Or what my hilarious (I know, I'm biased) two-year-old said the other day. And I keep going. Because I love this job. It truly is the best job in the world.

So keep going. Keep writing. Keep drawing. And keep those hypotheticals at bay. Get up each day, and put in the time. Because dreams need nourishment and only you can provide that for yourself.

Send in YOUR questions for Critter Lit

Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Welcome to Critter Lit's Curated Content! Every Thursday, make sure to drop by for news and updates on all things kidlit! Here's what you can expect to come each month:

- book reviews of newly published books

- spotlight on debut authors/illustrators and up + coming authors/illustrators

- craft post: tips on the trade and creation of picture books in the kidlit publishing industry

- Q+A: I'll answer YOUR questions!

Interested in breaking into the world of children's publishing? Send your questions to lindsay@critterlit.com. Each month, I'll answer YOUR questions and feature them here on Critter Lit's Curated Content. 

 

Book Reviews | June 2018

Recommended Reading, Book ReviewsLindsay WardComment

Welcome to Critter Lit Book Reviews! The first Thursday of every month Critter Lit will review two newly released picture books, representing two categories: WORDS and PICTURES, that are especially worth while and must reads. So without further ado, Critter Lit's picks for June 2018:

Drum roll please....

W O R D S (or I suppose in this case, word)

51Y6XYtMomL._SX371_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Dude! by Aaron Reynolds, Illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Roaring Brook Press, April 2018

Dude, this book is awesome! Seriously. The entire story is told using just one word. Which is kinda crazy when you think about it, but totally works. For those of you obsessing over your picture book word count, pay attention! AARON REYNOLDS DID IT WITH ONE WORD!

Dude! is a wonderful read aloud because it relies on the inflection of the reader's voice and delivery. I found myself laughing out loud at each page turn, while reading with my two-year-old, curious as to where the story was headed. Oh, and did I mention it's illustrated by Dan Santat? No biggie. I've always loved Santat's animals, in this case a platypus, a beaver, and a shark. He does such a wonderful job bringing their personalities to life. The added element of surprise with the shark is also well done.

There have been a batch of new shark books that have recently come out, but this may be my favorite. Highly original and funny!

Click here for more information on Dude!

P I C T U R E S

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The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler

Published by Balzer + Bray, January 2018

I absolutely LOVE the art in this book. It's stunning. I poured over each page, soaking up every detail Joseph Kuefler had to offer in his illustrations. The story is simple and lovely, with a touch of Ferdinand. Kuefler juxtaposes hard, cold, modern machinery with nature, specifically a delicate flower, all the while creating a character as warm and friendly as the digger in his story. Although the art is graphic in nature, Kuefler provides rich textures, shapes, and a sound palette, adding tremendous depth to the art. Bonus: it has a digger in it, so it will go over well with the kiddos.

Click here for more information on The Digger and the Flower

Getting Started

Lindsay Ward

Last night I did an author event at the New Philadelphia Library in New Philadelphia, Ohio. Shout out to them for a wonderful event! I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of aspiring writers and illustrators who wanted more information about publishing children's books. I'm always happy to offer information about this crazy world of publishing because that's what others did for me when I was just starting out. In fact, that is the whole point of Critter Lit! I love that our community of writers and illustrators is supportive of one another. We cheer when someone succeeds and commiserate when someone fails. It's something that I've always loved about my community.

So that got me thinking about what I did to get started. Of course each author or illustrator's journey into this business is unique, but these are some of the things that helped me.

So you want to be a children's book author or illustrator or both! Where to begin? The publishing world is intimidating and overwhelming. Most days it feels remote and untouchable. It's not. You just have to be willing to work incredibly hard and never ever give up. Which is a lot easier said than done. I know. So how do you make something seem possible? Immerse yourself in it. Then it doesn't feel quite so scary.

Tip No. 1 - READ A TON OF BOOKS

First and foremost, you need to educate yourself. Make friends with your local bookseller or children's librarian. Find out which books are being talked about. Which books they love. Which books they see people responding to. The more you read the better you will understand what the market is and what other authors and illustrators are doing. This will also help you understand how your ideas will fit into the market. Who will buy your book? Is it marketable? My first job was in a children's book shop. This is where my education began. That coupled with a voracious reading habit helped me understand the children's book market.

Tip No. 2 - JOIN A WRITING GROUP/CRITIQUE GROUP

You have to get out of your own head and share your work. Finding a group of people who you can share your writing or illustrations with is tremendously helpful. You can give and receive feedback that can make all the difference for your project. I've been apart of the same critique group for a couple years now. We try to meet once a month and share new stuff that each of us is working on. Some of us are author/illustrators and some are authors only. This dynamic has been great for us to get well-rounded responses to our work. I tend to share my ideas with my critique group first before diving in and writing. They have been my barometer for whether or not I have a good idea bouncing around and if I should develop it further.

Tip No. 3 - JOIN SCBWI

SCBWI - The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. This is one of the best resources for authors and illustrators, especially if you are just starting out. SCBWI is a national organization with chapters all over the country. Each chapter has their own events (critique groups, meetings, conferences, etc.). There is also a huge Summer and Winter conference in New York and Los Angeles every year. The great thing about SCBWI is that it provides a support group of like-minded individuals. Everyone loves children's books. You can meet editors, art directors, authors, illustrators, book designers, agents, and more through this organization. It's also a place where you can ask lots and lots of questions about the industry and receive answers from professionals currently making books for kids. For more information about SCBWI, click here.

Tip No. 4 - COMMIT

No one is going to write your book for you. If you want to break into publishing you have to be willing to work your butt off. Seriously. This is a tough business. You are your biggest advocate. So stop putting off your writing and just do it. Make a commitment to write every day. Finish your book. Be brave and keep creating what you love.

Tip No. 5 - BE SOCIAL

Make friends. Be supportive. Find out what authors and illustrators are doing. Twitter and Facebook are great resources for this. You never know who you might connect with and where that could lead.

Until next time...

Happy Writing!

Lindsay

Making Brobarians - A Look Back At Last Summer

book release, Authors + Illustrators, Authors, IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

To say that last summer was crazy would be an understatement. Within a matter of three months I finished Brobarians and we sold our house. By the end of the summer, we were in tow with a baby and dog and no place to live (our house sold much faster than we anticipated). Thankfully our parents were willing to take us in until we could close on a new house (we bid and lost out on FOUR houses until we found our current house, which was totally worth the wait, but still it was crazy!) Here’s a look at some of the photos I took while making Brobarians last summer:

 The beginning of making a picture book. Lots of staring at a wall filled with drawings.

The beginning of making a picture book. Lots of staring at a wall filled with drawings.

 This was the first color sample I did for  Brobarians .

This was the first color sample I did for Brobarians.

 The tiniest Brobarian you've ever seen!

The tiniest Brobarian you've ever seen!

 Making a Brobarian in cut paper (back + front!)

Making a Brobarian in cut paper (back + front!)

 Illustrating my own dog Sally into the book.

Illustrating my own dog Sally into the book.

 Seen here with her own Brobarian.

Seen here with her own Brobarian.

 Adding in the rain.

Adding in the rain.

 In order to make the Map of Brobaria endpapers look like it was actually drawn by a kid, I drew it left-handed. It was much harder than I thought it would be.

In order to make the Map of Brobaria endpapers look like it was actually drawn by a kid, I drew it left-handed. It was much harder than I thought it would be.

 The red squares = complete. This is how I kept track of which spreads I had finished as I typically don’t work chronologically.

The red squares = complete. This is how I kept track of which spreads I had finished as I typically don’t work chronologically.

 The aftermath of a picture book. I’m usually finding bits of paper from a book months after I’ve finished it. The paper gets EVERYWHERE!

The aftermath of a picture book. I’m usually finding bits of paper from a book months after I’ve finished it. The paper gets EVERYWHERE!

 Not to worry, even thought I finished the book, I still have my own little Brobarian who keeps me on my toes.

Not to worry, even thought I finished the book, I still have my own little Brobarian who keeps me on my toes.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Lindsay

Making BROBARIANS - The Cover

publishing, Illustrators, book release, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay WardComment

Making the cover for any book is stressful. So many things factor into the design and overall look. And of course there is the ultimate question bouncing around in the back of your mind...Will this cover sell this book? For most books I work on, I go through many revisions before I settle on the right look for the cover. So far my record is 40 cover sketches (When Blue Met Egg). Thankfully Brobarians didn't require quite that many. Here's a look at the sketches that lead up to the final cover I chose for Brobarians with the wonderful team I worked with at Two Lions:

  Brobarians  Cover Sketch 1

Brobarians Cover Sketch 1

I think I was a little gung-ho on this one. We ultimately didn't go with this option because we didn't want to give away the fantasy scenes included in the interior of the book. This is where the reader sees how the brothers actually see themselves in their imagination.

  Brobarians  Cover Sketch 2

Brobarians Cover Sketch 2

Although this really conveyed the action and energy of the story through the movement of the brothers running, we wanted readers to connect with the characters, which is tough through a profile image.

  Brobarians  Cover Sketch 3

Brobarians Cover Sketch 3

Now we were getting somewhere. We could see the brother's environment, we had a head on perspective to connect with them. But, by closing Iggy's eyes, the reader loses the connection with him. So this cover option didn't make it either.

  Brobarians  Cover Sketch 4

Brobarians Cover Sketch 4

I tried a variation on Cover Sketch 3 by doing more of a close-up on the brothers. Obviously Iggy's eyes closed was still an issue, but I wanted to see if a close-up would make a difference. Ultimately, we felt that we understood the context better if we could see more of the background and the objects they were holding on to.

  Brobarians  Cover Sketch 5

Brobarians Cover Sketch 5

Again, super gung-ho. I loved the idea of this cover, but it would have given away too much. And this spread in the book is one of my favorites. Having gone this way for the cover would have taken away from the climax of their battle scene.

  Brobarians  Cover Sketch 6

Brobarians Cover Sketch 6

While I was sketching all of the cover options, this was one of my favorites. But after some back and forth over it with the team at Two Lions, we decided the attitude the boys had was a little too much and didn't really reflect the feel of the book. 

  Brobarians  Cover Sketch 7

Brobarians Cover Sketch 7

Finally, we had a winner! I say finally like seven sketches is a lot, it's really not. But I was thrilled with this sketch and so happy that the team at Two Lions loved it too. It showed the environment, the brother's personalities, and the feeling of the book. It was the whole package! You'll also notice we dropped the hyphen in the title. We thought this would be much easier for readers when looking for the book in a search engine. Next, we had to make the jacket...

  Brobarians  Cover Sketch 7 - Final

Brobarians Cover Sketch 7 - Final

Here's the final sketch.

  Brobarians  Jacket Sketch

Brobarians Jacket Sketch

Then I created the rest of the art for the jacket. Now I needed to add color...

  Brobarians  Jacket - Color Finish

Brobarians Jacket - Color Finish

This is how the art looks when I send it to my editor and art director for approval. Everything is taped down so that I can still make changes. I had run out of drafting tape at this point and all I had left was floral wasabi tape, thus the patterned tape everywhere. I don't glue anything down until the very end.

  Brobarians  Jacket

Brobarians Jacket

Then the book designer goes in and lays out all the copy on the flaps and spine of the book. We went through a few changes with this until we settled on the perfect one. I'm thrilled with how it all came together. I worked with an amazing team of people at Two Lions.

  Brobarians  - Final Cover

Brobarians - Final Cover

Ta-da! Here's the final cover! I'd come along way since the cover I submitted with my book dummy during the submission process:

  Brobarians  - Original Book Dummy Cover

Brobarians - Original Book Dummy Cover

So all that for one cover - no big deal right? I hope you enjoy Brobarians as much as I do. For more information about the book or to pre-order Brobarians, click here.

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Lindsay

Making BROBARIANS, or How to Be Inspired to Write a Picture Book by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Illustrators, Authors + Illustrators, Authors, book releaseLindsay WardComment

At the end of this month, my newest picture book BROBARIANS with Two Lions, an imprint of Amazon Publishing, will pub on March 28th. I'm so excited to share this book with all of you for many reasons, but mostly because I never thought this book would be published. I honestly didn't think anyone would get it. It's weird and quirky and has nods to the writing of John Milius, who isn't exactly the poster boy for childhood. Yet here we are, a month out from publication thanks to all the fabulous people at Two Lions who believed in it too.

Let me start from the beginning. My husband has this list of must-see movies. He's very particular about them and feels that they are necessary to be a well-rounded viewer/human being. In other words, if you haven't seen them, he won't think much of your movie taste. What can I say, he's particular about his movies. One of the movies on his list is Conan the Barbarian, written and directed by John Milius, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I know what you're thinking. Really, that's on the list? Yes. And like all of you, I thought could this movie really be worth two hours of my life? But my husband insisted. Apparently my life would be stunted without it this viewing experience. So we watched it. And to be honest, I hated the first half hour of it. It was campy, cheesy, and completely ridiculous. But then something strange happened, I started to enjoy the campy, cheesy, and completely ridiculous dialogue. It was so over the top. This movie represented everything I would typically pass on, but for some reason it all worked. By the end of the two hours I loved it. And better yet...and book idea was forming.

I realized that the voice of Conan the Barbarian is what really sets it apart. I don't mean Arnold's voice, but rather the words of John Milius, the writer. This is the same guy who wrote Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry, etc. An over the top, larger than life writer and director in the movie business. In fact, if any of you have seen The Big Lebowski (another movie on my husband's list) the character played by John Goodman is based on Milius. I imagine you have to be pretty bold to create his resume. Days after watching Conan, the voice stayed with me.

And then I remembered a story my husband told me about he and his brother when they were little. My husband is two years older than his younger brother. By the time his younger brother was walking around with a bottle, my husband had already been weened off of them. But that didn't change the fact that he still wanted one all the time. So on occasion my husband was known to steal his younger brother's bottle and go hide behind a chair while he gulped it down. This lasted a whole of five minutes before their mom would figure out what had happened and take the bottle away. Apparently this became a household routine.

So between the Conan voice bouncing around in my head and the story my husband told me...BROBARIANS was created. As soon as the idea popped into my head, I wrote the first draft in one go. The story went through many, many, many drafts and revisions. But finally I was ready to create a dummy and send it to my agent. She must have thought I was crazy the first time she read BROBARIANS. I knew it was going to be a tough sell because the voice was so adult. But I also knew that's where the humor was. This idea of babies juxtaposed with this over-the-top narration was too funny not to try.

We went out on two rounds of general submission and magically two houses were interested! I couldn't believe someone was going to let me publish this book. Even now I still feel that way. Ultimately we felt that Two Lions and Amazon were a great fit for BROBARIANS.

After finishing the book, I received the best editorial letter yet, to which my editor said:

"I can say with certainty that this is the only time I have ever said this to anyone: thanks for watching Conan the Barbarian."

So...here's the point of this post: you never know where your ideas will come from, least of all a movie night with your husband starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who'd of thought?

I'm thrilled to share BROBARIANS on March 28th! I hope you all find it as funny as I do!

Lindsay

To pre-order BROBARIANS, please click here.

Make sure to check back during the month of March for more posts about the making of BROBARIANS!

Create What You Love. And Do It Everyday.

publishing, Illustrators, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay WardComment

Create what you love. And do it every day.

At 31 this is what I would have told my 24-year-old self when I started in publishing.

It sounds relatively simple right? Wrong. Or at least, that’s how it was for me. Specifically the do it everyday part. I didn’t keep a sketch book. I didn’t write everyday. I didn’t think about new ideas all the time. I’d come up with a book idea. Write it. Make a dummy. And pitch it. If it sold, I’d make said book. Exert a serious amount of energy and then feel like I needed a three month vacation. And then repeat the whole thing all over again for the next book. Which isn’t exactly wrong. The problem was that I was treating my book career like a hobby. A career is not something you do occasionally. It’s something you invest your time in everyday. And I love my job. So why wasn’t I investing my time?

For me it was easy to step back and say I deserved a break after completing a book. It takes a lot of work! But I found when I looked at it like this, it started to feel like a burden. And writing and illustrating is not a burden, it’s a privilege. Truly. So I realized it was time for a radical change. Which is funny because 2016 was insanely full of them for me and my family, so why not add one more?

This past August we sold our house, bought a new one (but not without being transient for three months at my parents and in-laws with a baby and dog in tow). Renovated the new house because it was a total disaster. Moved in two days before Christmas and basically reinvented our whole work schedule. It was a massive overhaul. And it changed everything in the most difficult and best way possible.

So…

It’s 6:19am right now and I’ve already been up for an hour and half. 

This is what I do everyday now. Including Saturdays and Sundays. Which today is Saturday. I wake up at 5am and work for a solid four hours before most people start their work day. And I do it seven days a week. I know what you’re thinking…I can’t do that. I can’t wake up that early. I’m too busy. (I know this because those are all the things I said when my brilliant husband suggested this to me.) He told me that in an average work day, people are only truly productive for four hours, which is crazy considering most people work a job from 9-5 everyday. So why couldn’t that work for me? It would certainly allow me to be a mom and take care of my home and family in a much more efficient way than I was already, let’s be honest, struggling to do.

It’s all about commitment to craft. Do you love to create? Great. Do you love creating so much that you would get up and do it at 5am? Because that’s what it takes. Everyday. Even if you have another job. I’m not saying you have wake up at 5am like I do, but you do have to be committed to making time for your craft each and everyday. I picked 5am because I like feeling like I’ve already worked a solid block of time before the day has really started, that and I have a 18-month-old son. This is the schedule that works for me and my family. You have to find what works for you.

Because here’s the thing - if you keep waiting for extra time to come along for you to create your next idea, it won’t. Time doesn’t give a crap about you or the millions of things you have to get done everyday. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of mornings I get up and everything I write is terrible and my drawings are awful. But I still keep going. I push to get through those four hours even if it’s killing me.

Here’s what a typical morning looks like:

5am: Roll out of bed, which is difficult every morning. I don’t think that will ever change. Especially when my dog (a mid-sized portable heater) snuggles next to me. She is not supportive of my early morning drive.

5:05am: COFFEE.

5:10am: Some sort of stretch or repetition of ten to get blood flowing. My hands are stiff in the morning. And my brain is fuzzy. This helps. Seriously. I know it sounds silly, but it works.

5:10-6am: Draw. Anything. As much as I can. Whatever pops into my head. I use Japanese PiGMA pens and whiteout for corrections. I started using this method for a few reasons. I generally stay away from black ink in my work, it always feels too harsh or heavy. I tend to prefer grey or navy ink or a simple pencil line. But my goal is to make intentional lines, no second-guessing myself, and pencil encourages hesitation. The more I used the black ink, the more confident I became in the lines I was making. Going directly to ink, rather than creating a pencil sketch first, pushes me to be decisive with my line. Now, of course, I still make plenty of bad lines and change my mind about the drawing as it comes together - thus the whiteout. But I find that my morning sketches have a way of maintaining the integrity of the line I intended because I haven’t sketched, used a light table to transfer, and then created the finish. The first drawing is the finished drawing.

6am: Then I post one of my morning sketches. This is a relatively new thing. I’m horrible at social media. But I found that posting a drawing everyday makes me feel accountable to something. Like if I miss a day, everyone will know. Which isn’t really the point, the drawing is for me, but thinking this way is encouraging. Keep drawing. Keep creating.

6am-7am: Write. I allocate a solid hour to NEW creative writing every morning. Not editing. Not a book I’m currently under contract for. But new ideas. This part is really difficult for me. I tend to self edit a lot as I write. I work on just getting words on the page in this hour. The computer I write with doesn’t have access to internet intentionally. The internet is a time succubus that doesn’t care about the creative work you need to do, so ignore it.

7am-9am: This is when I do the work I’m contractually accountable for, like new books or illustration jobs. Currently, I’m working on finishes for my new book, DON'T FORGET DEXTER.

9am: I walk out of my bat cave and see my little man. This is my favorite part. Because this is the part where I actually feel like I’m devoting time to my craft and my family. I don’t feel torn between carving out time during the day to work or play with my son. This schedule allows me to do both and feel good about my use of time.

The rest of the day is spent working during the time my son is napping. Before I did the 5am wake-up, I’d get really stressed out because I could only work during his naps. Sometimes he would wake up early, sometimes he wouldn’t sleep at all. I couldn’t focus. And it felt like I wasn’t able to get anything done because of constant interruptions. But now, by the time he’s up, I’ve already worked four hours, so anything else I’m able to accomplish is a bonus.

Then at some point, I take a walk with my family, to reboot and think about new ideas.

Now obviously, everyone’s schedule is different. People have day jobs, kids, and a million other responsibilities. And I’m not suggesting to all of you that this is what you have to do to be successful with your craft. All I can tell you is that this is how I feel successful on my own terms, without external pressures telling me otherwise.

*Also, in case you’re wondering, my husband is self-employed and works from home too. Which means I have to make those four hours count. I have to hustle. We both do. There is no day job income to fall back on for us. This is the price we pay for the freedom to create and spend time with our son everyday.

If you get anything at all out of this post, I hope it’s this: don’t waste time waiting around for the perfect moment to create because it will never come.

You have to make time for what you love.

Happy writing!

Lindsay

Top Five Favorite Picture Books - Writing

publishing, Illustrators, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay WardComment

My husband and I read to our son every night. And every night it's always so tough to pick what books to read. My husband just grabs books off the shelf at random, without even looking. I, on the other hand, sit there staring, as if its the most important decision I'll make all day. It's usually not, but that doesn't change the fact that I still do it every night.

Over the years, I've amassed quite the picture book collection, as I'm sure you can imagine. Some as a bookseller, some as an illustrator, some as an author/illustrator, and now, as a mom. It's funny how my tastes have changed since becoming a mom. Before I would buy books that had really amazing art, I didn't pay that much attention to the story. As someone who came to publishing as an illustrator first, the writing in any book always came second to me. If I didn't like the art, I wouldn't buy the book. Period. Even if it was an amazing story. Now, I want the whole package. I expect amazing art and text. If I'm going to add it to our collection, it better be good. Like really good. It's the same attitude I have when I create my own books. I have to make a brilliant book so it can hold it's own against millions of other books. So that someone will want to add it to their collection and share with their family. The way I do. 

There are so many books to choose from, even among the collection we've already created based on our family's tastes. My son is still young enough that he isn't really picking books out himself just yet (unless is a very loved and chewed copy of Little Fur Family - what can I say he loves the "kerchoo" part, laughs every time).

So here's my list of five books that every time I read them I think "man, I hope I'm this good some day." They are the books that I never tire of reading. Some old, some new. The ones that are just so good, no holes, nothing I would change. Perfect in my opinion.

I've focused this list on storytelling, although every single one of them has amazing art that deserves it's own shout out. 

1. INTERRUPTING CHICKEN By David Ezra Stein

It’s time for the little red chicken’s bedtime story —and a reminder from Papa to try not to interrupt. But the chicken can’t help herself! Whether the tale is HANSEL AND GRETEL or LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD or even CHICKEN LITTLE, she jumps into the story to save its hapless characters from doing some dangerous or silly thing. Now it’s the little red chicken’s turn to tell a story, but will her yawning papa make it to the end without his own kind of interrupting?

This might be my favorite read-a-loud of all time. Seriously. It's that good. This one is on my list for a few reasons. One, I never get tired of reading it (which is always a good starting point). Two, at 1 1/2, Jack actually pays attention throughout this entire book, which always amazes me. And three, the DIALOGUE. It's pitch perfect. Every word choice is spot on. The conversation between Papa and Little Red Chicken reads like any parent with their child at bedtime. Little Red Chicken is impatient and impulsive, she can't wait to interrupt, because after all, she knows what's going to happen. I find that when I read this book aloud, I don't have to think about the inflections in my voice, or the best way to tell the story for my son to understand what's happening. It just naturally happens because the text is so good. Keep in mind this is a book that won a Caldecott Honor, and I'm telling you how wonderful the text is. I haven't even mentioned how amazing the illustrations are. Two styles in one book! That's how great this book is.

2. AND THEN IT'S SPRING Written by Julie Fogliano, Illustrated by Erin Stead

Following a snow-filled winter, a young boy and his dog decide that they've had enough of all that brown and resolve to plant a garden. They dig, they plant, they play, they wait...and wait...until at last, the brown becomes a more hopeful shade of brown, a sign that spring may finally be on its way.

Every time I read Julie's words, it hurts. They are just so good. Personally, I think she is one of the best writers in children's lit, not just picture books. Her WORD CHOICE is exquisite. Every line seems perfectly constructed. Each word meticulously chosen. I once read that J.D. Salinger agonized over every word choice. Each one had to be perfect or he'd cross it out. I imagine that is what it's like for Julie. Her words are captivating and ask you to run away with them in such an effortless way, which of course I'm sure she would say otherwise. Here is my favorite passage:

and the brown, 
still brown, has a greenish hum
that you can only hear
if you put your ear to the ground
and close your eyes

Just beautiful. Oh, and did I mention the art is created by Caldecott winning illustrator Erin Stead. Any illustrator looking for a lesson in perfect composition and execution, look at this book. The illustrations are absolutely stunning and there are so many lovely details to look for on each page.

3. THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT Written by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: His crayons have had enough! They quit! Beige Crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown Crayon. Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. And Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking—each believes he is the true color of the sun. What can Duncan possibly do to appease all of the crayons and get them back to doing what they do best?

Okay, let's be totally honest here. This is one of those books that the first time I read it I was like "Dammit! I wish I'd thought of that!" I remember I was standing in Anthropologie of all places, that's how big the book had gotten already (I know, I know, how had I not seen this sooner...what can I say it was the summer I got married, things were crazy). The entire CONCEPT is absolutely brilliant, as you all probably already know. And not just that, but the voices of each crayon are so funny. I think Peach crayon is my favorite. The humor in this book is just off the charts. Every color, relationship, and concern is so well thought out. And this was a debut picture book paired with Oliver Jeffer's illustrations! It kills me, it's so good! A must have for any picture book collection.

4. THE NEW SMALL PERSON by Lauren Child

Elmore Green starts life as an only child, as many children do. He has a room to himself, where he can line up his precious things and nobody will move them one inch. But one day everything changes. When the new small person comes along, it seems that everybody might like it a bit more than they like Elmore Green. And when the small person knocks over Elmore’s things and even licks his jelly-bean collection, Elmore’s parents say that he can’t be angry because the small person is only small. Elmore wants the small person to go back to wherever it came from. Then, one night, everything changes. . . .

This is not only my favorite new sibling book, but it's also one of my favorite books of all time. I think the VOICE is what really sets it apart. Elmore Green does not want a new sibling, he won't even refer to him by name, just "The New Small Person." He has no interest in sharing his jelly beans, especially the orange ones, or tv shows, or his collection of things. Everything about Elmore is so spot on with what a kid would actually do and say. I love how the two brothers finally come together in the middle of the night after Elmore has a nightmare and the new small person proclaims "Go away scary!". This book is clever and sweet all at once, punctuated by Lauren Child's whimsical cut-paper illustrations.

5. IN A BLUE ROOM Written by Jim Averbeck, Illustrated by Tricia Tusa

Alice is wide, wide awake. Mama brings flowers, tea, a quilt, even lullaby bells to help her sleep. But none of these things are blue, and Alice can sleep only in a blue room. Yet when the light goes out, a bit of magic is stirred up. Pale blue moonlight swirls into her bedroom window. Then the night swirls out, around the moon and into the universe, leaving Alice fast alsleep in a most celestial blue room.

This is a one of my favorite bedtime books in our collection. I have loved this book since it came out and I was hand-selling it as a bookseller in The Children's Book Shop in Boston. Jim Averbeck does such as amazing job creating the mood of this story. Throughout the story he references the all the senses, colors, and creates a feeling of total relaxation. I can smell the lilacs, feel the warm tea, and hear the soft sound of lullaby bells chiming in the breeze. This book is like a warm comfy quilt wrapped around you before you drift off to sleep. And perfectly illustrated by the always amazing Tricia Tusa who paces the final lines of the book in one of the best succession of spreads I've ever seen in a picture book. Love love this book.

Please take a moment to check these books out from your local library if you get the chance. They are wonderful reads!

Happy Reading!

Lindsay

 

Welcome to Critter Lit!

Authors, Illustrators, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Welcome to Critter Lit!

A new site where you can receive FREE one-time critiques on picture book illustrations and manuscripts.

The idea of Critter Lit had always been there, but it wasn't until recently that I felt it was time to finally launch it. 2017 has started out rough for most Americans. Everywhere I look people are fearful and uncertain about the future. So now seems as good a time as any to look to the future, to embrace it, to help raise it up!

So how can I make a better world for the next generation? The answer seems impossible and although I'm just one person, there are at least two things I can offer: advice and experience. The best way I know how to do that is through books. So, what does that mean exactly?

Well, for starters it's time to give back. There are so many up-and-coming writers and illustrators who need a chance to tell their stories. But unfortunately publishing has become more and more competitive, to the point where it's nearly impossible to break-in. Critiques are expensive. Conferences even more so. And getting your work in front of an agent or editor seems unattainable.

So here's a crazy thought...FREE one-time critiques from someone in the business. Me.

I want to help you shape the books of tomorrow in hopes that they will make a difference for the next generation of readers. 

MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUES FREE one-time critiques delivered in 2 weeks.

ILLUSTRATION CRITIQUES FREE one-time critiques delivered in 3 days.

I wish all of my time were up for grabs, but unfortunately it's not. I have a family, responsibilities, and my own creative projects to develop, just like all of you.

So here's my promise: all first-time critiques are FREE. Additional manuscripts or passes, dummy critiques, and page breaks are available for an additional fee. There's no obligation. If my advice or suggestions helped you, great! Come back and maybe we can work on something else together. If not, hopefully you gained something out of the experience to take with you along your creative journey.

My hope is that your work gets published. There were many people who helped me on my road to publication, and for them I will forever be grateful. People who donated their time and advice without question. Because that's the best thing about the children's lit community, we support one another.

So here's my chance to support you.

Happy Writing!

Lindsay