Critter Lit

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Fighting the Writing

Craft, Authors, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s craft post is all about fighting the writing.

Being Type-A, I work around a pretty structured schedule, it’s the only way I can get anything done—and I stay pretty busy between all of the plates I’m spinning on any given day. That being said, there are days, more than I would like to admit, where getting words on the page is like pulling teeth. I sit, staring at the computer screen, waiting for something brilliant to come to me, which to be honest, never does when I try to force it. The cursor blinks at me, laughing. Or so it feels…

So how do you pull yourself out of that? How do you sit down and write when it’s the last thing you want to do? The answer is pretty simple, but you’re not going to like it: YOU JUST HAVE TO WRITE THROUGH IT. Write through the fog and the self-doubt and the fear. I’m a firm believer that you have to write a bunch of crap to get to the good stuff. I wish there was a more eloquent way to say that, but I’m sorry, there’s just not. The muse is fleeting and unpredictable, but when she shows up everything suddenly clicks into place and the magic starts to happen. Getting there…well, sometimes it’s hell.

I make the mistake of self-editing while I write. I want it to be perfect the first time I do it, which as anyone who writes knows, is just ridiculous! Writing is revision and inspection and constant consideration. We write because we have too. You wouldn’t put yourself through the agony of it all if you didn’t absolutely have to do it. If it wasn’t apart of who you are, right? Otherwise, you would be miserable constantly.

For me the trick is consistency. Make a commitment to your craft. Do it every day, in some form or another. Now, I say that because I’m not someone who physically writes every day. I tend to be very cerebral with how I work. I used to beat myself up over that, feeling as though I wasn’t writing enough. Conceptually, most of the framework for my books happens in thought, not with actual pen and paper. But I make time for contemplating my work every day, usually on walks with our dog. And when I say contemplating, I don’t mean procrastinating. I mean actual problem-solving. I generally only sit down to write and/or sketch when I feel ready (unless I’m trying to force it, as previously mentioned, which is never a good idea). Sometimes that’s days…months…or years (WHEN BLUE MET EGG is a perfect example of years).

Creatively, everyone works differently. Each manuscript is its own challenge and will require flexibility in variation from you. So don’t do that thing where you go on Twitter and you read about fabulous book deals while your blank document glares at you with its oppressively, blinding light. That certainly won’t help you get to the good stuff. Nor will it inspire you. As much as I love how connective and supportive social media can be, it can also be incredibly distracting and isolating. You have to learn to tune out the white noise. Which I realize is a lot easier said than done. Whether that white noise is you, your peers, or the internet, find a way to unplug and focus on the work.

So now that I’ve told you to make a commitment to your craft, I’m also going to tell you to take a break from it. Often. Creative work, and life for that matter, is all about balance. But it’s really easy to throw yourself off balance and continue stumbling around without even realizing it’s happening. So make time to get away. Experience the world. See new things. Spend time with loved ones. Read a book! Whether it’s for a ten-minute walk or month-long vacation, just step away. I can’t stress the importance of getting out of your own head and re-charging enough.

I’m a list person. They give me a sense of control and accomplishment in my busy life. Which, I know, sounds silly, but it’s oh so true. So I’m going to suggest this: write down your commitments. Your commitment to your craft and to taking a break. How much time will you allow yourself for both? Make a note of that. Then try to stick with it. I find that writing it down makes it more important and real. Preferably in a place where you can see it, first thing, every day.

I know how easy it is for life to get in the way. Day jobs, relationships, kids— they all require precious amounts of your time. But if you are really serious about writing (and/or illustrating) you have to make time for it amidst everything else. Because you have to. It’s what you are passionate about, right?

So go out there and write some good stuff!

Until next time…

Happy Writing!

Lindsay


What’s up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator and art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Lucy Ruth Cummins!

Interview with Debut Author Aidan Cassie

Debut Interviews, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m very excited to share with you the work of debut picture book author and illustrator Aidan Cassie! I received an F&G of Aidan’s debut book, STERLING, BEST DOG EVER, this past summer and immediately fell in love with little Sterling.

Sterling the dog has always wanted a home. But no home has ever wanted him. So when Sterling sees a sign on the side of the Butlery Cutlery Company advertising free "shipping to homes around the world," he is determined to become the most terrific fork ever! For what home doesn't need flatware?

Sterling is delivered on time and undamaged to the Gilbert family's front door. He is not, however, what they ordered. . . . But he may be exactly what they need. A humorous, heart-tugging picture book about finding a family, who wants you just as you are.

Sterling is quite lovable. Just look at the adorable cover below. Our family dog, Sally, was a rescue, so I immediately connected with Sterling’s hope of finding the perfect family and home. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is charming. I hope you enjoy Aidan’s new book as much as I do.

So without further ado, please welcome Aidan Cassie!

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Where do you live?

I live on a west coast island, on the side of a small mountain, in Canada’s Salish Sea, just north of Seattle. It’s a quirky, rural pocket of co-op farmers, naturalists and artsy-folk, but most people here are urban-transplants, like myself. I love island life - our daughter takes a ferry to school while my husband and I work from our home studios (to the great delight of our big red dog, Sooka).

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

While I was working on my degree in animation I started telling stories visually and fell in love with the process. After creating my wordless animated film, I thought I’d naturally write wordless picture books. Instead I discovered my voice, and the wonderful space between the text and illustrations.  I’m fascinated by the way readers/listeners/viewers construct what is happening with what is on the page, as well by the unsaid words and implied images. 

Can you share a bit about your process?

Assuming I’ve settled on a promising story idea nugget, I start by sketching characters to help me visualize the story. Then there’s the “walking and talking in the woods phase” as I envision it playing out like a little movie that I tell myself aloud… rewind, revise, and tell again. Sooka just chases sticks and is very non-judgmental. 

At the point my tale feels relatively solid I often enjoy a burst of drawing and writing. I pare things down to the important visual “shots” and make a series of thumbnail drawings, the same way I’d storyboard for animation. Later I might redraw with a bit more detail onto recipe cards, so I can reorder, add to, and edit the elements. I constantly flip between modifying drawings and editing words. Often the words are last to come.

 When I’m happy with the final flow I scan my sketches and create a digital dummy that has all the text in place for my crit group to read and edit. Later, many revisions later, if my agent likes it, I’ll make some final art samples for prospective publishers. I go back to the tiny 1’ drawings again, this time digitally. I experiment with the color narrative, palette and tonal balance for the whole book laid out on one page. I do each tiny spread’s colour very roughly so as to have a guide when doing final art. I use a Cintiq to create final art, usually with digital water color layers and textures that sit beneath my drawings. 

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

Of course ideas must be caught and gathered as they show up. Sometimes they come from mining strong childhood feelings of my own, but most often they come from the outside; like overheard conversations, observing something strange, a great line in a song, bizarre news stories or by mashing together unlikely things, like dachshunds and forks. And sometimes I just need to put myself somewhere new; we just came back from taking a year to live in Provence; every day in France was brimming with “new”!

Art supplies you can't live without?

It’s a short list; my 2B pencils, and a good eraser.

Maybe some run-of-the-mill photocopy paper too.  All my creations are born of a pencil line on cheap photocopy paper. It allows me feel free to let loose and make oodles of useless doodles. And useless is important. For me, being too precious or careful cramps my creativity and exploration. I like the erasable nature of pencils, so when it comes to watercolor painting (not a forgiving medium), I find I take more risks when I work digitally, because I know there is an “undo”.

Favorite illustrators?

Oh, yes, I love sharing my art crushes!! Birgitta Sif, Isabelle Arsenault, Emily Gravett, Kady MacDonald Denton and, and, and… Chris Riddell, Carter Goodrich, Pierre Pratt and Shaun Tan!

Dream project or book to work on?

I’m feeling pretty lucky that I’m working on a bunch of my own books right now, so things are pretty dreamy as it is. One day I’d love to work collaboratively with a funny author (like Emily Jenkins or Aaron Reynolds), preferably on a ridiculous story jam-cram-packed with dogs - you know, if we’re talking DREAM project.

Tell us about your debut book.

My debut book was inspired by a childhood dog I had, an odd little dachshund. Sterling, Best Dog Ever is about a dog who’s had a hard time finding a home, so he lives in a damp box. When he discovers a fork factory that ships to good homes he thinks he’s found his ticket to happiness. When it occurs to him that the new family, surprised by the little stow-away, may not need a fork, Sterling decides he could be anything if they would just keep him. He’s an expert at adapting, but it takes him a while to understand what this loving family really wants.

What’s up next for you?

I’ve just finished up the final cover art for my second book, Little Juniper Makes It Big, about a wee raccoon who feels too small for everything, and that will come out in 2019. While waiting for edits and feedback on that book I’ve been working on my third book (still at the untitled dummy-book stage) that will come out the following year, both with FSG Macmillan.

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

Wow, “80s movie” feels like a genre in itself – like I need an answer that features the Neutron Dance. But I have to go with animation! As a 9 year old I was completely spell bound by the The Secret of Nimh in 1982. 


Aidan Cassie studied animation and earned a media arts degree at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design as well as Edinburgh College of Art. Sterling, Best Dog Ever is her first picture book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Aidan and her book, visit her website at www.aidancassie.com.

TO ORDER a copy of STERLING, BEST DOG EVER, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of STERLING, BEST DOG EVER?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 18th! US and Canadian addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Craft Post.

Halloween Book Picks | October 2018

Recommended Reading, Holiday BooksLindsay WardComment

Happy Halloween Critters! I know it’s a little early, and we still have the rest of October to go, but Halloween is big in our house. It’s my husband’s favorite holiday (I’m more of a Thanksgiving kinda gal…) but I do love a good Halloween story. So, this month, instead of two new book reviews, I’m sharing a round-up of Critter Lit’s Favorite Halloween Books.

I’m a huge fan of holiday books and now that I have kids, it’s so much fun share them throughout the month with my kiddos. Some of these books are new, some are old, all are wonderful! I hope you take the time to check them out. Enjoy!



What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author and illustrator Aidan Cassie!

Interview with Picture Book Author Anika Denise

Interviews, Vet Interviews, book releaseLindsay Ward1 Comment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we are joined by the fabulously talented Anika Denise. I had the pleasure of meeting Anika and her husband, illustrator Christopher Denise, a little over three years ago at a writing workshop. It turned out we were represented by the same agent. Both are such lovely and talented people, and I’m thrilled to be sharing Anika’s books with you today.

I was first introduced to Anika’s work through her book MONSTER TRUCKS, illustrated by Nate Wragg, which is one of my oldest son’s absolute favorites. So much so that it was the theme of his 2nd birthday party. I mean you can’t beat monsters and trucks in the same book! Seriously—we are on our third hardcover copy. That’s how much we read this book. Thankfully, MONSTER TRUCKS is now available as a board book too, should we need a fourth copy….

Needless to say, we are big fans of Anika’s books in my household!

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So, without further ado, please welcome Anika Denise!

Where do you live?

We live in Barrington, Rhode Island — a tiny town in the tiniest state.

How many years have you been in publishing?

Gosh *counts on fingers* nearly 12 years! 

How many books have you published?

I have six books out in the world right now, and four more coming soon.

Do you write full-time?

Up until recently, yes! For the next year, I’ll be working in-house as a copywriter for a toy company. It’s fast-paced, fun, and different. But I haven’t abandoned my personal writing projects. I do my best to schedule in writing time on my days off. 

What inspires you to create picture books?

My kids, for sure! Having children allows me to experience the world through their lens. It also makes me pause and really consider the world they’re inheriting. In the current climate of divisiveness and isolationism, I’m inspired to create (and support) diverse stories of hope, empathy, and inclusion — especially “own voices” books that invite readers to step outside themselves and see the world through the perspective of marginalized communities.  

What surprised you the most working as an author, illustrator, or author/illustrator?

I think at first I was surprised by how much the work of promoting a book and connecting with readers falls to the author. Now that I’ve been doing this awhile, I have a greater understanding of how many books are on a publisher’s list and the limited resources a single title might have. I’ve come to embrace and enjoy making my own connections.

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

The fame and money. HAHAHA! (Just kidding.) What I love most is the feeling of creating something that didn’t exist until I put in on a page. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to having a super-power. There’s magic in it. And most magical of all is the fact that a kid somewhere is sitting and enjoying a story I conjured. It’s truly rewarding.

What do you find difficult working as an author, illustrator, or author/illustrator?

Well, I suppose (as evidenced in my recent acquisition of a day job) it is making a sustainable living with writing. I’m married to a children’s book illustrator, so supporting a family in a two-freelance income household can be challenging at times.

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

I love creativity journaling. I just received an early copy of a book written by my friend and mentor, Leigh Medeiros, called The 1-Minute Writer (forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.) The book offers a series of unique 1,10, and 20-minute writing prompts. It’s amazing how the ritual of a daily writing practice, even at 1 minute a day, can clear the cobwebs and provide fertile ground for your next story idea. If you’re a doodler—check out Peter Reynolds’s Start With A Dot journal.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Before I write, I light a candle and get the essential oil diffuser in my studio going. I sit for a few quiet minutes and express gratitude. I ask my muses/ angels to show up to support me. It’s a little like prayer, a little like mediation, and a little like visualization. I’m always happier and more productive when I begin this way.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the kid lit community?

The kid lit community has been such a gift, it’s tough to pick just one — but last March, I traveled to the UK with a group of writers and illustrators. We visited famous children’s book sites in England the first week; then spent the next week writing in a castle in Scotland!

And oh! I flew an eagle owl on the castle’s falconry grounds.

What is your favorite picture book?

The Snowy Day is one of my favorite books from childhood. 

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

There have been many highlights, but perhaps the most special was holding the first copy of my forthcoming book Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, illustrated by Paola Escobar. My husband brought the envelope to me as a surprise at my book launch party for Lights, Camera, CARMEN!. For many reasons, but particularly as an author with Puerto Rican heritage, this book is dear to my heart. It took me several years to write. My only regret is my father didn’t live to see it published. He knew I was working on it, and he was very proud. 

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

Don’t ever compare your career to others. In the age of social media, it can be difficult not to. But comparison almost always leads to unnecessary suffering. You do you.

Tell us about your newest book?

My newest book is Lights, Camera, CARMEN! illustrated by the amazing Lorena Alvarez Gómez. It’s the follow-up to Starring Carmen! (Abrams 2017). In this installment, everyone’s favorite one-girl sensación is back, and has her sights on winning a contest to be in a commercial. She enlists the help of her adoring hermanito, Eduardo, but things don’t go exactly to plan.

What’s up next for you?

2019 will be a busy year for book releases. Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré will be on-shelves January 15. Bunny in the Middle, a new picture book collaboration with Chris, releases July 2. And in December, The Love Letter, illustrated by the incomparable Lucy Ruth Cummins, will be out in the world. I’m also revising a new picture book biography on Rita Moreno!

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

Keep going, you’re almost there!

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

The Goonies

Thanks so much for stopping by Critter Lit to chat with us today, Anika! We can’t wait to check-out all of your upcoming books!


Anika Denise is the celebrated author of many picture books, including Lights, Camera Carmen!Starring Carmen!, Monster Trucks, Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and Pigs Love Potatoes. In 2019, to coincide with Women’s History Month, HarperCollins will publish her forthcoming book, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré illustrated by Paola Escobar. Other new titles coming in 2019 include Bunny in the Middle illustrated by Christopher Denise, and The Love Letter illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Anika lives in Rhode Island with her family.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Anika and her books, visit her website at www.anikadenise.com.

TO ORDER a copy of LIGHTS, CAMERA, CARMEN! ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of LIGHTS, CAMERA, CARMEN!?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, October 4th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for Critter Lit’s Must Reads for October!


The Subtle Art of Pagination

Craft, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Hello Critters! This week’s craft post is all about pagination, something that I think can make or break a picture book. All great picture books demonstrate a strong grasp of pacing, which is ultimately determined through the final pagination of the text and development of the manuscript itself.

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Take, for example, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Maurice Sendak has some seriously long, run-on sentences in that book that would even give Nathaniel Hawthorne a run for his money. But it doesn’t matter, because Sendak is a genius. He understood that it wasn’t the structure of the sentence that mattered so much as how he broke it up amongst the pages. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is the greatest picture book of all time for many reasons, but pagination is a big part of that. Sendak breaks sentences in the middle, straddling them across the pages throughout the book, not necessarily in conjunction with the punctuation. In 1963, that was pretty revolutionary for a picture book. Even today, I rarely see authors do that without an ellipsis.

I remember the first time I re-read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE as adult. On the final page, the text reads “and it was still hot.” The line is in reference to Max’s dinner, which we know Max’s mother sends him to bed without in the beginning of the story. The pagination of this line is brilliant. It’s the perfect ending. It leaves the reader wondering how much time has actually passed? Did Max really leave? So many questions arise from this simple collection of words. It’s satisfying, and yet leaves us wanting to know more. It allows the reader to understand that even at our worst, there is still love. Max misbehaves and lets his inner monster out, but it doesn’t change his mother’s unconditional love for him.

Sometimes I wonder what Ursula Nordstrom, Sendak’s editor, thought of his manuscript the first time she saw it. I imagine it would have looked a bit like a short paragraph. The entire book is only made up of 10 sentences, totaling about 338 words. But it’s how Sendak broke those 10 sentences that created such dynamic pacing and anticipation for the reader.

For me, pagination is a feeling. I sit down with my manuscript and read it aloud to myself over and over and over again. I like to test raw manuscripts out on my three-year-old too. I’m always surprised by the lines or details he connects with instantly. As I read, I make a mental note of all the places I naturally pause in my speech to formulate or process the next set of words. Those pauses become part of my timing. I also note any hiccups I come across. Places where I stumble over my own words, or find myself self-editing as I read them aloud. Those are sections that still need revision work, which I finesse until I no longer struggle with them. The placement of one word can make all the difference.

I can’t stress enough the importance of reading your work aloud, whether it’s to yourself or a group. It’s the easiest, fastest way to hear issues in your manuscript. You have to understand how your words sound together when read aloud. It’s absolutely impearative as a picture book author.

Once I feel like the text is in great shape, I consider the reveal. I think of the page turn as a curtain on a stage. Every time the reader turns the page, I’m pulling back the curtains. Showing them what’s coming next. It’s my job to get them excited about turning that page. This is where pagination really helps. As an illustrator, I have the advantage of visualizing the illustrations as I do this, which is incredibly helpful. However, if you are an author-only, practicing and understanding how to paginate your own text will help your writing tremendously. It forces you to really look at your pacing and how it works in relation to your story.

Here’s a great exercise to try for this:

Print out three copies of your manuscript. Paginate each manuscript differently. Cut up the text and paste/tape them down inside of a dummy mock-up. You can use copy paper stapled together for this. Read each version aloud and see how the pagination has changed the pacing of your story. Is there a version you gravitate towards? A version that surprised you? A version that clarified a problem area for you? Usually one pagination will just feel right when you read it aloud.

Generally, if you are an author-only, you most likely won’t need to paginate your own text, the editor or illustrator will do that. BUT, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn to do it and get so darn good at it that it becomes second nature. It will only help you improve as a writer and storyteller.

Until next time, happy paginating!

Lindsay


What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with picture book author Anika Denise!

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author/Illustrator Jen Betton

publishing, Illustrators, Book Reviews, book release, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward4 Comments
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Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m thrilled to share an interview with Jen Betton, the debut author and illustrator of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG. I met Jen while we were both in school at Syracuse. I was working towards my BFA in Illustration when I took an intro class on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, taught by Jen, who was an MFA Illustration student at the time. Adobe Illustrator is actually the only program that I use when I work digitally…which I have Jen to thank for. I’m not sure I would have learned it otherwise. Thanks Jen!

I'm so excited to share Jen’s work with you all today, and I’m sure you’ll see why. Her watercolors are GORGEOUS! And she has this tremendous ability capturing light….I’m a huge fan of her work and I hope you will all go out and read HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG!

So without further ado…please welcome Jen Betton!

Where do you live?

I recently moved to the Dallas area, so I’m still getting connected with the Kid Lit community here.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I always loved picture books; I never really grew out of them. It just took a while to give myself permission to pursue it because I thought I needed to do something more practical! I loved painting and I loved stories, so creating picture books was a natural combination of those loves.

Tell us about your debut book as an author and illustrator?

HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG is the first book I’ve written as well as illustrated! It is about a Hedgehog who feels down in the snout and droopy in the prickles and so goes looking for a hug, but other creatures don’t want to get close to his spines! Fortunately, he finds someone else who is feeling the same way. 

 I came up with this story while I was brainstorming story ideas that involved animals who have a physical characteristic that is at odds with what they want. I love stories where the character has a goal that inherently creates conflict!

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One thing that helped me figure out my story structure was understanding the heart of the story. This is the essential, core theme of the story, beneath the surface-level action. I was brainstorming the ending and I had to decide how Hedgehog would finally get his hug. Hedgehog could have hugged another hedgehog (someone just like him) or a turtle (someone who would not be hurt) but I had an “aha” moment where I understood that empathy was important to the story, and I quickly realized that Hedgehog needed to give Skunk a hug.

Can you share a bit about your process?

If I’m writing the story, then I start with an outline. I really have to get the structure of the story right, and the first draft is almost in bullet points. After that I might start weaving small thumbnail sketches into a storyboard while concurrently revising my manuscript. After I have the basic story arc hammered out, I keep writing, tweaking, polishing. At the same time I’m working on the storyboard with rough sketches, trying to get the composition, the page turns, the expressions right. I try to not to get too far into the drawings until the manuscript is fairly firm, because it’s like working a Rubik’s Cube – every change affects every other part of the puzzle. 

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Next, I start working on finished drawings. For this stage I usually gather a lot of reference materials, sometimes getting friends to pose for photos or taking a trip to the zoo. Then I’ll do some color studies. After all those steps are approved by the art director, I’ll start on the finished paintings. I transfer the drawings to my illustration board, and then I jump in with watercolor. After I’ve taken the painting as far as I can, I’ll often add a bit of colored pencil or pastel for details. Once it is scanned, I’ll touch it up a little bit in Photoshop. 

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

Inspiration, community, and perspiration! I get inspired by both books and people. Reading the beautiful books that others have created and seeing how they solved problems teaches me a lot. I find conferences to be energizing - rubbing shoulders with creative pals. My imagination also responds well to discipline, so participating in Storystorm or checking in with critique buddies for some accountability really helps me. And sometimes it’s really helpful to just do something for fun without expectations of how it will turn out. 

Any art supplies you can't live without?

Strathmore 500 Illustration board. Totally different way to watercolor, and I love it! 

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Favorite authors/illustrators?

Soooo many!! John Singer Sargent’s watercolors are stunning. I love Trina Schart Hyman, Min Ji Kim, Lizbeth Zwerger, Christian Birmingham, Scott Gustafson, Greg Manchess. A couple newer illustrators I love are Jessica Lanan and Corinna Luyken. 

Dream project or book to work on?

Something with a sense of wonder or otherworldliness, like Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers or The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe.

What's up next for you?

I’ve been working on a new story, called ANITA’S FLOWERS, which is about perseverance, failure, friendship, and finding your gift. Hopefully it will be ready to submit soon!

I’ve also been working on some goodies for HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG: coloring pages, an activity kit, bookplates, etc. There is also a teacher’s guide by Marcie Colleen. You can download them here. 

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

Princess Bride and Adventures in Babysitting


Jen Betton loves to draw and make up stories with her pictures. In Kindergarten she got into trouble for drawing presents on a picture of Santa, and she has been illustrating ever since. She wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, published with Penguin-Putnam, and she illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion.

She has a BA in English, and a BFA and MFA in Illustration. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two children.

For more information about Jen Betton and her books, visit her online at www.jenbetton.com or follow her on Twitter: @JenBetton.

TO ORDER a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 20th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Craft Post.

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Beth Anderson

Interviews, Authors, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward10 Comments
 Photo Credit: Tina Wood

Photo Credit: Tina Wood

Happy Thursday Critters! I'm so excited for today's interview with debut author Beth Anderson, whose debut book AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER'S SPELLING REVOLUTION (illustrated by incredibly talented Elizabeth Baddeley) is a non-fiction picture book about how two patriots teamed up to create a uniquely American spelling system. I'm a huge fan of non-fiction picture books, they are a wonderful resource for kids and a great way to expose them to interesting and important topics in an approachable way.

  An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster's Spelling Revolution  written by Beth Anderson, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster's Spelling Revolution written by Beth Anderson, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

So what's AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN & NOAH WEBSTER'S SPELLING REVOLUTION all about?

Once upon a revolutionary time, two great American patriots tried to make life easier. They knew how hard it was to spell words in English. They knew that sounds didn’t match letters. They knew that the problem was an inconvenient English alphabet.

In 1786, Ben Franklin, at age eighty, and Noah Webster, twenty-eight, teamed up. Their goal? Make English easier to read and write. But even for great thinkers, what seems easy can turn out to be hard.

Children today will be delighted to learn that when they “sound out” words, they are doing eg-zakt-leewhat Ben and Noah wanted.

How cool does this book sound?! I can't wait for you all to check it out September 25th when it hits bookstores near you!

So without further ado...please welcome Beth Anderson!

Where do you live?

First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to visit your blog!

I live in Loveland, Colorado, but have been fortunate to experience life in various parts of the country. I grew up in Grayslake, Illinois, then moved to Wisconsin, Ohio, Connecticut, Georgia and Texas. Now, I’m a flatlander who wakes up every morning and marvels at the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I was a kid who always enjoyed writing and received a lot of encouragement from teachers. I took a few feeble cracks at writing for children during my adult life, but (pre-internet) never learned about the industry, studied specifics of the craft, or found my path. 

Then for years, as an ESL teacher, I used literature as a medium for language learning as well as teaching curriculum objectives. I experienced picture books on many levels and witnessed the magic they offered in the classroom and connections they built for learners from every corner of the world. When I retired from teaching, my students asked me what I was going to do. That old “someday” idea bubbled to the surface, and I came clean and admitted I’d always wanted to write for children. Their excitement at the prospect stuck with me. How could I tell them to chase their “someday” if I wasn’t willing to do it?

Can you share a bit about your process?

Once I discovered the joys of narrative nonfiction and historical fiction, I dove in. To start with, I look at various news feeds and other sources for interesting bits of history and current events. If an idea intrigues me, I read everything I can find online first to get an overview, then dig into other sources once I have a bit more direction. Often, what first interested me is the tip of the iceberg, and I discover that there is a more important story behind it. So I gather and organize information (a post on my method HERE), then brainstorm on vital ideas, kid hooks, and structure possibilities.

After all that, I start drafting and revising, getting the story down. Then I examine it, share with critique partners, and start asking the hard questions. How can I frame it to create a marketable hook? How can I enhance the story and emotional arcs? How can I make it matter? (the list goes on…)  Then I dive back into the research for specifics. I read other random articles about the topic or theme or a concept within the story – looking for something that will spark new thoughts. I search out more quotes from the main characters to understand them better. And the revisions continue.

An example of a second dive into research - After revising AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET per an editor critique, I felt like I had lost some of the emotion. So, I reread and looked at additional sources for evidence of just how strong Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s friendship really was.

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

As I mentioned above, newsfeeds from various sources can spark ideas. Also, I often stumble upon interesting tidbits for more stories while researching a manuscript. New ideas can spring from something I randomly read or saw or heard. 

When I’m stuck, really stuck, in the midst of a manuscript, it helps to widen my understanding – reading related articles, checking for You Tube videos on setting or another aspect of the story. And recently I’ve realized (I don’t know why it took this long) that when consulting sources, I need to go beyond the chapters related to the topic and read the introduction and concluding chapter. As writers we know this is where the essence, interconnections, and implications are discussed.  

One example of how exploring related articles can help a story – While revising what will be my second picture book, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT: ELIZABETH JENNINGS FIGHTS FOR STREETCAR RIGHTS, an article on how we tell our hero stories caught my attention. I was already seeing Lizzie’s story as a centerpiece in the context of “standing on the shoulders of those who came before us,” but this article had something more. We tend to portray heroes as super capable people who bring about change on their own. But in reality, no one does it alone. Kids need to know that. The idea that these super people take care of things leads kids to think they don’t have a role. Each of us may not be a leader, but we all can participate.

Anything you can't live without while you write?

A computer with an internet connection, of course! Coffee and snacks also help. 

And taking “while you write” in a larger sense, I can’t live without my critique partners!

Favorite authors?

As I seek out mentor texts and learn from other picture book writers, I’ve definitely found some favorites who help me along this narrative nonfiction path: Barb Rosenstock, Mara Rockliff, Suzanne Slade, Deborah Hopkinson, Jen Bryant, Andrea Pinkney, Michelle Markel, Candace Fleming, and Lesa Cline-Ransome come to mind immediately.

Dream project or book to work on?

I can’t think of any specific project. Just any idea that grabs my heart, knocks my socks off with an urgency to be written, and has a hook that no editor can resist. (And no one has already written it!) 

Tell us about your debut book?

AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET hit me in the heart from the very beginning. Franklin’s quote, “Those people spell best who do not know how to spell,” brought to mind the endearing spelling of young children learning to write using “invented spelling.” I connected as a teacher, as a parent, as a linguistics major, as a history lover. I thought, wow, kids are writing just as Ben Franklin had hoped! 

In many ways, Ben and Noah are opposites, drawn together by their love of language and education and their determination to make reading and writing English easier. When their revolutionary attempts are rejected by the public, Noah keeps trying, and in the process learns that neither fame nor force can sell an idea that people see as just too inconvenient. Though the two great patriots don’t achieve their initial goal, Noah does end up with his great success, the first real American dictionary.

Children deal with our inconvenient alphabet every day as they learn to read and write. This book is my answer to all those students who asked why English spelling is so crazy. Another layer that drew me was “sounds easy, does hard.” I think it’s a great example for kids of how one seemingly simple, sensible idea may have so many consequences. The historical layer not only gives a hint of what life was like in the 18th century, but also introduces the idea that revolutions are not only military, but seep into daily life in varied forms. Elizabeth Baddeley’s creative illustrations enhance every layer of the story and bring a spirit of spunk and joy. 

The manuscript seemed to have special messages for me as a writer about the need to be flexible, patient, and persevere. But what I really internalized was the need to let our ideas “take a chance in the world,” and that often, no matter how hard we push, others will decide the success of our endeavors. So I offer up the book in hopes kids will laugh and learn, connect and question, and be inspired to share their ideas and let them morph and grow into something they didn’t imagine. 

What’s up next for you?

I’m looking forward to sharing AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET with children and experiencing a few more picture books come to life with illustrations and an editor’s magic…

A civil rights story from 1854, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT: ELIZABETH JENNINGS FIGHTS FOR STREETCAR RIGHTS with Calkins Creek is scheduled for spring 2020. I’m currently in suspense waiting to see E.B. Lewis’ sure-to-be fabulous illustrations! 

Then comes “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES: THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF AN ORDINARY MAN AND HIS EXTRAORDINARY NOSE, also with Calkins Creek, illustrated by Jenn Harney, scheduled for fall 2020.  Set in the labyrinth of the 1930s New York City subway, a humble immigrant learns to use his natural talents for the benefit of all—and also finds out what it takes to be a true hero.

And there’s one more under contract that hasn’t been announced…

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

Definitely, The Princess Bride! A classic! Masterful storytelling, unforgettable characters, for young and old, the joy of story, grandfather and grandson, twoooo love, lines that live forever.

AND there just happens to be one line in AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET that was inspired by a line in the movie…can you find it?

Thank you for chatting with us today Beth! We can't wait to see your upcoming titles!


Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. Armed with linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Colorado where she laughs, wonders, thinks, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same.

For more information about Beth Anderson and her books, visit her online at www.bethandersonwriter.com or you can follow her on Twitter @BAndersonWriter, Facebook, or Pinterest.

TO PRE-ORDER AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER'S SPELLING REVOLUTION?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 13th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for Critter Lit's interview with debut author/illustrator Jen Betton!

Interview with Picture Book Author Josh Funk

Vet Interviews, Interviews, AuthorsLindsay Ward4 Comments
 Photo Credit: Carter Hasegawa

Photo Credit: Carter Hasegawa

I had the pleasure of meeting Josh Funk for the first time this past June at ALA in New Orleans. My husband and I attended a party hosted by Two Lions for their authors, librarians, and other book-loving folks. Hours later, in the heart of the French Quarter, I ended up sitting around a table with my husband, Josh, and Sue Fliess (another Two Lions picture book author) talking about books, publishing, writing, and all the bits in between.

For those of you who are in this business, you know how rare it is to get face time with other writers and illustrators, we are usually holed up in our offices or studios, in our own heads, spread out all over the country. Needless to say, it was such a treat sitting around chatting about books that night.

We are big fans of Josh's books in our house and I'm thrilled to share his work with you today!

So without further ado, please welcome Josh Funk! 

Where do you live?

Outside Boston, Massachusetts (in the United States … on the planet Earth)

How many years have you been in publishing?

My first book (Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast) came out in 2015, but I started writing my very first really really horrible picture book manuscript in the summer of 2011.

How many books have you published?

As of today, I have seven books published (but my 8th and 9th will be released within the next month).

Do you write full-time?

Nope. I’m a software engineer during the day. I write books in the evenings, over weekends, and during bathroom breaks.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I really enjoyed reading with my kids - and I think they enjoyed reading with me. I just want to create entertaining picture books for kids and the adults that read with them.

What surprised you the most working as an author?

Every time I see the art for one of my books for the first time, I am blown away by how amazing it is! Picture book illustrators are the most talented artists in the world today!

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

Connecting with readers. There’s no question that this is my favorite aspect of being an author.

What do you find difficult working as an author?

The worst is when you have to cut something out of a story that you really liked (like a good joke or a clever rhyme), but you know the book will better as a whole without it.

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

I think about what I want to see illustrated. As someone who can’t draw, but gets silly ideas in my head, I try to think about what I’d want to see a really talented artist create - and then write a story about that!

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Very little. I kind of just work on things whenever and wherever the mood and idea strikes. As I’m writing books that generally have fewer than 500 words, I can write them on my phone, edit a few words as I’m falling asleep, or change a line in the car (when I’m not driving). I’m kind of a haphazard writer.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit community?

The kid lit community is pretty amazing. I have to say that most people I meet are super supportive. I’ve been a member of a local writing community called The Writers’ Loft (in the Boston suburb of Sherborn, MA). I’ve met so many people who’ve given me critiques, advice, and support that really pushed me in the right direction on the way toward publication.

What is your favorite picture book?

Today, I’m gonna go with Iver and Ellsworth by Casey W. Robinson and Melissa Larson. But I frequently have new favorites as there are so many amazing books created all the time.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

The fact that I’ve published a book at ALL! How crazy is it that there’s a book in libraries, bookstores, and even bookshelves in kids’ bedrooms with words that I wrote?! How did this happen?!?

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

Keep writing new things. You may feel very strongly about your first story - but as you revise and get feedback and learn about the craft and business of writing for children, you’re going to improve as a writer. So your second story will start off in a much better position than the first. And the third will be even better. So don’t revise that first story to death. Write something new. And then write something newer.

Tell us about your newest book?

Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude, illustrated by Stevie Lewis comes out on August 28th! This is the first picture book about Patience and Fortitude, the two lion statues that faithfully guard the New York Public Library (in fact, this book is published in partnership with the NYPL). When Patience goes missing, Fortitude realizes that Patience has ventured inside the library. So for the first time ever, Fortitude abandons his post to search for Patience before the sun rises and we, the readers, get to explore the library for the first time alongside Fortitude.

What’s up next for you?

Next month the third book in the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, Mission Defrostable, illustrated by Brendan Kearney, comes out (on September 25th). In this action-packed adventure, the fridge is freezing over - and Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast have to travel to parts of the fridge they’ve never ventured ... and need to enlist the help of one of their fiercest rivals. Dun. Dun. DUN!

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

Have fun. Keep learning. And don’t give up.

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

Spaceballs.

Thanks for inviting me to chat!

Thank you Josh for stopping by Critter Lit to chat with us today!


Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books - such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including The Case of the Stinky Stench and the upcoming Mission Defrostable), How to Code a Sandcastle (and the upcoming sequel How to Code a Rollercoaster), It's Not Jack and the BeanstalkDear DragonAlbie NewtonPirasaurs!, and the forthcoming Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (in conjunction with the New York Public Library), It's Not Hansel and Gretel, and more coming soon!

Since the fall of 2015, Josh has visited (or virtually visited) over 300 schools, classrooms, and libraries. Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.

Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes manuscripts.

OR MORE INFORMATION about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

TO ORDER A COPY of LOST IN THE LIBRARY or MISSION DEFROSTABLE visit your local book store, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of LOST IN THE LIBRARY or MISSION DEFROSTABLE by Josh Funk?! Comment on this post below or share it on Twitter. Two lucky winners will be announced Thursday, September 6th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next Thursday for an interview with debut picture book author Beth Anderson!

Interview with Picture Book Author + Illustrator Betsy Snyder

Interviews, Vet Interviews, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay Ward2 Comments
 Photo Credit: Donna Von Bruening

Photo Credit: Donna Von Bruening

I'm very excited for today's interview because it's with the lovely and incredibly talented Betsy Snyder, who also happens to be one of my critique partners and a very good friend. I actually knew Betsy's books before I knew her. As a bookseller, I fell in love with HAIKU BABY, Betsy's debut book, the first time I saw it. The art is charming, bright, and fresh. Anyone who walked in to the bookstore looking for a baby gift walked out with a copy of HAIKU BABY. 

Skip ahead a few years later. I had just moved from Boston to Cleveland with my future husband and started making connections with other writers and illustrators in the area. And who did I meet? Betsy Snyder. Sometimes it's really amazing how small the world can be. We had lunch and I clicked with her instantly. Eventually Betsy and I, along with three other lovely and talented women, created a critique group together, which we've been doing for almost seven years now.

 Spread from HAIKU BABY by Betsy Snyder

Spread from HAIKU BABY by Betsy Snyder

I have learned so much from Betsy, watching her come up with creative new ways for kids to interact with books, and I'm thrilled to share her work with you today!

So without further ado, please welcome Betsy Snyder! 

Where do you live?

Independence, OH

How many years have you been in publishing?

12 (What? Twelve?!)

How many books have you published?

21

Do you write and illustrate full-time?

Yes (mostly). My life is a mix of mothering my books and my small children and that balance changes as it needs to. But I write/illustrate as full-time as I can.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I love the way kids learn and explore the world and I seek to make books that support that process and inspire a similar sense of wonder. I was lucky to have a childhood filled with good books and I can remember poring over the pages, studying the details of the pictures and getting lost in the magical worlds books create.

What surprised you the most working as an author/illustrator?

I didn’t anticipate that along with becoming published would come requests for author programs and needing to get comfortable with public speaking. Being in the spotlight can feel intimidating for somewhat introverted creative-types like me that are most cozy in their quiet studios—YIKES! But now, I can genuinely say I LOVE getting out and sharing what I do with schools, libraries, museums and the author/illustrator community. More experience, consulting with educators to hone my programs, and seeing those eager little (and big) faces in the audience have really helped grow my confidence and minimize the jitters.

What is your favorite thing about being an author/illustrator?

Every project is a new adventure! I like the feeling of immersing myself in whatever I’m working on—I learn a little (or a lot) more with each new book I make. It’s so rewarding to be able to help a vision evolve from start to finish and then to finally see a book in print and be able to share it with others.

What do you find difficult working as an author/illustrator?

Starting a new book is exciting, but with that, there is also a murky place where I have way TOO many ideas and no direction or anchor. That’s when I feel lost and stuck and unsure—and sometimes it’s hard to see a way out of that. Each book is a new challenge, so I don’t think this process gets easier—but I am getting better at trusting that my good ideas will eventually take shape and get there with practice and persistence. As Dory would say, “Just keep swimming!”

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

I find inspiration in my kids, browsing at the library or a bookstore, creative chats (like with my critique group), nature walks, and travel.

I especially look at what’s out there and what’s not—my best ideas are often born around opportunities.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Making lists (and losing them—ha!). But seriously, I love making lists and when I broke the index finger of my writing hand earlier this year, I almost went crazy. I have actually found that for me, this brainstorm process is less about holding on to the ideas, and ironically, more about letting them go to clear up more creative space in my head. 

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit Community?

Having work from Tons of Trucks (written by Sue Fliess) accepted into the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show and attending the opening in NYC was definitely a kid lit highlight for me. Mingling with that much talent and passion in one space was pretty dreamy.

What is your favorite picture book?

Do you really think I can pick just one? 

As a kid: Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, and The Funny Thing by Wanda Gag

Now: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee, and When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad

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What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

It’s still hard to beat my first-ever submission becoming a 3-book (and later 5-book) contract with Random House. I’ll never forget my agent’s email with the subject line “Get out the champagne!!!” I’m so grateful my editor Heidi Kilgras saw something in me and helped me get my start with writing my own books.

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

It’s supposed to feel hard—but that struggle doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. 

Tell us about your newest book?

I Can Dream and I Can Explore (May 2018) are the two newest books in the interactive series published by Chronicle Books. In terms of a theme, I Can Dream is centered around aspirational occupations, like a firefighter, astronaut, marine biologist, artist and more. I Can Explore is about being on-the-go—traveling by land, water, air and even snow.

The entire series shares the same format solution, text direction, and empowering message celebrating both independence and teamwork. Touch-and-feel covers and interactive holes on every page invite the reader to animate the characters by wiggling their fingers. Every book ends with a surprise gatefold finish, bringing all the characters together for an inclusive grand finale. 

I had so much fun developing this format and rolling it out over four books (and I still have more ideas!). Working with my Chronicle team was a dream (special shout-out to Ariel Richardson, Tara Creehan and Amelia Mack)—our visions were on the same page from the beginning, so our partnership felt easy and effortless.

What’s up next for you?

I’m working on a picture book with Susanna Leonard Hill. And thinking up new book ideas!

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

There is no one secret path (and certainly no shortcut) to getting published. It’s a journey and experience unique to each person, because we each come from different places and bring along our own influences and talents.

Networking with other authors and illustrators (via SCBWI, critique groups, workshops, etc.) is a great way to learn from the paths of others—and begin to forge your own. Plus, it can be a long road, so wouldn’t you rather have some travel buddies on your journey?

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

The Princess Bride and Dirty Dancing

Thank you so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Betsy!


Author and illustrator Betsy Snyder has twenty years of experience creating for the children's market. Her smile-inspiring art can be found on everything from social expressions products, board games, plush, decor, fabric, wallpaper, and of course—children’s books! Since making her publishing debut in 2007, Betsy has teamed with a diverse mix of publishers, earning recognition from groups including the Society of Illustrators, The New York Times, Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine, Indie Next List, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and Please Touch Museum. Her newest titles, I Can Dream and I Can Explore (May 2018), join the earlier I Can Dance and I Can Play in an innovative board book series with Chronicle Books.

Betsy lives in Independence, Ohio, where she enjoys cozying up to doodle with her art-loving family of four and venturing out to schools and libraries to encourage kids (and even grown-ups) to share their stories and chase their dreams.

For more information about Betsy and her books, visit her online at www.betsysnyder.com. Follow her on Twitter @betsysnyderart or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/betsysnyderart.

TO PURCHASE A COPY of I CAN DREAM or I CAN EXPLORE visit your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of I CAN DREAM or I CAN EXPLORE by Betsy Snyder?! Comment on this post below or share it on Twitter. Two lucky winners will be announced Thursday, August 30th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next Thursday for an interview with picture book author Josh Funk!

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Marcy Campbell

Authors, book release, Book Reviews, publishingLindsay Ward3 Comments
Adrian Simcox Blog Tour.jpg
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I was lucky enough to meet Marcy Campbell a couple years ago at the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, Ohio. I was participating as an author/illustrator when Marcy walked up and introduced herself. She told me how she'd just signed with an agent and they'd recently sold her first picture book, ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE. It's funny because at the time, I remember getting a feeling that the book she was describing was going to be special, different, maybe even make a mark. And I was right. It's been wonderful to watch the word spread about this book. It has gained incredible buzz. In addition to Marcy's wonderfully powerful text (I cried the first time I read it), the illustrations are by the extremely talented Corinna Luyken, whose debut picture book last year, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, was my absolute favorite of the year. Needless to say ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE is a must read!

I'm incredibly honored to interview Marcy and thrilled for you all to hear about her stunning, poignant, and extremely relevant debut picture book: ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE.

So without further ado....please welcome Marcy Campbell!

Where do you live?

Wooster, Ohio.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I’ve always been a writer, since my preschool years when I taped books of my pictures together, but I was never encouraged to pursue it as a “career” and so I did other things first, primarily marketing and public relations. I finally decided to take the leap and got a graduate degree in creative writing. I wrote strictly for adults, however, and after publishing a bunch of short stories, started working on what I’d hoped would be a great literary novel. Then, I became a parent and filled my home with picture books. I think any writer, after spending a lot of time with a certain type of book, will entertain the thought of writing those books. Still, it took me quite awhile to set aside my adult novel projects. I kept a list of picture book ideas and kept adding to it. Then, one rainy afternoon, I was sick and tired of editing my novel, and I opened that idea file and got to work on Adrian. It felt right almost immediately. I won’t say that writing for kids is any easier than for adults (and in many ways, it’s more difficult), but it feels natural, like what I’m supposed to be doing.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I have a very different process for picture books versus novels (I just finished drafting a middle grade.) I’m very methodical about novels and have all sorts of steps throughout the phases of outlining, drafting and revising, but so far, my best picture book ideas have come in a moment of inspiration and were written pretty quickly. I think about the idea for awhile and jot down some notes, but then I wait for that moment when I hear the voice in my head and have a sense of the story’s arc. The writing can then happen in a day. After that, I’ll sit on it for a few weeks, revisiting, tweaking individual lines. I’ve found that the picture book drafts that took me a long time to write tend to not work out in the end. Of course writing processes are very different for each writer, and even different for the same writer across different types of books. It can take some experimentation to find what works best.

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

Nothing beats surrounding myself with a stack of new books. When I’m in idea generation mode, I’ll be at the library a lot, and you’ll see towering stacks of picture books on my coffee table. Inevitably, something grabs me and turns me onto a new idea. I also find that long walks in the woods help a great deal (for many maladies, not just a lack of book ideas). I like to clean or paint (walls and furniture, not canvases) or rearrange things in my house, anything that keeps my hands busy while letting my mind wander. When I’m coming up with ideas, I have a spotless house! When I’m finishing a manuscript…not so much.

Anything you can't write without?

I’m pretty adaptable in terms of location. I write nearly everything on my laptop, so I’m kind of lost without that, though I’ve certainly been known to jot down ideas on scraps of napkin in a pinch. The most important thing to my writing, and general well-being, is a great cup of coffee.  

Favorite authors/illustrators?

Oh gosh, such a hard question. I will say that the picture book that I found most inspirational while writing ADRIAN was Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson’s Last Stop on Market Street. There are so many fabulous picture book authors and illustrators out there, and, having entered the kidlit world kind of late, I’m discovering new ones every week. Jacqueline Woodson’s books have really touched me. When I want some fun, I love Mac Barnett and Bob Shea and Ame Dyckman (especially her work with Zach O'Hora, whose illustrations I love). Lane Smith is a perennial favorite of mine. I’m certainly partial to Corinna Luyken’s illustrations (and I loved her before she did my book, so I’m only a little bit biased). I’m beyond fortunate to be working with her. The most recent picture book I can’t put down (from both a text and illustration perspective) is Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

Tell us about your debut book. What inspired you to write it?

I did know a boy when I was a kid who said he had a horse, but he said he had a lot of things, and his family seemed to be doing well financially, so there was probably some truth to his boasting. I remember, however, that I thought he was lying about the horse in particular. That childhood memory became one line in a list of picture book ideas I started keeping after having my own kids. “Boy says he has a horse and girl doesn’t believe him.” One rainy afternoon, I was struggling with a rewrite of an adult novel and decided to try my hand at a picture book. Chloe's voice came to me quite clearly, and the story took off from there. Over the last few years, I’ve put in a lot of time volunteering at my kids’ public elementary school, which has a high percentage of children with economic need, and I believe those experiences helped shape the story beyond just a couple of kids arguing about a horse and toward issues of class and empathy.

Dream project or book to work on?

That’s a tough one. Thankfully, my dream book is usually the one I’m working on right now. I do think it would be fun to collaborate on some kind of science series with my husband some day (he’s a biologist).

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

Hands down, Back to Future (the first one; I don’t care much for the sequels). I had a huge crush on Michael J. Fox, and there was a year where my friends and I were listening to all this old 50s and 60s music for some reason. It hit all the right buttons. I still get chills when he’s playing “Earth Angel” at the dance, and his parents kiss, and his hand reappears.

Thank you Marcy for chatting with us today! Wishing you heaps of success with your stunning debut and future projects!


Marcy Campbell lives in Ohio with her family and menagerie of rescued pets. Her writing for adults has been published widely in journals and magazines, including Salon. She grew up on a farm filled with cows, chickens, cats, and dogs, but she never had a horse. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse is her debut picture book.

For more information about Marcy Campbell and her books, visit her online at www.marcycampbell.com or follow her on Twitter @marcycampbell.

TO PURCHASE A COPY of ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE visit your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 23rd! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author + illustrator Betsy Snyder!

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)

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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