AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES with Linda Joy Singleton in Celebration of the release of A CAT IS BETTER

Linda Joy Singleton, author of over 45 books ranging from picture books to young adult, has a new picture book out with little bee books.  It’s called A CAT IS BETTER and today, in celebration of its recent release,  I am honored to have her as my guest. I know you will be inspired by her reflections on waiting for inspiration. Take it away, Linda!

WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES

by

Linda Joy Singleton

Writers are often asked if they wait for inspiration to write a book. My answer used to be, “No way! I sit in my chair and write almost every day, until the book is finished.”

But writing my picture book, A CAT IS BETTER, has changed my answer.  I can’t just say, “I’m going to sit down today and write a picture book.” The picture book process doesn’t work that way. I still believe it’s important to write regularly for novels; getting that first draft can be a huge, time-consuming challenge. If you don’t add a few pages regularly, the book may never get finished.

Writing picture books has been a different experience for me. The short format is closer to creating poetry or music, and just can’t be forced.  It may sound cliche, but I have to wait to be inspired before I write a picture book.

Usually when an idea does strike, it’s in the middle of the night or when I’m driving. And if I don’t write it down immediately, the idea could vanish like a forgotten dream. Sometimes it feels like the words are a gift to me from the universe, and I’m always grateful (even for the many books I wrote that never sold).

My first picture book, SNOW DOG, SAND DOG, was inspired by a black and white photo. The next, CASH KAT, was triggered by a money game I played with my grandson.

But writing A CAT IS BETTER was a completely different experience. It was the first time that I was able to successfully ask the “universe” for an idea.

I was a speaker at a writing conference, and sitting in on another session. While others were making picture book dummies, a pre-arranged exercise, I had nothing to do. So I told myself that I would write a picture book. “What topic?” I asked myself. “Cats,” came the answer. Because I LOVE cats. And just like that—an opening line jumped into my head. “Congratulations, I’m your new cat. I’m the perfect pet for you. You may take me home now.”

My theory is that my creative brain whirls in the background of my life, but it’s not easy to access the information. But in this amazing moment, my conscious and creative mind connected. I wrote the first draft in one hour. I rewrote it for a few weeks, showed my agent, and after five rewrites for an editor, I had a contract. And A CAT IS BETTER was a June 2017 release from Little Bee Books.

Since that experience, I’ve had more of these conversations with myself. I saw a photo online that made me think, “Someone should write about this.” I kept thinking about the photo, and a title popped into my head. But I couldn’t think of a plot. I mulled this over, frustrated that no ideas happened. But at 4AM one morning, words popped into my head! I got up, typed quickly, writing a rough draft.

I don’t know if this new book will sell, but it was fun to write. Thank heavens for amazing, almost magical moments of inspiration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda Joy Singleton is the author of over 45 MG, YA and picture books. She’s currently working on the 6th mystery in the MG series, CURIOUS CAT SPY CLUB. In 2017, she has two new picture books, A CAT IS BETTER and LUCY LOVES GOOSEY. She lives in the country with a menagerie of animals, including dogs, cats, pigs, horses and peacocks. She offers tips to writers and resources for teachers at www.LindaJoySingleton.com.

 

 

AUTHOR and ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Pepper Springfield and Kristy Caldwell in Celebration of their newest release: BOBS and TWEETS PERFECTO PET SHOW

Today I am delighted to be doing a joint interview with early reader author Pepper Springfield and illustrator Kristy Caldwell. Last spring this dynamic team made their debut with Meet the Bobs and the Tweets, their first book in the new BOBS AND TWEETS series for emerging readers published by Scholastic. Today they’re here to chat about the recent release of the second book in the series, BOB AND TWEETS: Perfecto Pet Show. Thanks so much for joining us, Pepper and Kristy. Let’s get started.

Question #1: First of all, welcome. Since this is our first time meeting, please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/illustrating. 

Pepper: Thank you Laura, we really appreciate having the opportunity to talk with you about the Bobs and Tweets!

I deftly avoided going to law school after college, instead attending the Radcliffe Publishing Program, and started working at Dell Publishing as a publicity assistant. I worked with really talented adult book authors such as Richard (Revolutionary Road) Yates, Danielle Steel, Belva Plain, Gay Talese, and Gordon Liddy.  I loved my job but I also liked being in school so I went to NYU at night to get an MBA.  Shortly after I graduated, I was approached by someone at Dell who wanted the company to start a classroom book club to compete with Scholastic.  I took the job, started a classroom book club called the Trumpet Club and have worked in children’s book publishing ever since.

I think now is a good time to come clean that my real name is Judy Newman and after running the Trumpet Club for 7 years, I came to Scholastic in 1993 and am now the President of Scholastic Book Clubs.

And while for all those years, I wanted to write a book I never had the courage to actually sit down and get my stories out of my head and onto a piece of paper (yes, paper in those days!).  I am supposed to be an expert on children’s book publishing and I think I was terrified that if a book I wrote wasn’t perfect that I would be exposed as a fraud.  But eventually—decades later—I finally got up enough nerve to start writing, find Kristy, and work with an editor.  But I still felt the need—until very recently—to hide behind my pseudonym…Pepper Springfield. Although I’m still getting used to being an author and having people know that I am Pepper, it’s been wonderful to finally be able to talk openly to wonderful and supportive people like you about my passion for the Bobs and Tweets books and my journey as an author.

Well, henceforth, you will always be both Pepper and Judy to me. I’m so glad you overcame your hesitation to write!  

Kristy:  To me, it always looked like children’s book illustrators had the most fun, but initially I didn’t know how to become one of those people. I always hacked my jobs to incorporate some illustration duties. Everyone needs illustration at some point. Eventually, I moved from Monroe, Louisiana, to New York to attend the ‘Illustration as Visual Essay’ graduate program at the School of Visual Arts. Rachael Cole, the art director of Schwartz & Wade, generously agreed to be my thesis adviser, and she guided me to an understanding of what the process of creating a picture book can be, at its best. I also worked as an intern at Schwartz & Wade during that time. I think I was their first intern! After graduation I participated in Pat Cummings’ Children’s Books Boot Camp. I didn’t have a lot of confidence at that point, and Pat taught me a lot about standing behind my work.

I was very lucky to receive the initial email about Bobs and Tweets based on the strength of my portfolio on the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators website (SCBWI for short).  Judy saw something in my work that made her think I could be trusted with these characters, and I’m so grateful for that.

What a wonderful story of how you got your start! I hope this inspires other illustrators to keep building their portfolios.  

Question #2: I’m so delighted you found each other! Now, Pepper (aka Judy), please us a little bit about the inspiration behind the BOBS AND TWEETS books. And Kristy, what was your creative process for bringing Pepper’s characters to life pictorially?  

Pepper (Judy): I visit many classrooms all over the country as part of my day job and I was always inspired to find books for kids who aren’t great readers—particularly 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade emerging readers—those kids who struggle with vocabulary but don’t want to read “baby books.”  I know those kids need books that have interesting stories and well developed characters that are funny and relatable but easy enough to read if you’re not a confident reader.

We know that rhyme—and engaging color illustration—work really well in helping kids read successfully so I wanted to try an unorthodox format: an 80 page rhyming, fully-illustrated chapter book.

One night the phrase “Bob the Slob” popped into my head.  Bit by bit, I developed that one phrase into a cast of characters who all live on Bonefish Street. There are the Bobs, a family of real slobs, but the youngest member of the family, Dean Bob, is quite fastidious.  He and his dog, Chopper, navigate life with a family who is not above driving their jet ski into the Bonefish Street community pool and building a half pipe ramp for skateboarding in the middle of the street. Fortunately, Dean meets Lou Tweet—the youngest member of the Tweet family of neatniks who have unwittingly moved directly across the street from the Bobs. Lou is NOT like the rest of her family. She loves rock ‘n’ roll and isn’t too neat.  Quickly, Dean and Lou become best friends.

There’s also Mo, the self-proclaimed Mayor of Bonefish Street.  Lifeguard Mark, in charge at the Bonefish Street Community Pool, Ms. Pat, the kids’ incredible teacher, and a whole cast of kid and adult characters.

Kids have a lot of pressure on them—including dealing with complicated family lives—and I wanted to create empathic characters that readers would cheer for and feel connected to.
Meet the Bobs and TweetsI think one of the most gratifying things so far is that Meet the Bobs and Tweets was voted by kids as one of 32 “Young Readers” titles chosen from 12,5000 for the ILA/CBC Children’s Choices 2017 Reading List.  That says to me that kids are finding the books and liking them organically.

I LOVE your phrase “and finding them organically”! That is a great tribute to your books and what we, as writers, parents, teachers etc. want kids to be doing – finding and falling in love with books “organically”!

Kristy:  The characters are so wild and woolly—even the Tweets, who are wound so tightly that they are always a hair’s breadth away from total breakdown—that there’s a lot of fun to be had in the details. The stories really embrace the messiness of family and friendship.

Since it’s a series, the biggest challenge was to design characters kids would want to spend a lot of time with. The Bobs play a lot of pranks, and I wanted to make sure they don’t feel mean. The Tweets can be very rigid, and I wanted to make sure they feel capable of having a good time, too. Pepper (aka Judy) had already done a great job of digging into the characters’ backstories. I think I did three or four rounds of character design before it started to feel right. I have some secret inspirations. I thought about some of the more eccentric members of my family and pulled details directly from them. That helps me think about the characters more three-dimensionally, too.

Note from Pepper: Me too! Some of the characters are definitely inspired by real people in my life.

Yep, I have to agree.  The real-life people we know can certainly be inspirational.  

Question #3: You are only the second author/illustrator team I’ve had the chance to interview.  I’m curious to know how much and in what ways you collaborated in the process of bringing your first book and now this second illustrated reader to final publication stage?  

Pepper (Judy):  This is actually the first interview Kristy and I have done together as a team and it’s so much fun. And you are asking a key question about our collaboration.  I know many picture book authors and illustrators never meet (and I just read about how you met Jane Chapman—your illustrator—for the first time. ).  I do understand how the writer and the illustrator working on a project from different perspectives (and different countries even!)  bring their individual visions to the book to create something special and amazing.

But for Bobs and Tweets I knew I needed to find an illustrator who could collaborate with me along the way at every step.  I was so excited to find Kristy Caldwell through the SCBWI website.  Her portfolio wasn’t that extensive at the time but there was something about the whimsical way she drew that just resonated with me.

Kristy artwork 2011

An example of Kristy’s artwork from 2011 (5 years before Meet the Bobs and Tweets was published!)

She was brave enough to take a cold call and come and meet me for breakfast in Soho and then we just got started. I realized I had to be clear—in the text as well as in my verbal conversations—about who these characters are.  Over many breakfasts at The Cupping Room in Soho in New York City, we worked through the personalities and signature behaviors of Lou and Dean and the whole cast of characters.  Bit by bit we developed these characters over breakfasts—and that is saying a lot since really neither I not Kristy are morning people—but those breakfast meetings were the best for our schedules and creative flow.

I would write about the characters and Kristy would draw them and it felt like magic, watching the two points of view come together. There are so many characters in these books and each of them requires lots of discussion and back and forth. We also want to make sure the world of Bonefish Street includes diverse characters and feels real and relatable.

Kristy: I don’t remember much about our first meeting except that I almost immediately knocked my water over, but I guess it went well from there!

We met the most frequently in the beginning, during the concept stage for the first book. But we have continued to meet in person at critical stages like the early writing and thumbnailing—for Perfecto Pet Show and now for Book Three too. I think it sets us down a good path. In person it’s easy to see which ideas Pepper is particularly excited about, and that’s really helpful. We try to support each other. By talking together in the early stages we also have a rare opportunity to discuss new characters and dig deeper into the community we’re slowly building with each book.

Question #4: Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy? 

Pepper: Because Meet the Bobs and Tweets was a non-traditional format we created a handmade dummy of the text with black and white illustrations.  We sent out about 50 copies of that dummy—along with a survey—to teachers to share with their students and get some feedback.  From those survey responses we knew that teachers would use Bobs and Tweets to do a variety of lessons:  comparing and contrasting, rhymes and rhythm, conventions and usage of standard English grammar, recall and retelling, and more. We actually had a really wonderful teacher send us a lesson plan on these topics that is free to download on pepperspringfield.com!

The original dummy cover and our first student survey.

We are working on a program where kids can say whether they are a Bob or a Tweet, holding up a Tweet or Bob specific paddle, and then explain why they say that.  We’ve been trying this out informally with kids we know and the responses are fascinating.  I think teachers will get really rich lessons when kids use their critical thinking skills and stretch their vocabulary to describe their opinions about themselves within the Bobs and Tweets framework.

We don’t want to make these books too heavy handed or curricular but I do think they really lend themselves to be class conversation starters and generate very insightful and meaningful feedback. Also, to help teachers get some insight into students’ family lives.

Kristy:  A third-grade class did put on a play based on the first Bobs and Tweets book. I was totally blown away. The school emailed me a few photos, and it was inspiring to see how big the actors’ smiles were. I recognized specific illustrations from the book in the painted backdrop, and I think they improved everything!

Like Pepper said, I think the strong contrasts throughout the books are an opportunity for kids to appreciate each other’s unique strengths. The relationship between the Bobs and the Tweets evolves. It was important to Pepper and to me that the “slobby Bobs” get to be the good guys sometimes.

These sound like wonderful extension ideas and I LOVE that a class decided to put on a play based on your first book. That’s a sure sign the loved it!

Question #5: Finally, what’s next for each of you?  Any more collaborative, or independent, works in the pipeline?

Pepper (Judy): It took us three years to get Meet the Bobs and Tweets from that first coffee shop meeting to a published book. Since then we have spent so much time and creative energy developing the characters and the world of Bonefish Street that there is so much rich material to mine for future books.

We love Ms. Pat, Lou and Dean’s marvelous, pet loving teacher who has a real penchant for children’s literature (hint: check out the names of her pets!); the kids in the class, the colorful adults in the Bonefish Street community, and the always surprising Bobs and Tweets themselves.

Right now we are working on a Halloween book for Fall 18 and have lots of ideas for future books and interstitial material.  My dream would be for this world to be turned into an animated series as a companion for the books!  What I have learned in this process, is that if you believe in your characters and your stories strongly enough and have the courage to NOT hide (like behind a pseudonym!) anything is possible if kids love your books.

Kristy: As Pepper said, we are actually at work on Book 3 as we speak! The world of the Bobs and Tweets is growing richer. We get to explore new emotions and new connections between characters, and—not to give anything away—I’m having a lot of fun mapping out all of Bonefish Street, which we hadn’t done before.

I also have a picture book coming up that will tell the life story of Isabella Bird, a trailblazing adventurer who lived in the 1800s. Away with Words is written by Lori Mortensen and will be published by Peachtree Publishers in Spring 2019.

 Congratulations to both of you!  I shall look forward to the Halloween book with many more to follow, I hope.  And AWAY WITH WORDS sounds marvelous, Kristy!  Can’t wait to read that as well. Thanks for stopping by and best wishes for continued success. Enjoy the journey!


About the Author:

Pepper Springfield (aka Judy Newman to close friend and family) was born and raised in Massachusetts. She loves rock’n’roll and chocolate, just like Lou Tweet. And, like Dean Bob, she loves to read and do crossword puzzles. Judy hates the spotlight, but Pepper is getting used to it! If Pepper had to choose, she would be a Tweet by day and a Bob at night.

About the Illustrator: 

Kristy Caldwell  received an MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts. She is a full-time illustrator and part-time Tweet. While working in her art studio in Brooklyn, NY, Kristy gets her creativity on like Lou Tweet, drinks tea like Dean Bob, and hangs out with her energetic dog, Dutch.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan in Celebration of the Release of her Debut Picture Book MRS. MCBEE LEAVES ROOM 3!

Today I am honored to have debut picture book author Gretchen Brandenburg McClellan as my guest in celebration of the recent release of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, illustrated by Grace Zong and published by Peachtree Publishers.  It’s the story of a class saying goodbye to their beloved teacher – a perfect book for this time of year!  Thank you so much for joining us, Gretchen. Let’s get started – with my questions in blue to match your delightful cover.

Question #1: What inspired you to write Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3? 

For many students, school is their ground. Their sense of security is rooted in the geography of the school–knowing that Ms. A’s room is there and Mr. B’s room is across the hall. (Many very young students believe teachers live at school!) I’ve had students who were heading off to middle-school ask me through tears if I would still be in my room the next year. They needed to know that this part of their lives was stable as the tectonic plates of their lives shifted.

This connection to the geography of the school inspired me to write Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3. Originally, Mrs. McBee was leaving to move to a new school, but my editor and I decided to expand the possible reasons why Mrs. McBee might be leaving by not being specific. Teachers leave for so many reasons: to have babies, to return to the university, to move to a new school or away from the area, to change careers, to care for themselves or family members who are ill, or finally to retire. All of these moves are bittersweet.

Around the time I was writing this book, a dear friend and former co-worker was dying of breast cancer. She had to say good-bye to her own elementary classroom and her students to her. I was able to share the sale of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 with her and my decision to dedicate my book to her. It brought us both a bittersweet joy, knowing she wouldn’t live to see the art or the book in print. A memorial library has been established in her honor at Hathaway Elementary in Washougal, Washington where we taught together. I look forward to adding Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 to her shelves. I am sure she would love it!

I always love hearing the stories behind a book’s dedication. How very special that you decided the book to your dear teacher friend. I’m sure that means a lot to her family.

Question #2: Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey?

My journey writing for children started with motherhood. I was passionate about reading and passionate about the kinds of toys I provided my kids. I was just as passionate about the toys I didn’t want them to have. At that time, I was involved in an advocacy group in my area that promoted creative play called SNAP—Support Non-Aggressive Play. I read a picture book by Charlotte Zolotow called William’s Dollabout a boy who wanted a doll, much to the disapproval of his father. I couldn’t find a picture book that addressed the concerns that so many of us in SNAP had about violent toys. So I decided to write one. My manuscript, Joseph and His Toys,f eatured a boy who was not allowed to have violent toys and the creative ways he found to feel a sense of power and control over “bad guys” and find a sense of justice. At a local book fair, I met children’s author Erik Kimmel and asked him how to submit my book for publication. He told me to join SCBWI, get the manuscript in the mail, and focus on writing my next story. At that time I didn’t intend for there to be a next story. But I was a goner. I fell in love with picture books and writing picture books and both have been my passion ever since.

Question #3: Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 is your debut picture book.  How does it feel to be “post-publication”? What do you like best about this exciting new stage?  

The joys and challenges of being a debut writer are still unfolding, and I expect more surprises along the way as I go through my debut year. The best part of this new stage is sharing my book with children in schools and bookstores. In schools I ask teachers to select a student who needs a little sparkle in his/her life to pass on a little magic wand to, and when I start my presentations I say, “Somebody must have a magic wand out there, because my dream is coming true right now.” The child is delighted to hold up the wand and I am just as delighted to explain how the dream of being an author isn’t complete without having kids to share books with.

I am also having a blast writing and improving my presentations and activities that go along with the book. At first I felt like I was working on a Masters in Anticipatory Anxiety and was really apprehensive about the public/performing life of being an author. But I’ve switched programs and now am heading straight to my PhD in excitement and joy. I love being an author and presenter!

Ha! Love that Masters in Anticipatory Anxiety and I think your magic wand set up is absolutely brilliant. And I’m so happy to hear that you’ve almost earned that delightful Phd!  =)

Question #4: As a former reading specialist, what three tips would you give parents for keeping the love of reading alive over summer? 

 Three tips for keeping the love of reading alive over the summer are 1) join the summer reading program at the public library, 2) have books available everywhere for kids to read, including the car, bathroom and tent and 3) share books together regularly. I firmly believe that children should be read aloud to through grade school for a multitude of reasons, including their development as readers, because reading comprehension doesn’t catch up with listening comprehension until about sixth grade. Reading aloud has so many positive effects on family relationships too. And it is so much fun! The health of the audio book industry attests to the pleasure of hearing a story read aloud. Who hasn’t wanted to keep on driving to finish a chapter or remain sitting in the driveway to listen to just one more?

These are wonderful suggestions. My daughter’s in sixth grade and we still love reading aloud to each other!  

Question #5: What’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  

I am very excited about three picture books releasing in 2018. I’m Done!, illustrated by Catherine Odell, is about an impulsive and playful little beaver who finally learns what it means to be done (Holiday House, Spring 2018).  When Your Daddy’s a Soldier, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is the story of a brother and sister whose father goes off to war (Beach Lane, Fall 2018).  Button and Bundle, illustrated by Gillian Flint, tells the story of first friends whose world is disrupted when one moves away, but who find a way to preserve their special world of play even though they are miles apart (Knopf, Fall 2018).

Thank you so much for joining us, Gretchen.  It’s always fun to share in the joy of a debut book release!

IMG_8515e edit-1 (2)BIO: Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan is a former elementary reading specialist who now devotes herself to writing for children and visiting schools as an author. She just celebrated the release of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, illustrated by Grace Zong (Peachtree) and looks forward to the release of three more picture books 2018. She is an active tribe-member of SCBWI and writes chapter books and middle-grade fiction as well.  

Gretchen grew up as a global nomad, daughter of a career Army officer, and lived on three continents.  She has settled in Camas, WA where she lives with her husband, cat and dog, stunt squirrels, nomadic neighborhood chickens, and celebrates when her children and grandchildren come home. Children will find a home in her heartfelt books about community, courage and compassion.

When she isn’t writing or teaching, Gretchen can be found playing word games, hiking in the woods, x-country skiing and attending plays.  Please visit Gretchen at gretchenmclellan.com for more information about her books, events and author visits. 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Laurie Wallmark in Celebration of her Latest Release – GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE

Grace cover 100dpi 3x4

Today I’m delighted to have children’s author, Laurie Wallmark, as my guest. Laurie and I met several years ago at the NJSCBWI annual conference, and I’ve been impressed by her passion for highlighting the careers and lives of notable women in the science field.  Her first book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), celebrated the life of a 19th-century female mathematician who is considered to be the world’s first computer programmer.  Her newest book, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling, 2017) celebrates the life of Grace Hopper, a 20th century female trailblazer in the field of computer programming.  Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code is engaging, informative, and fun and has already earned strong reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and more. Welcome, Laurie and let’s get started.

Q: What inspired you to write Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code?

A: Since I teach computer science and am a former programmer, the early years of computing fascinate me. Grace was among the first computer scientists. I’m amazed at how her insight and creativity shaped the world of computers today

Q: There are so many fun – and fascinating – moments in this delightful picture book biography, including one particularly amusing moment involving a bug. What was your research process like? Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you? 

A: It’s interesting that you ask about that computer bug. I had always heard that Grace discovered a moth in a computer relay, which caused her to coin the word “bug.” Well in doing the research, it turns out neither part of this sentence is quite true. Grace was not the person who discovered the bug, but rather someone on her team did. And as far back as Thomas Edison, the word “bug” was used to describe a glitch in a mechanical device. Grace was the first person to use the term “computer bug,” though. This is why research is so important when writing nonfiction for children.

Q: Most of your text is written in creative nonfiction, but on many spreads you also have special text that is set apart in large and colorful fonts. Can you share with us why you chose this distinction? 

A: Grace was known for her witty sayings, and the set-apart text contains some of the most interesting ones. Because not all of her quotations would easily fit as part of the story, we chose to separate them out like this.

Q: Katy Wu’s illustrations really enhance your text. I love the mid-century funky feel she creates in each spread.  What was it like to work with Katy?

A: In general, and that was true in this case, the author doesn’t work directly with the illustrator. Instead, my notes and suggestions went through my editor and the art director. I provided Katy with lots of pictures of Grace, computer equipment, and even a math problem to show on the blackboard. I was fortunate that Sterling solicited my opinions on the illustrations. That’s not common.

Q: Finally, teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum, and I think that’s especially true for a STEM rich book like this. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy? 

A: On the teacher page of my website (http://www.lauriewallmark.com/teachers.php), I have a discussion guide for use with this book. Among other things, it includes the following activity:

Is there some gadget or gizmo you wish existed? Write the name of your invention and what it does on a blank sheet a paper. Draw a picture of what your invention might look like. Share you invention with your classmates and describe how it works. Listen as they explain about their own inventions.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Laurie.  I wish you the best with this remarkable new book.

Laurie-Wallmark-100dpi-4x6BIO:

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and several national awards, including Outstanding Science Trade Book and the Eureka Award. It is a Cook Prize Honor Book. Her recently released picture book biography, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star and was well-reviewed in several trade journals. Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. When not writing, she teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Click here to join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her picture book biography, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code.

Follow Laurie on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurie.wallmark
Twitter: @lauriewallmark
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/lauriewallmark/

 

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Mary Morgan in Celebration of PIP SITS

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Author-Illustrator Mary Morgan’s newest book, PIP SITS  (I Like to Read®), released last month. Published by Holiday House as part of their I Like to Read Series, it’s the sweet story of Pip, a porcupine, and the little ducklings who think he’s their mama. PIP SITS has received some lovely reviews.  Kirkus Reviews calls it “A good read for hatching new readers” and SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL compliments Mary’s illustrations as “endearing”.  I’m thrilled today to have Mary as my guest. Thank you for joining us, Mary!  I believe this is the first time I’ve had an author-illustrator here to chat about a book!  Well, let’s get started.

What is the inspiration behind PIP SITS?

 I was inspired by an antique photograph of a young girl sitting in the grass with many ducklings on her lap. The look on her face was pure joy. I tried to find an original idea that would also capture the bliss children have when relating to animals. I thought about birds imprinting on whoever they first see when they hatch. I have raised baby birds and it is very interesting to have a tiny bird imprint on you. So this was how the idea of the story was hatched.

How wonderful for your readers, Mary, that you had the creative instinct to write a story based on these bits of inspiration. 

PIP SITS is not your first book. Tell us a little bit about your journey as an author/illustrator.

I was born in Chicago and grew up in Kansas City. My summers were spent in Tulsa with my grandmother where I first took art classes at the Philbrook Art Gallery and later was an assistant art teacher. I could do what I loved there, draw! My grandmother always encouraged my art with trips to the ballet and art museums. She let me keep all kinds of animals to draw from: mice, guinea pigs, chicks and even a small bat. My father’s nightly readings of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and the Wind in the Willows also inspired me. I was enthralled by these books and knew I wanted to create books too.

What a wonderful way to grow up!  And I’m so glad you listened to that inner voice that said “I want to create books too!”

Since you are my first author-illustrator, I know my readers will be extra interested in hearing what your process was like as both author and illustrator in creating this story.

I wrote the story in a rough form first. Then I made many character sketches of Pip, the porcupine. After this, I imagined the scenes in the book. I drew very rough ideas of what the images would look like on each page.

Then I rewrote the story many times working out all the details. When at last I was content with the story I did the finished drawings.

I find it interesting that you wrote the story first.  I, for some reason, imagined that you would begin with sketches. But, I can see that both are integral in your creative process.  Fascinating!

Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

 My web site is www.marymorganbooks.com. On my web page there is a section called, fun page. There I show you how to make dragon pizzas, draw a dragon and help Little Mouse find another place to sleep. Here is an example…

In the book, Sleep Tight Little Mouse, Little Mouse found many places to sleep. He slept upside down with bats in a cave, inside kangaroo pouches and even in a bird’s nest. Can you think of other ways animals sleep that Little Mouse might like to try?
Make a drawing of him sleeping like these different animals.

That “Fun Page” is a treasure, Mary. I also did a little poking around, Mary, and discovered a terrific  educator’s guide for PIP SITS available at Holiday House.

Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books and other work for sale?

I have many projects I am working on. One is a fantasy about a young girl that migrates with the Monarchs. I hope this story will bring interest to the difficulties the Monarch Butterfly is having with its environment. I am also working on a book about a bilingual bird and another about magical tutus. My books can be bought on Amazon.com.

Thank you so much for joining us, Mary! 

About the Author

Mary walkingAfter studying art at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Instituto de San Miguel de Allende in Mexico; Mary worked as an illustrator at Hallmark cards for ten years.

Mary illustrated her first book in 1987. In the past twenty years she has illustrated over forty books, many of which she also wrote: from Jake Baked a Cake, Sleep Tight Little Mouse to her most recent book, Pip Sits.

Mary and her husband divide their time between France, their home is in a small medieval village, Semur en Auxois, their sailboat, which is now in The Canary Islands and their families, especially their grandchildren!

 Web site: www.marymorganbooks.com

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Annie Silvestro in Celebration of the Release of her Debut Picture Book BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB!

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Today I’m delighted to have children’s author, Annie Silvestro, as my guest. Annie and I met several years ago at the NJSCBWI annual conference and I’ve enjoyed following her (and cheering her on) in her writing journey.  Her debut picture book BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss and published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers, releases this month. The story of a book-loving bunny who sneaks into the town library and borrows books for all his forest friends, KIRKUS REVIEWS hails BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB as a “sweet salute to reading” . And in its review, PUBLISHERS’ WEEKLY states that Annie “makes the pleasures of reading abundantly clear.”  What’s abundantly clear to me is that Annie has a gift for charming storytelling. Welcome, Annie and let’s get started.

Your love of language is evident in BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB. How was that love developed?

Thank you for saying that! I have always been a reader and my love of language goes hand and hand with that. One of the many joys of reading is recognizing that perfect word, sentence, paragraph, or passage that stands out and elevates the story.

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Author Annie Silvestro as a child.

Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey. 

I have always loved children’s literature, but it took me a while to see myself as a writer. I first attempted to write down a beloved story that my father told me growing up. I failed at that, but the experience gave me the courage to keep trying and to come up with my own ideas. Once I found the SCBWI, it was a done deal.
Do you have writing advice for children? Adults? 

For children who are writing, my best advice would be to recognize that your first draft isn’t your only draft. Writing also means lots and lots of revision.

Good advice in general is to read as much as you can. Listen and observe the world around you. Ideas are everywhere. When you are lucky enough to get one, write it down! Just as quickly as ideas can appear, they tend to disappear as well.

 BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB is your debut picture book.  How does it feel to be “post-publication”!  What do you like best about this exciting new stage?

It is the most amazing feeling! So far the absolute best part has been photos that friends and family have sent of their kids holding or reading my book. It is surreal and wonderful and I haven’t fully wrapped my head around it. I am feeling all kinds of grateful, too, for the support I’ve received. It’s unbelievable.

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A young fan enjoying Annie’s book!

Finally, what’s the one question that you wished I’d asked but didn’t.  


I wish you had asked me about Picture the Books! Picture the Books is an incredible crew of debut authors and illustrators with books coming out in 2017. It is so fun to share this journey with such a talented group! You can find us all in one place and learn about our books and more here.
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Annie Silvestro is a lover of books who reads and writes as much as possible and can often be found shuffling piles of them around so she has a place to sit or someplace to put her teacup. Her picture books include BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Doubleday Books for Young Readers), MICE SKATING, illustrated by Teagan White (Sterling, Fall 2017), and THE CHRISTMAS TREE WHO LOVED TRAINS, illustrated by Paola Zakimi (HarperCollins, Fall 2018). Annie lives by the beach in NJ with her husband and two boys who like to read, and a cat who does not. Visit Annie online at: www.anniesilvestro.com and on Twitter and Instagram: @anniesilvestro.

GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE: Launch Party!

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There’s an ADORABLE new picture book out just in time for Valentine’s Day called GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE.  Written by Diana Murray and humorously illustrated by debut picture book illustrator, Bats Langley, GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE (Sky Pony Press, 2017) is the story of an appealing young monster who wants to make his sweetheart the perfect valentine. Unfortunately, he’s also hungry! The story is funny and cute and would make a wonderful addition to your Valentine’s Day book collection.  I also find it amusing that it’s currently listed as #1 at Amazon in the category “Children’s Spine-Chilling Horror” and “Children’s Valentine’s Day Books”. That’s quite a combination – and a winning won!    

To celebrate it’s release, the AFA Gallery in SoHo hosted a monstrously delightful book launch event.  The three hour event included…

 book-themed treats…

lots of opportunity to chat with author and illustrator…img_3830

and, of course, books to be signed !

Many of Bats Langley’s preliminary sketches were also on display and for sale.  img_3832

I hope these pictures give you a sense of the magic, not only of the event, but of the book itself.  I can’t wait to share my newly signed copy with all my teacher friends as well as our children’s librarian.  Happy reading, all!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR:

Diana Murray is a poet and picture book author whose other books include City Shapes, Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch, and Ned the Knitting Pirate. Diana’s award-winning children’s poems have appeared in many magazines, such as Highlights and Spider. She lives in New York City with her husband, two very messy children, and a motley crew of lizards, snails, and fish.

Bats Langley grew up in Wolcott, Connecticut and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. His art has been shown in galleries in New York City, Los Angeles, Hangzhou, China, and has even been displayed in the United States Capitol building. Mr. Langley has also been a regular contributor to Ladybug and Spider magazines. This is his first picture book. He resides in New York, New York.

Guest Post: CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD – A Glimpse into the Book’s Dedication with Author Glenys Nellist

Bestselling Zonderkidz author Glenys Nellist has a new book out called CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD. Recommended for ages 4 – 8, this delightful picture book brings the significance and wonder of Christmas to life through seven vivid Bible retellings, each gorgeously illustrated by Rachel Clowes. Today, in celebration of the book’s recent release and as part of her blog tour,  I am honored to have Glenys as my guest. I know you will enjoy her reflections regarding the book’s dedication. Take it away, Glenys!

The only thing she ever wanted was a cottage. Instead, she got cancer.

I think about her a lot, especially since I’m the same age she was when she died. Fifty-seven. It’s no age at all.

My mum, like me, was born in a little town in northern England. How surprised she would have been to know that in 2000, I flew over the pond and emigrated to Michigan. She would have loved to visit me here. 

My mum lived a quiet, ordinary, hard-working life, managing to raise eight children, support her husband as he went to college to get his degree, and take care of a big old house. Hence her desire to live in a little cottage. But it wasn’t to be. She deserved so much—my mum. 

And so when my editor asked for my dedication for Christmas Love Letters from God, it was an easy choice. How could I dedicate it to anyone else but her—when she was the one who made every Christmas magical and memorable for me? 

Every Christmas morning, all eight of us would line up, according to age, outside the living room door. It was shut tight. My little brother, the youngest, was always the first to go in. I was fourth in line. It was an agonizing wait as we shifted from foot-to-foot, anxious to be able to peep around the door to see if ‘Father Christmas’ had been….and of course, he always had. The tell-tale bite in Rudolph’s carrot on the hearth gave it away, along with the few crumbs that remained of the mince pie we’d left for Father Christmas.

As we eight children peered expectantly around the door, the lights on our little Charlie Brown Christmas tree were always lit, the eight red socks dangling over the fireplace were always stuffed, and the room was completely bulging with toys, and tinsel, and presents piled high on every chair. It was a room full of love. That was my mum. And that was my Christmas morning. 

She never knew that I became a teacher, married a pastor and had four children of my own, or that we continued that fun tradition of lining up outside the living room door every Christmas morning. She never knew I became an author. But I hope she somehow knows that her name is on the very first page in Christmas Love Letters from God, where it so richly deserves to be.

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When you pick up that book, any book, turn to the author’s dedication and read it. You can be sure that whoever is mentioned there is a rich part of the author’s story, just like my wonderful mum was, and is, so much a part of mine.

Now for the GIVEAWAY!!!!! Zonderkidz is offering a free copy of CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD to one lucky winner. Thank you, Zonderkidz! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of this beautiful book, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Rachel Clowes, simply post a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box ) and be at least 18 years old to enter.) The contest ends Thursday, 11/24/16 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced next Friday. THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER.  To see the winner, press here.

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Bio: Coordinator of Children’s Ministry for the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. Zondervan children’s book author of two popular series: Love Letters from God and Snuggle Time. Glenys is a writer with a passion for God, her family, and children’s ministry. Check out her blog tour here.  Enjoy the book trailer here.  

Find out more about Glenys and her books here:

 

GUEST POST: On Revising and Never Giving Up with Tami Charles

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Today I am delighted to have children’s author Tami Charles as my guest.  Tami and I first met at a NJSCBWI gathering at a local tea shop.  She was in the midst of revising her first novel,  LIKE VANESSA (Charlesbridge 2018).  This summer, again, we organized our own little writers’ retreat and  spent a lovely day on my porch (and inside, too ,because it was dreadfully hot) revising our current works-in-progess.  Disciplined, smart and funny- she knows her stuff.  Take it away, Tami!

So, you wrote a picture book. You received feedback from your critique partners. Your agent has given it her stamp of approval. She submits it to editors and you sit back and wait for the offers pour in. New York Times Bestseller list here you come!

But then, the unthinkable happens…

(Cue horror film music.) 

Radio.

Silence.

Several months pass, your hair turns grayer, and the rejections start rolling in—nice ones, albeit. The feedback from the editors is pretty much the same, and you just know what you have to do…revise.

Revisions can sometimes be painful, especially when you’ve already revised your manuscript many times over. But there’s no time for wallowing. It’s time to put a new spin on your story and here’s how to get ‘er done:

Step 1: Take your old manuscript, ball it up, and throw it in the trash. Follow this cathartic moment with a beverage of your choice.  (Iced, skinny caramel latte, anyone?)

Step 2: Go back to the trash and take out your manuscript, silly goose! (Then wash your hands, please!)

Step 3: Strap on your big kid boots and get ready to freshen up your manuscript. Clearly, it was good enough to be subbed out in the first place. It just needs more work. So here are a few tricks to get the ball rolling:

  • Gobble up those mentor texts. Read as many books as possible that fit the theme of your story. Sure, you probably read comp titles when you first wrote your story, but that was a long time ago.  There are new books on the shelves waiting to be explored. Read them. Study them.
  • Rewrite your story in a different verb tense. Is your original manuscript written in past tense? Try writing it in the present. Or take a risk and write it in future tense. Don’t be afraid to experiment with verb tense until your story feels shiny and new.
  • Change the point of view. Did you write your story in third person POV? Consider switching to first person. This will give your reader insight into how all the characters are feeling—not just one.  You could also try second person POV, which if done right, can be an enjoyable reading experience. There are several books that do this well. Some of my favorites are: “Warning: Do Not Open This Book” by Adam Lehrhaupt and “How to Raise a Dinosaur” by Natasha Wing.
  • Rethink your setting. I speak from experience on this one. A few years ago, I shopped around a picture book that had only one setting. Agent feedback was basically the same. Can the characters go somewhere else besides the kitchen, so that the story doesn’t feel stagnant? Challenge accepted. After many revisions (and several lattes), I created additional settings to help move the story along. And guess what? I got an offer! Hooray! Try this tip and thank me later.

Step 4: Submit and MOVE ON! Once you’ve done the necessary revisions, go out on another round of submissions. It may take a while, but trust me, your “yes” is waiting. Use the down time to work on your next manuscript.

Here’s the hard truth: The kidlit universe is a tough industry to crack. Whatever you do, do not give up. You are full of stories and the world needs to hear them. I wish you productivity, creativity, and lots of luck as you revise.

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BIO: Recovering teacher. Amateur gardener. Debut author. Tami Charles writes picture books, middle grade, young adult, nonfiction, and enjoys the occasional work-for-hire project. Her middle grade novel, LIKE VANESSA, debuts with Charlesbridge in spring, 2018. She also recently sold two picture books, but can’t spill the beans just yet! For 14 years, Tami served as a public school educator but now writes full time. She is represented by Lara Perkins, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and lives in Central New Jersey with her husband, son, and a family of deer who take pleasure in annihilating her garden.

Connect with Tami on Facebook,  Twitter and at her website: http://www.tamiwrites.com

 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: “A Handful of Books” – Miranda Paul and her picture book 10 LITTLE NINJAS

 

Miranda Paul has a new picture book out with Knopf Books for Young Readers.  It’s called  10 LITTLE NINJAS and, today, in celebration of its recent release,  I am honored to have her as my guest. I know you will enjoy her reflections regarding the book’s dedication. Take it away, Miranda!

It’s unusual to have five books release within 18 months, especially when they’re your first five, and picture books. 19 months ago, no one could walk in a store and pick up one of my titles. With the recent release of 10 Little Ninjas, there are now five—a whole handful—on the shelf. Phrased that way, I can understand why some people might try and lump me into the “overnight success” category. People mean well, and I know their intentions are good. But when I reflect on the journey to publishing children’s books—decades since working on my first literary journal—it’d be hard to phrase it such a way. Even my latest book, 10 Little Ninjas, had a meandering path.

10 Little Ninjas began as an idea when my youngest child was in his high chair (he’s now going into second grade). I finished the first solid draft of it in 2012 or 2013, and my agent promptly advised me to “hold off” on it. Big bummer. But instead of getting upset or mad (for more than a day, anyway), I went to work. I revised it over the next 18 months—with critique help from veterans such as Linda Skeers and Kelly DiPucchio—and decided to send it back to my agent. This time, it was a go.

After several rejections, we had a bite. An editor loved it. But the marketing/sales team wanted some revisions. I ended up rewriting it three times—I always, always take a stab at a revision request—and then watched it get dropped after acquisitions. In a Hail Mary pass, it went to an editor at Knopf who was so new there, she hadn’t yet acquired a single manuscript.

The manuscript (which now had three distinctly different versions) was revised a few more times, including going back to the original manuscript’s ending, which turned out to be best of all. It took a couple of months to find a great illustrator—Disney Pixar animator Nate Wragg—and then the process of developing the book began.

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It’s very easy for me to tell stories like these to kids, showing them my file folder with more than 30 drafts of a single work, or the pile of rejection slips. They understand what it’s like every single day to not get what they want, to struggle and work at something, or to have ideas turned down. They want to feel included, to be praised, and most importantly, to feel loved.

10 Little Ninjas is a fun bedtime book at its core. It’s a romp, a rhyme, and a celebration of kids’ imagination and the chaos of parenting. Nate Wragg’s illustrations capture a multi-racial family, which I am excited to see in part because it parallels my own immediate family (kids don’t always look like their parents or their siblings, and it’s nice to see more books reflect that). As writers, our career and work is so public, and yet…so personal.

Each time you publish a book, an editor will ask you for the book’s dedication. Dedications are special, so for 10 Little Ninjas I chose to include my Grandma D. She passed away eight years ago, after battling cancer on and off for a decade. If there was ever a soul who knew how to wrangle toddlers into bed (and how to love them without question), it was she—who gave birth to seven of her own kids plus took in fourteen foster babies over the years. The book is also dedicated to my parents-in-law, who raised ten of their own children—without running water or TV—and now have more than thirty five grand and great-grandchildren.

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Some people will gloss over or miss entirely a book’s dedication page. But I love reading them, along with the acknowledgements and author’s notes. These small parts of a book are a window into how much time, how many people, and how much perseverance goes into making a great book—even one that’s only a couple hundred words. Books with layers, the ones that you can read again and again and get something new each time, are my favorite. I hope others will find that layered love within books, and cherish them. Happy reading!

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Miranda Paul is an award-winning children’s book author who visits schools and libraries frequently. Her June release, Trainbots (little bee books), received national buys from multiple chains, including the organic grocery giant Whole Foods. Her newest release, 10 Little Ninjas, is an Amazon Best Book of the Month for August. View the book trailer, made by her own daughter, on YouTube and be sure to visit her online at www.mirandapaul.com.

 

AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!!  If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of 10 LITTLE NINJAS (Knopf Books for Young Readers, August 2016) leave a comment below.  (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Sunday, 8/21/16 at 11:59 pm EST. THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER.  Press here to see the winner.