At the risk of dating myself, I’ll mention an old commercial tag line from the 1970’s—“when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”
Tom Watson for E.F. Hutton 1970's. - YouTube
Well, when Holiday House contacts you and asks if you’d like to chat with two-time Caldecott and Geisel Honor book winner Laura Vaccaro Seeger, you also stop everything and LISTEN!
Laura’s latest book is a charmer, snuggle-worthy for the littlest ones. It’s titled, simply, WHY?
I met Laura last year at the Irma S. Black Award ceremony where she served as keynote speaker. She showed us her newest book at the time, BLUE, about a boy and his best friend. (Notice how the die cut on each page forms a new part of the image with each turn.)
Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger - YouTube
Laura, you must know you are the only PB creator to make my husband tear up, as you read BLUE. And he’s never even had a dog! He was incredibly moved. How do you inject so much heart into your stories?
With every book, I try to distill the story down to its essence and I always draw upon strong feelings and beliefs while writing and illustrating.
With BULLY, for example, I’ve always felt a deep sense of empathy for anyone who was bullied or feeling left out, so it was important to me that above all else, empathy is the most important aspect of that book.
BLUE is probably the most difficult book I’ve ever created. It really comes from a deeply personal place. As a young child, I’d experienced the sudden loss of a family member—my brother—and that very complicated trauma was never really worked through. Consequently, I’ve always had an overwhelming fear and dread of loss. BLUE is a kind of therapeutic, cathartic personal exercise, but more importantly, it’s an attempt to offer comfort, as well as a starting point for deeper discussion with young children, (or anyone, really).
Your husband’s reaction truly means a lot to me!
So with your new book WHY?, what did you distill its essence down to?
WHY is a about curiosity, patience, and understanding. The little rabbit is having a bit of an existential crisis, and at one point in the book, the apparently all-knowing bear is faced with a similar crisis as he realizes that he can’t explain everything after all. Ultimately, their loving and enduring friendship is more important than anything, even when there are unanswerable questions. (I’ve always been fascinated with unanswered questions…)
Why do you think WHY? is a child’s most pressing (and frequent) question?
Well, given that children are witnessing everything pretty much for the first time, I think it makes sense that they would seek to have a deeper understanding of what they’re seeing and hearing.
I think adults often take for granted their surroundings, even if those deeper meanings were never fully explored or questioned.
Why are the characters in the book a bear and a bunny—instead of a bear and cub (or rabbit and bunny)? Why is the relationship shown as one of friendship instead of parent-child?
Ah, I thought long and hard about that.
With this book, as with many, I had an immediate vision that I wanted to stay true to. I knew that I wanted one of the characters to be very large, and one super small, which in many ways ended up dictating the decision about whether or not they’re related to one another. I also wanted them to be friends rather than relatives because friendship is a voluntary relationship, which I felt made the story more interesting in many ways.
Also, from the beginning. I’d envisioned a bear and a rabbit, but I did explore a substitute for the bear because I was worried that there might be confusion between the bear in WHY, and the bear in my DOG AND BEAR series. In the end, I felt the bear was undeniably perfect, and I was confident that the character would be distinctive in its own right.
He is distinctive! And so lumpy in a furry-cuddly way. Plus, it’s more visually interesting to showcase contrasting characters!
Speaking of your art, it’s gorgeous, full of depth and texture. Can you tell us a little about your illustration process for WHY?
Sure! With each book, I try to envision an art style that will match the text I’ve written. Hence the multiple, various art styles over the years.
With WHY, I envisioned a softer style, unlike any of my other books. It’s been years since I’ve worked with watercolors, and I had such a great time painting the art for this book!
So, I began each painting with a pencil drawing, and then I painted over the drawings with watercolor paint. I repeated this process lightly, many times, which gave the art depth and a layered feel, without any thick paint or brushstrokes. This way, the softness was retained and the pencil lines showed through.
Once all of that was done, I still felt it needed something – a bit of grittiness and a little more depth. I wanted it to feel more organic.
So, I finally broke out a fabulous gigantic Japanese brush I’d bought a few years ago in Singapore and I soaked it full of water so that it was completely saturated. Then, I brought it into my backyard where I dipped the sopping wet brush into India ink and flung it at watercolor papers. When I was finished, I had a huge stack of paper, each sheet full of splotches, spots, drips, etc. I created so many sheets because I didn’t want to repeat any of the elements.
Then, I scanned my original watercolor paintings and all of the “splotch” art sheets. For each painting, I overlaid several different “splotch” art sheets, I isolated the splotches, and I either lightened or darkened those areas on the original paintings.
Your process is fascinating! I love the thick and chunky Japanese brush!
What’s so lovely about the illustrations is that they feel soft and safe for a young child who is asking WHY, who is questioning the world around them. What do you hope that young reader will take away from your story?
I think with WHY, I’d love to encourage curiosity and the freedom and “permission” to question absolutely everything, which ultimately I believe, would encourage independent thought and informed decision-making. I also hope WHY is an example of patience and understanding, for sure. And lastly, I hope that young readers understand that not all questions have immediate answers, and that’s okay.
What a wonderful take-off point for a meaningful discussion between adult and child.
Thank you, Laura, for giving us a glimpse into your creative process!
Leave a comment below and someone will be randomly selected to receive a copy in a couple weeks.
One comment per person, please.
Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a New York Times best-selling author and illustrator and a 2-time winner of the Caldecott Honor Award, winner of the New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Best Picture Book, and a 2-time winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award. She is also the recipient of both the Massachusetts Reading Association and the New York Empire State awards for “Body of Work and Contribution to Children’s Literature.”
She earned her BFA degree at the School of Fine Art and Design at the State University of New York at Purchase. She then moved to Manhattan and began a career as an animator, artist, designer, and editor in network television. She created show openings and special segments for NBC and ABC for many years and won an Emmy Award for an opening animation for an NBC Special.
Laura and her husband, Chris, have two wonderful sons, Drew and Dylan. They live in Rockville Centre, New York. She loves painting, writing, surfing, boating, tennis, running, playing the piano, and spending time with her family and friends.
In the spring of 2013, two unlikely friends swam onto the picture book scene—Nugget and Fang. From the start, Nugget & Fang, written by me and illustrated by Michael Slack, did really well. I was proud of our standalone. It never even occurred to me to write a sequel.
Then in 2017, my new editor at Clarion, Lynne Polvino, asked if I’d be interested in revisiting a certain underwater world.
Now, all these years later, my favorite fishy friends are back in the SEA-quel, NUGGET & FANG GO TO SCHOOL.
When Fang the shark is invited by his friends to attend Mini Minnows Elementary, he thinks it’s a great idea! But then his first day of school arrives . . . and suddenly, he’s not so sure. He’s not very good at reading or math. He doesn’t exactly fit in with his classmates. And the teacher looks crabby! Can Fang’s best friend, Nugget, and the other minnows help him discover that school really is FANG-TASTIC?
When a publishing house asks you to write a sequel, please know this situation comes with advantages and disadvantages.
You already know your characters.
You already know the tone.
You already know the style.
You already know the voice.
You already know the general setting.
You already know the basic pacing.
The book needs to be written.
The book needs to be at least as good as the original, preferably better.
The book needs to appeal to fans of the original as well as to people who have never read it.
The book needs to meet a deadline.
The book needs to get approval from the publishing house, and, if the book does not get this approval, you can’t submit it elsewhere. Plus, you, um, still have to write a sequel that gets approval.
The book needs to be similar to the original. Oh. But it needs to be different, too.
But how do you actually write a sequel????? In my experience, such a task involves gallons and gallons of tropical tea, endless quantities of chips and salsa from Torchy’s Tacos, and a critique group that reminds you that you can do this.
These are the three things that were most helpful to me as I wrote Nugget & Fang Go to School:
I read the original. Then I read it again. And again. And again. After that, I read it again. This not only helped me to dive back into Nugget and Fang’s world, but it helped me to rediscover the rhythm of their story.
I typed out the text of the original and paginated it. This gave me a clear and concise visual of my pacing and page turns. I kept the paginated text of book 1 right next to me as I worked to create the text for book 2.
I played with words. (Book 1 incorporated lots of wordplay so book 2 had to have that as well.)
First, I compiled a list of the wordplay that I had used in book 1:
Swim for your lives!
Sounds fishy to me.
Oh, my algae!
I feel seasick!
Have you lost your gills?
Catch of the day
Fang’s heart sank.
Fanned his gills.
Wrung his fins.
This served as a cheat sheet. I knew what wordplay absolutely could not go into book 2. I then wrote a long list of different potential wordplay to use in the sequel. These are the items that made their way into book 2:
Other fish in the sea
Oh, my starfish!
Swim for cover!
Cool as a sea cucumber
School of fish
Sea of faces
Best friend in the whole underwater world
Made a splash
A fish out of water
There was nothing fishy about that.
Having lots of new wordplay to choose from allowed me to give book 2 a similar feel to book 1, but it helped me to make the new book fresh as well.
Overall, writing a sequel is quite a challenge, but, if my editor asks me to write another book about Nugget and Fang, well, wild seahorses couldn’t pull me away!
Luckily, wild seahorses aren’t pulling away our giveaway—a copy of the chummy SEA-quel to one lucky blog reader. Leave a comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks!
Tammi Sauer is a full-time author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has 28 published picture books with major publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic Press, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Her book Your Alien, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was recently made into a musical that is currently touring planet earth. (Well, the United States anyway.) Visit her at tammisauer.com and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.
GHOST CAT all began because, well, I have a ghost cat in my house. I never really see it—just darts and blurs out of my peripheral vision. There may be any number of logical explanations for this phenomena but I’m going with the ghost cat explanation.
We had a cat, a black cat, that showed up at our house years and years ago. It just appeared on our porch for several days in a row and eventually my wife, Teri, stated feeding it. I warned her if she fed it it would stick around. And she did, and it did. It came to us as an outdoor cat but eventually became an indoor/outdoor cat. If it had other places to be he was free to go there. He didn’t, preferring to live with us. And he did for about a dozen years. One day I hadn’t seen him around and went looking for him. I found him lying dead in the side yard.
When the cat died, my wife was five or six years into a diagnosis of young-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I had to tell her several times over the next few days that the cat had died. Each time it was like she was hearing it for the first time. Eventually she forgot that we even had had a cat.
Jumping ahead, a year or so after the cat died I ended up having to place Teri in an Adult Family Home. I had been her primary caregiver for seven years of decline but it got to the point I couldn’t do it anymore and still make a living, let alone have a life. I can’t remember if it happened before I placed Teri, but this is when I started noticing the “ghost cat appearances.” Maybe because I was home alone all of the sudden with no responsibilities.
It was always interesting and I don’t think I really believed I had a ghost cat, but I kept almost seeing it. So, naturally, as a writer, I thought I’d write a story about it. I had no idea what the story was, but I knew it would be different than anything I had written before. When I shared the first few drafts with my critique group, I was encouraged by their acceptance and suggestions. A year later, several more drafts, and they told me, “Kevan, this is your story,” which of course it was. I’d written it. “No,” they said, this is YOUR story. You have a ghost in YOUR house.” And what they meant is that ever since I had placed Teri in a home, I really was living with a ghost in my house. It became imperative at that realization that I get the story absolutely right. And I understood where exactly it needed to go. This was a story about loss, moving on, and the permission to love again while never giving up the love that came before.
Publisher’s Weekly said it well…”The heart, it seems, has room for everyone we have ever loved.”
It may also be notable that this is the first time I’ve jumped back into traditional medias to create the art for GHOST CAT. Every book before has been primarily digital. And the illustration style, obviously, is completely different than anything in previous books.
Initial thumbnail for spread 10-11.
First sketch for page 11.
Problem: page 10 and 11 were too similar. And besides that, the boy is not supposed to see the cat, yet he seems to be looking right at it.
Decided to keep page 10 as it was but change the angle on page 11 to more of a profile, putting the cat out of the sightline of the boy. This first rough sketch.
Created final pencil work (I would clean up in Photoshop.)
Created final illustration in Photoshop using pencil lines and the painted sources below.
These are the uncorrected colors and textures I used in coloring most of Ghost Cat.
Kevan, thank you so much for sharing the very personal story behind GHOST CAT–which was released June 11th!
You can win a copy here by leaving a comment below.
A winner will be selected at the end of the month.
Last week I texted Stacy McAnulty because I heard the most amazing news!
Stacy, I just learned your new book MOON! will be on Elon Musk’s next SpaceX rocket. How did you arrange to be the first picture book in space?!
Ha! Wouldn’t that be something. I love seeing my books in stores and in libraries. Knowing it’s in space would be amazing. Yet not as amazing as seeing MOON in the hands of young readers. Astronauts and aliens are welcome to read my books, but I do write for kids.
OK, so your book isn’t going to the moon, but other objects from earth have…and have stayed there to form their own colony! How on earth did a pair of nail clippers get left on the moon?
I wish I knew! NASA has a list of what’s been left behind, but they don’t include the why. And since there’s no weather (no wind, rain, snow, etc.) on Moon, the objects could technically be right where the astronauts left them. However, with hardly any atmosphere, Moon is pummeled constantly by space rocks (asteroids, meteoroids). There’s a chance things have been destroyed by impact—including the nail clippers. If the next astronauts brought back those nail clippers, I wonder what they’d go for on eBay. They probably belong in the Smithsonian.
Now that’s an auction to break the Internet!
In your book, Moon and Earth are besties. But what if we had two natural satellites instead of the one moon—would all three be best friends, or would there be a lot of push and pull between them?
Earth is certainly capable of having multiple best friends. She’s so kind—she lets us live here after all. But I can imagine Moon being slightly jealous of another natural satellite. Moon’s life revolves around Earth. Literally. She’d be a little bummed to share that spotlight. Luckily, Moon doesn’t have to share. Unlike Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus, which all have multiple moons. Moon is a one and only!
We know Moon has many different phases. What do you think is Earth’s favorite look for her BFF?
Full Moon for sure! We get to see her whole, beautiful face. But we don’t want to phase-shame. Moon looks gorgeous all the time. Earth and I agree on this.
Do you have a favorite moon fact that didn’t get into the book?
I learned about synchronous rotation: Moon rotates on her axis and revolves around Earth at the same rate, approximately 27.3 days. That means we see the same face of Moon. I do talk about this in the book, but I never get to use the term “synchronous rotation.” It’s such a nerdy-sounding phrase. I love it. “I suffer from synchronous rotation.” Also, here’s a fun-fact that didn’t make the cut. Moon is moving farther away from Earth at a rate of one inch per year. Bye-bye, Moon!
No, no, don’t go away Moon! I mean, Moon probably likes to get away, but with her best friend. Do you think Earth and Moon like to go out and do things together? Like sing karaoke?
Oh, yes! They’d very much be into karaoke! Who isn’t? Their song would have to be a duet. Maybe “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher. That works!
That’s a fun one! They definitely don’t want to try “Blue Moon” or “Bad Moon Rising”!
OK, kidding aside, you made this entire non-fiction series so fun for kids—by letting Sun, Earth and Moon narrate their own stories. How did you discover that unique angle?
Like all great discoveries, it was by accident. Sort of. I like to tell the story of Earth’s birth when I visit schools. Before I wrote Earth, I wrote a story about a pet rock. It was fiction like everything else I’d written to that point. In the manuscript, this pet rock lived with numerous children for thousands of years—going from caveman times to today. I shared this pet-rock story, and my critique grouped hated it. But what I realized through their candor, was that I wasn’t writing a story about a rock but about Earth. She’s been here a long time and us humans are pretty new. So I penned a story about our planet, and from the first draft, I knew it had to be narrated by the star of the show, Earth! (Of course, Earth is not technically a star.) When I tell this to kids, I always ask, “Was that pet-rock story—that unpublished story that only lives on my hard drive—a failure or a step in the process?” They always give the right answer.
Those kids are so smart! Thanks for chatting with me about your newest book, Stacy.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I recommend kidlit writers secure an agent. Literary agents provide many crucial services that go far beyond selling manuscripts. A good agent guides you through every step of your career—the ups, the downs, the slumps, the triumphs. They are your ever-hopeful cheerleader and your biggest fan (often the smartest one, too). As one literary agent states, “There’s no greater professional joy than championing a book that you believe in and watching the world delight in it.”
Today I’m delighted to interview that agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin. She serves as Senior Vice President of Trident Media Group.
Alyssa, why (and how) did you get into representing children’s literature?
When I was a second-semester-senior English major in college, I suddenly found myself finding a way to tie children’s literature into all my term papers. I wrote one called “Tip Me Over and Pour Me Out” about tea in Alice in Wonderland. And for my History of India class I wrote another about the British Raj in India as shown in the works of Hodgson Burnett and Kipling. I took this as a sign that I was meant to work in children’s publishing. And later that summer when I attended the Radcliffe (now Columbia) Publishing Course, I found myself making a bee-line for all the kidlit jobs, although nobody really used the term kidlit back in 1998.
In the spring of 1999 I was hired by S&S Books for Young Readers where I spent over seven years as a children’s book editor. And in year six of those seven years, when I decided I wanted to segue into the more entrepreneurial pursuit of agenting, I only ever considered doing so if I could be a children’s book agent. I’ve heard it said that children’s literature is the body of literature people know the first and the best, and that’s definitely true for me! Luckily for me, Trident specifically sought out a children’s book agent in the Fall of 2006 and they were open to hiring someone with an editorial—rather than an agenting—background.
How did the years spent working as an editor influence your agenting style?
I think my years spent working as an editor taught me a lot about the importance of having an editor who is an advocate, someone who can really sell the publisher’s sales force on an author’s book and make them realize they have something really special on their hands, as opposed to just another book in a sea of many books that will fly under the radar.
I always try to make editors realize that they need to pound their drums about the book and get the jacket just right if they want the book to really shine.
I also learned about the importance and transformative powers of revision. If I fall in love with an author’s voice, I will still take on the project even if it means a year or two of editing until the plot and the story arc are in the shape they need to be in order to sell.
Can you pinpoint a particular quality that makes you fall in love with a voice?
I’m a huge sucker for setting so the ability to conjure a sense of place that feels palpable always goes a long way with me. When I think back on the books I love, both front list titles and those that I still hold dear from my childhood, the #1 thing that stands out to me is how much I love the characters. So, when voice grabs on and makes me care, like really care such that I’m still thinking about the characters after the fact, then I know the voice has done its job. Lyrical lovely language that I want to quote doesn’t hurt anything either, of course!
I know agents get asked this a lot, but is there anything specific you’re dying to see? What’s on your wish list?
With the popularity of graphic and middle grade novels, I’m trying to expand my stable of illustrators and author-illustrators at the moment. I’m also very influenced by my rising-4th-grader son’s love of shorter books, so I’d love to find more fictional manuscripts for middle grade in verse or alternative shorter text formats that still manage to tell a full, high-stakes story. I’m a huge fan of nonfiction and history, and while the category in younger MG has kind of exploded already, I still think the market could really use a series like I SURVIVED, but for upper elementary age and middle school readers; there’s a big hole for kids after they finished many of the I SURVIVED and WHO/WAS/IS books. And I’m also keen for books that are laugh-out-loud funny, as I never see enough of those in either MG or YA. And I always gravitate towards books with vividly-drawn settings, bonus points for those regional, cultural, and ethnic flavors that I’ve yet to see much of in kidlit before.
Beyond the writing, what else do you look for in a client?
I tend to look for clients who are hardworking, passionate about their craft, and good at marketing. Again, a sense of humor in life as well as in art is a virtue. And also patience is a big plus.
Speaking of patience, can you explain why it’s an important virtue in authors? What do you advise your clients to do during the wait?
It’s rare that things happen exactly as we expect them to. Sometimes books take a long time to sell and sometimes they sell quickly but the contracts due to various reasons take time to be finalized. Sometimes there’s an auction but bidders are on vacation, so the whole timeframe gets pushed back a month. Everyone has their own “dog ate my homework” story when it comes to waiting and publishing. And once the book is sold and paid for, odds are there will be more waiting, whether it’s for an edit letter, marketing plan, illustration sketches, sales figures etc. I always tell my clients to keep busy when their books are on submission: Try writing or outlining new works. Revise your five year goal plan. Get a lot of exercise. Binge watch a worthy show. Spend time in the company of loved ones and dear friends. A watched pot never boils!
Does a potential client have to have a blog and/or a large social media following for you to sign them?
If it’s celebrity- or news-driven nonfiction, having some social media out of the gate holds value when getting editors to read a proposal. But for fiction and more scholarly nonfiction or picture books, it’s certainly not a prerequisite when I go on submission. It’s nice if by the time of publication authors have a way for readers to reach them online. And I’ve had several clients tell me that booksellers have reached out to them on Twitter pre-publication, so again, it does hold value, but I always put the most stock in the book itself.
When you have a client project ready to submit, what steps do you go through? How do you strategize the submission process?
When a project is ready for submission, I love creating a submission list that includes a variety of different editors. Generally, these include a mix of imprints at larger houses and smaller houses, and includes editors at all different career stages. The common thread is that I know these editors to be hungry for this particular type of book. I usually learn who is looking for what by doing research on PubMarketplace and Manuscript Wishlist. And since I’ve worked with a bunch of editors over a number of years at this point, sometimes I also intuitively just know who might like what. Depending on the type of book, I usually submit to be between 8 and 14 editors at any given time. That way, the list is small enough to make each editor feel special. But the body of editors reading is large enough to have a healthy competitive situation if it goes to auction.
Over the course of your agenting career, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
I love seeing client dreams come true, and quite a lot have in my 12+ years as an agent. I’ve had my hands in numerous long-running bestsellers, a major motion picture and the early stages of a Broadway musical. I’ve seen clients win Caldecott, and Printz Honors and Siebert and Belpre Awards. I’ve helped put in motion author tours, conference appearances, and front-of-store promotions, and have been instrumental in keeping titles in hardcover for years. I’ve negotiated offers that doubled and tripled from where they started. But my greatest achievement is overall is not doing anything by rote, and always trying to think outside the box. Because of this, each new situation becomes a wonderful learning experience that often sheds light on the next book…and the one after that.
What changes and challenges in publishing do you foresee happening over the next few years?
Children’s publishing is incredibly competitive with many more agents and one less big six (now big five) publishers in town now, and I wouldn’t be shocked by further consolidation in the future. Clearly bookselling in the era of amazon.com offers up many challenges for booksellers and authors generally. The fact that B&N, after having been owned by one individual for so long, has been recently purchased by an equity firm is leaving a lot of people wondering about the future of book chain retail in the digital age. That said, there are several new kidlit publishers as well as Indie bookstores on the rise, and I think audio originals and graphic and illustrated books are growth areas. As long as libraries and schools continue to have book-buying budgets and people continue to have kids, I’m relatively optimistic about the future of kidlit publishing.
And lastly, are you open to submissions?
I am open to submissions, five pages in the body of a query letter for longer works, complete PB texts in the body of a query, and any art or illustrations inserted as links in a query letter, no attachments. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alyssa, thank you for an informative and engaging interview!
As you all know, the publishing industry works at a snail’s pace. Maybe slower. It takes time to find the right publisher and go through all the steps necessary to publish a book. Writers must be perseverant and patient.
But the actual writing process also takes time. This was the case with my new picture book NO BEARS ALLOWED. Here’s a quick timeline for how things went down, from concept to publication:
2012 Yay! An idea was born. Believe it or not, this book started with an inside joke (but don’t ask me to explain it to you, it makes no sense!). Yet somehow, the phrase “No Bears Allowed” stuck with me. I saw humor in it, and I knew that one day, it would become a children’s book. I tucked it away in my inspiration folder, where it would remain for 3 years.
I was leafing through my ideas one day, and I stumbled across the phrase that I had once fallen in love with. That’s the moment I committed to developing this story. I wrote the first draft, and the second, and so on, so on. I kept getting stuck on the ending, so it took about 8 months to write. Then I swiftly sent it off to my critiques partners, who helped me bring the text to the next level. By the end of the year, I had a polished book. Now, I just needed to sell it.
This was a milestone year. I got my first agent! I did my happy dance for days. In my naiveté, I thought I would soon be swimming in contracts from the Big Five. NO BEARS ALLOWED would surely find its home in a few months, right?!
Nope. That’s not how the cookie crumbled. My then-agent did submit it to various publishers, but never followed up because we had decided to part ways. So there I was, agent-less, contract-less, and feeling utterly and completely dejected.
But wait, suddenly there was hope on the horizon! After receiving 3 offers, I landed a new agent at a reputable firm. My dreams were back on track. Except—this agent didn’t want to submit NO BEARS ALLOWED because they felt it was a “quiet” story.
I decided to take matters into my own hands, and with that agent’s blessing, I subbed it on my own. A few months later, I received an R & R (revise & resubmit) request from Alayne Christian, editor at Blue Whale Press. I revised the text, and they acquired it. It went through several rounds of rigorous editing, but it was smooth sailing after that. We found a talented illustrator, Tara J. Hannon, who not only produced quality work, but did so quickly.
Victory! By May of 2019, I was holding the ARC in my own hands. It was definitely worth the wait. I’m ecstatic that my story made its way into the world. Its themes touch on overcoming one’s fears and resisting the urge to judge others and make preliminary assumptions. If everyone could follow this advice, we would be living in a very different world!
Rabbit is afraid of many things, but most of all he’s afraid of gigantic, monstery, BEARS! The very nervous Rabbit is soon confronted by his worst fear who appears to be far more interested in making new friends than causing Rabbit any real harm. Despite his apprehension, Rabbit agrees to join his jovial new acquaintance for dinner, but wait a minute . . . is Bear planning to “have” Rabbit for dinner? In this tender story about a very nervous rabbit and a lovable bear, Rabbit discovers that things aren’t always as scary as they seem, and sometimes you may just have more in common with others than you think.
Lydia Lukidis is a children’s author with a multi-disciplinary background that spans the fields of literature, science and theater. So far, she has over 40 books and eBooks published, as well as a dozen educational books. Her latest STEM books include The Broken Bees’ Nest and The Space Rock Mystery.
Lydia is also passionate about spreading the love of literacy. She regularly gives writing workshops in elementary schools across Quebec through the Culture in the Schools Program. Her aim is to help children cultivate their imagination, sharpen their writing skills and develop self-confidence. Visit her at lydialukidis.com.
Wait, it’s TWO new babies! Because two brothers star in YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL!
One brother is brand new; the other already knows the ropes. One will show the other how it’s done. And then, vice-versa.
It’s blasting into a bookstore near you TODAY!
Your First Day of Circus School Book Trailer - YouTube
Kirkus Reviews said: “In this feel-good story, an older brother helps his younger sibling navigate the first day of circus school. Whether getting ready for school themselves or relating to the comfort of having a loved one as a guide, young readers will enjoy this upbeat twist on the genre.” And Imaginary Elevators wrote, “Kids will love this book.”
To celebrate the release of my 7th picture book, I’m giving away 30-minute Skypes galore, either for your classroom or for you, if you’re a writer.
To enter, simply tell me your favorite act in the circus. I’ll randomly select 7 classroom winners and 7 writing winners. Just let me know which one you are when you comment below!
I’ve spent the last several months with my head deep in a dictionary, editing THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK, so excuse me if I’m a little definition-sensitive these days. But hear me out. This is important stuff.
How many of you have done this—set arbitrary goals that signal, in your mind, that you’ve become a success?
If I get a literary agent, then I’m a success.
If I get one book deal, then I’m a success.
And then you hit those goals, and suddenly, that definition of success gets tossed out the window.
No, one book deal isn’t successful! Two book deals would be!
And then you get those two deals. But again, it’s not enough to be deemed a success in your eyes.
So you compile an entire list of criteria for success.
A lead title!
A starred review!
Two starred reviews! Three! Four!
An Indies NEXT selection!
A Junior Library Guild selection!
A New York Times bestseller!
The bar of success keeps inching higher. You are forever chasing it, feeling like a failure for not being successful!
But I’m here to tell you, YOU ARE A SUCCESS.
OK, I’m not telling you this just because *I* think you’re a success and I want to be all warm and fuzzy.
Let’s look at the WORD.
Notice that “success” is part of “succession”:
And that the meaning of succession is someone or something that follows another.
The Latin root of both words is succedere, which means to “come after or follow after.”
So all those goals you’ve lined up? And the ones you’ve already hit? They follow one after another after another and they’re the original definition of success—to continue to reach those goals and thus, form new ones.
You cannot say you’re not successful if you have conquered at least one goal on your list. You are.
The real meaning of being successful is forming goals, reaching them, and ascending to a new level, with loftier goals. As long as you are striving, you are succeeding.
Success is not stagnant. Success is always moving forward.
When I opened the envelope containing PAPER MICE, I let out a small GASP! because it was so sweet and lovely. LOOK:
The mice! The color palette! The wood grain! The blue flowered cape! The setting sun!
Marvelous, I thought. So I emailed Megan.
Megan, the book’s opening line is so simple, yet so enticing. “With a snip and a clip, and a clip and a snip, the paper mice were made.” Was this also the first line you wrote? Or did it take a lot of revision to pare it down to just the most essential words?
I just checked my first draft and that is the first line I wrote. Actually, the beginning of the story is still very much intact from the first draft, but after about one quarter the way in, it’s completely different now.
At first I set up the story with that voice, but then jumped into a much different, more dialogue-heavy style. After sharing my first draft with my critique group, everyone gave me similar feedback that they liked the first part best and was there any way for me to carry that kind of feeling through the whole story. So that was my challenge—to take that kind of old fashioned, lyrical voice that had come to me at the beginning and then try to continue that throughout while also telling an active and meaningful story.
Does that lyrical voice come naturally to you? Or did you dig deep to uncover it?
I think being able to get into the voice and mood of a piece in general is kind of one of my writing superpowers. That’s one of the things I’ve always enjoyed and that I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on from even before I was published. But it took me a lot of digging to discover that I could write picture books (I was focusing on novels for about eight years before I really tried writing picture books). And it has taken me a lot of time and many, many (many!) practice projects to understand plot, story structure, and character development.
What is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned about picture book plot, story structure or character development?
How interconnected the three are, and that the plot must develop authentically from the characters wants, needs, and actions.
This is now your fourth picture book. Is there anything new you learned about the process of making a picture book during this project?
I feel like I’m always learning with every project! With Paper Mice, I learned to dig deeper (even when I think I’ve already done so) to really find the theme of the story.
“They were only paper mice, but even they knew night is a mouse’s day…” The mood of this story is perfect for bedtime. What do you think Della and Ralph read before their bedtime?
I think they both like fairy tales and adventure stories, though nothing too scary right before bedtime!
Since the adventures of the Paper Mice are secret, do you have any behind-the-scenes secrets about making the book?
Well, when I was just starting out with publishing, I made a list of “dream illustrators”—artists and illustrators who I dreamed of working with someday. And Phoebe Wahl, though I didn’t even know if she was interested in illustrating kids books at that time, was at the top of my list! I never told anyone about this list. Imagine my surprise when my editor told me that she’d found the perfect illustrator for PAPER MICE—Phoebe Wahl! It was such a serendipitous moment and has always made the project feel extra-special to me.
Speaking of extra-special, I heard you had a rather exciting auction for another project recently.
I’d love to! I recently sold a middle-grade graphic novel (in a very exciting seven-house auction) to Scholastic! The book is called ALLERGIC and is about animal-obsessed girl who is about to finally get a dog of her own—only to discover she’s allergic to animals. It’s inspired by my own experiences growing up allergic to all animals with fur or feathers (but is fiction). Michelle Mee Nutter is my amazing illustrator co-creator on this project—her art is incredible, and I’m beyond thrilled that we could team up. ALLERGIC is scheduled to come out in 2021, and then we will be making a second graphic novel together for Scholastic as well.
Wow, that is amazing! Circling back to PAPER MICE, what aspect of this book do you hope readers will most connect with?
I hope most of all that readers find it a cozy and comforting read, one that makes their life a little less overwhelming and a little bit sweeter and more fun.
PAPER MICE is a delightful, cozy nighttime adventure. It was released this week and is now available anywhere books are sold. Thank you for chatting about it, Megan!
Would you like a copy of PAPER MICE?
Leave a comment below and a random winner will be selected in a couple weeks!
Megan Wagner Lloyd is the author of Finding Wild, Fort-Building Time, Building Books and Paper Mice. Upcoming titles include the picture book The ABCs of Catching Zs as well as the graphic novel Allergic. She lives with her family in the Washington, D.C. area. Visit her at meganwagnerlloyd.com.
As I present winners for the last several giveaways, I want to also make the post useful for everyone, even if you didn’t win a prize. So I asked followers on Twitter what they wanted me to write about…
Ahh, Katie, if only I knew the answer to that! We would all be guaranteed a run-away hit!
But seriously folks, what I do is try to stay on top of what’s being released and what’s coming out so I don’t duplicate something that’s already out there. Has that tactic worked? Scanning announcements in Publisher’s Marketplace and Publisher’s Weekly? Visiting bookstores twice a month? Asking my local librarians what new titles they’ve acquired?
Well, yes and NO. Definitely NO.
I wrote a blobfish manuscript right before a barrage of blobfish books got bought. Nice timing, Tara. I had thought to myself, “I haven’t seen any picture books about blobfish,” which is really code for “everyone is writing a blobfish book RIGHT THIS SECOND!”
Now that doesn’t mean the world won’t want YOUR blobfish book. It’s just that the world didn’t want MINE (at the time).
Unique hooks are like strikes of lightning. Hold an umbrella during a storm and you might get hit. What that means is–be open to all the inspiration going on around you. Something you see or overhear might lead to a hilarious title that inspires a whole new story. Ducks circling my table at an al fresco breakfast led to a knee-slapping title.
Put aside time every day to just sit and daydream. Let your mind wander. Go out in public and eavesdrop.
I happen to like wackiness in picture books. A new book with a fantastic hook IMHO is LLAMA DESTROYS THE WORLD. The llama in the story is so hungry he eats EVERYTHING and creates a black hole. Now that’s ludicrous. And I gotta read it.
What books hook you? Study them. Figure out why. What about the title and premise makes you want to pick them up immediately? And then try to do that in your OWN, UNIQUE WAY.
After all, you’re a unique writer. You’ll find your unique hook.
With my book 7 ATE 9, I began by thinking of a popular schoolyard joke that every elementary student would know. I wanted a punchline to be the title. AND BOOM! “Why was 6 afraid of 7?” smacked me upside the head.
BECAUSE 7 ATE 9!
And then I was off to the races. Seriously. I immediately thought about 6 visiting a “Private I” and things went from there.
For the sequel, coming out in October, I wanted Private I to continue with his punny sleuthing, so after numbers, I naturally turned to letters. AND BOOM! The title THE UPPER CASE came to me for its play on a detective CASE and a letter CASE. Fun times, fun times. (Then it took me over a year to think of the 3rd book’s hook!)
Another fantastic thing I learned about finding subjects for picture books is asking a toy store: what’s new and hot in toys at the moment? Typically trends in toys lead to trends in books. So make friends with your local librarian and your local toy seller!
And now…onto our recent winners! Congratulations to all. I will be emailing you shortly.