Paper People: Randi Mrvos

Just over one year ago, I was fortunate to celebrate the release of a friends debut picture book and be a part of her ‘book launch team.’ It was a wonderful experience and it gave me the chance to pay her back for the kindness she had shown me, not to mention watching someone actually cross the line from pre-published to book-in-hand, true, blue published author. You know how they say ‘time flies when you’re having fun’? Well, time flies when you’re writing picture books as well and here we are, celebrating her Book-iversary! I love how this conversation came full circle, with an interview before, a book review during and another interview after! Read on as my friend, Randi and I talk about all that she’s learned with MAGGIE.

 

Randi, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, before we get started, can I get you something to drink? I’d love a cappuccino, please.

Mmmm, a woman after my own heart.  So as we settle in here, I’ll get everyone else caught up to speed. I first interviewed Randi last July when her debut picture book MAGGIE AND THE SUMMER VACATION SHOW AND TELL was about to release.  If you aren’t familiar with the book, it’s a charming story about ‘keeping up with the Jones’ and the struggle to find contentment in our own possessions/experiences.  Randi, I have to ask, because I so often struggle with this and hear of others feeling the same.  Did you live out MAGGIE’S struggle at any point in the process? Did you ever find yourself comparing your writing journey to others? How do you combat this struggle? Being published by a small press, I constantly compared myself to others who had been published traditionally.  They had better opportunities of being featured in the local newspaper, getting book reviews, and having libraries buy their books.  I wasn’t jealous, but I struggled with getting the attention I thought my book deserved.  So, I had to remind myself that this was my journey, this was my book.  I found solace in knowing that Maggie is a powerful and heartfelt book.  It awards readers with a story that shows kids about animal rescue and how to deal with peer pressure.

Oh, it does all that and so much more. I know that MAGGIE had a windy, bumpy road to publication. (You can read about it, and the first interview I did with Randi here.)   I know you’ve spent the better part of the past year with your efforts and energy focused on marketing and book promotion.  Was it difficult to continue writing during this process or did it spark your creativity? As soon as my book was accepted for publication, I dove into researching how to promote a book.  For months, I lived and breathed marketing.  Though I wasn’t able to spend time on developing new stories, I was able to tap into my creativity by designing bookmarks, composing announcements, and creating unique tabletop displays for book signings.

How did you find Cactus Moon Publishing? Did you know they would be a good fit or was that just a stroke of good luck Actually, it was hard work and luck.  I submitted Maggie to 50 agents, but without any success.  I put Maggie on the shelf while I worked on other projects.  Several years later, I decided to hire manuscript editor Mary Kole.  We worked on several stories, including Maggie.  That’s when I realized how much I loved the story.  Maggie was revised and then submitted to five more agents, one of them being Melissa Carrigee.  She loved the story, too.  Fortuitously, she had just become the creative director for Cactus Moon.

I know that there are pros & cons to working with any publishing company, but you can speak to the indie publisher experience. For instance, I remember you had a say in picking the illustrator, which is something authors seldom get to do. What were the perks of working with a small press? Is there anything you would do differently? There are pros and cons to publishing with a small press.  On the positive side, publishing with an indie press is generally much faster than with a traditional press.  We’re talking nine months from acceptance letter to the production of the book.  I also had the good fortune to choose an illustrator, to select the font and page layout, and to design the book cover.  This is unheard of with traditional publishers.

On the downside, small presses usually cannot pay for much marketing or for the Kirkus and School Library Journal reviews.

If I had to do things differently, I wouldn’t have gone whole hog on spending.  My publisher was not able to reimburse me.  Now I know the importance of making a budget and only buying marketing tools that have been proven to work.

I was lucky enough to be a part of your book launch team! How much work went into planning out your ‘book launch’ strategy? How did you decide where to spend your energy? What were some of your biggest marketing lessons? I spent months on developing the launch and putting together the perfect team.  Most of my energy was spent on getting the word out on social media.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was to listen to my heart.  You see, some people told me I should use Pinterest and Instagram to promote my book.  And I did, but those platforms did not bring great results.  My advice would be to market a book in a way that feels comfortable, organic, and naturally right for you.

As of August 23rd, you’ve been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-anniversary! Seems like we should be toasting something other than coffee! I suppose I should have a glass of champagne!

Cheers! Do you remember the first time you saw MAGGIE on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment! I was so excited to see Maggie in the children’s section of a prominent bookstore in my hometown, Lexington, Kentucky.  My baby was sharing a shelf with kindred picture books!  Shh…don’t tell anyone. I turned the cover facing outward to take a picture of the amazing cover and left it turned out so people could discover it.

Book on a shelf

What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I was surprised to feel depressed and sad after my book was published.  While there is no greater joy than holding your book, I felt like a failure in terms of marketing.  I had hoped to sell more books.  I also felt let down by some friends.  It was shocking and disappointing.  However, times like these taught me lessons about people and showed me my true friends.

I know that you’re hoping to find an agent in the near future. (Lucky you, you have plenty to put in the ‘publishing credentials’ section of a query.) What’s your research process like? What are you looking for in an agent? My research consists of googling literary agents and going to the Manuscript Wishlist.  Writer’s markets books and guides can’t stay up to date as fast as the internet.  In terms of an agent, I’m looking for someone who is supportive, optimistic, gets my humor, and appreciates my voice.

Do you have anything else coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media?     Yes!  I’ve written a humorous kid’s book and a lyrical picture book.  And they’re both about cats.

It would be awesome if the fans of Magnolias and Manuscripts would connect with me on LinkedIn  and check out my blogs The Maggie Project and Children’s Writer’s World along with my website. I promise there is something valuable and fun for everyone.

You’re definitely one of the hardest working women I know! Thanks, so much, for taking the time to visit with me! My pleasure!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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The Waiting Place.

“Waiting for the fish to bite

Or waiting for wind to fly a kite

Or waiting around for Friday night

Or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

Or a pot to boil or a Better Break

Or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

Or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.”

 

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again… the pursuit of publishing is not for the faint of heart! The rejections will knock the wind out of your sails, sure, but by far the most challenging ‘nearly-make-you-lose-your-mind’ part is all… the… waiting. To be fair I don’t even know about the kind of waiting that comes when a book is ACTUALLY being published, which is a whole other breed of monster I’m sure (which I imagine feels a lot like a 24month pregnancy.)  I’m only talking about the waiting that comes after you finally hit ‘send.’

I’ve been doing my research, right? I believe I have ‘enough’ picture book manuscripts that are ‘ready’. (Though who ever really knows how much is ‘enough’ and when something is really ‘ready’?) I also have been paying close attention and have had an opportunity to submit a couple of those manuscripts to editors that are looking for something similar to what I have to offer.  So, I feel better about my chances than I have in a while. (I’m also having a déjà vu.) Taking it one step further, I had an exciting local opportunity that presented itself but was not without its own waiting game. Here I am, twiddling my thumbs, checking my inbox 157 times a day, each time simultaneously bracing for a rejection and hoping for a ‘revise and resubmit’ or maybe even a “Hey, I like this. Let’s talk!”  It’s enough to drive a girl crazy, I tell ya! Thankfully, I remembered the wise words of Dr. Seuss,

“NO!

That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape

all that waiting and staying.

You’ll find the bring places

where Boom Bands are playing.”

The short version of a long story? I didn’t find ‘boom bands’ but I did find a paintbrush. Here’s what I’m working on…

piggy bank, etc

Both the piggy bank and the heart are symbols of some of my favorite works- in-progress. With the help of a few good songs, leftover craft paint and a quiet weekend afternoon, I channeled all of my ‘waiting’ anxieties into these projects. It didn’t completely erase the bouts of impatience, but I’m checking my email a lot less, and I reset my focus. For one I got my BIC and wrote this long overdue, post. (Am I right, Ali?)  I often forget, and eventually remember that creativity, away from my laptop is the best salve for an anxious itch. If you find yourself in a similar restless place, for whatever reason, try channeling those energies in a totally different direction! You might not find an answer, but I can almost promise you’ll have fun.

Want some good news? I have another great Paper People Interview coming your way. Next week, Randi Mrvos will join me again. The last time we talked her debut picture book was releasing and she’ll be joining me to talk about all that she’s learned in the past year.  If you want a refresher, check out my first interview and review of her delightful book MAGGIE AND THE SUMMER VACATION SHOW AND TELL.

 

Ps- I’m 1 for 3 on good news replies.  Eeek!

(Oh, and in case you didn’t know Dr. Seuss quotes are found in OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!)

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Paper People: Katey Howes

Just under a year ago, I started this interview series with the hope of making connections with up and coming authors, picking their brains about the release of their debut picture books and learning the stories behind some of our favorite stories.  I was incredibly fortunate that one kind connection led to another and the interviews quickly picked up steam.  I’m sure that I would’ve found a way otherwise, but the gracious and generous Katey Howes is the one who put me in touch with my first few authors.  I’ve been anxiously awaiting this month to interview Katey and discuss her gorgeously wise debut picture book, GRANDMOTHER THORN.

Katey, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, before we get started, can I get you something to drink?Thanks! I’ve had to cut back on coffee lately – since it’s good when a book gives you heart palpitations and bad when caffeine does it. So now my drink of choice is a pomegranate sparkling water. In a coffee cup, if you don’t mind. (I can still pretend.)

Well that sounds deliciously refreshing. I applaud your efforts but I’ll keep coffee in my cup. Cheers to you and GRANDMOTHER THORN!   I’ve said this to you before, but I give you so much of the credit for helping get this interview series off the ground! I’m not even sure why you were so nice to me, but I’d be willing to bet it has something to do with paying it forward.  Who were some of the people who helped you when you were first starting out?  How did you find your way, at least this far, into the kidlit-sphere? Well, I can’t say I deserve any credit, but I am thrilled to know that I helped you recognize how valuable and important your voice is to the kidlit world. We should all surround ourselves with people who remind us that our perspective matters, and who challenge us to do, be, and imagine more for ourselves than we think possible.

Among those people for me – now and I’m hoping forever – are my kidlit family from All the Wonders, my debut group at Picture the Books, and my Critique Pandas. (I mean, partners.) But it took me years to develop those relationships. I started my author journey, as many do, feeling like an outsider.

When I attended my first SCBWI conference in New Jersey in 2014, I was so lost. I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I just really wanted to write a book, you know? Despite my utter naivete and painful anxiety, both Ame Dykeman and Tara Lazar made me feel welcome – and nowhere near as clueless as I thought I was. I owe them both a debt of gratitude for the simple acts of being kind and willing to answer questions from a newbie.

At the same time, I made connections through the WordPress community. I’d just started a blog about raising readers, and other bloggers like  Vivian Kirkfield, Patricia Nozell, and Darlene Beck-Jacobsen were lifting me up through their encouragement, interest, and kind feedback. I feel blessed to have them all in my life, and I’m determined to keep passing the encouragement along.

I’m a BIG fan of Matthew Winner’s podcast! I clearly remember your interview with him, back when it was still All the Wonders (now called The Children’s Book Podcast.) It was fantastic! You talked about GRANDMOTHER THORN and how you might not have had the courage to write it, had you known then what you know now about what’s ‘acceptable’ in picture books. (aka- you should have a child protagonist, you must follow the rule of three, the main character has to solve her own problem etc. etc. etc.) Like so many aspiring authors, I struggle with the ‘rules’.  I want to honor what works in this industry while still holding on to my own authentic voice.  Do you have a similar struggle?  How do you combat this? That was such a fun podcast! Aside from me being a nervous wreck, of course. But the best thing about it was hearing someone I really respect delve deeply into my book and share how it resonated with them. You don’t need that reaction, that connection, from everyone. You just need it from someone. The first time you read through a page of reviews of your book (not an activity I’d highly recommend), and you see how many varied opinions one story can evoke, you start to realize that you can’t please everyone, no matter how many rules you follow – or break. What I personally take away from that knowledge is that I need to simultaneously respect the traditions of the genre AND trust those things my instincts and my art bring to it that no one else can. And that doing so will often end in publishers saying “not for me” – but will sometimes, gloriously, end in “this is exactly the book I’ve been looking for.”

In GRANDMOTHER THORN, you teach a powerful lesson that I’ve read was a personal one for you.  Its interesting for me, because out of my three children, who all love the book, the one who loves it MOST is my middle child and he has the hardest time deviating from the norm.  I know on some days it’s ‘exactly the book HE’S been looking for’, so, thank you for sharing.  How did your experience with a stubborn vine morph into this gorgeous story? Did you have an ‘Aha’ moment at any point in your process? Please, tell your kids how much I appreciate hearing that they love the book. That’s the best part of being an author. My middle child is also the rule-follower of my three, and I’m a middle kid, too – so maybe there’s something significant there. I’ve always thought we middles were good at balance – but lately I’ve been wondering if what we’re really good at is pleasing others to keep the peace, and if following the rules is part of that. That’s a kind of balance that often doesn’t weigh our own happiness heavily enough.  But I digress. (I’m super good at digressing. Wonder if that’s a middle-child thing, too.)

I did, indeed, have an “aha” moment when I realized I was battling nature and that, given all the other constraints on my time and energy, I was not likely to win. It was one of those lessons life tries to gently teach you over and over again – that it’s OK to have finite resources – until it finally has to hit you in the face with it. Or with a raspberry bush. And so a story was born.

Wait! I’m a middle child too! Happy belated National Middle Child day. It’s the best place to be.  So, now that I’ve taken us off track too, I want to ask about your school visits. I remember ONE author visit in my entire elementary school career.  I wish I had been exposed to more at a younger age! You seem to have a wonderful plan in place for the schools you visit. How did you develop your process? What’s your main focus once you’re in front of the students? I haven’t done a lot of school visits yet, and each one is a still new experience. I have a list of possible topics and I have a deck of standard slides, but mostly I like to talk to the librarian or teachers who are hosting me and plan a unique program that’s going to support their curriculum and maybe open up some new inquiries and excitement in their students.  We might focus more on the idea of being “imperfectly perfect” for a school that wants to emphasize character development.  For a group with a new Makerspace or thriving garden program, I might focus instead on science concepts that relate to the books. I’m getting more and more comfortable with large group assemblies, but I’m really in my happy place with smaller groups –I like the personal connection to the kids, and the flexibility to cater to their curiosity. Skype visits are great, too! Aside from the inevitable tech hiccups, it has been such a joy to interact with kids I wouldn’t necessarily be able to travel to see.

I can imagine how rewarding it is to make connections with the students, via real life or skype life. What do you struggle with the most? Do you have any advice for authors just starting out on how to tackle this wonderful, unique and no doubt, overwhelming opportunity that comes for authors? I’m sure there are other authors who have this whole school visit thing down way better than I do. I often find myself wishing I could draw – because I’m super jealous of the presentations I see illustrators giving at schools! Or wishing that I didn’t shake quite so much when I’m up on an auditorium stage. And I’d love to have someone else handle the whole booking and contract and payment side of things! I’d say my best moments are the ones that feel natural – when I’m answering honest questions or telling personal stories or listening to kids’ big ideas or just being a total goofball and it feels less like a “school visit” and more like a room full of friends who all love books and get excited to talk about them.

On August 29th, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! That’s only five days away!! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? What? Really? I honestly can’t believe that it’s been a year. And a busy one, too! 2 books released, a move to a new house in a new state, and a big learning curve on things like bookstore events, school visits, and book festivals. I hadn’t planned a celebration – but maybe I should! Maybe there will even be coffee. Or maybe I’ll treat myself to another bookcase.

There is ALWAYS room for more coffee and another bookcase.  I dream of living in a house with bookcases lining ALL THE WALLS.  I support both! So, do you remember the first time you saw GRANDMOTHER THORN on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment!  My publisher, Ripple Grove Press, arranged two events at Portland, Oregon bookstores to coincide with the launch. Both the publisher and illustrator live in Portland, and I have family there, so I flew out to join them. I have to tell you, it was an incredible thrill walking into the iconic Powell’s Bookstore and seeing this display in the children’s section:

grandmother thorn, booktalker

We had an amazing turnout, and Powell’s sold out of copies. So, of course, I stole that little booktalker sign.

How did you get it on those shelves? Did you have any marketing tricks up your sleeve that you used for the books release? There’s only so much control an author or illustrator can exert over sales – but I was determined to give it my all. Since Ripple Grove is a smaller press, there was no guarantee the book would find its way to big bookstore shelves – but I knew that indies are more flexible in their ordering and will really hand-sell and support books they love. I visited bookstores that I could drive to, dropping off catalogs and chatting with booksellers even though self-promotion makes me sick to my stomach. Sometimes I sat in my car for 40 minutes, just getting up the nerve to do it – but it was almost always worth the effort.

I emailed museums and botanical gardens with Japanese garden exhibits, and I basically begged everyone I knew across the country to bop into their local bookstore and request a copy and to suggest the store carry a few more. I sent bookmarks everywhere!

I moved just a month before the book’s release, which meant I didn’t know the area especially well. Luckily, an author/illustrator in my new town, Jennifer Hansen Rolli, was incredibly generous with her knowledge and connections. Right away, she introduced me to Kathy at the local independent bookshop – Newtown Bookshop. Kathy is one of those amazing booksellers who knows every teacher and librarian and ravenous reader in a three-town area, and she has been a huge support for me. I highly recommend dropping in her store anytime you are north of Philadelphia.

What crazy timing, not to mention your second picture book was released not long after your first. (MAGNOLIA MUDD AND THE SUPER JUMPTASTIC LAUNCHER DELUXE) What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry?  Having two books come out in quick succession – and having them be such different books -made me a little nervous. One book was thoughtful and lyrical and more artistic, one funny and science-packed and more commercial.  How was I going to “sell” myself in the industry without a niche, a brand, a recognizable “oh yeah, she’s the one who writes the (fill in the blank) books”? I’d heard that authors should build a track record of similar books…another one of those rules that are, it turns out, pretty flexible.

Thank heavens for my wonderful agent, Essie White, who has been telling me since the day I signed with her that my versatility is a strength, not a detriment. She knew, even if I didn’t, that there is more than one way to build a reputation in publishing.  I guess I was most surprised to find out that I don’t need to be any “one kind” of author – I can just be the kind that adores language and storytelling, and I can let that take me on a series of very different adventures.

Do you have anything else coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media? I am over-the-moon excited for my next picture book, due out in March of 2019. BE A MAKER is being beautifully illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic, who I have described on Twitter as a “magical mind-reading unicorn of an illustrator.”  I cannot believe how well she’s taken a very simple text and built layers of story into it, exactly as I’d imagined, but also way beyond what I could have asked for.  I cannot wait to share it with all of you!

BE A MAKER explores all the things a child can create in a day and plays with the many uses of the verb “to make” – but mostly it celebrates the idea that the world is full of possibilities, and we can choose the ones that make us feel happy, proud, and fulfilled.

I started working on this manuscript in the 12×12 writing forum in 2016, and the support and critiques I received from the community there really kept me going. This is my first rhyming book, and you may be aware that there’s another one of those “rules” that says that rhyme is hard to sell. There were definitely times I was tempted to ditch the couplets, but I’m oh-so-glad that my 12×12 friends wouldn’t let me do it!

There’s another very different, very secret picture book in the pipeline – so if you are curious, I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter @kateywrites or on Instagram @kidlitlove. As soon as it’s announced, you’ll learn more there.

katey-howes

Done and done! Encouraging children to recognize their own creativity is something I am so passionate about. So, BE A MAKER has a seat saved on my own bookshelf. Thanks so much for visiting with me! Thank you, for having me! It’s been so much fun “chatting” picture books with you.

 

Stay tuned! I have more great interviews to come and many more thoughts to share.

Here’s to hoping that your summer is wrapping up well and the school year starts off well; whatever that means for you, wherever you are!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Weeks 8 & 9 but not quite 10.

We came up short, but finished strong.  Truth be told, my kids have no idea… it’s splitting hairs between 91 and 100 picture books, anyway. What we didn’t accomplish in completion, we more than made up for in engaging activities.  We read Ferdinand, then joined so many other kids and parents at the library one afternoon to watch the movie version (and work on revisions from the back row.) We read all of the latest releases by my local SCBWI group mates, Margaret Simon, Paul Schexnayder, Denise Gallagher and Allyson Foti-Bourque. We covered non-fiction in so many wonderful ways which started even more wonderful conversations that carried on throughout the summer. (Thanks to SHARK LADY and then Shark Week, I might just have an aspiring marine biologist on my hands.) There were beyond the book activities, author interviews, new favorites and classics revisited. We even ended the summer at our local Science Museum and retold tidbits, both facts and fiction from the books that visited our house. Some of the greatest parts of our summer were watching YC retell the stories in his own words, or MC finishing an entire ELEPHANT & PIGGIE book all on his own.  Then there was OC who started and finished an entire SERIES this summer (DIARY OF A WIMPY KID didn’t stand a chance) and branch out to embrace different genres.  All in all, I call this second year of summer reading a smashing success.  Here are the rest of the titles we read:

1.       The Story of Ferdinand by Murno Leaf

2.       Meet Dizzy Dinosaur by Jack Tickle

3.       No Sleep for the Sheep by Karen Beaumont, art by Jackie Urbanovic

4.       Hiccupotamus by Steve Smallman, art by Ada Grey

5.       The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman, art by Maria Frazee

6.       Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman

7.       Pete the Cat and the Lost Tooth by James Dean

8.       Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, art by Dan Yaccarino

9.       The Water Princess by Susan Verde, art by Peter Reynolds

10.   In the Time of Joy & Wonder by Paul Schexnayder

11.   Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, art by Adam Rex

12.   Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor, art by Ross Collins

13.   A Perfect Day by Lane Smith

14.   A Child’s Guide to Common Household Monsters by James Otis Thach, art by David Udovic

15.   Don’t Touch this Book by Bill Cotter

16.   Duck, Duck, Moose by Sudpita Bardhan-Quallen, art by Noah Z Jones

17.   Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

18.   Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

19.   Pete the Cat and his 4 Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin, art by James Dean

20.   Lost for Words by Natalie Russell

21.   Shoo, Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold

 There was a symbolic, throwing in of the towel, however, and I think it’s an important conversation for another day.  The short version of a long story is that I lost track of the adult reader in me in the midst of all the picture books. My self-imposed summer reading challenge became something to merely ‘get through’ and I found myself reading out of obligation instead of pleasure. Sure, there’s something to be said about ‘when the going gets tough’ but I think, in this case, keeping the focus on my original intention was more important than finishing just for the sake of finishing.  Once I felt myself disengage, I knew it was only a matter of time before my kids caught on and followed suit.  I couldn’t let that happen and thankfully, the answer to my problem was right under my nose. 

Weeks ago, I borrowed a novel from the shelf of my sister. I carried it with me through vacations, afternoons by pool and waiting rooms at the doctor’s office but never once cracked the cover.  So, guess what I did? I read a book! Not just any book either, THE BOOK OF OVE. It was delightful and poignant, silly and sad and just what the doctor ordered. The fact that I took advantage of the slow pace of summer to indulge in moments of reading for myself is my shining achievement.  It may not seem like much, but it put balls in motion that I didn’t anticipate and gave me the chance to be more than mom, wife, writer and nurse… I was a reader again!

My kids are back in school now, summer is officially over for us (too bad the heat will stick around until the pumpkins come out) and this is the end of our second annual #100PictureBookSummer.  Thanks for all the recommendations and encouragement along the way!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Paper People: Joy Keller

Surprise! It’s Paper People time again!! If summer is hotter than you need and you find yourself dreaming of the cooler days of the fall, undoubtedly your thoughts will turn to Halloween. Am I right? Mmm, just think of those cool, crisp evenings and how pleasant it is to be outside trick-or-treating. Close your eyes, can you feel the breeze? Can you see the leaves changing? Now, open. Sorry, it’s still summer and it’s WAY TOO HOT too many places. If you had a moment of relief, though, then you’ll be thrilled to read on as I talk to 2017 debut picture book author Joy Keller about her adorable (Halloween themed) book MONSTER TRUCKS.

Joy, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, can I get you something to drink? I would love some coffee. Really, that’s the only thing that keeps me going lately!

COFFEE! Yes, always. Cheers! Now that we’ve settled in, with adorable and warm mugs in hand, let’s get started.  In addition to being an author, you’re also a teacher and I saw that you started a blog with ‘beyond the book’ activities for teachers (and parents) along with author interviews.  What was your motivation to start Picture This: A Blog for Teachers? As an elementary teacher, I’m always coming across lists of recommended picture books. Most of these lists are a few years old. Some don’t look like they’ve been updated since I was a kid. While many of those titles are timeless, I want there to be a place where teachers can learn about what’s new in the world of picture books and come away with a really easy, fun way to incorporate them into the classroom. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish with my blog.

As a parent I appreciate that so much! I always want to give books as gifts to my kid’s teachers but want to do so wisely.  Your blog makes it so easy! Do you enjoy being on the other side of the interview process? What’s your vision for the future of your blog? I’d much rather be on YOUR side of the interview process! There’s less pressure over there! Really, though, I love hearing about the process other writers and illustrators use when creating.

As my blog following grows, I’d love it to become more interactive. I’ve always believed that good teachers are good thieves; they recognize the great work their colleagues are doing and then use those ideas themselves. I hope my blog becomes a place where educators share the awesome ways they’ve used some of these books in their own classrooms. There’s a lot we can learn from each other!

I read your Two Debut Interview with Allison Goldberg and you two talked about Halloween costumes.  She already asked about your favorite costume. (Queen of Hearts! That’s mine too!) What was your favorite costumes that your own kiddos chose?  My favorite kids’ costumes are actually the ones I chose when they were really little. We had someone knit a Princess Leia hat for my daughter and a Yoda hat for my son. Princess Leia looked adorable but slept through all the trick-or-treating (she was only eight months old). Yoda had a great time, though…even if a few neighbors thought he was a green bunny!

I love coordinating costumes! A couple years back, we had a Buzz Lightyear and Woody.  (Rumor has it that we’ll have a Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck this year, fingers crossed!) Let’s talk about MONSTER TRUCKS!  I have two young boys, ages 4 & 6 (aka Daffy & Bugs) and they’re right in your target audience sweet spot! Your book does a wonderful job of telling a ‘Halloween’ story without ever feeling like a holiday book. I mean, who doesn’t love Halloween first of all? But second, you add big tough trucks! Do you have a favorite monster? Or a truck you’d love to drive? (I have 2 Yeti fans over here, their older sister likes Ogre and I’m partial to the Witch!)  Let me start by saying that I’m so glad your family liked the book. That’s all an author could ask for!

My favorite spread in MONSTER TRUCKS is the one featuring the witch driving the street sweeper. Not only is the witch my favorite monster and the sweeper my favorite truck, but the entire spread is full of my favorite animals—CATS! I think Misa Saburi’s interpretation of that scene is absolute genius.

Yes! Great mom’s think alike! Next month, on August 27th, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? Thank you so much! To be perfectly honest, I haven’t made any plans to celebrate that day. Publishing a book is such a long process, with so many moments to celebrate along the way, that I never thought of the release date as the day the book was “born.” I celebrated seeing the illustrations for the first time, and holding the advanced copy in my hands, and seeing the book online, and finding it in the library. But now that you have me thinking about it, I can’t turn down a chance for a party, can I?? 

Absolutely not! There’s always room for a party. Do you remember the first time you saw MONSTER TRUCKS on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment!  I do remember it! I was at Barnes and Noble by myself, and I went to see if MONSTER TRUCKS was in the children’s section. AND IT WAS! It seemed so unreal that I just stared at the shelf. That’s when an employee came over and asked, “Can I help you with something?” I suddenly felt embarrassed to be staring at my own book so I mumbled, “No, thanks. I’m just browsing.” It was totally awkward!

(Pause for giggling.) That story is amazing and so refreshingly honest. How did you get it on those shelves? Did you have any marketing tricks up your sleeve that you used for the books release? I think the lesson in that last story is that I’m terrible at marketing myself. I’m very uncomfortable doing the promotions thing, and I think other people sense it when I attempt to put on my salesperson hat.

Luckily, I’m good at making friends, and that has gone a long way in helping spread the word about my book. In this industry, you can’t do it alone. I was asked to join the Picture the Books group with fellow debut authors, and we worked together to market our books. I also have to thank the Fairport community where I live and teach for spreading the word and making my release party a huge success.

So, in a nutshell, I guess my marketing trick is to make connections: send out postcards to bookstores and libraries, reach out to the people in your community, and find fellow writers to be your support group.

Thanks for that advice, seems incredibly important regardless of where you are on your writing journey. Now that you have one year under your belt, what’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? I’ve discovered how much authors enjoy hearing that other people like their books! Before I was published, I was an avid reader (not surprisingly). Never did I imagine that an author would want to hear that I loved their book. I couldn’t believe that a real-life, published author would even remotely care about what I thought. But authors do care! We want to know when our stories have connected with a reader.

 Last fall, I was at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival and got to meet my childhood hero, James Howe. I seized the opportunity to tell him how much I love his writing. I also told him that when I was in fourth grade, I’d read the entire BUNNICULA series to my cat. He was very gracious and assured me that lots of children have done the same thing!

I know you have another book coming out soon! Can you tell us a little about Miss Turie’s Magic Creatures? Do you have anything else coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media? Certainly! MISS TURIE’S MAGIC CREATURES is really a conversation between the owner of a magical pet store and a young boy looking for the pet of his dreams. Let’s just say he’s a pretty tough customer, and Miss Turie has to show him LOTS of pets before he finds the right one for him! It’s being published by The Innovation Press. They’re also publishing my next book, A FUNGUS IS AMONG US! It’s a humorous nonfiction picture book with the feel of a 1950’s horror film.

To stay updated on these books (and hopefully more in the future!), people can follow me on Twitter @jrkeller80.

I am anxiously awaiting both of those titles; I can’t wait to get my hands on them! Best of luck with your marketing 😉 and thanks so much for visiting with me! It was my pleasure! Thank you for helping me celebrate the book-iversay of MONSTER TRUCKS!

Joy Keller

So, there you go, another wonderful interview filled with real-life tricks (and treats) of the trade three more books to add to your TBR list! I hope you’re learning as much as I am from these generous debut authors. Stay tuned next month for more great interviews and the last thirty titles of our #100PictureBookSummer.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Weeks 5, 6 & 7!

This one could also be called ‘Important Books’ or ‘What happens when you bite off more blogging than you can chew!’… three weeks in one post, here goes!

1. How to Track a Truck by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by John Rocco (YC picked this one!)
2. I Won’t Eat That by Christopher Silas Neal
3. Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley (Wow. This one left me speechless.)
4. Elephant & Piggie, There is a Bird on Your Head! By Mo Willems (MC cannot get enough of these two.)
5. 101 Reasons Why I’m NOT Taking a Bath by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Joy Ang (#boymom)
6. The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller
7. May I Have a Word? By Caron Lewis, illustrated by Andy Rash
8. Moo! By David LaRouchelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutkla
9. Wolfie the Bunnie by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zacharia OHora
10. Elephant & Piggie Listen to My Trumpet! By Mo Willems (Seriously!)
11. Elephant & Piggie, Biggie! By Mo Willems (He’s inhaling these books like oxygen.)
12. After the Fall by Dan Santat (So incredibly necessary.)
13. It’s Raining by Gail Gibbons
14. Otis by Loren Long
15. The Umbrella by Jan Brett (Great recommendation! Thanks, Dawn)
16. Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat
17. It’s Snowing by Gail Gibbons
18. The Story of Snow, The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D.
19. I Hatched! By Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Jen Corace (This may be one of my new favorites!)
20. Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
21. Knuffle Bunny Too, a case of mistaken identity by Mo Willems
22. Grandmother Thorn by Katey Howes, illustrated by Rebecca Hahn (Paper People, coming soon!)
23. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
24. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichteneld
25. What Could Be Better Than This? By Linda Ashman, illustrated by Linda Winderter
26. Don’t Let Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (Apparently we have A LOT of Mo Willems books checked out right now!)
27. Feelings by Aliki
28. The Littlest Viking by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Isabel Roxas
29. Giraffe’s Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker Reeves (One of my ALL-TIME favorites.)
30. Bayou Song by Margaret Simon, illustrated by Anna Cantrell, photography by Hency Cancienne (This one is the Louisiana selection for the children’s book program at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C.! I bought my copy straight from the author at our local SCBWI meet-up last week! Congrats, Margaret!)

My list of ‘important books’ will undoubtedly be different than yours, but the fact of the matter is, they’re important for a reason. In my head, there are two different types: the ones that were/are the standout favorites for each of our three kiddos, read and reread hundreds of times and the ones that we may not read often but are there when we need them for in the big moments of our lives. These past three weeks, we’ve read a lot of really important books.

For starters, we dug the old favorites out and gave them another read, paying attention to why they were favorites. Some were an easy, obvious answer. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site is a charming read aloud, my boys love trucks and thanks to my husband’s work, we have no choice but to know the proper names for those big pieces of construction equipment. Others have tugged at one of those deep heartstrings and cause me to give the book a hug every time I read it. Nothing Is Better Than This was a gift when OC was born, and she and I have both always loved it for its beautiful love story, but especially the incredibly cool and independent female pirate character.

Aside from our trusty favorites, there are a couple of very important books we’ve borrowed from the library recently, most notably AFTER THE FALL and BOATS FOR PAPA (also IDA, ALWAYS from a couple weeks back.) You better believe that each of these books received a big ole’ book hug when we were finished. Everyone needs these books, regardless of age because the topics are so profound and universal (loss, grief and fear.) If you haven’t read them, I hope you do soon. (Disclaimer: you’ll need a box of tissue handy.) Many of our other books are mentor texts for projects I’m working on and topics I’m researching. Also, a healthy diet of ELEPHANT & PIGGIE is being devoured by MC, our emerging reader. As you can see, I’m not having a hard time keeping up with the reading, only the posting!

Stay tuned next week for another Paper People Interview, this one with Joy Keller of MONSTER TRUCKS! That’s all for now!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

Paper People: Jason Gallaher

Without a doubt, my favorite part of blogging is absolutely interviewing! I’m so happy to bring you another (hilarious) Paper People interview with 2017 debut author Jason Gallaher. There’s been a bit of a break in the series, so I’ll give you a quick recap.  Paper is the traditional gift for the first anniversary, its also one of the common fundamental elements of all books, in this case, picture books.  All of the authors interviewed here are celebrating (or have recently celebrated) the first anniversary of their debut picture book, and have learned much in the process.  As a writer, I’ve definitely learned from those prolifically published authors across all genres, but these debut authors are still in the trenches of building their career and have so much wisdom and first hand experience to share. I hope you enjoy my talk with Jason as we talk about his debut picture book, crossing genres, perfect titles and so much more.

Jason, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.)  So, before we get started, can I get you something to drink? Do you have any almond milk? I have been completely won over by it. Or a Diet Coke? But definitely not the two of those together.  

Absolutely! I’ll take a diet coke too, the fountain kind with really good ice! So, the first time I was introduced to you was last year during NaPiBoWriWee, before WHOBERT was even released.  It was a great interview (as they all are.) That leads me to my first question, do you participate in any writing contests/challenges? I do participate in writing challenges! I don’t do them habitually, but I do them when I need a little jumpstart. My first challenge was Tara Lazar’s Story Storm back when it was PiBoIdMo. The year was 2014, I completed the 30 ideas in 30 days, and one of those actually sold the next year (it still hasn’t been announced yet, but hopefully soon! And yes, the next year was 2015 and we are currently in 2018! Publishing can take a long time!).

I participated in Storystorm for the first time this year and am happy to say I finished with a solid list of 30 ideas!  I did NaPiBoWriWee again too, but only finished with four drafts instead of seven.  Last year, during that interview you talked about how you love titles. I totally get that! What is your creative process when you’re working on a picture book? Do you struggle when your creative process happens out of order? I’m such a sucker for titles, and that’s where my picture book ideas always start. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to come to me that will fit the title, but I don’t force it. I just let the title sit in my brain, and then it’s when I’m doing something mundane like reciting Anjelica Huston’s filmography that the lightning bolt of an idea strikes and I throw my hands up in the air and scream and the dogs start barking and my husband gets concerned that I’ve hurt myself, but I have no time to worry about any of that because I have to run to my computer to get down the first draft! So, my PB creative process isn’t really a struggle when I write title first, but it’s definitely more dramatic.

The mental images of all that commotion are golden! I’ve giggled every time I’ve read over your answer. Let’s talk about WHOBERT! I am a fan of so many picture books (obviously) but the ones that have all 5 members of the Prevost family clamoring for a turn to read are few and far between.  Let me tell you, that’s WHOBERT in our house! His lack of self-awareness is HILARIOUS, I think because it hits a little close to home for everyone. (Except me, of course.) How long was the path to publication for WHOBERT? From first draft to SOLD. Per usual, WHOBERT came to me first as the title. But I didn’t know exactly who, who Whobert was or what he did. But it was when I was writing a grad paper on Shakespeare in the spring of 2014 that it all clicked. It was near the end of the semester and I was getting so much Shakespeare-fatigue that I started reading his plays out loud in a really dramatic voice. Then I got that lightning bolt moment. I knew this was Whobert’s voice, and I knew that I had to poke fun at myself taking myself so dang seriously in grad school. I was really inspired by the “who, who” call of owls, I figured “who” was a great start to any question for a detective, and SHAZAM! WHOBERT WHOVER: OWL DETECTIVE was born. I wrote a couple drafts and had them critiqued by two amazing authors: Stacy McAnulty and Jill Esbaum. From there, I had my revision critiqued at the CenCal SCBWI Writers’ Day by Annie Nybo who was then at McElderry Books. She gave me fantastic notes and told me to resend the manuscript to her if her thoughts resonated with me and I revised WHOBERT. Those notes super duper resonated, so I revised, then signed with my agent, then we sent WHOBERT on back to Annie. She asked for one more round of revisions, I got to those, and then after we submitted it to her again, Annie acquired WHOBERT in March of 2015.

That whole process from first draft to sold was pretty quick, just under a year. But I think it’s important to say that the relatively fast sale timeline would not have been possible if it weren’t for a number of happy milestones that happened along the way that I had nothing to do with. First, there was the fact that both Stacy McAnulty and Jill Esbaum were available to look at my manuscript and gave me great advice. Then there was the fact that I met Erin Murphy at a picture book intensive weekend in the fall of 2014, and she introduced me to my agent, Tricia Lawrence. Then it was that Tricia decided she’d give me a call and took a chance on me after a delightful two-and-a-half-hour conversation. Then there was the fact that I was paired with Annie Nybo for that SCBWI critique and the fact that Annie happened to get my humor and saw what the WHOBERT draft I submitted to her could become. Not to mention, Jen Rofé of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency let me intern with her a couple years prior and introduced me to the children’s lit world. If not for each of these amazing women, WHOBERT may never have come to be.

So many people helped and so many factors outside of my control lined up perfectly to make publication of WHOBERT happen. We see articles online all the time about people who sell their books so fast, but I don’t think it’s often highlighted that a book’s publication is reliant on so many people and meeting those people at the right place and the right time. If any one of these mentors hadn’t entered my life, WHOBERT could still be in my computer and not on bookshelves. So if you’ve been trying to sell a manuscript for a long time, keep at it! Be an active part of our writing community and you will meet those people and have those happy accidents that lead you to publication. This is even true after your first book comes out. It’s been over two years since I last sold a manuscript, but I’m trying to keep myself at the keyboard every day, and seek as much help and guidance as I can.

What a refreshingly healthy perspective on the different paths a manuscript can take. WHOBERT is such a clever story, I’m so glad all the stars aligned for a quick publication.  What books helped to shine a light on your writing path as you were working through WHOBERT’S revisions? Are you a believer in mentor texts? I am such a believer in consuming other authors’ and illustrators’ work and being inspired by them, but when I’m working on a revision I try not to read others’ books when I’m in the revise mindset. I don’t want to get so into their rhythm or voice that I subconsciously repeat it. But I do read a ton of picture books outside of my revisions and there are a number of people who inspire me: Dashka Slater’s ESCARGOT is so flipping hysterical and I want it to be a requirement that kids get a copy of this book when they are born; Jessie Sima is amazing at writing and illustrating whimsical worlds that I want to live in; Jessixa Bagley knows so well how to bring out emotion and make you feel (her book BOATS FOR PAPA makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. I. Read. It. And I’ve read it at least thirty times). I could go on and on!

I second every single title you just mentioned! I haven’t read BOATS FOR PAPA yet, but it’s waiting for me at the library today, actually. In nineteen days, on July 18th, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary!  Do you have plans to celebrate? My plans are to keep on writing! I love our industry so much, and I want to be a part of it for as long as I can, so I’ll be at my keyboard on July 18th trying to come up with something that hopefully will make people laugh!

Do you remember the first time you saw WHOBERT on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment! The first time I saw WHOBERT on a shelf was at BookPeople, our local (and so flipping fantastic there isn’t a word that can express it) independent bookstore in Austin, TX. They had a whole parliament of WHOBERTs sitting there at their welcome desk, and my heart stopped. It was so surreal. I couldn’t stop smiling and flipping through multiple books even though I knew every book had exactly the same thing in it. I just loved it!

You are so good at capturing a moment and helping your readers (aka me) to be right there with you.  When you talk about seeing WHOBERT for the first time, I get all kinds of warm fuzzies! How did you get it on those shelves? Did you have any marketing tricks up your sleeve that you used for the books release? The person who was the absolute best help with marketing was Kirsten Cappy of Curious City. She is a GENIUS when it comes to creating materials that can help make your book sing. She made an entire Whobert Story Hour Kit that you can find here!

Now that you have one year under your belt I’m curious: What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? The most surprising thing has been how much getting that first book on the shelves just makes you want more! I feel like Cookie Monster screaming, “MORE COOKIES!” only replace “cookies” with “books.” I have this fire in my gut that ignited on July 18, 2017, to have the whole process of publication happen all over again.

See there, you did it again! (#allthefeels) I know enough about you to know that you have a MG fantasy in the works. (That sounded stalkerish! I meant ‘Your website says you have…’) What’s the most difficult part of switching genres for you? What’s drew you to write for the MG audience? Haha! I’m an open book when it comes to…my books. I am completely obsessed with middle grade. I think overall there is an optimism about the world—even in darker MG—and I really like the general MG theme of trying to find your place in a community. I also love fantasy-adventure, and what drew me into writing the genre in MG is that I can develop fantastical worlds with kids who really appreciate the magic going on around them. I can discover these whimsical places through their eyes and really feel their enthusiasm and wonder. The hardest part about going into MG from PBs was getting down all the description. My PBs are really dialogue heavy, so it took me a bit to get into that, “Don’t forget to mention where they are, or what they’re wearing, or what smells so bad” rhythm.

What’s your favorite part of writing MG? What about PB? My favorite part about MG is getting to really dive deep into a world. Fantasy-adventure specifically is so fun for me because I love exploring how magic could enhance, alter or shake up an already confusing time of self-discovery.

My favorite part of PBs is getting to be just plain silly. I love being wacky and flamboyant in my PB writing. I write visually and use a ton of physical humor because, above all, my absolute favorite thing in writing PBs is making people laugh.

Gallaher Headshot

You do that so well!!! Do you have anything coming down the pipe?  Where can we find and follow you on social media? I have another picture book coming out, but so far, we are still looking for an illustrator. As soon as I can sing this one from the rooftops, I totally will! I can say that it’s unrelated to WHOBERT, and it’s about my favorite subject: love!

You can find me online at jasongallaher.com; on Twitter and Instagram as @draftingjason; and on YouTube where I gab books at youtube.com/c/jasongallaher. Let’s all be friends, everybody! Thank you so much for having me! This was a hoot!

 

Wasn’t that fun??? See why I love this so much?? The best part is that I have a STACKED schedule of Paper People interviews to post this summer. (There were quite a few wonderful debuts that celebrated their fist anniversary over the spring that I missed, I’m sad to say. You can find a great, comprehensive list of 2017 debut picture books here.  If you’re looking for summer reading suggestions its a great place to start!) Stay tuned my friends!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Weeks 3 & 4

 

Can you imagine living next door to someone for 30+ years and never making it over to visit? In my world, that’s hard to even fathom.  Around here, we gather nearly every Friday evening at one neighbor’s house or another, often times my own, to unwind from the week and watch our kids play.  It’s a ritual and it’s one of my favorites.  Well, I’ve lived next in Louisiana my entire life and thanks to the Gulf of Mexico along our southern border, we only have three neighbor states.  I’ve visited Texas and Mississippi more times than I can count, but I’ve never been to Arkansas… until last week.  It was an obvious decision when my husband and I were planning out first solo family vacation, it’s an easy drive and offers a very different set of circumstances than what we’re used to. We planned, prepped, read reviews, made a few basic decisions then counted down the days.  Last Monday, as we crossed the LA/AR state line for the first time, I was ecstatic.  It was thrilling because we were able to take our family on what our youngest called, ‘a brand-new adventure’.  We had the chance to breaking from the norm and broaden their horizons. We were also going way outside of our comfort zones and were constantly reminded of it

One of the first things we realized once we arrived, there was a TV but no cable. (Thank goodness for the handful of movies the kids packed for the trip.) Coincidentally, one of the last things we realized before leaving- our kids spent ZERO time on any kind of electronic device. In fact, our 2 tablets never made it out of the car. With the exception of one family movie each afternoon, the entire trip was about spending time together in the great outdoors and focusing on our family. We didn’t necessarily plan it that way but it was the incredible icing on the cake. I tell you all of this to explain two things:

1.       Why I didn’t post last week, not that it really matters

2.       The reason behind the ridiculously long list of books we read, before, during and after our trip. (No TV = LOTS of good reading time)

Now that we’re home, its nice to find a routine again! With this tremendous stack of books that we read, it was hard to find one to focus on… until we got hungry, that is.  At the end of ALYCAT (see number 10) there is a delicious surprise; a recipe for Alycat’s Popcorn Popsicles! Here’s our before and after pics. OC and I had a great time making these sweet and simple snacks and we started munching right away! Hope you find your favorite snack and are reading something fabulous! 

Here’s our list from the past two weeks:

1.       The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (this one was for my husband!)

2.       Narwhal, Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton (No explanation necessary.)

3.       Ida, Always by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Such an important read and a mentor text)

4.       Maxi the Little Taxi by Elizabeth Upton, illustrated by Henry Cole (A favorite from our own shelves.)

5.       Hooray for Books! By Brian Won (OBVIOUSLY!)

6.       Dude! by Aaron Reynolds (We have 2 sons, enough said.)

7.       Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (Our kids have 2 new baby cousins, this is perfect!)

8.       Cheetah Can’t Lose by Bob Shea (I think YC took notes through this one.)

9.       The Bad Seed by Jory John (SO GOOD and such a great lesson that MC really honed in on. Plus, character development is a soft spot for me and this has a fantastic and complicated main character)

10.   Alycat and the Thursday Dessert Day by Alyson Foti Borque, illustrated by Chiara Civati (A local favorite with a delicious dessert!)

11.   Frog on a Log by Kes Gray, illustrated by Jim Field (another one from our shelves)

12.   Zombie in Love by Kelly Dipucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell (Not a day goes by without talk of zombies in my house.)

13.   A Tip-Tap Tale by Denise Gallagher (a local favorite and a 2018 Indie Book Award Finalist!)

14.   Peanut Butter & Jelly by Ben Clanton (Because one was NOT enough.)

15.   Big Chickens by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Henry Cole (I attended a fantastic presentation by Leslie a few months back. I just want to read & learn more!)

16.   Big Chickens Flew the Coop by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Henry Cole (Also, we’re a bunch of ‘big chickens’ over here)

17.   7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald (A Golden Kite award winner, a mentor text and so dang punny!)

18.   The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (Great recommendation! Thanks, Vivian!)

19.   Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Just to remind OC that she hasn’t outgrown picture book because that never REALLY happens. This one was for her.)

20.   Bink & Gollie by Kate DeCamillo & Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile (another one for OC but everyone loves it!)

Stay tuned, later this week for a wonderful and insightful Paper People interview. WHOOOO is it do you ask? Guess you’ll just have to wait and find out! (Just kidding, its Jason Gallaher… eeek!)

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP, OC, MC and YC  

 

Week 2 of our #100PictureBookSummer

There’s laundry that desperately needs folding, a dishwasher waiting to be unloaded, my floor is filthy, conference calls and chart audits are calling my name and there are sheets in the washer because, well, accidents happen.  But it was the moment the dog ripped the hose faucet right off the wall outside, I decided to call an audible.  I’m not always good off the cuff but I packed sandwiches, grabbed a baseball hat, a handful of juice drinks and loaded the kids in the car before I had a chance to talk myself out of it.  I’m writing this from a picnic table of my city park.  Thankfully it’s an unusually breezy, not-so-humid kind of day over here so we aren’t really breaking a sweat… yet, and this just felt like a good compromise. I try hard to keep up the juggling act, working from home for a local hospice company, writing enough to make a difference, keeping some semblance of cleanliness and cooking something relatively healthy, more often than not and I usually do a decent job. Today is just one of those days where the balls that I’m tossing around just aren’t feeling the vibe I’m putting out.  Or, maybe they are reading my moods correctly and I just desperately wish there was something different I was offering.

I call it the parenting paradox.  The fact that, as a mom, the one thing I don’t have the energy to do, is often the exact remedy for the overwhelming stress of adulting.  Things like playing board games, picnics at the park or bike rides WITH my kids around the neighborhood (as opposed to SENDING them on their own) always end up giving me a huge return on the investment of my time and energy.  Reading picture books with them falls into this category, too. It’s one of the main reasons I started this challenge last year and knew it was important to continue it this summer. It’s too easy to let these lazy summer days slip away in the midst of housework, real work and commitments.  I can quickly get consumed with checking off the things on my to-do list and loose track of the opportunities right in front of me.  I need something to make me sit down, slow down and share my energy with the ones who really need it.  I need much more than 100 picture books, but this is a good place to start.  This week we had an incredible, funny and feel-good stack of books.  We laughed a lot, re-read more than one on a daily basis and finished off the list of ten in record time.  I hope you find a new favorite from this list, I know I found a few!

1.       It’s Not Jack & the Beanstalk written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Edwardian Taylor (Funniest. Picture. Book. Ever.)

2.       The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (So dang clever.)

3.       Little Red Rolls Away written by Linda Whalen, illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris (cross your fingers for me!)

4.       Pup and Bear written by Kate Banks, illustrated by Naoko Stoop

5.       Small by Gina Perry (cross your fingers, again, if you don’t mind!)

6.       Gus, the Dinosaur Bus written by Julie Liu, illustrated by Bei Lynn

7.       The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

8.       Pink is for Blobfish written by Jess Keating, illustrated by David DeGrand (WOW! on repeat) 

9.       Max’s Castle written by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (The whole series are favorites that we keep going back to)

10.   Shark Lady written by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens (This one totally lived up to the hype, in fact it exceeded it!) 

In an article I read this week, 12×12 featured author Michelle Cusolito talked about writing in real life.  She said that at different times, writing was both important to her self-care and important to step away from.  The theme of her post centered around those big things that happen in life that have a tendency to throw you sideways, but the significance of the lesson need not be lost on the little day-to-day decisions either.  I think the real struggle of the juggle, with writing, working, ‘momming’, and life in general, is recognizing when I need to step away, when it’s time to embrace, and when I need to jump on my own bike and pedal as fast as my legs can carry me. I hope you find the energy you most need and the motivation to use it well. I also hope you’re reading something fabulous.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP   

#100PictureBookSummer Kickoff

Volume 2, Week 1

Late last spring I stumbled upon a stellar list, 100 Picture Books for Your Summer Reading, put together by blogger and book reviewer Book Nerd Mommy.  (She did it again! Check here.) I challenged my kids, and really myself, to read through its entirety, and we did, with only a few substitutions. This summer, I’ve extended the same challenge with one small but significant change… Aspiring authors need to study the market (aka momma needs mentor texts), so we’re going rogue and doing it without a list! Our summer breaks start early around here, the last day of school was May 24.  Thankfully, it lasts right at 10 weeks, which makes the math part of this challenge an easy pill to swallow. So, the plan is, 10 different picture books each week for 10 weeks. They won’t all be new books, though most will.  We’ll definitely leave room for some from our own shelves and plan to visit a few ‘old favorites’ as well.  In the course of the past year, I’ve also found my way to a few new (or at least new to me) blogs that approach the study of picture books from different angles and I’m hoping to incorporate these into our reading.

If you’re reading this and have similar plans for the summer, I’d love to hear from you! I’d love to hear your favorites. I’d love to hear what you learn.  Make suggestions! Send recommendations! (Feel free to use the hashtag, too!) This time around, I plan to be a little more specific in my reading list, while also letting my kids pick out books that call out to them from the library shelves.  I hope to read more from local authors and I want to read more non-fiction.  I intend on engaging with some of the stories and incorporating ‘beyond the book’ activities.  But the goal in all of this is really just to read, read, read.  Let me (re)introduce you to my counterparts in this daring undertaking:

OC– She’s 8 now and fully submersed in the world of MG (middle grade) chapter books.  She agreed to play along with these picture books but is also hoping to spend more time lost in her own age-appropriate novels.  Her demeanor is as spunky as her hair is curly. She’s inspired, intelligent and inventive and never meets a stranger (or a book she won’t devour).

MC– He’s 6 years old and as enthusiastic, energetic and eager as ever.  He loves funny stories and will laugh about them long after the cover is closed.  He’s really grown a lot this past school year and is always excited to put his newest super power to good use. (Reading!) He gets excited by new books and big words that he can manage on his own.  He also loves telling stories and has a strong affinity for drawing/creating.  I’m eager to see how that guides his choices of picture book favorite.

YC– I don’t have a favorite child but I do have a favorite age (so far.) It happens to be 4, which is the exact age of my youngest child.  At 4, it seems like kids are both experts on everything AND experiencing life for the first time (that they can recall.)  It’s been a magic age for my older two kids and this third time around is no different.  The kid behind the age is different, however!  YC has always been the comedic relief of the family, but as he’s grown so has his knack for making others laugh. He’s silly and he loves it. He loves characters who share this trait, as well.

So, without further ado… our first week of our #100PictureBookSummer starts now.

  1. Whobert Whoover written by Jason Gallaher, illustrated by Jess Pauwels (There might just be a Paper People interview about this book in the near future!)
  2. Monster Trucks written by Joy Keller, illustrated by Misa Saburi (a fast favorite and another future Paper People interview!)
  3. LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
  4. Elephant & Piggie I Really Like Slop! by Mo Willems (MC gets great practice reading with this series, I get the feeling these two characters will be constant companions.)
  5. Elephant & Piggie Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems
  6. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors written by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex (I cannot even begin to tell you how many epic Rock, Paper, Scissor battles we’ve had around here lately.)
  7. Not A Box by Antoinette Portis
  8. Apple Pie ABC by Allison Murray
  9. Square Cat ABC by Elizabeth Schoonmaker
  10. What Do You Do with an Idea? written by Kobi Yamanda, illustrated by Mae Besem
  11. Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton

Hmm…somehow, I managed to slip an extra book in there.  Oh well, I always think ‘an extra, just in case’ is a good idea.  It’s been a great first week of summer and these books really kicked things off well. As an added bonus, check out Joy Keller’s blog Picture This: A Blog for Teachers. In a recent post, she ties in a fun math activity using a ten frame and her debut picture book Monster Trucks.  I don’t know about your kids, but mine love to play school, especially during the summer. Later, when everyone is awake, I’m going to print off the adorable worksheet associated with the post. Their ‘classroom’ is still set up from yesterday so it’ll be a perfect time to do a few fun math exercises and then hand it off to today’s ‘teacher’. I’m off to work on another great author interview that I’ll share in the coming weeks.  I hope your school year wrapped/wraps up well.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

–          JP