Colette’s Lost Pet

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by Isabelle Arsenault (Tundra Books, 2017)

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A new kid. A mission. A teensy, tiny fib.

This story could have ended so much differently–preachy or didactic or womp womp. And yet here, it’s a seed that sprouts a shared experience. That grows friends and imaginations and oh yes I have seen that bird.

But here, the neighborhood swells with maybes and hope and what’s your name? And this maybe-bird builds a community.

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Plus this thing is just so gorgeous.

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And I wish my handwriting looked like that.

It’s a perfect slice of life, when life is a new house and no friends and in one short afternoon you’ve got a squad. Kids do this so well, so seamlessly, so much better than grownups.

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If you can’t get enough of this sweet, dreamy art, take a look at this post where Isabelle talks with the folks at Picturebook Makers about Jane, the Fox, and Me.

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PS: Much more to come, but did you know you can preorder both This Is Not a Valentine and Everything You Need for a Treehouse now?! Here and here. I can’t wait for you to see these books!

And for fun, there’s one more #emojibooktalks over on Instagram! Do you know this middle grade novel?

Nerdcamp + #emojibooktalks

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my first book / my next book / All the Wonders buttons

The past week has been one big book-y blur. And every bit of it was so wonderful.

I went to Nerdcamp in Michigan, which was a pinch me kind of week. The internet literally came to life right before my eyes, and tiny square avatars became dear, dear friends. It took an astounding crew of volunteers to plan something this magical for teachers, librarians, authors, and illustrators, and just plain wow.

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Do you know Emily Arrow? We led a session on oomph-ing up your storytime, and it was so much fun. We made it into Travis’s recap post here if you want to see us in quasi-action. What you can’t see or hear is the banana shaker! Or how I said if you’re not sweating during storytime, you’re doing it wrong. (Which I mean in the least judge-y way, promise!) I’m working on a post of insta-storytime hits, so keep an eye out for that.

I also led a session on creating story arcs with these incredible talents: Melanie Conklin, Laura Shovan, and Stacey Riedmiller. I even got the scribbles in the middle of our session for a story I’m working on now. It was so energizing and very, very special.

And then this amazing thing happens after the grownups leave Nerdcamp–the kids come storming in. Hundreds and hundreds of them. It’s this incredible night that feels like a big book party sleepover thing. It’s Nerdcamp Junior, and it was spectacular. Kids shuffle from author to illustrator to pizza to Draw-Off, and leave with books and a notebook and ideas and new friends.

I got to work with fourth graders, and we rolled emoji dice to make stories and poems and here’s my favorite. Sam and I wrote this together:

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Amazing, right?

I’m a huge emoji fan for booktalks. They are these perfect little visual representations of big themes, perfect for summarizing the best parts of the best books. This is how I’d book talk A Rambler Steals Home, and I love love love walking kids through the story this way.

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I love to challenge kids (and grownups!) to guess a book based on a string of emoji, and after a little more plotting and brainstorming with Emily, #emojibooktalks was born. So! What does that mean? Keep an eye on my Instagram feed, swipe left, and guess the book! I kicked things off today with an easy one. Do you know it? Stay tuned for more!

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The rest are here! But I’d bet you already know it . . .

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Life on Mars

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by Jon Agee (Dial Books, 2017)

The trickiest thing to get right in a picture book is its drama between the words and the pictures. Its theatrics. Its page-turning-suspense.

Jon Agee is so very good at this. Always, and Life on Mars is not an exception.

This brave little astronaut heads to Mars. With a neatly wrapped up gift. That’s what you do when you barge in on someone else’s life.

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Except, nobody seems to be there after all.

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Except . . .

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Luckily, this brave little astronaut forges on, and he does find life. A flower, a yellow one, nestled into some steep rocks.

And he is thrilled.

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There’s something so delightful in this gigantic martian just going along with it. Maybe he’s scared the little astronaut will get spooked. Maybe he’s spooked himself. But to lay down and lift this small invader up to see his rocket ship? The sweetest.

Strangers, but friends.

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PS: Here’s a fun interview my pal Travis did with Jon. And where we all first got a peek of the trailer!

Heart and Home: A Middle Grade Panel

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Mark your calendars, southern California! I’m so excited to talk all things middle grade with these three fellow debuts–Sally, Jennifer, and Danielle. Won’t you join us?

More info here.

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PS: If you have read A Rambler Steals Home, would you mind a quick review and/or starring it at Amazon? When a book hits fifty reviews (good or bad!) it’s more visible to other buyers. Thank you! In other news, I updated my books page here. Scroll down for preorder links for This is Not a Valentine!

This House, Once + An Interview With Deborah Freedman

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by Deborah Freedman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017)

When friends come visit my blog, I always ask them who their story heroes are. Deborah Freedman is one of mine. Here’s why.

Your picture books are all lovely meditations on deeply important things: creativity, friendship, books, home. How do you turn a big idea into a small story?

Well thank you for this extremely flattering description of my books, Carter, although I’m not sure that it’s earned! It’s an interesting question.

I’ve never really thought of the themes in my books as “big ideas,” because they have all come straight from my small life, and often feel, to be honest, more self-indulgent than important. For instance, BLUE CHICKEN was inspired in part by my own messy and often fraught process of creating; BY FROG & MOUSE is about the challenges of collaboration, like on a book with my editor, or on a life with my husband; with SHY, I was thinking about how scary it is to put a piece of myself — each book — out into the world. And so on. Sometimes I have a specific theme in mind when I begin; other times, themes emerge while I’m writing.

So, turning the “big” idea into a story? See above re BLUE CHICKEN! Imagine drawing a huge scribble and then trying to find the beginning and end of the line— you know they are there somewhere, but all those squiggles, all those knots, and which end came first? I really don’t know how to explain how I get from big or small idea to story and which comes first. Because although I do begin with some sort of idea or concept, it’s often visual (like, hey, wouldn’t a book full of water be cool), and the storytelling part does not come naturally to me at all (uh, ok, but what is it ABOUT?). I’m pitifully plot-challenged.

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Used with permission of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

What’s the background of This House, Once?

The background to the background is that my agent, Stephen Barr, understands this anxiety of mine about crafting plots, and so we had been chatting for a while about the possibility of my trying non-fiction — not that non-fiction is easier, and not that non-fiction doesn’t require some sort of narrative arc, but perhaps it could give me a break from the character development/plotty part of writing. So I was thinking about that when, one day, a few lines of a non-fiction-ish idea called “This House, Once” came to me. I nervously sent them off: “This door was once a colossal oak tree, about four hugs around and as high as the blue…

Stephen immediately prodded me to continue. It took me a couple of months to wrap my arms around the bazillion different directions this vague idea about a house could go in, but compared to my other books, it poured out. Maybe it had been incubating for years in my former-architect self without my being fully conscious of it? I don’t know. In any case, Stephen and I were both passionate about the little dummy I’d made, but he had just sold SHY to Viking, so we agreed to put THIS HOUSE, ONCE on the back burner for a while. Then my daughter, who is an (amazing, talented, etc. ) editor at Atheneum, just happened to come home, and just happened to casually ask what I was working on…

Well, Emma fell in love with it immediately. And the rest… well, working on a book about home with my daughter — I can’t begin to express how special that’s been.

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Used with permission of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Can you tell us about your process?

Emma was moved by the text from her first read, and really didn’t ask for significant changes there. We did, however, revise the pacing of it; with Ann Bobco, Atheneum’s brilliant art director, we carefully adjusted the placement of the words to maximize the impact of each page turn, and we added a couple of spreads to the book. This involved going back and forth with thumbnails and sketches for a while, until everyone was happy. Then they both gave me a lot of input as I worked on the final art — really pushing me, which I truly appreciated.

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Who are some of your story heroes? (Fictional or creators!)

A few Fictional favorites (among many) are Russell Hoban’s Frances, Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, Ezra Jack Keats’s Peter — imperfect, conflicted, funny, endearing. Their creators, of course, are my heroes. Also, William Steig, Ruth Krauss, Maira Kalman… I could go on all day.

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from Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life, by Maurice Sendak, 1967

What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

Yikes, choosing favorites — not my favorite thing to do! Ben and I have a lot of art and art books (including picturebooks) in our house, and objects from all over the world. And our house is full of children’s art, made by our kids when they were little, and now our small grandchildren, and I have a wonderful collection of art from my readers… Inspiring, all of it.

What’s next for you?

The next official thing, assuming I make sense of the mess eventually, will be another picture book for Viking. And I always have a few things simmering, so we shall see…

df-studio Lovely, right? Thank you, Deborah!

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© Deborah Freedman 2017

 

Pax and Blue and an Interview with Lori Richmond

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by Lori Richmond (Simon and Schuster, 2017)

I’ve been so fortunate to get to know this fabulous author, illustrator, and human this year, and I’m so pleased to introduce you to her today. Unless you also know her, and aren’t we lucky?*

Meet Lori!

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When, how, or why did you get into picture books?

I came to love picture books through art. Ever since I was a kid, I loved to draw. My professional career has always been related to art or design — for 20+ years I was Creative Director at various corporate media companies. But the nature of my industry shifted, and design, especially digital product design, became very data-driven and technical. While there were some things I liked about it, I found that my daily tasks at work were no longer aligning with my personal goals. This was a tough thing to go through, because so many of us conflate our own identity with what we do for work.

Out of frustration and fatigue, I went shopping for art supplies. Oh man, is there nothing better than the smell of new art supplies?! I began drawing and painting again late at night after my kids went to bed, and I felt so refreshed and joyful. I took some continuing education classes at School of Visual Arts (SVA), where my husband teaches as an adjunct professor, and one of those was a picture book class. Thinking about making a picture book was so magical to me. To have something you made, and can hold in your hand and share with children — it was the piece I was missing in my professional work. I fell in love with the process and knew I had to pursue it.

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How did PAX AND BLUE originate?

We live in Brooklyn, so my kids are used to taking the subway everywhere. My then 3-year-old told me a story about when he was out with our babysitter, and that there was a pigeon stuck in the station. My son was so worried about the bird and talking about how frightened it must have been. Pigeons are certainly not the most revered urban animal, so it struck me how the child’s perspective was so sweet and innocent. My son was little, just like the bird, and could empathize with it. I knew it was a good seedling for a story, so I went from there and started on it while I was at SVA, and also workshopped it at Pat Cummings’ Bootcamp at Highlights. Originally, the title of the book was PAX AND THE PIGEON. In my mind, it kind of still is!

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What was it like to be both the author and illustrator for the first time?

I had no idea what I was doing, and still feel like I don’t. But I LOVE being the author and the illustrator, because you have the power to have the art do so much of the talking. I find that as I draw, more and more words go away. My editor, Paula Wiseman, and I edited a lot of text out of the book. The drawings were doing all the talking and left more room for the reader to discover the story and emotion on their own.

Can you tell us about your process? (And if you have any pictures of your studio or PAX-in- progress, that would be excellent!)

I usually begin with the words first. I may not have the entire narrative or all the character nuances laid out, but I need to have some kind of foundation for the story before I start thumbnailing. I admire artists who draw characters for years and get to know them, and their story comes out. That has never happened to me. (Maybe one day!!)  I do love the thumbnailing part of the process — the loose scribbles and the thinking part. Everything feels so malleable at that stage, and it is very free flowing. I like to challenge myself to come up with multiple solutions to the same problem. Sometimes I think of something way better, and other times it helps me validate my first thought as the strongest.

PAX AND BLUE looked really different in the initial submission to Simon & Schuster. It always had a limited color palette, but it wasn’t until about a year after the submission and we began to work on it, that I revisited the art. I created new character studies for Pax and expanded the palette while still staying true to the original feel. I wanted to be like a modern version of LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE (by Bernard Waber) where the backgrounds and environments recede and the characters really stand out on the page. I love books of that era! This also led to me asking (ahem, begging?) my editor for a 3-piece binding. That was a really special touch that helped give the book a vintage feel.

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What’s your studio like?

I am part of a co-working studio in Brooklyn called Friends Work Here. We are an eclectic mix of all types of creatives, including writers, photographers, designers, and video artists. And we even have an indoor swing, people!! I like having a separate workspace and the community that comes along with it. The studio is very conveniently located to my home, too, which is helpful when I have to be home for my boys.

Who are some of your story heroes?

I absolutely love THE CARROT SEED by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson, and SNOW by Uri Shulevitz. Both are such simple stories about a child’s belief in themselves, and persistence in those thoughts no matter what everyone else says. I love these kind of universal messages that stand the test of time.  As for modern books, my current favorite is LIFE ON MARS by Jon Agee. It’s one of those books I wish I had thought of! So well done, and the pictures say so much. And it’s so funny!

What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

This is a classic case of the shoemaker’s children having no shoes. I make books, and my husband is a photographer, and we have no art on our walls. We also don’t have too many walls, because we live in a city apartment! I do always let my children hang up their work, though. I never get angry about tape or adhesives on the walls. It’s really fun to see them feel pride in their creations. My younger son has completely covered the wall surrounding my bed with love notes. So, those are definitely my favorite right now.

What’s next for you?

2018 is going to be a crazy year. In March 2018, my next author-illustrated title, BUNNY’S STAYCATION (Scholastic), will hop into the world. This is an incredibly special book about a parent who travels for work. I can’t wait to share! Then in Spring 2018 comes a super-cute book I illustrated called OOPSIE-DO (HarperCollins), written by Tim Kubart. And, finally, in Summer 2018 comes SKELLY’S HALLOWEEN (Henry Holt), written by David Martin. Whew!

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*This is a recurring line in my novel, A Rambler Steals Home, and it pops into my head so many times I just use it as much as I can. Cool, right?

Thanks to Lori for the fantastic pictures in this post!

Happy Dreamer + A giveaway

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by Peter H. Reynolds (Scholastic, 2017)

Hi, all! I’m popping in this week with a quick bookdrop thanks to Scholastic, who is giving away a copy of Peter H. Reynold’s latest. This book is a hefty dash of hope for children living with ADHD. Children with minds that are different and delightful and a gift.

Check it out:

You can learn more about Peter’s book here, and listen to him speak about it here.

Comment on this post by Friday, April 28th at 11:59 PM PST for a chance to win. US addresses only.

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PS: WINNERS!

Congratulations to Annette Bay Pimentel for winning the Vampirina prize pack, and Manju Howard for winning The Book of Mistakes. Please email me your addresses. Everyone else: keep an eye on my other social media channels this week. I have some more copies of The Book of Mistakes that need homes!

 

The Book of Mistakes + an interview with Corinna Luyken

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by Corinna Luyken (out TODAY from Dial Books)

I’m so excited to introduce you to my friend Corinna. How lucky am I to know her? Very. How lucky are we that her voice is in the world? Even more so.

Stay tuned all the way to the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of The Book of Mistakes, thanks to Dial.

Meet Corinna!

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When, how, or why did you get into picture books?

I grew up in a house filled with books. Perhaps more importantly, my mom, stepmom, dad, and grandpa all took me to the library. So I read a lot.

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From reading I learned to love the sound of language, but I also learned something about looking deeply. Many of my favorite bookmakers— Shel Silverstein, Quentin Blake, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, the Petershams, Edward Lear— did incredible things with ink and line.

I also learned quite a bit from Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting on PBS. Important things, such as “We don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents” and “They say everything looks better with odd numbers of things. But sometimes I put even numbers — just to upset the critics.”

Also, there was Matt Groening’s Life In Hell (we had the box set) which I read over and over.

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But it wasn’t until after college, when I was handed George Saunders’ and Lane Smith’s The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, that I knew making picture books was what I wanted to do.

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Which was seventeen years ago. During those years I waitressed (a lot), taught art to kids, and eventually, became a mom. I sent stories to publishers and collected a nice pile of rejection letters. (Even one from Dial, who is now the publisher of The Book of Mistakes.) And then about four years ago, I realized that if I didn’t give all of my attention to making books, it might not happen. So I stopped knitting, I stopped going to garage sales and re-purposing old furniture. I stopped almost everything creative that wasn’t about making picture books or being a mom. I joined the SCBWI, started going to conferences, and meeting people outside my small community. And that has been an incredibly important part of my journey. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the SCBWI.

How did THE BOOK OF MISTAKES originate? Can you tell us about your process?

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The Book of Mistakes took two years, and fourteen dummies, to make.

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The very first dummy, which I sent along with a query to my (now) agent, Steven Malk, was half the size the book is now. In that version, the story ended with a girl, a party, and a pink-petaled tree.

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Steve said he loved the beginning, but he thought the ending needed work. It took me a year to find a more satisfying ending. During that year, the book doubled in size. And I learned some very important things about my process as an illustrator-writer, including how to listen, how to trust the work, and ultimately, how to find my way out of the dark.

There’s an interview with Kate DiCamillo on All The Wonders, which I listened to multiple times while working on this book. In it, she says:

“It’s that thing, always, of getting out of my own way. I feel like the story knows more than I do. The story is smarter than I am. And wiser. And so I can’t make the story conform to me because it would ruin the story. The story shapes me. Every book that I’ve written has changed me and deepened me. So then I’m in different territory entirely than I anticipated. But I’ve been doing it long enough now to know that I want to be in a different territory than I anticipated. Because that’s where all the wisdom is, in this story that wants to be told, as opposed to me telling the story.

For me that process, of listening to the story that wants to be told, looked a bit like this:

First, the old ending had to go. And with it, some images that I loved, such as this boy with the extra-wide fingers.

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I don’t know if I would have been able to take this spread out of the book on my own. But Steve suggested that with these images (which he also loved) I was beginning to repeat myself. And as soon as he said that, I could see it was true.

From there, I began to experiment. For me, this means drawing… a lot.

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I tried different ways of drawing the tree. And different ways of drawing the girl.

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I knew she needed to be carrying something, so I gave her a basket, a cart, cupcakes, a pitcher, a tool-belt, even a parasail. But nothing was quite right.

So I drew more trees.

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Every time I got stuck, I drew another tree, hoping for a clue in the drawing to help me find my way forward.

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Some of those trees came with wheelbarrows and rocks, some with umbrellas and flags, one had a giant cliff, and another a skateboard ramp.

For a while, there was even a gatefold reveal of the tree.

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But it was all getting too complicated.

So I went back to the girl.

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And I re-drew the entire book with her coming from the other direction.

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But it still didn’t work.

At times, I wondered if the solution was in the words.

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But mostly, I had a sense that it was the images that would help me end the story. So I went back to sketching.

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Slowly, I was getting closer.

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And then one day, I realized I was protecting the girl.

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I had fixed her. I liked her. I didn’t want to mess her up again. And as soon as I realized that, I knew she needed a bigger mistake.

At that point I came across a few early sketches I had made. They were of a girl on skates with a shadow that looked like wings. At the time, the drawings felt important, but they never seemed to be going anywhere, so I’d let them go. But sometimes I’d still think of that image.

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Once I realized the girl needed another mistake, I pulled out the ink and some old sketches and began to experiment.

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And as soon as I started to play with ink on a larger scale, I could see how it all fit together.

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The rest of the story came pretty easily after that.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

The makers of these books are all heroes of mine:

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(Though as I write this, I see favorites that are missing— Suzy Lee’s The Wave, The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, Last Stop on Market Street, All In A Day, The Gardener, almost everything by Kate DiCamillo… it’s impossible to make a complete list!)

I’m also a huge fan of poetry— Carl Phillips, Issa, Basho, Mary Oliver, Yehuda Amichai, E.E. Cummings, Galway Kinnell, Naomi Shihab Nye, William Stafford… I’ll stop before that list gets too long as well!

What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

It changes from week to week, but it’s often something my daughter made. Right now, I’d say it’s this:

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What’s next for you?

I’m working on a second PB with Dial right now. It’s about the heart— and how it can open, close, and open again.

I’ll also be illustrating a MG novel for Candlewick (Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi) due out spring 2019.

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Friends, isn’t this an incredible story? Take a look at how Corinna’s process evolved into these beautiful spreads from the finished book.

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The fine folks at Dial are giving away a copy of this book, and I guarantee you will want to keep this one on your shelf for all time.

Comment here by 11:59 PM PST on Friday, April 22nd. U.S. addresses only, please.

Need more mistakes? See this post for more of Corinna’s work.

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Thanks to Dial for providing final art for use in this post, and to Corinna Luyken for use of the other images.

 

 

 

Vampirina At the Beach and a Giveaway!

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by Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)

One of the best parts of making books is meeting other book makers. And since I’m lucky to know these two, I was extra excited when the folks at Disney reached out about celebrating this book. It’s brand-new-just-released one week ago on April 4th, 2017. Happy Birthday to you, Vampirina!

The books in this series are fun and funny and sweet and empowering. Because of that, they are never on my library’s shelves. They are total hits.

Here’s your chance to win this super prize pack so you can meet Vampiric Ballerina for yourself! That’s all three books starring this dancer plus some gear for a day at the beach. Storytime on a beach blanket? Perfect.

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To win, comment on this post by Thursday, April 13th, at 11:59 pm PST.

You can also follow Disney-Hyperion for all the fun on Twitter and Instagram, using the hashtag #VampirinaBallerina.

Good luck!

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Open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Sunday Morning

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by Judith Viorst and Hilary Knight (originally published in 1968; Atheneum, 1992)

Okay. Do you know this one? It had escaped me for far too long until a recent trip to Books of Wonder. I’ll never look at 9:45 on a clock again.

I’ve been asking a lot of authors and illustrators recently about their story heroes, whether they are fictional or creative inspirations. If I were to ask myself that same question, Judith Viorst would top the list.  Here’s why.

(And after a little more research on Hilary Knight, I’d consider him a hero as well. Do I still want to be making books for kids at the age of 90. Yes.)

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I am a fan of picture books in first person, because if you have ever spoken with a kid, you know that they are natural storytellers. And on top of that, they speak with an urgency and expertise that is unique to them.

Grownups don’t do that. Grownups wouldn’t think of a story starting with something as un-interesting as a knock to their routine.

Kids do. Judith Viorst captures that.

The parents in this book directed these boys to not come out of their room until 9:45. Presumably, they’ve been out on the town which is why they were late in the first place. Sound familiar to grownup-you? But what about kid-you?

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There is a lot to do. The text throughout this passage of time is one-hundred-percent-perfect.

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I love how these comic-style panels add to the passing of time, to the excruciating tasks that have to be done as the big brother. And Hilary Knight’s silhouettes, save for that striking blue and two expressive pairs of eyes, allow any of us to picture ourselves in the middle of this slapstick and simple sequence.

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This entire page.

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This pillow sentence is one of my favorites, and I love the cutaway of Mom upstairs, wondering about the time and the morning and the cat and the boys. It’s both everyday and tense, all at once.

That’s what I love in a picture book, a sort of heightened normalcy. A storytelling immediacy that is also timeless. And pictures that welcome you right into the book.

I love Sunday mornings at 9:45.

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