Creating Thunder Boy Jr.: it takes a village!

thunderboy

by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown 2016)

I am so excited to share this guest post with you today! Please welcome Alvina Ling, esteemed editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, sharing here about the collaborative process that brought this beautiful book to life.

Enjoy!


Creating Thunder Boy Jr.: it takes a village!

by Alvina Ling

It’s said that we’re “stronger together,” and that’s certainly the case when it comes to bringing a children’s book into the world.

Collaboration is especially apparent when working on picture books, and I thought I’d give you all a peek into how a book gets made while outlining the publication process of the picture book Thunder Boy Jr. , written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales.

Most picture books start with a manuscript. Sherman, associate editor Bethany Strout, and I went through a few different ideas, and a countless number of drafts and revision to get to the text that ended up in the book. He sent the initial idea for Thunder Boy Jr. in as a text titled I Want a New Name in July 2013, and we had a final manuscript and the new title by September, which is relatively fast.

Once we had a manuscript ready to share, we set about finding an illustrator. At Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (LBYR), we always ask the author if they have any ideas. Sherman suggested an illustrator, and I worked with our Design department to come up with some additional ideas to share with him, too. Ultimately, two different people at LBYR separately suggested Yuyi Morales. Yuyi’s Niño Wrestles the World had gained a lot of attention that year, and when I showed the book to Sherman, he was instantly in love. He even wrote a letter to Yuyi to entice her.

Dear Yuyi,

I am sitting in the Little Brown offices looking at picture books, searching for potential illustrators, and I just saw your Nino book, AND I AM IN LOVE.

I would very much love to work with you.

Please.

Please.

Please.

Um, please.

Sherman Alexie

I hadn’t known it at the time, but Yuyi had been planning to focus on her own work, as opposed to illustrating other author’s work. But it turned out that her whole family was huge Sherman Alexie fans. In fact, for Christmas one year her son had given his grandparents copies of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Yuyi was IN! And, we were all ecstatic. It felt meant to be.

Once Yuyi was on board, the next step was sketches. Yuyi sent us very rough thumbnails first. Here are a few spreads:

1-yuyi-rough-thumbnail 2-i-hate-my-name-rough-sketch 3-i-want-a-name-that-celebrates-rough-sketch

As you may be able to see, in the early thumbnails, Thunder Boy Jr. had a bunch of friends that he interacted with. The art director, Sasha Illingworth, and I reviewed the sketches and decided that they were a little too busy and confusing at times. The funny thing with collaboration is, oftentimes you don’t remember who came up with what idea, but we ended up throwing out to Yuyi: instead of all the friends, what if Thunder Boy Jr. had just a sister instead? Yuyi loved the idea of bringing in a little girl, and focusing on Thunder Boy Jr’s immediate family.

Once sketches were in, we circulated them amongst design, copyediting (in this case, our managing editor Andy Ball), and editorial. Each department reviews the sketches carefully, looking for things like continuity, pacing, the gutter (the middle of the spread where the pages are bound together), the “bleed” on the edges (during the book’s printing, the pages aren’t always cut exactly right, so we ask the illustrator to include a quarter inch extra art, or bleed, around the edges just in case, so that nothing gets cut off), and more.

Here were the comments we sent Yuyi on the spreads above:

Spread 9:   The scene on the left is a bit close to the one on spread 11. Is it possible to change this one up a bit? This is a quieter moment in the story. We’d also  love to add mom into this scene. On the right side, we’ve love for Thunder Boy to be bigger, and would love for him to be leaning in, perhaps like he’s whispering, or gesturing to us that he’s telling a secret.

Spread 10: We LOVE this! We don’t want to lose too much of Thunder Boy’s head so it would be great to move him up a bit. We also don’t want to lose the snake in the gutter, could you shift his head to the left?

Spread 11: We’d love to see a little more action in the right hand side. Maybe make him larger in scale as well? Have him be in a more powerful/active pose?

Yuyi sent us more detailed sketches—you can see how the art has developed:

4-can-i-tell-you-a-secret-detailed-sketch 5-i-hate-my-name-detailed-sketch

Isn’t the little sister adorable?! For those of you who have read the book, I think you’d agree that she steals the show. And to think she almost didn’t exist!

We also sent these sketches to Sherman, who loved them so much. “Oh the sketches just made me cry!” He was also inspired to make some text changes in response to Yuyi’s art—for example, he added the little sister character into the text, and we also worked to get the ending just right.

In this case, these are the comments we send Yuyi on the three spreads I shared above:

Spread 9: LOVE

Spread 10: Need lots of bleed especially on the bottom so we don’t lose too much

Spread 11: GREAT. Love little sis hanging on Dad’s leg!

As you can see, not too many comments—Yuyi was given the go-ahead to go to final art.

In the meantime, Sherman and I continued to work on the ending—we felt that the resolution was happening too quickly. Here’s the previous ending text:

I do not want the name

they gave me when I was born.

I do not want to be Little Thunder.

I don’t want to be small.

Hey, wait.

I just had a great idea.

I know how

to fix this thing.

My Dad will stay Thunder

But my name will be Lightning.

Together, my Dad and I

will become amazing weather.

Our love will be loud

and it will be bright.

My Dad and I will light up the sky.

Sherman thought about it, and decided that he wanted the new ending to deepen the father’s role. Here was his revision:

I love my dad but I don’t want to be exactly like him.

I love my dad but

I want to be mostly myself.

I love my dad but I want my own name.

What do I do? What do I say?

“Son, I think it’s time I gave you a new name. A name of your own.”

My dad read my mind! My dad read my heart!

“Son, my name will still be Thunder but your new name will be…”

LIGHTNING!

Together, my Dad and I

will become amazing weather.

Our love will be loud

and it will be bright.

My Dad and I will light up the sky.

Even though we often like to have the child solve a problem in children’s books himself, in this case we felt the new ending rang more true—it seemed fitting for Thunder Boy Jr. to declare his will of wanting his new name, and for his father to help grant his wish in the end. Yuyi suggested having both the father and son say “Lightning!” at the same time, which made for a satisfying ending.

Because we expanded the ending, we now needed to condense some of the beginning. Here’s a revised spread at the beginning with new text including the sister:

6-can-i-tell-you-a-secret-detailed-sketch

Ah, there’s Mom!

If you look at the finished book, you’ll notice further art changes to the composition that were made, even after this sketch. It’s always a work in progress.

7-can-i-tell-you-a-secret-color-sketch

And then comes the part that is still one of my absolute favorite parts of my job—when the final art starts coming in. In this case, Yuyi sent in scans of her art.

This is one of the first pieces Yuyi sent in:

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Absolutely gorgeous.

We sent a few test pieces into the printer to start picking paper and proofing. At this stage, we’re working closely with our production department—Erika Schwartz supervised the production of this book. We got in test proofs with the art on both coated and uncoated paper, and then reviewed both carefully. Personally, I’m a sucker for the texture and feel of uncoated paper, but it really depends on the specific art style and book. In this case, it was unanimous: we decided to go with coated paper, because it made Yuyi’s colors really pop.

In the meantime, Sasha was coming up with different fonts for us to choose from, and then placing all of the art with the text in a file called mechanicals. Printouts are circulated once again from design, to copyediting, and to editorial, with each department marking corrections and queries directly on the printouts. The mechanicals circulate until there are no more corrections needed. The mechanicals are also sent to Yuyi and Sherman for review.

The final mechanicals are sent to the printer, and we get color proof back. These we review to make sure the color reflects the original art. If an illustrator is local (like Peter Brown or Jerry Pinkney, for example), we’ll invite them into the office to review the proof for color—we have a color review room in our office with special lighting for this purpose.

Otherwise, as with Yuyi, we mail them the proof and ask them for comments, which we’ll incorporate into our own in-house review of the art. Editorial, production, and design are involved in the color correcting.

Once again, we go as many rounds as needed to get the color right.

So many discussions and decisions go into the making of a book. The cover image, of course—at LBYR we have a jacket committee where our Sales, Marketing, and Publicity directors all weigh in. We bring in sketches, then final art, and discuss details down to how the bylines will read.

Here’s an early cover sketch:

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A few early comps:

10-cover-comp-a 11-cover-comp-b

And the final cover:

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Other things to decide: What will the endpapers look like? (circles with the colors Yuyi used throughout the book to highlight emotions) Should we include an author’s note? (We thought the book was perfect without. Also, Sherman and I felt that once the book was out in the world, it belonged to the readers and we liked the idea of different children—brown and otherwise–seeing themselves in the book without knowing the story’s inspiration.) What special effects should go on the cover? (spot gloss and embossing on the title)

The book is now out in the world. It has received six starred reviews, was an instant New York Times and IndieBound bestseller, and best of all, has been pronounced my countless kids to be their favorite book. We couldn’t be prouder of how it’s been received.

As I hope I’ve illustrated, it takes a village to create a book—and of course there are countless more people who touch the book and make it what it becomes. It’s a labor of love for everyone involved, and, ultimately, it is the readers who play the most important role of all.


 

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And the Undie goes to . . .

Undie Awards Logo

That was fun. Did you have fun? We had fun. Big congrats to our winners, and we’ll see you in 2017!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for celebrating books in this way with us. The kids are lucky.

BEST SPOILER

And the Undie goes to . . .

snappsy1 snappsy

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-7-08-35-pm

BEST CLIFF’S NOTES VERSION

And the Undie goes to . . .

araff_youarenotacat_frontcvr notacat

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BEST MIDDLE GRADE/CHAPTER BOOKS

And the Undie goes to . . .

px1 pax

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BEST SNEAK PEEK AT THE SETTING

And the Undie goes to . . .

eatyou

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CRAFTIEST

And the Undie goes to . . .

a_ida ada

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Congratulations to all! Head over to Travis’s post at 100 Scope Notes to see five more winning Undies in these categories:

Best Impression of Something Other Than a Picture Book
The Look Closely Award
Best YA
Best Keepin’ It Simple
Best Stamp

If you haven’t yet, this is a GREAT time to click the Book Party button up there in the top right. Trust me.

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The Undies: Voting is Open!

It’s time. The wait is over. Travis and I are back with a pretty stellar lineup of shortlists for the first annual Undies Awards, and it’s up to you to vote in each category.

And so, the categories please . . .

BEST SPOILER

IMG 9935        IMG 9938        Hannah and Sugar        IMG 1628   FullSizeRender (2)   image1        image2        IMG 9931        IMG 9934

BEST CLIFF’S NOTES VERSION

IMG 9909 IMG 9912 ARaff YouAreNotACat frontcvr ARaff YouAreNotACat case IMG 0336 IMG 0337 IMG 9939 IMG 9942 IMG 9896 IMG 9897

BEST MIDDLE GRADE/CHAPTER BOOKS

9780763674441 IMG 2943 (1) PX1 PX2 Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 11.38.37 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 11.38.21 AM IMG 9913 IMG 9914 IMG 9903 IMG 9904

BEST SNEAK PEEK AT THE SETTING

IMG 4212 IMG 4211 jazzday Wednesday4 Wednesday5 Sunday3 Sunday8 w darwin2

CRAFTIEST

IMG 0186 IMG 0187 IMG 0188 A ida A idacase IMG 9943 IMG 9946

Head here to vote. And here for Travis’s post, where you can see his shortlists and ballot. Here’s a hint:

Best Impression of Something Other Than a Picture Book
The Look Closely Award
Best YA
Best Keepin’ It Simple
Best Stamp

Thanks to everyone who submitted a contender, everyone who created a contender, and everyone who excitedly talked about Undies with us all year. Voting is open through Monday, November 28th at 5pm EST, and we will announce the winners on Tuesday, November 29th. 

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Return + a video premiere and visit from Aaron Becker

return-cover

by Aaron Becker (Candlewick, 2016)

It’s an honor today to welcome Aaron Becker to this space. He’s here to talk about the close to his sweeping trilogy, the design of Return, and to premiere a beautiful short film about its creation.

Take a look. Be inspired.

And here’s Aaron:

One of my favorite parts of making books is figuring out the final bits of design for the dust jacket, the endpapers, and the book’s cover. Even when I pitched Journey years ago, I decided to build a cloth-bound, hand-stitched dummy. I wanted to make sure that if we did get an offer, if would be from a publisher that was serious about the details of book making!

In Return, I needed the design of the book to support what I had set out to do. For one, this third part of the trilogy needed to stand on its own, apart from the story it was ending. At the same time, Return needed to pay homage to the book’s predecessors and immediately feel a bit more weighty. After all, this was the final act.

The cover had to evoke something from the trilogy but also speak to the fact that we were no longer in the realm of the young child. In Return the girl has grown up a bit and its story brings up more pressing questions: What are the limits to the imagination? When is it time to grow up? And can we hold on to wonder when we chose to move on from our escapist fantasies? Clearly, I was dealing with some bigger themes here, and so I knew the jacket illustration had to reflect this. We see the girl running back into the lantern forest from Journey, but now the mood is noticeably darker and more mysterious. The lanterns glow red instead of the comforting blues from Journey. And there’s an urgency to her movement – she’s no longer just passively observing the world around her.

jacket_sketch

The embossed design for the cover for each book was also something I carefully considered. I had to match the spirit of the book in one image. For Return, I chose the symbol of the kite – this is, after all, the visual link between the girl and her father; a symbol not only of the rift between them that starts out the trilogy, but of the connection they eventually find by the stories’ end. In wordless books, these visual symbols take on even more meaning than a book with words.

These symbols have to carry the themes and ideas of the story without the support of the written word, and to this end, you’ll also notice on the back of the jacket the girl’s crown – a symbol of her attachment to the imaginary realm – now sitting at the bottom of the sea as a relic of an adventure that has run its course.

kite_sketch
crown

And lastly, we come to the endpapers. When I’ve presented the story of Return to children and adults alike, this is the part of the presentation when I start to get choked up. (In the endpapers of all places!) And though I won’t spell it out for you here, if you look closely you might just see something significant within the differences between the front and back ends papers.

return_endpaper_design
endpaper_layout
I believe it’s our duty when making children’s books to make them with care. They are objects that we share with our children that can have lasting effects on their lives. I for one, as an author and illustrator, don’t take their creation lightly. My hope is that some of this attention to detail will make the difference, even if on a subconscious level, for a child as they begin to build a connection to the stories that move them.
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An Instagram Roundup

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Here, here, here, and here on Instagram.

Forgive the quick drop in here, but I wanted to remind you that I am also sharing micro reviews and recommendations over on Instagram. Bite-sized blog posts! Come visit.

Thanks to everyone who is getting their last Undies nods to Travis and me! It’s going to be a great way to celebrate 2016’s incredible lineup of books.

Donna Weidner, are you out there? Send me an email if you see this! You won the Hotel Bruce prize pack and I’d like to get it your way.

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The Undies: Last Call!

We’re coming up to the close of our Undies season! Have you peeked underneath every book on your shelf? Now’s the time, folks.

Nominations close November 15th!

In late November, Travis and I will announce shortlists in a variety of categories and then we’ll open up the polls. The winner will be decided by popular vote (see also: you). We’ll announce the winners shortly thereafter.

To nominate a case cover for the 2016 Undies:

  1. Check out the case cover gallery we have going at Design of the Picture Book (that’s right here, in the upper right of the main page) – if the case cover you want to nominate is already there, no need to nominate it again.
  2. Make sure your nomination was published in 2016.
  3. If the case cover you want to nominate is not in the gallery and was published in 2016, take a picture and send it to me at carterhiggins (at) gmail (dot) com. Put THE UNDIES in the subject line.

Anyone (including publishers) can nominate.

We need your Undies, people!

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Hotel Bruce and a Giveaway

hotelbruce

by Ryan T. Higgins (Disney, 2016)

I’m excited to bring you a fun giveaway from Disney Books to celebrate this week’s release of Hotel Bruce. Thanks to Disney for sending me the book, and for providing a prize pack to pass on to you.

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Here’s what the publisher has to say about Hotel Bruce:

When Bruce gets home from a southern migration trip with his goslings, he is tired. He is grumpy. And he is definitely not in the mood to share his home with the trio of mice who have turned his den into a hotel.

There’s a possum pillow fight wreaking havoc in one room, a fox luring guests into a stew in the kitchen, and a snuggly crew of critters hogging the bed. Bruce growls and grumbles and tries to throw them all out, but the entrepreneurial mice just can’t take a hint. Bruce is in a little over his head, especially once the goslings join the staff. Will this grumpy bear ever get his quiet, peaceful den back to himself?

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What can you win? This:

hotelbruceprize_welcomehome

That’s a copy of Hotel Bruce and an adorable mat to remind your welcome (and unwelcome!) guests to wipe their paws.

Just comment on this post by Friday, October 21st at noon PST to enter. Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Want to connect more?

Check in with Bruce at books.disney.com. // Follow Disney Books on Twitter and Instagram. // Add DisneyBooks on Snapchat

Ryan T. Higgins (ryanthiggins.com) is the author/illustrator of Mother Bruce. He does NOT live with four geese, but he and his family do live with a tortoise and a menagerie of other pets. At one time or another, Ryan has been friends with a porcupine, a raccoon, a beaver, dozens of mice, and a couple of squirrels, but he has never found a moose in his bed. He always peeks under the covers, though.

Good luck!

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Lucy + An Interview with Randy Cecil

lucy

by Randy Cecil (Candlewick, 2016)

Oh, how I loved this book. It’s unusual: not quite a picture book, not quite a chapter book, innovative and entirely perfect for the story inside. This is the story of a dog named Lucy, a girl who loves her, and another someone this girl loves. This is a story of lost things and found things, routine, and stage fright. It’s a story about love.

I chatted with author/illustrator Randy Cecil about what he’s made here, and am so happy to bring this conversation to you.

I’m particularly interested in the three main characters, and how their intricacies overlapped. Did any of them come first? Can you talk about that a bit?

Years ago, I sketched out a rough draft of a wordless book about Lucy (the dog I had recently adopted). In that story, Lucy lived with a girl that looks very much like the character that would become Eleanor. In the wordless version, the unnamed girl that looks like Eleanor loses Lucy, who ends up boarding an ocean liner and never sees her again. But all works out okay in the end for Lucy, as another child on another continent finds her and takes her in.

Most who read this story, understandably, felt sad for the girl who lost her dog. This wasn’t at all what I was after, I put the manuscript aside for a while to think.

Then one day, a few years later, I had the idea of a juggler with stage fright, who lived in a sort of vaudeville world. And I could see how it might fit together with the Lucy story, especially if I switched Eleanor from being the one who loses Lucy to being the one who finds her and takes her in. And suddenly all the pieces fell into place.

9780763668082-int-1  Lucy is an unusual picture book in terms of its form, and benefits from feeling fresh and unique. Did it feel like you were breaking rules or was there some freedom from the usual structure?

Thanks! At the start I definitely felt like I was breaking the rules, and that was a lot of fun. But as I figured out what I was doing, I realized that this story and format came with its own set of rules that needed to be followed. So in a lot of ways, it wasn’t so different.

Can you tell us about your process?

I first wrote a sort of outline for the story, which was really more of a detailed summary of the plot, broken up into scenes.

outline

Then I sketched out each scene to figure out the pacing.

sketches

Then I wrote the more finished text, which I assembled, along with the sketches, into a digital dummy, and sent it off to Candlewick Press. They reassembled the text and pictures into a much more polished dummy, with the proper design and font and trim size, and send it back to me (along with lots of editorial notes).

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And after going back and forth in this way many times, I finally painted the finished illustrations.

finals

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Who are some of your story heroes?

My heroes are the authors and illustrators of my childhood—Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Edward Gorey, Uri Shulevitz, Gahan Wilson, Mercer Mayer and many, many more!

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

I have always been a fan of folk and outsider art. This beautiful thing was given to me by a friend.

art

What’s next for you?

I am currently trying to convince Candlewick to publish a companion book to Lucy (same universe, new characters)!

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LUCY. Copyright © 2016 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Thank you to Candlewick Press for connecting me to Randy, and also for a preview copy of Lucy.

They All Saw a Cat

CAT_INSTA

by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle Books, 2016)

You might have heard about this book.

You might have read the fascinating and buzz-inducing article on its acquisition.

You might have heard Matthew Winner and Brendan Wenzel in conversation here. (And do if you haven’t! It’s a treat.)

You might have seen Emily Arrow’s super sweet song and video. (Kid-tested and approved in my library!)

You might have seen many, many bloggers invite the Caldecott (and Geisel!) committee to the party on this one. (See here, here, here, and here.)

All of those people saw a cat. And I did too!

But somehow, Brendan Wenzel actually wrote a cat.

Let’s break it down.

The opening spread is an introduction to the character, his journey, and his senses. The art asks us to follow, but so do the words.

Read this out loud.

The cat walked through the world,

with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . .

You can hear the hiss of a cat in the final sound of the words in that second line. Its, whiskers, ears, and paws. The words are the cat. The cat is in the words.

Even better, look at those three words that begin with w. Walked, world, with, and whiskers. Not only is that a lovely example of alliteration, it’s also paced in such a way that each W sound becomes the quiet pitter-patter of our cat’s paws. Read it out loud again. Do you hear how with drops out a bit, but each of the other Ws are stressed beats?

And we know cats are observers and quiet hunters, so it’s a perfect starting sound that’s both nonchalant and predatory.

Once the reader has followed that cat into the book, we are treated to a true visual feast. It’s a remarkable look at perspective and interacting with the world. Our cat shifts from fearful to fierce over the pages. Isn’t that how we all see the world?

But let’s take a look at the creatures who see the cat. The book is paced in threes, a tried-and-true structure in many forms of storytelling.

Up first, the child, the dog, and the fox.

dog

Look at how those connect:

childdogfox

And then Wenzel revisits the opening, reminding us of the cat’s mission, giving us a brief respite from the adventure and another opportunity to experience that rich language.

And then:

fish mouse Listen to those sounds: short i, the ow of mouse (a dipthong, /au/!), and a long e.

fishmousebee

It’s almost a meow. Can you hear it?

And then we’ve got a real romp.

bird

This time, a bird, a flea, a snake, a skunk, a worm, and a bat.

Bird follows bee.

Flea reminds of that bee too.

A snake, a skunk.

birdbee

fleabee

snakeskunk

A worm from down low, a bat from up high.

And a bat, our (almost) final watcher, perfectly rhymes with cat.

You’re going to hear a lot about the visual acuity of this book, and that is wholly deserved. But take note of the text. It’s also seeing things differently. And saying them, and hearing them, and experiencing them. This is the beauty of the picture book, and this is a spectacular one.

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Thank you to Chronicle Books for the interior images in this post.

Bad Guy: A Cover Reveal

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(Simon Kids, 2017)

Bad guys are smart. Bad guys are crafty. But being a bad guy can have consequences…

Inspired by a rule at her kids’ preschool (“no bad guys on the playground”), Hannah Barnaby’s story explores the highs and lows of life as a villain.

I am so excited to bring you this first look at a bad guy. And that cat! Bad Guy will be available for everyone on the playground in 2017.

Hannah Barnaby is the author of two young adult novels, WONDER SHOW and SOME OF THE PARTS, and makes her picture book debut with BAD GUY. Hannah is a former children’s book editor, indie bookseller, and baby wrangler. She is extremely well-behaved (most of the time) and she teaches creative writing in Charlottesville, VA where she lives with her family. Her favorite bad guy is Maleficent.

Hannah’s website // Twitter

Mike Yamada is a concept designer, illustrator, and design consultant based in Pasadena, California. Mike has contributed to the development of many feature animations, including Puss in BootsKung Fu Panda 2,How to Train Your Dragon, and Big Hero 6. He is the author-illustrator of Cool Cat Versus Top Dog, as well as the illustrator of Bedtime Blastoff and Kai to the Rescue. Learn more at MYamada.com.

Do you have a favorite bad guy? Mine is Miss Trunchbull.

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