His Royal Highness, King Baby: A Terrible True Story + an interview with David Roberts

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by Sally Lloyd-Jones and David Roberts (Candlewick Press, 2017)

Do you see that pantyhose hair? And big sister’s expression? And her no-nonsense-ear-pencil and toe about to tap?

And the gold on this jacket sparkles with its spot gloss situation, and the whole book from the very beginning is just a yes.

So when Candlewick asked if I’d like to chat with illustrator David Roberts, I was on board. You might also know him from his work with Andrea Beaty on Iggy, Rosie, and Ada? I’m sure you do.

Meet David:

How did you get into picture books?

I got in to picture books after working as a fashion illustrator and milliner. I had gone to work in Hong Kong after graduating from Manchester Polytechnic. I had a degree in fashion design, but I knew I didn’t want to work as a designer. I had always loved drawing, and so picked up some work doing fashion illustration for magazines and newspapers. When I returned to the UK , I tried to find work as a fashion illustrator, but with not much luck. My other passion was millinery and I was extremely lucky to get a job working as a couture milliner for Stephen Jones. I did this for about six years, and in that time I had found an agent to represent me, not as a fashion illustrator but within the world of children’s books.

On seeing my portfolio, my agent, Christine Isteed remarked that I drew characters well, and expressed a wish to push me in the direction of kids’ literature. I was thrilled, as this had been a long held ambition of mine after I shared a house while at college with two amazing children’s book illustrators Gillian Tyler and Dominic Mansell. I had been completely captivated by their work and secretly desired to do something similar myself, but without the confidence to really try, but then Christine (my agent) came along, and all that changed. I have never looked back and feel privileged every day that I get to do this as my job.

When you first read the text of His Royal Highness, King Baby, did you immediately have a look in mind? How did you arrive at such a fabulous period piece?

When I read the text, I instantly loved the irony. I loved the drama and the fantasy that the little girl builds in her imagination. I wanted to try and capture a sort of fantastical traditional fairytale world with castles and horses and unicorns, but within an ordinary domestic home setting. The text left it open to be set at any time period. Being a child of the seventies, I often revert to the decade of my childhood when visualizing clothing or furniture or surface pattern; it was a very rich, bold, and brightly decorative time.

I also love the fashion of the designers Bill Gibb, Ossie Clark, and Zandra Rhodes–they were all exploring fantasy and romanticism in their designs, and it just seemed the perfect approach to use for this text.

I also needed a ‘throne’ for the new ‘king’ to sit on, and those high-backed, peacock style wicker chairs are so reminiscent of seventies interior design, that it all fit together nicely. It was enormous fun to be given the freedom to visualize the story this way.

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Can you tell us about your process?

I read and re-read the text to make sure I fully understand the story. And I do a lot of research, mainly through books but increasingly now with the aid of the internet. I start by thinking about the size and shape of the book, and whether the story would fit best in a landscape, portrait, or square format. When I’ve established the book’s physical size, then I begin drawing ideas onto layout paper, plotting and composing the images around the text, and thinking about how the pagination should flow. I might find inspiration for composition in pieces of art I’ve studied or admired. For example, David Hockney’s work has been a huge inspiration for me, as has Michael Leonard’s work, and Edward Gorey’s work. I recently saw an exhibition on Russian art from the Soviet period, which was fascinating, and I know that has got right inside my imagination and will no doubt find its way into my own work in the future.

I also find that I am inspired by old photography; I love how static it is, and how perfectly and precisely the pictures are composed.

Music or radio conversation is my constant companion while I work, and I do find that certain songs can help me create the mood and atmosphere I am trying to achieve in my artwork.

When I am happy with the composition, pagination, and content, I will share the sketches with the publisher and the author to let them comment and make their own suggestions. When we are all satisfied with the sketches, I begin the final art. This is when I make decisions about color. I don’t work digitally at all so all color decisions once painted in are usually final, unless I can scratch them off with a razor blade. I paint into heavy 300grm hot pressed paper, so it can take a bit of a scrape, but not too much.

I then send it or take it to the publisher, who has it all scanned, and puts the book together with the text.

Who are some of your story heroes?

I was thrilled and privileged to be asked to illustrate The Wind in the Willows a few years back. Having never previously read the book, I was intrigued and excited to see how I could approach it. One of the things I was most keen to capture was the loving, caring, and gentle relationship between the characters of Ratty and Mole. I fell completely in love with them, particularly Ratty and his little blue boat.

I am currently writing and illustrating a book for children about the suffragettes. One very real life character has become a hero of mine since embarking on this subject. Her name was Muriel Matters. She was Australian but lived in London in the early 20th century. In a bid to spread the word about the fight for women’s suffrage,  she hired an 80ft air ship, decorated the side with the slogan “Votes for Women,” and sailed high above London, scattering leaflets about the “Women’s Freedom League” down to the streets below on the day of the King’s Parade to Parliament!

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

I recently got married, and while on honeymoon in Japan my husband and I discovered this wooden sculpture. It’s called a kokeshi, which is a traditional Japanese wooden doll, usually beautiful painted, but in the 60s and 70s some artists started to create them in a more simplistic fashion. These are called “creative kokeshi.” We fell in love with this one which was designed by Yamanaka Sanpei, and love her startled expression.

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What’s next for you?

I am so lucky to have a lot of fantastic stories that I’ve been asked to illustrate lined up. I am currently finishing my own book about the women’s suffrage campaign, and then I have a new project with Julia Donaldson, with whom I did Tyrannosaurus Drip and The Troll about a king and his cook. Then a book set in the time of the Great War written by Sally Gardner at the start of next year. Along with more stories about the Bolds for Julian Clary, and more from Andrea Beaty who I did Rosie Revere, Engineer with, to keep me busy!

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HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS, KING BABY. Text copyright © 2017 by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by David Roberts. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

The Journey Trilogy

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by Aaron Becker (box set to be released November 7, 2017, Candlewick Press)

I’m so excited to bring you this glimmer of good news today. Aaron Becker’s stunning wordless trilogy is being released as a box set by Candlewick just in time for the warm winter holidays, or any time your soul needs a boost.

Here’s a look at the magic.

I asked Aaron a little bit about his incredible past few years in publishing. Here he is!

So, how does it feel to know there’s a box set for the Journey Trilogy?

I am more than thrilled! I’ve always loved this sort of thing in the series that I follow, but I never imagined when I wrote Journey that it would grow into something like this. It’s such an honor and I’m so excited to see it come together.

Had you always planned a trilogy?

When I was editing Journey, the one thing I didn’t have room for was a resolution for the girl’s initial (and significant) disconnect with her family. Instead, she finds a way out of her loneliness through her imagination and the adventures and friends she makes along the way. This felt closer to life to me; that the things we desire deep down don’t always pan out the way we might hope.

At the same time there was this nagging question when the layouts were finished – What about the girl’s family? Will she ever be seen by them? Well before Journey published (as you know, it’s a long process from completion of artwork to final publication) I talked to my editor at Candlewick (Mary Lee Donovan) about extending the story into a trilogy to help finish the larger arc of the girl’s journey. At that point, I wrote out a synopsis of the final two books. It was important to me that the story not turn into an ongoing series, but end as a succinct story with three purposeful acts, where Quest delves us deeper into the worlds of Journey and Return comes full circle to resolve the girl’s initial rift.

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Journey was your debut and landed in the book-world like a meteor. Was it hard to follow up on that kind of success?

Luckily I avoided any of that pressure – the paintings for Quest were finished by the time Journey published! Return was harder to figure out, but mostly because the story needed to work both as a stand alone story and a book end to the trilogy – in 40 wordless pages!

Your book trailers are amazing. How do they get made?

Thanks! I used to work in the film industry, so when the time came to promote Journey, I took what I knew of animation and film making and put it to use. It’s a really fun part of the process for me, and I wanted to do something special to celebrate the release of the box set that was different than my animations from the trilogy. I filmed the lanterns and books in our back yard with some fancy new camera equipment. It was a blast, though waiting for the perfect sunset took some patience!

For the music in all of my trailers, I work with Jacob Montague, a composer from the band Branches. Jacob takes my temp track and scores original music based on the timing of the edit. Books are a relatively solitary process, so it’s nice to have the chance for some collaboration.

Now that the trilogy is complete and the box set is coming out, do you have plans ever to go back to the worlds from Journey?

I do have an idea about the girl’s father when he was a boy. It’s the back story of it all that explains the crayons and the mythology of the kingdom. Actually, if you look carefully, a lot of it is already there on the cave painting in Return. I think I prefer keeping it there instead of elaborating too literally for the reader. There’s such a large part of these stories that belong to the readers themselves and I’d hate to take that away by explaining it too much!

I’ll have to take a look at that cave myself! So what’s next?

I have an entirely new wordless book coming out in Spring of 2018, A Stone for Sascha. It’s hard to explain in words how lucky I feel to be doing this job of telling my own stories. Now if only I had more time! I have so many I want to tell.

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Robinson + an interview with Peter Sís

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by Peter Sís (Scholastic, 2017)

Here’s a special thing for you that was a huge honor for me.

Meet Peter Sís. You might know him from an incredible stack of books like Starry Messenger, The Wall, and The Pilot and the Little Prince. His latest, Robinson, is a sort of mashup of Sís’s own childhood and the adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Surprising, refreshing, and familiar.

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

Growing up in Czechoslovakia I loved to illustrate stories that my father and grandfather told me as a child, but I never thought about becoming an illustrator while in art school. I was thinking about a future in fine arts and fell in love with animation. I won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival with my short film “Heads.” I got invited to Hollywood in 1982 to work on an animated film project for the summer Olympic Games in 1984. Animation takes a long time so I was still working on the film when the Soviet bloc countries pulled out of the Olympics, and I did not return home.

I was trying to figure out my future as an artist in America when Maurice Sendak came to the rescue. “So, you want to be in children’s books?” he said. He gave me such a lovely introduction to publishing that I have been in the picture book world ever since.

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Can you tell us the story of how Robinson came to be?

Robinson is a memory from my childhood which came back to me when my sister found an old photograph of me dressed up in furs as Robinson Crusoe for a school costume party. It was a flashback to a moment when I felt ridiculed by my friends. I loved the book Robinson Crusoe. And my creative wonderful mother made me an outrageous costume of the brave castaway, for which I won the top prize for the most imaginative character. But all my friends made fun of it.

I remember very well how mortified and foolish I felt. Yet I loved the book so much that somehow it made it all worthwhile. My new book, Robinson, is about the power of books for a child.

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What does it mean to you to be a recipient of the Hans Christian Anderson award?

It means one is recognized by one’s peers all over the world for lifetime achievement. That is wonderful and also alarming because it means you are getting old. But I love that it creates a connection to my teachers and mentors: Jiri Trnka, Maurice Sendak and Quentin Blake.

One of my favorites from your backlist is Madlenka. Do you have any favorite stories in your catalog? And why?

For many years, I was inspired by my children. My son gave me the idea for Fire Truck because we lived across the street from a fire station, and he was passionate about them. I discovered life in America and the colorful, multicultural world of my new country through my daughter, Madeleine (or Madlenka), who is very curious and creative and had many adventures on the block where we lived in downtown Manhattan. This global diversity was so inspirational for me because I came from a country where everybody and everything looked the same. Now my children are grown, but I still have many stories from their childhood that have yet to make it into a book.

I also value the story about my father, Tibet Through the Red Box, and a book about my childhood hero, Jan Welzl, A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North. The Three Golden Keys brings back special memories of Prague for me.

Who are some of your story heroes?

Robinson Crusoe, Antoine de Saint Exupery, Czech president, Vaclav Havel, Swallows and Amazons, Charlie Chaplin, Milos Forman (I created the poster for his film Amadeus), John Lennon and the Yellow Submarine.

I also had unique heroes as a child since my grandfather worked on the design of train stations in Cleveland and Chicago in the 1930’s. He collected comic strips from the Chicago Tribune and got them bound into a book which was bigger than I was. Unlike other Czech kids, I grew up with Little Orphan Annie, Mutt and Jeff, and Crazy Cat. I loved that book so much that the newsprint slowly fell apart.

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

My favorite piece of art is by Lane Smith. We did a picture exchange, but I still owe him his! Sorry, Lane, it is coming!

What’s next for you?

Ha, good question. I am inspired by the story of Nicholas Winton who saved 669 children before the Nazis arrived in Czechoslovakia in 1939. He organized trains that took them to England. I am also thinking about a story of a little refugee of today who faces all kinds of dangers before arriving in the free world. And how I met the Beatles and worked on the cover for Sergeant Peppers. There are amazing stories happening all around us every day. Now I need to focus and choose the right one.

 

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PS: Thank you to Scholastic for the images in this post and connecting me to Peter Sís.

Moon: A Cover Reveal

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by Alison Oliver (Clarion Books, April 17, 2018)

I’ve been a fan of Alison Oliver’s work for a long time. (Proof.) And now, look at this stunning cover of her debut as both author and illustrator. Gorgeous, right?

I asked Alison to tell me a little about Moon, and here’s what she said:

Moon is a story about a little girl with too much to do. She wonders what it would be like without chores and homework and lessons. What it would be like if she could be herself. Late one night, Moon meets Wolf and goes on an adventure to the Great Forest where Wolf teachers her all the wolfy ways—pouncing, playing, hiding but also, stillness. In that stillness Moon finds her true self—and that is wild!

From the publisher:

Like most children, Moon has a busy life. School is followed by homework, followed by piano practice, followed by chores; and the next day it all begins again. And then, one night, she meets a wolf.  This wolf takes her to the forest, away from the endless round of things-to-do. In the forest Moon learns to howl, to hide, to be still, and how to be wild.  And in that, she learns what it’s like to be free.

Preorder Moon here.

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How to Make Friends With a Ghost + an interview with Rebecca Green

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by Rebecca Green (Tundra Books, 2017)

Here’s your fall storytime favorite! It’s already mine. Author and illustrator Rebecca Green stopped by to answer a few questions about this book and her beautiful work.

Welcome, Rebecca!

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

I’ve only been doing picture books for the last two years or so. Before, I was doing editorial, gallery work, and older chapter books. I signed the contract for How to Make Friends with a Ghost right when I was signing on with my children’s publishing agent, and I just sort of got launched into the industry. I absolutely love working in this field, from the broad possibilities for illustrations to the people – everything’s been great.

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How to Make Friends with a Ghost is your debut as an author, right? How was the experience of both writing and illustrating for the first time?

Honestly wonderful. Because the story is mine, I still feel enthusiastic about it – I still feel just as excited about the characters as I did the day I started writing the story. It’s gone through such a change from that first day and it’s been an amazing learning opportunity. I also get to do a lot more in terms of promotion and marketing and that’s very fun for me.

Can you tell us about your process?

I usually do sketches with a black colored pencil on paper. Those are then sent to the client and we go back and forth with revisions or changes. Once I am ‘good to go to final’, I then redraw the illustration on Bristol paper and use either gouache, colored pencil, or a mixture of both to do the final painting. I then scan the illustration, taking it into the computer and I use Photoshop to clean up the illustration, making the background clean and white.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

Maira Kalman is definitely one of my biggest real life art heroes. I absolutely love her work and her writing. As far as fictional characters, I’ve always admired Jesse from Bridge to Terabithia. That book is one of my all-time favorites, and he is a such a strong and compassionate character.

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

A painting by Nashville artist, Harry Underwood. It’s a small piece, maybe 8×10″ and it portrays a woman who remarkably resembles by mother. In sloppy pencil, it reads “Life goes on”. His work is quite sad and eerie and I love it.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently illustrating a memoir, and another picture book, both for other authors. In coming months though, I am hoping to carve out some time in my schedule to work more on personal work and writing.

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Z Goes First: A Cover Reveal

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by Sean Lamb and Mike Perry (Imprint, 2017)

How great does this look? Thanks to Macmillan for this good-looking cover reveal!

Illustrator Mike Perry is new to children’s books, but you might know him from his work on Broad City. How great are these animations?

But now, books:

This is your first time illustrating a picture book. What about Sean Lamb’s text inspired you to take on this project specifically? 

I love the idea of breaking with conventional wisdom. Who was it that said Z had to go last in the first place? This is a story of rebellion wrapped up in a fantastic journey.

This is a new audience for you! What are you hoping young readers will take away from Z Goes First? Are you excited to have your art in front of kids specifically? 

I wanted to make a book filled with color and texture, something natural and fun while retaining the elements that allow for an easy understanding of the alphabet.There are a lot of alphabet books out there, but none quite like this.

How did you approach bringing each letter to life? Any letter in particular that was your favorite to illustrate? 

It speaks to the excitement that all learning should possess. I knew right away what Z should look like. Z of course being my favorite creation out of the group. The rest I drew in multiple variations until we found the right one for the story.

And a note from the book’s author, Sean Lamb:

Z’s story isn’t one you’d find in a typical alphabet book. It’s more of a quest, one which I hope parents and kids will love as Z takes them on a journey through the alphabet.

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Sean Lamb, photo by Steve Hyma

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Mike Perry

Can’t wait to see this one on shelves!

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An Anniversary, A Newsletter, and a Giveaway!

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A Rambler Steals Home / This Is Not a Valentine / Everything You Need for a Treehouse

I started this blog six years ago. What was my first post?

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This one. (FPH forever.)

It was a Sunday. It was the tenth anniversary of that day. I wanted to do something comforting and hopeful. I’ve always found that in books.

Six years later, this online notebook with bad photographs and only my mom reading has become a career in writing them. And librarian-ing again. And meeting the best book people along the way. This blog isn’t going anywhere, but I do want a place to share even more. And so!

A newsletter! I won’t spam you or share your email address. But I will give away books. It’s a thing.

Up for grabs first: three copies of my first picture book! Subscribe by the end of September to enter. Easy!

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(I really think you’ll like this thing. We do!)

Click here to subscribe.

From the bottom of my picture-book-filled soul, thank you.

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PS: I also wrote about Princess Hyacinth for Design Mom two years later! That post is here

2017 Picture Book Summit

Print It’s back! The third annual Picture Book Summit is gearing up with another stellar lineup. And the best part is that you can attend this conference from your home and in your pajamas. Is there a better perk for a writer?

People ask me all the time how to start writing picture books, and I always answer in some combination of read read read and work work work. This is a great opportunity for studying the form and learning from some spectacular creative talent.

Check it out!

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The lineup for the 3rd annual Picture Book Summit online writing conference, set to take place Saturday, October 7, has been announced. Early Bird registration is now open. (Until August 25th!)

Headlining the event is Tomie dePaola, author of Strega Nona and more than 200 additional children’s books. The 2011 recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for lifetime contribution to American children’s literature will appear live to provide the opening keynote address.

The live online writing conference, reaching working and aspiring picture book writers across the globe, will feature a full day of keynotes, workshops and panels featuring top authors, editors and agents.

Also providing keynote addresses will be superstar picture book authors Carole Boston Weatherford (multiple Caldecott honoree, author of Freedom in Congo Square, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom and more than 50 additional books for children) and Adam Rex (New York Times bestsellers Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and School’s First Day of School).

Attendees will also enjoy workshops from author Steve Swinburne (Sea Turtle Scientist and Safe in a Storm), Julie Hedlund (My Love for You is the Sun), Greenburger Associates Literary Agent Brenda Bowen, and Laura Backes, publisher and founder of Children’s Book Insider, the Children’s Writing Monthly.

Panel discussions will include a selection of children’s publishing’s top editors and agents. There will also be networking and submission opportunities for attendees.

The full day’s lineup, along with registration information, can be found here.

Also! There’s a free Mini Summit on August 22nd, perfect to dip your toes into online learning. Sign up here

Email me if you have any questions, and I’ll do my best to help.

 

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Picture Book Summit was founded in 2015 as a collaborative project by the founders of Just Write Children’s Books, 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, Institute of Children’s Literature and Children’s Book Insider, the Children’s Writing Monthly.

A portion of the proceeds from this year’s event will help restock the library shelves of two disadvantaged schools in Oregon and Connecticut.

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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