Francophiles, Big Bad Wolf Fans, and Paris Lovers: This Post Is for You!

Ze-vais-te-manzer

If anyone knows me, they know that I love French picture books, and even more than that, I love French picture books about my favorite villain, the Big Bad Wolf.

The other week, the great Jill Davis (please see my interview with Jill, https://robinnewmanbooks.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/the-amazing-jill-davis/), gave me the cutest (I mean the absolute, most adorable French picture book), entitled, Ze Vais Te Manzer by Jean-Marc Derouen and Laure du Faÿ (Editions Frimousse 2012).  The story is about a hungry, not-too-smart wolf with a lisp, who goes hunting in the woods for his dinner.  And when he first encounters a white rabbit, the rabbit can’t understand him.

“ATTENDS . . . Grand méchant loup, attends!  Tu peux répéter ce que tu viens de dire?”

“Bah oui, z’ai dit:  Ze vais te manzer, petit lapin blanc, ze vais te manzer tout de zuite!”

[Translation:

Wait!  Big Bad Wolf wait! Can you please repeat what you just said.

Yes, I said:  I’m going to eat you, little white rabbit, I’m going to eat you right now.]

Naturally, the rabbit goes out of his way to help him out, as does another rabbit, and of course, our villainous hero gets into lots of fun trouble along the way.  The story is superbly clever, beautifully written, and the illustrations are just too cute for words.

I get all verklempt when I read French picture books because they remind me of my childhood when I lived in Paris and Normandy.

Anyway, next year I’m finally going back to Paris.  I was last there in 2008 when my son was almost two, and sadly he didn’t really appreciate the whole venture.  But next year, I think he’s going to love it.  I can’t wait to take him to the carousel in the Tuileries, the puppet show with Guignol at the Luxembourg Gardens, the Bois de Boulogne, and the Musée Grevin, the wax museum.   I also can’t wait to show him to my old school on Rue de Grenelle.

And aside from eating my way from one part of the city to the next (How can you not? Right?), I also plan on stocking up on books.

Just by some coincidence, the New York Times recently ran their Travel Guide: Paris for Kids. Here’s the link:

http://travel.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/travel/travel-guide-paris-for-kids.html?src=dayp

And they also posted some travel tips:

http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/30/your-tips-for-tackling-paris-with-kids/?hpw

So now, I just need to wait a few more months. . . . Un peu de patience . . . . Bah non!

Ame Dyckman, Picture Book Author of Boy + BOT = Affirmative Success!

AME TURQUOISE HAIR

I met Ame at the 2013 New Jersey SCBWI annual conference.  And Holy Smokey Batman!  She is a spitfire of energy and enthusiasm.  And it’s no surprise that her first book, Boy + BOT, illustrated by the amazing Dan Yaccarino, is affirmatively AWESOME!  She also has three more affirmatively awesome books coming out: Tea Party Rules, illustrated by K.G. Campbell (Viking; October 3, 2013); Wolfie & Dot, illustrated by Zachariah OHora (Little, Brown; Spring, 2015), and Horrible Bear, also illustrated by Zachariah OHora (Little, Brown; Fall, 2015).

Ame, thanks so much for doing this interview.

Thanks so much for having me, Robin!  Your blog’s a fun place!

Let me start off with that my son and I are HUGE fans of Boy + BOT.  How did it come about? 

Noahboy+boteditedAwww, SO CUTE!  (Thanks for the book love, little guy!)  I’ve adored books since I was little, too—especially the great friendship-despite-difference stories of my youth, like Frog and Toad and George and Martha.  But I didn’t get serious about trying to be an author myself until I grew up got older.  Luckily for me, I found the amazing NJ chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  (YAY, NJ SCBWI!)  I made tons of friends, got gobs of really helpful feedback on my own friendship-despite-difference story, and met Super Agent Scott Treimel, who heard my pitch for Boy +BOT and said, “I love it!  Let’s work together!”

One of the things I love about Boy + BOT is that the Boy’s and the BOT’s stories mirror each other.  How long did it take you to come up with the structure, let alone the story?  

BOY + BOT COVER from Ame

Boy + BOT took about nine months (I know!) from its first “Write me!” idea to the version I pitched to Scott at the 2009 NJ SCBWI Annual Conference.  I started playing with the mirror structure pretty early in the process, though.  Mirror stories are a fantastic way to show similarities between seemingly dissimilar characters.  (And bonus:  they have big humor potential!)

You’ve had some really cool jobs in the past—from playing a costumed character to teaching.  Have any of these jobs influenced your writing?

My year as a preschool/elementary substitute teacher definitely influenced my writing!  My favorite part of each day was story time.  (Even when the toddlers asked me to read The Giving Tree just because they knew it made me cry!)  I never wanted story time to end.  And now it never has to.

What was it like playing a costumed character?

Being a costumed character is terrific fun—except in a strong breeze.  (Once, in a costume that had a particularly high surface area-to-volume ratio, I got blown over and couldn’t get back up!)  Here’s one of my other alter egos:

Daffy Duck

I was lucky enough to attend your talk, “Growing an Evergreen” at the NJ SCBWI conference.  You started out by quoting from Pippin Properties, Inc.  “Evergreens . . . to create books that will stand the test of time.”   What traits do you think a book needs to stand the test of time?  What are some of your favorite evergreen titles?

For me, the most important shared trait of evergreens is genuine Kidness—something in the protagonist or plot that really reflects what it means to be a kid.  (I know Kidness isn’t a word, but it should be!)  Whether it’s emotional Kidness (Where the Wild Things Are), action Kidness (The Snowy Day), belief Kidness (The Carrot Seed), relationship Kidness (The Runaway Bunny), etc., I feel it’s the Kidness in an evergreen that makes each new child listener connect with it and say, “I get this!  I love this!” and each grown-up reader say, “I still love this, too.”

Can you tell us a bit about Tea Party Rules and Wolfie & Dot?

TEA PARTY RULES COVER

Tea Party Rules is a funny compromise-during-playtime story between a savvy little girl and the cookie-craving bear cub who crashes her backyard tea party.  K.G. Campbell’s (Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters, and the upcoming Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo) illustrations are hysterical!  They make me laugh every time I see them!

Wolfie & Dot is a funny sibling story about a family of rabbits who adopt a baby wolf.  Mama and Papa Bunny adore little Wolfie, but daughter Dot is convinced he’s going to eat them all up!  It will be illustrated by Zachariah OHora (Stop Snoring, Bernard; No Fits, Nilson, etc.), and I couldn’t be more over-the-moon about this!  I wrote Zach a year or two ago telling him how much I loved his work—and now we get to work together!  It’s a Small (Kidlit) World!

Can you give your fans the scoop on some of your works in progress? 

I’m currently finishing a funny (YAY, funny!) early reader starring three very unlikely roommates, and beginning work on a (you guessed it!) funny father/daughter difference-of-opinion picture book.

How can your fans get a hold of you if they would like you to do a school visit?

The best ways to reach me are via e-mail (amedyckman@gmail.com), Twitter (@AmeDyckman), or you can just hang out in my local library or ice cream shop, and I’ll be sure to see you there soon!

Where can your fans buy Boy + BOT?

Boy + BOT is available via Indie and chain booksellers worldwide.

Lastly, do you have any words of wisdom for new writers?

Read MOUNTAINS of books in your genre, get involved with your local SCBWI chapter, learn from your critiques (especially those tough ones!), get yourself some good reference materials (such as Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac), and most importantly:  don’t give up!

Ame, thanks again for doing this interview.  All the best and much success!

Thank YOU, Robin!  Did I have lots of fun with this interview?  AFFIRMATIVE!

Monica Wellington, Doing What She Loves: Writing and Illustrating Picture Books

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Monica Wellington today.

monicawellington

Monica was born in London and raised in Germany and Switzerland until she moved to the United States at age seven.  As a child she loved to draw and paint, but it wasn’t until she attended college that she realized she wanted to be an artist.  She earned a BFA at the University of Michigan’s School of Art, where she studied pottery, painting, and printmaking.  After art school, while traveling through and living in France, Spain and Italy, she had various art-related jobs that prepared her well for writing and illustrating children’s books.

Monica has illustrated over 40 books (and written most of them)!  Her most recent book, Colors for Zena (Dial Books for Young Readers), is hitting bookstores this month. Since 1994, she has taught illustration at the School of Visual Arts.  She lives in New York with her daughter, a dancer with the New York City Ballet, and her two cats, Lola and Zoe.

Monica, many thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

Let’s start at the beginning.  When did you realize that you could illustrate and write books for a living?  And how did your first book come about?

I worked as a potter for a few years after art school.  It was not all I had dreamed of and I started looking for a different creative outlet.

I took a very inspirational children’s book class at SVA with Bruce Degen–illustrator of the Magic School Bus books.  We worked on building a portfolio and making a book dummy. After his class I went straight out and showed my work to publishers.  One of my portfolio pieces was an illustration assignment from class, to a poem Who is Tapping at My Window?  by A. G. Deming.  This became my first book in 1988.  I was very naïve in the beginning and thought I could make my living from doing books right away–it took awhile!

Are there any illustrators and/or picture book writers who have influenced your work?

There are many British writers and illustrators I admire: a favorite writer and illustrator is John Burningham.  Matisse is my favorite painter of all time.

Can you give us some insights into your creative process? How do you develop a book from beginning to end?  Do you work in Photoshop?

I usually start a book visually, with an idea of pictures I want to paint.  I begin making sketches before I even write any words.  Both the pictures and words go through many revisions, and I am often still working on the final words after I finish the final full-color pictures.  I don’t use the computer at all for my art work.  I sketch on paper, I paint on paper and when I do collage, I use scissors and glue.

Can you also give us the scoop on some of your current projects?  Do you ever collaborate with other authors?

Most often I write the words for my books but sometimes I have illustrated books written by other people. I always have a project going. Right now I am in the sketching stage for a new picture book about leaves in the fall.  I don’t want to jinx it so I won’t say more!

I am also working on making one of my out-of-print books Crêpes by Suzette into an app. I’m not doing the technical end of it but I am providing a lot of additional material to go with the book: I went to Paris and collected sights, sounds, voices and music.  I’ve become a sound editor!  There will be narrations in English and French, plus four additional languages, and lots more.  I’m excited about bringing this book back to life in this new digital form.

I so love your illustrations, and especially your use of vibrant colors.  Can you tell us how Colors for Zena came about? 

Zena

In the book, Zena’s world starts out black and white and then she discovers how the three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) mix together to make many more colors.

The idea for this book came from some color games my daughter and I used to play when she was little.  For example, walking down the street, we would pick out everything that we saw that was red, and then yellow, and so on.  We would notice how there were many shades of each color.  Was that blue or was that purple, we would ask? At home we always had many different art materials and my daughter loved mixing and discovering for herself how colors worked.  I think the book started there.

Being a foodie and having lived in Paris and Normandy as a child, I love that you wrote Crêpes by Suzette.  What was the inspiration?

suzettecover

I love France of course!  After high school I was an au pair for a family near Paris, and I have traveled there often.  All while I worked on the book (about 1 ½ years) I imagined I was in Paris!  Actually, I really would love to live there again for awhile!

How can your fans get a hold of you if they would like you to do a school visit?

Come to my website http://monicawellington.com/ and contact info is there.

And where can they buy your books?

At a local bookstore or online.  And at the library you can usually find many of my books, both current and out-of-print.

One last question.  Do you have any advice for up and coming illustrators and writers?

Immerse yourself in the field in every way you can.  It is tough breaking in, so it is important you enjoy the process.  But if you have talent, work hard and are persistent, and have some good luck come your way, it will all come together!

Monica, thanks so much for doing this interview.  All the best and much success with your books.

p.s. Colors for Zena is already available for purchase online at: 

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780803737433

p.p.s. You can catch Monica at BookCourt (one of my favorite bookstores!) in Brooklyn on August 3rd at 11:00 a.m.

http://bookcourt.com/events/monica-wellington

Woo-hoo! 🙂  

By rnewman504

D’oh! The Curse of the Send Button

oops-key-on-keyboard

I suffer from this affliction.  Every time, and I mean EVERY SINGLE TIME I hit “send,” there’s an inevitable typo or something wrong with my submission.  It truly is “the curse of the send button.”

The error is probably minor, but to someone like myself I can always see it glaring at me with its evil eye.

And it’s not like I haven’t read and reread it a million times through.  I’m the queen of type A+++ and then some.  (Honestly, if you’re looking for a neurotic chic who dots her i’s, I’m your gal! :))

Often, I end up with an error because I’m rushing.  My day lives by the 3:00 o’clock pick-up deadline, and I want to obviously get things out before then.  Patience has never been my thing!

When I was a legal editor, I worked on treatises.  The beauty of a treatise is that aside from a HUGE error on the cover of the publication, treatises get updated.  And you can always fix an error in the next release.  (It’s not necessarily a good plan of action, but it does ease one’s mind.)

Do I have a cure for the curse?  Slow down.  Wait.  Chill.  But that’s so not my persona.  I could also learn to live with the error instead of driving myself nuts.[1]

In the long run, I keep my fingers crossed that it won’t really matter.

And of course if you also suffer from the curse, you can do what I often do.  Follow up with an e-mail apology.  Naturally that apology will have a typo in it!  As will this post!  D’oh!


[1] Since I’m such a good wife, I find it’s important to drive my husband nuts too!

By rnewman504

What Would Ursula Nordstrom Do? Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

nordstrom

Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is something none of us like to do—especially, as writers.  But what if?  What if your plot takes that turn?  Or you delete a chapter or question the motive of your character?  What if you plunge out of picture books and venture toward middle grade or YA?  What if?

And this is when my mind starts to wander toward the great Ursula Nordstrom.  UN, as her friends and colleagues called her, was a tour de force in transforming twentieth century children’s literature.  With her vision of “good books for bad children,”[1] she fostered the careers of so many great writers and illustrators: Maurice Sendak, Margaret Wise Brown, E.B. White, Ruth Krauss, Crockett Johnson, Shel Silverstein, and so many others.

Her tenure at Harper spanned five decades, from 1936 to 1973, where in 1940 she became the head of the department of Harper Books for Boys and Girls.  In 1970, she became senior vice president of Harper and Row and publisher of Junior Books.  She stepped down in 1973 to become a senior editor of her own imprint, Ursula Nordstrom Books, until 1980.  She died on October 11, 1988 of ovarian cancer.

She had never gone to college,[2] was not a teacher, nor a librarian.  And she didn’t have children of her own.  When asked how she was qualified to work with children, she responded, “Well, I am a former child and I haven’t forgotten a thing.”[3]

This is not to say that Ursula Nordstrom wasn’t insecure about her work.  But she took risks.

Can you imagine what children’s literature would look like today if we didn’t have Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, The Carrot Seed, or The Giving Tree?

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a number of rewrites.  In one of my picture books, I’ve waffled back and forth about the ending.  Play it safe or run with it.  And that’s when I thought of Ursula?  What would she do?  And I found my answer.

Stepping out of one’s comfort zone, for whatever it may be, is not easy.   It’s not easy rewriting a novel, let alone a paragraph.  But greatness may be just around the corner.

Sometimes it can’t hurt to ask, “What would Ursula Nordstrom do?”  What are you going to do?


[1] Marcus, Leonard S., ed. Dear Genuis: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, xviii, HarperCollinsPublishers, 1998.  Print.

[2] “Nordstrom would later say that it was not just any college that she had never attended, but Bryn Mawr.” Id. at xxi.  Being a Bryn Mawr alum, I can’t help but smile and think she’d fit right in.  I could so see her in Thomas Great Hall at coffee hour chatting away with Katharine Hepburn.

[3] Id. at xxii.