Check These Out: Picture Books by Eric Pinder

Greetings from the frozen north! (Yes, we had a snow visitation recently.)

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’Tis the season to be jolly as the well-known Christmas carol goes. And I can guarantee some jolliness when you check out the following picture books by the erudite and extraordinary Eric Pinder.

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Both books were illustrated by Stephanie Graegin and published by Farrar, Straus Giroux. Eric is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette. Stick around till the end of the interview to learn about the giveaway. Ho-ho-ho!

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Kitty dressed as Santa? Perhaps she has something to do with this giveaway?

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Eric: (1) Once upon a time, I worked at an observatory on top of a mountain and commuted home—well, partway home—by sled. As job perks go, it’s hard to beat an eight-mile sled ride.
(2) The last time I bought a new vehicle, it was a unicycle.
(3) My summer job in high school was working on a dairy farm. But the cows there couldn’t type.
(4) I still want to be an astronaut when I grow up.

The author reading one of his picture books to a library lion

The author reading one of his picture books to a library lion

El Space: You’ve written two books in the sharing with a bear series. They are utterly delightful! What inspired this series?
Eric: Thank you! Building blanket forts and blanket caves with nephews inspired the setting of the first book. Usually character or plot comes to me first, but this time the first thing the Muses gave me was a clear image of the setting for the opening scene. I could picture the room, and the cave, and someone reading inside it by flashlight.

For a long time, the working title of what became How to Share with a Bear was just “Cave.” I didn’t have any idea yet how the story would end or even who all the characters were. But I knew right away it would start with a blanket cave. And what lives in caves? A bear!

After reading How to Share with a Bear, students at Polaris Charter School made blanket caves.—Polaris Charter School, Manchester, NH

After reading How to Share with a Bear, students at Polaris Charter School made blanket caves.—Polaris Charter School, Manchester, NH

The themes about sharing and siblings developed from there.

El Space: Picture books have had a resurgence in publishing lately. Why do you suppose that is the case?
Eric: Picture books are such amazing works of art that adults often appreciate them too. At craft fairs and book signings, sometimes adults will wistfully browse the picture books and confide, sounding almost embarrassed, “I wish I had grandkids, because I still love picture books.”

Of course, the elaborate pictures and design also make them expensive to print, which probably makes publishers and readers alike choosier when budgets are tight. I don’t know, but I’d guess the resurgence is a combination of the economy improving and the Millennial generation starting to have children and looking for good books.

White Birch Books made bear-shaped cookies for a recent How to Build a Snow Bear book signing. The kids approved.

White Birch Books made bear-shaped cookies for a recent How to Build a Snow Bear book signing. The kids approved.

El Space: What drew you to picture books?
Eric: Until almost age 30, I had no inkling that I’d someday write books for children. In high school, I wanted to write science fiction like Ray Bradbury. In college, a class about nature writing introduced me to writers like Annie Dillard and Barry Lopez, and since I’d always liked the outdoors, that became my focus. Then a funny thing happened: everyone in my circle of friends started having kids. Suddenly, their houses were full of books by Seuss and Boynton.

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There’s a poetry to picture books—a kind of music. While hiking with two friends and their six-month-old on the Imp Trail in the White Mountains one day, I heard them recite from memory the entire text of a Dr. Seuss book. The humor and the rhythm of the words, and the obvious delight of the audience—their toddler—gave me a real appreciation for the work and lyricism that go into picture books.

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I just wish I had the talent to illustrate them, too. I admire and envy those who do. At the end of one book signing, when things were slow, I was absentmindedly doodling on a scrap paper. A customer across the room noticed the book cover on display, and her eyes lit up. “Ooh!” she said excitedly. “Are you the illustrator?” Then, walking closer, she noticed my drawing, frowned, and said, “Oh. No, you’re not.

El Space: Oh my goodness! I guess she didn’t realize how rude that sounded. . . . In an interview awhile back with CNN, famed picture book author Mo Willems was asked how to create a timeless tale. Is that something you think about when you write a picture book? Why or why not?
Eric: I like that quote by Mo Willems, “Always think of your audience, but never think for your audience.” I think there are certain universal emotions or experiences, like sharing or anxiety or trying new things, that can help keep a story timeless even if it’s presented in a topical way. A century or two from now, I’m sure, there will be kids who want to drive the family spaceship instead of the bus. But I’d bet Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus would still resonate with them, because it’s not so much the topical vehicle that matters—it’s the underlying idea of imagining a pigeon or a child driving something big and bulky and thus capable of fun mayhem, which usually only the adults get to drive, that’s amusing and timeless.

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El Space: What advice do you have for budding picture book authors?
Eric: Because picture books are real aloud, performed in a sense by the parent or teacher or babysitter, the cadence of every sentence and the sound of every syllable is important. I recommend reading poetry, as well as picture books, to get a feel for the sounds of words and the moods and nuances they can convey. I like to think of poetry as “using the language as a musical instrument, to convey emotion or meaning.” Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled is a funny, informative book about poetic meter. It’s helped me a lot with writing picture books. But the biggest help was taking the picture book semester at VCFA.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Eric: New ideas for picture books spring up all the time. Sometimes just witnessing a silly pet pratfall, or hearing a heartwarming anecdote, or noticing a strange word combination or phrase on a billboard can start the wheels in motion on a new story. Recently I’ve been revising a picture book about a little girl on Mars. I’m also finishing up a narrative nonfiction book about the joys and challenges of teaching in the era of standardized tests and student loans. When I teach nature writing at our college, we go on a lot of class field trips in the woods, so there’s a bear in that book, too.

My next picture book, The Perfect Pillow, is forthcoming in 2018. Surprisingly, that one does not include a bear, but there’s still a lot of sharing. And a dragon.

Thank you, Eric, for being my guest!

Looking for Eric? You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and his website.

You can find How to Share with a Bear, How to Build a Snow Bear, and other picture books by Eric Pinder at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart, Powells, and possibly on your own front doorstep. One of you will win How to Share with a Bear and How to Build a Snow Bear. Simply comment below, giving the title of a favorite picture book you had as a child (or now), to be entered into the drawing. The winner will be announced on December 15. Stayed tuned for more book giveaways and information on Kitty Santa!

Author photo by Jenn Pinder. Cookie photo by Eric Pinder. Book covers from Goodreads. Dr. Seuss image from cliparts.co. Snow and Kitty photos by L. Marie.

Suitable for Adults?

What items would you deem suitable for adults? Why do I ask? Let me elaborate in case your mind is going in a totally different direction than mine. If I go to a store and purchase a DVD or blu-ray for an animated show or movie, most of the time the cashier will ask if I want a gift receipt under the assumption that I’m making a purchase for a child. The question is never posed to me if I buy a live action movie.

The same question occurs if I enter a bookstore and purchase a middle grade book. I once told a cashier, “No, I’m going to read that.” She offered a “You’re kidding me” look. Never mind the fact that people who write books for kids can learn a lot by reading books other people have written for kids.

Several years ago, before miniseries like Galavant were even a gleam in the eye of ABC executives, a friend gave me this as a gift.

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(Um, not the books. The knight and horse.) Makes you think of this image, doesn’t it?

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She knew I loved stories about knights and was researching them for a book. Yet this knight and horse have drawn some disbelieving glances from others of the “Why would you want that?” variety.

When I was a kid, I remember asking my parents if I had to dress a certain way and like certain things when I became an adult. Would I have to give up Chuck Taylors? If so, being an adult would totally suck.

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Well, I’m an adult, and my love of the above has yet to dissipate. But I guess I sometimes make other adults uncomfortable, because I still love

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• Puddles (though I don’t jump into them these days)
• Animated series
• Bubblegum
• Graphic novels
• Fairy tales

You’re probably ready to sing “My Favorite Things” now, aren’t you? Part of being an adult is admitting to being childlike without being childish. For example, sticking my tongue out and going, “Nyeah!” when someone looks askance at a purchase I’ve made (though I really want to do so), would be childish. But I have to wonder why being an adult means you have to give up something you love just because you cross a certain threshold age-wise.

The apostle Paul stated

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11

But did Paul mean that being an adult means dictating how all other adults should behave? I can’t help thinking back to third grade when we used to say to each other, “Ewwww! You like that?” So are we suddenly more grown up if we utter the same statement about something harmless another adult happens to like?

Don’t get me wrong. I love books like this

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which is an award-winning adult fiction book. And I love these Prada boots

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though I can’t afford them. And in the winter, I love this:

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(In case you can’t read the label, this is Windshield De-Icer. For those of you who live in warmer climates and don’t see products like this, it makes scraping ice off windshields a lot easier.) And I love this brand of lipstick no matter what season:

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So, I need to take joy in the things I love and not worry if I get “the look” from someone. Instead of scowling, I can say, “Okay, sure” when someone asks me if I need a gift receipt, simply because it’s not worth the time to justify a purchase I have every right to make for myself. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch Justice League: War. And I might chew some bubblegum while I’m at it.

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Chuck Taylors from shoebizsf.com. Galavant poster from melty.fr. Book cover from Goodreads. Justice League: War image from mundobignada.com. Bubblegum from whoguides.com.

Are You This Rose?

In the U.S., we celebrated Father’s Day the other day, so happy belated Father’s Day to those of you who are dads, even if you don’t live in the U.S. And speaking of dads, the winners of Stacy Nyikos’s picture book, Toby (illustrated by Shawn Sisneros; published by Stonehorse Publishing), are two dads. First, if you’re wondering who Stacy is, check out the interview here.

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Now, let’s get to those winners! Without further ado, they are

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Phillip McCollum and Charles Yallowitz!

Congrats, winners! Please confirm below and I’ll snail mail the books to you. By the way, each copy was signed by Stacy and comes with a bookmark. Sweet!

Moving on, let me satisfy your curiosity (if any) about the post title. First, take a look at the photo below. That’s the rose to which I refer. I’ve written about roses before. Oddly enough, I keep learning lessons from them unexpectedly.

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A few days ago, my stress level had tripled thanks to some issues with a freelance project. Ever have one of those days when everything seems to go bad like food forgotten in a refrigerator? That was the kind of day I’d had. I felt like quitting before I could be booted off the project like someone I know had been. My soul felt rubbed raw thanks to some feedback I received.

When a day goes sour, I do what I usually do (besides grab the nearest pint of ice cream)—I headed out for a drive. As I headed outside, I spotted the rose and took a photo. I’m glad I did, because a day later, the branch was barren. Perhaps someone plucked it, since I didn’t see any petals on the ground. But when I saw that rose, instantly my blood pressure decreased.

This lone rose—the product of a prickle-lined cane—reminds me of the struggle to persist despite daunting circumstances. That’s about as far as I can go with the fancy talk. I wanted to come up with metaphors and other poetic language. I even had aspirations of writing a poem—an ode to a rose by a brick wall. But I’m feeling too raw and too lacking in creative juices these days. So I’m telling it straight—without a chaser. But even though I don’t have the right words, I’m still amazed that a thing of beauty like a rose springs from something that looks like the perfect symbol for pain.

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What kind of rose is your life blooming? Perhaps the painful prickles make you doubt you could ever produce anything beautiful. Maybe they make you forget that your life is beautiful. Sometimes I forget that, especially when I doubt my ability to do anything right. That’s why I needed to see that rose, to be reminded that beautiful things are often born out of pain.

Rose cane from mooseyscountrygarden.com. Rose photo taken by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Toby

Glad you stopped by the blog. Someone else is here too: the fabulous Stacy Nyikos. She’s here to talk about her latest picture book, Toby, published by Stonehorse Publishing, debuts June 30. Toby was illustrated by Shawn Sisneros, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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Stacy is represented by Stephen Fraser. To make your visit to the blog a profitable one, I’ll tell you about a giveaway at the end of the interview. Let’s talk to Stacy first, shall we?

El Space: Welcome to the blog, Stacy. Four quick facts about yourself?
Stacy: (1) I’m afraid to swim in the ocean—sharks!—but I love to write about it.
(2) I have a secret stash of dark chocolate in my desk drawer for those times when the writing gets tough. (3) I walked to the local high school when I was three by following the neighbor boy because I was bored. I thought school would be more exciting. It was! (4) I used to try to levitate rocks in bed at night because I wanted to be a Jedi.

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Stacy’s secret stash

El Space: Please walk us through the process for creating this picture book. How did you come up with the idea? How was the illustrator chosen? How long was the process from the initial concept to finished product?
Stacy: Toby was the brain child of a lot of very eager readers I met over the years while doing signings at aquariums. So many asked, “Would you write a picture book about a sea turtle?” I wanted to, but I could never quite come up with the right idea. Then a few years ago, I was driving back from an aquarium event, my head full or more requests for a sea turtle book. I think they must have reached some sort of critical mass—or bonded together and created their own idea—but by the time I got home, I had the outline of Toby in my head.

Shawn Sisneros loves underwater animals as much as I do. He’s illustrated two other aquatic picture books I wrote. He has this awesome way of creating a character who looks like the real animal but is generalized enough, sort of like a cartoon figure, so that the reader can imagine themselves in the role as they read the story.

How long did the project take? Well, if you skip the five years of mulling over to get the idea, from the moment I finally had one until the book came out was about four years. Writing books takes patience in a way I never imagined!

El Space: You have a number of sea-oriented picture books. What draws you over and over to the ocean habitat?
Stacy: I’m mesmerized by the ocean. I’m scared stiff of swimming in it, but at the same time can’t seem to learn enough about it. We know so little about what goes on underneath the surface of the water. For a long time, scientists didn’t think anything could live really, really far down in the ocean. It was too dark and cold and the water too heavy. Then they built subs that could travel really far down in the water and lo and behold, they found lots of life there. The ocean is full of possibility. I think that’s what draws my imagination back to it over and over.

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El Space: Awhile ago, Mac Barnett, Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket, and many other writers wrote a picture book manifesto. If you could write your own manifesto, what would you write to show your thoughts about picture books?
Stacy: Man, it’s hard to improve upon greatness. Their manifesto hits upon so many good points. Let’s see. Challenge your audience. They aren’t afraid of big words or topics. You shouldn’t be either.

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Murakami, HarukiEl Space: What books or authors influence you as a writer?
Stacy: I love all things written from Machiavelli to Berkeley Breathed to Mary Stewart, but I don’t like to reread (bad, bad author!), so when it comes to influences, it’s more these obscure nuggets I’ve collected and spun together in my own gyre of writing style—“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” from Tolstoy. Hemingway wrote standing up (or so the legends go) so that he only wrote what was absolutely necessary. “If you read the books everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking” (Haruki Murakami). The best piece of advice Stephen King got from an editor was: “2nd Draft = 1st draft – 10%.” And my daughter, Sophia, who taught me that making up words is fun: Geroninball!

El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to write picture books?
Stacy: Imagination is everything. You can have lousy style. You can be the worst speller. You can overwrite, underwrite, break the unbreakable rules, but if it’s imaginative, you will find your way. Your imagination, the way you see the world, is what makes your work new and different and like nothing anyone has ever read before. Write from there.

El Space: What writing project are you working on now?
Stacy: I usually work on a couple of projects at a time. I’m rewriting a YA novel called Skin Deep which is basically a retelling of Moses set in a Blade Runner-esque world that I started during my MFA. I’m tweaking a picture book, Attack of the Glazed Donut Monster, and I’m in the end stages of research on an historical novel about an 18-year old’s adventures from the Mississippi River through the Battle of the Bulge that is loosely based on my grandfather’s life. When I first started writing, I worried the ideas would run out. Nowadays, I worry I won’t have time to explore them all!

Thanks, Stacy, for being my guest!

Looking for Stacy? You don’t have to head to the nearest ocean. You can find her at her website, Twitter, and Facebook. Or, check out the other picture books by Stacy: Shelby (illustrated by Shawn Sisneros), Squirt (illustrated by Shawn Sisneros), Rope ’Em! (illustrated by Bret Conover).

Toby is available here:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

Two of you will win a copy of this picture book. Just comment to be entered in the drawing. Tell us your favorite marine animal as you comment. Winners will be announced on June 16. Thanks for stopping by!

Ocean photo from blirk.net. Haruki Murakami photo from bogbrokken.blogspot.com.

Hand Puppet Day

My good friend Sandra Nickel posted on Facebook that Squirrel Appreciation Day was January 21. I hope you were kind to a squirrel. I have a Scaredy Squirrel hand puppet, so I pulled it out of hibernation and took pictures of it to show my support of the day. Anything for a cause. But even without the excuse of Squirrel Appreciation Day, the day seemed tailor made for a Hand Puppet Day.

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What’s a Hand Puppet Day? It’s a day when I’m feeling trwxhrlw—a word I made up that’s really just a grunt to convey how desperately in need of change I am—a good change though, not like a sudden temperature drop; I’ve had enough of those. (It’s minus one right now.) It’s a day when I’m tired of worrying about whether I measure up or who I might be letting down.

It’s also a social experiment day—a day to shake things up. I do that every now and then. Like the day I roamed around Michigan Avenue in Chicago wearing a Hello Kitty backpack, just to see if anyone would ask me about it. Several kids stared, whether out of envy or confusion, I wasn’t sure. It’s also like the time I went to work a few years ago, wearing a tall Goofy hat from Disney World. As was the case with the Hello Kitty backpack, no one commented.

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So, yes, I’m an adult with a Scaredy Squirrel hand puppet who isn’t afraid to use it. (If you’re not sure who that is, Scaredy Squirrel is a character in this picture book by Mélanie Watt.)

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When I was in grad school, I brought a different Scaredy Squirrel picture book to school each semester. Outside of the program (writing for children and young adults), such behavior would probably result in a raised eyebrow or two. But on a day like Hand Puppet Day, even if I got the raised eyebrow, I don’t have to care.

You see, on Hand Puppet Day, it’s okay to embrace your weirdness. It’s okay to let yourself off the hook and silence the voice whispering that you’re not measuring up somehow. On Hand Puppet Day, it’s okay to throw out the measuring stick.

589556-1For some reason, this reminds me of a quote from Moonstruck, the 1987 film written by John Patrick Shanley, who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It’s one of my favorite films ever. Unfortunately, I can’t avoid a spoiler, so feel free to skip over this paragraph. One of the characters, Ronny Cammareri (played by Nicolas Cage) is kind of an odd duck. Hand Puppet Days were made for him. One odd day, Ronny falls for his brother’s fiancée, Loretta (played by Cher). Ronny tells Loretta:

Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice—it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

That might seem like an odd quote out of context. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a homewrecking relationship. But it reminds me that the human experience isn’t always neat or cookie cutter or status quo. Life sometimes is a mess. Some days we wake up feeling trwxhrlw. I think of that quote, because on a day like Hand Puppet Day, I realize I’m not “here to make things perfect,” even if I have the delusion that perfection can be achieved. I’m here to live and to brandish a hand puppet every now and then.

Do yourself a favor: declare today a Hand Puppet Day! You don’t have to have a hand puppet. Just embrace who you are—all your wonderful quirks. Hope to see you on Michigan Avenue. I’ll be the one with the Hello Kitty backpack.

In preparation for my ice cream give away, please comment below with the answer to the question, “Where do you get your ice cream/yogurt?” Baskin-Robbins? Culver’s? Dairy Queen? Oberweis Dairy? Other?

The Winner’s Circle

Bless you, Random Numbers Generator. I would give you a present, but you’re software. Still, you’ve been a big help to me today.

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The winners of Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska are . . .

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Sharon Van Zandt and beatthemtodeathwiththeirownshoes!!!

Books will be ordered from Amazon, so please email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to confirm snail mail addresses.

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The winner of Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is . . .

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Professor VJ Duke!!!

Please email to confirm your snail mail address.

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For Janet Fox’s books, I’ve got a winner and a surprise winner.

The winner of the $20 gift card to purchase two of Janet’s books, one of which has to be Sirens, is . . .

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Andra Watkins!!!

But I’m also giving away a copy of Faithful—surprise—to someone. And that person is . . .

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Jill Weatherholt!!!

Andra and Jill, please confirm your snail mail addresses. Janet will also mail a bookplate to you.

Thank you to all who commented. Winners, please email me to let me know email addresses and all of that good stuff. Congratulations to you all!

Naruto-Opening01_222Recently, I watched two movies based on the popular manga series starring Naruto Uzumaki, a kid ninja in training. One was Naruto the Movie 3: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom.
Anyway, a quote of Naruto’s struck me:

I’m not giving up. Ever.

Maybe someone needed to see these words and take them to heart today. Maybe you’re a NaNoite who wonders if you’ll really crack that 50,000 words. Or, maybe you’re just someone who has a big task ahead and aren’t sure you can do it. Or, maybe you think you’ll never be published. The winner’s circle isn’t just for people who’ve won books. It’s for people who face the dance with discouragement, but like Naruto commit to keep going. That’s you, right?

I thought so.

P. S. A special shout-out to another good friend—Laura Sibson—who is running a marathon today. Run well, Laura! You can do this!

Infinity and Me cover courtesy of Kate Hosford. Naruto image from Wikipedia. Charlotte’s Web cover from Goodreads. Janet’s covers from her website.

Check This Out: Infinity and Me

Like poetry? Today on the blog is the clever and prolific Kate Hosford. I was first introduced to Kate at VCFA through her wonderful poetry.

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Kate is represented by Tracey Adams and is here to talk about her latest picture book, Infinity and Me, a New York Times best illustrated book for 2012, published by Carolrhoda Books.

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Kate also wrote Big Bouffant and Big Birthday. Thanks to a generous donor, TWO of you will win a copy of Infinity and Me. That’s right. Two! But first, let’s talk to Kate!

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El Space: Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Kate: I grew up in Vermont, I love to eat octopus, I often cry when I hear children sing, and I’m fascinated by Iceland.

El Space: What inspired you to write Infinity and Me? Please tell us how you and the illustrator, Gabi Swiatkowska, came to create this book. How unusual is it for an author/illustrator team to approach a publisher as a team?
Kate: When my two sons were little, I noticed that they enjoyed talking about infinity. Usually the conversation would center on whether it was possible to write down the biggest number or find the edge of the universe. When my search for picture books on this topic proved unsuccessful, I decided to try writing one myself. I tried many different formats, including rhyme, which really didn’t work.

I finally decided to structure the story around a girl who goes on a quest to find the meaning of infinity. This format appealed to me, because it would allow children to see that there are many different ways to imagine this concept—dare I say an infinite number of ways?

Before I decided to write for children, I had worked as an illustrator. Gabi Swiatkowska and I had been in an illustrator’s group together, and had become friends. When I wrote the story, I already had Gabi in mind as the illustrator, because I knew that her ethereal style would be perfectly suited to this topic. As soon as I had a working draft, I sent it to Gabi, asking her if she would be willing to illustrate it. A few weeks later, a beautiful little dummy arrived in the mail, and I knew that we had something exciting to shop around.

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Gabi’s sketch

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Gabi’s final art

However, it took years to sell. While editors were interested in the book, many publishers felt that the topic was too abstract for young children. Knowing this, I spent a some time assembling quotations from young children about infinity, which are now on my website, but most publishers remained unconvinced.

I will always be grateful to Lerner for having faith that children could handle this subject matter. The book has been received well both by children and adults, which has been really gratifying.

I think it’s quite unusual to approach a publisher as an author/illustrator team, and in general not advisable, since editors view choosing an illustrator as an important part of their job. I think it worked in this case, because Gabi was already an established illustrator, and without the sketches, this manuscript probably would have seemed too esoteric even to editors who were open to this topic.

El Space: At VCFA, you were known for your poetry. What are the challenges to working in rhyme for a young audience?
Kate: One challenge is finding rhymes that sound so natural that the reader can simply concentrate on the content of the poem. Forced rhymes, created by inverted sentence structure or simply by choosing the wrong word, end up jumping out at all readers. In these instances, the artifice of the poem is exposed, and the reader sees the poet straining to make the rhyme work.

In the case of young readers, the choice of rhymes is further limited by vocabulary that is appropriate for the age level. I’m all for introducing new vocabulary words to children through poetry, but there can’t be so many new words that they struggle to understand the poem.

30119El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Kate: I will not mention mentors from Vermont College of Fine Arts, because there are so many of them. In terms of other writers: Shel Silverstein for his whimsical nature and the surprising twists that he puts in his poems, Marilyn Singer’s for her technical prowess, and her amazing invention of the reverso poem, and Dr. Seuss, who is still so fresh and modern today.

For middle grade, I am inspired by Lois Lowry’s versatility, especially when I consider that she is the author of both The Giver and The Willoughbys. I’m also inspired by Louise Fitzhugh and Judy Blume for being brave enough to write their groundbreaking books.

1629601I’m interested in the work of E. Lockhart/Emily Jenkins for her ability to write for every age level, and for giving the world one of my all-time favorite YA novels, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks. I also love the work of Carolyn Mackler and Rachel Cohn.

At the moment, I’m very interested in humorous novels, especially the Diary of Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, and the Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison. I think humor is so difficult to get right, and I have great admiration for those who can do it.

El Space: How do you think picture books have changed in the last ten years?
Kate: In the last decade, picture books have started to skew younger. However, there have still been plenty of successful picture books that are aimed at an older audience. This is probably most true for non-fiction, which seems to be a bourgeoning market, but it is also true for fiction.

There are picture books in traditional storybook format that have done very well, like Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. There are also cerebral picture books like those of David Weisner and Shaun Tan, which are aimed at an older audience. Whether or not one considers The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Wonderstruck to be picture books, the success of these books by Brian Selznick proves that older children can be entranced by sophisticated stories that incorporate a good deal of visual narrative.

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El Space: What writing advice helped you turn an important corner in your writing?
Kate: I have learned to pay attention to the voices in my head. For instance, if a story comes to me in rhyme, then I should probably try it first in rhyme. This may sound obvious, but with my first picture book, Big Bouffant, I had only one couplet going through my head in the beginning: “All I really want is a big bouffant, a big bouffant, is all I really want.” But instead of writing the story in rhyme, I spent the next five years trying to write it in prose. It was only when I returned to rhyme that the story worked. Of course, my initial “voices” may not always be the ones that work, but it probably makes sense to explore them first.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Kate: I recently sold a poetry collection called Poems from a Circus Chef, and a picture book called The Perfect Cup of Tea. Both books will be coming out from Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing, in 2015. I’m really excited about Poems from a Circus Chef, because it is my first poetry collection. Presently, I am experimenting with different poetic forms so that I will have lots of different options for each poem when I start working with my editor. I’m also very excited about The Perfect Cup of Tea, because I will get to collaborate again with Gabi Swiatkowska. Other than that, I am trying to write a novel about a homeschooled Icelandic rock star.

Great talking with you, Kate!

Looking for Kate? Check out her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Gabi’s website is here. Infinity and Me is available here:
Amazon
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Kate’s covers from her website. Other covers from Goodreads.