Check This Out: Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

With me on the blog today is the fabulous Shari Swanson (another great Secret Gardener classmate; for others, click here and here), who is here to talk about her picture book, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, which was published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins and debuts today, people! Woot!

     

Shari is represented by John Rudolph. After Shari and I chat, I’ll fill you in on a giveaway of this very book. Now, let’s talk to Shari!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Shari: My favorite color is periwinkle. Actually, periwinkle is a favorite word, too. Perhaps I’ll write a book about Mr. Perry Winkle and his Phantasmagoric Adventures Through Color. (Dibs. 😀)


• I love games, all sorts—puzzles, mysteries, board games, sports, hiding pictures, and treasure hunting.
• I have a beloved dog named Honey, not, surprisingly, named after Abraham Lincoln’s dog.
• I love words—etymologies, derivations, roots, cadence, sound, rhyme—everything about words. When I was in high school, I read All About Words by Maxwell Nurnberg and Morris Rosenblum while suntanning on the beach. One of my favorite courses in college was linguistics.

El Space: How did you come to write this picture book about a dog and Abraham Lincoln? How long was the process of writing the book?
Shari: When I was teaching middle school literature early this millennia, we read about Abraham Lincoln’s early years from an excerpt of Russell Freedman’s book on Lincoln. It was fascinating. I hadn’t ever heard about Lincoln’s Kentucky years and wanted to know more. I thought perhaps children would like to read about Lincoln when he was their age. I had the pleasure of meeting the late Russell Freedman at an SCBWI conference in 2006 and told him how much I wanted to write a picture book expanding on those details from his book. With tears in his eyes, he encouraged me and told me what a wonderful picture book that would be. When I was deep in that research, I discovered Honey. Honey had saved Lincoln’s life! What would the world be like if we hadn’t had Abraham Lincoln? Honey was an unknown hero. Honey, I thought, would make a wonderful picture book. And then I set off to write that story. The first draft of my book was written when I was doing the picture book semester at VCFA, back in 2011. I sold it in 2016, and now it is finally in the world!

El Space: How did you get started writing picture books?
Shari: I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this. I’ve always loved picture books. But I didn’t always understand that I could write them. Somewhere along the line, I realized that you don’t have to be a master artist to write a picture book, and that made me think maybe I could try it. I took a course in picture books at UCLA Extension way back in the early 1990s, I think, so it’s been a lifelong dream. I enrolled in the picture book semester when I was at VCFA with Julie Larios, and a workshop just prior to that with Julie and Uma Krishnaswami. That six months was maybe my favorite in my entire education as it was so filled with play and words and sheer delight.

El Space: How much input did you have with the illustrator? What was your reaction to seeing the illustrations?
Shari: Every picture book author/illustrator interaction is probably different. My editor, Maria Barbo at HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen books, was wonderful at taking my thoughts and opinions into account at each stage of the process. First, she asked me if I had an illustrator in mind to suggest. That inquiry sent me on a delightful tour through bookstores and libraries, trying to find artists that had the right feel for Honey. When she suggested Chuck Groenink, she sent me links to his portfolio. [Click here for a post about Chuck and his process on another picture book.] We both loved his work, especially his use of light in dark scenes, a skill that would be important for the cavern scenes in Honey. Seeing Chuck’s first drafts for Honey was a highlight of my life. Right there in my hands was this charming beautifully-realized art bringing my words to life. As we moved forward, I had the ability at every stage to offer my thoughts. One suggestion that I am thrilled Chuck incorporated was adding more detail to the forest scenes. I wanted the readers to feel just how distracting the woods were, with all the sounds and animals, and have the reader be literally distracted by the detail on the page just as young Abe was distracted on his journey.

El Space: What picture books have inspired you as a kid? As an adult?
Shari: As a child, I loved Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Are You My Mother, by P. D. Eastman, and all things Dr. Seuss. As an adult, I love picture books that are poetic and musical; those that have wildly creative art, perhaps looking at things from unusual perspectives, and those that celebrate characters who are not stereotypic.

     

El Space: Any advice for would-be picture book writers? What do you think a twenty-first century kid needs to see in a picture book?
Shari: My best advice it to read your work out loud. Notice where the pauses and awkward phrasings are so you can fix them. I also think it is hugely important to make a picture book dummy, eight sheets of paper folded in half to make 32 pages, and block out your story. Where are the breaks? Are there interesting page turns? Is there something that is illustratible on each page? Finally, don’t give up. Take the time to create as often as you can. The joy is in the journey. I’m not sure what a modern kid needs to see in a picture book. I hope in Honey, a modern reader can both identify with young Abe—his distractedness, his love for animals, his desire to help—and think about the differences, too, like how Abe walked miles alone through a wild dangerous forest, so that the book is both timeless and grounded in its time.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Shari: I have several more works in progress, but the one getting my immediate attention is a non-fiction picture book, another heartwarming story of an animal/human interaction, this one from WWII.

Thanks, Shari, for being my guest!

Looking for Shari? Look no further than her website, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Looking for Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed January 20, 2020.

The first meeting of the picture book club almost ended in a fistfight. While Lazy Buns and the Squeezamal agreed that Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, is a great book, they disagreed on the refreshments, or the lack thereof. “It was your job to bring tea with honey for us to share!” the Squeezamal grumbled, Lazy Buns having only remembered to bring herself a cup of coffee.

Author photo by Christie Lane Photography. Book covers, with the exception of Shari’s book, are from Goodreads. Periwinkle flower from Wikipedia. Book storyboard from somewhere on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.

Thanksgiving

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Poor Thanksgiving. You often get lost in the shuffle between Halloween and Christmas or Hanukkah, don’t you?

Mostly, you’re lumped into the general autumn scheme of things when it comes to decorating. Well, you are a holiday born out of thanksgiving to God for a good harvest (and for survival) back in 1621. And thanks to President Lincoln, you were celebrated nationally on a Thursday, though you didn’t become an official national holiday until 1941.

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I’m grateful for all of the Thanksgiving meals I’ve had in the past, where I consumed mass quantities of food, played board games with my family, then vegged out in front of the television, watching football. This year will be a little different. I plan to hang out with friends, play board games, and eat mass quantities of food. (As I said it will be a little different.)

What are you thankful for? My attitude this past week was anything but thankful, though. I received a record number of rejections from manuscript queries—four. I felt like a failure. But some good friends encouraged me (thank you, Sharon, Laura S., and Megan). Someone else did too. A few days ago, I made a quick stop at a jewelry party at the home of another friend. A young woman was there, whom I hadn’t seen since she was a kid.

“I still have some books of yours from when I was a kid,” she said, referring to a series I’d written many years ago, that went out of print within a year. “They were some of my favorite books. They helped me decide to be an author/illustrator.”

Her words made me tear up. How could I have so quickly forgotten the power of reaching even one kid by the written word? How easily swayed I was by discouragement.

Sometimes you have to kick discouragement in the teeth. And what better way to do that than with the giveaway I introduced in my last post? (Click here for the list of books.) At first, I was going to give away just one book. But I decided to give away more than that. It is Thanksgiving (soon) anyway.

I looked at the list of people who mentioned books. Here it is:

Charles (Star Wars)
Penny (Meetings)
Pamela (Meetings)
Karen Gradient (Grace Lin)
Reocochran (Star Wars)
Lyn (Grace Lin)
Nicki (Grace Lin)

Congrats. You’re all getting a book. Please comment below to confirm. Then I’ll need you to email your snail mail address and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com (or email my primary email account if you know it, which would be faster). If you would prefer that I not have your snail address, please let me know, and we can make other arrangements.

If you commented and mentioned a book, but don’t see your name on the above list, please comment below. I’m going by the honor system here.

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Seriously, have a good Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it, that is; if not, have a great Thursday)!

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Rudolph and his gang of unfinished crocheted reindeer discovered a new house in the neighborhood. Perhaps they could spend Thanksgiving here.

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After booting out the reindeer, the new neighbor, Rainbow Kate, took up residence in her new house. But Kitty invited herself over for a Thanksgiving meal. Chaos is sure to ensue.

Turkey images from latintimes.com and openclipart.org. Thanksgiving image from dvd-ppt-slideshow.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Mover and Shaker: Is That You?

    MTLLyarGc   1024px-Salt_shaker_on_white_background

Ever feel certain you know the definition of an idiom, but when you start to describe it on paper, you discover that you’re not really sure of its definition? That’s how I was with mover and shaker, a phrase coined by poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy in his poem, “Ode.” The phrase might seem familiar if you’ve seen Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). Here is the first stanza ala Wikipedia:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Before I get to the definition, let me ask you this: who would you consider to be a mover and shaker (past or present)? Bill Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft? Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook? Oprah Winfrey? Margaret Thatcher? Abraham Lincoln? Any famous actor, producer, or writer?

Often we take our cues from those on whom society shines a spotlight. So, before I looked up the definition of mover and shaker, I had a preconceived idea that certain qualities were prerequisites. A mover and a shaker, I assumed, had to be

• Confident
• Strong
• A squeaky wheel
• An extrovert
• A winner or someone determine to win at all costs
• Pushy
• Competitive
• Driven
• Highly motivated
• Exceptional
• A corporate CEO
• A celebrity
• A leader on a national level

A mover and shaker, according to Merriam-Webster.com, is

A person who is active or influential in some field of endeavor

Note that the definition only includes two adjectives: active and influential.

You might keep that thought in mind as I briefly move on. I was talking to my sister-in-law the other day about my nephew, who is in the midst of a national scholarship competition, having already won our state competition. My first thought was, how was he planning to crush the competition? I know. I sound like a stage mom, ready to scream at a kid to go out there and dominate! Intimidate! And my sister-in-law mentioned that she tried to instill within him the need to have the eye of the tiger. “But,” she said, “he’s not very competitive. He just wants to get through his presentation.” In other words, he’s fine whether he wins or loses.

So after that exchange, I wondered whether or not a quiet person could be considered a mover and shaker. As I pondered this, I thought of Rosa Parks, who didn’t say a whole lot, but whose decision to remain seated on a bus influenced many people.

I also thought about my parents, who always told me I could do anything I set my mind to do. They worked hard to make sure I received a good education and didn’t date the wrong people. 🙂 Neither is a corporate CEO or a leader on a national level. But they’ve done their best to guide me. So in my book that would qualify them as active and influential, even though they’re not celebrities.

Another person I thought about was my nephew, who sometimes slips songs on my computer that he wants me to enjoy. That’s influential. He’s also active about telling me corny jokes.

Okay. I know what you’re thinking. I’m totally clueless about the notion of being a mover and shaker. All of the examples I’ve given don’t seem powerful or huge. But I would say, “That depends on your definition of powerful.” Is a sunset or a sunrise powerful? Neither adds to your bank account. And both occur whether you notice them or not. But maybe when you notice, you’re inspired to write a sonnet or forgive someone or simply go on living. If that’s not powerful, I don’t know what is. It’s the same with the people in our lives.

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Maybe it’s time for a paradigm shift in regard to mover and shaker. Think about the people who have been quietly influential in your life, who influenced you to follow the career path you’re now on. Perhaps you’re that person, one who seeks the good in others or who works quietly behind the scenes to help others succeed. Or, perhaps you help persuade others to consider the impact their actions have on the environment. Maybe you’re an advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves.

Your actions have weight and meaning. Even if you don’t have a talk show or haven’t been asked to guest host for someone else’s talk show, you are a mover and shaker. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Salt shaker and sunrise from Wikipedia. Moving van from clipartbest.com