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Archive for the ‘Children’s Author’ Category

I’d like to introduce author/illustrator Milanka Reardon. She is the illustrator for Who Will? Will You?—written by Sarah Hoppe and published by Blue Whale Press. In this interview, Milanka shares excellent tips for remaining consistent from page to page, illustrating facial expressions and body language, dealing with creative direction, and more!

 

How did you get your start as a children’s book illustrator?

I have always loved to draw from the time that I was a little girl living in Titograd, Yugoslavia with my mother. I was fascinated by the pictures in the old fairy tale books from that country. I still have most of them. That is the one thing that I carried with me when I emigrated from Yugoslavia when I was six years old. I left any toys I had behind. My aunt sent us a roll of toilet paper when we lived in the old country, and I used to draw pictures on it. It made a great continuous storyboard and I filled each square with pictures!

When I decided to go back to school for art, I thought that Natural Science Illustration would be a great fit for me since my undergraduate degree is in biology, (art school wasn’t considered a practical thing for an immigrant girl). And while I loved drawing and painting plants and animals, I wanted to tell a story with them. I always loved the funny individual expressions of the animals and saw them as characters, and I wondered about their story. So that naturally led me to the Children’s Book Illustration program at Rhode Island School of Design. Once I started that program, I found that I had so many stories that I wanted to tell with pictures, and that was just the beginning.

You are also a writer. Which came first? Writing or art?

The art, definitely! I still find it hard to think of myself as a writer.

Side note from Alayne: I’ve had the pleasure of seeing one of your author/illustrator pieces (Blog reader: see image above for Nana’s Wall) and it is so wonderful that I can’t forget about it!

Thank you so much, Alayne. That story parallels my life so much that it came naturally. But of course, the pictures came first. Then it took several years of revising the story to make it into a real picture book. I’m hoping that it will be published someday.

Kirkus Reviews had the following to say about your Who Will? Will You? illustrations:

“A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists. . . . Reardon’s realistic pastel-and-ink illustrations, populated with humans with a variety of skin tones, do an excellent job of hiding the identity of the pup and showing the adults’ shocked expressions.”

I agree with Kirkus. The drawings you have done for my next book, Old Man and His Penguin, are equally as impressive.

Do you have any artistic influences? If not, what does influence your style?

I have so many influences! I love to travel and get the feel for a place, and I think that influences my illustrations. Maybe that’s why they have an old-world feel. With Who Will? Will You? I really tried to show a diverse world of characters for the book. That is why the Kirkus review made me so happy. I was really trying to show a population of humans that was diverse without singling out one group of people. I wanted Lottie to ask different people who will take care of her pup, and I tried to imagine who she would meet in the real world. The animals were just the extra fun bonus to illustrate!

Do you have a preferred medium?

I painted mostly with oils when I started painting portraits. Then I found that I could achieve some fantastic results with colored pencils. I love to explore different mediums. Now I am happiest working with watercolors and pencils. I love the looseness of the water and paint and watching it flow on paper, and then I like to have some areas more controlled with colored pencil or pastel pencil. I try to achieve a nice variety of textures. But most of all I am drawn to whatever works for creating that unique character that best fits the story. I have also been able to add finishing touches digitally with Photoshop or Procreate.

What medium and process did you use for the Who Will? Will You? illustrations?

For Who Will? Will You? I used mostly watercolors and pencils, both pastel pencils and colored pencils. After scanning the paintings, I was able to make adjustments using Procreate and Photoshop as well.

Blue Whale Press is involved in the illustration process throughout book development. What was it like following a publisher’s process versus working independently?

Working with Blue Whale Press has been a wonderful experience. I had creative freedom with the illustrations, and the editor and publisher were very supportive while providing professional feedback throughout the process. Also the author, Sarah Hoppe, did a fantastic job writing a fun story and making each word count.

The last book I illustrated was self-published. Illustrating for someone who is self-publishing their book is very different. The author of the story had definite ideas of what he wanted on each page, and there was a lot more input on each individual illustration from the author throughout. It’s kind of nice with a small press because you have the best situation in that the publisher trusts you to create the characters and to come up with the book dummy but is available and provides professional feedback where needed. The overall process was very positive and supportive with great communication between the editor, publisher and myself. Thank you, Alayne, for that!

It has all been my pleasure, Milanka.

You have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways, but also in the area of creative direction. Do you have any tips for illustrators regarding how to keep from taking direction personally?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I think that anyone that has gone to art school realizes that critiques can be tough. But you try to use them to improve your own artwork. In the case of illustrating a picture book, you have to always be open to suggestions and ideas that may improve the story. So, it’s more about working together with the editor to make a better book. Making a good picture book is a collaborative effort. The author, the illustrator, editor and publisher all have ideas to make it work and hopefully it all comes together in the best way possible in the end. That is why I have always been open to edits. I know personally that I spend so much time staring at that illustration that I may miss something important, so the creative direction is appreciated.

My advice to any illustrator would be to look at the final image and to do what is best for the book. If more than one person critiques the same area of the illustration, then it’s probably not reading correctly. The creative direction from the editor and publisher is meant to improve the story, it is not a personal commentary on you.

I love the little extras you put on every page of Who Will? Will You? One little thing I noticed that made me smile is one of the sea lions is cross-eyed 😉 But you just created such a nice world for Lottie.

How do you get over the natural instinct to show only what is in the text and instead put some of yourself into the story by doing a little something extra or special on each page?

The job of the illustrator is to add to the story and to tell the story with pictures. So naturally you want to add a little something extra to the story. The illustrations should complement the text and the text should also complement the illustrations. They work together. There is no need to be redundant and only show what is told in words. It’s a lot more fun to add the little extras. Children are smart and they will notice. It’s the difference that makes a book one that a child will want to read over and over again to discover even more within the book and the illustrations each time they read it.

Does it take courage to express yourself and help tell the story?

Yes and no. Personally it does show some of your sense of humor, adventure or even if you’ve done your research correctly. But, I feel that you should show some of yourself in your illustrations because that’s the point of both telling with words and pictures. It’s all about making the story fun for children.

Do you have any tips for illustrators for going beyond the text with your expression?

Research! Research the location. In Who Will? Will You? I had to think of where could you find all of those types of animal rescue places in one area, and even a bat cave! And how do you make each one different and unique. Then you can put who would be in those places. So that research was fun – going to the beach and even a cave and sketching and photographing. You notice, especially when you sketch people and animals the different body positions and facial expressions that people have. Animals too! It’s fun to observe and sketch.

Character study, younger Lottie and Rufus

Lottie and Rufus are so adorable. Where did you find your inspiration for them—well, for all the characters, really?

Character design, older Lottie and Rufus

I can remember when I was thinking about Lottie. I was in a Paneras and I saw this beautiful little girl come in with her mother and she had this messy hair. When I came home I couldn’t forget her funny expressions and the messy hair. So I drew who I thought Lottie would be. And I remember my initial sketches were of a much younger Lottie! I remember you telling me that my little preschool Lottie would not be walking the streets alone looking for a home for a pup, so please change her to an older child. You were so nice with your directions and I thought, okay, that’s not really a problem. I can draw an older Lottie. And then what kind of dog would my older Lottie have. It was early enough in the process that it wasn’t a problem to change because I was only showing you initial sketches, and I hadn’t started the storyboard yet. I did a lot of sketching before the right Lottie and her dog appeared on the pages.

Notice the fun eyes on the sea lion. But notice the sad eyes on Lottie. This is actually an earlier image. In the book, she has tears 😦

In the Who Will? Will You? art, you do an excellent job of showing mood and emotion via facial expression and body language.

How did you learn to do that? And do you have any tips for illustrators on developing that skill?

That takes time and a lot of sketching from life. Really noticing that people hardly ever stand like those stick figures looking straight ahead that we all love to draw. Most people are always leaning or moving around. Body language tells a lot. I went to the SCBWI LA conference and took an Illustrator Intensive on character design that the art director Laurent Lin was in. He used to work for Sesame Street, so he brought in puppeteers that showed us some amazing things about body language. The stories that they told with just those puppets brought me to tears and made me laugh. That was with just body language – the puppets eyes and mouth weren’t moving, just their bodies. It was an awesome lesson, one that I am still working on. It also comes back to sketching from life and observing body language and putting in the tiny details after.

I believe one of the most difficult things for an illustrator is to remain consistent from page to page—especially with characters. What is your trick for remaining consistent?

I try to keep the body proportions the same. It’s not always easy to do, especially when you want to draw freely which I think is more important in order to get expressive illustrations. But you can always scan things into Photoshop or Procreate and check your proportions and use that as a guideline when you are going into the final drawing phase. Or you can use good old-fashioned tracing paper. Let your initial sketches be free and fun. In the final illustrations try to get those proportions right. That will make the painting stage go so much more smoothly. You will have figured it all out in the drawing stages.

You recently signed with an agent as an author/illustrator! I was so excited to get that news. Congratulations, again!

Thank you so much, Alayne! I signed with Barbara Krasner with Olswanger Literary. I am really hoping to get my picture book dummy out into the world!

Blog reader: See toilet paper art image at the beginning of this interview. That image is from the dummy for Nana’s Wall. A beautiful story.

What was it like to see your granddaughter look at the book for the first time?

Aw, look how sad she is for Lottie. So sweet.

So happy. I love it!

Yay! And happy again.

Oh my goodness, that was amazing! It truly was a test. She’s not quite two years old yet but she loves the book. She was so funny when she looks at the pictures, she absolutely loves the way each of the adults say “no” to Lottie. She actually mimics the hand movements that they use (thank goodness I got the body language on those characters!) No is a favorite word of hers! She also was sad when she first saw Lottie crying and kisses that picture. And she loves to sing one of her favorite songs in the end. (From Alayne: Sorry, we can’t share the song without giving away the ending of the book.)

She is so adorable. It is a thrill to see this. Thank you for sharing these precious moments!

It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Milanka. I’m thrilled that you are illustrating one of my picture books next! Your work has brought us so many smiles and heartfelt moments over the last year. And the visual story you have told is amazing! Thank you for helping us make a wonderful book that we are so proud of.

It has been and continues to be a pleasure working for you and with you, Alayne! Thank you so much for the kind words and for this opportunity!

BONUS!

When, at another time, I asked Milanka questions that I had for myself personally, as an illustrator wannabe, she graciously shared excellent advice—excerpts below.

About Style

I think that’s wonderful that you are taking an online art class. And cute is a wonderful style to have. We can’t all be the same, that would be boring. . . . A realistic style can be a curse. It just takes a lot of time and no matter how hard you try, there is always someone that can do it better. That’s what an illustration teacher at RISD told me. Besides, if you have a realistic style, it’s so easy to notice little mistakes. So go with your style and just practice every day.

Best Advice

Honestly, the best advice that I can give you is to sketch people every day. They don’t have to be perfect sketches, just sketch. And one thing you’ll notice is all of the wonderful gestures. People don’t just stand still, they lean, they bend they do all sorts of poses even when just standing there. Sketching will help no matter what style of illustration you choose, or sometimes I feel it’s the style that chooses you. But either way, you need to know a bit about anatomy and that’s great to be learning from online classes and reference books too.

I love “the style that chooses you”!

More about Inspiration for Lottie and other Who Will? Will You? Characters

Lottie was made up in my mind and so were her various adult people. Remember when I sent you the turnaround of Lottie. I did all the things that I needed to to map out her features and size, etc. But she looked a little stiff at first. So I never used those exact images. By observing real people, she became softer and moved better along the page. Actually even though Lottie was made up, I noticed a little girl in Paneras that was so cute but had that messy hair, and I loved the way she sat on her leg and leaned from side to side, so expressive. So, I had her in mind when creating Lottie and I knew I wanted a diverse set of characters. Children in a playground are also fun to watch and to draw. So just observing people helps. They are not all the same size or shape either.

Character study, Lottie’s dog Rufus.

Final painting of Rufus and friends

Sketching is Fun

Sketching is a lot of fun. You don’t need to spend a lot of time on it. Nobody has to look at it. Afterwards, you can choose a sketch to really focus on and draw out. It’s such a good feeling when your drawing starts to come to life.

 

Inspiration for Alayne’s Next Picture Book

Old Man and His Penguin

The kids in the penguin story came from my sketchbook from when I traveled to Cuba on a cruise. I had my sketchbook with me and children were on recess when we were in the old town in the plaza. I did some quick sketches—it was fun, and like most things in life, you never know when they might come in handy. The old man is made up, but I did ask my husband to do a couple of poses and to walk so I could take a picture to draw from. He would never stand still long enough for me to sketch even a quick two-minute sketch!

Sneak peek, dummy sketch Old Man and His Penguin

Simple Lines

You don’t have to be super realistic. Some people are so expressive with simple lines. I wish that I could be. I’m still working on that. Just go out there and sketch different people and gestures and have fun with it.

About Milanka

Milanka Reardon learned to illustrate at a very young age. When she emigrated to the U.S. from the former Republic of Yugoslavia at the age of six, no one in her school spoke her language, so her teachers sketched images of the English words for her. But instead of copying the words, Milanka took it upon herself to improve their work and draw more interesting pictures. Later, Milanka went on to earn a children’s book illustration certificate from the Rhode Island School of Design and was awarded the 2016 R. Michelson Galleries Emerging Artist Award. She is the central New England illustrator coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). You can read more about Milanka and see some of her artwork by going to MilankaReardon.com.

To read interview with Who Will? Will You? author Sarah Hoppe click here.

All content copyright © 2019 Blue Whale Press and Milanka Reardon

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WHAT IN THE WORLD IS AN ICHTHYOLOGIST?

Before I answer the ‘ichthyologist’ question, I want to explain why I’m presenting the question in the first place. Blue Whale Press’s latest picture book, Randall and Randall, is now available for pre-order, and this book just happens to have a foreword written by the renowned ichthyologist Dr. John E. Randall. Please read the post to the end because while I was writing it, I got some fantastic, must see, news. I want to share the surprise with you.

Cover corrected 978-0-9814938-7-9

An ichthyologists is . . .

. . . a branch of zoology that deals with the study of fish and other marine life. Ichthyologists (ik-thee-AH-lo-gists) are also called marine biologists or fish scientists. They discover and study new and existing species of fish, their environment, and their behavior.

Ichthyologists dedicate their time to studying different kinds of fish species, though many will focus on one family of fish in particular. They generally focus on the biological history, behavior, growth patterns, and ecological importance of these fish. Most ichthyologists will go into the field to collect various samples or observe fish behavior and then return to a lab or office to analyze their collected data. If funded by a university, many of these scientists may be required to teach in addition to their other duties. Some of these scientists may also dedicate their time to educating others about the field and advocating for the importance of fish to ecosystems.

About Dr. Randall Dr R head shot

Dr. John “Jack” Randall, ichthyologist emeritus at Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, has over 900 publications and has described more valid marine species than anyone, living or dead—at least 800 of them.

Dr. R book 1

Why did Dr. Randall write the foreword for Randall and Randall?

First, the author, Nadine Poper, named the characters and the book in Dr. Randall’s honor. But the answer goes deeper than that.

Why are goby fish named Amblyeleotris randalli and the pistol shrimp named Alpheus randalli? Either there is a strange coincidence between Dr. Randall, the Randalls in the book, and the scientific name randalli or there is a strong connection and explanation.

The explanation starts with Dr. John E. Randall.

“A dive pioneer and a dedicated taxonomist for over 70 years, it’s doubtful there is anyone who knows more about fish than Hawaii’s Jack Randall.”

–Christie Wilcox, Hakai Magazine

Some fun facts about Dr. Randall

• He is sometimes referred to as “Dr. Fish”
• His O‘ahu home is methodically littered with hundreds of pickled fish specimens sequestered in alcohol. Click here to read why he collects these specimens.
• For Dr. Randall, collecting the fish has been exciting and adventurous. He has dived on some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, but the actual process of identifying species takes passion and patience. Dr. R book 2
• Dr. Randall was one of the first to study fish in their ocean habitat. He first dove in the mid-1940s, before the acronym SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) was even coined.
• He became one of the first scientists to use scuba gear, allowing him to access fish that no one else had ever seen.
• Dr. Randall even pioneered wet suits—sort of. He tried using long underwear to stay warm at first, but they didn’t retain heat. Then he got the brilliant idea to dip his long johns in liquid latex, creating a primitive wet suit years before the first neoprene was used.

 

All the above facts came from an article by Christie Wilcox at Hakai Magazine (May 15, 2016)

Two more wonderful facts about Dr. Randall

1) Dr. Randall celebrated his 90th birthday by SCUBA diving off Waikiki.

2) At the age of 91, he received the 2016 Darwin Medal from The International Society for Reef Studies. The award was presented at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium on June 20. Jack gave an entertaining presentation on his work with coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands to an enthralled audience of hundreds of conference attendees.

Dr. Randall has likely won many other awards, and here is one more example: At 94 years of age, he won the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) Pioneer Award for Science.

Dr. Randall’s scientific and academic achievements are too extensive to list in one blog post, instead I will share the following video. Although it doesn’t cover all his accomplishments, it is so much better than a list! It’s only six minutes long and definitely worth viewing.

This man is amazing, and I urge you to read more about him and to visit the links I have shared.

Finding Dr. Randall: Nadine Poper’s research for the book

Dr. R book 3During Nadine Poper’s research for this book, she was eventually led to Dr. Randall, and they became friends. Dr. Randall told Nadine anything she wanted to know about these creatures and their symbiotic relationship. He even provided her with photos that he took personally under the sea. And Dr. Randall graciously obliged when Nadine asked him if he would write a foreword.

When Nadine asked Dr. Randall how the fish and shrimp species came to bear his name, he responded with the following: “If you see the two-part scientific name Alpheus randalli, Alpheus is the generic name for a group of very similar shrimps, and randalli is the species name which was given by the person who prepared the scientific description of the genus to honor me. . . .”

I’m going to assume the same goes for the goby (Amblyeleotris randalli). And it makes sense, given the interesting relationship between the shrimp and goby (Randall and Randall).

Ambyleleotris yanoi Bali

Live goby fish and pistol shrimp, compliments of Dr. Randall

Goby 2

A real-life view under the sea. Goby fish guarding the burrow and protecting a pistol shrimp while it digs their home. Compliments of Dr. John E. Randall

As I was writing this post, the Kirkus review for Randall and Randall arrived . . .

and I cannot resist hijacking this Dr. Randall post to share an excerpt from it (in green below). Well, I’m not fully hijacking it because they do mention ichthyologist Dr. John Randall. But the really exciting thing about this review is it is starred review! According to Kirkus, only 10 percent of the 10,000 reviews they do a year earn a blue star. And according to Washington Post, only 2 percent of independently published books earn a blue star. This also means that Randall and Randall will automatically be entered into the Kirkus awards!

 

Young readers get a slice of science in this undersea tale about symbiosis.

Randall the pistol shrimp accidentally gets a new roommate when he snaps at a fish he believes is a threat. But the goby fish, also named Randall, offers to let the shrimp know when genuine predators are around. Unfortunately, the goby misidentifies plankton, a sand dollar, and a sea cucumber as dangerous foes, all the while singing songs that drive the shrimp to distraction. Likewise, the noises the shrimp’s snapping claws make irritate the goby. After a huge fight, the goby leaves, only to run into a real killer . . . Based on a real-life symbiotic relationship, this silly tale makes the science approachable through the goby’s giggle-worthy antics. Notes from ichthyologist Dr. John Randall describe the phenomenon for adults, and Gortman’s (Fishing for Turkey, 2016) closing illustrations supply diagrams of the charismatic creatures. The picture book’s cartoonish interior images deftly mix human and animal characteristics, showing the shrimp’s long antennae as mustaches. Poper’s (Frank Stinks, 2017, etc.) simple English text seamlessly introduces a few straightforward Spanish-language phrases (“mi casa”) due to the coastal Mexico setting. The ingenious aquatic tale also encourages readers to realize they can find friendship even if they don’t see eye to eye with their cohorts.

A clever introduction to a scientific concept with an accessible moral.

Written by Nadine Poper
Illustrated by Polina Gortman.
Dr. Randall’s foreword does a fantastic job of explaining all about the goby and pistol shrimp and their special relationship.
Published by Blue Whale Press

Book trailer for Randall and Randall

More about the picture book Randall and Randall

Randall, the pistol shrimp, is a master at excavation. Randall, the goby fish, is his skittish, yet happy-go-lucky watchman. The problem is that both have quirks that drive each other bananas until one day their relationship is driven to the breaking point. This very funny informational-fiction story about one of the sea’s naturally-existent odd couples illustrates how certain species depend upon their symbiotic relationship for survival. It also shows children how two very different beings can embrace each other’s peculiarities and become best of friends.

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Sarah Hoppe Headshot

 

I’d like to introduce Sarah Hoppe, the author of the wonderful picture book Who Will? Will You?—illustrated by Milanka Reardon and published by Blue Whale Press. First, I will share a book trailer and couple reviews for her sweet and educational story. And then you will find an interesting interview with Sarah about her experience as an author and a photographer. She offers tips for writers, too! You will find some of Sarah’s lovely photography as you read.

 

 

Kirkus Review

“A girl tries to find help for a stray baby animal in this picture book from debut author Hoppe and illustrator Reardon (Noodles’ and Albie’s Birthday Surprise, 2016).

When Lottie and her dog, Rufus, find a lone “pup” (who’s not initially shown in the illustrations) on a trash-filled beach, they’re eager to help him. The girl approaches several people about helping the pup, each time answering questions about what he can do, but no one’s willing to take it in. The animal shelter worker assumes the pup is a dog—but when she gets a good look, she refuses to help. A park ranger thinks the pup might be a bat, and a sea lion keeper guesses it’s a sea lion, but they’re mistaken. . . . Reardon’s realistic pastel-and-ink illustrations, populated with humans with a variety of skin tones, do an excellent job of hiding the identity of the pup and showing the adults’ shocked expressions. Hoppe uses clever science-related questions (“Does the pup have super-cool senses to help find its food?”) to encourage readers to guess the animal’s identity and to think about how different animals share similar qualities.

A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists.”

Midwest Review

“Who Will? Will You? is a picture book for ages 4-8 that receives lovely colorful illustrations by Milanka Reardon as it explores a young beachcomber’s unusual find at the seashore.

Lottie never expected to find something bigger than a shell, but a little pup tugs at her heartstrings and poses a problem far greater than locating the perfect shell.

Many are interested in adopting Lottie’s find . . . until they look into her wagon after initial excitement. The story evolves to question not only who will take charge of a stray, but why nobody will do so.

A fun, unexpected conclusion teaches kids not only about shore life, but about what makes a welcoming home for a stray.

Kids who love beaches and parents who love thought-provoking messages will find Who Will? Will You? engrossing and fun.”

Diane C. Donovan, Senior Reviewer
Donovan’s Literary Services
www. donovansliteraryservices. com

Interview

Alayne: How did you get your start as a children’s book writer? What brought you to this world?

Sarah: I’ve been an avid reader since I was small. Books were my friends when I was too shy to make others, and they were friends to share with others once I got a little braver.

While I was studying to be a teacher, my favorite class was Children’s Literature. I got to read books for credit! I aced that class, and my love for picture books only grew.

Alayne: You are also a wonderful photographer. Which came first? Writing or photography?

Sarah: Thank you. I’ve written stories for fun since I was a kid. I took my first photography class in high school, and in college, I got to experience the joy of a dark room before everything went digital.

I got serious about being a writer first. Then I decided to do something with all my photographs, started an Etsy shop, and I sell my work locally.

Alayne: Does your photographer’s eye influence your writing?

Sarah: Sometimes it does. My favorite kind of photo to take is a macro photo. Insects, flower petals, and dewdrops are often taken as a macro photo. It’s when you get up and personal with your subject, revealing details and showing them true to size or larger than life.

I was practicing macro shots with slugs. Slugs and snails are great subjects for this as they are happy to stick around for a while. The slime trail they leave behind is beautiful, and that little trail, sparkling in the sun, inspired another book.

 

Alayne: Do you think you would ever do a children’s book using photography as illustrations?

Sarah: It is definitely something I’ve thought about. An alphabet book was the first thing that came to mind, and I’m still pondering that. If I can figure out a good story arc that works with my style of photography, I’ll dive right in.

Alayne: Do your children influence your writing?

Sarah: Yes, but in a roundabout way. I’ve never taken anything they’ve said or done and plopped it right into a story, but so much of their spark and joy finds its way to the page.

Alayne: What was it like to see your children read your picture book for the first time?

Sarah: They were so proud! They loved it. Of course, they knew the plot and I’d shown them some of the illustrations, but being able to hold a physical copy made it real. They were telling people for years that I am an author, but now they can show people the book.

Alayne: Who Will? Will You? is a sweet story, but it is also educational, which we at Blue Whale love. Where did you get the inspiration for the story?

Sarah: One of my kids and his love of nonfiction, and my dad and his love of quizzes. Between a quiz about animal babies and a stack of animal books by my kid’s bed, an idea started brewing

Dog babies are called pups, but so are many other animal babies. A case of pup confusion would make an interesting story. The outline fell into place as I delved into research.

Alayne: Blue Whale Press changed the title of your story and offered quite a few edit suggestions. You have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways. Do you have any tips for authors regarding how to keep from taking edits personally?

Sarah: Thank you. Blue Whale has been a pleasure to work with as well, and it honestly didn’t feel like there were a ton of edits. I suspected the title would need a change, and I knew there would be other edits as well.

The thing to remember is that everyone involved in your manuscript wants it to succeed. We’re all on the same team. Like any team, its members have different strengths. Trust that each member is doing their best in their area of expertise, just as you have given your very best manuscript for the team to work with. Not one member has all the answers, but together you can figure it out.

Alayne: I like that answer a lot, Sarah. I often remind people that everyone’s name is going on the book, so the author, illustrator, and the publisher all want it to be the best that it can be. Trust is truly key.

Alayne: Lottie and Rufus are wonderful characters. Where did you find your inspiration for them?

Sarah: Lottie is curious, kind, and determined. Those qualities show up time and time again in kids all over the world. Lottie could be anyone and everyone. I also wanted a brave adventurous girl like my nieces for my main character. So, Lottie is full of adventure and bravery. I thought about all the amazing kids I know and poured their traits into Lottie.

An amazing kid needs an amazing best friend. I have a dog named Rufus who has been my companion for the last fourteen years. Lottie needed a young Rufus to keep up with her adventures. Milanka and I made the perfect friend for our spunky, big-hearted main character.

Alayne: This is your debut picture book. How long had you been writing and submitting before signing with Blue Whale Press?

Sarah: I had been playing around with story ideas for a while but got serious when I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. I was in my second year of 12×12 when I signed with Blue Whale.

Alayne: Do you have any advice for writers and illustrators who are waiting for their first contract?

Sarah: Patience and perseverance. Keep writing, and find people who write what you write. Connect with people, on-line or in person, get and give feedback, and work on your craft.

Alayne: Now, I will put on the spot, even more than I already have 😉 Why do you write?

Sarah: Books evoke emotions. To bring joy, laughter, or even sorrow to someone through your words is powerful. Now add illustrations! The words and pictures together tell a story that, without the other, would be impossible. That’s magic, and to have a small part in something so wonderful is all I ever wanted.

Alayne: It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Sarah. Your story has brought us so many smiles and heartfelt moments. We love the last spread in the story. It is so touching. And it’s wordless! So why would I compliment an author on a wordless spread? Because your story inspired it! Thank you for helping us make a wonderful book that we are so proud of.

Sarah: Thank you, it’s been my pleasure.

LOOK INSIDE THE WHO WILL? WILL YOU? ACTIVITY GUIDE BELOW. To get your free download, go to Blue Whale Press and click on the link provided under the Who Will? Will You? book description. Coloring sheets, word puzzles, crafts for children, worksheets and more!

About Sarah

Sarah Hoppe is a born and bred Minnesotan, a photographer, and an author who loves to write weird stories and be outside with nature. When she isn’t with her camera and family traipsing about the woods, she can be found inside working at her computer and creating different worlds.

Sarah loves dogs, books, campfires and pizza, and used to be a third-grade teacher. Living in Rochester, Minnesota with her husband, two boys and two dogs, you can often find Sarah and her family out on an adventure or trying craft projects with lots of hot glue. To learn more about Sarah, click here. To learn more about Sarah’s lovely photography click here.

Who Will? Will You? Can be found wherever books are sold. Some online stores are listed below.

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-a-Million

Indie Bound

Booktopia

More Interviews and Blog Posts with Sarah

Susanna Hill’s Blog

https://susannahill. com/2019/06/04/tuesday-debut-presenting-sarah-hoppe/

On the Scene in 19 Blog

https://onthescenein19. weebly. com/blog/previous/4

Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating Blog

https://kathytemean. wordpress. com/2019/07/25/book-giveaway-who-will-will-you-by-sarah-hoppe/

The GROG Blog

https://groggorg. blogspot. com/2019/03/picture-book-debut-interview-with-sarah. html

Post Bulletin Minnesota Newspaper

https://www. postbulletin. com/life/lifestyles/first-time-author-makes-her-mark-in-picture-books/article_d50f0654-a4f9-11e9-9491-3f9511893d8f. html

https://www. grandrapidsmn. com/eedition/page-c/page_dcea1c8c-d497-5adc-a46a-05fe1fd9b40e. html

This last one won’t work unless you have a subscription.

Photographs copyright © 2019 Sarah Hoppe

All art copyright © 2019 Blue Whale Press and Milanka Reardon

 

 

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Developing as an Illustrator, Interview with Tara J. Hannon

tara-hannon head shotI’d like to introduce author/illustrator Tara J. Hannon. Tara did the fun and expressive illustrations for No Bears Allowed—picture book written by Lydia Lukidis and published by Blue Whale Press. In this interview, Tara shares excellent tips for remaining consistent from page to page, illustrating facial expressions and body language, dealing with creative direction, having the courage to help tell the story with your art, and more!

Interview Q & A

How did you get your start as a children’s book illustrator?

I always knew I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator. I went to college for illustration and after I graduated, I steered myself towards every possible artistic outlet that I could find and said “yes” whenever anyone came knocking. Slowly but surely, experience led to growth and knowledge, and I was able to secure jobs illustrating books with self-publishing authors. The books that I have been able to illustrate for self-publishing authors helped me stay focused on my craft, improve my skills, and enjoy the kid lit world. I am thrilled that No Bears Allowed will be my first traditionally published book.

Cover from BWP site 978-0-9814938-9-3

How has your business Meant for a Moment Designs influenced your illustration career or visa versa? Which passion came first?

Meant for a Moment (M4AM) was born from my desire to make art my career. So the answer to this question might be a ‘chicken or the egg’ kind of thing. I always knew I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books, but it took me a very long time to learn how to do that. Years ago, I had a graphic design job that was unfulfilling and terribly boring. I was starving for something more. So I created tons of little sketches on my lunch breaks that I turned into greeting cards. Meant for a Moment was born from these drawings and slowly evolved from there. M4AM gave me the platform that I needed to take on custom work. And every custom piece that I created gave me more knowledge and skill and time at my drawing desk, which was a dream come true for me.

You are also a writer. Which came first? Writing or art?

Illustration definitely came first. I went to school for illustration, and I still kick myself a little for not having the foresight to have snagged a creative writing class while I was there. Writing came much later. But I found that I loved it just as much as I loved illustrating. And when I discovered the magic that happens by balancing words and images, I was forever hooked. To me, a good picture book is like a good song. I could read it over and over again.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing one of your author/illustrator pieces, and it truly is magic!

Others have described your art as whimsical, playful, and quirky. I tend to agree with them. Do you have any artistic influences? If not, what does influence your style?

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My love affair with children’s literature and illustration began with Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. I also used to spend hours copying Mary Engelbreit illustrations when I was in Middle School. In my early work, you can see strong influence from these artists. I think my style has evolved into its own space now but every so often, I can see a trace of them slip in. I still love their artwork so much, but have found so many contemporary artists to admire, like Peter Brown, Anita Jeram, and Kelly Light.

Do you have a preferred medium?

I really enjoy drawing digitally. About a year ago, I transitioned from primarily pencil and paper to a drawing tablet (Wacom Cintiq). I found that with a tablet I could take more risks, add more detail and LAYER to my heart’s content. It has been a really fun learning process for me and I am thrilled about it.

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What medium and process did you use for No Bears Allowed?

No Bears Allowed was one of the first books I illustrated with my tablet. I really enjoyed creating the textures of Bear and Rabbit’s fur and layering in all of the bits of nature in those outdoor scenes.

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Blue Whale Press is involved in the illustration process throughout book development. What was it like following a publisher’s process versus working independently?

Blue Whale Press was wonderful to work with. They were supportive throughout every step and they gave me a lot of independence to create. I’d say the biggest difference between working with BWP vs. working independently would be the technical support I received. At each phase of every illustration Steve was there to ensure that there was enough space for bleed, text etc. which was really helpful. It was also really nice having extra eyes to look out for any inconsistencies. It was a wonderful team effort.

You have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways, but also in the area of creative direction. Do you have any tips for illustrators regarding how to keep from taking direction personally?

Oh wow, that is really nice to hear, thank you. I do think it is helpful to understand that when you are illustrating a picture book you are part of a team. And that team is stacked with experts. Trusting the input of others is certainly easier when you believe that you are part of a team of people who are all working towards the same goal. Feeling like a part of the team is helpful too and BWP did a great job of making me feel valued and heard.

I love that tip of remembering that everyone is working toward the same goal. This is so true!

Poster correctI love the little extras you put on every page of No Bears Allowed. Of course, my favorite is the illustration with the survival list. It cracks me up. How do you get over the natural instinct to show only what is in the text and instead put some of yourself into the story by doing a little something extra or special on each page? Does it take courage to express yourself and help tell the story? Do you have any tips for illustrators for going beyond the text with your expression?

Oh yes, it does take courage. It has taken many years of picture book observation to understand that illustrations are allowed, and encouraged to go beyond the text. No Bears Allowed has such a playful tone (my favorite kind of story) so it felt really natural to add those bits into the images. I think every added detail should add to the story in some way. And when you think of it that way, the illustrations become a lot more about storytelling and less about simply mirroring the text. Example: If you are drawing a messy room, are the undies on the floor white? Or do they have super heroes on them? Or is the character so wild that they’ve thrown them on the lamp instead of the floor? Does the character have a ton of stuffed animals? Or just one ratty overloved teddy? Is there evidence of a tea party still set up? (You get the idea right?) It is really fun to make decisions in artwork that compliment a character’s disposition and help tell a history of the scene. And I think every detail that you add like this will be noticed by a child, and that is a really cool thing.

Wow! These are fantastic tips!

In No Bears Allowed, you do an excellent job of showing mood and emotion via facial expression and body language. And on animals, to top it all off! How did you learn to do that? And do you have any tips for illustrators on developing that skill?

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Bear and Rabbit have a ton of personality, so it was a lot of fun creating their expressions. I suppose I learned this through observation. I think it is common for artists to observe the world in a unique way. I tend to dissect art as I view it. An example of what I mean is, when I watch a cartoon with my daughters, I notice the way the art is drawn. I watch how the eyes squint or widen during certain scenes or how the posture changes with the mood of the character. It is a really fun practice and has actually been very helpful. I do this in real life too. And I often make the face or gesture that I am drawing to work out exactly how it should look.

I really like that idea of studying cartoons. And making the face yourself is an excellent tip. Shadra Strickland has a course where she actually looks in the mirror to see how her face changes with different expressions and emotions.

I believe one of the most difficult things for an illustrator is to remain consistent from page to page—especially with characters. What is your trick for remaining consistent?

Yes, consistency is very challenging! Character sketches are super helpful and very important. I used them obsessively while creating the art for No Bears Allowed. Beyond that, one thing that helped me for consistency was that the characters felt really natural to draw. I drew Bear and Rabbit a bunch of times in rough sketches to give my hand a muscle memory of their shape and proportions. So when it came time to start the book I really “knew” the characters.

Interesting, muscle memory and really getting to know the characters by living with them by drawing them for a long time makes so much sense. Another great tip!

You recently signed with an agent as an author/illustrator! I was so excited to get that news. Congratulations! 

Thank you so much, Alayne! I am so grateful and excited to see what is next.

It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Tara. Your work has brought us so many smiles and chuckles over the last year. And the visual story you have told is amazing!

I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to work with you and Steve. This experience has been nothing but a joy for me. Thank you so much for choosing me for this awesome book. XO

About Tara

Tara Hannon has always loved to illustrate. As a child, her wish lists included only one desire: more art stuff! Now that she is an adult, her wish lists really haven’t changed—the more art stuff the better! She is truly grateful to be doing what she loves for a living.

Tara’s illustrations have been described as whimsical, playful, and quirky. She works happily from her home studio in Crownsville, Maryland.

When Tara is not illustrating, she can be found playing in the sand with her two daughters, jogging, and drinking strong coffee. It is her dream to find a way to do all of these things at once. To learn more about Tara, visit her website.

Get tips about writing and surviving the writer’s life and learn more about author Lydia Ludikis and her journey to publication here.

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At a recent SCBWI conference, one editor mentioned leaving room for the illustrator. So, I asked Tara Lazar if she would share what that means to her and give some advice on how to do it.

 

HOW PICTURE BOOK WRITERS CAN LEAVE ROOM FOR THE ILLUSTRATOR
by Tara Lazar

“Leave room for the illustrator.” You hear it all the time.

But what does it mean?

I imagine the school bus, smelling like moldy socks and overripe bananas (which have an eerily similar aroma). Should you scoot over? Stop saving that seat for your bestie?

Well, kinda. The illustrator’s art is the elephant on the school bus. It’s the first thing people see when your bus…err, I mean book…rolls into the world. So it’s in your best interest to make that pachyderm shine.

So let the elephant speak for himself. Don’t shove words into his mouth. Don’t over-describe what he’s doing.

The elephant picked the perfect seat. [elephant in back, bus on two wheels]

The kids made him feel welcomed. [kids crowd in first row to balance bus]

It was a smooth ride to school. [flat tires]

OK, you see what I did there?

Read those lines without the art notes:

The elephant picked the perfect seat.

The kids made him feel welcomed.

It was a smooth ride to school.

Eh, rather ordinary without those notes. But with them, it’s funny. It might even be hilarious.

A picture book comes together when the words and the text play together. And sometimes there’s a tug-of-war between them that elicits giggles and guffaws.

Leaving some things unsaid is a technique you must learn as a picture book writer.

So go ahead, DON’T WRITE!

And that, my friends and elephants, is how you write a picture book.

Alayne: Tara’s guest post prompted me to ask one of the most common questions that picture book writers ask. . . .

“I’ve been told by agents that text should be clear enough that art notes are not necessary, so how do you leave room for the illustrator without art notes?”

Here is Tara’s answer. . . .

Well, what you’ve been told by agents is true…and also not true at all.

Often at conferences and workshops geared toward new writers, presenters steer picture book writers away from art notes. That is mostly because new writers tend to use unnecessary art notes. New writers either try to dictate what their characters should look like or describe action that is perfectly clear by the text (or at least well implied). So it is sometimes easier to put the ix-nay on the ote-nay at that level.

Also, some illustrators will tell you they don’t look at the art notes. And that’s fine. Once they understand the overall story, they can tuck the notes away and think of something better.

However, if what you have written is not understandable without art notes, if the story does not make sense without art notes, YOU MUST USE ART NOTES.

Look at DUCK, DUCK, MOOSE by Sudipta Barhan-Quallen. There are only three words in that book–really, two, because DUCK is repeated. If she submitted that manuscript without art notes, there would be no story. Her story is IN THE ART, IN THE ACTION.

I have written manuscripts that use so many art notes it renders the story difficult to read. In those cases, my agent and I submit the manuscript in grid format. There’s a handy post on my blog that talks all about it. (https://taralazar.com/2012/10/03/art-notes-in-picture-book-manuscripts/)

The art of playing tug-of-war with text and image is best demonstrated by author-illustrators. It’s a difficult skill for authors-only to master, but it is one that all the best authors use.

Alayne: For additional information, see my post on including art notes in manuscripts.

Tara Lazar head shot

 

About Tara

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that everyone will want to visit.

Tara loves children’s books. Her goal is to create books that children love. She writes picture books and middle grade novels. She’s written short stories for Abe’s Peanut and is featured in Break These Rules, a book of life-lesson essays for teens, edited by author Luke Reynolds.

Tara created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) as the picture book writer’s answer to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). PiBoIdMo is held on this blog every November. In 2015, PiBoIdMo featured nearly 2,000 participants from around the world.

Tara was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010 and has permanently lost feeling in her feet and legs. She has an inspirational story to share about overcoming a chronic illness to achieve your goals and dreams. Tara can speak to groups big and small, young and old—just contact her for more information.

Tara is the co-chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature Conference, a picture book mentor for We Need Diverse Books and an SCBWI member. She speaks at conferences and events regarding picture books, brainstorming techniques, and social media for authors. Her former career was in high-tech marketing and PR.

Tara is a life-long New Jersey resident. She lives in Somerset County with her husband and two young daughters.

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Tara’s picture books available now are:

• THE MONSTORE (Aladdin/S&S, 2013)
• I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK(Aladdin/S&S, 2015)
• LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (Random House Children’s, Oct 2015)
• NORMAL NORMAN (Sterling, March 2016)
• WAY PAST BEDTIME (Aladdin/S&S, April 2017)
• 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY (Disney*Hyperion, May 2017)

A big THANKS to Tara for sharing her wisdom with us. To learn more about Tara and her work, visit her website at https://taralazar.com/

 

 

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FIRST A LITTLE INSPIRATION

EVERY DAY BIRDSAmy Ludwig VanDerwater, author of FOREST HAS A SONG and EVERY DAY BIRDS, challenged Today’s Little Ditty readers to write poems about small things— animals or objects you see everyday and don’t give much thought. I took the challenge, and I’m honored that my piece was selected as the poem that will close out Today’s Little Ditty’s month of small beauties.

little dittyToday’s Little Ditty is a great blog to follow. It offers tips and prompts for writing various forms of poetry, wonderful interviews, and fantastic examples of poetry. It’s well worth checking out.

Following is my little ditty.

 

 

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN NIGHT AND DAY
by Alayne Kay Christian ©2016

As the morning light steals the night
A new day is on the horizon
I am drawn to the eastern sky

In complete silence
The bright morning star calls to me
I am one with the Universe
Of this I am never more certain than
Somewhere between night and day

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In the sharing of this poem, I wish you many moments of quiet peace.

OVERCOMING SELF-DOUBT and FREE GIVEAWAY

revimo 2016In January, I was a guest blogger for Meg Miller’s ReviMo challenge where I wrote REVISING YOUR WAY TO DREAMS COME TRUE. If you are struggling with frustration or self-doubt, you might feel renewed after reading this post. At the end, I offer a free checklist for polishing manuscripts and doing critiques and edits.

IMPROVE YOUR MANUSCRIPTS AND YOUR ABILITY TO ENGAGE READERSReFoReMo 2016

This month, I had the honor of being a faculty member on the ReFoReMo (Read for Research Month) team. In my guest post, CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN READING AND WRITING, I encourage readers to look deeper than the surface when analyzing mentor texts or your own work. In considering ways to engage readers, I offer four questions to ponder while analyzing your stories or mentor texts.

DEEPEN YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF PICTURE BOOK WRITING

My picture book writing course ART OF ARC: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript continues to deepen writers understanding of picture books while helping them refine their work. Following are some of the latest comments from students who have completed the course.

I wish The Art of the Arc course existed a year ago. It would have saved me a lot of time. It gathers a lot of information that new picture book writers need all in one place. Alayne provides so many examples and even includes a few that don’t follow the classic arc. I found the reminders about what the reader should be experiencing at different points in the story especially helpful.

I appreciated how the worksheets made me take apart my own manuscripts so I have a better understanding of why some aspect isn’t working. I’m going to continue using the worksheets to guide my revisions. The Facebook group doing a monthly study of a picture book should help solidify what I’ve learned. Thank you, Alayne! – Mary Worley – Children’s Writer and Former Librarian

Alayne’s Art of Arc self-paced course not only teaches a writer about story structure but explains the specific parts of a story, in depth, and the importance of why each must be related, relevant, and remain connected. What I learned through her examples and exercises are the specific ways to break down a story using task analysis. This process helps me determine if the reader is “imagining and feeling” the story I want to tell reflected through my writing. As a writer who starts as a pantser, Alayne provided the organization I needed to analyze my own writing. – Keila V. Dawson, Author, THE KING CAKE BABY, Pelican Publishing Co., January 31, 2015

Alayne distills and clarifies picture book wisdom in a conversational tone. Her writing has earned a place on my reference shelf. Mike Karg – Children’s Book Writer

Art of the Arc teaches you to methodically analyze your manuscript or mentor text, and in doing so, pulls you back as the author to see your story through more objective eyes, able to evaluate it piece by piece. The course is well organized and contains a virtual plethora of resources. – Beth Anderson – Freelance Writer

This course was so helpful in showing me the areas where my manuscripts were not moving and how to fix that. Studying picture books suggested in the course focused this for me. The great thing is now I’ll be able to use this as I’m writing and, I hope, cut down on revision time. I highly recommend this comprehensive course. – Carol Crane – Children’s Writer

When asked, “How does this course compare to other courses you have taken?” One Art of Arc graduate said, “I haven’t taken other courses. The best comparison is Ann Whitford Paul’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS. I love the depth and specificity of both. As with her book, your materials are worthy of re-reads.”

The following are not testimonials, but a few wonderful comments from the ART OF ARC Facebook group.

I just want to thank you, Alayne Kay Christian for putting together such a comprehensive course. I am only on lesson two, but I have already learned so much. The cost of this course is some of the best money I ever spent on learning the picture book craft. My mind is racing with all the possibilities for improving my manuscripts and writing new and better ones. I am truly blown away with how much work you put into this and how generous you are to share it with the world. Thank you!

I agree! And the ability to be in this group, ask questions and give answers is invaluable, too! Thanks, Alayne Kay Christian!

Click here to learn more about ART OF ARC and to read many more testimonials.

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ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2Our guest bloggers for the final ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING series are Sylvia Lui and Elaine Kiely Kearns. I’m proud to call these two smart, talented, and lovely women my friends and critique partners. In this post, they share what they learned from planting a seed of an idea and nurturing it into a successful platform. Thanks Sylvia and Elaine for sharing your experience and wisdom.

 Top Ten Signs That You’re Building a Successful Platform

By Sylvia Liu & Elaine Kiely Kearns

A year and a half ago, we created a kid lit resource website, www.Kidlit411.com. The idea was simple – a website where children’s writers and illustrators can learn about the world of kid lit – from writing and illustration tips, to finding an agent, to listings of conferences, classes, contests, and more. kidlit 411

We soon added weekly interviews with authors, illustrators, agents, and editors, a weekly update email, a Facebook page to connect with our community, and a manuscript swap group. Earlier this year, we were named by Writer’s Digest as one of The 101 Best Websites for Writers, as well as one of The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2015 (The Write Life) and The Top 50 Writing Blogs for 2015 (Positive Writer).

A side effect of Kidlit411 was that we created a nice platform for ourselves as children’s authors and illustrators. (What exactly is a platform? Jane Friedman defines platform as having visibility, authority, and a proven reach to a given audience). We didn’t set out to do so, but we learned the following about building a successful platform:

  1. You grow naturally and organically.

No, we are not talking about free-range chickens. We have found that platform building is an organic and slow process. When you do something you love and share your passion, like-minded people will find and join you. Instead of having a grand plan, you let things evolve over time.

  1. You’re filling a need.

A great way to build a platform is to identify a need for something (a service, a community, a challenge) and meet it. For Kidlit411, I (Elaine) found myself gathering links to good articles and resources on writing for children. I (Sylvia) joined her, designing a site and adding my illustration perspective. We now have a convenient, organized, and curated site for all things kid lit. Other excellent resources are available, but many require a membership fee, such as the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

  1. You’re building a community.

Our Facebook page is a great way to connect with old and new online friends in the kid lit community. Through the group, we are able to keep people up to date on our new postings. Better yet, our group has become a place for people to ask questions, share tips, and connect with one another.

  1. You’re not doing it alone.

Having two of us work on the site, with the help of many others who send us links, makes the task easier. We can back each other up when other life and work obligations come up and two minds are generally better than one.

  1. You’re thinking outside the box.

You do something new that excites people, or you do something that’s been done, but with a new twist.

About seven years ago, the kid lit world was a lot less connected. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) had piboidmo2014started in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2008 when Tara Lazar created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and Paula Yoo started NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) that the picture book community found a way to connect and encourage each other to develop ideas and write picture books. What a great idea – spur people to create stories, while providing prizes and expert advice.

Other successful platforms also harness individuals’ creative impulses while creating a community. Tania McCarthy’s 52-week illustration challenge (an illustration a week) and Jake Parker’s Inktober challenge (31 drawings in 31 days) are illustration challenges that have grown tremendously.

Other kid lit people also thought outside of the box to create great platforms. Katie Davis has been the mastermind of over 200 Brain Burps podcasts over the past five and a half years. 12-x-12-new-bannerJulie Hedlund leads the enormously successful 12×12 picture book challenge (write 12 picture book manuscripts in a year).

When we started Kidlit411, we didn’t re-invent the wheel. But we like to think we provide a visually appealing and user-friendly wheel.

  1. You are building on your areas of strength and expertise.

Part of building a platform is knowing yourself. Are you a people person who loves to socialize? Do you love information and technology? Are you an artist at heart? All of these characteristics will steer you naturally to the platform that best suits you. We figured out that we both enjoy seeking, organizing, and sharing information. We are curious about the career paths of other creative people, which led us to our weekly interviews of authors and illustrators.

  1. Your project is self-sustaining without enormous amounts of work.

If you find yourself spending more time working on your platform than doing your creative work then you are not using your time wisely. For Kidlit411, we read and keep up with kid lit, so adding the links to our website does not take much additional time. Our weekly interviews involve finding people, asking questions, and formatting their answers, also not time consuming.

If you do find that your platform has grown beyond your individual capabilities, you hire or outsource your work. For example, NaNoWriMo is now a professionally run nonprofit organization. 

  1. Your project has grown beyond your initial expectations.

The great thing about many successful platforms is that most times, the creator didn’t expect or imagine what it would turn out to be. For example, an artist begins a personal creative challenge and invites a few friends, and before he or she knows it, it becomes a widespread challenge. 

  1. You’re not in it for yourself.

You didn’t build the platform just to sell your wares. You provide meaningful content, or a meaningful experience that attracts others to fill a need. We found that providing easy access to good information is an idea that sold itself. 

  1. You are having FUN.

Life is short. Don’t start or continue a platform-building project because someone said you had to. Only work on things that you enjoy and are having fun doing. If the side effect is that you are bringing other like-minded people along, all the better.

Sylvia New

SYLVIA LIU is a former environmental attorney turned writer-illustrator. Her debut picture book, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA (Lee & Low Books) is scheduled for publication Spring 2016. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and two daughters. She is inspired by aliens, cephalopods, bunnies, and pigs who want to fly.  Her portfolio: www.enjoyingplanetearth.com and blog: www.sylvialiuland.com

ELAINE KIELY KEARNS is currently chasing the dream as a published author. Armed with a master’s degree in Education Elaineand working from her home office, she spends her time creating picture book and middle grade stories. She lives in New York with her husband, two beautiful daughters and three furry babies. When she isn’t writing, she can be found doing yoga and eating chocolate but not usually at the same time. She is represented by Linda Epstein of the Jennifer Di Chiara Literary Agency in New York.

Following are the links to the other guest posts in the ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING series:

THE PUSH AND PULL OF PLATFORM by Heather Ayris Burnell

A CASE OF THE WHY NOTS: How I Built (and am still building) My Platform by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY COME? AND WHO WILL THEY BE? by Susanna Leonard Hill

JULIE HEDLUND BUSTS MYTHS ABOUT AUTHOR PLATFORMS

BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL: My Platform-Building Strategy by Miranda Paul

YOU ARE YOUR PLATFORM by TARA LAZAR

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Nerdy Chicks Write

Get it Write this Summer!

Penny Parker Klostermann

Children's Author and Poet

Blogzone

Practical tips to help your writing dreams come true...

STORYBOOK INK

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Noodling with Words

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

365 Picture Books

A picture book every day

Julie Hedlund - Write Up My Life

On Living the Dream and Telling the Tale

VIVIAN KIRKFIELD - Writer for Children

Picture Books Help Kids Soar

Carol Munro / Just Write Words

Can't write it yourself? Call Just Write Words.

Jo Hart - Author

A writing blog