the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

April Pulley Sayre and FULL OF FALL!

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 @ 07:10 AM

Pour yourself a mug of cocoa and slip on your woolly socks. We're celebrating the release of April Pulley Sayre's latest picture book, Full of Fall (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster)!

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So long summer, Fall is here . . .

Welcome, April Pulley Sayre!
 
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
Fall is such a beautiful season that it was very hard to choose which photos to use. As always with these books, there were many photos I loved as a photographer but which did not serve the trajectory of the book and design. As with writing, in photo illustration you have to set aside your ego and do what is best for the book.
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What's your writing superpower?
My writing superpower is flexible thinking in terms of wordplay.  For some reason I’m unusually good at coming up with titles and poetic and alliterative language. I think it’s like a muscle, though, and improves with use. Despite my early signs of talent in this area, it also helps that I just goof around and have done this work for over twenty years.
 
What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?
I’ve now photo illustrated nine of my books with photos so I’m deeply involved in the illustrations from the start. It’s an exciting process and yet has an intense amount of struggle and stress at points, handling the competing demands of text and illustration. The advantage is that because I am responsible for both sides of the book, I can decide  to chuck words or illustrations at any point when the book is not flowing well. All this occurs without bothering another person. Only my writing ego or professional photographer ego is bruised. Still ouchy, though, to discard words and photos I love! But then, when you feel it all come together with better pacing, it is worth it.
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How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Attending VCFA took me from being a very isolated full time writer to being more a member of the writing community. It connected me with colleagues who are still my friends to this day. They have supported me through many decisions and pathways both in the career and in life itself. VCFA is so valuable in support of career and quality of life as an artist/writer. VCFA stretches you in the best way possible.
 
What’s next in your career? 
Well, it’s been a wildly busy year in terms of book production for my 2019 photo books, Warbler Wave and Thank You, Earth. My husband and I traveled 5,500 miles to CA and back to photograph landmarks and wildflower bloom for these and other upcoming books.  And I’ve been stepping outside the usual with some books that mix nonfiction text with fiction illustration, such as my 2019 book Did You Burp: How to Ask Questions (Or Not). Between this work, and conference talk travel, this career keeps me on my toes.
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Thanks so much for stopping by the Launchpad, April. Welcome to the world, Full of Fall!
Visit April Pulley Sayre online at www.aprilsayre.com and at her Simon & Schuster page.

Topics: nonfiction, picture book, Simon & Schuster, Beach Lane Books, 2017 release, April Pulley Sayre

Lynda Graham-Barber and COOKIE'S FORTUNE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Oct 23, 2017 @ 09:10 AM
We're paws-itively thrilled to celebrate the launch of Lynda Graham-Barber's new picture book, Cookie's Fortune, illustrated by Nancy Lane and out now from The Gryphon Press!
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In Cookie’s Fortune, lyrical language and expressive illustrations bring to life the heartwarming story of a small stray dog who simply wants to find a place that smells "like home." Young animal lovers will be on the edge of their seats until they experience Cookie’s ultimate good fortune. And families will feel educated and empowered to take concrete steps that bring hope to the lives of the many other homeless "Cookies" who wander our streets.
 
Welcome, Lynda!
What was the spark that ignited this book?
Observing the resilience and fortitude of a dog near death and asking myself, How did it happen? Every dog story deserves a happy ending.
Thanks for sharing these amazing before and after pictures of the dog who inspired it all: 1) The little dog with a big mange problem who Lynda and her husband found in a Brooklyn subway. 2) Lynda and her husband with the same dog, complete with a new name -- Metro! -- and a new lease on life.
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What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Invest in a microscope and a good pair of scissors.
What’s your writing superpower?
Our 160 acres of woods—and the pond, where skinny dipping provokes thought, especially when the kingfisher rattles and the great blue surprises in silence.
Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.
A quote:  I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  -- G.K. Chesterton
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
M. T. Anderson, Julie Larios, Shelley Tanaka
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
It made me realize that being clever or nimble with language does not a writer make.
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
Dancing with a stationary column during a party our class threw for those graduating and getting a hug from Julie Larios when I needed it most.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Keep your antennae up and be full of wonder.
Thanks, Lynda! Our antennae are up and our tails are wagging. Welcome to the world, Cookie's Fortune!
Learn more about Cookie's Fortune at The Gryphon Press and Amazon.
Watch the trailer below, or on YouTube.

Topics: picture book, 2017 release, Lynda Graham-Barber, The Gryphon Press, Nancy Lane

Lyn Miller-Lachmann Talks Translation!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Oct 19, 2017 @ 08:10 AM

Olá! Today we're celebrating three recent picture book releases and a special topic. Lyn Miller-Lachmann, a member of VCFA's Secret Gardeners, sat down with the Launchpad's Amanda Lewis to talk about translation!

Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words by Ruth Rocha, illustrated by Madalena Matoso, translated from Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Enchanted Lion).

A wide-eyed child looks out at the world with curiosity and pleasure, finding it endlessly surprising. But there is mystery too, as in the puzzling pictures he sees, made up of elusive lines and squiggles. When Pedro starts school, his great curiosity grows even greater with each letter he learns. Suddenly his world is changing, as the lines and squiggles become letters and words.


The Queen of the Frogs by Davide Cali, illustrated by Marco Somà, translated from Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).

When a mysterious crown falls into a pond, the little frog who finds it is instantly pronounced the queen. But when her royal subjects start to question her authority, she must prove she’s fit to rule — if she can.


Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World) by Henriqueta Cristina, illustrated by Yara Kono, translated from Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Enchanted Lion).

A family escapes the dictatorship in Portugal in the late 1960s, seeking freedom and a better life. Their journey takes them to Communist Czechoslovakia, where “all children go to school.” But while the children go to school, people don’t have freedom of choice or the right to speak their minds. Refusing to accept a life without freedom, the mother gets to work, turning a bleak reality inside out and upside down. In the end, these refugees spark a movement for change in their community.

Welcome, Lyn! How do you approach translation? What differences are there between translation and writing?

With translation, I’m responsible for the words in English, but not the characters, plot, and other story elements. As a result, I can focus exclusively on the language, trying to capture the voice and intent of the original author while making the work accessible and appealing to English-language readers.

You translate books from both Portuguese and Spanish. When did you learn these languages? Is there any difference between your approach to a Portuguese book and a Spanish book?

I learned Spanish in middle and high school and had the opportunity to live in various Spanish-speaking countries. When I was in library school in the late 1980s, I took classes and served an internship as a bilingual children’s librarian. I currently live in a neighborhood in New York City where Spanish is spoken almost as much as English.

Being fluent in Spanish helped me to learn Portuguese more quickly when my husband and I moved to Lisbon for six months after I graduated from VCFA in July 2012. While I was there, I took a class in Portuguese for immigrants. Since then, we’ve spent around two months of each year in Portugal so I can refresh my language skills and acquire new books to read and translate.

As far as approaching books in Spanish vs. books in Portuguese: As a translator, there isn’t much difference in the process. The only difference is that I’m more likely to work with a publisher on a book in Portuguese because there are a lot of translators who work with Spanish but much fewer with Portuguese.

Does translating a book bring you into a relationship with the author?

Most of the time translators don’t meet the author. For instance, when my own novel Gringolandia was translated into Italian, I never met the translator. However, of the five books I’ve translated from Portuguese, I’ve met the author of two – Isabel Minhós Martins (The World in a Second) and Henriqueta Cristina (Three Balls of Wool). In June 2016 I traveled to Coimbra with my VCFA classmate and friend Sandra Nickel to meet Kuki, as Henriqueta is known to her friends, and we were treated to an inside tour of the UNESCO Heritage Site led by her husband, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Coimbra who directed the restoration. You can read about our trip here: http://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/what-to-do-when-your-column-cracks-and-other-thoughts-on-restoration/ 

Tell us about the business side of translation. Were you approached to do these books, or did you approach the publisher with the idea of translation? Do you have an agent?

For the most part, publishers approach me. Enchanted Lion Books has a relationship with the Portuguese publisher Planeta Tangerina, and several of the books I’ve worked on come from this innovative small press located outside Lisbon. Other books have come through agents who specialize in marketing international books. I’ve brought proposals for books in both Portuguese and Spanish to editors who I work with, but so far, none of the proposals has led to a contract. I’m still trying, though.

I do have an agent, but she handles the books I write myself, not ones I translate. All of my translation work has come from editors I know or via references from editors with whom I’ve worked. Most translators I know aren’t represented by agents.

What was the editorial process? Did it differ from the author/editor relationship? Were there a lot of revisions?

The editorial process can be as involved as an author/editor relationship, especially if the editor wants to “Americanize” or otherwise change a text. Portuguese is a wordy language, and most of my translations have resulted in a text that’s about a third shorter than the original. I will say that my editor at Enchanted Lion likes crisp prose, and we’ve made more changes in the course of translation, than my editor at Eerdmans, who wanted to keep the flowery language of the original.

One of your books has been published as part of an endorsement from Amnesty International. What is it like to work with a nonprofit organization on a book of social significance? Are there differences from “regular” publishing? Is your personal focus primarily on work of political or social relevance?

I am honored to have translated Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World), a book about a refugee family from Portugal in the 1960s that connects so much with the present day. Amnesty International was particularly interested in this book because the organization’s founder became involved in the cause of human rights when he learned of several students at the University of Coimbra who had been jailed in 1961 for protesting the dictatorship.

Amnesty International signed on after I’d already translated the book. They contributed a preface and the International Declaration of Human Rights at the end. Now that the book is out, I’ll be working with them on a teachers guide and school events.

Three Balls of Wool touches on many of the themes of my own writing. My debut YA novel, Gringolandia, portrays a refugee family from the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. When Claudia Bedrick at Enchanted Lion asked me to translate Three Balls of Wool, I was in the middle of writing my own YA novel set in Portugal in 1966, about a teenager who follows a popular fado singer and her own younger brother into an underground resistance movement against the Salazar regime.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?
An Na, Jane Kurtz, Sarah Ellis, Coe Booth, Shelley Tanaka. I did a PG semester with Shelley that focused on translation.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Working on the packets every month made me more disciplined, and I learned to read like a writer, using the books I read as mentor texts. I do that with translations as well, particularly looking at how the translator deals with cultural differences that English-language readers may have difficulty bridging.

Thank you for stopping by, Lyn!

In addition to translating children’s books from Portuguese and Spanish to English, Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of three young adult novels: Gringolandia (Curbstone Press/Northwestern University Press, 2009), Rogue (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2013), and Surviving Santiago (Running Press, 2015).

Visit her online at www.lynmillerlachmann.com.

Topics: picture book, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, 2016 release, 2017 release, Enchanted Lion, Davide Cali, Marco Soma, Henriqueta Cristina, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Madalena Matoso, Ruth Rocha, Yara Kono

Liz Garton Scanlon and BOB, NOT BOB!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 @ 08:10 AM

Ah-CHOO! We're sneezing with joy over Bob, Not Bob, a picture book co-authored by VCFA faculty member Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, out now from Disney/Hyperion!

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Little Louie has the worst cold ever. All he wants is his mom, but every time he calls for her, slobbery Bob the dog comes running instead.

Welcome, Liz! So, tell us . . .

How did you and Audrey Vernick become interested in working together?

Audrey and I share an agent -- Erin Murphy -- and she starting musing about what would happen if the two of us had a "book baby" together. So we did!

Which came first — the idea to collaborate, or the idea for the book?

It sort of happened in tandem because Audrey had a bad cold at the exact moment Erin nudged us. Turns out it was contagious!

Bob, Not Bob is a single voice rather than, say, alternating POVs split between authors. What was that process like?

Our collaborative process is THE MOST FUN either of us has. (Kind of not kidding.) We've replicated it many times now (we have a few more upcoming books together) and we kind of can't believe how well it works. We start with an idea and then one of us launches the storytelling. Then, we send a Word doc back and forth, back and forth -- adding as we see fit, deleting as we see fit, with no track changes. We each behave as if the manuscript belongs to us alone -- until that beautiful moment when it doesn't!

IMG_5398ac.jpgWhat advice would you have for someone who’s interested in collaboration?

Like and trust the person you want to collaborate with, and truly deeply admire their work.

Tell us about how you sold this book.

We were thrilled to sell this book, in part because the co-writing process had been such a lark. It was like we couldn't quite believe we were being paid to have that much fun! (Don't tell the publishers I said that.) Kevin Lewis, who was an editor for Disney/Hyperion back then, made the offer, walked us through some really thoughtful and intuitive revisions, and convinced Matt Cordell to illustrate. Rotem Moscovich took over as editor when Kevin left and brought the whole thing home. We couldn't believe our luck all the way along.

Tell us about your writing community.

Community fits so well in the context of a Bob, Not Bob discussion. As writing makes its way through the publishing process, it necessarily becomes a collaborative art, with editors and book designers putting their creative stamps on the project. This is doubly so for picture books that marry text and illustration. But what I've come to understand and appreciate more and more is how collaborative the writing life is -- beyond the writing process of any single book. Audrey and I met through our agency's annual retreat. Being part of that community led us to become, first, critique partners and then co-authors, but most importantly, friends. I've also got an Austin-based critique group (coincidentally made up entirely of VCFA alums and faculty), not to mention the very vibrant Austin chapter of SCBWI and, now, the larger VCFA community (lucky me). Plus, there's the writing world that is alive and well online -- my poetry group, my facebook friends. It honestly isn't possible anymore for me to imagine what I would do without the inspiration, energy, commiseration, support, education or love all of these people bring to my life and, credit where credit is due, to my work.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

For this book, I googled "things that sound funny when you have a cold," which of course led me to the world's best "sick memes" as well as YouTube videos of cats with strange meows. Naturally.

Okay, so I couldn't resist . . .

 

 

What's your writing superpower?

Apparently choosing good co-authors! :)

What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book?

I'm not usually much of a swag gal -- mostly I've just printed up bookmarks -- but for Bob we had little tissue packets and hand sanitizers made, with the cover image of the book. Elementary school librarians seemed to find them particularly useful!

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including the highly acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, and her debut novel for middle grade readers, The Great Good Summer. Other titles include In the Canyon, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, The Good-Pie Party, and more. Liz is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a frequent and popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas.

Visit Liz Garton Scanlon at lizgartonscanlon.com, Audrey Vernick at audreyvernick.com, and Matthew Cordell at matthewcordell.com.

Topics: picture book, Disney-Hyperion, 2017 release, Liz Garton Scanlon, Disney, Audrey Vernick, Matthew Cordell, Hyperion

Liz Garton Scanlon and ANOTHER WAY TO CLIMB A TREE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Oct 05, 2017 @ 07:10 AM

What do I see from my perch in the high branches? It's Liz Garton Scanlon's Another Way to Climb a Tree, illustrated by Hadley Hooper and out now from Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan!

tree-cover.jpgWhen Lulu's well, she climbs every tree in sight, especially the tallest ones, the ones with the widest branches, the one with the stickiest sap. When Lulu's sick, she's not allowed outside. She wonders if the trees are lonely without her. Maybe the birds are too. Now, nobody climbs the trees but the sun... until clever Lulu finds her own way to climb her favorite tree... indoors!

Welcome, Liz!

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I think that Lulu, my scrappy, dreamy protagonist in Another Way to Climb a Tree, might be the most favorite character I've ever created -- or at least the most heartfelt and familiar. Lulu is, in many ways, me, in that the two things that keep her heart beating and her head straight are the natural world and her imagination. I can relate.

What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?

In picture books, I adore Cynthia Rylant's sentences, Pat Zietlow Miller's plots, and Marla Frazee's characters -- both in text and art.

What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?

"Kill your darlings." I was trained as a journalist, so I became adept at saying a lot within a limited number of column inches. Pretty words for pretty's sake became a lot less precious to me. As a picture book author, I am constantly looking to trim and tighten -- not to make a text shorter necessarily, but more perfect and more potent.

Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

Utter silence except for my dog barking at the UPS man. 

DSCF8970 (1).jpgTell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.

I have a piece of art from almost every picture book I've ever published. The cover of A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, a pencil sketch from Happy Birthday, Bunny, my favorite spread from In the Canyon, the final page of All the World. Together, they serve as daily inspiration to me -- they set a nearly impossibly high bar that I just keep trying to live up to -- and I cannot look at them without counting my blessings.

What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?

Talk about counting my blessings! I knew Hadley Hooper's work through The Iridescence of Birds, a picture book biography about Matisse. It was written by Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley illustrated it and I loved it! So when she agreed to do this book, I was thrilled. And she exceeded any possible expectations -- the palette, the little surprises everywhere -- birds! binoculars! -- and the very timeless little tree-climber who is Lulu herself. I love the art in this book completely.

How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

It appears to be upping my efficiency game in a big way. It's amazing how I can buckle down when I know that the packets are coming again, and soon! Also, perhaps it could go without saying, but I am pretty much constantly awash in admiration these days -- for my students and colleagues alike. And that is both humbling and wildly inspiring.

What's special about the VCFA-WCYA program?

You've never met more people who care so deeply about the same thing but who are still, somehow, wildly unique and devoted to telling their own wildly unique stories. They make the place what it is; they give it integrity.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

If you're serious about this desire -- this calling -- to write for children, this is your place. Yes, it's like hurling yourself into the deep end of a swimming pool, but there are lifeguards on duty who will help you develop your own strong and beautiful stroke.

What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?

I wish I'd known JUST HOW SPECIAL it is. I would've tried to get here sooner.

IMG_5335ac.jpgWe are so fortunate you're here now! Thanks for stopping by the Launchpad. Welcome to the forest, Another Way to Climb a Tree!

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including the highly acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, and her debut novel for middle grade readers, The Great Good Summer. Other titles include In the Canyon, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, The Good-Pie Party, and more. Liz is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a frequent and popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas.

Visit her online at lizgartonscanlon.com.

And stop by the Launchpad next week for Part Two of Liz Garton Scanlon's interview, when she'll discuss Bob, Not Bob, a picture book co-authored with Audrey Vernick!

Topics: Macmillan, picture book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017 release, Neal Porter, Liz Garton Scanlon, Neal Porter Books, Hadley Hooper

Martha BrockenBrough and LOVE, SANTA!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 @ 08:09 AM

We're feeling festive today with the release of Martha Brockenbrough's Love, Santa (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine)!

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In a series of letters, a young girl writes to Santa to ask about the North Pole, Mrs. Claus, and of course, Christmas goodies. Year after year, Santa writes back, and a heartwarming relationship develops, until one year, the girl writes to her mother instead: Mom, are you Santa? Her mother responds to say that no, she is not Santa. Because Santa is bigger than any one person — we bring him out through kindness to one another and the power of imagination. This transformative tale spins a universal childhood experience into a story about love, giving, and the spirit of Christmas.

Welcome, Martha! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

This book came from a letter my daughter wrote to me asking for the truth about Santa. She’d hinted around the topic for a while, so I asked her if she really wanted to know. She was emphatic. My response was posted on a blog, and then published by The New York Times, then it became a Facebook and Pinterest sensation (and someone with a weak sense of irony plagiarized it and made it religious). I didn’t think it would be anything more than a blog post, because picture books are not blog posts. But then I came up with an idea for a series of letters exchanged over a period of years and the book came together.

CwSDIh3VEAAvao1.jpgDo you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

I usually write in silence or if I’m in public, with headphones on. Sometimes people want to talk with you when you’re working in a cafe. One man even tapped my shoulder as I was working. I lifted my headphones. “Where’s a good place to park around here?” If my eyes were equipped with laser beams, he would be but a smoking cinder on the floor. What a question. Had he not already parked when he came in? Anyway, I don’t like to be distracted as I write, and music with words distracts me. I sometimes listen to classical music, and often write to an exceptionally talented young Lithuanian player’s debut accordion album. I mean, who doesn’t do that, right? But still. He’s amazing, and that music on reminds me that I am in work mode.

Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does a family member read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?

I live in Seattle, where a great number of children’s writers and illustrators live. I’m not in a formal critique group, but do swap manuscripts with friends in town and elsewhere. My family members do read my books, but their feedback is of a different nature. The book they love best of mine, by the way, never made it past my last agent. I do plan to revise, but sometimes civilian readers see things the pros don’t, and vice versa. So, I prefer them as cheerleaders.

What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book?

I made Christmas ornaments for the book! They are beautiful and based on the cover illustration. My family has an annual tradition; each of my daughters chooses an ornament for the tree. We sometimes do this when we’re on vacation, and sometimes we make a night of it in downtown Seattle or one of our many quirky neighborhoods. We write a note about the process of the choice and the year, and tuck that and the ornament back into the box. Over the years, decorating the tree has become a slow process that feels like a gift of the memories of all those Christmases past, and I hope the recipients of this ornament remember the year they joined Santa’s team, and the transformation that represents.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Martha. And a merry welcome to Love, Santa!

Visit Martha Brockenbrough online at marthabrockenbrough.com.

Topics: picture book, Scholastic, middle grade, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017 release, Martha Brockenbrough

Joe McGee and PEANUT BUTTER & ALIENS!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 @ 07:09 AM

Raid the fridge and power up your spaceship! We're taking a trip with Joe McGee, whose new picture book, Peanut Butter & Aliens, illustrated by Charles Santoso, is out now from Abrams!

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The Aliens have arrived in Quirkville. And they are hungry.

Reginald and Abigail Zink taught the zombies and the humans how to live together peacefully. But when the aliens land, they have a new problem on their hands. The aliens are demanding an out-of-this-world snack, and when their taste buds aren’t satisfied, they zap the residents of Quirkville with cosmic grape jelly. But what goes best with jelly? PEANUT BUTTER!

Will Reginald and Abigail be able to convince the aliens that PB&J is the best sandwich in the universe?

The creators of Peanut Butter & Brains have crafted a delicious sequel about the power of working together…and enjoying a good PB&J.

Greetings, earthling Joe! So, tell us . . .

What's something special you keep on your wall or desk?

I was an early and avid reader, writer, and doodler. When I was in 4th grade, I was selected as one of a handful of students from my grade to attend a regional “Young Authors’ Day.” Students from schools in the district were all bussed to a day-long series of writing workshops. There was a menu of sorts you could choose from and I remember taking workshops such as “Writing Puppet Plays,” “Writing Superhero Stories,” and “Writing Mythology and Folktales.” It was an incredible experience, one that cemented the idea in my head that I was going to be an author one day. I went on to holding 6th-grade recess readings of short stories I’d written, to entering contests and submitting to magazines. I just kept going from there, but I’ve never forgotten that one day. I still have that laminated, blue piece of paper and I hang it near my desk to remind myself of my journey and how special this achievement of publication is.

Hooray for young authors everywhere!

Alien1.jpgTell us about your writing community.

I am really fortunate to have an extensive community of writers, artists and super creative people – my tribe. Our tribe. Writing is a lonely endeavor when it’s just you and the blank page. It’s a terrifying and vulnerable place when we let it out of our hands and let it become something bigger than ourselves. And that is why a community is so important . . . people who get you, get the strange place we inhabit, as writers. People who will celebrate your good news and rail their fists at the sky with you when dark clouds descend.

My writing community consists of the faculty and alum and students of VCFA, especially my class of July 2014, the Allies in Wonderland. I teach at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program and I have built up a wonderful group of friends and writing family there. I have met and befriended so many amazing and wonderful people (and talented writers, of course) in the course of doing writing visits, events, and conferences. And it’s always expanding, which is really so awesome. I am in a small critique group, which meets once a month. There are four of us, all agented, working writers. We get together for dinner and to workshop works in progress. It’s been so valuable and I love the feedback that I get from them.

But, my biggest support system is my partner, Jessica (also a VCFA alum). She pushes me, challenges me, inspires me, and offers poignant, honest, critical feedback on everything I write. I’d like to throw out here that her book, What Gloria Heard (Bloomsbury) – a picture book biography of Gloria Steinem – will be published in 2019. So, we’re both working writers and that’s cool! And, I’m happy to announce that we’re engaged! ☺

Congrats to you both for all your happy news!

What was it like watching the illustrations come together?

I could not be happier with what Charles Santoso has done with my story. When we sold Peanut Butter & Brains, I had no idea (and no input) on what the zombies, the town, what anything would look like. Part of the reason that the other publishers did not buy the first book was because they had no idea, no vision, on how to do zombies in a picture book. But Abrams got it and they found Charles, who clearly got it. So, when I first saw his art, I was blown away. I’m not sure I had an exact picture of what these zombies might look like, but Charles nailed it.

And so, when it came time for Peanut Butter & Aliens, I had no worries that he would create something “out of this world” (pun intended). We communicate via email, or social media, and so I just asked him to make sure they had tentacles. And again, he killed it. I love the level of detail he puts onto each page, and the way he is able to layer and add depth. He’s brought my world to life and I couldn’t be happier!

Aliens.jpg
What’s your writing superpower?

I’m going to say my ability to write anything. And I am not staking some claim to being the only one who can do this, but I can (and do) write across the spectrum – picture books, middle grade, YA, graphic novels, screenplays, adult genre fiction, comics, etc….and I have the ability to create something out of any zany kind of combination that might come my way. Space leprechauns that travel through time to find the perfect coffee beans for their unicorn overlords, only to become embroiled in a struggle to save Earth from a wereraccoon motorcycle gang intent on Armageddon? Yeah, I can do that.

Do you write in silence?

I do. I really can’t listen to music or anything when I write. I mean, I don’t care if there’s noise around me or anything. I can write with people talking and televisions or music playing on speakers somewhere, but I cannot put headphones on and write. It somehow gets in my way . . . But, nevertheless, I continue to try. Maybe one day it’ll work?

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I had the great fortune of working with Sharon Darrow my first semester. I took the picture book intensive semester and she was instrumental in opening the door to that world. I really believe that her mentorship, teaching, and support was a large part of me finding my way as a picture book writer.

My second semester, I worked with Tom Birdseye. Amy King, my third semester. And finally, Mama K, Kathi Appelt, for my fourth semester. They all taught me an incredible amount and I will always be indebted to them for their knowledge, support, belief, for challenging me, for being proud of me, and for being my friends and family. I love them all very much.

alien6.jpgHow did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Wow. VCFA changed my life. It was the portal that propelled me into the world that that 4th-grade boy at “Young Authors’ Day” dreamed of stepping into. I’d just finished my Master of Arts in Writing degree at Rowan University and thanks to Lisa Jahn-Clough (a former VCFA faculty member), I was introduced to VCFA. I wanted more than what my MA gave me. I wanted to fully embrace my creativity and I wanted to write for children. Attending VCFA was a commitment to my art. It was a statement that I was going to do everything in my power to take myself seriously as a writer, to commit to improving, to push for seeing my work published, to pursue the life that I had wanted for so long. Prior to that, I’d not been giving my full attention to my writing. Life has a habit of getting in the way – the practicalities of other careers and such – but I made a choice. Attending VCFA was a life decision to commit to my art, and it quickly led to acquiring an agent, to selling my first book, to becoming a better, stronger writer. I can truly say, with complete confidence, that VCFA set me on my path to where I am today. Thank you, VCFA – you are always in my heart.

What's special about your graduating class, the Allies in Wonderland?

There are so many things that I could say about our class . . . our intense camaraderie? Our incredible diversity? Our bar-setting reveal? The high percentage of our class publishing? There are so many things, BUT. . . for me, the most special thing about our graduating class is that I am marrying my best friend, my absolute love, my VCFA classmate, Jessica Rinker, this July.

Thanks for stopping by, Joe! Welcome to the galaxy, Peanut Butter & Aliens!

Joe McGee is the author of Peanut Butter & Brains, Peanut Butter & Aliens, and the forthcoming (2019) Peanut Butter & Santa Claus. He has his MA in Writing from Rowan University and graduated from VCFA with his MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2014. He teaches creative writing at Rowan University and is faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program. He is a former airborne Army officer, an amateur cartoonist, and the father of three boys (16, 14, 10). He lives in a wonderful, artsy, river town in New Jersey with his fiancée, Jessica (also a VCFA alum).

Visit him online at joemcgeeauthor.com, and check out his cartoon about the writing life at frawgandbyrd.com. Read more from Joe about Peanut Butter & Aliens in his blog post, "My love letter to the world."

Topics: picture book, Joe McGee, 2017 release, Abrams, Charles Santoso

Carol Brendler and THE PICKWICKS' PICNIC!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Sep 08, 2017 @ 11:09 AM
Today we're celebrating Carol Brendler's delicious new picture book -- say it aloud five times -- The Pickwicks' Picnic, out now from Clarion, illustrated by Renée Kurilla. Carol is a member of the VCFA class the Cliffhangers and she stopped by to give us the inside scoop!
IMG_1792.jpg
Community cooperation turns a traffic jam into an opportunity for fun in this inventive counting book starring a pair of clever canine siblings.
Welcome, Carol! So, tell us . . .
What was the spark that ignited this book?
This book started out as a bit of verse I wrote about crossing a river on a box girder bridge. My agent suggested turning it into a story with a plot and everything—easy for her to say! The text for this one, which seems so simple, was the result of many, many, many, many drafts. Probably more drafts than anything else I’ve ever written. Every time I thought I had produced a winner, my agent would ask me to go back and rework it some more. I’m so glad she did, since the result is a book with a full-fledged plot and lots of read-aloud potential.
 
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Marion Dane Bauer once mentioned to me that a picture book should stick to just one thing, one idea, one through line. No extras, no subplots, nothing to distract from the main story. Maybe it sounds obvious, but for someone like me it’s a tough rule to adhere to (see the next answer).
 
IMG_2520.jpegWhat authors do you love for their sentences?
I have a soft spot for the florid and prolix prose of Victorian English literature. I know, it’s not for everyone, and it’s a weird favorite, perhaps, for a picture book writer, but there you have it. Charles Dickens watches over me as I write (not really—it’s just a postcard photograph on my desk) and holds me to very high standards.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
Leda Schubert, Uma Krishnaswami, Tim Wynne-Jones, and Sarah Ellis
 
What was special about your VCFA graduating class?
We were the WCYA class that began residencies around the time that the school seemed to be teetering on the brink of folding. Tom Greene swooped in and saved the program, and our class was the first to have "The Vermont College of Fine Arts” on its diplomas. It’s always felt to me that the Cliffhangers’ loyalty to VCFA had some small part in buoying up the school during the transition. Also, we invented the legendary “wine pit.”
 
That was you? Wow! There have been so many friendships formed and great stories told in the wine pit.
 
Thanks for interviewing me, and viva VCFA!
 
Hear, hear! Thanks for coming by, Carol. Welcome to the world, The Pickwicks' Picnic!
Visit Carol online at www.carolbrendler.com.

Topics: picture book, Carol Brendler, Clarion, 2017 release, Renée Kurilla

Leda Schubert and LISTEN: HOW PETE SEEGER GOT AMERICA SINGING!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Jun 15, 2017 @ 10:06 AM

Today, we're singing the praises of Leda Schubert, whose picture book biography Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing, illustrated by Raúl Colón, is out now from Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press!

petecover3.jpg

Listen.
There was nobody like Pete Seeger.
Wherever he went, he got people singing.
With his head thrown back
and his Adam’s apple bouncing,
picking his long-necked banjo
or strumming his twelve-string guitar,
Pete sang old songs,
new songs,
old songs with new words,
and songs he made up.

Welcome, Leda! I am thrilled to get to celebrate your work and the release of this wonderful new PB biography. What was the spark that ignited this book?

I always knew that Pete Seeger would die someday, but I also always hoped that he’d be the one to beat the odds. On the morning of January 28, 2014, I turned on NPR as I usually do and heard the announcement of his death. I began crying and couldn’t stop. I cried on and off for days, and I found myself beginning to write. I had had no intention of doing this, since my good friend Anita Silvey was working on a book about Pete already.

Sometimes you have to listen to the voices. Speaking of, do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

I almost always write in silence, except for the pacing of the dogs and the barking of the dogs and the scratching of the dogs to go in and out. Sometimes I can listen to the hum of NPR news, but I absolutely cannot listen to music. Because I listen to music. For this book, however, I listened to a lot of Pete Seeger. Such a surprise. And, of course, I cried some more.

IMG_1722.jpg

Leda Schubert plays some Pete Seeger.

As one of your former advisees, I have to say you had a huge, positive impact on both my writing and my VCFA experience. But how did teaching at VCFA affect your own writing life?

So many answers here, so I’ll focus on a few. First, teaching reminded me how hard writing can be. My students worked and worked, and I was the beneficiary of their efforts. I loved it. Second, I learned how to talk more effectively about writing, which, in turn, helped me analyze my own efforts better. I had to be able to express inchoate ideas so others could understand them. Third, I was constantly amazed at the richness and originality of my students’ work. Fourth (and I could go on), it was fascinating to see how students went about solving problems. The world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle. Fifth, I realized I had to walk the talk.

What do you think is special about the VCFA-WCYA program?

Everybody reading this post knows the answer already. To me, the most important aspect is the community that has developed over the years of the program. I see students change their lives for each other, I see alums supporting each other’s work for years; I see small and large communities building around friendship and writing. I used to tell first semesters that their lives would never be the same, and in large part I still believe that. Then there’s the program itself: there is no guarantee that writing can be taught to a specific individual, but there sure is vast evidence that the program is doing something right! It’s wonderful to celebrate so many successes—so many that nobody can keep up.  I do think people should get my permission before moving here, however.

Ha! Taking note! Thanks so much for stopping by the Launchpad, Leda. Keep singing, everybody!

Leda Schubert holds an MFA from VCFA (class of January, 2006) and was a core faculty member for six years. She lives in Plainfield, VT, the center of the universe, with her husband and two dogs, one of whom is a saint and one a sinner. Visit her online at www.ledaschubert.com.

Topics: picture book, Roaring Brook Press, picture book biography, 2017 release, Leda Schubert, Raul Colon, Neal Porter

Laurie Wallmark and GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, May 05, 2017 @ 06:05 AM

Today, we're powered up for Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, a new nonfiction picture book written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu (Sterling Children's Books)! Laurie's here to give us the scoop.

Grace cover 96dpi small.jpgMeet Grace Hopper: the women who revolutionized computer coding.

An ace inventor, groundbreaker, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she coined the term “computer bug” and developed the program that taught computers to recognize words and not just endless 0’s and 1’s. Grace Hopper tells the inspirational story of this brilliant woman who had a passion for science and math and the firm belief that new solutions to problems were not found by those who said, “We’ve always done it this way.”

Rule breaker. Chance taker. Troublemaker. Amazing Grace.

Welcome, Laurie! Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?

The road to publication with this book started with a critique at the NJ SCBWI Conference. Meredith Mundy read the book and wanted to take it to acquisitions. There was no time before the meeting to make changes, but luckily, the manuscript passed this next hurdle. Now it was time to do revisions to get it past Sterling’s publication board. They had never done a picture book biography before, so it was going to be a hard sell. My agents, Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris of Liza Royce Agency, were thrilled to tell me the news that Sterling was going to publish Grace, and I was over the moon to hear it. After that, there were several more big revisions plus a few tweaks here and there before the manuscript was ready to go.

clocks.jpgWhat's your writing superpower?

My writing superpower is not a very useful one—I’m the Grammar Queen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly helpful, but I’d rather my superpower be queen of the elusive voice that editors say they’re always looking for.

What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book?

Grace Hopper kept a clock in her office with the numbers running counter-clockwise to remind herself to think outside the box. I created this backwards clock on buttons. These have been very popular at book festivals. My publisher gave out a swag I’ve never seen before. They had lens wipes made up with a picture of the book cover on them.

lens wipe and clock.jpgSuper cool swag!

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

My studies at VCFA had a major impact on my writing, but there’s one way in particular that I’ve never heard others mention. I write faster now. I think this is because I can more quickly eliminate ideas and approaches that won’t work. I’m still a slow writer, but I’ve advanced from a snail’s pace to a turtle’s.

Yes! Go Team Turtle!

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My advisors were the great Mark Karlin (picture book semester), Bonnie Christensen, Sharon Darrow, and Louise Hawes.

Thanks for visiting, Laurie. Here's to thinking outside the box with Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code!

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal). When not writing, Laurie teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Laurie is a member of the class of January 2016, The Inkredibles. Visit her online at her website, lauriewallmark.com, and her blog, lauriewallmark.blogspot.com.

Topics: nonfiction, picture book, picture book biography, Laurie Wallmark, 2017 release, Sterling Children's Books, Katy Wu

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