STACY CANTOR is an associate editor at Walker Books for Young Readers, a publisher known for creating fun, quirky picture books. I had the pleasure of meeting Stacy at a recent SCBWI Retreat where she graciously shared her expertise with us and gave us an inside look into Walker BYR. Stacy had previously worked at Bloomsbury Children’s Books and as a writer for a book packager in Chicago, Illinois. Her interests lie primarily in literary, contemporary young adult fiction and vibrant read-aloud picture books. Her favorite projects thus far have been two novels called Dragon Slippers and Notes From the Teenage Underground, an all-encompassing (but very rewarding) project called The Ultimate Teen Book Guide, and a forthcoming picture book about a little girl who has monsters move in next door. Stacy also spent a summer as an intern for Viking Children’s Books, where she honed her skills reading the slush pile.
You enjoy funny, quirky picture books. I’ve often wondered what constitutes funny/quirky versus over-the-top ridiculousness (pushing the silly envelope too far). Could you define this more specifically and give some examples?
It’s a tough question! I feel like it’s easier to explain what I think does work than what I think doesn’t. Maybe it’s because it’s rare to find a book that pushes silly too far—I mean, I grew up on Dr. Seuss! How much sillier can you get?
Of course, there are different brands of funny. I tend to love word play/pun books, like Walker’s Gimme Cracked Corn and I Will Share by Kevin O’Malley, which is just about the epitome of a groan-worthy pun book, but somehow amidst the chicken and egg puns, it just works! (It also just debuted on the NYT Bestseller list! Hurray!) I’ve also recently bought a picture book manuscript called Animal House by Candace Ryan, which combines really clever wordplay like living in a “kangaroom,” keeping food in a “refrigergator,” and putting dirty clothes in a “hamster.” These sorts of funny wordplay books make great read-alouds.
Then there are the silly character picture books. I loved Amelia Bedelia when I was growing up (you know, the very literal housekeeper, who actually dusted the drapes by putting dust on them?) and maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of silly characters now. Walker’s recurring character picture books by Matthew McElligott about Backbeard the Pirate (Backbeard and the Birthday Suit, Backbeard: Pirate for Hire) are just plain hilarious. I think kids really love “comedy of errors” type picture books.
Some picture books rely on the artwork for the real humor. Another character that we publish at Walker is Millie the Cow, in Millie Waits for the Mail and Millie in the Snow by Alexander Steffensmeier. Readers will love to pore through the artwork and find all the different little details that the artist has added in, like a pair of rowdy chickens who are sprinkled throughout the spreads with hilarious antics.
And then there’s Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, which may be my most favorite funny picture book out there today. It combines everything!
If you’re worried that your picture book manuscript might be pushing the silly envelope too far, see if it makes kids laugh or not. They’re a tougher audience than you might imagine. If they’re groaning or thinking that it’s stupid, odds are an editor will think so too.
We all know about the dreaded “slush pile.” What is the most common mistake you see in manuscripts that come from it?
Not enclosing a self-addressed stamped envelope! It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t include it. And we can’t respond unless we can do it via the USPS. There’s just not enough time or energy in the day to phone or email everyone.
A more helpful piece of advice for those of you who know better than to skip the SASE is that we get a ton of submissions for genres that we just don’t publish. Easy-to-reads, early chapter books, fantasy, even adult books. You will really never find these types of books on the Walker BFYR list, so asking us to consider them is really a waste of our time. It really makes it seem like the submitter didn’t do their research before sending it to us, too.
What’s your favorite children’s joke?
Q: What do you call cheese that isn’t yours?
A: Nacho cheese!
(Terrible, I know. Maybe it says something about my sense of humor after all…)