Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger #1), by Amy Timberlake/Illustrated by Jon Klassen,, (Sept. 2020, Algonquin), $18.95, ISBN: 9781643750057
This is an utterly adorable, amusing story of two unlikely friends. Badger, a rock scientist, lives on his own in his aunt’s house, doing very important rock science; when Skunk shows up at his door, he’s a little taken aback – he clearly hasn’t been reading his aunt’s letters, telling him he’ll be getting a roommate! – and he reluctantly lets Skunk into his home, and, slowly but surely, his life. You see, Skunk is much more of a free spirit than Badger: he cooks delicious meals, zings potatoes across the room while he’s cooking, and makes friends with chickens! Badger, who lives a functional and regimented life, is not sure about this whole Skunk business. After a big sleep over with the chickens leads to an…
Love is my first novelty book and I was incredibly fortunate that my wonderful editor, Ariel Richardson, included me in on the book collaboration. I, who knew very little about novelty book production! But her welcoming nature, gentle guidance, and master ringleader skills in managing everyone involved (her team, the illustrator, and myself) made the experience pure joy.
To give a sense of Love’s timeline, our initial discussion began in August of 2017, when we chatted about some light revisions, the number of page spreads, which animals to include (or remove). A few weeks later, our talented illustrator Suzy Ultman, had already done some rough sketches for the cover, so Ariel asked for my thoughts. We also discussed the felt samples (Chronicle wanted to use felt flaps and found some gorgeous sturdy felt fabric that could withstand the repeated use of small hands).
In January 2018, Suzy had completed the rough sketches for the book, so for the next few weeks, we discussed revisions (to the art and the writing). One of the things we all agreed upon was incorporating diversity into the book (even though there were only two spreads with humans we wanted to make them count so all readers could see themselves in the book). For me, the final spread was where we aimed at being all-inclusive. I mean, this is a book about love, after all!
By late February, Suzy had done more rough sketches based on the revision notes. One of the things we were discussing was a line, “Enclosed in tender toothy jaws” which I wrote based on this photo:
I loved this picture of a mother alligator carrying her young inside her mouth. Wow! That’s some motherly love! But unfortunately, it just didn’t work in the art because no matter how Suzy drew it, it looked like the mom was eating her young! (Yikes! NOT our desired effect!). So, after much discussion, we landed on using a panda. Phew! Kids love pandas and they carry their very pink young in their mouths like cats do (something young readers might be familiar with already).
Our collaboration continued for the next few months. Suzy’s artistic style is charming and whimsical (so fun for very young children), but because I’m a stickler about animal facts, sometimes I’d have a question or concern. I greatly appreciated Ariel and Suzy’s patience with me whenever I’d ask about something in the art that I wasn’t sure of. I also found that sharing the photographs that inspired the writing was helpful. If nothing else, seeing these beautiful animals showing affection to their young was a joy for all of us to see.
We also had to reorder the spreads a bit. Ariel had noticed the animal-to-human order of appearance was off a little. I’m a visual learner, so I printed out the rough sketches and laid it out on my office floor to play with it and see what suggestions I could come up with. Playing with words and pictures is so much fun! (and yes, that’s cat food and water on my office floor—my co-authors must have sustenance!)
After taking a pause for Suzy to complete another project, we were now mid-summer 2018. Our collaboration on the cover and interior illustrations continued, mostly working out the fine details. One of my favorite ideas born of this time was to have a felt speech bubble flap on the final page. When Ariel asked me for suggestions for the text under the flap, I immediately thought of how I often sign my other board book, Mama Loves You So: “You are loved!” Everyone loved this idea so these became the final words that will resonate with every reader. And how important is that?
Our collaborations continued through 2019. Much of this was checking the final art and text, and deciding on the final cover. Checking and rechecking all those delightful details! It wasn’t until late 2019 that the final edits were actually “final.”
So, in case you’ve lost track, the collaboration process took about 28 months (August 2017 through late 2019). That might sound like a long time, but it flew by for me. I love doing deep dives into projects and am so grateful I had this opportunity to do so.
One final thought…I’ve learned many important lessons in my twenty-one years of writing, but one of the most important is to play nice. That might sound obvious, but I can’t say enough how important it is to be kind, respectful and courteous to your fellow creatives and professionals in the book business when you’re collaborating on a project.
Next week, the “radio silence” phase of book production! (and a shorter post, I promise!)
It’s National Blackberry Day (I know, who knew such a day existed? Well, me.). For me, blackberries bring back sweet, warm childhood memories. When my family lived in Washington state, my brother and I would pick wild blackberries in the summer and bring home so many that my mom had no other options than to make a pie. Yum!
I carried this tradition down to my own family. When we vacationed every summer in the Pacific Northwest, we would pick wild berries and I’d always make a fresh berry pie. Double yum when it’s with your child!
Well, the inspiration for my picture book, Blackberry Banquet,came to me one time while I was picking berries. I accidentally stepped on a twig in the forest and watched in surprise as various animals flee from my favorite berry bush. Birds, squirrels, mice! That inspiration turned into an idea that later became Blackberry Banquet.
The book, a cumulative story about animals coming to feast at a blackberry bush only to be interrupted by a hungry bear, included fun, educational backmatter including a recipe for blackberry smoothies. But for now, I’m going to share author Jean Ann Williams’s winning recipe for “On Top of the Stove Blackberry Cobbler.” (Yuuuuummmy!)
ON-TOP-OF-THE-STOVE BLACKBERRY COBBLER By Jean Ann Williams
INGREDIENTS: 1. As many blackberries you managed to pick. 2. Sugar to taste and added in before dough strips. 3. Favorite pie dough recipe made with shortening or lard, not butter.
STEPS: Prepare pie dough for either one or two crust pie, depending on how many berries.
Wash berries in a colander, careful not to squeeze berries and therefore losing juices. Dump into a pot, not filling more than 2/3 full. DO NOT ADD WATER! Simmer on low to medium heat. Stir occasionally. Add the sugar to taste.
Pull an apricot-sized ball of pie dough and roll thin on a cutting board. Cut long strips like for lattice weave about ¾ inches wide. Then, cut the lattice in half to accommodate layering into pot of berries.
Once berries juices flow and thicken and boil slightly, add first layer of dough strips. Let simmer for five minutes to set the dough, and then stir into berries. Repeat the rolling of dough and continue this until all dough is gone or you have enough dough to suit you in cobbler. After last layer of dough is stirred in, let simmer for five more minutes. Take off stove and let cool to warm in the pot or in bowls.
This cobbler is very tasty warm and with a side of ice cream. IF you have leftovers, refrigerate. Eating cold is another treat, but if you wish to reheat, then add a bit of water to stir into bottom of pan so as not to scorch.
TIPS I make this for at least twelve servings and use the double pie dough recipe (with maybe a little leftover). We’ve never measured our ingredients, except for the dough and it always comes out tasty. Did I say never add water when making? That is a sure way to lose some of your rich berry flavors. Enjoy! Our family has for three generations.
My own notes: (from Terry) Because I’m one of those people who likes things in measurements, I’ll share the amounts I used: four 6-oz. containers of berries (fresh berries are unavailable where I live) ½ cup sugar Also, I kept a lid on the pot while it simmered to retain the heat and “bake” the piecrust pieces. I served in custard cups with a choice of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for my judging team.
I’ve never written an “idea to published book” account so I thought this would be great time to start! My first novelty book, Love Can Come in Many Ways (Chronicle Books), is coming out October 20! (to preorder, click HERE).
So! Let’s start with the idea because all stories begin with a spark. Sometimes the spark is like a tiny spark jumping off a flint stick and other times it’s a roaring fire. Either way, inspiration comes, and when it does the idea doesn’t let go. It burns in my mind until I get serious and sit down to write.
In “Love’s” case, the spark came in early 2017. I, like many others, were coming off a challenging 2016. Our country, one way or another, was dealing with the outcome of the 2016 election. And in early 2017, I found myself feeling increasingly disturbed by the way people were treating each other.So much unkindness, nonacceptance, unwillingness to listen. None of it being what I try to live my life by—love, compassion, acceptance, and kindness.
So one day, as I sat pondering over how to deal with all the negativity, it occurred to me to write a book about love. Now, being a writer for young children, I didn’t want to just write about love, I wanted to write about…
But how, I wondered, could I present love in a kid-friendly way that didn’t seem like I was hitting them over the head with a heart- and glitter-filled stuffed bunny?
Animals! That’s how. I’m a huge animal-lover and have been since I was a kid. I mean, what kid doesn’t like animals? So, I now had a theme (love) and a main topic (animals). Next I thought about how to present the story. Because I wanted love to be the focus of the book, I wondered about how animals express love and affection to each other? To get ideas, I went to the internet. Here are a few photos I’d saved…
I couldn’t get over this giraffe image, and as I was perusing through so many heartwarming images, my opening line came to me…
Nose to nose,
Gaze to gaze,
Love can come in many ways.
I didn’t necessarily start out wanting to write in rhyme, but like much of when I begin writing for younger children, the rhyme just happens. And once I had what I thought was a perfect opening, I knew I had my rhythm pattern for the remainder of the book.
So, that’s how the idea for Love Can Come in Many Ways came to be. Next post, I’ll talk more about the actual writing process of this piece. But for now, I’ll leave you with a few more inspiring photos.
In a recent interview, Eastern Sierra Book Festival organizer Jennifer Crittenden asked about my upcoming novelty book, Love Can Come in Many Ways (Chronicle). She specifically wanted to know more about the flaps—how do they benefit young children who might enjoy this novelty book? The former Montessori teacher in me kicked in but her question got me thinking further. I thought I’d share here just how “lift-a-flap” novelty books benefit young children.
To begin, babies, toddlers and young children learn through their senses. They glean information from their environment by touching, tasting, hearing, smelling, and seeing. This explains why babies instinctively put things in their mouths! So, novelty books with sensory-based features, such as flaps (using the tactile sense), will give the youngest readers an opportunity to experience a book using multiple senses. Little ones will be able to touch the flap, feel its texture, see its beautiful color, and lift it up to reveal what’s underneath (working fine motor skills and kinesthetic development).
And speaking of lifting the flap, doing so gives young readers some empowerment in the story experience. It gives them control over revealing what’s under the flap. Developmentally, this kind of empowerment is good for tiny humans who are trying to exert power over their environment. In other words, it enhances their sense of self and self-mastery over their environment.
One last benefit I’ll mention here…lifting a flap helps a child toward eventually learning to write. Yes, that’s what I said! It helps them learn to write. How? Think about how a toddler or young child use their fingers when grasping a flap. Here’s a photo I “borrowed” from the internet…
Physically exercising this hand position (using hand and finger muscles to strengthen the “pincer movement”) and developing the eye-hand coordination to lift the flap will help a child work towards someday being able to do this…
To further the point, think about the eye-hand coordination you might observe when a baby learns to grasp finger foods. When my son was around 6 months old (when he could sit up on his own and put his hand to his mouth), I would put some Cheerios in front of him. At first, he awkwardly grasped at them, grabbing what he could by the handful (using his palm to grasp). But as he got older, his fine motor skills developed and eventually he could pick them up individually by using his pincer movement. Practicing the pincer movement through eating, playing and yes, lifting flaps in books, helped him eventually be able to hold a crayon or pencil to write. Here’s another photo I “borrowed” from the internet to illustrate. Now, imagine those chubby little fingers someday holding a crayon, pencil, or pen.
I haven’t gotten into the emotional bonding between the adult and child reading a novelty book, but then again, that can happen with every book.
With all the benefits of lift-a-flap and other novelty books, it makes sense that they’re a great choice for the youngest of readers. And I’ll just say that the sturdy, gorgeously colored flaps in Love Can Come in Many Ways will certainly enhance your little one’s development.
The book comes out on October 20, 2020 but it’s available to preorder now! Just click HERE.
I am over the moon excited to share in the Yosemite Conservancy’s cover reveal of my latest board book, EAT UP, BEAR! (Ill. by Nadja Sarell). Living in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this book is close to my heart as it helps teach little ones how to keep bears wild, AND every purchase helps support one of our greatest national treasures, Yosemite National Park. The book comes out spring 2021, but you can preorder now through Bookshop. Just press your paw HERE.
Tomorrow, July 12, I’ll be chatting about children’s writing and my upcoming board books, Love Can Come in Many Ways (Chronicle) and Eat Up, Bear! (Yosemite Conservancy). It’s a FREE virtual all-day event (I’ll be talking at 2:00) so please join us if you can! Click here for details: https://easternsierrabookfestival.com/2020-2/
SCBWI members’ publishing news is something to celebrate here at Kite Tales! Check out whose book is coming to a platform near you or around the world. Horn-tooting and digital hi-fives welcome in thecomments!