Children’s literature

Author Julie Falatko on Creating Chapter Books

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented writer Julie Falatko. I consider her one of my favorite fiction authors, so this is exciting! I first fell in love with her work when she created the Snappsy the Alligator series, and now she’s out with a new chapter book series, Two Dogs and a Trench Coat, published by Scholastic. Let’s support her by buying her books and/or reviewing them!

Please describe the journey to publication for this book series.
I had written picture books but nothing longer yet. I knew I wanted to – I overwrite my picture books to get the story down, and have to cut away 75% of what I write. I liked the idea of trying to write a story that would let me keep a few more of those jokes in.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
At the time, I had two dogs (I’m down to one now, alas), and spent a lot of time narrating what I thought the dogs would be saying to each other. I think all pet owners probably do this. But it became a bit of a competition in my family, to try to do it in the best, funniest, most pun-filled way. A lot of it was the dogs trying to get the idiot humans to give them large piles of meat.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process is the same for every project. I do a mix of writing longhand and typing into the computer. I write some and then go for a walk and think about the problems I’ve run into with what I’m working on (and write possible solutions or good sentences on an index card I keep in my pocket). And I do my best work early in the morning. It has gotten really bad, my ability to work past a certain time of day. It keeps getting earlier and earlier. At this point, my best work is done before 9 am. I can’t do any creative idea generation at all after 2 pm.

We’re always hearing about how chapter books are a difficult market. How did you manage to break into this genre?
It was a combination of hard work, luck, and being in the right place at the right time. I’d written a chapter book collaboratively with two other authors, which was honestly the funniest thing. And no one wanted it. But I kept working on picture books, and various other longer things. I read all the time. I did what I think is probably technically called “making connections” or “networking” but was really just me wanting to talk kids books with other people who were happy to have a long discussion about books with me. I met my Scholastic editor because of all of those things. We’d known each other as industry acquaintances for a few years before we talked about working together on Two Dogs in a Trench Coat.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
My favorite scene in Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Enter Stage Left is when the acting teacher is trying to lead the students in a relaxing breathing exercise and the kids and dogs have absolutely no idea what’s happening:
“Everyone, take a deep breath,” said Mr. Rollins.
“Why?” said Bax.
“We are going to practice being in a play where we are breathers,” said Waldo.
“I took a breath in, and then I breathed out,” said Piper. “Is that okay? Or do you want me to hold my breath?”
“You should definitely breathe out,” said Becky. “I did, at least. Wait, can we breathe in again?”
“Listen to Mr. Rollins,” said Charlie. “He’s teaching us a special way to breathe. If you breathe in, and out, then in again, you’re just breathing like you always do.”
“Salty is breathing in and out very fast now,” said Bax. Waldo was, in fact, panting. “I’m going to do that. That seems more fun.”
Susan made a squeaking noise. Her face was very red. She exhaled noisily. “Why did you have us hold our breath?”
“I’m just trying to get you to relax,” said Mr. Rollins.
“Try harder,” said Bax, nearly out of breath.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I want to keep making books, especially books that I would have liked to read when I was a kid. I have a few projects in progress that I can’t talk about yet, but I can tell you that my next picture book will be Dear Sirs, out next year from Cameron Kids, which will be illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo.

Please share your favourite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
What I love in classic books is the way the format allowed them to take their time with the story. You look at a book like One Morning in Maine that takes a full 45 minutes to read aloud. And it’s perfect. It would never fly today, and that’s fine, but I do love reading a book that talks for pages about a spark plug, or books like Bread and Jam for Frances with that whole long exalted description of Albert unpacking his lunch box. It’s so delightful to encounter those picture books that slow down so much.
That said, I always name Amos & Boris by William Steig as my favorite classic picture book. The characters are perfectly set up, the language is beautiful and lyrical, and the plot is done in such a way that you have a real moment of despair wondering how it’s all going to be fixed and that allows you to feel joy at the absurd and somehow completely right way it’s all resolved.
Now, a contemporary book. The coronavirus pandemic has really taken a number on my knowledge of the most recent picture books. Or, I know about a lot of them, but haven’t read them yet, since I often got them from the New Releases shelf in my local library. I know there are many incredible picture books that were published in the past three months. The children’s book industry is an incredibly kind business to work in, and it’s one where you make a lot of genuine friends, so this question feels a bit like a bizarre award acceptance speech, where I want to name all my friends and the brilliant books they’ve written. Given that, I’ll throw that all out the window and name a book by an author I don’t know: Sweety by Andrea Zuill. It was the last book I read that really wowed me as far as the plot and the characters and also instilled a deep annoyed jealousy in me that she made a book so hilarious and perfect.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
The hardest part of being a writer, and the thing that will ensure your success, is doing the work. 100% of people with books out in the world did the work. They faced rejection and failed manuscripts and being stuck, and still they kept at it, and did the work.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
I am probably a weird, potentially terrible, flavor, like gummy bear or salted grapefruit, where you try it because it’s so ridiculous and think, “I think I actually love this?”

BIO
Julie Falatko is the author of eight funny books for kids, including Snappsy the Alligator and The Great Indoors. She lives in Maine with her family.

Social Media
Website: http://juliefalatko.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JulieFalatko
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/julie_falatko/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JulieFalatkoAuthor/
Local indie where you can order signed books: https://www.printbookstore.com/falatko

Author Lisa Amstutz on Creating Nonfiction, plus Giveaway!

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented nonfiction writer Lisa Amstutz. I consider her one of my mentors, so this is a real treat! She’s got a brand new nonfiction book out, Amazing Amphibians: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring Frogs, Toads, Salamanders, and More published by Chicago Review Press. Let’s support her by buying her book and/or reviewing it.

But first, Lisa is generously offering a FREE critique of a picture book (fiction or nonfiction) or the first ten pages of a longer nonfiction project! To be eligible, please leave a comment on this blog. It’s that easy! Deadline May 25.

 

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
Chicago Review Press came onto my radar when several author friends were published with them. I liked the idea of writing for an already existing series, so I studied their catalog to see what might be missing. I pitched several ideas and wrote up a proposal for the one they were interested in, a book on amphibians. This was the longest book I’ve written to date, and I was responsible for finding the images as well, so it was a big project! I learned a lot in the process.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I’m an ecologist by training, and one of my goals as a writer is to help kids understand and appreciate the amazing world around them. I see education as the first step to building a more sustainable world. People tend to protect the things they know and love!

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
It varies by project, but I usually start with an outline. For a long project like this one, I break it down into manageable chunks and write one at a time. I am usually researching and writing more or less simultaneously. After I had a draft written, I revised and sent chapters off to critique partners for their comments. One the text was in place, I started searching for photos.

What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
I love the challenge of finding the story in science and making it interesting, fun, and accessible to young readers. It’s a satisfying blend of science and art.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Upcoming titles include PLANTS FIGHT BACK (Dawn Publications/Sourcebooks, Fall 2020) and MARVELOUS MAMMALS (Chicago Review Press, 2021). And of course there are lots of other things in the works!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
It’s hard to pick just one, but one of my favorite classics is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I love how she made very complex science topics accessible to the average reader. I’m also a fan of Sy Montgomery’s work and the way she brings the heart to science.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Go to a bookstore and browse the shelves in your genre. Notice which books you pick up. What made them stand out? Consider how you can give your book that same quality.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Since I just finished writing a mammal book, I’ll have to go with Moose Tracks! J

BIO
Lisa Amstutz is the author of more than 150 children’s books, including Applesauce Day, Finding a Dove for Gramps, and Amazing Amphibians. She specializes in topics related to science and agriculture. Lisa’s background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Ecology/Environmental Science. She lives on a small-scale farm in Ohio with her family.

Social Media
Website: www.LisaAmstutz.com
Twitter: @LJAmstutz
Instagram: @slow.simple.green
Facebook: facebook.com/AuthorLisaAmstutz
Available wherever books are sold.
Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Amazing-Amphibians-Observations-Salamanders-Naturalists/dp/1641600721

How to get Your Child to Eat More Veggies!

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I can’t be the only parent who finds it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to feed my child vegetables!! Things were easy enough when she was a baby and she gobbled down spoonfuls of carrots and beets without a clue as to what they were.

But then, she turned 2.

And along with the proverbial Terrible Twos came the “NO! I don’t wanna eat vegetables!” This was her face anytime I gingerly placed a piece of broccoli or a few shreds of red pepper in front of her:

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And on and on it went.

I was going baFinal Front covernanas. I obsessed over dramatic questions. How my child would grow without any vegetables? How would she be healthy? Would she be like this forever?

Out of my frustration, I decided to write a picture book that entices little ones to eat their veggies. That’s when the illustrious Mr. Broccoli Bob was conceived and soon enough Melvin and the Madcap Musical came to life. Mr. Broccoli Bob is the distinguished host of an all-vegetable cabaret. This was my attempt to make veggies more fun, and show the virtues of eating veggies in an amusing way children can relate to.

I wrote the book last year. And guess what? Since I read it to my daughter, she actually (GASP) started to eat broccoli! So I did my Happy Dance:

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Another trick I learned is that presentation is KEY. For instance, my daughter would never go near tomatoes or red peppers. But one day, I turned them into a happy face on a rice cracker with hummus and much to my amazement, she gobbled it up. Victory!

If your little one is a picky eater and doesn’t “love” vegetables, here are some fun and easy snacks to entice them! The bonus is that they take under 5 minutes to prepare. I got them off the internet and included the links with credits. Hope these recipes are useful! As for my daughter and I, it’s a work in progress. We have a select few vegetables that have been “approved,” and I’m hoping that the more my daughter sees me eating vegetables, the more she’ll be inspired to eat a wider variety herself!

Veggie Smack ideas

snailbutterFruit & Veggie Snails

Courtesy of Hello, Wonderful.

For details, click HERE.

 

Butterfly Veggies

Courtesy of B-Inspired Mama.

For details, click HERE.

 

 

flowers2Funny Veggie flowerFlowers

Courtesy of Gourmandelle.

For details, click HERE.

 

More Veggie Flowers

Courtesy of Noosh Loves Blog.

For details, click HERE.

 

 Another great idea is to make a smoothie with various veggies and then make Popsicles. Click HERE for some great recipes.