March 2, 2016

Interview with Julie Falatko and Snappsy

Yesterday I shared the humorous SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK). Today I am excited to share with you my interview with debut author Julie Falatko and her sidekick Snappsy!

Julie_02Can you tell us a little about your writing journey? Ups/Down/Anything in Between

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve loved books and writing my whole life. The problem was that I didn’t realize that “writer” is an actual real job that people still do. I loved writing, but it didn’t occur to me that living humans could be writers. So I got an English degree, and very briefly tried teaching, and got a library degree, and worked as a technical writer and a copywriter. Those are the only types of writers I thought I could be: writers who wrote bank brochures. I was in my mid-30s when it suddenly dawned on me that the people writing the books that came out every year were a) alive and b) human.

What aspects of childhood do you like to capture in your writing?

So much of being a kid is being an intrepid explorer of a new and wondrous world. Kids go out and find giant flowers and blimps and sweaters with dolman sleeves and it’s all like, “WHAT IS THIS STUFF?” and the grownups are cynical and tired and shrug and say, “You know. Stuff.” I like to capture that thread of the world being a magical, cool place.

Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?

For picture books: William Steig, Russell Hoban, Arnold Lobel, James Marshall, Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, Bob Shea. Gosh, that’s so many dudes. That’s embarrassing, but those guys are absolutely huge influences on my writing.

For creative living (how to navigate a creative life with humor and grace and hopefully not starve in the process): Carter Higgins, Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, Melissa Guion, Jen Corace, Lucy Ruth Cummins, Tim Miller, Greg Pizzoli, Ame Dyckman, Jory John, Russ Cox, Tina Kugler, Dasha Tolstikova, Sage Blackwood, Zachariah OHora, Diandra Mae, Josh Nash, Dev Petty, Lauren Eldridge, Isabel Roxas, Anne Ursu. They are my friends but more than that I feel like the internet has allowed me to create a happy little biosphere that I can populate with this magical room full of amazing, hilarious, creative, wonderpeople. If I make a stack of their books on the floor, it practically glows at me in encouragement. They are the people I look to when I’m feeling unmoored or uninspired, and they inspire me with their view of the world.

I listen to podcasts a lot and sometimes the process of hearing someone else tell a kind of story out loud helps to shake my story loose. At the top of the list are Can I Pet Your Dog, One Bad Mother, Let’s Get Busy, Mystery Show, Dear Sugar, and The Yarn.

The book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert has become a constant touchstone for creative inspiration.

Also Paul Simon’s eponymous first album is jam-packed with story songs, and I put that on while I’m making dinner and sing along loudly and it’s a quick reminder of how story structure works.

Can you share your writing process with us? Panster/plotter, paper/pen. Specific habits or tips that have served you well?

For picture books I’m always a pantser. I may have some idea of where the story is going to go, but usually not. I’ve written stories where I write one sentence and walk away for a while – hours or a day – until I figure out what the next sentence is going to be.

For longer books (chapter books, MG, YA) I do come up with some sort of outline. I don’t do anything formal. I make chapters or scenes in Scrivener to get a sense of the structure. I tend to write those books out of order, so it’s helpful to know where to put the random scene I wrote that day.

I write a lot in pencil in notebooks. I keep notebooks all over the place. I love the sensory aspects (and the lack of distraction) when writing something out in pencil. Then I revise it as I type it in. And then I usually have to print it out again at some point and write more on it in pencil to figure out where it’s going.

The habit that has served me well came about by accident – I had to wake up early to write because that’s the only time my house was quiet. But now it’s a habit and I love waking up and getting started on writing first thing.

Snappsy and “the Narrator” are so cleverly written. I love both their voices. Anything in particular that helped to bring their distinctive personalities out?

It helped to come up with exaggerated versions of the characters when I was thinking about how they might react to any situation. The narrator might be Marty Stouffer or David Attenborough. He likes hearing himself talk, and he likes narrating. Once I described Snappsy as John McClane (from “Die Hard”) because he’s this regular guy that got thrust into a crazy situation. Although Snappsy doesn’t know how to shoot a gun, and instead of a dirty tank top, he wears a tie. Snappsy is also sort of like Ron Swanson. He wants to be alone, in his house, doing his things. He wants everyone to mind their own beeswax.

Would you like to tell us a little about your upcoming titles?

The Society for Underrepresented Animals is about a bunch of offbeat animals who start a support group because they’re not in any of the picture books. They’re thinking of writing their own book. Then a bunny shows up, and they’re all offended because of course the bunny has been in so many books. That one is going to be illustrated by Charles Santoso. I’m so excited to work with Charles! He’s amazing.

Help Wanted: One Rooster is about a cow who has to interview rooster candidates because the farm’s rooster ran off. Everyone she interviews is worse than the last. Some of them aren’t even roosters.

Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Writing and getting published are such a slow process, and that’s fine. It’s what makes for better books. Don’t let yourself feel rushed. The process is going to be slow no matter what, so you might as well embrace it and take the time to make the best book you can, and to write more books and better books all the time.

************************************************

Now some rapid fire questions for Snappsy.

Who is your best friend?

My what? Oh. Uh. Huh. I guess it’s this chicken who keeps bringing cheese plates to my house.

What is your snack of choice?

Pretzels dipped in peanut butter.

What is your favorite vacation spot?

My own comfy chair.

If you weren’t an alligator what animal would you like to be?

A bear. That hibernation thing sounds fun.

What’s it like working with Ms. Falatko?

She followed me around a lot. She’s nice and all, but she’s almost as pesky as that chicken.

Where can we follow you and Ms. Falatko?

Julie’s website is juliefalatko.com, and she’s on Twitter @JulieFalatko and on Facebook at JulieFalatkoAuthor.

 

Thank you Julie and Snappsy for stopping by today and sharing a bit about yourself. Wishing you many future successes (and Chicken too).

March 1, 2016

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book)

I am thrilled to bring you today’s book review. I first ‘met’ Julie Falatko over the Internet back in 2012. She had just started doing book reviews on the Brain Burps podcast when I recommended Mathew Cordell’s ANOTHER BROTHER to her, hoping she would love it. I am so excited to see her witty, quirky humor getting out into the world.

My fun-filled interview with Julie Falatko and Snappsy.

SnappsyTitle: Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book)

Author: Julie Falatko (awesome interview of Julie, Tim, and Joanna at 7’Imp)
Illustrator: Tim Miller
Publisher: Viking Books, 2016
Editor: Joanna Cardenas
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 4-8
Themes: Friendship

Opening:

Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.
His feet felt draggy.
His skin felt baggy.
His tail wouldn’t swish this way and that.
And, worst of all, his big jaw wouldn’t SNAP.

“This is terrible! I’m just hungry! Why is this rude narrator trying to make it seem like I need a nap?”

Synopsis (from Amazon’s website):

Snappsy the alligator is having a normal day when a pesky narrator steps in to spice up the story. Is Snappsy reading a book … or is he making CRAFTY plans? Is Snappsy on his way to the grocery store … or is he PROWLING the forest for defenseless birds and fuzzy bunnies? Is Snappsy innocently shopping for a party … or is he OBSESSED with snack foods that start with the letter P? What’s the truth?

Activities:

Why I Like This Book:

A fusion of meta-fiction and unreliable narrator with a dose of heart. A book that can be simply enjoyed for the witty humor or dissected in classroms for its clever storytelling.

Right away from the book cover you know something is awry with the first part of the title in bold maroon letters, and the second part in a Snappsy dialogue bubble. This is the basic jist of the story, overbearing narrator vs humble Snappsy. I love the interplay between what the narrator says about Snappsy versus what Snappsy is actually doing – Snappsy hunting for animals to eat (false) vs Snappsy on his way to the grocery store (truth). I think Kirkus Review said it best by likening the narrator to Rita Skeeter. No wonder Snappsy is snappy. But he does humor the narrator by throwing a party to spice up the book. The reveal of the narrator was an unexpected pleasant surprise.

I love the narrator’s authoritative voice. (Come back tomorrow to find out the author’s influences on this.) I also really enjoyed Snappy’s dialogue when retorting back. Who actually says “You are really cheesing me off.” So original. It is sophisticated storytelling to pull-off essentially two characterizations of a single character, and in a picture book format.

Ms. Falatko provided the skeleton and framework which Mr. Miller filled out with his unique artistic vision. A perfect marriage of text and art.

The retro-cartoony art are simple drawings but full of charm and depth. I loved all the little tidbits that the illustrator added to Snappsy’s character such as the tie and fez. I also enjoyed the interpretive license. Text says “forest” but the art shows a bamboo forest. Snappsy visits a grocery store but it’s actually and ABC Grocery store where the aisles are letters not numbers. The art enrichs the story taking it to another level.

This is a fun read and one I can see kids going back too for more. For a special Snappsy treat take of the dust jacket.

Check-out this awesome book trailer. Enjoy!

Find Snappsy the Alligator at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 0451469453
ISBN-13: 978-0451469458

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

January 21, 2016

Be A Friend

beafriendcoverTitle: Be A Friend

Author/Illustrator: Salina Yoon
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2016
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 3-6
Themes: Friendship, Self-acceptance

Opening Lines:

DENNIS was an ordinary boy …
… who expressed himself in EXTRAORDINARY ways.

Synopsis (from Amazon’s website):

Dennis is an ordinary boy who expresses himself in extraordinary ways. Some children do show-and-tell. Dennis mimes his. Some children climb trees. Dennis is happy to BE a tree . . . But being a mime can be lonely. It isn’t until Dennis meets a girl named Joy that he discovers the power of friendship–and how special he truly is! At its core, this book is a heartwarming story of self-acceptance, courage, and unbreakable friendship for anyone who has ever felt “different.”

Activities:

  • Downloadable activity sheets – BE A FRIEND Valentines, coloring, and spot the difference.
  • Lovely post by Ms. Yoon on how the story has parallels to her own childhood.

Why I Like This Book:

A tender and powerful story about the loneliness a child feels until he has someone who understands him. While this book is aimed at the children just starting to learn how to make friends in a school setting, I think this story is something any aged reader can relate to. The story is one that will fill the reader with courage to be yourself and re-assurance that there is a friend for everyone.

Ms. Yoon has a knack for creating stories that emotionally connect with children and are also simplistic and charming in their excution. The subdued color palette with red accents is eye-catching and plays well with the short text. One of my favorite parts of the story is the title “BE A FRIEND”, what a subtle and perfect way to get kids to remember to be ‘that friend’ to someone else. In a recent blog post, Mr. Sharp hoped that the kidlit world would mobilize behind this message similar to the “Choose Kind” movement. I certainly hope so.

This book has tons of heart. Check-out the trailer below and see for yourself.

 

This is a good book for pre-school thru KG classroom storytime or lap-reading at home.

 

Find Be A Friend at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 1619639513
ISBN-13: 978-1619639515

This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended.

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

 

January 1, 2016

Celebrating 2015 and Looking Forward

happy-new-year-resolutions-2016

Hope you all had a relaxing holiday break. Many wishes for you in 2016.

In setting my goals for 2016, I am first following Julie Hedlund’s anti-resolution revolution and writing down my successes. In the past, I didn’t even make resolutions. Seemed pointless since they came from a place of what wasn’t achieved, a place of negativity. With Julie’s approach, you celebrate successes from the previous year and use it as a base to build upon. I did this last year and faired better in making forward progress. My next thing is to figure out what happens at mid-year when the plan starts to unravel. It’s possible I should make only 6-month goals in order to remain flexible with my changing needs. Without further adieu, here is my recap of my successes big and small for 2015.

  • Rejoined my in-person picture book critique group. Love being back with my peeps.
  • Got an accountability partner. Just sort of happened and it’s been great.
  • Three month picture book mentorship with Kathi Appelt.
  • Winner of the 12×12 Diversity Scholarship!!
  • Attended three SCBWI conferences (Asilomar, Spring Spirit, and Oakland) and Kidlit Summer School.
  • Took an excellent on-line class on Character Building in Picture Books.
  • Grew in my picture book writing skills.
    • Realized I love writing with lyrical language.
    • Started using storyboarding during the revision process and loving it. Really helps with pacing and being able “to see” the full story.  (Got the idea after seeing this terrific post.)
  • Volunteer PB application reader for We Need Diverse Books
  • Positive feedback on my stories from a few agents.
  • I read 212 books! Checkout my post where I break down the numbers and list some favorite titles (Adult thru PB)
  • Seeing myself continuing to grow as a writer. Taking joy in the process without getting too consumed by the agent search.

This past year turned out to be a year of “revision”, due to my three-month picture book mentorship, professional critiques, and an R&R (request and resubmit) I received from an agent. As a result, I only wrote 1 new PB draft. So my word for 2016 is CREATE. My over-arching goal is to create new material. Whether they be drafts of new picture books stories, or background material/character sketches/free-writes for my YA novel idea.

wordle4

Goals for 2016

  • Finish latest round of revisions for prospective agents.
  • Take Nonfiction Archaelogy and start a new PB story which will be a NF Biography. (So excited to be finally taking this class.)
  • Attend 1-2 writing conferences. (maybe NJ-SCBWI ??)
  • Finish reading Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole – excellent craft book.
  • Write 12 new sh***y first draft PB stories.  (This will be my biggest challenge. I dread first & second drafts. I have a strong internal editor. Thanks to Julie Hedlund’s 12 Days of Christmas group I’m gonna shoot for the stars!)
  • Read/listen to 25 novels. (I love audiobooks! No way I would be able to get through this many novels without it.)
  • Restart research efforts for my novel.
  • Add two more polished stories to my portfolio.
  • Blog at least once a month. (I do miss conversing with all of you.:-) )
  • Write/think about stories/Study Craft EVERYDAY – even if only for 5 minutes. (Up till now I work in spurts which is okay, but when I fall off the bandwagon I lose momentum.)
  • BELIEVE

Wishing you the very best. What are some of your goals for 2016? 

December 29, 2015

My Book Reading Report for 2015

It’s that time of the year to tally up. Here are my stats according to GoodReads.

TOTAL BOOKS READ IN 2015 = 212
4 Adult; 9 YA; 5 MG; 1 CB/ER; 1 Graphic Novel; 192 PB

Listed below are my favorite reads from this year. This list contains titles published in 2015 and past years.

2015 Reads
ADULT: Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks)

YA: I’ll Give You the Sun (Jandy Nelson), An Ember in the Ashes (Sabaa Tahir), The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

MG: The War that Saved My Life (Kimberly Bradley)

PB:

  • Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats (Alicia Potter & Birgitta Sif)
  • The Iridescense of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse (Patricia MacLachlan & Hadley Hooper)
  • Snoozefest (Samantha Berger & Kristyna Litten)
  • Last Stop on Market Street (Matt de la Pena & Christian Robinson)
  • Water is Water (Miranda Paul & Jason Chin)
  • Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt (Kate Messner & Christopher Neal)
  • What do You Do With an Idea(Kobi Yamada & Mae Besom)
  • Miss Brooks Loves Books! (Barbara Bottner & Ed Emberley)
  • Seven Blind Mice (Ed Young)
  • The Princess and the Pony (Kate Beaton)
  • Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match (Monica Brown & Sara Palacios)
  • Peek-a-Who? (Nina Laden)

What were some of your favorite reads? Always looking for excellent titles for my 2016 to-read list.

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