2018 BEST IN RHYME TOP 10 – Sue Fliess INTERVIEW BY Cathy C. Hall

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2018 Top 10 Best in Rhyme

mary had a litle lab

 

Wheee! It’s Sue Fliess (Pronounced “Fleece”)!

Sue Fliess, whose name is pronounced “fleece” (which is the perfect tie-in to her book, Mary Had a Little Lab) is a prolific picture book author as well as one of the authors with a book in our Top Ten Best in Rhyme Picture Books of 2018.

Wheeeee!

So off we go with lots of questions for Sue:

Cathy:

I LOVE Mary Had a Little Lab for so many reasons! But we’ll start with the rhyme since the book plays off the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” nursery rhyme. So which came first? The idea to write about a girl scientist with a problem, or the nursery rhyme inspiration for the book?

Sue:

Well….sort of neither! I actually dreamt the title of this. Usually my dream ideas amount to nothing, but this one had legs. In my dream, someone asked me what I was working on and I rattled off this title. Of course, no such thing was happening, but I thought about it all morning after I woke up. As is the case with many of my stories, I decided to at least try to write an opening. I loved my opening (which stayed from first draft to final book), and the story felt like it wrote itself from there.

 

Cathy:

Besides the delightful play on the nursery rhyme, I love the STEM focus of the book. Is there a different approach you use when writing STEM books?

Sue:

Yes, but it’s more about working STEM aspects into the storyline. Since I mostly write fiction, I can get away with STEM being creatively weaved in, as opposed to worrying about exact science, for example. With this particular story, the title gave me a head start. But when I could tell I wanted Mary to be a little on the ‘mad’ scientist side vs. just a straight-up scientist, I threw in some Rube Goldberg-esque inventing. So that gave it the E in STEM, along with the science part. But in a silly and humorous way.

 

Cathy:

And finally, I love your humor, which seems to be a trademark in your picture book style. I’m a big fan of all humorous picture books, but I wonder if humor is something that can be taught. If so, how can writers develop their funny bone?

Sue:

Wow, I’m grateful that you said that because I feel like I’m figuring it out as I go each time, asking, is this funny? Corny? Or only funny to me? Either way, I would tell people to read funny picture books to get a feel for how writers work the humor into the storyline. Sometimes the answer is to leave room for the illustrator to inject the humor. I will often have an art note like: I picture this as a funny scene. Or, this is sarcasm.  In case my text does not make it obvious. Funny is hard to pull off. Bu this is why you have other writers read your work – to tell you what’s working or not working.

 

Cathy:

Oh! And here’s a question from one of the Rhyme Revolution members, Natalee Herring Creech, just for you:  Did you or your agent do anything special with the submission—Mary Had a Little Lab—because it was in rhyme? (Like avoid or target certain editors/publishers?)

Sue:

Hi Natalee! Almost all of my books are in rhyme, so as opposed to avoiding certain editors or publishers, we usually target those that we know have liked my rhyming work in the past, whether they have published me or not. Very few editors we submit to now do not like rhyme, because that would be a waste of everyone’s time. As with any submission, you or your agent should do the homework to make sure the editors would be receptive to whatever style you’ve chosen to write your story in.

 

Cathy:

You have a book trailer for Mary Had a Little Lab (and most of your books!). I’m sure your background in marketing and copywriting is hugely helpful so do you produce your own book trailers? Do you think PB authors need book trailers?

Sue:

I don’t think anyone needs a book trailer to be successful, but after publishing many books in this super crowded market, I’m looking for any tools I can use to help me avoid the same types of promotion of my books. A trailer is a little different than just showing the book cover over and over. So a book trailer is an easy (fairly easy—I taught myself) and fun way to have a teaser for a book—plus, people love watching videos. I do recommend keeping them at about 1 minute in length.

Loved that book! Best of everything in 2019 for you and yours AND your writing!

Cathy:

How about the best advice you ever got in your writing career? And what do you always tell any writer who wants to be a rhyming picture book author like you?

Sue:

I’ve received a lot of good advice over the years. One piece of advice I got was: write like the writer next to you is writing the same story at the same time. Which goes hand in hand with this piece of advice: You’re only as good as your last book. Which sounds harsh. But essentially it means don’t publish/write a book and rest on your laurels. If you are going to continue publishing, you have to stay relevant, which means as soon as you finish one story, start working on the next. Because you never know what’s going to sell, when. But if you’re not writing, you won’t have anything to submit. For writers who want to be rhyming picture book authors, I always say start with the story. Then decide if the best way to tell it is in rhyme. If the answer is no, don’t force it into rhyme. Rhyme is just a vehicle for delivering your story. Next part of that is, read it out loud to yourself. Then have someone read it out loud to you. I still find that I think my story is polished, and then someone will read it out loud and stumble over parts of the rhyme. Then I fix and do it all again.

 

Cathy:

Thanks, Sue! And best of luck with Mary Had a Little Lab and all the books you have coming out in 2019! You can check out her terrific website for all her titles, published and upcoming, but you can’t leave until you go to her Videos tab and watch a parody video (or seven). SO much fun! I love Sue Fliess (pronounced “fleece”)—and you will, too!

sue fliess

BIO:

Sue Fliess (“fleece”) is the bestselling author of Robots, Robots Everywhere!, How to Trap a Leprechaun, and more than 25 other children’s books including Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins, Ninja Camp, A Fairy Friend, Tons of Trucks, and many Little Golden Books. Her books have sold over 850,000 copies worldwide. Her background is in copywriting and PR/marketing, and her essays have appeared in O Magazine, HuffPo, Writer’s Digest, and more. Fliess has also written for Walt Disney. Her books have received honors from the SCBWI, have been used in school curricula, museum educational programs, and have even been translated into French, Korean and Chinese. The Bug Book was chosen for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Her books have won awards and accolades. She’s a member of SCBWI and The Children’s Book Guild of DC. She does book signings, school visits, and speaking engagements. Sue lives with her family and their dog in Northern Virginia. Visit her at http://www.suefliess.com.

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2018 BEST IN RHYME TOP 10 – Karen Beaumont INTERVIEW by Darlene Ivy

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2018 Top 10 Best in Rhyme

 

pretty kitty

 

Q I have to ask. Do you have cats? Did they find you or did you find them?

KB I don’t have cats now, but I’ve had many cats through my life. I like to think we found each  other!

 

Q Pretty Kitty reminds me of an updated and urban version of Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag. Was that book an inspiration for yours or did something else spark this story?

KB No, her book did not inspire this story. I wrote PRETTY KITTY to inspire pet adoption, and as a tribute to my beloved cat, Jake. Jake was the embodiment of pure love, wrapped in thick, soft, fluffy, creamy white fur, with a stubby little pom-pom tail. The excuses given by the protagonist to resist adopting the kitties were the same ones I pondered when my then seven year old daughter held up this tiny ball of fur she’d found in the big, red barn and asked, “Mommy, can I keep him?” I was a recently divorced mother of two young girls, renting a small old farmhouse in the country. I was juggling numerous part-time teaching jobs as I struggled to develop my writing career and provide a stable home life for my kids. I was stretched to the max, emotionally and financially. I didn’t need another mouth to feed! But as I looked into my daughter’s sweet, pleading eyes, my heart melted, and I heard my mouth say, “Okay.” I  have never regretted that decision. Jake was a cherished member of our family for 18 1/2 years.

 

Q Why did you choose rhyming verse to tell your story?

 

KB All of my published books (17 to date) are written in rhyme. It’s my passion! I feel that very young children respond well to rhyme, if it is done right.

 

Q Rhyme Revolution members also submitted questions for you. Joy Moore asks: How do you choose the stanza length? and How do you know when the story is ready to submit?

KB I don’t choose the stanza length. It just happens, intuitively. My writing process is very right brain, so I never really know where a story will go until it’s gone there. I feel my way, rather blindly, without a map, if that makes sense. I don’t use “formulas” or magic spells or rule books! I just dive into word play and stir up whatever is floating around in the elusive, intangible, mystical realm of the Muse!

There is a great quote that says “A good story is not written. It is re-written.” I guess, for me, a story is ready when I know in my heart that I’ve re-written it  enough for it to sparkle, and it gives me a sense of joyful enthusiasm. I trust my gut!

prety kitty back

Q Following up on that question. What is the story of Pretty Kitty’s path to publication? Was it an easy one?

KB I don’t remember how many times it was rejected, but it was. I intended for it to be a companion book to DOGGONE DOGS!, also a counting book, which was published by Dial. But they rejected it, as did others. Luckily, Laura Godwin at Holt, with whom I’ve worked before, is an animal rescue/rights advocate and she loved it because of PRETTY KITTY’s pet adoption theme.

Q As a final question, do you have any words of wisdom for other picture book writers, especially those that write in rhyme?
KB Yes! NEVER GIVE UP! Trust that if you’re willing to devote the necessary time and effort to develop your craft, study the market, and keep submitting, you will find your niche. I was told in the beginning not to write in rhyme – that editors HATE getting manuscripts in rhyme! Thankfully, I didn’t listen! I’ve learned that what they hate is getting manuscripts in BAD rhyme! Many people underestimate the demands of this art form and submit amateur material. My formula for success is:  PASSION + PERSEVERANCE + PATIENCE = PUBLICATION! Follow your passion, not the market. Develop your own unique voice. And make those manuscripts sparkle! You will find your place on the literary playground! It’s a demanding, exhilarating, rewarding ride! I wish you all great joy and success on your journey.

karen beaumont - headshot

Check out Karen’s website HERE:

 

2018 Best in Rhyme Top 10 – Tim McCanna Interview by Nancy Riley

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2018 Top 10 Best in Rhyme

 

tim-mccanna-image-1.jpg

  1. Bitty Bot is a busy little robot! In your first story Bitty Bot builds a rocket to go on a space adventure. Now, in Bitty Bot’s Big Beach Getaway, Bitty Bot builds a submarine to explore the ocean. Was Getaway in the works before Bitty Bot was published?

 

Yes and no. I wrote the first draft of Bitty Bot back in 2011 and tweaked it for years until I got my agent in 2014. We sold Bitty Bot in a two-book deal to Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster soon thereafter. But I hadn’t written or even considered a sequel at that point. I wasn’t sure if I could replicate the rhyming style I’d used for Bitty Bot into another story! While the first book was in the process of being illustrated, I brainstormed and landed on the concept of Bitty going to the beach and having an ocean adventure. It was a lot of fun to explore new territory with Bitty and use beach and underwater-related rhyming words.

tim mccanna - image 2

  1. Do you have more adventures planned for Bitty Bot?

 

Well, I’ve written a third adventure that puts Bitty in a forest setting. I’d love to have a trilogy, but it all hinges on sales numbers of the first two books. That’s just the nature of the business, I guess. We’ll see!

 

  1. Are all your picture books written in rhyme? Did you have trouble finding agents or publishers who accepted rhyming manuscripts?

 

I’ve written many manuscripts in prose over the years, but so far, I haven’t sold any. Nine out of my ten sold manuscripts are rhymers. The exception is BOING! A Very Noisy ABC, which uses onomatopoeia in alphabetical order to tell a story. I never ran into an agent or editor that said they wouldn’t accept rhymers. The key is to do your research and target your submissions. Luckily, my agent recognized that my body of work had potential and that my rhyming was solid. She’s able to submit my manuscripts to editors she knows will connect with my style and subjects.

 

  1. One of our Rhyme Revolution members, Suzie Olsen, would like to know: What writing challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

 

Good question! When I first started out writing rhyming picture books, my manuscripts were very long and dense. I was unwilling to cut a single word, and I included too much detail. I was using long sentences in a fairly inconsistent meter. It was a mess! Once I shifted my style to more spare, airy text in tighter, shorter phrases, things started to click—and sell. On average, my rhyming stories are between 50 and 300 words. I try to leave a lot of room for the illustrator to shine. Not everybody needs to write in those same parameters, but it’s important to recognize when something isn’t working and be willing to change and experiment until you find a voice that works.

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  1. What words of wisdom or advice can you offer to writers of rhyme as we move into 2019?

Writing picture books is hard work. Writing picture books in RHYME adds even more pitfalls to the process. You can absolutely sell rhyming picture books, but editors are watching for manuscripts that fire on all cylinders. Tight meter, unforced rhymes, lovable main characters, great stories with openings that hook and endings with a satisfying twist. It’s a lot to ask for! Be patient and give yourself time to write lots of rhymers and study the greats. If you truly love to rhyme, then go for it!

Learn more about Tim’s books HERE 

 

2018 Best in Rhyme Top 10 – Josh Funk Interview by Gayle C. Krause

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2018 Top 10 Best in Rhyme

 

THE PICTURE BOOK FUNKMEISTER

 by Author Gayle C. Krause

Thank you so much for inviting me to chat! I’m incredibly honored to have

three books nominated for the Best Rhyming Picture Book of 2018 Award!

 

1. Tell us something we, as rhyming picture book fans, don’t already know about

you.

 

I have been rhyming my whole life. My first word was banana (which is

filled with internal rhyme). I guess that was a sign…

 

2. Do you see yourself in any of your characters?

 

            jfunk - headshot       jfunk - character

I think I’m a lot like Baron von Waffle. Crispy and villainous on the

outside, but fluffy, misunderstood, and craving friendship on the

inside. Also, I

enjoy sneaking the last drop of syrup before others can get it.

 

3. How long ago did you get the idea for Lost in the Library?

 

jfunk - library

Actually, the folks at the New York Public Library got together with Macmillan and put

the idea together: Patience goes missing and Fortitude goes searching through the library

(getting a tour throughout), eventually finding him in the… well, I don’t want to spoil it.

That’s all they gave me. I dug deeper into their characters. Fortitude, stoic and steadfast,

had never entered the library before. Patience became a master storyteller, etc.

The idea for the sequel, though (*wink*) – that one’s all me.

 

4. When did you start the first draft for Mission Defrostable and how long, from

that point, until the book was completed? Did this 3rd book in the Lady Pancake Series

come quicker or slower than the first two? 

 

Because I know the characters, the world, and have an idea of what Brenda Kearney’s

brilliant illustrations might look like, it probably only took me a week or so to complete a

first draft.

jfunk - mission defrostable

But these books actually start well before the first. I do a lot of brainstorming and preparation as to

what the vibe of the book is going to be, who the new characters are going to be, what is the pacing

going to be like. Before I even start the first draft, I already have a loose pagination of

the entire story in my head. So I’d say once I actually get started with the drafting it

comes pretty quickly – faster than the first one for sure.

 

5. When and where do you write?

 

I’m a software engineer by day, so I tend to write on the evenings and weekends at

home. I also love to go to the public library to write. Sometimes I work in a study room.

But I’ve had a lot of success sitting in the open space in the children’s room and putting

on headphones with some white noise – it’s easy to be inspired with all the books,

librarians, and little readers around.

 

6. What inspired you to write Albie Newton?

 

jfunk - albie

Albie Newton’s classroom is basically my office. I work with a diverse group of really talented

people. Albie was inspired by many of the brilliant people I’ve worked with who sometimes don’t

have great social skills on the surface. But when you look closer, they might surprise you with

what great people they truly are.

 

7. Jay Reese, a member of the Rhyme Revolution, would like to know what your

preferred POV is when writing in rhyme? And is there a market preference for a

particular rhyming POV that we should be aware of?

 

Hi, Jay! The answer to your question is that I don’t think this has ever come up. I don’t

have a conscious preference and I don’t think the market has one either.

I haven’t analyzed a large subset of rhyming picture books to see if the trend of certain

POVs in rhyming books is any different from non-rhyming, but I’d hypothesize (without

any data to back it up) that there is no difference. I think POV and rhyme are completely

independent of each other. If it’s good rhyme, it won’t matter what the POV is.

 

8. Do you have any new rhyming picture books coming out in 2019?

 

Actually, I *don’t*! I have three books currently scheduled for 2019, but all three are in

prose! It’ll be my first year without a rhyming picture book since I was first published in

2015! (but don’t worry – I should have two rhymers out in 2020)

 

9. What are you currently working on?

 

I’m currently working on a bunch of sequels. HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER (sequel

to HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE). A second (IT’S NOT HANSEL AND GRETEL) And third (IT’S NOT LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD) It’s Not a Fairy Tale books. A fourth pancake book. A second NYPL Lions book. And a secret project. And hopefully something totally brand new very soon.

 

10. If you could give advice to writers who haven’t published yet, or an earlier

version of yourself, what would you want to share?

 

Keep writing new things. Don’t get hung up revising the same manuscript over and

over and OVER again. Yes, get it critiqued, revise, get it critiqued again, and maybe even

query it. But also start writing something new. That new thing will start off in such a

better place than the first manuscript because you’ll have learned sooooo much along

the way. And then write a third. And a fourth. And keep going.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a keynote speaker say “And finally, after

seven years and 10 completed manuscripts, I finally got my first book deal.” But I can tell

you it was a lot – like pretty much all of them. I know you love that first story. But it’s

likely going to be your fifth or tenth that will be your first one published.

Now, go off and break a pencil!

 

Bio:

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as

books – such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including The Case of the

Stinky Stench and Mission Defrostable), How to Code a Sandcastle (and the upcoming

sequel How to Code a Rollercoaster),  It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, Dear Dragon,

Albie Newton, Pirasaurs!, Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (in

conjunction with the New York Public Library), and the forthcoming It’s Not Hansel and

Gretel, It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood, and more coming soon! Since the fall of 2015, Josh has visited

(or virtually visited) over 300 schools, classrooms, and libraries. Josh is a board member of The

Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional

SCBWI Conferences. Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he

still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and

writes manuscripts. Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys

_______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his

biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

 

For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at http://www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at

@joshfunkbooks

 

2018 Best in Rhyme Award

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The 2018 Best in Rhyme Award nominations are underway!

I am so excited that my friend and fellow-rhymer Debbie Vidovich has taken the reins for this year’s Best in Rhyme Award. She has stepped in to organize the nominations and voting and our 2018 Committee is in place!

Thank you to our 2018 Best in Rhyme Committee

Manju Gulati Howard
Nancy Derey Riley
Linda S. Mai
Cathy C. Hall
Darlene Ivy
Gayle C Krause
Ellen Warach Leventhal
Kenda Henthorn
Jen Bailey
Kris Kuykendall
Debbie Vidovich

Nominations are only open through October 1st so don’t delay. Go to the Rhyme Revolution Facebook group and nominate your favorite rhyming picture book for 2018!

The 2019 Best in Rhyme Award will be announced in New York City at the KidLit TV Studio on February 10th.  Many thanks to Julie Gribble and KidLit TV!!

KidLitTV 2017

The 2017 Best in Rhyme Award Announcement – February 4th, 6:00 pm ET, KidLitTV Studio, NYC

2017 Best in Rhyme Award logo

The 2017 Best in Rhyme Award Announcement is February 4th at 6:00pm ET. Don’t miss this exciting live streaming announcement from the KidLitTV Studio in NYC!

 
I want to thank the Best in Rhyme Committee who is a group of truly amazing writers and friends! This group, led by Manju Gulati Howard and Debbie Vidovich read, scored and blogged about the Top 10 books on the list. I was thrilled to see SANTA’S GIFT on the list this year, so of course, I was not involved at all, except for sharing the blog posts and handling social media. This is quite a time consuming job and these ladies deserve a roaring round of applause!
 
The 2017 Best in Rhyme Award Committee:
Manju Howard
Debbie Vidovich
Sherri Rivers
Cathy C. Hall
Kenda Henthorn
Annie Bailey
Gayle C. Krause
Deb Williams
Darlene Ivy
Suzy Leopold
Jill Richards

Angie Karcher – Award Founder

best-in-rhyme-2017-top-10.jpg

Here is the list of Top 10 Best in Rhyme Books. Please find these and read them, as they are fantastic!

 
CAPTAIN BLING’S CHRISTMAS PLUNDER by Rebecca Colby
DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS by Diana Murray
GRIMELDA AND THE SPOOKTACULAR PET SHOW by Diana Murray
FLASHLIGHT NIGHT by Matt Forest Esenwine
SANTA’S GIFT by Angie Karcher
THE POMEGRANATE WITCH by Denise Doyen
THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH by Josh Funk
MIGHTY, MIGHTY CONSTRUCTION SITE by Sherri Duskey Rinker
LITTLE EXCAVATOR by Anna Dewdney
TWINDERELLA by Corey Rosen Schwartz
 

I will be naming a winner and 3 honor books this year. Watch for the link to the live stream, coming soon.

Best in Rhyme 2017 Live Stream logo

Many thanks to Julie Gribble and the KidLitTV Team

for hosting this fun announcement every year!! ❤

2017 BEST IN RHYME TOP 10 – REVIEW OF ANNA DEWDNEY’S LITTLE EXCAVATOR BY DEBBIE VIDOVICH

2017 TOP 10 List

Little Ex

Written and Illustrated

by Anna Dewdney

2017 Best in Rhyme Award logo

 

THE STORY OF LITTLE EXCAVATOR
Little Excavator is the rollicking tale of a young excavator trying hard to find his place in the grownup world. He fails and fails again!  With pluck and determination, Little Ex finds the one special thing that only he can do. Kids of all ages will relate to this universal tale of finding the specialness in each of us.
Anna’s soft, friendly but exuberant use of color exquisitely compliments the text and is a hallmark of her illustration style. It’s impossible not to fall in love at first site. Go Little Excavator, go!
I  recently had the  opportunity to interview the loving and devoted Reed Duncan, life partner of the late Anna Dewdney.  In the year and a half since Anna’s passing Reed and the creative team at Penguin brought Little Excavator to print with other books soon to come.
Little Excavator was very dear to Anna’s heart. She had sidelined it for a long time due to other obligations. According to Reed, Anna worked throughout her illness to finish it, altering her painting technique to accommodate her limitations. It was a true labor of love. She asked him to read it to her the day she died.
1)  You mentioned Little Excavator was near to Anna’s heart. What was her inspiration for the story?
Anna loved the Little Excavator character.  She had been drawing animals and people her whole life but she hadn’t rendered too many vehicles, so when she created this very animate, cute machine with lots of spirit, she was especially pleased.  The inspiration comes from when she and I were restoring our home; we have some large, deep stone-mill foundations on our property and in the process of preserving these stone foundations we encountered some small, tight spots that only a little excavating machine could successfully get to.  And the idea was born…
2) I loved that Little Ex cheerfully perseveres despite repeated setbacks.  He’s a wonderful role model. Today’s children live in an increasingly stressful and polarized world; how do you think Little Ex will impact them?
I hope that kids — and anyone, really — can take the core message of the book to heart and execute this principle in their daily practice, namely that we all have unique characteristics and sklll-sets that enable us to do what others can’t.  It may take some figuring out before we come to know our special talents and how to employ them, but everybody has them.
3) The patience and unconditional love the adult machines exhibit toward Little Ex is also important to this age group.  How did Anna feel about that?  Her adult characters always do exactly the right thing.
As a mother and a teacher, Anna knew implicitly that patience and support are key to a child’s development.  Young people are supposed to experiment and fail — that’s their job; it’s our job as adults to guide them and support them in that process of effort and self-discovery.
4) Of course the crowning achievement is when Little Ex finds his own perfectly suited place in the world.  How do you think kids will relate to that?
I hope the kids who read the book will feel relieved that somewhere in the world is a place perfectly suited to who they are, even if it doesn’t always or at first feel that way.
5) All of Anna’s characters are lovable and their struggles are relatable to children’s everyday experience.  She really understood them.  Can you tell us a bit about her experience bringing her stories to publication?
Anna spent many years working with children — her own and also her students when she was a teacher.  Those day-to-day experiences that we all can relate to are a big part of what make her books so immediate to her readers.  She worked for many years as a freelance illustrator until her own stories got published.  She also worked as a waitress and as a rural mail carrier and as a housesitter in addition to teaching; for her, making art was the only thing that mattered and everything else was just in support of those artistic goals.  She worked with limited success for about 20 years before the first Llama Llama book came out.  Persistence, persistence, persistence.
6) The Llama llama books are iconic and beloved.  Llama, Llama Red Pajama was my first mentor book.  What advice would Anna have for fellow rhymers/illustrators trying to get their first book published?
Keep at it!
7) Anna is also a gifted illustrator.  Her vibrant colors and sweet faced animals are appealing to kids and adults alike.  Can you tell us a little about her process and when she decided to be her own illustrator?
Anna began drawing and painting and inventing characters and stories when she was a very little girl.  She always had a high sense of theatre and drama and she imagined her stories very visually, so for her the story and the image were inseparable.  A story would unfold for her not just in a narrative arc, but also graphically and with strong color-value relation.
8) Can you include two of your favorite illustrations from Little Ex and tell us what you love about them?
I love the scene where Little E falls into the hole he has just dug — he’s so overzealous that gets in over his head, literally!
anna-1.jpg
My favorite illustration in the book is just before Little E goes across the bridge with the apple tree, the scene where he’s looking back at the reader and is framed by all the other machines; the expression on his face there is Anna’s expression, a very happy can-do expression, like “I got this!”.  I see Anna everytime I see that picture of Little E.
Anna 2
9) I understand Anna left more books in various levels of completion.  Is that true and when can we expect them?  A world without more Llama llama would be a dreary world indeed.
Yes!  Lots of stories, some Llama stories and several others too.  Anna created many other characters that the public hasn’t met yet.  My hope is to bring as many of these to the public as I can over time.  The next full Llama picture book, Llama Llama Loves to Read, hits the shelves on May 1st, 2018.  And of course there are several other Llama books coming out all the time: board books, sticker books, spinoff books from the Netflix animated series, and a really lovely memory book (Llama Llama and Me: My Book of Memories) that comes out in January of 2018.
10) Speaking of little Llama, is it true there is a series coming out on Netflix?
“Llama Llama”, a Netflix Original Series, debuts on Jan. 26, 2018.  This first season features 30 animated episodes.  Anyone who loves Anna’s books will really enjoy the series; it’s very true to her work.  All the familiar characters have roles and there are some new characters who appear too.  Jennifer Garner voices the Mama Llama character and she is fabulous in that role — loving and warm and funny and perfect.  A huge amount of care and attention went into the development of every detail of this show, from the storylines to the original music to the animation and color palette and to the voices of the characters.  We had an all-star production team, with key players from award-winning shows like The Lion King, The Magic School Bus, Mulan, The Little Mermaid, Stuart Little, Inspector Gadget, etc.  I couldn’t feel luckier to have had such an assemblage of brilliant people work on “Llama Llama”, and I couldn’t be more proud of the result.
Anna and Reed  shared a very close connection, as life partners and work partners. Reed always got first reed on Anna’s stories. They bounced ideas off each other all day in regards to storyline, color etc. How lucky we are to have such a devoted man to bring Anna’s unfinished works to the world.  Best of luck to Reed and the team at Penguin books. Thank you Reed for this loving and insightful glimpse into Anna and her process.
Anna 3

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We are so pleased to have

LITTLE EXCAVATOR by the late Anna Dewdnehy

on the

2017 Best in Rhyme Top 10 List!

1 star

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2017 Best in Rhyme Award Announcement

on February 4th at 6:00 pm ET

from the KidLitTV Studio in New York City.

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2017 BEST IN RHYME TOP 10 – DIANA MURRAY INTERVIEW BY MANJU HOWARD

2017 TOP 10 List

Grimelda

Written by Diana Murray

Illustrated by Heather Ross

2017 Best in Rhyme Award logo

I’m rolling out the Best of Rhyme carpet for Diana Murray and her picture book, Grimelda and the Spooktacular Pet Show. In Diana’s entertaining sequel, Grimelda’s spell book goes missing in her still very messy room. The young witch wants to find a spell to turn her typical cat named Wizzlewarts into a spooktacular pet, so she can win first prize in the pet show.
Manju:
After Grimelda the Very Messy Witch was published, you shared in an interview that you lose things like your young witch. Did you have any “spooktacular” pets to draw upon to create Grimelda and the Spooktacular Pet Show?
Diana:
Well, we’ve had snails and newts for pets, so there’s that. Am I the only one who thinks snails are super cute? They’re fun to watch, too. As for the newts, one of them escaped from its tank and I ended up finding it in a kitchen drawer. That was quite a Grimelda-like surprise!
Manju:
Once you brainstormed the concept for this sequel, did you go through a similar writing process as your first Grimelda book? What aspect of writing rhyming picture books do you find most challenging?
Diana:
Since it was a sequel, the process was pretty different (more collaboration with the publisher, etc.). As far as technical details, I kept the meter and rhyme scheme the same in the sequel and tried to mimic the original refrain. In the first one, there was a repetition of “Where’d I put that pickle root?” and in the second there is a repetition of “Not spooktacular enough!” So in terms of rhyming difficulties, it was a challenge to keep coming up with words that rhyme with “root” and “enough”, yet blend seemlessly into the story.
In general, I think there are two main difficulties when it comes to writing any story in rhyme:
  1. Making the language sound natural rather than forced.
  2. Taking control of the story and not letting the rhymes make you meander or take too long to get to the point.
Manju:
Did you include art notes in your Grimelda manuscripts? Did any of Heather Ross’s illustrations surprise you? What ended up being your favorite spread in the book?
Diana:
I made a few illustrator notes just for clarification. But yes, the final art was full of surprises for me! For example, the creatures at the pet show were unlike anything I had imagined. I think the pet show spread is probably my favorite. There are so many wonderful details to pore over. I wondered how Heather would  illustrate the “haunted snail”.  She made it float! And the frog who turns into a prince always gets a laugh when I read the book to kids.
Manju:
How are the Grimelda books marketed? Does having a series based on a witch give both books a longer shelf life than the Halloween season?
Diana:
Neither of the books explicitly mentions Halloween so they are technically suitable for any time of year (like the classic, “Room on the Broom”). But I still find they are mostly promoted at Halloween. They were in some Halloween bookstore displays, for example. But the marketing is not something I have much control over.
Manju:
How many polished manuscripts did you have when querying your agent? Did you have a website prior to publication? Do you use social media to promote your work?
Diana:
I queried my agent with GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH. When she expressed interest and asked what else I had, I sent her NED THE KNITTING PIRATE and one other manuscript (can’t remember which one). She was particularly interested in Grimelda and Ned and signed me up on the basis of those. They both sold fairly quickly. I had many, many other picture book manuscripts (maybe 25?) that I didn’t send to her originally. For example, I had already written CITY SHAPES, but I didn’t send her that till a year or two later.
I did have a website, but it was not as polished as the one I have now. It had a little background information and listed some of my poetry sales and awards. It was very simple.
I do use social media–mostly Twitter and Facebook. I mainly use them to stay in touch with others in the business, but I also post information about new book sales, releases, and contests and such.
Diana, Thank you for taking the time to share your writing world with us.
Thank you for the opportunity!

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Diana Murray - Headshot

Bio:
Diana Murray grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her husband, two daughters, and a spiky bearded dragon who loves listening to stories—especially about dinosaurs. Diana’s many picture books have been mentioned earlier, and her poems have appeared in magazines including Highlights, High Five, Hello, Spider, and Lady Bug. http://www.dianamurray.com.

 

Congratulations Diana

on having

GRIMELDA AND THE SPOOKTACULAR PET SHOW

on the 2017 Top 10 List

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2017 Best in Rhyme Award Announcement

on February 4th at 6:00 pm ET

from the KidLitTV Studio in New York City.

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2017 BEST IN RHYME TOP 10 – REVIEW OF SHERRI DUSKEY RINKER’S MIGHTY, MIGHTY CONSTRUCTION SITE BY DARLENE IVY

2017 TOP 10 List

Mighty Construction Site

MIGHTY, MIGHTY CONSTRUCTION SITE

by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

2017 Best in Rhyme Award logo

They’re back!
The five hardworking crew members from Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site,
written by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, are back and gearing up for a new day and a new job.
But, in the new Mighty, Mighty Construction Site, the task is “a massive building, so
immense” that Cement mixer has to think fast. “He gives his horn a blaring blast” and five more
mighty trucks hear the call.
“Rolling, rumbling, revving hard,
ten big trucks meet in the yard.
A mighty, massive supercrew—
there is nothing they can’t do!”
As work begins, each crew member, both old and new, is quickly introduced and its job
explained.
“Skid Steer’s nimble, small, and quick.
She turns, she spins—she does a trick!”
Were you reading carefully? Did you notice that Skid is a girl truck? So is Flatbed Truck,
another new crew member. The illustrations don’t provide gender clues, so readers and listeners will have to pay attention to the text to notice this subtle nod to young female construction fans.
In this story of teamwork and hard work, an original crew member is paired with a new
crew member. When Crane is out of beams, he’s helpless without his new friend Flatbed!
“On site,
she rolls right to a stop,
with Crane’s supplies
all stacked on top.
Flatbed Truck’s
just saved the day!
Their work can get
back underway.”
“Rough and rugged all day long,
rolling, lifting, digging strong,
each truck has had a part to play
to help the work get done today.”
Mighty, Mighty Construction Site is a solid companion to Goodnight, Goodnight
Construction Site. This story ends with a reference to the previous book that fans will
understand, but the story stands alone and complete with plenty of action, fun word play and
rhyme, and solid information about the construction process. Near the conclusion, the pace of the text slows as the “tired, but strong and proud” trucks “roll to find their cozy beds, to cuddle up and rest their heads”, making Mighty, Mighty Construction Site a wonderful bedtime book.

1 star

Sherri Duskey Rinker

How This All Began

In 2008, in the midst of hectically trying to manage the demands of being a working mom in a career I no longer loved, I wroteConstruction Site, and it was picked up by the first publisher to whom it was sent (Thank you, Chronicle! It’s the literary equivalent of winning the lottery, I realize.) It’s been an unexpected and wonderful journey, and I’m deeply grateful.

Buy It HERE

Congratulations Sherri on

MIGHTY, MIGHTY CONSTRUCTION SITE

making the 2017 Best in Rhyme Top 10 List!

1 star

Watch for the live, streaming

2017 Best in Rhyme Award Announcement

on February 4th at 6:00 pm ET

from the KidLitTV Studio in New York City.

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2017 BEST IN RHYME TOP 10 – JOSH FUNK INTERVIEW BY CATHY C. HALL

2017 TOP 10 List

Stinky Stench

THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH

by Josh Funk

Illustrated by Brendan Kearney  

2017 Best in Rhyme Award logo

 

There’s a stinky stench in the fridge–and our favorite foodie friends must solve a smelly mystery! Sir French Toast’s nephew, Inspector Croissant, begs him and Lady Pancake for help in finding the source of the foul odor. Could it be the devious Baron von Waffle? A fetid fish lurking in the bottom of Corn Chowder Lake? Featuring the same delectable wordplay and delicious art that won critical raves for Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast–this fun follow-up is an absolutely tasty treat for kids and adults alike!
Oh my flapjack-a-doodle, I loved this picture book! And I’m not just saying that because Josh Funk promised to name a character Cathy C. Hall in his next picture book!
Um…I’ve just been informed that Josh Funk did NOT promise to name a character Cathy C. Hall in his next picture book.
Fine.
But he did promise to answer all five of my questions, so let’s see what he has to say:
So Josh, here’s THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH in the Top Ten, showing up at Goodreads in its Best of list, and now you have another book coming out in this series! Did you ever imagine that breakfast foods could be so profitable for you?
Nope! In fact, when I was querying LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (the first book in the series) to agents, one of the common responses I received was “anthropomorphic foods don’t sell.” It just goes to show that breaking the rules is sometimes a good thing (especially because another common rule you hear is ‘don’t write in rhyme’ – which clearly I broke as well).
And of course, the third book in the series (MISSION: DEFROSTABLE, available 9.4.18) will also be in rhyme.
Speaking of your rhyming picture books, which comes first when you write: the rhyme or the story?
Story. Always story. Story is the most important part of a rhyming picture book. In fact, the second most important part of a rhyming picture book is the rhythm. Any first grader can rhyme – it’s the rhythm that takes a ton of work to get right.
Rhyme is actually the least important part of a rhyming picture book.
So there’s hope for me! Humor plays a big part in THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH, both in the characters and story. How did you come to write so comically?
Because picture books are a visual art form (and I am a terrible visual artist), I think of things I’d like to see illustrated. Funny things that I could never draw. Like a pancake and French toast racing through the fridge causing culinary chaos. It just lends itself to hilarity.
And Brendan Kearney, the book’s illustrator, just ran with it. He’s added so much visual humor to the story. Starting with the character design (whipped cream hairdo, strawberry hat – those were all his ideas) and spreading throughout the entire fridge setting.
I’m also a fan of the occasional, well-placed pun – like the literal red herring and tripping by Miss Steak (which I just sort of fell into).
And I think we’re all fans of your books, Josh! So what do you have coming out next year?
2018 is going to be a busy year! I have 4 books (3 that rhyme) coming out between May 1st and September 4th (a slim 125 day period – but who’s counting?).
The first is called ALBIE NEWTON (Sterling, 5.1.18), illustrated by Ester Garay. It’s about smart and creative boy who starts school, but doesn’t really have all the social skills down yet. His grand attempt to make friends causes lots of problems for his classmates, and – well, you’ll have to read it to find out how it ends. But I think lots of kids will relate to Albie Newton and the other kids in his class.
HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE (Viking/Penguin, 6.5.18), illustrated by Sara Palacios is being published in partnership with Girls Who Code – and I couldn’t be more excited about this one, even though it doesn’t rhyme! It’s the first in a series of informational fiction picture books about a girl named Pearl and her robot, Pascal. In this first book, they use fundamental coding concepts to construct the perfect beach day using sequences, loops, and if-then-else statements – but using them in real world situations.
Later in the summer, I’ve got another rhyming book called LOST IN THE LIBRARY: A STORY OF PATIENCE & FORTITUDE (Macmillan, 8.28.18), illustrated by Stevie Lewis. This is the first picture book about Patience and Fortitude, the two lion statues that faithfully guard the New York Public Library (in fact, this book is published in partnership with the NYPL). When Patience goes missing, Fortitude realizes that Patience has ventured inside the library. So for the first time ever, Fortitude abandons his post to search for Patience before the sun rises and we, the readers, get to explore the library for the first time alongside Fortitude.
And lastly is the third book in the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series: MISSION DEFROSTABLE (Sterling, 9.4.18). In this action-packed adventure, the fridge is freezing over – and Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast have to travel to parts of the
fridge they’ve never ventured … and need to enlist the help of one of their fiercest rivals. Dun. Dun. DUN!
Can’t wait to read ‘em all! And now my last question because we’re also about letting all those rhyming picture book writers out there know there’s hope. What’s the best advice you can give to them?
Great question. I have lots to say about this subject, but most importantly I think rhyming picture book writers should remember that ALL picture books (especially rhyming ones) are meant to be read aloud to children (usually by adults). It’s important that everyone who speaks the language can read and perform the book well. It has to work for people with all accents and from all regions – which means that you have to be very careful when using words that people pronounce differently – especially regarding the rhythm!
For example, think about the word ‘family’ – how many syllables does it have? The dictionary will tell you it has 3 – but many people pronounce it with 2. So putting the word family in the middle of a line could screw up the rhythm for some readers. Then think about how many words are just like that in your story. Every syllable matters.
So have your manuscripts read aloud TO you by everyone – especially the worst readers out there. Listen for places where they screw up – and then fix those spots.
Thanks so much for honoring The Case of the Stinky Stench with Best in Rhyme consideration and inviting me to answer some questions!
Thank you, Josh! And best of luck to you and THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH. (Even if you’re not putting me in one of your books.)

 Josh Funk

BIO:
Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books – such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including The Case of the Stinky Stenchand the upcoming Mission: Defrostable), It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, and the forthcoming Albie Newton, How to Code a Sandcastle (in conjunction with Girls Who Code), Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (in conjunction with the New York Public Library), It’s Not Hansel and Gretel, and more coming soon!
Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.
Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes manuscripts.
Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.
For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at http://www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

1 star

Congratulations JOSH on

CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH

making the 2017 Best in Rhyme Top 10 List!

1 star

Watch for the live, streaming

2017 Best in Rhyme Award Announcement

on February 4th at 6:00 pm ET

from the KidLitTV Studio in New York City.

KidLitTV Logo - NEW 2017