Happy Book Birthday, Matt!
Congratulations on your debut picture book, Flashlight Night!
I read hundreds of picture books every year and Flashlight Night is one of my favorite reads. Not just one of my favorite reads of the year, but one of my favorite reads of all time. It’s a magical book and as soon as I finished the last page, I flipped back to the front to read it again. There is so much to take in between the words and the art. I think the blurb on the book jacket may sum up what I’m trying to say.
“What happens when you combine a flashlight, a storyteller, and the dark of night? You find MAGIC, WONDER, and a life-changing ADVENTURE.”
It’s obvious from the reviews that I’m not the only one who felt the magic.
“The verse is incantatory…a simple idea that’s engagingly executed” – School Library Journal
“Delicious language…ingenious metamorphoses” – Starred Review Kirkus Reviews
“[Esenwine and Koehler] don’t just lobby for children to read—they show how readers play” – Publisher’s Weekly
“Imaginative…fantastical” – ALA Booklist
“An old fashioned, rip-roaring imaginary adventure” – The Horn Book
I imagine those of you reading this post can’t wait to open the pages of this book and experience the magic for yourselves. Once you’ve experienced it, you may be curious like I was. Where did this magical book start? What sparked the idea? Guess what? I have someone “in the know” here today! Lucky us!
So Matt, I would love it if you’d share the inspiration for Flashlight Night and “shine a light” on your writing process, from idea to completed manuscript. Tell us how you captured MAGIC, WONDER, and ADVENTURE in just 32 pages.
I have been asked by numerous folks about the inspiration for Flashlight Night , and I have yet to come up with what I feel is a decent answer. I know how the book came about – I’m just not sure why. It started off, simply, with me attending a local SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators) event in Massachusetts.
Back in August 2014, a number of local SCBWI members had gotten together at Kimball Farm in Westford, Mass. to hang out and chat over appetizers and drinks and as I was driving home, the idea of a flashlight “opening up the night” popped into my head. It was at least 10pm or so, and all I could see was what my headlights revealed…so I started thinking about what to do with the words in my head, and by the time I was home (and hour and a half later) I had the opening and closing stanzas pretty well nailed down.
The following week, I continued working on it – still not sure if it was a stand-alone poem or a picture book manuscript – and had completed the first draft within just 6 or 7 days. By the time it was done, I knew it was a picture book, albeit a very poetically-written one. (Of course, I continued tweaking it over the course of the following 2 or 3 weeks, because I wanted it to be as polished as possible before sending it out to my editor, Rebecca Davis at Boyds Mills Press.
As I write primarily poetry, I deliberately made use of alliteration and internal rhyme, unusual end rhymes, and fun words that would not only lend themselves to fleshing out the story and imagery, but would perhaps stretch a young person’s vocabulary.
There were actually several things I deliberately did, which I wasn’t sure were going to help or hinder me:
- The word ‘flashlight’ is used only once, as the very first word.
- There is no mention of any other characters – boys, girls, animals, names.
- The main subject of the book (the flashlight) is inanimate.
- Imagery was abundant, but often ambiguous.
- The story arc does not follow any sort of formula, other than there is a loose narrative.
Knowing there was a lot of imagery in this manuscript, I tried to keep specific details out of the story, so an illustrator could have ample room to share in telling the tale. For example, in one scene I make reference to a “peculiar door” – and that’s all I say about it. I figured, I’d let the illustrator determine why it’s peculiar!
In another instance, I describe a “vessel, tightly moored.” Again, that’s the only description I give – and although I had a pirate ship in mind, I was happy to let an illustrator make that call. (which Fred Koehler did!)
Speaking of Fred, I can’t thank him enough for taking on this manuscript. He told me loved the classic feel of the text so much that he wanted to create a classic look to the illustrations – so this is his very first manuscript using traditional media. He drew all the illustrations by hand, inked them in, then scanned them into his computer to colorize them.
So every detail you see – from the dark, foreboding sky to the spooky, textured shadows – is painstakingly hand-drawn! (And as someone who has a minor in studio art, it just boggles my mind to know Fred did all that freehand – and just wait til you see the fur on the giant bear.)
I hope everyone enjoys the book, and thank you so much, Penny, for shining your spotlight on “Flashlight” today! And congrats to you, on your “Cooked-Up Fairy Tale!”
Thank you for taking the time to share your process, Matt. It was very interesting and the attention you gave to Flashlight Night makes me love it even more!
A couple of things!
***Goodreads giveaway! You could win one of TWENTY COPIES of Flashlight Night. Starting at midnight 12:00 am PT, TODAY, Tuesday, September 19 (publication day) you can enter! The contest will wrap up at 11:59 pm PT on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
To learn more about Flashlight Night be sure to check out the stops on Matt’s blog tour.
Friday 9/15 Jama’s Alphabet Soup
Monday 9/18 KitLit Exchange/ Loud Library Lady
Tuesday 9/19 Penny Klostermann Book Blog
Wednesday 9/20 Unleashing Readers
Thursday 9/21 KidLit Frenzy
Friday 9/22 Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
Monday 9/25 Librarian in Cute Shoes
Tuesday 9/26 Nerdy Book Club
Meet Matt: Over the years, Matt Forrest Esenwine has had several adult poems published in literary journals and magazines around the country, and in 2012 his poem, “Apple-Stealing,” was nominated by the Young Adult Review Network (YARN) for a Pushcart Prize. Meanwhile, his children’s poetry can be found in numerous anthologies including J. Patrick Lewis’ The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015), Kenn Nesbitt’s One Minute till Bedtime (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016), and Lee Bennett Hopkins’ School People (Boyds Mills Press, 2018), as well as “Highlights for Kids” magazine. His picture books include Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills Press, 2017) and Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018, co-authored with Deb Bruss).