Happy Book Birthday to Matt Forrest Esenwine and Flashlight Night!

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!

Click to enlarge.

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!)

Click to enlarge.

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).

 

GOODNIGHT, MANGER-Interview with Laura Sassi and Jane Chapman—PLUS a Giveaway!

Goodnight Manger Bk Cover


I’m thrilled to be a part of the GOODNIGHT, MANGER blog tour. You won’t want to miss one stop on the tour. You can view the schedule HERE.

Synopsis:Goodnight, Manger, written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by New York Times bestselling artist Jane Chapman, tells the story of Mary and Joseph as they try to get Jesus to sleep in the noisy stable after his birth. Told in gentle, lulling rhyme, Goodnight, Manger is an adorable and tender bedtime story, for Christmas or any time of year.


If you haven’t seen the book trailer yet, have a look.

For today’s blog tour stop illustrator, Jane Chapman, and author, Laura Sassi, were gracious enough to answer a few questions.

Me: What drew you to Laura’s GOODNIGHT, MANGER story? What made you decide it was a story you’d like to illustrate?

Jane: It was a new take on a story that everyone knows. I love that it gets across the humanity of Jesus – He was a normal baby! Laura’s brilliant text manages to be both funny and reverent all at the same time.
I took a deep breath before accepting it because I try to avoid illustrating books with people in. I feel confident about drawing animals, but not people. That said, I wanted to challenge myself, and Laura’s text is SO good.

Me:  What was your reaction when you learned Jane would be the illustrator of GOODNIGHT, MANGER?  What appeals to you most about her work?

Laura: I was thrilled when my editor told me that Jane had agreed to take on this new project. She was also the illustrator for my first book, Goodnight, Ark. Jane did a marvelous job capturing the many wonderful expressions and movements of the storm-frightened animals in that book and I knew that she would do an amazing job with Goodnight, Manger as well. And once again, Jane’s work has again exceeded my expectations. The final illustrations for Goodnight, Manger glow with a warmth and gentle humor that perfectly captures the essence of the story.

Me: What is your process when taking a manuscript from text to fully illustrated spread? How collaborative, if at all, was the process?

Jane: First I draw, draw, draw. As I collect the character drawings together, I am thinking about how they could interact on the pages. After that I draw thumbnails (tiny drawings of suggested pages), then the final rough drawings to show the publisher.
I never collaborate with the author – even if he’s my husband! If there is any art direction written on the text, I remove it before I start drawing. I find that having a fixed idea at the beginning can inhibit possibly better thoughts of how the pictures will look.

Me: The best picture books have the perfect interplay between text and art. As authors we do our best to leave room for the illustrator to bring their part of the story. Did you and Jane communicate as she was creating the art? Did you make any changes to your text as a result of this communication?

Laura: Jane and I had no direct communication during the illustration phase, but before she took on the project she said something to the effect that if an action is described in the text, it MUST be included within the pages. With that feedback, Jane, the editor, and I all agreed to cut four verses. At first I thought I would miss the verses, but I don’t. What was lost in text, Jane beautifully made up for, and even enhanced, in illustration! The result is a truly magical melding of my words and her art.

Me: Goodnight, Manger has a Christmas theme. The story of Baby Jesus holds a special place in hearts everywhere. Looking at the cover, I see a sweetness-with-humor element that will draw readers to your book. What do you want readers to take away from your story? Could you both speak to this?

Jane: I want readers to recognise the humanity of Jesus and of His mother. I remember being a new parent to a crying baby – it’s not easy! This book doesn’t stick religiously to the Bible account of events (the wise men appear too early), but it does get across the idea that having a baby in a stable could be a bit messy, and that even Baby Jesus would have cried.

Laura: First and foremost, I want kids (and their parents) to enjoy the story. There’s so much to see on every page and the rhymes are fun to read aloud. I also wanted to offer readers a fun, Christmas-themed story which would keep Christ (rather than Santa) as the focus during what has culturally become a very secular Christmas season. As a mom, I have tender memories of putting my babies to bed and how hard it was when they were overstimulated and overtired. I wanted to play up those tender feelings and remind my youngest readers (and their parents) that Jesus was once a baby too, who cried and felt everything they feel.

Me: I love how you have chosen to depict Baby Jesus and his parents and the angels.  What was the inspiration behind the illustrations?

Jane:I drew lots of peasants from different countries, and a lot of acrobats! I don’t think angels are always in white – surely God would enjoy more colour? And I know that angels are without gender, but I thought they should probably have trousers on because otherwise I was going to end up with them showing too much leg!
Jesus was difficult. The team at Zondervan had me redraw Jesus a few times because He was looking too old on my pictures. Oh my, just thinking about painting all those people makes me shiver. I find it very difficult to paint skin tones…

Me: Laura certainly has a way with rhyme. The text sings. But I wondered if you have a favorite verse?

Jane: I don’t have a favourite verse. It’s ALL really, really good. (But I do like the picture where one of the wise men is being nibbled by a couple of goats – it reminds me of a visit to a local farm with my father-in-law: my son put grass in Grandad’s trouser pocket.)

Me: And Jane certainly has a way with illustrations. I could hang any page/spread on my wall. But I wondered if you have a favorite spread?

Laura: Ooh, that’s hard. I love every spread. The warm hues Jane has chosen for the stable interiors practically glow. And I love the sweet interactions and gentle humor included in each illustration, such as the mice peering dotingly down on Baby Jesus and the exceptionally expressive rooster and hen. In fact, I chose a rooster puppet as my storytelling assistant for author visits because of Jane’s delightful depiction of the bird. But, if pressed to choose I think my absolute favorite spread is the one with the angels singing sweet hosannas overhead in their colorful star-spangle tunics. One angel is even playing a fiddle and another an accordion!

Thank you, Jane and Laura, for answering these questions. And thanks for creating this beautiful book.

Here is Laura’s storytelling assistant. He looks like a very capable assistant 🙂rooster


Goodnight Manger Bk Cover

GIVEAWAY: Zonderkidz is offering one hardcover copy – fresh off the press – to one lucky winner.  And here’s the important part:  To be eligible, you must be a U.S. resident and have a physical address, not a P.O. Box. For a chance to win a copy just leave a comment on this post by midnight CST, Wednesday, October 21.


Laura Sassi photo
Laura Sassi has a passion for telling stories in prose and rhyme. Her poems, stories, articles and crafts have appeared in numerous family publications including Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ladybug, Spider, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. and FamilyFun. She is the author of two picture books, GOODNIGHT, MANGER (Zonderkidz 2015) and GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, 2014). She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and a black Cockapoo named Sophie. She is represented by Lara Perkins of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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Jane Chapman lives in the south-west of England with her illustrator husband, Tim Warnes, her two sons, and a couple of cute bantams. She has been illustrating children’s books for twenty years, but hasn’t run out of steam yet. She enjoys painting fur, whiskers and all kinds of weather, but especially snow.

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I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK by Tara Lazar AND a giveaway!

I’m so excited to be sharing a book birthday with agency-mate, Tara Lazar. Her latest book, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, is out in the world today, too. I’m here with Tara hoping to ask her a few questions but we keep getting interrupted by Prince Zilch and Dragon.

Let’s see what they’re talking about.

Dragon and Prince Zilch

Adorable Graphic by Tara Lazar

Dragon: It’s a good thing you didn’t crash land in my book!

Prince Zilch: Correct, fiery creature. Your unusual land already has a Prince! But I do not see him. Did you swallow him, too?

Dragon: That is only known by the deep depths of my belly. Perhaps you’d like to have a look-see? 

Prince Zilch: No, zank you. But why don’t you ask this yellow-haired, nosy human I know.

Dragon: You know a yellow-haired nosy human? How did you meet said yellow-haired nosy human?

Prince Zilch: She was annoying hairy, brown creatures. Who were annoying me. Did the knight annoy you? Is that why you ate him?

Dragon: I ate the knight because I love a “good” knight. It was the steed that was annoying. I had no choice but to swallow him right down! Would you like me to take care of the hairy, brown creatures? They sound like a “just right” snack.

Prince Zilch: Zep. They are stuffed with blueberry filling.

Well, it seems as if Prince Zilch and Dragon have struck up quite a friendship. I think they could talk all day. So why don’t we leave them to it and get back to the questions I wanted to ask Tara. Oh! I do want you to take special notice of the cute graphic Tara made for the Prince Zilch/Dragon conversation. Adorable!
bear book
Penny: Being that you are the genius behind PiBoIdMo I found you online very quickly when I started writing picture books. But, I don’t think I’ve ever heard what brought you to writing picture books. Can you share that?

Tara: What brought me to writing PBs is that I have always naturally written short. Short stories in college, flash fiction as an adult, and since I always wanted to write for kids (ever since I was one), now picture books!

I have begun and abandoned MG novels because writing more than 1000 words just gets me lost in the wilderness! I can’t keep track of things. (This is the same at home. I am so disorganized, I lose the laundry.)

Penny: I love the idea of a character landing in the wrong book after an unfortunate bookshelf collapse. Did you have a hard time deciding in which book the alien would land? Was there a runner up?

Tara: The alien was always in my mind as the “character who didn’t  belong.” I arrived at the bears by thinking about the complete opposite of a small, green, slimy alien. I decided a large, brown, furry bear was the best prospect. So the book wasn’t originally about the Three Bears, but just BEARS. But as I continued to write it, I kept finding myself writing jokes about Goldilocks and finally figured out what was going on! LOLonce upon

not planet zeroPenny: Benji Davies illustrations are amazing. How excited were when you found out he’d be illustrating your book?

Tara: Honestly, I didn’t really know Benji’s work when he was selected, which was 4 years ago! But I looked at his online portfolio and his books (like BIZZY BEAR! Hello!!!)  and knew that he’d be perfect. Of course, he blew me away!

bear tushThis page alone totally sold me on Tara’s book!

Penny: I know that this isn’t the only book you have coming out this fall. Plus PiBoIdMo is right around the corner. I can’t imagine how busy you must be. Can you give us a glimpse of how you keep all these balls up in the air? Any words of advice? An organizational tip?

Tara: I have no organizational advice because, contrary to popular belief, I am not a naturally organized person. I’m so TYPE B that I’m really TYPE C. I’m very laid back and I tend to try to keep everything straight in my own head. Only recently have I begun to use a daily calendar. (I hate it. LOL). I just know what has to get done and I do it. It’s just the way I operate. If I had to get more organized than I am, I wouldn’t survive! I like flying by the seat of my pants. Being too regimented about anything strips away my creative mojo.

Well I say stay disorganized then, Tara, because I love your books and I don’t want you doing anything that strips away your creative mojo!

I hope you have the happiest of book birthdays!!

Thank you so much for creating the adorable graphic, answering my questions, and sharing a signed copy of your book for the giveaway.

For all you readers out there…make sure you leave a comment because some lucky person is going to win a signed copy of I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK! A winner will be chosen in two weeks.

Tara is well known in the Kidlit community. She has another picture book coming out this fall and several more to follow. If you haven’t met her yet, here’s your chance.tarafall2011picrounded1

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that everyone will want to visit. Here are the places you can find Tara.
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Perfect Picture Book Friday-Way Down Below Deep

Last October, I reviewed On a Windy Night by Nancy Raines Day. Today, I’m reviewing her latest book.

way down below deep

Way Down Below Deep
Written by Nancy Raines Day
Illustrated by David Sheldon
Pelican Publishing Company 2014
Ages: 5-8
Themes: Ocean, Animals, Language Fun

Synopsis: Far below the jeweled surface of the oceans, deeper than the sun’s rays can dive, there are fantastical creatures unlike anything seen on land. Deep currents—cold, black, and full of mystery—are home to secretive fellows such as the anglerfish, which uses light as bait, and vampire squid, whose red eyes peer out from a cloak of spiny tentacles as it “flies” through the water. Down in these depths, whale bones become entire cities where palm worms sway. Abyssal residents come from near and far to visit the pages of this book!

Teeming with information, Nancy Raines Day’s clever rhymes transport readers to the extraordinary world at the bottom of the sea. How big is a giant squid’s eye? What do sea cucumbers eat? Where do bottom dwellers go to get warm? In this aquatic adventure, kids and adults alike will be delighted by what they learn about some of the world’s most unique inhabitants. Accompanied by stunning artwork, the strange depths of Earth’s oceans have never been closer and more inviting.

Opening: Way down below deep, where the sun never goes,
Imagine the creatures that nobody knows.
Though deep sea fills up most of Earth’s total space,
We’re just finding out about life in this place.

Resources: There is a glossary of terms in the back of the book that would bode well for research. Each creature is named with a short definition. Older students could research a creature further. For the very young, I found some adorable cupcakes HERE that children could make. HERE are some Under the Sea activities on the KidsAhead website.

Why I Like This Book: WAY DOWN BELOW DEEP is rhyming nonfiction. The rhyming is fun, of course! Plus, deep sea creatures are so intriguing to me. I know from teaching school for 26 years that kids are intrigued by them, also. WAY DOWN BELOW DEEP gives young kids a quick, informative glance at twelve creatures. Each creature is given a whole spread. Within that spread is an extra fun fact or two. For instance: Tube worms can grow taller than a man in a few years and they smell like rotten eggs! Fun, huh? But that’s all I’m sharing…so unless you own a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) to view way down below deep yourself, you need to grab this book and have a look 🙂

Susanna Leonard Hill, most magnificent host of Perfect Picture Book Friday, has compiled a categorized list of the books that have been reviewed. It’s an incredible resource for parents and teachers. For me as a writer, it has been a way to build my library list each week. To access the list, click HERE.