Category Archives: Celebrations

So much to celebrate when a book is being born!

The Countdown to BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES by Kat Shepherd…3..2..1…

Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand by Kat Shepherd is launching into the world TOMORROW, and we are counting the down the minutes!

To start off our countdown, we have Anna Redding with an interview of Kat herself!

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Anna Redding’s Interview with Kat Shepherd

Oh, Friends! Make an appointment for a cozy couch with a comforting blanket and plenty of lighting! When you open the pages of Kat Shepherd’s new Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand, you aren’t going to move until you get to the bottom of this thrilling, spooky and FUN first installment in a new series. Young readers will delight in all the spooks of sounds heard and shadows seen in their own babysitting. And the rest of us former babysitters will adore the chance to remember that deliciously terrifying period of time that occurs immediately after you put the kids to sleep, but an eternity before the parents come home! But first, before you lose yourself in this book, I had a chance to interview author dynamo, Kat Sherpherd!

 Anna–  How I wish I had this series back in my own babysitting days! Were you a babysitter? Did you ever get so freaked out or terrified over the smallest sounds? or did you ever encounter a shadowy hand?

Kat – I babysat a lot when I was younger, and everything always went swimmingly until I put the kids to bed. I never watched horror movies (still hate the jump-scares!), but I did read a lot of horror and suspense, so those quiet hours after the kids were asleep and before the parents got home always had my imagination working overtime. The house always seemed too dark, and the TV room was like a little oasis of light I was loathe to leave except to check on the kids. There were definitely a few thunderstorms, but the power never went out. There was one time I heard a late-night knock at the door. That freaked me out, but it turns out it was just my older brothers’ friends coming by to check on me.

Anna–  One of the aspects of Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand  that really struck me is that you really nail the fun of getting spooked while maintaining the razor edge tension that comes with a good ole fashioned scary read. By the end of the first chapter, you have us. Creaks, sounds, storms, and things out of place, and no explanations for the unexplainable. We MUST read on. And yet, it’s terrific fun ripping through the pages as fast as you can possibly read to find out WHAT IS HAPPENING! So, ‘fear’ and ‘fun’––how did you balance the two?

Kat – I am a former teacher, so I thought a lot about how readers read, and what drives even the most reluctant reader to stick with a book. Short chapters and cliffhangers keep kids turning pages. We speed up our reading for exciting or suspenseful parts, and we slow down for parts with lots of description or exposition. So for those spooky moments I had to intentionally slow the pace to draw out those creepy chills. Much of my storytelling background came from working as a freelance script reader in Hollywood, so everything I write I try to pace the way I would want to see it on screen.

It was also really important to me to write “safe scares.” I wanted readers to have a great ride full of thrills and chills, but I also wanted them to have moments of relief, lightness, and fun. Partly because the contrast makes for a better thrill when something spooky happens, but partly because we need those moments of silly fun to relieve the tension. I also tried to create times when you could stop reading for the night and still be able to fall asleep! At the end of the day, my hope is for the books to feel like a safe place where kids could explore being scared and overcome those fears, knowing that everything would turn out okay.

Anna–   Best news of all for readers, Babysitting Nightmares: Shadow Hand is the FIRST in a series! Without giving anything away, where will you take us next?

Kat – Book 2 is called The Phantom Hour, and it stars Rebecca’s friend, Clio. Clio loves history, and she is thrilled when her latest babysitting gig takes her to a fascinating old mansion that had been vacant for years before the new family moved in. But when supernatural events begin threatening Clio and her friends, they realize the only way they can save the family is by unlocking the house’s secret past. The story has a lot of twists and turns, and it also introduces a new character into the mix. It comes out January 29, 2019, and the ARCs are heading to the printers as we speak. I just turned in Book 3 as well, so we’ll see what it looks like after revisions are done!

Anna–  I love the science pop culture references like NdGT, shorthand for my favorite astrophysicist. Are you a huge science fan and what was it like sprinkling fun references into the pages of your book? And what inspired you to add so much texture to the story with these fun tidbits?

Kat – I do love science, although I love math even more. (I could do algebra all day!) I’ve always been really interested in biology and chemistry, and I read a lot of nonfiction books about science, math, and history. Right now I’m reading The Disappearing Spoon, which is all about the periodic table. I’ve written science curriculum, and I used to oversee the fifth grade science fair at the last school where I taught. I loved helping kids design controlled experiments and thinking about variables and how to correct for them. So I thought about how if I might approach the supernatural from that perspective. I’ve always loved researching stuff, and part of the pleasure of writing is that it’s so much fun to actually use all of that random information I’ve collected over the years! I’m a huge NdGT fan, too; my husband even took me to see him one year for my birthday!

Anna–  I love your main character, Rebecca. Her thought process is so interesting and informed and empowered. For one, the stakes are high. She’s babysitting this cherub she adores. And she has to figure out what is going on. And here is where she really becomes interesting to me because she is going back in forth in analyzing science-based possibilities, and paranormal. And her ability to navigate both worlds as she reasons is sooooo cool. Tell me how that came to be. Why you decided to give her that kind of agency and smarts!

Kat – All of my characters are based in some part on people I know, especially kids I have taught. There is a certainly a lot of me in Rebecca, in that I love to organize and plan and feel in control; when I take the babysittingnightmares.com personality test, I always come out like 100% Rebecca! But for the rest of her I drew a lot from these confident, strong girls I have been fortunate enough to know and teach through the years. I also think Rebecca’s point of view is just as much a function of her age. Middle graders are in that sweet spot where they’re beginning to be educated and informed and form their own opinions, but they’re also still open to the possibilities of the world. They recognize that there’s a lot still left to know, so they don’t rule anything out yet.

And I think that middle graders do have a lot of agency, probably a lot more than we often give them credit for. There are so many kids in the world that look around them and see problems that the adults in their lives can’t or won’t do anything to fix, and so those kids are stepping up and saying, “Well, I guess it’s on me, then.” Our country has an amazing generation of younger activists, like Mari Copeny, Asean Johnson, Marley Dias, and Sophie Cruz. All of these kids were making an impact on the world well before their thirteenth birthdays!

Anna–  Another really cool aspect of the story, is the friendship between Rebecca and her friends. Tell me what inspired you to create these kind of friendships between your characters.

Kat – When I was a kid I loved reading horror and adventure and action, but it was my friendships that lay at the heart of my life. Friendships for me at that age were deep and powerful and complicated, and not always easy to navigate. With this series I knew I wanted it to be spooky and fun, but it was important to me to ground it in the relationship between the girls. And as with any relationship, when crisis arises it either brings people closer or pulls them apart, so I wanted to explore that a little, too. I think a lot about Elly Swartz’s wonderful book, Smart Cookie, which is all about finding your herd. These girls have found their herd, and they’re learning about what it means to really support one another. Nobody can do it alone.

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The countdown continues with Hayley Barrett and a spooky babysitting story of her own…

The Baby That Wasn’t There—A Real-Life Babysitting Nightmare

As the Emu Debuts celebrate Kat Shepherd‘s first book in her creeptastic BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES series, The Shadow Hand, I thought I’d tell a spooky tale of my own. 

But first, a bit of back story.

My late Scottish grandmother, Granny, kept her own counsel. She didn’t like to be questioned, most especially by a child. If she thought a question impertinent, she’d dismiss it with a puzzling retort. For instance, if the phone rang and Little Hayley asked, “Who was that, Granny?” She’d reply, “Och… It was The Little Man Who Wasn’t There.”Granny and Grampa

I spent my entire childhood TERRIFIED of The Little Man Who Wasn’t There, and he lived anyplace she didn’t want me to be. Under the porch? He was there. In the rickety shed? There too. ***shivers***

I never did meet up with The Little Man, but I did experience something—or someone—strange when I was 15.

It was an ordinary afternoon. I was in the kitchen having a cup of tea in with my mother and aunt. My baby sisterHayley and Andrea at Myopia Andrea was napping upstairs. No one else was home.

We all heard the baby’s cry, and because I was closest to the stairs, I jumped up and said, “I’ll get her.” I remember listening to the sound as I climbed. It was a familiar “come get me” cry. There was nothing unusual about it, and I wasn’t at all concerned. Doorknob

But then something strange happened. The split-second I touched the doorknob—to my utter astonishment—the crying stopped.  There was no sound coming from inside the bedroom. Although we had heard the crying downstairs in the kitchen, the upstairs hallway was now silent. I hesitated but knew I needed to check on the baby. I turned the doorknob and eased the door open.

Typically, little Andrea awoke from naps drenched in sweat. She’d fling her blanket off, stand up in the crib, and cry until someone came for her. This time, I tiptoed across the dim room, and peered into the crib to find her curled up, cool as a cucumber, and deeply asleep. I was mystified. There was simply no way this peaceful toddler had been crying a moment ago. I didn’t want to wake her, so I tiptoed out, shut the door, and headed back downstairs.

When I entered the kitchen with empty arms, my mother and aunt looked at me curiously. Without hesitation, Mom exclaimed, “You heard it this time!” Over the years, and well before the arrival of Andrea, I’d listened to stories about a mysterious baby cry heard in our house. It usually happened the middle of the night. Once, both of my parents heard it so clearly they went outside and searched the yard with flashlights, searching for an abandoned baby.

Yes, I had encountered The Baby Who Wasn’t There.

I hope this real-life babysitting nightmare whets your appetite for more shivery stories and exciting adventures from Kat’s BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES series. Start now with The Shadow Hand, and visit the series website for fun crafts, quizzes, and more paranormal pastimes. The next two books in the series, The Phantom Hour and The Ghost Light, will be available in 2019.

 

 

 

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The final stop on our countdown is Educational Connections with Ann Braden

Babysitting Nightmares: Educational Connections

Kat Shepherd has been a teacher, and she knows just the kind of book that students are going to gobble up like candy. This book has been described as The Babysitters’ Club meets Goosebumps, and now that I’ve read it, I can say that that is spot on. This is a book with the relatability of the Babysitters’ Club characters with the page-turning thrill of Goosebumps. It’s spooky in just the right ways, and it will appeal to all kinds of readers. This is a book that you’ll want to have in your classroom library––and once you do, you’ll never see it because it will just go from one student to another.

As educator Michele Knot says on her blog: “A combination of babysitters and scary books….. what’s not to love?  Any series with the word “babysitter” in it is instantly popular.  Scary series are always high on checkout lists.  Combine them?  It’s an instant hit.”

And here’s School Library Journal’s verdict: “Fans of ‘Goosebumps’ and the updated “Baby-Sitters’ Club” graphic novels will find lots to like in this delightfully monstrous mash-up.” Kirkus concludes, “Frightful (but not too frightful) fun for preteens.”

Based on her experience as a teacher, Kat has written about the importance of giving kids the freedom to choose what to read. “To create more joyful, enriching reading experiences in our middle-grade classrooms,” Kat writes, “we have to do one very important thing: We have to trust our readers.” Kat even has a page for teachers on her website that includes some of the strategies she used to build a community of readers in her classroom.

This is a book that will have readers counting the months for the next book in the series. This is a book that will make sure students discover their love of reading.

You can buy it here, here, or here right now! And then tomorrow, you can sit back, feeling accomplished that this fun book is headed your way!

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Filed under Celebrations, Launch, middle grade, Uncategorized, Updates on our Books!

You’re Publishing a Book? How Nice!

I remember walking into my local indie children’s book store and asking if I could talk to their book buyer. “My debut novel comes out next year,” I told her, eyes wild with joy. “How nice,” she cautiously replied, and I could immediately see weariness and wariness in the woman’s eyes. I thought I’m not the first mom to walk in here and say I’ve written a book, am I? I wondered how many folks came in with books printed through Amazon’s CreateSpace, certain every bookstore has plenty of room to stock them and time to hand-sell their self-published creations.  

Telling my I-just-signed-a-book-contract celebration news to acquaintances often elicited this reply: “How nice! My daughter/aunt/ neighbor/child’s teacher/lawyer/candlestick maker published a book too!” 99% of these books were self-published. I can’t guess what percentage of non-writer folks assume that self-published books and traditionally published books are pretty much identical in terms of quality and the time invested to achieve that quality, but it felt high. High enough that I felt compelled to introduce my impending authorship by cramming in somewhat pompous-sounding details before running out of breath: “My first book is coming out next year with a traditional publishing house that’s been in the children’s book business for over eighty years and it’s going to sold in bookstores all over the country just like Harry Potter and yes, you’ll be able to order it not only from Amazon but anywhere fine books are sold.”

When I began my journey to publication, self-publishing was not part of my equation. I never questioned that I was going to seek out an agent and go the standard elephant3

glacially-paced rejection-rife but-oh-so-worth-it-all route. However, after years of work and only six months away from my book’s birthday, self-publishing persistently lurks in the background when I talk about my upcoming debut. It doesn’t lurk maliciously; more like a confused, well-meaning elephant who doesn’t know why its presence near my dining room table (carefully set for a book debut celebration party) is making me uncomfortable.

I learned to accept this sense of a misplaced pachyderm wandering in my writer’s soul until I took over leadership of an informal local writers’ group. One member of my group nearly shelled out big bucks for a “publishing contract” from some vanity press pretending to be doing him a favor. And another elected to print his memoir through Amazon and was amazed to find that my publishing experience bore no resemblance to his. I’m now worried about pre-published writers who genuinely want to become professionals getting sucked into thinking there’s no appreciable difference between self-publishing and traditional.

There are certainly valid reasons to self-publish, like avoiding rejection and having control over your book’s design and timing of release. I would hope that anyone choosing self-publication does so with their eyes wide open, knowing the price they pay for personal control is giving up the giddy fun of receiving advances, the power to reach readers through extensive publicity and distribution networks, and the warm, supportive hammock of confidence in the quality of your book’s professional editing and production.

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What about your own journey, fellow pre-published and published writers? Let’s talk about any elephants that lurk at your own dining room tables. Have you considered going (or even satisfactorily navigated) the self-publishing route? Have you ever struggled to convince folks that traditionally publishing a book is one heck of an accomplishment? You have? How nice! Please share a comment below.

 


Christina Uss

CHRISTINA USS is proud that it’s taken years of persistence to say her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out June 5, 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. See the cover reveal on KidLit TV here. Tweet to her about your own publishing experience @christinauss or drop by http://www.christinauss.com.

 

 

 


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Filed under Celebrations, Publishers and Editors, Self-publishing and Traditional Publishing, Uncategorized

Lines: So Much More Than a Dash

We’re celebrating the launch of Sarvinder Naberhaus’s LINES! In this beautiful board book, Sarvinder shows us that lines are so much more than just a dash on a page. Lines create the whole world we live in! To bask in the beauty of Sarvinder’s LINES, us Emus are talking about our favorite lines on the planet!

Debbi Michiko Florence: My favorite “lines” make up the outline of my favorite bridge in the city of my birth – the Golden Gate Bridge.

Terry Pierce: My favorite “line” is the one that forms where land ends and water begins. Like this…

Janet Fox: The laugh lines at the corners of my eyes.

Christina Uss: I love lines on a map – the more squiggly and roundabout they are, the better they are for bike riding, since they’re usually not the most direct way to anywhere!

Hayley Barrett: Sometimes we’re online. Sometimes we’re offline. Both states of being have their charms and challenges. When we’re online, we possess an incredible, nearly limitless ability to form connections with others. We learn and grow, are comforted and discomfited in turn as our already small world contracts. When we’re offline, we come back to our earliest sense of self. We are free to daydream, to dig deep, to explore our minds and hearts. I benefit from time spent in each of these lines.

Jason Gallaher: Still, by far, my favorite lines of all time have been the lines outside bookstores waiting for the Midnight Release Parties of the Harry Potter books. People dressed in costume, carrying wands, gabbing about what Hogwarts House they are in…sigh. These were such great times when strangers could come together and make friends through their shared love of Rowling’s magic.

Elizabeth Acevedo: I love the lines of a poem!

Sarvinder Naberhaus: I love the line between night and day. The horizon at dusk.

You can get your own copy of Sarvinder Naberhaus’s LINES next week! Find it at IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon or your favorite bookseller!

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Golden Gate Bridge image from www.history.com

Bike map image from Portland Bureau of Transportation

Harry Potter Midnight Release image from BreakingNews.ie

Dusk image from 6iee.com

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A Proclamation

Normally when I sit down to write a post for Emu’s Debuts, I come in with a plan, feeling assured and confident the post will be done in roughly an hour, I’ll add a few gifs, and voila! The post will be complete. But trying to write this post feels…strange. It’s my Farewell Post, that Emu’s Debuts tradition of thanking the Emus for supporting them on the journey toward their debut publication, and then they flap their Emu wings and fly from the nest. The equation of how this post works has already been given to me, I’ve seen it done a dozen times, but now I’m not exactly sure what to write. What should be the easiest post yet is not the hardest, but the weirdest.

I think this disconnect between my knowing what I’m supposed to post and me actually writing said post comes from my inner Emu soul knowing that the traditional purpose of this post, saying goodbye, doesn’t fit with how reality feels. It doesn’t feel like a goodbye. Goodbyes indicate endings or completion of something, but what I’m feeling right now is really a beginning and that the journey of fledgling little WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, my debut picture book, is nowhere near complete. I’m really just at the starting line.

My mind is focusing on marketing, on spreading the word, on readings and signings and school visits. I know that as Whobert’s path in the world continues, my fellow Emus are going to keep supporting me, keep helping me spread the word, and I’ll do the same for them. So it feels less like I’m leaving the nest for good, and more like I’m able to fly from it from time to time, but always return home. I’ll report back what I’ve seen in the world at large to help those who are still waiting for their debut to hatch, but still receive so much love and support from them when what I see is distressing or concerning and need someone to lean on.

So this isn’t really goodbye, but rather a declaration of how much I’ve come to rely on my fellow Emus as a writer. While my time posting on this blog may be complete, my time celebrating and commiserating and experiencing with Emus is still going strong. No, this is not a goodbye post. It is a proclamation of my identity as an Emu. Thank you for everything these past two years, Emu friends. Here’s to cozying up in the nest for years to come.

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Jason Gallaher is a picture book and middle grade writer who loves to create stories that mix the flamboyantly whacky with the slightly dark. His debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, is out now from Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster. When not writing, Jason zips about Austin, Texas. He loves dinosaurs, unicorns, Anjelica Huston, and Emus who have been with him for every step of the journey. Jason is a tried and true Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)

 

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Filed under Celebrations, Farewell, Inspiration, Writing and Life

After…

As someone who has moved 8 times in 16 years as an adult, I detest good-byes to the point where I refuse to make a big deal of them. I like to believe that by not saying good-bye it means I will circle back to friends and family during visits, at least. And so this is not good-bye, though I am fledging the Emu’s nest. I will circle in the sky, keeping an eye on the rest of the up-and-coming debuting authors here, cheering them on as they, too, spread their wings and fledge this nest.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth are now out in the wild, hoping to be found (and loved) by readers. Launch week was amazing, and the launch party hosted by my local indie Bank Square Books was fabulous. I was touched to see so many familiar faces in the audience, long-time friends, neighbors, and agency-mates. I especially loved having my husband, Bob, and daughter, Caitlin, there – they have been along for the entire ride and have always believed in me. As I read from the first chapter of Mochi Queen (and the audience laughed in the right places), as I shared the story of my journey, and as I signed books, I was filled with wonder and joy. I will cherish the memory of that day forever.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to after. I had been mentally and emotionally preparing for launch for a long time, but I hadn’t thought much about After. After meant hearing about people buying and reading my books. It meant seeing photos of kids reading Jasmine Toguchi. The first time someone shared a pic of a little girl reading Mochi Queen, I cried. Every time someone shares a picture of a child reading my books, I get teary. Actual kids are reading Jasmine Toguchi! One parent told me that her daughter read Mochi Queen three times in a row. Seeing the books “in the wild” is also a heady feeling. My books. In bookstores! And in libraries!

Books of Wonder, NYC

So while launch and all the excitement of planning and celebrating are now in the past, the real joy continues as readers discover Mochi Queen and Super Sleuth and hopefully find a friend in Jasmine Toguchi. I am extremely grateful for the privilege of being a part of readers’ lives through my books. And there are two more Jasmine Toguchi books in the series that will release next year – Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl (April 3, 2018) and Jasmine Toguchi, Flamingo Keeper (July 3, 2018).

Before I fly the coop, I do want to thank my nest-mates for all their support before, during, and after launch. There is nothing like having friends who are there for you every step of the way. Thanks also to my fabulous agent Tricia Lawrence and my EMLA family, to my wonderful editor Grace Kendall and the amazing team at FSG, to talented illustrator Elizabet Vukovic, and to my family and friends.

*sniff*

Now I’m getting choked up so I’ll end here with a smile, a wave, and a see you soon! xoxo


Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her puppy, Kiku; rabbit, Aki; and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth, the first two books of her debut chapter book series are now available from Farrar Straus Giroux. Two more books will follow next year: Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl(4/3/18) and Jasmine Toguchi, Flamingo Keeper (7/3/18).

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.

 

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Out of this World! THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY Launch Begins!

It’s time to celebrate the launch of Katie Slivensky’s THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY! To blast off the celebration of this sci-fi adventure, Emus flocked together to answer this question: If you could travel to one place in space, where would you go?

Hayley Barrett: I’d want to go….hitch a ride on C 1847/T1 — Miss Mitchell’s Comet! It’s non-periodic, so it’s going to be a long, long ride. See you later…maybe.

Miss Mitchell getting her star gazing on!

Kat Shepherd: The idea of space has always kind of scared me. That whole concept of infinity, and being in a vacuum, and being completely separate from everything you’ve ever known in your entire life. There is no particular place in space I’d like to visit, but I would love to go up in space, see the earth from a distance, have a little sleepover (because I want to see how comfortable I sleeping would be without gravity), and then come right back down again.

Christina Uss: Space scares the willies out of me, so I’d only go if I could slip into a book universe to do the deed. Then it’s easy: I’d want to get me an Electric Thumb and hitchhike with Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent to the Restaurant At The End of the Universe.

Debbi Michiko Florence: I do NOT want to go up in space, but I’m happy to read about it! So if other EMU’s go into space, I will read your books.

Jason Gallaher: I’m pretending that space travel doesn’t scare the Shatra out of me! I’d want to go to a planet in the Goldilocks zone where conditions are potentially just right for the planet to be habitable. Word on the hyperlane is that Kepler-62f, Kepler-186f and Kepler-442b are the planets to check out!

Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech

Katie Slivensky: I’d want to go to Europa and try and see if anything is alive there. Europa is one of the many moons of Jupiter. It’s covered with ice, and under that ice–oceans of liquid water! It’s the PERFECT place to discover alien lifeforms. It’s my not-so-secret-dream that NASA gets its Europa mission together sooner rather than later. I know they’re planning on a more robotic angle for the mission, but maybe they’d let me sign up if I ask nicely. And hey, the Jupiter system isn’t that far away. I’d be willing to put in the 5 years of travel to get there!

Image from Galileo spacecraft

You can get yourself a copy of Katie’s THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY from IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon or your favorite bookseller (all options much easier than blasting into space)!

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WHOOO WHOOO! Interview with Whobert Whover’s Illustrator Jess Pauwels!

We’re wrapping up the party for Jason Gallaher’s debut picture book Whobert Whover, Owl Detective with an interview with Jess Pauwels, the talented illustrator. It’s such a thrill for me to chat with Jess, because not only do I love this “whodunnit” fun story starring an owl (one of my favorite animals), but I adore the wonderful illustrations!

First, WHO is Jess Pauwels? In her own words:

I live in Brussels Belgium. I grew up in a family of professional dancers, but pencils were more appealing to me (and less exhausting ^!^) ! I studied arts and I graduated in illustration from St Luc-Brussels. For a few years, I was both an illustrator and a bookseller.

Six years ago, I chose to concentrate only on my graphic career. I drew for magazines, music labels, and picture books publishers. Since then, I have illustrated great stories, mostly in France, and some of them have been translated into Chinese and Italian.

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is my very first USA picture book

And now, on to the interview!

Tell us a little about your creative process. What are the steps you take before you start working on the book’s illustrations? How did you come up with Whobert and the other cast of characters?

First, I sketched all the characters. Like a « forest theme » movie casting – how should they look like to stick to the story? It helped me to get their reactions and to find the appropriate facial expressions for each one.

Then, I waited for the publisher’s creatives to send me the text layout – the way they want the text to be spread from one page to another.

After they decided where to put the text and where my illustrations would stand, I made several storyboards (small fast drawings with the same proportions of the book) to settle who is in the picture doing what and what is the general ambiance. I tried to find a balance between close ups, large views, etc. It helps with the dramatization of the image.

The drawings part was the most creative, fun, personal touch part. I was able to choose how I would tell Jason’s great story with my own touch.

Then, when the publisher’s team validated this part, they pretty much left me to decide on the rest of the job. They gave me advice more than asked for changes.

So next, I drew properly the whole thing, with all the details and the intentions I wanted – every image at the final book size, this time. Sometimes when the image is bigger than in my storyboard, things didn’t work anymore, so I changed or got rid of some stuff. I’m not usually very satisfied with the firsts results. Slowly, I found the right tone to satisfy me.

To complete and color, I scanned my drawings to the computer. This helped me to make final changes (eyes too close together or add a feather here and there, resize a worm …). If I had to do it in traditional techniques it would have taken ages.The computer can be a wonderful tool if you don’t skip important first creative steps.

Were there any specific challenges you encountered during the process? Any particular joys?

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is my first USA picture book collaboration. Humor is very different over there (in the USA). You are less serious and you seem to trust more the kids’s sense of humor. It’s very liberating to illustrate.

But the most challenging thing for me was the long wait before the launch of the book. In Europe, it takes around 3 to 6 months. With my project for Whobert, it took more than a year between the finished illustrations to the real printed copies.

But the real challenge for me was when I was finishing the pictures, because my 10-year-old French bulldog became very hill. Rushing into work helped me not to be too depressed about it, as he was my hairy muse for so long. He left us in February 2016.

A year and a half later we are welcoming our new puppy and Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is going out. It’s been a long, dog-free, but projects-full year in my studio. The wait for this fun picture book gave me hope and kept me focused on my other books to finish.

Meeting Jason through this project and seeing him be so enthusiastic, proud, and thrilled with the result was a vitamin shot to my self esteem.

Who is your favorite character from Whobert Whover, Owl Detective? Why?

This is quite a tough question, because when I draw a story I need to step into the shoes of every character. But, I think it’s really Whobert I like the most. He is so funny and stubborn. He’s a determined hero even if he’s mostly naive. With that kind of character you just cannot stay serious about life. He’s kind of a mix between Sherlock Holmes and Kimmy Schmidt, and I’d love to be this kind of mix! ^!^

(I LOVE Jess’s answer!)

Finally, can you show us a picture of your work space (I’m obsessed with creative work spaces.) What is your favorite part of your work area? Do you have any special rituals or talismans?

I work at home in our apartment in Brussels Belgium. I have my own studio. I tried to work in an outside place with other creative friends, but I was suddenly not so productive (morning coffee talks/lunch breaks talks/afternoon coffee talks). It became harder to focus on the jobs. I love to socialize a little too much.

So back home I’m more effective. I have my morning coffee in front of my social media and news, and I’m launched.

As talismans, I need several things to reassure myself, like music (Nina Simone, Laura Veirs, Joan As police Woman). On the walls, inspiring images like Lewis Carroll’s drawing of Alice in Wonderland, other illustrators’ prints. or pictures of our trips. On my desk are my favorites pencils and markers and two mini statues of Ganesh, brought from India and Lao, which are taking care of my projects.

…and lately COOPER our new companion, watching me from his pillow…not very calmly yet. !-)

Thank you, Jess! Congratulations to you and Jason on Whobert Whover, Owl Detective! You and Jason make a fabulous team!


Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her puppy, Kiku; rabbit, Aki; and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth, the first two books of her debut chapter book series is now available from Farrar Straus Giroux. Two more books will follow next year: Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl (4/3/18) and Jasmine Toguchi, Flamingo Keeper (7/3/18).

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.

 

 

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Filed under Book Launch, Celebrations, Illustrators, Interviews, Launch, Picture books, process, Uncategorized

Who, Who Made Whobert?

I can’t believe this day has finally arrived! Whobert is hatching from his little egg and becoming a fully fledged book bird! It’s so unreal, and I still can’t quite believe that this book is actually getting published, nearly two and a half years after the book was acquired. During that time, I learned that this book is so much more than just the manuscript I wrote back in 2014. So to celebrate the hatching of Whobert into bookstores, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge who, who helped create Whobert and make his hatching possible.

Jess Pauwels! You are such an amazing illustrator, and you make Whobert and his pals pop off the page. Your facial expressions! I can feel Whobert’s suspicion ooze off the page. Thank you for making Whobert come alive.

Tricia Lawrence! You are the best agent a guy could ever ask for. You work for me tirelessly, and Whobert wouldn’t be in the hands of readers if it weren’t for your hands guiding me along this thrilling writing rollercoaster.

Annie Nybo! That first critique you gave of Whobert really spurred me on to keep creating. I can feel your enthusiasm for Whobert through every email and text, and I feel so lucky to have worked with you.

Bethany Hegedus! The Writing Barn feels like home. That ball that started rolling towards a real writing career was given that initial push because of you and the beautiful space of inspiration and creativity that you’ve created.

My entire family! You’ve supported me since birth, and have never once doubted me, even at the times I doubted myself. Thanks for cheering me on during the good news, and for boosting me up during the bad. I love you all!

Jerry! Words cannot express how much I love you. I am so thankful everyday to have you rooting for me and supporting me at every turn. I live a real life fairy tale, and that’s all because of you.

And lastly, to all my fellow Emus! Whobert may be hatching today, but he wouldn’t be able to take flight if not for your constant efforts, not only letting people know about his publication, but also being my cheerleaders and offering advice as I got closer and closer to this book birthday.

________________________

Jason Gallaher is a picture book and middle grade writer who loves to create stories that mix the flamboyantly whacky with the slightly dark. His debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, releases TODAY, from Margaret K. McElderry Books. When not writing, Jason zips about Austin, Texas. He loves dinosaurs, unicorns, and days when the goofy characters that live in his mind get to actually make their way into the real world. Jason is a tried and true Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)

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Sweet Treats to Celebrate JASMINE TOGUCHI—Plus A Giveaway!

To celebrate the arrival of the first two volumes of Debbi Michiko Florence’s JASMINE TOGUCHI chapter book series, I asked the EMUs to tell me about their earliest kitchen experiences. From batter-covered beaters to Easy Bake ovens, it was a sweet trip down memory lane.

Sarvinder Naberhaus recalls, “I did learn to bake as a child, motivated by (and still motivated by) the objective —  to eat the sweet treats! Cooking was a chore but baking was fun! And who wouldn’t want to use Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook for Boys and Girls with all their fun presentations of food? 

Although I’m torn between sharing our Betty Crocker recipe for Carrot Cake and the cookie dough recipe from childhood, I think I’ll stick with my mentor, Betty.

BETTY CROCKER’S (AND SARVINDER’S) CARROT CAKE

Grease and flour a 9×13 cake pan. Preheat oven to 350. 

Ingredients:
4 eggs, beaten
2 c flour
2 c sugar
1 1/4 Crisco oil or a bit less
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 c chopped nuts, if desired
2 c grated raw carrots

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, & salt to combine. In a medium bowl, blend together sugar and oil, then add beaten eggs. Stir dry and wet mixtures together gently. Fold in nuts and carrots last.
Bake 350 for 1/2 hour or so until the middle bounces to touch. When cool, adorn with:

Frosting:
1 stick butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
Beat all ingredients together thoroughly until whitish and fluffy. Frost cake and serve.

“I started learning how to bake at my mom’s elbow when I was four,” recalls recent EMU Fledgling Andrea Y. Wang. Mom was a nurse-midwife and worked a lot, so baking was my special time with her. My favorite thing to bake was chocolate chip cookies, because…CHOCOLATE, but I also loved making banana bread. It was so easy and mashing up the bananas was really fun—and way easier than pounding mochi rice! I still have the Betty Crocker cookbook that we used when I was little, and you can see all the stains on the banana bread page.
I even wrote the smaller amount of milk needed (only 3/4 cup) right on the recipe, because the mashed bananas added the extra liquid. Now that my mom is gone, using her cookbook and her mixing bowls keeps her close to me.

Katie Slivensky enjoyed annual baking bonanzas as a kid. “My childhood baking was cookie-related. Classic chocolate chip cookies throughout the year, or ALL THE COOKIES
at Christmas-time. My mom would have my sister and I help out with the mixing and measuring (and in the case of Christmas—decorating!) I mostly liked to help because that meant I’d get to eat the extra batter off the beaters. I also took decorating the frosted cookies for the holidays VERY seriously.

Here’s my mom’s Frosted Cookie recipe:

KATIE’S MOM’S CREAM CHEESE COOKIES

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix together:

1 cup shortening
3 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar

Then add:
1 beaten egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour

Roll dough out will lots of additional flour. Dip cookie cutters into flour before cutting so dough won’t stick.
Bake cookies 9-12 minutes or until edges start to get light brown.

Cool completely before decorating with:

Frosting (3 batches of frosting to 2 batches of cookies)
1 1/2 confectioners sugar
2 TBL butter (margarine) softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 TBL warm water

Blend ingredients until smooth. Divide frosting into smaller glass bowls and use food coloring to tint. Have fun! After decorating, allow cookies to rest overnight so frosting sets up.

Jason Gallaher says, “My mom is a marvelous baker, and I remember sitting with her in the kitchen while she made a whole slew of goodies. Turtle brownies, chocolate chip banana bread, and oatmeal butterscotch cookies were my absolute fave. I wish I had a recipe to share with you, but I can’t recall any of the *actual* steps in how to make these treats, because the only steps I ever participated in were Dipping Fingers Inside the Batter, and Licking Serving Spoons Clean. But those are steps that I highly recommend in any recipe!”

POM BROKAW THINKS JASON IS SUPER SWEET! >>>>>>>>>>>

Judging from this adorable picture, Terry Pierce was a baking prodigy. Her fondest early childhood memory was baking cupcakes with her mom. “I loved to help pour, mix and my favorite part, licking the leftover batter. My brother and I had to alternate so that one of us got the bowl and the other got the beaters. When I was around five, I got my first Easy Bake oven. I found it fascinating that a light bulb could bake those small cakes! I loved the coveted chocolate cake mix. The vanilla tasted like cardboard!

I still love to bake. In fact, just this morning, I made a chocolate- cream-filled-ganache birthday cake for my family. Yum!

Christina Uss remembers, “Early baking experiences were all about my mom and me and cookies. Her Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookies were, in my opinion, far superior to all others. My best friend Karen and I started asking to cook them on our own when we were eleven, and to make sure we got the perfect results, we followed everything my mom did exactly, down to using the same mixing bowls and measuring spoons. It worked! Why? I figured my mom passed on some sort of cooking magic to us. It took meeting my husband who loves to bake but uses his grandma’s old Sunbeam electric mixer for every recipe to realize the real secret to my mom’s awesome cookies wasn’t specific mixing bowls, measuring spoons, or magic, but creaming the butter and sugar by hand with a wooden spoon. It’s hard work (especially if you forget to leave the butter out to soften until you start mixing everything else, which I always did), but gives the cookies this satisfyingly chewy texture that can’t be beat. So here’s my recipe – with two caveats.

 

My thanks to the EMUs for these scrumptious stories. I think I’ll go bake some cookies now and tuck in with my copy of JASMINE TOGUCHI.


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Families, Happiness, Launch, middle grade, Middle Grade, series, Uncategorized

Interview with JASMINE TOGUCHI editor, Grace Kendall!

The launch for Debbi Michiko Florence’s JASMINE TOGUCHI series continues with an interview with Debbi’s editor, Grace Kendall of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers. Read below to get the inside scoop on all things Jasmine!

JG: What initially drew you to Debbi’s writing and JASMINE TOGUCHI?

GK: Oh! What a tough question. I think, aside from the writing itself–which is sweet and fun and pitch-perfect for this age–I was in awe of how elegantly Debbi handled big issues. In MOCHI QUEEN, Jasmine is simply trying to have a new experience before her older sister. It’s also about questioning traditional gender roles in a Japanese-American family. But the story is funny and energetic and packed full of silly sister drama. Jasmine has a ton of gumption, just like Debbi. That’s why I couldn’t put the manuscript down!

How have Jasmine, her adventures, and her family changed through the editorial process? Did JASMINE read much differently in the original submission from what we read now?

No, I think the Jasmine of Draft 1 is the Jasmine you see in the final books here. But when we decided to sign up four titles, it became clear that Jasmine’s voice needed a bit more volume to help sustain a whole series. So we worked on pulling out the brightest details in her personality. Debbi knows this character so well, and I love this little girl more with every book. It’s been so fun to see her develop over four stories!

One of my personal favorite characteristics of Jasmine’s is her insistence that she can do anything she sets her mind to, even if it’s labeled a “boy” activity. What is your favorite personality trait of Jasmine’s?

I can’t pick one, so I’ll give you three:

Artistic trait: Jasmine loves to make collages from her mother’s old magazines. I did the same thing when I was a kid.

Kinetic trait: Hopping. When Jazz (as I fondly call her) is anxious or excited, she hops from one leg to the other. It’s the perfect solution to too many nerves. And funny in a serious scene!

Emotional trait: I adore her sisterhood with Sophie. I’m a lot like Sophie, and my younger sister is a lot like Jasmine. I think it’ll be helpful for young readers to see these two siblings get through their growing pains–and look for any similarities in their own relationships.

Elizabet Vukovic’s illustrations are so dynamic and really showcase Jasmine’s personality. How did you find and decide on Elizabet Vukovic as the illustrator for these books?

It was a journey! We looked at A LOT of portfolios. But the second I saw Elizabet’s drawing of a little girl with big glasses playing dress-up in a glowing red gown, I knew we had our artist. I love Elizabet’s use of ink, the weight of her lines, and the phenomenal sense for color wash. We were SO lucky she was free. Her enthusiasm for the texts has brought a whole other layer of narrative to these books.

We get four whole JASMINE books, the first two releasing on July 11th! What adventures are in store for Jasmine as the series progresses?

Every time Debbi sends in a new manuscript, I’m convinced it’s my favorite Jasmine book yet. So, get ready for even more awesome adventures! In Book 3, Jasmine learns how to play the taiko drum for the school talent show. But there’s a big difference between being the best and trying your best. And a new kid in school will challenge Jasmine’s patience to hilarious and heartfelt effect.

In Book 4, Jasmine’s grandmother sends her and Sophie daruma dolls to wish on. So, Jasmine decides to wish for a pet: a flamingo! But where will it live, and how will Jasmine feed it? Can she even convince her parents to keep her pet flamingo? Jasmine gets a big surprise when a different wish is fulfilled!

Thank you so much for your time, Grace! We can’t wait to get our hands on more Jasmine adventures!

You can enter to win a copy of MOCHI QUEEN and SUPER SLEUTH! One entry per one comment per post this launch week for a maximum total of five entries. Enter by midnight EST, Sunday July 16. The winner will be drawn at random. Must have U.S. mailing address. Good luck!

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Filed under Book Launch, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Editing and Revising