2021 Picture Book Previews Part Nine

If you’re like me, you’re probably in the midst of a bit of a pandemic fatigue…

Scroll through these upcoming picture book covers. It might make you feel a little better. It did for me.

Gnu and Shrew Blog Tour Stop

I’m thrilled to welcome Danny Schnitzlein and Anca Sandu here today to answer some questions as part of the Gnu and Shrew Blog Tour.

Opposites attract—but can they work together to produce something remarkable? Danny Schnitzlein and Anca Sandu team up to put an original, STEAM-infused spin on the classic fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper” in Gnu and Shrew (October 2020).
As friends Gnu and Shrew lounge at a riverbank, Gnu mentions that there is a cave filled with diamonds across the river. This intrigues Shrew, but as Gnu tosses out one big idea after another for how they can cross the water, Gnu languishes on his thoughts while Shrew spends his nights actually trying to make those ideas reality.
Humorously written by Danny Schnitzlein (The Monster Who Ate My Peas) and featuring charming illustrations by Anca Sandu (Lana Lynn Howls at the Moon), Gnu and Shrew takes an entertaining look into the world of creative collaboration, showing readers that both the dreamer and the doer are necessary in the process of problem solving. Starring elements of engineering, math, art, and imagination, Gnu and Shrew is perfect for fans of Izzy Gizmo and Iggy Peck, Architect.

DANNY SCHNITZLEIN is the author of The Monster Who Ate My Peas, The Monster Who Did My Math, and Trick or Treat on Monster Street. He lives in Georgia.

ANCA SANDU was born in Romania. Heeding the call to be the artist of the family, she discovered in art school that her passion for drawing helped her overcome her introversion. She’s the author-illustrator of Churchill’s Tale of Tails, and the illustrator of Lana Lynn Howls at the Moon and other picture books. Visit her website at http://www.ancasandu.com.

Without further ado, here are Danny and Anca- My questions are in bold, Danny’s answers are in BLUE and Anca’s answers are in RED.

Hello! Thanks for stopping by my blog! Tell us a little bit about your new book, Gnu and Shrew.

Hi, Mr. Teut, this is Danny, the author. Gnu and Shrew is my fourth book. Gnu is a wildebeest and Shrew is a little mouse-like creature. The two friends come to the river each morning to get a drink of water. Gnu tells Shrew about diamonds in a cave on the other side of the river. But the river is deep and wide and filled with hungry crocodiles. Gnu begins digging a tunnel to reach the diamonds, while Shrew works each night to build a boat. Gnu quickly grows tired of digging, but his ideas inspire Shrew’s invention. The story was inspired by my bad writing habits. Dreaming up ideas for stories comes easily to me, but I’m not always great at turning those ideas into completed manuscripts. So Gnu and Shrew are really two parts of me. 

The story is inspired by African and Caribbean folk tales. There is so much beauty in the language of those stories. They’re meant to be read aloud. I tried to capture some of that flavor in Gnu and Shrew. My previous books were all written in verse, so Gnu and Shrew was a new experience for me. When you write in verse, you spend a lot of time with the music of language, getting the rhythm and meter just right. If you change one word, you have to change twenty other words. In folk tales and fables, each word is essential and carries a lot of weight, so you spend a lot of time shortening, paring, and sifting to find the simplest way to say something. The language is musical too, but it’s a different kind of music.

Hi there! I’m excited to be here!

Gnu and Shrew is the story of Gnu, a funny and imaginative wildebeest that never acts on his dreams, and his friend Shrew who is determined and an incredible hard worker.

Tell us a little bit about your writing/illustration process.

I don’t outline very much. Usually I plunge blindly into writing and then get stuck somewhere in the middle. I have to work like Shrew, chipping away a little each day, little by little until the manuscript is completed. The writing process for me is kind of like a conversation. I write a little, then the story talks to me, changing my original ideas, inventing characters and situations I didn’t plan for. We talk back and forth until a compromise is reached. After the first draft, I generally revise for months until I can’t think of anything more to change. I belong to a weekly writing group and they give me honest critiques and ideas. Being part of a writing group is really helpful for me because it gives me a weekly deadline. Also, writing is a solitary process, and it can be lonely. It’s nice to have friends who are writers because they understand the difficulty of the journey. We cheer each other on.

I usually start with lots of researching, and maybe a bit of procrastinating through research… I like to get a sense of what style direction would work best for the story, so I read other picture books, watch inspiring documentaries and shows, or go to a museum. I research the characters and my initial sketches are very realistic. If they are animals, I try to understand their shapes, their movement, their environment. After I feel like I understand them, I start creating whimsical versions, where I use only the elements I deem necessary to build their personality, their essence. This is probably the most difficult part, but once you have the characters, everything else, such as colors, technique, compositions, flows organically. 

Have you always been into writing/illustrating?

I had great English teachers all the way through school and in high school I was given an award for my writing. I studied fiction writing in college. After two years of college my dad wouldn’t let me major in English because he was worried I wouldn’t find a job, so I was forced to switch gears and got a degree in television production. After college, I wrote and edited television commercials and worked my way into writing for children’s television. One day I was reading an interview with a children’s author and I thought, I would love this job. Writing children’s books is a good fit for me, because I feel like a big kid most of the time. When my first book was published, I don’t think anyone was more proud than my dad. I’m pretty sure he’d forgotten all about forbidding me to major in English.  

I have been drawing perfect circles since I was 2. My grandma’s words, not mine. I’ve been drawing since I was small, and it always felt like it was my superpower. It helped me spend hours alone lost in my own world, but also connect with other children. I think it still does that.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

I love the beginning of the process, brainstorming the idea, when everything is wide open and ideas are pouring out of me. I love holding a finished book in my hands and paging through it. It’s also fun visiting schools as an author and getting to feel like a rock star. My first book, The Monster Who Ate My Peas, was adapted into a touring musical by ArtsPower. Seeing my book brought to life on stage, with musical numbers and choreography, was a big thrill for me. It was also kind of surreal because the boy in the play is named Danny, which is my name. In the book, the character didn’t have a name.

Seeing a book in a store is incredibly surreal! But even more exciting is probably seeing a child enjoying your book. That brings me so much joy.

What inspires your creativity?

I love reading, watching movies, listening to music. But probably my biggest inspiration is boredom, quiet, and solitude. Being alone (which doesn’t happen much these days) and doing repetitive tasks like sweeping, going for a walk, or mowing the yard. That’s when I get my best ideas.

Everything around me, especially when I pay attention, put my phone away, and just listen to the world around and inside me. I find great inspiration in silence and solitude.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

I have a good singing voice, but I’m shy about singing and playing guitar for people I don’t know. Except when I visit schools and sing with kids. My shyness goes away.

All my personality tests say I should have been a scientist.

If you weren’t writing/illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

Editing movies, painting imaginary landscapes and portraits of funny monsters, writing songs, or writing screenplays.

Perhaps I would have been a scientist… Or maybe an interior designer, an architect, or a full-time plant mom.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I’m working on a middle grade sci-fi manuscript. I’ve been writing a lot more for older kids. I’m superstitious about talking about projects too much because when I discuss a manuscript in progress, it never seems to get published.

I have been staying really busy this year, working on illustrating several books and also writing a few stories of my own. There might be a fish involved, one of those guys that always think they are the center of the big pond…

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

Thank you for reading. Thank you for loving books. Readers tend to have more love, respect, and empathy for their fellow humans and for nature. Our world is lacking in those things right now. If you’re a parent, thank you for reading to your kids.

I would love to encourage everyone to draw, create, and read. This year has been incredibly hard for all of us, but art and creativity has always helped people persevere, imagine better worlds, and inspire them forward.

Danny Schnitzlein social handles:

                Facebook: @danny.schnitzlein

Anca Sandu social handles:

                Twitter: @anca_sandu

                Instagram: @ancasan

Peachtree social handles:

                Facebook: @PeachtreePub

                Twitter: @PeachtreePub

                Instagram: @peachtreepublishing

Additional resources, if you’d like to include links:

                Website with book summary and author and illustrator bios: https://peachtree-online.com/portfolio-items/gnu-and-shrew/

                Teacher’s guide: http://peachtree-online.com/pdfs/TeachersGuides/GnuandShrewTG.pdf

                Book excerpt: https://peachtree-online.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/GnuandShrewExcerpt.pdf

Stops on the blog tour:

                Monday (10/5): Reading Style Guide

                Tuesday (10/6): 4th Grade Unicorns

                Wednesday (10/7): Geo Librarian

                Thursday (10/8): Mile High Reading

                Friday (10/9): The Baby Bookworm

2020 Autumn/Halloween Picture Book Round Up

I was already organizing our bookshelves at home when I was a young boy, and there was a special chunk of books on the shelves for Halloween/Autumn. Some of my favorite books throughout childhood were in the Halloween/Autumn collection. I fondly remember one of them about a haunted house that had special ink lines drawn and it would grown in the dark. Those were the days!

And I’d be remiss not to share the crop of Autumn/Halloween books that have come out in the last few months. Most have not gotten the spotlight they deserve due to all else that’s going on in the world right now. So take some time to find these at a local bookseller or library near you.

I grew up in Iowa, so by the time October 31 rolled around and it was time to trick or treat, we were facing temperatures that required a thick winter coat. Seriously, Mom?! … Sometimes Mom had so many layers covering us, nobody could guess what our costume was. Finally, John Loren has put the very real struggle into this clever book. A boy is very worked up that he must not only dress up, but also must bundle up.

Another all-too-common childhood experience (sometimes seemingly traumatic) is that of losing a first tooth. Is Young Vampire ready to lose his first fang? And, is he really a vampire once it’s gone? Anxieties, troubles, and charming resolution make this book a winner.

Speaking of Vampires, what happens when one is just too sweet and can’t muster up what it takes to pass a scare (zcare) test? An import that’s certain to delight with a surprise ending.

Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of the treacherous, repetitive song of The Ants Go Marching… Maybe it’s the minor key? Maybe it’s the sense of doom – as they all go marching down- to the ground- to get out- of the rain—- Nevertheless, Kim Norman and Jay Fleck have won me over with these fresh lyrics (Can you imagine a group of children shouting Boo-Rah! Boo-Rah!? Clever!)- A fun parade of ghouls and ghosts and everything in between, I’ve a new appreciation for the tune.

This happy accident and spill over of pumpkins fresh from the patch is no match for this group of children’s resourcefulness and resilience. When a field trip goes wrong, a smart and determined group of children make it right. Stephanie Fizer Coleman’s illustrations add an extra layer of joy to the story.

Contraire to The Ants Go Marching, I’m quite fond of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. So you pair Lynn Munsinger’s delightful illustrations with a text about finding the perfect pumpkin, and you’ve got a winner. Bonus points if you can be creative and do the actions along with it.

This one isn’t new, but it’s been newly released in board book format, and after a test run on my toddler twin nieces, it’s perfectly suitable for that format. Michael’s art has always charmed me, and this book is no exception. Sheer Halloween fun, now condensed down for the littlest and most curious hands.

Poor Christopher- everyone wants – and expects him to be scary like all the other pumpkins. But Christopher isn’t having it. So it’s amazing that he finds his own way to stand out and pave a path to be different- much to everyone else’s ultimate delight.

Foil, die cut, limited palette- and a very soothing and calm story about a girl and a little kitten on Halloween night. Forget the frights and the funnies, this one is here to warm up your heart (and who doesn’t need that these days?) You add in a rescue plot of a cute kitten and you’ve got yourself something irresistible.

Halloween? In the Arctic? Pumpkins only get there by flying- and while the window is very small and we’re left yearning to learn and know and see more (maybe that’ll be up to us), we see how Halloween is celebrated (yes, celebrated) in the Arctic Inuit community. A bit of Inuit folklore is included.

Gurple and Preen: Interview with Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Tell us a little bit about your new book, GURPLE AND PREEN: A BROKEN CRAYON COSMIC ADVENTURE.

Our new picture book is written by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by me. In GURPLE AND PREEN, two robots crash-land onto an unfamiliar planet. The robots have to use creative thinking to get the mission back on course. Their cargo is all stored in crayons. One of the robots, Gurple, breaks open the crayons but dismisses their contents as useless as she continues to panic. The smaller and quieter robot, Preen, picks up the items that Gurple is discarding and uses them to help repair the ship.

It’s a story about creative thinking and problem solving, friendship and collaboration.

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The book came about because Linda Sue saw the broken crayon found object art I’d been posting on social media, and we ended up talking about it in person when we were both on faculty at the SCBWI Northern Ohio conference. I had been trying to write a story for me to use with my broken crayon art, but couldn’t come up with a story that I liked enough.

Linda Sue said that she could try coming up with a story, but that I was under no obligation to use it if I didn’t like it. I ended up LOVING her idea, and we pitched the book together (we have the same agent, Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown) to my editor at Simon & Schuster, Justin Chanda. Justin said yes, HURRAY!

Tell us a little bit about your illustration process.

The first thing I did when I received Linda Sue Park’s wonderful mss was to work on character sketches.

 

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I photographed the crayons and removed the Crayola branding. The latter took waaaaay more time than I expected, I must confess. I hired my artist friend Russ Cox to do some of the branding-removal, but realized that there was no way I could afford to hire him to do more than a handful of the hundreds of crayons I needed. I went through 491 Crayola crayons in the making of this picture book! Yes, I did keep track.

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I enjoyed working with my art director, Laurent Linn, and editor Justin Chanda. They helped me figure out the flow and layout of the story through many sketches before I started working on the final illustrations, pulling together the photographic elements, digital illustration elements, and real-life crayon textures.

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Have you always been into writing/illustrating?

Yes, for as long as I can remember! I used to be editor of a hand-made family newsletter called Family Weekly; my brother and sister contributed content, and I put everything together. We used an old Underwood manual typewriter to write poetry, short stories, jokes and riveting news items. All three of us created comics and other illustrated content.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Hearing how my books have helped young readers somehow: either inspired them to create something new, helped them sort out a difficult emotion or situation in their life, or simply entertained them.

What inspires your creativity?

Reading a good book always inspires me to create.

Other inspirations include: a blank piece of paper, a sharpened pencil, a fresh box of crayons.

Sometimes creativity comes easily but other times (like during the early weeks of the pandemic) it’s harder to find. In the latter case, I don’t try chasing it – I know it’ll just slip further away. Instead, I find other ways to fill the well.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

When I was a child, I had a terrible stammer. It was so bad that I couldn’t even get out the word “hello” when I answered the phone. Sometimes the person on the other end of the phone thought I was laughing (“h..h…h…h..”) so would start laughing. Then I’d laugh, pretending that sure, that’s what was happening. But I dreaded the sound of the phone ringing.

In school, if I was asked a question by a teacher whose answer was going to be difficult for me to say, I would purposely answer incorrectly. Later in life, I was so afraid of public speaking that I would avoid it whenever possible.

When Simon & Schuster first asked me to do my first book tour, I was utterly terrified. I ended up telling my editor, Justin Chanda, why I was so reluctant – he was *totally* understanding and suggested I try just one or two small events at first. So I talked to a small kindergarten class….and I discovered that it was MUCH more fun than I expected! I started doing more talks, got more practice. I also found that sharing about my stammering instead of trying to keep it hidden from people greatly eased my own stress.
I still get nervous BUT I’m finding that i actually do enjoy public speaking as long as I know that I am sharing something of interest or use to my audience, especially if I know I’m helping them somehow.
My stammering still crops up now and again, usually when I’m tired or super stressed or super excited, but I don’t worry about it nearly as much. In fact, I am 100% positive that my speech issues as a child spurred me to pour more of my energy into non-verbal forms of creative expression like writing, art and music.

If you weren’t writing/illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

Assuming you mean career-wise, I’d say something in the music field: probably writing or performing, or maybe both. I’ve done some songwriting with my filk music group, and even had songs on national radio! I’ve also done some session recording on friends’ albums. In an alternate life, I could see myself writing soundtracks, or jingles, musicals.

I still sometimes fantasize about someday writing a musical for kids.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

Right now I’m working on the sequel to SAM & EVA. I’m working on the manuscript with my editor at Simon & Schuster, and I intend to use found object art in the illustrations. REALLY having fun with the story development! I continue to feel incredibly lucky to be working with Justin Chanda – he is a brilliant, BRILLIANT editor.

I’m also working on some middle grade projects. No guarantee that these will ever be published, of course, but writing middle grade has been a goal of mine since waaaay before I thought about writing or illustrating picture books. My middle grade writing is what helped me find my agent! I put it aside for a while to embrace the picture book world. And while I will ALWAYS want to do picture books, I have been finding myself yearning to not give up on my original dream.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

If you’re an educator who is looking for new ways to inspire creativity in your students, I encourage you to check out my Broken Crayon Classroom Resource: https://www.debbieohi.com/broken-crayon

I also wanted to say how much I appreciate champions of children’s books like yourself, especially during times like this. THANK YOU for letting me visit your blog, Dylan!

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