New Voice: Interview & Giveaway: Dana Wulfekotte on Rabbit & Possum

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Today I’m pleased to shine the Cynsations’ spotlight on Dana Wulfekotte, a fellow Epic Eighteen member. Her debut picture book, Rabbit & Possum (Greenwillow, 2018), features the antics of these two friends hoping to share a snack but having to overcome an obstacle first.

I love Dana’s use of illustrated thought bubbles and her experience as an animator comes through in the book’s artwork.

Kirkus Reviews stated, “Friendship, loyalty, and determination come through in this well-paced exploit.” I couldn’t agree more.

From the promotional copy:

Rabbit likes to leap before she looks.Possum is a little more cautious.So when Possum accidentally gets stuck in a tree, he fears he’ll be trapped forever. Everything is ruined!Luckily, Rabbit won’t give up till she rescues him.With a little creativity—and a big surprise—she just might be able to save the day.After all, that’s what friends are for.

Dana, as an author-illustrator, how did your writing journey inform your artistic journey and vice versa?

It’s still funny to think of myself as a writer, because my whole life I’ve been focused on my art. When I first started writing Rabbit & Possum, and even going through the revision process with my editor, I sometimes felt like I had no idea what I was doing. But I think having all of that experience as an artist is helping me find my footing as a writer.

My learning process is also about how to make the art and writing work best together, and what to say in the text versus what to show in the art.

Please describe your illustration apprenticeship. How did you take your art from a beginner level to publishable? How has your style evolved over time?

Early sketch of Rabbit & Possum by Dana Wulfekotte,
used with permission.

I’ve been drawing my whole life, but as an adult I’ve been working in animation since I graduated from college in 2005. I think that gave me an advantage when I took the leap into publishing, since I already had a background in visual storytelling.

The biggest hurdle was developing my own artistic voice. When you work in animation, you’re working on teams and you’re often asked to mimic all different kinds of artistic styles. When I decided to move into children’s illustration, I knew I would need my own unique style.

I also had a webcomic that I worked on with my best friend for many years, but it had a look that wouldn’t really work for a picture book.

I started drawing almost every day again, filling up sketchbooks and doing drawing challenges like Inktober while also working full-time at an animation studio. It took about a year or two from there to develop my work to the point where it was publishable. Even now that my style is more consistent, I’m very indecisive and I still experiment a lot with my process. 


What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?

The best moment was definitely getting the message from my agent that I had gotten an offer on my book. It was a real turning point in my life and making children’s books has been the most creatively fulfilling work I’ve done so far. 

When I was little, I saw “Beauty and the Beast” and decided that I wanted to be a Disney animator when I grew up. As I got older, I realized I didn’t want to move out to California. I’m too much of a cranky East Coaster. So now I get to tell stories and make art for children while living in New York City, which is pretty much the best outcome I could have hoped for.

I haven’t had any truly bad moments in publishing, aside from the usual rejections and bad reviews that everyone experiences. It’s not that I enjoy those things, but they’re a normal part of working in most creative fields.

A spread from the Rabbit & Possum dummy that Dana sent out on submission.
Used with permission.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s illustrators?

I’ve seen so much good advice from other artists and I don’t really have anything new to add, but I’ll reiterate some things that I feel are important: The most successful artists I know are also the most determined and the hardest working. Some people may have advantages that you don’t have, but focus on what you need to do to reach your goals and don’t worry about anyone else. 

Similarly, don’t compare where you’re at in your career to other artists (I know this is much easier said than done, but nothing good ever comes of it!).

Cynsational Notes

Dana Wulfekotte is a children’s book author-illustrator and freelance animator. 

She
was born in Korea, raised in New Jersey, and now lives in Queens with her
boyfriend and two pet rabbits. 

Dana has also illustrated another picture book, The Remember Balloons by debut author Jessie Oliveros, that will be published in August by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

As an animator/designer, she has worked on various animation projects for HBO, PBS, Google, and many others. 

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga illustrated by Frané Lessac, will be published by Charlesbridge on Sept. 4, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

In fall 2019, her first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre will be published by Penguin Random House’s new imprint, Kokila.

Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

Enter to win your own copy of Rabbit & Possum.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

No purchase necessary. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on April 5, 2018 and 12:00 AM on April 19, 2018. Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about April 19, 2018. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.

New Voice: Lindsey Stoddard on Just Like Jackie

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Lindsey Stoddard is a Vermont College of Fine Arts alum and our time there overlapped, so I jumped at the chance to interview her about her debut middle grade novel, Just Like Jackie (HarperCollins, 2018). From the promotional copy:

For as long as Robinson Hart can remember, it’s just been her and Grandpa. He taught her about cars, baseball, and everything else worth knowing. But Grandpa’s memory has been getting bad—so bad that he sometimes can’t even remember Robbie’s name.

She’s sure that she’s making things worse by getting in trouble at school, but she can’t resist using her fists when bullies like Alex Carter make fun of her for not having a mom.

Now she’s stuck in group guidance—and to make things even worse, Alex Carter is there too. There’s no way Robbie’s going to open up about her life to some therapy group, especially not with Alex in the room. 


Besides, if she told anyone how forgetful Grandpa’s been getting lately, they’d take her away from him. He’s the only family she has—and it’s up to her to keep them together, no matter what.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?


I grew up loving reading, and from a very young age it was my dream to be a teacher and to write books. I used to line up my stuffed animals and read out loud, and then I’d write my own stories and try them out on my animal class.

Little Lindsey with baseball glove

I majored in English at Carleton College and took every creative writing class I could, and continued to be involved in workshops in New York City when I moved to Washington Heights to be that middle school English teacher I dreamed of being when I was reading to my animals.

It wasn’t until I met my first class of students that I knew I wanted to write for kids. I love that middle school age. They are really starting to figure out who they are, and their sense of justice is high— “That’s not fair! That’s messed up! That’s not right!”

They can be moody and defiant and emotional, but all of this makes for excellent questions and discussions and points of view.

I spent 10 years teaching English in that middle school in Washington Heights, and in the middle of those years, I pursued my writing career more purposefully, and received my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts

Being on that campus, surrounded by such incredible mentors and inspirations, confirmed for me what my students in New York City taught me. I wanted to be a part of this community who writes for kids.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?


I spent much of my time at VCFA working on my creative thesis, a novel that was inspired by a student of mine. 

In fact, most of my writing for kids had been stories I wrote for my students. I wrote a story for Malcolm, and Franmy, and Anthony, and José, and Ilcy. 
During my second semester, my advisor, Tim Wynne-Jones, told me that I couldn’t just write for my students and that I’d benefit from tapping into my own stories. That I should try writing for my own ten-year-old self.

Just Like Jackie came from taking the time to reflect on the things that made me feel big emotions when I was young. 

First was the time I spent with my own grandpa, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s.

I remembered feeling uncomfortable and sad when he couldn’t finish his own sentences. I didn’t know if I should guess at its end, and finish it for him, pat his hand as if to say it’s okay, or just change the subject. I wondered what it might be like if he had been the person taking care of me, how scary it would be, and how protective I might become.

Lindsey spent a lot of time with her grandpa in his sugarhouse in the Vermont woods.

The second was a time when I felt such rage that, like Robbie, I balled my own fists in anger.

A neighborhood boy swung his whiffle ball bat at my backyard tree and knocked from its branches a perfect robins nest, full of eggs I was watching and waiting to hatch. I remember the eggs splattering on my lawn, and before I knew it my fist connected with his face.

These emotions and memories from my own ten-year-old self, as Tim advised, led to Robbie’s story.


In terms of publishing, how did you navigate the process of finding an agent and, with his or her representation, connecting your manuscript to a publisher?


The first manuscript I submitted to agents was my creative thesis from VCFA. I made a list of middle grade books I loved and admired and thought had a similar writing style to my own. 
Lindsey writing at her favorite cafe. She was
working on revisions when her son was born.

Then I found the agents of those authors, and, in each query letter, wrote a couple lines about that one special book and how I thought my manuscript might reach the same type of readers.

Though most wanted to read the full manuscript, I was very kindly rejected by every single agent. The comments were similar: my writing was strong, and full of voice, but the story wasn’t for them.

This was when I returned to Tim’s comment about writing for my own ten-year-old self. It was so hard to put that first manuscript in a drawer, and to refer to it as my practice book, but that’s what I had to do to make way for Just Like Jackie.

People say that a writer has been writing her first book her whole life, and that is definitely true of Just Like Jackie. When I finally put the pen to the page, Robbie’s story came easily. It felt honest and right and the whole time I felt like I was writing my way home.

I submitted Just Like Jackie to mostly the same list of agents who had previously rejected my work, and this time I heard many yesses. 

My agent, Stephen Barbara’s yes, was the most confident I-love-this-just-as-it-is yes. I met a couple agents face to face and my time with Stephen confirmed what I thought— that his confidence in my book was exactly what I needed going forward. He compiled a list of editors he thought would love Robbie the same way he did, and submitted my manuscript. 
Lindsey at the launch party for Just Like Jackie.

There were many yesses, but my editor at HarperCollins, Erica Sussman’s yes, was the most enthusiastic I-cried-on-my-couch-the-whole-way-through-and-have-to-have-this-book yes that I received.

I met several editors face to face and some on the phone and I just loved the way Erica spoke about Just Like Jackie and I immediately felt comfortable with her.

I’m so thankful for Tim’s comment all those years ago at VCFA. He helped me find an authenticity in my writing that I think will connect with readers, and it helped me learn the hard lesson that sometimes a whole book, that took years and years to write and revise, was just practice. Excellent practice.

Cynsations Notes


Just Like Jackie received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

“Stoddard debuts with a quiet but powerful narrative that gently unpacks Alzheimer’s, centers mental health, and moves through the intimate and intense emotional landscape of family—what seems to break one and what can remake it. Validating, heart-rending, and a deft blend of suffering and inspiration,” wrote Kirkus Reviews.

Lindsey Stoddard was born and raised in Vermont, where she loved to play in the snow and ski, learned to boil sap in her grandpa’s surgarhouse, and began her lifelong love of reading.

She always wanted books to be a big part of her life, so when she graduated college she moved to New York City, where she taught middle school English for 10 years.

She loves reading and writing with middle schoolers, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

She received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  

New Voice: Monica Clark-Robinson on Let the Children March

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I couldn’t play on the same playground as the white kids. 
I couldn’t go to their schools.  
I couldn’t drink from their water fountains.  
There were so many things I couldn’t do. 

Let the Children March (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) follows a fictional African-American girl and her family through the very real events of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in May 1963.

This beautiful picture book, illustrated by Frank Morrison and written by fellow Epic Eighteen debut author Monica Clark-Robinson, weaves children’s chants and slogans from the march into the story along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words.

Finding the timeline of the Children’s Crusade in the end pages with children holding posters showing important dates on them drew me into the story and setting right away.

Monica, what made you feel this story needed to be told and why did you feel you had to write it?


When I first heard the story of the 1963 Children’s Crusade march, I was amazed that I had never heard about it before.

Monica photographed this Birmingham statue
honoring children jailed for protesting in 1963.

Children had marched against segregation, been sprayed by water hoses, attacked by police dogs, and jailed. Why was this not common knowledge?

For weeks afterward, I asked friends, family, and acquaintances if they knew anything about it, and I got the same answer 90 percent of the time: no one had even heard of it. I was stunned. And I felt deeply the injustice that we had done to the children who marched by not teaching about their part in the Civil Rights Movement.

Dr. King wrote a book the year after the Children’s March called Why We Can’t Wait (Harper, 1964). In it, he states that he believes it was the addition of the children and teens to the movement that finally turned the tide against segregation.

This story needed to be told, remembered, and repeated.

The message of what happened in Birmingham in 1963 is sadly still so relevant today.

I did some research and was surprised to find that there were no picture books about the subject—although since then, a wonderful one by Cynthia Levinson called The Youngest Marcher (illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Atheneum Books, 2017) has come out. (See Cynsations interview.)

I personally feel driven driven to write stories that are getting lost in the margins and stories that are being forgotten, or misremembered. I also want to highlight history that gives children power and agency. This story hits both of those marks—I knew I had to write it.

This sculpture, Police and Dog Attack by artist James Drake,
is located in Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park.

What did Frank Morrison’s art bring to your text?


We were thrilled when Frank agreed to illustrate the book.

The emotion and vibrancy he brought to the project was just stunning to me. I cried with an odd mixture of joy and sadness when I first saw his drawings for the book. It’s a difficult subject to write and illustrate a picture book about, in many ways.

We wanted to tell the story without softening it, but also with an understanding that the readers are children. I believe Frank’s art really rode that line beautifully, showing the reality without making it too upsetting for young readers.

Interior illustration by Frank Morrison.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

I wanted to write the stories that I saw a need for. The right book, at just the right moment, in the hands of the very child that needs it, can change a life–even change the world.

I remember times in my youth when a book changed my perceptions about myself, or altered how I interacted with others. I believe so strongly in the power of story and the power of children. And the magic they create together!

I can’t imagine doing anything that would fulfill me as deeply as being a writer for children.

Young readers participating in a readers’ theater performance of Let the Children March at Monica’s book launch.

Please describe your pre-publication craft apprenticeship. How did you take your writing from a beginner level to publishable?


I’ve written poetry for as long as I can remember. I think I came to writing via that form, more than anything else. I am also a professional actor and have often written for my own solo performance.  So those things shaped me as a writer early on.

But then, about 10 years ago, I was working in the children’s department of Barnes & Noble, and I walked by a group of women meeting together. I listened in to their conversation, as one does, and discovered they were a critique group for children’s and teen’s literature. I begged to join, and for the next 10 years, I learned craft through that group of amazing writers.

I like to tell people I went to the University of Darcy and Carla. They are the two “grand dames” of my critique group, Darcy Pattison and Carla Killough McClafferty, both amazing authors.

I joined SCBWI, I went to conferences and intensives, I read countless books about the craft of writing–and I was a sponge for it all.

What is your relationship to the children’s-YA writing and illustration community? To the larger children’s-YA literature community?


I have my “IRL” writing community, of course, in the amazing critique group I’ve been with so long.  But beyond that, the wide world of the children’s literature community on social media has been a wonderful support and resource.


One thing I’ve been doing for years now is following some of the “greats” on Twitter and Facebook.

Jane Yolen is a great example—she posts about her projects, her successes and failures, and how she just gets up every day and puts the words on the paper. I feel like Queen Jane is right there with me in the writing hustle, and I have been inspired by her so many times.

I’ve also joined a group of 2018 debut picture book authors and illustrators, and that has been indispensable. How did anyone do this before the internet?

For the most part, I’ve been pleased at how supportive and genuine the online children’s literature community has been. All these circles of community—with the critique group and the various online forums—can buoy us and give us clarity or a slap in the face, whichever we need the most.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

  • Join SCBWI.  
  • Get a critique group.  
  • Write.  Write. Write.  
  • Be in the world, so the world can be in your writing.  
  • Act as if you already are a professional writer. That little change worked wonders for me.  
  • Listen to repeated criticism and make changes accordingly. That’s a big one. Lots of writers, I think, get criticism but then keep doing what they’ve always done.  
  • Submit your work, but not willy-nilly. Research the agents and editors. Do your homework.  
  • Don’t forget to play.  
  • And persevere.  Most of us take years to get our foot in the door.  Keep at it.

Cynsations Notes


School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews both gave Let the Children March starred reviews. Kirkus Reviews called it, “A powerful retrospective glimpse at a key event.”

Monica-Clark Robinson is passionate about stories: writing them, acting them out on stage, and reading them, both as a voiceover artist and an avid reader. She believes the stories of our past can help us create the story of our future.

This is Monica’s debut picture book, bringing to light a part of history that can empower children to make a difference.

Monica lives in a yurt in the country with her husband, too many cats, and just the right amount of daughters.

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga illustrated by Frané Lessac, will be published by Charlesbridge on September 4, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

In fall 2019, her first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre will be published by Penguin Random House’s new imprint, Kokila.

Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

New Voice: Interview & Giveaway: Jeanette Bradley on Love, Mama

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I am pleased to shine the spotlight on a fellow Epic Eighteen debut picture book, Love, Mama by author-illustrator Jeanette Bradley (Roaring Brook, 2018). From the promotional copy:

When Mama leaves her young penguin Kipling, he knows she’ll return home soon—yet he still can’t help but miss her. 


After all, Pillow Mama won’t read, Picture Mama won’t laugh, and Snow Mama is too cold to cuddle.


But then Kipling receives a special delivery from Mama, including a note that reads:

My love for you stretches across the wide ocean,
through day and night,
from earth to sky
and back again.

And Kipling knows that no matter where Mama is, he is loved. Soon, Mama comes home, and Kipling ends the day where he belongs—right in her arms.

Jeanette’s story about young Kipling, a penguin in the Antarctic, missing his mama away at work features a beautiful color palette of red, blue, and gray that immediately drew my eye to the illustrations.

One of the other aspects I appreciated and she talks about in our interview below is that Kipling stays home with a caregiver which could be anyone – the other parent, a grandparent, older sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle, or babysitter.

Many children have this experience when a parent is away working, so I appreciated that portrayal in addition to the deep longing Kipling has to be in Mama’s arms again.

Jeanette, as an author-illustrator, how did your writing journey inform your artistic journey and vice versa?


I started out studying painting, and then illustration. I was sending out postcards, trying to get noticed in this highly competitive industry, when a wonderful thing happened.

My father told me that he had run into my eighth grade English teacher and told her that I was doing illustration and that she had asked him to convey to me a message. The message, delivered with her intonation, was: “Don’t forget that You. Are. A. Writer. Too.”

Teachers really do change lives. I am grateful that Mert Smits changed mine more than once. She was absolutely right, and I got serious about learning the craft of writing picture books. Three years later, here I am.

Interior illustration from Love, Mama

What were the challenges (artistic, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the images to life?


Love, Mama is fiction with anthropomorphic animal characters, but I rooted the story in science.

I researched the location and spoke with Antarctic scientists about the animals that migrate in the Southern Ocean, the types of boats that are used in the sea ice, and what souvenirs are available in Antarctic gift shops. I used a lot of reference photos to create the fictional island that Kipling lives on.  I wanted to create the sense that Kipling lives in a real, but alternate Antarctic.

If you type “do penguins have” into Google, you will discover that many other people struggle with the existential question of “do penguins have knees?”

When designing an anthropomorphic character, there is always a tension between the animal elements and the human elements. It’s a challenge to combine those in a way that is cute and appealing, instead of falling into the “uncanny valley” of psychologically disturbing not-humanness.

The most difficult part of drawing the cuddly penguins in Love, Mama was figuring out how they sat on a sofa. (Penguins do have knees, but you can’t see them, because they are hidden by their belly flaps. Real penguins would not be able to sit on a sofa. This is my public service announcement for science.)

Jeanette at Book Launch party

What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?

My book has been released out in the world for two days, and the best part has been seeing photos of kids all over the country enjoying Love, Mama. So much love!

The runner-up best moment was when my agent Emily Mitchell sent me an email telling me that not only had she sold my book, she had sold it to Connie Hsu. I wouldn’t say that Connie was my dream editor, because it hadn’t occurred to me to dream that big. I felt like Cinderella, except visited by the fairy godmother for introverts.

What was the funniest moment of your publishing journey?


I queried my agent because her bio made me laugh. Seriously, its funny, go look at it.

(Traci – Jeanette and I actually have the same agent and I couldn’t agree more.)

What advice do you have for beginning children’s illustrators or author-illustrators?


In art school I was taught to draw from the masters, which is the best way to really get inside someone else’s visual thinking. So, I read a lot of recently published picture books. I choose a few to analyze more deeply, and type them out and/or sketch from them.

Interior illustration from Love, Mama

As a member of a community under-represented in youth literature, what did your diverse perspective bring to your story?

There are so few picture books in which my children can see their two-mom family mirrored that aren’t books explicitly about family structure. I wanted to write a book about family which the family structure was not the point of the book, but was also not locked into a mother, father, and child. I wanted to leave space for children who live with a grandparent or a single parent or who have same-sex parents to read their own family into the book.

Love, Mama is focused on the relationship between mother and child, and the ability of love to transcend distance. But the toddler-like main character felt too young to leave home alone, so I needed to create another adult without shifting the focus of the story or closing the space I had created.

I solved this by creating another adult penguin with no identifying characteristics, who is never mentioned in the text.

Some children will assume Blank Slate is a babysitter, others will map a parent or grandparent onto that penguin. (I have already witnessed a debate between kindergartners about Blank Slate’s true identity!)

Whatever the reader brings to the story, the focus remains on the deep emotions of missing a parent when she is gone, even if someone else is home with you.

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews wrote of Love, Mama, “The artwork works with the spare text to keep the focus on how Kipling is feeling; readers are sure to empathize. This will provide both reassurance to children missing their own loved ones and ideas for staying connected.”

Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. Her debut picture book contains no cities, pastries, or trains, but was made with lots of love.

She currently lives in Rhode Island with her wife and kids. To see more of her art, follow her on Instagram @jea_bradley.

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga illustrated by Frané Lessac, will be published by Charlesbridge on September 4, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures. In fall 2019, her first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre will be published by Penguin Random House’s new imprint, Kokila.

Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.


Enter to win your own copy of Love, Mama!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

No purchase necessary. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on March 14, 2018 and 12:00 AM on Mar. 28, 2018. Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about Mar. 28, 2018. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.

New Voice Interview & Giveaway: Kerri Kokias on Snow Sisters!

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

In addition to covering publishing news pertaining to Native creators for Cynsations, I am excited to shine a spotlight on fellow Epic Eighteen authors and illustrators, all of whom have a debut picture book coming out in 2018.

One of the first releases from our group is Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White (Knopf, 2018).

From the promotional copy:

Just like snowflakes, no two sisters are alike, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work together to make the perfect snow day! 


When snowflakes fall, two sisters react very differently. One is excited and the other is wary. The first sister spends the morning outdoors, playing until she’s all tuckered out. Meanwhile, the second sister stays indoors, becoming ever more curious about the drifts outside. 


Soon, they switch places, and spend the second half of the day retracing each other’s footsteps. But each sister puts her own unique spin on activities like sledding, baking and building.
     
Since winter has descended upon most of the nation, I thought it would be the perfect story to start off this series.

Upon reading Kerri’s book, I noticed how the marriage of her text and Teagan’s art come together seamlessly. 

And although my sister and I both loved to play in the snow as kids, I appreciated how the book shows the differences between the way they interact with snow, the winter scene and, more generally, navigate the world. I related to that so much, yet it’s not an experience I’ve seen so well featured in a picture book.

Kerri, what was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Kerri at Snow Sisters! book launch
Snow Sisters! was initially inspired by its structure. 
I wanted to write a story as a reverso poem, meaning featuring mirrored language.

I played around with several different story ideas over a long period of time before landing on this particular story. 

The text for Snow Sisters! builds up to the middle of the story and then repeats itself backwards for the second half of the piece.

The two sisters’ stories are told parallel to each other with the first sister’s story unfolding on the left panel of each spread and the second sister’s story unfolding on the right. 

The sisters’ stories themselves are also in reverse language of each other. Using this structure where the same words are used in opposing ways seemed to suit the story of two sisters who are different and yet connected.



What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in writing this story?

Because of its unique structure, described above, writing Snow Sisters! was very much a logic puzzle. Any minor change I made affected other parts of the book. 

Kerri’s Post-it Note work board

Because of this I pretty much wrote this story on Post-it Notes. I laid them out on a tri-fold board so I could see the whole story at once and easily reposition or change text. Each spread started with a column of Post-it Notes for the text on the left panel and a column of post-it notes for the text on the right panel. 

Aside from wrestling with word order, I had to figure out how to develop character and plot within this mirrored structure. 
I spent a lot of time playing around with specific word choice and ways that the words could have different meanings for each sister. 
My favorite picture books are ones where the text and illustrations work together to tell the complete story; where they each bring something to the book that the other does not. 
So, it was natural for me to envision how the illustrations could work with this structure. 
As an author, I needed to figure out the story, but I didn’t need to be limited by the text spelling it all out. So yes, my manuscript has a lot of illustration notes. Not art direction, more like stage notes. 
I added columns of post-it notes indicating parts of the plot and character development that could be portrayed in the illustrations.

Once I had editorial interest, my editor, Katherine Harrison, also helped me draw out ways each sister’s action could build off the other’s to help them connect during the parts of the story where they are apart. More columns of Post-it Notes!

Seriously, I probably should have dedicated this book to 3M.

An important takeaway for me was that in some ways, this very limiting structure also had a way of freeing up my creativity by narrowing my focus.

What did Teagan White’s art bring to your text?

Teagan White’s art brought my text to life! Without the illustrations, there would be no story. 

The text for Snow Sisters! is very sparse, 58 words total, all repeated at least once. I gave my editor the manuscript and Teagan worked her magic and returned a book. 
I suspect there were more people involved, and perhaps in addition to magic, Teagan also used her talent and training and put in a good deal of time. But for someone like me who thinks visually, but has no ability to represent her ideas physically, it’s all magic! Just look! 
Here is a spread of the manuscript I turned in….
 and the finished spread. Magic! 
 
Cynsations Notes

I agree with Kerri’s assessment and loved Teagan’s magic in creating the art for this book. Check it out where you buy books or request it from your local library.

Kerri Kokias [Ko-KAI-us] credits most of her story ideas to her “fly on the wall” personality. 
This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper. She lives in Seattle with her family.

Learn more about Kerri on her website. Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

Learn more about Teagan White and her children’s illustrations on her website. Or connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Enter below for a chance to win a copy of Snow Sisters! in a giveaway.

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga will be published by Charlesbridge on Sept. 4, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

No purchase necessary. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on Feb. 15, 2018 and 12:00 AM on Mar. 1, 2018.  Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about Mar. 1, 2018. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.