Great Books

Picture Book of the Day

Looking for the Easy Life
by Walter Dean Myers (Author) and Lee Harper (Illustrator)

Booktalk: Life’s pretty good for the monkeys on Monkey Island, but one of the monkeys wants more. He doesn’t want to do any work at all…

Snippet: “Good is okay,” said Oswego Pete. “But if I become Chief Monkey, I will lead us to the Easy Life, where a monkey don’t have to work hard for nothing. All we have to do is lay back and relax!”

5 Great Pumpkin Books

Marley and the Runaway Pumpkin
by John Grogan (Author) and Richard Cowdrey (Illustrator)
Marley’s family wants their giant pumpkin to win a prize at the fair, but Marley sends the pumpkin on a wild ride! Level 2 easy reader

Mystery Vine: A Pumpkin Surprise
by Cathryn Falwell (Author, Illustrator)
This pumpkin growing story ends with recipes and projects to try at home. Picture book

Pick a Perfect Pumpkin: Learning about Pumpkin Harvests
by Robin Koontz (Author) and Nadine Takvorian (Illustrator)
Take a trip to a pumpkin farm. Picture book

The Pumpkin Mystery
by Carol Wallace (Author) and Steve Bjorkman (Illustrator)
Scruffy and Mocha, the cat and dog, help the children grow pumpkins for Halloween. Easy reader

Whooo’s That?: A Lift-the-Flap Pumpkin Fun Book
by Kay Winters (Author) and Jeannie Winston (Illustrator)
See whoo’s hiding behind the pumpkin in this rhyming book of Halloween fun. Lift-the-flap book

Chapter Book of the Day

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale
by Carmen Agra Deedy (Author), Randall Wright (Author), and Barry Moser (Illustrator)
256 pages

Booktalk: Skilley, an alley cat with an embarrassing secret, longs to escape his street-cat life. Tired of dodging fishwives’ brooms and carriage wheels, he hopes to trade London’s damp alleyways for the warmth of ye olde Cheshire Cheese Inn. He strikes a bargain with Pip, an erudite mouse: Skilley will protect the mice who live at the inn, and in turn, the mice will provide Skilley with the thing he desires most.

But when Skilley and Pip are drawn into a crisis of monumental proportions involving a tyrannical cook, an unethical barmaid, and a malevolent tomcat, their new friendship is pushed to its limits. The escalating crisis threatens the peace not only of the Cheshire Cheese Inn but also the British Monarchy!

Unbeknownst to Skilley and Pip, however, they have a secret ally: a famous author who scribbles away many an afternoon in ye olde Cheshire Cheese Inn…

Snippet: Something a bit different today, a blog tour interview with Margaret Quinlin, the editor of this book. (She is also the President and Publisher of Peachtree Publishers.)

Margaret Quinlan
Margaret Quinlan (photo by Mark Blevis)

Q. When did you start editing?

A. I have been editing since I started in publishing over 35 years ago. I started in scholarly and medical publishing and was trained as a technical copy editor at Elsevier Publishing Company. My college degree was in general studies with heavy emphasis in mathematics and art. I had originally planned to continue my studies in architecture, but got sidetracked by publishing.

I discovered that publishing, especially book development, is a lot like designing a building—conceptually these fields are strongly related for me, and so I found it easy to transition to the idea of building books instead of buildings.

I also come from a family that highly values books and language. In fact, when my mother went into labor with me, her first-born, she and my father were in the process of moving and my father had filled the back seat of his car with stacks of books. He wedged my mother into the front seat and sped to the hospital with books flying around her head. I seem to have been embedded with books my entire life. But growing up I differed a bit from my siblings in that I steered toward math and art, while they mostly chose literature. I liked the certainty of mathematics, and still do.

So, my background in editing was heavily in medical and educational reference and text books before I came to Peachtree. My tendency to focus on logic and structure served me well in editorial development of these books. I was also always thinking of the reader. How will the reader interpret this?

Conceptually a reader enters a book much as she would a house, and brings certain expectations and assumptions with her. I encouraged authors to consider an ideal reader and the knowledge and background and interests she brings to the experience of the book. And also the self interest! Readers like to think a book is written just for them.

I still believe in this philosophy of book development. Published books are intended to reach or resonate with a public, and thinking about the reader is an important part of the process of development.

Carmen Agra Deedy

But I don’t advise this focus on the reader in the development of literary fiction beyond a beginning understanding of the likely age range of the reader. I think this is much more a purely creative effort of the author until the arc of the story is fully developed and a good draft of the work exists. Then it makes sense to me to go through the work to think about the ideal reader and how he might experience the work. This was the case with The Cheshire Cheese Cat development. Carmen and Randall were having so much fun writing and researching the book. They had a good strong arc developed for the story and were piecing together scenes that advanced the storyline and further developed the characters. Here I felt it would be counterproductive to impose limits on their creativity (as far as the ideal reader was concerned). Instead I focused my feedback on the scene and character development.

Q. Describe your editing process.

A. My art background drew me to picture books when I came to Peachtree. I had been introduced to children’s literature in my development of educational textbooks. At Peachtree, we had an opportunity to publish some children’s books in the late 80s and we did so, fortunately at a time when children’s publishing was going through a renaissance and great growth spurt.

The picture book is an art form that I truly love. It is not just the art, although I consider that to be so extremely important. It is the text as well. And it is also how the text appears on the page in relation to the art. It must merge into the art and coexist with it. This is the big challenge of the picture book in my mind: getting the text just right—the right amount of words, and their placement on the page, and always striving for exceptional art and artistic interpretation.

Developing picture books is an iterative process. You begin with the author’s story or central idea and it must be strong and communicated well. And you cannot really trim the text too much at the outset, I believe, because you want to communicate to the artist the fullness of the story as the author created it.

I also believe one needs to think about storyboarding. We generally do this in-house before we send a picture book to an artist because in doing this we learn more about the text and its natural scenes and possible relationship to the illustrations. When the sketches are returned, we combine them with the text as a first comprehensive look at the final formulation. Often here we see places where we need to focus more on text or reinterpret illustrations.

Then again when the final art arrives and is placed with the text in the layouts, the text is studied carefully and often is further trimmed in those places where art is producing meaning. Once the words and art seem just the right balance, then we study how the words fit with the art visually. Developing a very good picture book is an involved and time consuming process, and one that brings rich creative rewards for all involved.

I don’t have a lot of time for editing these days. I must look broadly at all the aspects of our company, from editorial/production to sales/marketing/publicity and finance. Being a good editor requires being able to go down deep into a work and maintain a focus on it so it comes alive in your mind. I have found that time hard to come by. But I am fortunate that I have wonderful colleagues on the editorial side who collaborate with me on projects. And we are very collaborative at Peachtree. We are our own first, tough readers for each other’s projects. We expect our editorial colleagues to tell us if something is bothering them about a manuscript. We may not agree, but the perspective is valuable. It is also very easy to get sucked into a project, to get so close that you lose perspective. We look to our colleagues at Peachtree to help us maintain perspective all the way through to the very last proof.

My editing style changes with the personality of the author. In general , I believe that it is better to encourage the author to find the right answers to problems in the work.  Rather than giving solutions, I ask questions about plot or characters, sequencing of scenes. Or I listen as the author tells me what she imagines and why.

I think one of the most challenging areas of development in a literary work is the arc—getting it just right. The ending is also often difficult for authors. These challenges apply to picture books as well as longer fiction. Years ago someone told me not to leave my footprints in a manuscript (as editor). I think about that advice quite a lot. The antidote to this is to think about the reader. And in the end, I always come back to the reader and how she might react to a work.

Q. Tell us about your most recent project.

A.  My most recent project was The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale. Carmen Deedy had told me about the story idea for this book years ago, after she returned from a trip to London with her girls. She was so excited by her visit to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a literary pub. I knew she wanted to move to longer fiction and she has some wonderful ideas for future books. But we were also knee deep in picture books at the time, in particular Martina the Beautiful Cockroach and 14 Cows for America, and she had not moved  too far along with this project until she happened to have a wonderful conversation with Randall Wright about her ideas when she was visiting Salt Lake City for a writers conference. Randall was a huge Dickens fans and had published several books of longer fiction, and loved her story. They decided to try to work on it together. And it worked beautifully for them.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheesepub

The manuscript evolved in very exciting ways. One of my favorite developments was the introduction of a raven named Maldwyn from the Tower of London. This was such a terrific character that at certain stages he threatened to overwhelm the others! Another aspect of the work that posed potential problems at certain points in development was the inclusion of Dickens as a character. We talked a lot about his role, and I am very pleased with where things ended up. Dickens is now nicely woven into the plot and narrative, and then also stands apart in his journal entries. The journal entries relate the story in the inn to Dickens’s own literary work and his attempts to finish A Tale of Two Cities, and the entries also reveal some things happening in the inn that are important to the story line and character development and are better told by Dickens from his vantage point.

Throughout the book’s development, Carmen and Randall kept going back over the manuscript, refining the story, plot, characters, and language. They had great fun with the language and it got fairly sophisticated. Once the manuscript was in a strong draft, close to final in terms of the story, scenes, and characters, we turned our attention to the level of the language and after a good deal of discussion went back into the work with a focus on language level for middle grade readers ages ten and up. We did not want to eliminate great words. But we made sure the words were understandable in context. And we looked at every chapter to be sure there were not too many difficult words in any one section. We all knew it was really important that the story momentum be strong. And I believe that it is.

Randall Wright

At this point, my colleague Vicky Holifield took the lead with line editing and later copy editing. She is a superb editor and made many wonderful recommendations that strengthened the work. We collaborated closely in the line editing stage, because I had been the one working with the authors prior to line editing and I knew the reason for many of their decisions.  This allowed her to transition to working directly with the authors herself.

I think I read this manuscript about 300 times over its development. It is truly one of the most challenging and enjoyable projects that I ever undertook. That has a lot to do with Carmen and Randall, who are great and creative authors. Carmen and I have worked together on her books for twenty years and we know each other very well, and respect each other ‘s instincts. That closeness between editor and author is a great gift when developing a book.

I feel very privileged to have worked on this book, with Carmen and Randall, and later with Barry Moser on the typography and book design and the illustrations. My talented colleague, our art director Loraine Joyner, stepped in and collaborated on the final layout and typesetting as well as placement of the illustrations and creative styling of type, at which she is very adept. Loraine and I and Vicky Holifield have worked together for several decades and it is always a very satisfying experience to collaborate with them.

Barry Moser

This book has been a high point for me in my publishing life. I am perfectly happy with it, and feel it is destined to be a classic. Of course, only time will tell, and readers and reviewers will be the ultimate judges. So far, I am very heartened by the response of children to the book, especially eleven-year-olds. They are the perfect age for it.

Thanks for a wonderful interview, Margaret. I’m pleased to be a part of this tour.

Dear Readers, here are the other stops on this week’s Cheshire Cheese Cat blog tour.

Monday 10/3: A Word’s Worth and From the Mixed Up Files…

Tuesday 10/4: There’s a Book and Through the Looking Glass

Wednesday 10/5: Chapter Book of the Day and Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Thursday 10/6: Not Just for Kids

Friday 10/7: Peachtree Publishers

BONUS! Visit the Cheshire Cheese Cat webpage for news and games!

And… I’ll select one name from the blog comments for a BOOK GIVEAWAY! (U.S. residents only.)

Literary Links

Last 2011 picture book workshop! Intensive Picture Book Workshop Oct 5-Nov 23 starts today! (online)

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