Jeff Mack's AH HA! - Giveaway!

I get a lot of books sent to me now that I do these giveaways. It's helped me understand how a manuscript can jump out at an editor. Even among published books, some stand out more than others. Such is the case with Jeff Mack's AH HA! The text is simple, very simple, with only variations of "Ah-ha!" and "Aahh!" throughout the book. Its the images that tell you how those AH-HAs are supposed to sound. Hands down, it's simply brilliant! Jeff dropped by recently to answer some questions and shared lots of eye candy...

Q. Jeff, congratulations on another brilliant accomplishment - I adore AH HA! How did the idea come to you?
A. Thanks, Elizabeth. Here's how the idea came to me: I had been working on a story about a frog who searches for peace and quiet. Over a few years, I had tried many different plots. In one version, the frog accidentally changes the other animals into monsters with a magic trick. In another, all the animals compete for space on a single rock. Even though I liked some of the ideas, the plots felt too complicated to me. So, one by one, I took out all the extra twists until only the most important parts remained: A frog tries to relax. Each time he thinks he finds a safe spot, we see he's actually in danger. He narrowly escapes, and the cycle starts all over again.

Q. This seems like one of those concepts that comes on strong but takes forever to work out just right. Was it a struggle?
A. It was a little bit of a struggle. The two-letter concept came to me after I had figured out the plot. I had three goals for the text: It had to be useful, interesting, and fun for kids to read aloud. Since the plot is already told with pictures, I chose to have the text show what each character is thinking. That made it useful. To make it fun, I knew it had to contain lots of big emotion. And to make it interesting, I decided to see how simple it could be. I started by having the frog stake his claim to each thing he landed on: "My rock!" "My log!" "My branch!" "Oops. My mistake!" Then I wrote an even simpler version by focusing solely on how each character was feeling. When I finally got down to "Aahh!" and "Ah ha!" I found that those phrases fit each scenario perfectly. Plus, telling an entire story with just two letters was a very interesting bonus for me.

Jeff shared some early storyboards - click on them to see them larger in a new window.

Q. I found AH HA! somewhat reminiscent of Chris Raschka's YO! YES? Was that an inspiration?
A. No, I've never read Yo! Yes? I'll have to look for that. I hope it's not about a frog!

It's not! It's about two boys learning to be friends. Very groovy book too.

Q. AH HA! is so concept driven - how much of the book did you have to create to explain the idea sufficiently to your editor?
A. For AH HA!, I provided my editor, Victoria, with simple cartoon drawings of each page. We had already worked on GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS together so she knew I'd find an interesting way to change the sketches into final illustrations. Plus, she has a great imagination.

Jeff shared a work in progress...

Q. What is your medium? Can you explain how you work?
A. I create each book a little differently depending on the style of storytelling. For CINDY MOO, I used plain-old acrylic paint. For my book THE THINGS I CAN DO, I used crayons and just about anything else I could find including bubble gum, ketchup, and a shoelace. For AH HA!, I drew on paper with markers. Then I scanned them into my computer along with different types of cardboard that I'd splattered paint onto. I used those for textures. Then I colored everything using the computer. I was inspired by looking at examples of 20th-century comic books and 18th-century printmaking. But my process was more like making a collage.

Q. You've created so many beloved titles like GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS, CINDY MOO, and FROG AND FLY - and that's just your picture books! Can you describe your path to publication?
A. Every book takes a different path. Sometimes, I have a conversation with my editor about a rough idea that I eventually develop into a completely different book. That's how my CLUELESS MCGEE series developed. Other times, I carefully plan out my book dummy before I submit it, and it stays more or less the same throughout the process. Both AH AH! and GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS were like that. Each editor has a different method, and each project requires a different approach. Experimentation and serendipity are important to my craft. I have not found one tried and true path for getting all my books published. Not yet, anyway. That's one of the things that keeps my job interesting.

Q. With so many books, you must be a busy guy! How many books do you typically have in the pipeline at any given time? And (if you don't mind sharing) do you have an agent who helps keep it all running smoothly for you?
A. Typically, I juggle three projects at a time. As I write this, I'm working on final art for one picture book, the cover art for another picture book, and some revisions for a 286-page graphic novel/chapter book called CLUELESS MCGEE GETS FAMOUS. I plan out my work schedule, then try to stay focused on what's in front of me each day. My agent, Rubin Pfeffer, helps me coordinate my different project schedules with my editors. Last year, I released three picture books and a chapter book. I have three new books coming out this year and three more books planned for next year. I like to stay busy.

Indeed! This is Jeff's studio while working on CINDY MOO (with his furry assistant McGee.

Thanks so much for stopping by Jeff! It's been lovely and I wish you much continued success!

Chronicle is graciously giving away one free copy of AH HA! to one of my lucky commenters. (Must live in the continental US to win.) Enter below!
a Rafflecopter giveaway


apple blossom said…
share with my nieces they love frogs
Dalis said…
I LOVE the concept of the book! I think my daughter will have a blast, since she loves to make voices while reading.

-- Dalis
alidalis AT comcast DOT net

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