LITTLE RED WRITING by Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet - GIVEAWAY

Since it's NaNoWriMo and Picture Book Month, I wanted to share a book about writing for my younger readers. Then along came the perfect picture book to do the job (frankly, I found it useful too), LITTLE RED WRITING written by the prolific Joan Holub and illustrated by Caldecott honor-winning Melissa Sweet. I'm thrilled to have both Joan and Melissa here today to answer some questions about their new book...

Joan: Thanks, Elizabeth. As the the Wolf 3000 would say, “GRRREAT to be here!”
Q. Ha! Joan, what inspired the LITTLE RED WRITING?
A. The title came first. The riding/writing aspect. In the Grimm fairy tale, Red Riding Hood’s mother tells her to stay on a path as she goes through the forest to her grandma’s house. A pencil physically travels or writes along a path as I convey information or draft a story. So I thought of a red pencil as a main character. Her teacher, a pencil named Ms. 2, tells the class to write a story and stick to a story path. And who else could the wolf be but the growliest pencil sharpener ever made!

Q. Joan, this is such a simple idea, talking about how to write, but it actually looks like it was quite complicated to pull off. Was it?
A. Writing a story about a pencil, who was writing a story about a brave red pencil; and trying to include parts of speech without making the whole book feel teachy! Yikes. It was complicated and my job as an author was to uncomplicate it and make it a fun read. Little Red Writing took longer from idea to publication than any book I’ve written.

Q. Joan, so many authors wonder about including illustration notes in their manuscripts. Did you?
A. Actually, I submitted Little Red Writing to Chronicle books as a full-size dummy! Even though I had no plans to illustrate it. I almost always make a dummy to develop board books, picture books, and easy readers; but not for chapter books or middle grade, which have few illustrations. I don’t know if Chronicle showed the dummy to illustrator Melissa Sweet. Regardless, if you compare my dummy pages to Melissa’s art in the published book, you can see that she did her own thing, which is amazing compared to my scribbles. I have loved her art since I first saw the Pinky and Rex series. (Note that the text on these dummy pages isn’t the final wording in the book.)

Q. Melissa, your collage style is so perfect for this story. How much of the story was sent to you and how much did you run with the idea on your own?
A. From the start, I only saw the manuscript. I just recently learned that there were notes on the art and Joan’s dummy--or if I knew I promptly forgot. This is a case where it was better for me not to see notes or suggestions. I needed time to come to the story on my own to absorb and understand it.
      Because this story has so much wit and humor, I was encouraged to run with it. For example, I created the school newspaper at the beginning of the book to create a bridge from getting to school to being in the classroom. The opportunity to impart visual puns and suspend reality was a ton of fun.
      (Holy Toledo, I just realized that in Joan’s dummy her pencils have legs and the point is their head. I never thought of that!)

Q. Joan and Melissa, truly, this seems to have been a collaborative effort (or like it came from one brain). Was it?
Joan: I love that you think that, Elizabeth! I’ll be interested to see what Melissa says here. Seems to me it was a three-way collaboration between Melissa, me, and our editor. The story was dependent on the art, which was dependent on the story, round and round. So the sketches would reach a certain point, then there would be issues to solve that would come back to me via our editor. I’d write things to address any issues, and make any additional suggestions I had, building on what Melissa had done in her sketches. We’d sometimes talk it out by phone. Once, our editor and I had a difference of opinion on something, so she ran to another department at Chronicle to consult with someone who had more expertise on the subject than either of us to break the tie. Little Red Writing was one of the most collaborative experiences I’ve ever had as a writer, and it was energizing and fun!

Melissa: In fact, as is typical with author and illustrators, Joan and I have not yet met! But it was a good pairing on Chronicle's part.
      It was very collaborative with me, Melissa Manlove (editor) and Kristine Brogno (art director). I knew they were weighing in with Joan and welcomed the feedback.
      It's safe to say it was many brains working as one. I concur with Joan—it was one of my most collaborative books. There was a lot of give and take. (Photos of Melissa's studio...)

Q. Melissa, what was that first moment like when you read the manuscript? Were you intimidated?
A. My first thought was: This is genius. And then: I can't believe I didn't think of this!
     It wasn't until I began making the dummy that some healthy intimidation set in.

Q. Melissa, can you talk a bit more about your method?
A. Making the dummy is imperative to design the pacing and pagination. Melissa M. gave me tons of leeway and we went back and forth making 2 or 3 generations of dummies. My dummies are notoriously loose--I don't want to plan out a book out too tightly. Since each painting needs to work on it’s own and as a body of work, the art begins to inform what it needs as I go along. Meanwhile, I'm looking for which collage materials, papers objects, etc. that will best suit this story, but limiting them.

      I do a lot of work on character development, getting their personalities right. In my process, most of the work happens in these stages. Once I've made enough decisions, I scramble into action and create the art in about 6 weeks of concentrated work.
      I start with pencil, onto watercolor and then the collage, going back and forth and building up the picture. Working in collage has an element of serendipity that I have come to trust. Chaos and mayhem reign.

Q. Joan and Melissa, I know teachers are going to be jumping to use LITTLE RED WRITING in their classrooms. Have you heard from any yet?
Joan: The response from teachers has surprised me in a good way. Our first review came within a day after the book was given to Richie Partington, MLIS of “ . . . a very funny picture book that, I guarantee you, lots of savvy teachers will be eagerly sharing with students as part of the process of teaching creative writing.” Chronicle Books created a pretty amazing teaching guide aligned to Common Core at
Melissa: I have not heard directly from teachers, but I just returned from Texas where the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders clamored for more! The teachers were excited by the guide, so I’ll look forward to hearing more.

Q. Joan and Melissa, can you each share your paths to publication?
Joan: Sure. First, I was an associate art director at Scholastic in New York, designing trade picture books. Then I started illustrating children’s books, and about twelve years ago I began writing full time, which makes me deliriously happy.
Melissa: Before I was published I was making artist’s books—handmade and limited edition books. I submitted artwork to publishers for a number of years before finally taking my portfolio to NYC to meet with art directors. During that trip I was offered to illustrate the Pinky and Rex series. I’ve been making books ever since. It’s still hard to pry me out of my studio.

Q. Joan and Melissa, any words of wisdom for my pre-published readers?
Joan: My wisdom would be to write something that touches your heart or your funny bone. Find and communicate the universal core of your idea, so others will be touched or laugh along with you. And if one door shuts to you in publishing, simply look for another door that’s open.
Melissa: I know your readers hear this all the time, but persistence is key. Work even when it gets very uncomfortable. That when the fun begins.

Thank you both for stopping by!!

Chronicle, the publisher of LITTLE RED WRITING, has kindly agreed to send one free copy to one of my lucky commenters. (Must live in the US or Canada to win.) Sign up below!
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Heather Elizabeth said...

Great post! Thank you so much. I love Melissa Sweet's work.

Dana Carey said...

Love this interview! So great to read the responses of both the author and illustrator and to see their dummy books. Much enjoyed! Thanks, Elizabeth.

June said...

I love the look of this book! Thanks so much for asking such good questions on our behalf. Always a joy to see dummy book sketches, and here we were treated to author and illustrator sketches - double the fun!

Anonymous said...

I have been wanting to read this book for some time now. Thank you for the opportunity to win it.

Mamabelly said...

Great post! I would love to win a copy of the book because I know my kids would love it!

Anonymous said...

This was such a fun post, Elizabeth! I adore Melissa Sweet's picture books and would love to win a copy of this one. And what a clever title and concept! I look forward to reading it. =)

Anonymous said...

This was wonderful! Two of my favorite illustrators!

Stacy Gray said...

I loved this interview! I love hearing about how it came about!

Laurie J. Edwards said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing, Joan and Melissa.

Unknown said...

Little Red Writing so much more useful than pet rocks -- still wish I thought of either or both! I loved reading about the creative process and seeing the dummy examples. Thanks.