Laurel Snyder's CHARLIE & MOUSE

Charlie and Mouse
The story behind the story
by Laurel Snyder
illustrated by Emily Hughes

      I’m almost afraid to share the story of how Charlie and Mouse were born, because honestly, it’s been a fantasy experience. Nothing else I’ve written has been so easy, or broken the “rules” in so many ways.
Rule 1: You think your kids (or grandkids, or nephews/nieces, etc.) are amazing and adorable, but that doesn’t mean they’ll make a good story, or that other people will care about them.

Rule 2: Dreams rarely inspire good books. They don’t make as much sense to other people as they do to you.

Rule 3: You can’t expect a book to just slide out finished. Books take time and effort. Be patient with them. Do NOT send your editor something new, until you’ve had time to sit with it.

Rule 4: Your book won’t look on the page like it does in your head. You rarely get to pick your illustrator, and even if you do, she can’t channel the pictures in your mind.

Rule 5: Don’t expect to pitch a series. Write a good standalone, and see what happens.
     The way it happened was this— like many folks, I often posted about my kids to Facebook, when they would do funny or goofy things. And people would comment on those posts often, saying, “You should write a book about this stuff.” Of course, I knew better than to try that (see rule 1), for a long time.
      Then one day, a bookish friend (Hi, Susannah!) was visiting, and we took a walk in my neighborhood, which is a pretty special place. She commented that nobody writes “neighborhood” books anymore, and that I should write about Ormewood Park. That planted a seed.
      And one night shortly after that, I woke up at 3:00 AM, after a dream about my kids, and I JUST KNEW I needed to scribble it down. I got up, went to the couch, and wrote a handful of “Mose and Lew” stories, all in a rush. Which I sent immediately, sleepless at dawn, to my then-new editor at Chronicle (hi, Melissa!)
      To my shock, she bought them! And then, when she asked me who I wanted to illustrate, and I said Emily Hughes, that worked out too! So much so that people who know me ask all the time how Emily did such a good job of capturing my actual family.
      Of course, as always, there was a lot of editing. We cut stories from each book, and tweaked and fiddled with both the text and the art, and then the book got pushed back a year. It’s not like it was all totally smooth sailing. But this has definitely been the easiest writing I’ve ever done, and the easiest submission experience I’ve ever had.
(This is Laurel's writing shed, although she admits she usually writes on the couch because it's lonely out there.)
      One thing that did change in the revision process was that we renamed the kids. That was my editor’s idea. She said that she wasn’t sure Mose and Lew would like having an early chapter book series named after them, as they got older. She thoughtfully suggested that we ask Mose and Lew to pick names for “their” characters. So Mose picked Charlie, and Lew picked Mouse.
      All the other characters in the book kept their real names. All the kids who live on Woodland are real people—Lilly and Helen and Sam and Max and Jack and Tess and Lottie and Marley and Spenser and Nora Ann and Baby Sylvia. And our grownup neighbors too—Miss Margaret and Mr. Eric and Mr. Michael.
      Sometimes I share this story with kids, and they ask me a funny question. They want to know, “Is it fiction or non-fiction?” I’m not quite sure how to answer. In truth, the events of the story aren’t exactly factual. Mose and Lewis never actually dug up the rocks in Margaret’s garden. But the essence of the book is true. The tone of it (I hope) captures what our family feels like, and the wonderfulness of our neighborhood. This is probably the closest I’ll ever get to writing a memoir.
      So there you have it—a “path to publication” story to make everyone gnash their teeth! I wrote about my own adorable quirky kids, inspired by a dream, and sent the manuscript, unrevised, to my editor, and now it’s a series, complete with my favorite illustrator! Totally unfair.
      If it’s any consolation, I wrote hundreds of rejected manuscripts before this one, and I’ve written a good twenty or thirty failed manuscripts since this one. But I guess every now and then, the universe grants a wish, a dream come true, and Charlie and Mouse has been mine.
      Which just goes to show. There really are no rules to publishing. Or rather, sometimes there are rules waiting to be broken…

Charlie & Mouse, Chronicle Books, on Goodreads, ISBN#1452131538

Bookmarks 2017

Today was the 2017 Bookmarks Fair. I didn't participate last year because of deadlines, so I really want to do something for it this year. Besides, I'd never done this sort of thing with my art really - packaging it up in cellophane sleeves as prints and cards for sale. So I wanted to know what was involved. Also, I knew that whatever I didn't sell at Bookmarks, I could put in the store during our graduation show. It seems the moment you present your artwork this way, it takes on a whole new level.
All the MA and MFA students shared 1.5 tables, so it was crammed silly with all our creations.
There were more tables this year, and it felt like more of a crowd, especially at the beginning.
We took turns manning the table while the others checked out the wares throughout the Fair. I had fun gushing about all my classmates' work - zines, cards, buttons, books, calendars, prints, postcards, etc.
We rotated quite a bit, but here are some of the gang - Von, Julija, Katie, Nadee. Not shown are Yifei, Harriet, J, Boris, Ann-Kathrin, and Vicky.
Katie did portraits during the event.
She did several of us in the studio before the Fair to show as examples. I think she nailed us!
Here's Katie with Julija and her portrait.
Some of us made a few pounds, although most of the damage was done buying each other's work. All said, it was a fun thing to do and a lovely event to hang out with friends. #ECABookmarks2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Art is for Everyone!

     In light of recent budgetery suggestions, I think it's important to remember that Art is Everywhere and Art is for EVERYONE!CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Sunshine in Edinburgh

The irony is that the last post I did about spring arriving went live on a day of terrible weather. But such is the tease of spring. This past weekend was gorgeous once again, absolutely gorgeous!The florist on the walk home was well-stocked.
Then, I returned from the uni on Friday to find Stan well into the process of grilling hamburgers on a £2 grill in the parking lot in front of our flat. (You may have seen this on my FB page in the moment.)
The hamburgers were AMAZING!
The next day Stan and I just wanted to be out, so we meandered down Leith Walk for lunch on the dock at Teuchters.
People had come out of the woodwork to soak up the Vitamin D.
Controversial topics were off limites today, except for in the windows.
From Leith we slowly wandered back up Leith Walk, watched over by Queen Victoria.
Everywhere there were crowds of people sitting or standing outside diners, cafes and pubs.
With their dogs, of course.
Happily, before we reached the flat, we ran into a new friend from the Big Book Crit the other night. So we stopped for one last sun soak and fun conversation before heading home.
     Granted, I worked from home on Sunday. But the sun was shining in all the windows and it was lovely to know that spring was indeed waiting just outside. Perhaps it will stick around this time!


Remember I told you about my fellow classmate who was giving a TEDx TALK this year? Well, it's now live on YouTube! Click the image to watch Silvia Razakova talk about "The Danger of the Obvious."

The Big Book Crit

Last night I attended the Big Book Crit
hosted by
the institute of direct and digital marketing hosted by Story, marketing agency.
     About a dozen Creative Directors (CDs) from top agencies in Scotland and the UK were in attendance to review and offer advice on student portfolios...for FREE. Wow.
     I remember events like this offered by the Graphic Artists Guild in the states, but I don't recall an event like this ever being FREE.
     At my age, I'm not the typical demographic for this event, however, I am indeed a student. Add to that, as I reach the end of my MFA here at the University of Edinburgh College of Art, I've put together an entirely new body of work and a new portfolio, and it has been ages since I've received a portfolio review. (I've given plenty of portfolio critiques, but it's hard to evaluate your own work with objectivity!) I liken my time here at uni as being in a creative chrysalis for the last two years. I also don't know the UK market as far as who the top design firms are, who the top artist representatives are, what they're looking for, etc. I had to go, and I'm so glad I did!
     First, I learned so much about where CDs are going these days to find talent. The top contenders weren't a surprise, like CIA and AOI (which I plan to join as a graduation present to myself soon). However, the big surprise was Pinterest. The site has cleaned up its act since its early days when copyright protection was such an issue. Nowadays, artists can upload an image under a tag like "monkeys." If an art director needs an image of a monkey, they can do a search in Pinterest, find a monkey style they like, and find the artist to hire... all through Pinterest. Who knew!?
     I was also reminded that preferences are completely relative. I had one CD tell me the work in the center of my portfolio was weaker in comparison to the front and back, only to have a later CD tell me my work in the middle was the strongest and blew them away! I had another CD tell me they loved how many different styles I showed because they like to work with a creator who can address many needs, only to have another CD say they preferred a creator to have one identifiable style.
     My take away on that? Just keep creating like crazy and let the market figure out how it wants to label me, rather than the other way around.
     I gave out my card and received many in return. I'm following up with folks today - new potential avenues for freelance work in the future.
     All said, this was an amazing event that came at just the right time for me. As I go forth into the world with this new ideology on how I create, I was given confidence in the strength of my new work and contacts with CDs who might hire me for freelance work. Fabulous!
     Many thanks to Story for hosting the event and being so gracious, as well to idm for putting together such a valuable affair.
     #BigBookCrit #Edinburgh

Friday Links List - 24 March 2017

From The Bookseller: YA Book Prize shortlist announced

From Playing by the Book: Juxtapositions, connections and the impact they have on reading and reviewing

From Artspace: "Don't Quote Deleuze": How to Write a Good Artist Statement

From Mashable: Court settles debate that's divided grammar nerds for decades

Michael Rosen: Curriculum-free zones - let's do it!

From Winning Spelling Bee Words from the Past 50 Years

From Nosy Crow: "What have they done to my library?" - Caitlin Moran's latest column

From Nathan Bransford: How To Know If You Have a Good Editor

From Bookshelf: Help stock donkey-drawn libraries in Somalia

From WNYC: Changing the World With Children's Book "Here, Javaka discusses his award-winning book, "Radiant Child The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquait," the inspiration for the story, and how society can use children's literature to change the world."

Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal on OVER AND UNDER THE POND

I have a treat for you readers - another interview between the author and illustrator! This one is between the creators of OVER AND UNDER THE POND. Enjoy!
A Conversation with
Kate Messner & Christopher Silas Neal

KATE:’s confession time here. I love the art in all of the books in this series, Chris. I was enchanted by the wintry world you painted in Over and Under the Snow and adored the coziness of all the garden residents in Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt. But there’s something about Over and Under the Pond that makes it my unofficial favorite when it comes to your art.
      I love the palette and the perspectives in this one so much, so I’d love to hear a bit about how you approached creating the art for this book when you first received the finished manuscript.

CHRIS: Hearing this makes me so happy. Thank you. It’s my favorite of the series, too. Over and Under the Snow was my first experience making a picture book, and it will forever hold a cozy corner in my heart. I made a lot of growth as an artist and picture book maker with the following Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt. But Over and Under the Pond just came together seamlessly. I had been wanting to work with a water-based environment for a while and when I first heard you were writing about a pond, I immediately conjured up colors and textures that I thought would fit the mood and setting. What excites me most are very specific details like drawing reeds and pebbles and wavy lines. I let those initial thoughts sit in my subconscious until I received your final manuscript many months later. With those bits of tiny details and inspiration in mind, I worked outward into the narrative. Since the basic design and pace had already been established, the first round of sketches for this book were just about trying to block out the basic story and pagination.

      From there, I try to reach beyond what’s expected. I definitely felt more comfortable working with dimension and visual perspective than I did nearly 10 years ago working on Over and Under the Snow. Though the art in this book is still deceptively flat; I try to squeeze a lot out of the one or two visual tricks that I know.
      How was it for you working on the third book in this series? All three books have a similar pace and in each story, we find similar moments, yet each book feels unique. The mood and words in Over and Under the Snow are so perfectly snowy and poetic. Over and Under the Pond feels connected to the other books, but with its own distinct character and rhythm. Was it a challenge to stay fresh and not force the story into the existing framework of the other books?

KATE: I love hearing about your process, especially since one of the things I love most about the art in this book is the sense of movement and stillness - the ripple of the waves and the sense of the wind, compared with that quiet at the end of the story. I felt that way about SNOW and GARDEN, too - that the colors created such strong but quiet feelings in the story.
      I’ve loved working on this series. For me, the joy of a series is that young readers come with an expectation of meeting an old friend - not in the characters, in this case, since each book features a different family - but in the structure and sense of discovery. I began my work on this book with a list of the animals that live in the ecosystem we’d chosen to explore. I wrote their names & behaviors on two different colored Post-It Notes - one color for those that inhabit the world OVER the pond and another for those we’d find UNDER the pond. From there, I thought about the experience of exploring a pond - all the parts of taking a rowboat out for the day, from pushing off, to paddling, to those quiet moments where you sit, stare up at the sky, and wonder. Our editor at Chronicle, Melissa Manlove, has always pushed me to look for the connections between the child’s experience and the more hidden natural world, so that’s something I look for as well. One of my favorite spreads shows the boy in this story pausing to watch a gentle dragonfly that’s landed on his knee, while below the surface, a dragonfly larva attacks its prey. Same creature - different stage - and I love the way your art captures both the quiet of that moment over the pond and the excitement of the hunt down below.
      Some of my other favorite illustrations in this book are the ones that shift perspective - where we see a view from the bottom of the pond, looking up at the boat from below, and also the one from the treetops, looking down.

      Chris, I’m curious as to whether you have favorite spreads, too? Or maybe a favorite animal?

CHRIS: Using a chart is such a great way to start a project. There are so many neat creatures in this book and I imagine there are many other fascinating animals that didn’t make it to the final draft. I have this image of you moving around Post-It notes on your wall and making connections between wildlife above and below—sort of like a detective solving a crime.
      One of my favorite spreads is the loon near the end of the book. Despite the many animals we visit and facts we learn, you make space in the narrative to let the setting, creatures, and human characters just exist and be still. I like to think readers learn through feeling and mood as well as facts. When I look at this spread, I sense the damp air, and hushed wind, croaking frogs and chirping crickets—mosquitoes and moths swarming around a porch light. It reminds me of the many times I’ve stayed at a lake house or near a pond upstate. My initial sketch for this spread was from the point of view of the boy getting out of his boat and looking back at the pond. It was a way to connect with the human characters, but it didn’t give us anything new. By switching the perspective, we get a rare glimpse at the hidden assortment of noisy critters who perform the pond’s evening soundtrack.

      Your opening words when read aloud seem to invoke the sound of paddling through water. “Over the pond we slide, splashing through lily pads, sweeping through reeds.” And in other places, the writing is playful and poetic. I’d love to hear more about how you go from charts and notes to poetry.

KATE: I love that final spread, too, especially the sense of quiet.
      You’re absolutely right about the Post-It Notes! I do end up moving things around, looking for those connections and trying out different ways of letting the story unfold. Once that’s finished, I sit down to write, and while I do pay attention to language and word choice the first time around, most of the poetry happens later, during the revision process. I spend a lot of time reading aloud to see if the music of the story sounds right and playing around with different possibilities. Picture books are so short that the language needs to be super-charged. For me, it takes a lot of read-alouds and rewrites to make a story like this sing.
      One last question for you, Chris… I know that our Over and Under the Snow was your first picture book, and I’ve loved seeing your other books in the world since then. What are you working on now?

CHRIS: Thanks for asking, Kate. I’m lucky to have many projects in the works. In Fall 2017, I will release another self-authored book from Candlewick titled, I Won’t Eat That, about a hungry cat who refuses to eat his dry, drab cat food and instead asks an assortment of wild animals including a turtle, a lion, and a chimp what they eat. The cat finds their food weird, gross and completely disgusting but eventually discovers a meal worthy of the pickiest and finickiest feline. In Spring 2018, I will debut two self-authored board books with Little Bee. One is a mash-up of shapes and animals called Animals Shapes, the other is a mashup of colors and animals called Animals Colors. Beyond that, I’m working with Jennifer Adams and Balzer/Bray on an adaptation of the poem “How Do I Love, Thee?” a bio picture book of Frank Lloyd Wright with Barbara Rosenstock, and a book with author Shelley Moore Thomas which I think will publish in Spring 2019.
      And I’ll ask you the same thing. What projects do you have in the works?

KATE: Wow, that’s a full plate! We’re kindred spirits in that we tend to juggle multiple projects. I’m working on the latest title in my Ranger in Time series with Scholastic - this one’s set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina - as well as a middle grade novel called Breakout, with Bloomsbury. It’s about what happens in a small town when two inmates break out of the maximum security prison, launching a manhunt that brings out both the best and worst in the community and changes the way three kids see their neighbors and the place they call home. And of course, I’m hoping that before long, we might be able to collaborate on another Over/Under nature book, too!

e: Thank you both and I wish you much continued success (and more Over and Under books)!

Signs of Spring!

Days are getting noticeably longer here in Edinburgh and signs of spring are popping up everywhere. It begins with the flower trucks. Gardners fill the pub planters with blooms that will soon be spilling color throughout the city.

The next sign is that the gloves I often find on fence tines are now turning to scarves.

And then there are the daffodils.

They are on the hills.

And in the greenways. (That's Stan in the middle.)

The florists are covered with blooming bulbs, tulips, violets, crocus, lovely.

Yup - spring is in the air and we're anxious to welcome it in all its glory! (As I'm sure the owner of this TR4 is too!)

Coloring Page Tuesday - CROW!

     In honor of my new book written by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, I give you a crow! CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Animal Alphabet Pillows!

I've had such fun sharing items with you through Zazzle, I've decided to share more...
     If you've checked out my updated portfolio recently, you'll have noticed a section called Animal Alphabet. This is a project I started after visiting the Bologna Children's Book Festival last year.

It is made up of blocks and a print and a book, but especially PILLOWS!

The drawings were done in pen and ink and then digitally colored in an off-set screen-printed style. They're meant to look bold and a bit wonky. And I've made them available in my new ANIMAL ALPHABET ZAZZLE STORE! I hope you'll check it out! (Click the image.)