Hi Cathy! When we met a few years ago at NJ-SCBWI’s annual conference, we instantly became friends. I’m so excited to share another one of your wonderful picture books on my blog—and even more excited to chat with you about writing!
Thank you so much, Jennifer. I am so happy we met at that conference. The NJ SCBWI conference is a wonderful experience, and one of the reasons for that is the people you meet. I’m so happy we met and became friends.
Congratulations on Chip and Curly: The Great Potato Race! I can’t get enough of the clever puns. The supporting characters are some of my favorites! Couch potatoes? Tater tots? Sweet potatoes as cheerleaders? Yes, please! Tell me about your drafting process from initial idea to final version. Did the story change much?
This is a great question. And, yes, the story changed drastically from the first draft to the final draft. And drastic may be an understatement. Let me try to give you a simple overview:
1st draft – didn’t have any potato characters or potato puns in it. Initially, I envisioned this story about two children, one who was better than the other at everything.
3rd draft – I decided to make the characters potatoes. I was inspired by an Annual Potato Festival that is held near my hometown every fall. Once I made the decision to make the characters potatoes, the story became about one potato being pretty good at a lot of sports, but the other potato was even better. The title at that point was HOT POTATO.
The next several drafts started with one potato being better than the other potato at just about everything.
Eventually, I streamlined the story to focus on one thing – a sack race.
Around draft 8 or 9, I started adding potato puns. And once I started with the puns, they just kept on coming. I wanted to have fun with the language, but I didn’t want to put any potato words into the story just for the sake of putting them in. If they seemed forced, I didn’t want to include them.
Another thing that changed along the way was the ending. In many of the drafts, the story ended with Chip and Curly busily practicing together for the relay race. However, several editors asked me to include a twist and surprise ending, so that’s what I ended up doing.
The illustrations by Joshua Heinsz are so playful and really bring the characters and storyline to life. My kids love looking at the little details like Russet Blvd. and Fry Ave. Did you have any input on the illustrations?
I am so delighted with the art in CHIP AND CURLY. Joshua is such a sweet person and a talented artist. He added extra details that I didn’t have in my text or art notes, like the ones you pointed out that are on the opening spread. I was curious to see how he would illustrate potato characters, and when I saw the first set of sketches, I remember giggling out loud. I love Chip and Curly’s headbands and athletic socks, and I especially love the Waffle Fries. I love the endpapers, too! I didn’t really have much say with regard to the illustrations, although my editor shared several versions of the art with me before the book was published.
The layout of the book reads like a race, weaving across the page. Was that your vision or an editorial decision? Either way, it adds suspense and fun to the reading experience! How did it feel to finally hold the book in your hands?
I’m so tickled that you pointed this out, Jennifer. When I first saw how the text was laid out, I was over the moon. I love the designer’s use of different colors for the text, and the way the text weaves across the pages and around the pictures. It’s amazing how many people collaborate on a book, and the final product is really a group effort. I don’t think I ever realized how many people at a publishing house have a hand in the making of a book. It’s truly wonderful! I am so happy with this book. I love the size of it, the bright colors, and the adorable characters. I can’t tell you how much my heart soars when I see and hear someone pick it up and laugh.
You spend every day surrounded by books and children as an elementary school librarian. What kind of special moments have you shared with students reading one of your books?
It has been such a fun, rewarding, and memorable spring. Beginning with the start of the school year, I announced to my students that I had two books coming out. I incorporated some build up for each book’s release. With Cavekid Birthday, I had students do a cave art activity using paper bags, chalk, and stencils to look like the images on the Cave of Lascaux. I then displayed their cave art at my Cavekid Birthday book launch. There were several cavekid games at the launch along with two caves for students. They were able to crawl in the caves and draw on the inside of one of them. For CHIP AND CURLY’s release, I did a game where kids were on TEAM CHIP, TEAM CURLY, or TEAM SHOESTRING and they had to answer questions about potatoes. I also had kids decorate potatoes like book characters. They did a spudtacular job. I was really blown away with their creations. With some classes, we played Hot Potato. I even had a sack race at a school I visited, and that was a ton of fun. One other thing I’ve done after reading my book is I’ve asked students to think about a sequel. I ask them to pretend they are a writer and they are going to write a second book focused on the relay race between Chip and Curly and the shoestring fries. I ask them to think about who they would have win and why. Some interesting discussions have taken place.
Can you share any advice for picture book writers looking to find an agent?
It’s hard to find an agent, and I realize that the hunt for one can get discouraging. I think networking is always helpful. One way to network with them is by attending conferences and signing up for agent pitch sessions and critique sessions. Another way is to follow agents on Twitter in order to get a sense of their personality type, their taste in books, and even their agenting style. Some agents post their manuscript wish lists online, so be sure to search for those wish lists and make sure they are current. Looking at information on QueryTracker can be helpful as well as looking at information on Publisher’s Marketplace. Meeting and interacting with an agent in person (at a conference or through an online course, webinar, or critique) is always helpful. It will give you a chance to get to know them a bit, and they will also get to know you.
For more information about Cathy, including some wonderful curriculum guides, activity kits, and book trailers, please visit her website: www.cathybreisacher.com