Welcome to our February 2020 blog post! We have such a special treat today! I have always wondered how authors of board books create their craft with such limited space and word count. I am excited to present author Julie Abery to you and her wonderful strategies for writing and showing in her books. Her adorable series, entitled Little Animal Friends, is precious in the hands of readers at every age level.
TS: Hi Julie, Congratulations on your upcoming releases this month with Amicus Ink. Thank you for spending time today sharing your new board books and the process you use to create them.
JA: Thank you for having me on your blog today. I am thrilled to share a little about the Little Animal Friends board book series with you. The next two Littles, Little Hippo and Little Monkey, illustrated by Suzie Mason and published by Amicus Ink launch in a few short weeks, 25 February 2020.
TS: Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements.
JA: My first board book, Little Tiger, started life as a list of tigerish vocabulary. When I sat down to write a story for Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words contest in 2016 (www.viviankirkfield.com), this is what I saw:
Don’t you love ‘chuffing’ – it’s a snorting sound that tigers make! Sadly, it didn’t make the final story, but what I saw in this list was lots of action, visual, and sensory words. Paper Tiger became Little Tiger and the -ing verbs became rhyming lines two and three of my quatrains.
on the jungle floor.
Each book is based on the principle that baby animals act just like our human little ones – all about action and exploring, and sometimes overstepping the line, so these action words are key!
The books have a consistent structure, but each animal has its own adventure. They have a maximum of 80 words over the 10 spreads. The first line of each quatrain is fixed, Little Tiger, Little Panda, Little Hippo, Little Monkey etc. Then each spread follows a similar pattern with the problem climax on spread 6 and Mama to the rescue on spread 7. I know that generally we aim for the protagonist to solve their own problem, but I felt that as young animals and children grow, they need a helping hand from time to time.
TS: This is really fascinating. We read board books often yet I do not think we are fully aware of the structure. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?
JA: I research each animal before I begin, maybe in the library or online. I also try and find animals from different environments to change the kind of action verbs needed too, and where possible I look for animal specific vocabulary to make my text as authentic as possible. I can often be found with rhymezone.com open on my computer when writing, both as a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary.
TS: That is definitely a great resource. Would you like to share an example of before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?
JA: Absolutely! Little Hippo meets an Oxpecker in his search for a playmate. In real life hippos and oxpeckers have a symbiotic relationship, so this felt like a good match. Spread 3 started life as
finds a playful bird….TELLING
So I changed it too…
finds a red-billed bird…
…much more visual and lovely alliteration. ‘Red-billed bird’ rolls off the tongue, sounds great and describes an Oxpecker beautifully.
TS: You work through this with such preciseness and clarity. What a challenge. Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?
JA: This is a tricky question. You can never be certain that you have everything right, after all editors often ask for revisions. However, with the Littles I know I have a pretty good balance when each stanza moves the story along, the rhyme and rhythm flow fluidly, and the words leave lots of room for the illustrator.
TS: Thank you very much for sharing your gift of words, and I know I for one am excited to try this type of writing. Wishing you every success with the adorable Littles!
Check out Julie’s bio, social media, and find her books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Julie Author Bio:
Julie Abery is a children’s author and former Pre-K teacher. Originally from England, she has spent half of her life living in Europe, bringing up her three (now grown up) children and experiencing new languages and cultures. She now calls Switzerland home.
Julie’s debut board books Little Tiger and Little Panda illustrated by Suzie Mason, published in March 2019 with Amicus Ink. Little Hippo and Little Monkey joined the Little Animal Friends series in February 2020; a nonfiction picture book biography entitled Yusra Swims, Creative Editions, illustrated by Sally Deng in February 2020; a true story THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN, Kids Can Press (Fall 2020) and nonfiction picture book bio SAKAMOTO AND THE SUGAR-DITCH KIDS, Kids Can Press (Spring 2021).
Julie is represented by Essie White of Storm Literary Agency.
Where to find Julie: