Celebrate! A Happy Book of Firsts
Written by Janet Lawler
Illustrated by Brittany Baugus
Feiwel & Friends, 2022
Friends, I am so excited to welcome Janet to my blog to help her celebrate a new book birthday! Let’s jump right in to hear more from Janet.
Welcome, Janet! I am so happy to have you back on my blog. Today you are visiting with great news about the book release of your newest picture book, Celebrate! A Happy Book of Firsts (Feiwel & Friends, October 25, 2022). Congratulations! What inspired this story?
Sometimes I have a very specific recollection about what inspired a story, but I don’t for this one. I do remember having a simple idea that it would be fun to write about animals doing something for the first time and imagining how they might celebrate those accomplishments. I thought it could be a unique approach to the celebration of human “firsts.” Once the idea grabbed me, I took off writing about a bunch of different animals. I eventually narrowed my random ponderings to animals that are in a rural setting.
That sounds like a wonderful way to begin and complete a picture book story! Write it all out (brainstorming, one of my favorite things to do), then narrow down the focus…
The illustrations are just right. What was your process of working with illustrator Brittany Baugus? Did you suggest any art notes or have any input about illustrations?
As is the case with most traditionally published picture books, I did not work directly with the illustrator. I had early e-mail and Zoom dialogues with my editor at Feiwel & Friends, Anna Roberto, to discuss approaches to the book’s illustration. She wanted to include illustrations of a child in juxtaposition with the animals and, possibly, have me add text about the human firsts. I felt that adding text would make the rhyming story too long and create issues over what firsts to write about. We ultimately decided on adding the child accomplishments in the art only, expanding the story visually.
Once we’d settled on a vision, Anna shared a couple of illustrator samples, and I fell in love with the warmth and whimsy of Brittany Baugus’s work.
I was shown early sketches. Brittany had created a substory with a young child that complemented my text. I encouraged a bit more clarity in the child’s stages of growth and diversity in the family illustrations. My comments, along with feedback from the editorial and art folks at Feiwel & Friends, were addressed in the final art that delightfully depicts a 0–3 child experiencing little milestones, spaced among illustrations of adorable animal firsts.
Wow, the process really worked well for you and Brittany!
How long did it take from your initial idea to publication of this celebratory picture book?
I don’t have an exact date for when I began to work on the manuscript. Early versions predate a revision dated in 2011, so it is likely that I began writing this in 2010. So, a dozen years from idea to publication. Wow!
Amazing! But time (and patience) made this book perfect!
Do you have any special plans to celebrate the book birthday of Celebrate! A Happy Book of Firsts?
I am very happy that this book releases on a Tuesday! My critique group meets on Tuesdays, and we have a tradition of opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate a book sale or publication. Since this book was sold during the pandemic, when we could not raise glasses together in person, I am planning to pop that cork (and one on a nonalcoholic option) with my dear colleagues on October 25th.
How exciting! That is a wonderful tradition! Sip a glass for me!
As always, I like to ask authors and illustrators to share a tip for picture book writers who are seeking to get their books published. What is one of your favorite revision tips??
Always, always read your work out loud! And ask someone else to read it out loud while you listen with your eyes closed. Do your words sing? Does a reader stumble? This will highlight problem areas, even issues with pacing and plot. After all, picture books are meant to be read out loud, so this will help you make your text the best it can be for its intended audience.
What else are you working on right now?
I am revising a rhyming primer for the youngest bird watchers. It is so important to spend time outside with little ones and foster their curiosity about the natural world. And I love birds!
I am a bird watcher (though much older than “the youngest” bird watchers)! As my husband and I travel, I constantly refer to a bird identification book I keep in the passenger door pocket. A well-loved and falling apart copy. I can’t wait to read your bird primer!
Surprise us! What else would you like to share?
During the darkest days of the pandemic, I worked on an inspirational text for kids. It raised my spirits and kept me hopeful. I am super excited that Farrar, Straus and Giroux will publish There’s No Place Like Hope next fall. It is illustrated by Tamisha Anthony.
Yay for you! That sounds like something we can all read (and need to read). Congratulations!
Janet, thank you so much for visiting with us and sharing about your new book, Celebrate! A Happy Book of Firsts! Thank you for the advice. 😊 Best wishes with all of your books!
Book buddies, be sure to check out Celebrate! A Happy Book of Firsts. Find a copy at your local indie or favorite bookstore and ask for your library to order a copy. Don’t forget to show some author love by leaving a review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. Thank you!