This group is overflowing with gorgeous art!
Do you like to write children’s books? Do you know why? There’s no right or wrong answer. We each have our own reasons. We probably have more than one reason, and our reasons can change depending on what we’re writing.
I like to write picture books for lots of reasons. I love how picture books can represent so many things for kids (and adults): They can be windows to the world, mirrors in which to see oneself, gateways to literacy, tools for together time, mini-museums of art, and generators of joy. (Stay tuned for blog posts featuring examples of these.)
Author/Illustrator Damian Synadinos has his reasons, too, for creating his picture book HANK AND STELLA IN SOMETHING FROM NOTHING, a unique story that features improvisation. Today, he’s stopped by to share the inspiration behind the book and to encourage all writers to Start With Why.
Start with the Whys and Improvise!
by Damian Synadinos
I think that understanding Why we do things is important. By “Start with the Whys”, I mean “first try to identify and understand the reasons you want to do something, and then use those reasons to help guide What you do and How you do it.”
When I first considered writing a children’s book, I “started with the Whys”. I asked myself “Why do I want to write a children’s book?”
I eventually identified many reasons, but the main reason was, “to help my kids laugh while they learn”. Like many kids, mine love to do both. However, some children’s books are very entertaining, but not very educational, while other children’s books are very educational, but not very entertaining. And while there is nothing wrong with that, in order to satisfy my reasons, I wanted to write a book that was both entertaining and educational. And, by identifying and understanding my reasons for writing a children’s book, it helped guide me as I determined What to write about (improv – to be educational) and How to write it (as a picture book – to be entertaining).
“Improv” is short for “Improvisational theater”, which is, essentially, creating something from nothing. Players create and perform shows simultaneously and in the moment, without any script, props, or costumes.
My own improv training “Started with the Whys”. On day one, the teacher asked the class, “Why do you want to learn improv?” Over 50 nervous and excited teenagers, young adults, and seniors gave vastly different answers and reasons, such as “to think more creatively and quickly”, “to improve my interactions and relationships with others”, “to boost my self-confidence”, and of course, “to entertain and perform on stage”.
Over the next year, we learned the fundamental principles and skills of improv. Things like “focusing on the present”, “ways to get and explore ideas”, “how to react to accidents and mistakes”, “the importance of practice”, and “the benefits of diversity”. These principles and skills helped each student satisfy their reasons for learning improv. And, improv can help children with the same! The fundamental principles and skills of improv are as useful on stage as they are at play and in life. Improv is a great way to help children develop their imaginations, learn to play cooperatively, increase their confidence, and much, much more.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve performed hundreds of improv shows and even use improv to teach adults various life skills in a variety of contexts. And, I wrote “Hank and Stella in Something from Nothing” to be an entertaining and educational way to introduce my kids (and more!) to improv so they can laugh while they learn.
And so, I encourage new authors to “Start with the Whys” to help guide What and How to write your book!
For more information about “Hank and Stella in Something from Nothing”, visit https://www.hankandstellabooks.com/.
Hello! My name is Damian Synadinos. I’m born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, the father of 2 wonderful kids, an improviser with 10+ years of experience, and the author and illustrator of “Hank & Stella in Something from Nothing”.
Photo from Amazon.
Bio from Damian Synadinos’ site: https://www.hankandstellabooks.com/.
Hey, everyone, it’s almost time for the kids to go back to school! If you’re a parent or a teacher, you already know that, huh? And you probably already know that there are lots of picture books that feature schools. But do you know how to choose the best ones to share?
Multi-published author and educator Alexandria LaFaye stopped by to offer her thoughts on finding the perfect picture books that will help your child navigate a new school year. Be sure to read to the end for a very special giveaway!
Hopping Back into the Classroom:
A Look at Some Great School-Centered Books to Kick off the New School Year
Many kids are itching to get back to school to see their friends, get to know their new teachers, head out to recess, and use those new school supplies—oh and there’s the school work too. Books are a big part of making the beginning of school a great success. The books teachers read help ease kids back into the routine of things or introduce new students to the way things work. For some kids, these books are an essential part of helping them get through their first day jitters.
A Few Great School-Centered Books
My favorite book in this genre is I Love You All Day Long, written by Francesca Rusackas and illustrated by Priscilla Burris, because it reassures preschoolers and kindergarteners that starting school will be a wonderful adventure and that their parent’s love will sustain them all day long.
This year, Priscilla offers a wonderful solo addition to the genre with Hello School, which shows kids how to face their first day jitters while bringing them into a wonderfully diverse and kid-centric classroom.
Ryan T. Higgins takes a hilarious turn at the first day of school scenario with the wonderful We Don’t Eat Our Classmates. Who wouldn’t love a book with a description that starts, ‘It’s the first day of school for Penelope Rex, and she can’t wait to meet her classmates. But it’s hard to make human friends when they’re so darn delicious!’
The “Secret” Formula for a Great School-Centered Book
When creating or selecting school-centered books, it’s essential that they realistically represent the diversity of a classroom, address a child’s emotions in a way that is embedded in the story, and remain true to how a child sees the world, and offer a curriculum-rich environment. It’s also wonderful if the book includes a unique and stereotype-free view of teachers, librarians, and school staff. Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series lampoons the dangers of staff stereotyping to hilarious effect.
No Frogs in School
This fall, I’m throwing my own backpack into the classroom (aka hat into the ring) with No Frogs in School. The story centers around Bartholomew Botts’ love for pets, hoppy pets, hairy pets, and scaly pets too. He loves them so much that he has to bring one to school each day. His classroom guests create havoc, making things tough for Bartholomew’s exasperated teacher, Mr. Patanoose.
In creating this story, I worked to embed the curriculum into the story in a kid-centric way by doing things like having the frog-toting Bartholomew contemplate the complexities of color combining. As he learns that mixing green and yellow makes blue, he wonders how frogs get to be different colors.
Eglantine Ceulemans’ illustrations are fantastic because the class she’s drawn reflects the diversity of the characters I created and the room she’s rendered is so full of wonderful enrichment elements. Not to mention, the quirky kid antics she’s included. It’s because of her amazing artwork that Kirkus said that “each page lends itself to an energetic seek-and-find storytime that promises new discoveries upon multiple reads.”
In the story, I also tried to defy teaching stereotypes by featuring a talented male teacher in an early elementary classroom. The final feature of my book that reflects my vision of a great book for school-aged children is that Bartholomew is from a multi-ethnic family, like so many kids today who don’t often see their families reflected in the books they read.
Classroom Library Building Book Giveaway
To celebrate students, teachers, and the need for inclusive classroom libraries, I’m offering a giveaway of 31 books for a K-2 classroom, including a signed copy of NO FROGS IN SCHOOL.
If you’d like to enter to win, you can visit my Facebook community Sylvanocity and check out the pinned post. I’ll be reviewing books from the giveaway each day in August, so that interested teachers can see the books they might win. The contest runs Aug 1-30th. This collection would be a nice expansion or foundation for an inclusive classroom, which would be a great welcome back to school present for any K-2 teacher.
Care to Host a School Visit with A. LaFaye?
Speaking of schools, I LOVE to visit schools and inspire kids to be life-long readers, to follow their talents, to learn to love writing and revision, and to value every member of their school community. Here’s a sneak peek at A School Visit with A. LaFaye.
I hope you’ll share your favorite school-centered books in the comments below. Let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to hear from you!
For more information about Alexandria LaFaye and her books, please visit her website:
Author/Illustrator: Sophie Shortland
Publisher/Year: ThunderStone Books/2018
Back Cover Blurb: A boy with autism makes a friend who helps him come to terms with the world around him.
A young boy feels isolated and alone. He doesn’t fit in with the kids at school and even has trouble relating to his own family. Everyone seems strange, noisy, and different from him. But one day, he meets a girl who’s very much like him. The two form a special friendship in which there’s no need to talk or even do the same activities. They are happy just to have the company of the other. Being with the girl makes the boy feel less alienated.
In this colorful book, populated with “alien” people, author/illustrator Sophie Shortland has given readers a glimpse of life through the eyes of a child with autism. Interestingly, she chose to depict the boy as human, but everyone else as aliens. It’s important for readers to see the boy this way because it reinforces the message that kids with autism are human beings, deserving of kindness and respect, just like all people.
Though autism is the focus, I believe any child who feels lonely or different, or is shy and has trouble making friends, will connect with this book. Once upon a time, I was such a child. Perhaps a book like this could have helped me to feel a little less like an oddball and a little more like I belonged.
Stop by the Fayetteville Free Library on Saturday, July 21 to chat with me and a spectacular group of local authors from all over Central New York.
Hope to see you there!
Multi-published author/illustrator Airlie Anderson’s latest picture book NEITHER is filled with sweet, adorable characters and lots of glorious color. Is the book super cute? Absolutely! But the story is so much more than that.
Diversity. Acceptance. Belonging. These are the messages, both timeless and timely, shared with readers in this fabulous new book. I love it! And since I’m a fan of Airlie’s other books as well (I especially like CAT’S COLORS), I thought it was the perfect time to feature her here on the Frog. I’m so glad she agreed to an interview! Enjoy!
Q. How did you get your start as a picture book author and illustrator?
A.A. As a child, my favorite activity was drawing. I thought of myself as an artist and was encouraged to keep making art. I had lots of picture books to read, and we thought of them as an important and very special art form. I never stopped reading and collecting picture books. I always knew I wanted to be an author-illustrator, among other things — my middle school yearbook says that I wanted to be a “cartoonist and animal trainer.” I’m not sure what kind of animals I had in mind!
Once I got to art school, I knew right away that the illustration department was my home. I loved the work coming out of there, and the fact that the program included traditional art training. I focused in on children’s books and learned about the publishing business.
After graduating, I worked for a little children’s book packaging company in San Francisco and got some illustration work through them somehow. Looking back on this, I don’t know how that was possible! Two clients seemed to just “discover” me. I realize now how lucky this was. Some years later, after a dry spell, I moved to New York City in search of an agent. I got a job at HarperCollins as a freelance designer and assistant, and saw a little desktop calendar produced by an agency that I just loved. I took note of their contact info and cold emailed them. They signed me on, and I eventually got some sweet book deals that way. There was a lot of zig-zagging (and soul searching) in my progress as an author-illustrator, but my agents and editors along the way have been hugely helpful and inspiring.
Q. NEITHER is about diversity, fitting in, and accepting—even celebrating—each other’s differences. Why was it important to you to write this story?
A.A. The idea for NEITHER started with the desire to draw a combo-creature. I was teaching middle school art at the time, and we had been working on a combo-animal lesson, which was super fun. I had a dream about a creature like Neither, and the process went from there. One of my students from that middle school class is transgender, and his journey had a lot to do with the tone and meaning of this story. His classmates and everyone at school were open-minded and supportive, and the whole experience affected me more deeply than I realized at the time. After the book came out, I reflected on all this and understood where the idea really came from. If someone had tasked me with making a picture book about diversity and acceptance, I would have been overwhelmed! But NEITHER happened in an organic way, starting with that little character (and lots of coffee).
Q. Your use of color is fabulous in all of your books, but I especially love the colors in NEITHER. How did you choose the color palette?
A.A. Oh, thank you! I’m very happy with the way it turned out, too. I usually choose the colors of the main characters first, and then figure out how to make them stand out from the background. I’m very fond of saturated colors (obviously!) and my first tries at these illustrations just looked so busy and…BRIGHT. It was too much. I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, until the designer I was working with, Jen Keenan, said “maybe the backgrounds don’t have to be so saturated.” She also suggested that I use a more lemony yellow for the ground, while the birds are a golden hue. Brilliant! It was a real a-ha moment for me. I could keep my candy-colored palette without sacrificing clarity. Thank you, Jen!
Q. Can you tell us a little about some of the other adorable creatures that appear in the book, such as the Whatnot, the Sort of, and the Either?
A.A. Yes! Whatnot and Sort Of came seemingly out of nowhere, like stream of consciousness beasts. Whatnot is a hippo-corn, I think? And Sort Of is a catbird-o-saur. For some reason, I think of Sort Of as myself. If you look on the page where it says “And all were welcome!” you can see Sort Of with a paintbrush, palette, and pencil behind her ear. I thought about making Neither, the main character, into a catterfly. But Neither just worked better as a bunny-bird, so the catterfly became Either. I love Either and so does my editor Deirdre, who has claimed her as her favorite character in the book!
Q. What do you like best about creating picture books?
A.A. My favorite part of the process is painting. That’s when I feel that all the tough work is done and I have a solid stack of sketches to work from. I just let myself enjoy choosing all the colors and feeling the paintbrush move across the paper. Overall though, I love the idea of creating a whole world inside a picture book. As a child I loved just living inside those pages, and drawing from the characters. I hope I can do the same for other children (and adults!).
Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work?
A.A. Please visit my website: www.airlieanderson.com. You can find links to my instagram, facebook, and twitter accounts there. I’m proud to say that I’m represented by Kathleen Rushall at Andrea Brown Literary Agency — you can find me there, too.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A.A. I am probably preaching to the picture book choir here, but I’m a firm believer that picture books are for every age. It makes me sad to think that kids are not allowed to keep their picture books around because they are “for younger kids.” Of course, as we get older we hope to add big old tomes to our library. (I love big old tomes.) But can’t we keep the picture books, too? I think so. Thank you so much for featuring NEITHER on Frog on a Blog, it’s been fun answering questions!
Thank you, Airlie! It was so great getting to know you!
Hi, Airlie here! I’m the author and illustrator of Neither, Cat’s Colors, Momo and Snap Are Not Friends, and many other children’s books. Feathers in my cap: the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, the Independent Publisher Book Award, and the Practical Pre-School Award. I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and now live in New Jersey.
I create my illustrations using gouache (opaque watercolor) on hot press watercolor paper (the smooth kind). I also doodle aimlessly in my sketchbook whenever I can.
Photo from Amazon. Bio from Airlie Anderson’s website: https://www.airlieanderson.com/