Trucks On Tour (plus a Giveaway)

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Can trucks be adorable? They can if they’re the hard-working, road-building crew from Susanna Leonard Hill and Erica Sirotich’s new picture book THE ROAD THAT TRUCKS BUILT, set to be released on July 25. In this fun rhyming story, readers may recognize a familiar rhythm, that of the classic nursery rhyme THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. I’ve asked Susanna to talk a little bit about the process of taking something familiar and turning it into something fresh and new.

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Making Cinnamon Drop Rainbow Raisin Surprise Out Of Gruel

(or, how to take something old and tired (and in the case of gruel, kind of disgusting 🙂 ) and make it fresh, exciting and new!)

by Susanna Leonard Hill

“Mom!” your horde hollers. (Or Dad – I’m not gender stereotyping, just writing from my own point of view… more on that in a minute 🙂 )  “What’s for dinner?”

“Chicken,” you answer.  (Or veggie burgers, pasta, chili, pork chops, soup and salad, salmon, beef stew, or burritos…)

“Not again,” the horde whines.  (Because – as you all know – the only good answer to this question is pizza.  Everything else is old and boring and only to be tolerated because it’s better than starving to death, a danger the horde feels to be imminent every evening!)

You bristle.

You shopped and washed and chopped and diced and put time and effort into a delicious and nutritious meal for them – time you could have spent writing! – and for what?

Ingrates!

You’d think you’d offered them watered-down gruel!

Looking down into their pathetic Dickensian faces – “Only gruel, mum?  Please, mum!  Mightn’t we have something better?” – it dawns on you that there’s another way of serving up dinner.

(And no, it’s not hiring a personal chef or feeding the children out of a trough in the back yard… although both options are tempting 🙂 )

Uh, Susanna?  (I hear you interrupt.)  Do you have a point?  We’re supposed to be talking about writing, not gruel!

Why, yes, in fact, I do. 🙂

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that there are no new stories.

This is a daunting statement if you’re a writer.

Really!

If there are no new stories, what are we supposed to write?

As with the age-old question of what’s for dinner, there may not be anything new… but it’s all in how you serve it up!

Gruel takes on a whole new interest, meaning, and desirability if you put in your own dash of this and pinch of that and present it as Cinnamon Drop Rainbow Raisin Surprise, or Banana Berry Blast Supreme!  Suddenly the horde is front and center at the table, eager to partake.

So it is with writing.

Perhaps it’s true that there are no new stories.  (Perhaps not, but that’s a debate for another time.  The point is it can often feel true when you sit down to write.)

But just because something has been done before, whether it’s peanut butter and jelly or a picture book about bedtime, doesn’t mean that you can’t put a whole new spin on it.

Your spin.

Believe it or not, no one else will tell a story exactly the way you do because you are unique.  You come at everything from your own point of view.  (I told you we’d get back to that in a minute. 🙂 )

You bring your own unique combination of feelings, thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, memories, experience, and dreams to everything you write.  As a result, I could ask 20 of you to write a bedtime story and I would get 20 new and different stories.  They might be similar in concept, but the execution would be unique to the individual – from who you choose as characters, to what the precise problem or goal is in relation to bedtime, to how you resolve the story, to your choice of language and mood.

Because of this, we can take things that have been done before and make them new – turn the familiar into the fresh and fun.

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Text copyright © 2017 by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustration copyright © 2017 by Erica Sirotich
Used by permission of Little Simon

When my son was little, he loved heavy equipment.  We read a lot of books about big trucks.  Most of them simply pictured and described the trucks and what they were used for, or showed them on a road going somewhere.

I wanted to do something different.

I wanted to show how a group of trucks could work together to build a house, or a road, or something…  That was me.  Something that came from me. My experience of reading with my son.  My own fascination with heavy equipment.  My own interest in how things work.

My story would be a story – not just a description – and it would be about the trucks, of course, but also about the process of building and about teamwork.

I made a list of the vehicles I might potentially include.

I mucked about with a number of different openings.

I played with which trucks to use and how to include them.

And I thought to myself, what is the best way to tell this story?

And out of nowhere, like a tickle of memory, a sequence of notes that conjures up a familiar song, I thought, a sequence story… like THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT!

Without even really realizing it, I was taking something familiar (THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT) and making it something new – making it mine.

Someone else would have written this story a different way.  They wouldn’t have thought about sequence, or it wouldn’t have occurred to them that THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT would make a perfect vehicle (hahaha) for a story about trucks building a road.

But other people have certainly had the same idea with different topics.  Have you read THIS IS THE STAR? or, THE TREE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT? or any one of a number of other stories based on the familiar rhyme but encompassing different stories, characters and ideas?

Someone else might have started with THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT but used it to frame a story about filling a picnic basket because they had a family tradition of picnics every Sunday after church.  Or they might have used it to frame a story about building a car because of their race car-obsessed daughter… or anything else under the sun.

I came to the rhyme a little bit round about, but lots of people start with it, or some other familiar rhyme, song, or story.

For example, THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY.

Writers with unique perspectives and ideas wrote THERE WAS AN OLD MONSTER, and THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT, and THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED SOME BOOKS… and many others.  What character could you put in that story and what would they swallow and why?

Fractured fairy tales fall into this category as well – picture books abound that are based on the THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, and GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS, among others, all of them entertaining and delightful.  Those stories are familiar frameworks – scaffolding upon which to build something new, different, and fun.

Iza Trapani has made a career out of starting with familiar Mother Goose rhymes and spinning them into wonderful creative new stories that expand the original to new heights and depths.  That’s a whole other field of familiar you can cultivate into something new.

Give it a try today!

Start with something we all know:

The House That Jack Built

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly

She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain

Hansel And Gretel

There Was A Crooked Man

Little Boy Blue

The Three Billy Goats Gruff

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Eensy, Weensy Spider…

…or any other fairy tale, song, or nursery rhyme that appeals to you.

Change the characters or the setting.

Give the character a different problem, goal or challenge.

Put the story in a different format – cumulative or parallel instead of classic or circular.

Or take a manuscript of yours that hasn’t worked right just yet and see what happens if you put it into one of these shapes.  What if you tried working your story about a stray dog into a Jack And The Beanstalk tale?

There are so many ways to freshen the familiar!  And whatever you choose will be unique to you.

Take that old gruel and add a spoonful of cinnamon, and a handful of black raisins, golden raisins, and cranberry raisins and voila!  Instead of boring old gruel that no one wants, you have Cinnamon Drop Rainbow Raisin Surprise that has everyone begging for second helpings!

Hope that gives you a positive little nudge in your writing today!

Thank you so much for having me here at Frog On A Blog for the second time in a month, Lauri!  I so appreciate your support for my new books and your willingness to help spread the word!  And thanks to everyone for stopping by to read! 🙂

Thank you so much, Susanna, for stopping by and sharing your knowledge with us. We’ve all got our engines revving and we’re ready to write. But first, let’s visit the rest of the stops (or is it the rest stops?) on the Trucks on Tour blog tour. Vroom!!!

Truck Blog Tour Schedule

Giveaways

You can win a signed copy of Susanna’s book THE ROAD THAT TRUCKS BUILT by replacing a familiar title with one that has a truck in it. (For example: The Little Bulldozer That Could, in place of The Little Engine That Could) Put your title in the comments. At the conclusion of the blog tour, a winner will be chosen at random and will be notified.

Plus

A special prize will be raffled off among anyone who comments on every single blog tour stop, so don’t miss a single fascinating installment!

And don’t forget to share on social media.  The hashtag we are using to promote the book is #trucksontour.  Every time you share a post on FaceBook, Twitter or Instagram using #trucksontour, you will get an entry into a raffle where 3 winners will each get a $25 Merritt Bookstore and Toystore gift card.

Susanna Leonard Hill is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books for children.  She teaches an online picture book writing class – Making Picture Book Magic (http://www.susannahill.com/MAKING_PICTURE_BOOK_MAGIC.html) – offers picture book critiques, and does frequent school and library visits.  She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs.

When Your Books Go On A Blog Tour (plus a Giveaway)

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It’s been a while since I’ve participated in a book blog tour. That’s why I’m extra excited to be a part of the amazing Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog tour celebration of her TWO brand new children’s books WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES and WHEN YOUR LION NEEDS A BATH! Take a look at the covers; could they be any cuter?!

I wanted to know how Susanna created her “When Your” series. Her blog tour offered the perfect opportunity to find out! Susanna, the page is yours!

Hello Everyone!

Thank you so much for joining the When Your Books Blog Tour fun!
Lauri thought it would be interesting to talk about writing a series today, since that’s something a lot of us haven’t attempted.
So let’s talk! 🙂

It may surprise you to know that I did not set out to write a series!
Nope.
The WHEN YOUR… books began with a case of the hiccups. (Mine 🙂 )
I don’t know about you, but in my household of 5 kids we have plenty of hiccup remedies…none of them particularly successful, mind you, but all of them guaranteed to induce silliness.

So on the day I got the hiccups, I started thinking about those ridiculous remedies – chasing, tickling, laughing, breath-holding, scaring, drinking backwards etc. – and I suddenly had an idea for a story: When Your [child/animal/something?] Has The Hiccups!

I sat down to write – my goal to produce that one single story.
But as you writers all know, the mind works in mysterious ways, and creativity begets creativity.

I wrote the hiccup story, but before I was even finished with it, I started thinking about sniffles…and baths…and haircuts… 🙂
“Hmmm…,” I said to the dogs who were asleep under my feet. “I wonder if I have more than one book here…!”
The dogs (shockingly) did not reply, but I felt I was onto something.
I knew something about series, obviously. We’ve all read them. But what I was used to thinking of as a series were things like Fancy Nancy – several books that feature the same familiar character in varied situations.
That was not what I had.

So I had to think a little about exactly what makes a series.
Clearly, there has to be an element of coherence – something to hold the stories together even without that familiar main character.
In the case of the WHEN YOUR… books that element of coherence is theme.
Every book in the series addresses “things kids sometimes find unpleasant.”
Baths.
Sniffles.
Haircuts.
Bedtime.
Hiccups.
Etc… 🙂
I would not write a story for this series about how much fun someone’s birthday is – that would not fit!
A common theme is important and helpful, but since the characters change from book to book, I knew I needed more than that.

As I moved from writing the hiccup book to writing the sniffles book, I deliberately incorporated several things:

1. A similar tone and voice.
All the books feature an unseen narrator who offers advice.
The overall tone of the books is humorous.
2. A similar objective.
All of the books are instructional – they tell you how to do something.
3. An animal character who is particularly well-suited (in a kind of backwards way) to the situation – e.g. a lion who needs a bath (because cats hate water) or an elephant with the sniffles (because what could be worse than sniffles with a nose like that?!)
4. A child who is in charge.
5. No adults.
6. An ending where, without realizing it or objecting to it, the child ends up doing whatever s/he was trying to get the animal to do 🙂

Because the stories are about things kids sometimes find unpleasant, I wanted to inject humor, hoping to make those objectionable things seem a little more palatable.

And because these objectionable situations are things kids often have to be coerced into, I wanted the child character to be the one in control (since kids tend to lack that in real life! 🙂 ) and I didn’t want any adults.

As a result, even though each story features a different child, a different animal, and a different situation, they have a cohesiveness that holds them together and makes them feel like a matched set even though each story is just as capable of standing on its own.

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Text copyright © 2017 by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustration copyright © 2017 by Daniel Wiseman
Used by permission of Little Simon

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Text copyright © 2017 by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustration copyright © 2017 by Daniel Wiseman
Used by permission of Little Simon

I hope that gives you a little idea of one way you might go about writing a series. If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments and I will do my best to answer in a timely fashion. 🙂

Thanks again for joining the blog tour fun, and I hope you’ll enjoy the books if you get a chance to read them!

And thank you so much, Lauri, for having me here today and for so kindly hosting this stop on the blog tour!

It was my pleasure, Susanna! You’ve given us all a mini lesson on writing a picture book series. Awesome! 

And as if things couldn’t get any better, Susanna is generously offering one signed copy of each book, WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES and WHEN YOUR LION NEEDS A BATH, to one lucky winner.

To win, all you have to do is share your favorite book series in the comments!

A winner will be chosen at random and will receive their books after July 12.

Let’s keep the blog tour fun going! Be sure to visit the rest of the stops on the tour. The schedule is posted below. And don’t forget to visit Susanna’s blog for the “When Your Books Go On A Blog Tour” kickoff post. You may discover more chances to win fabulous prizes. Click Here!

Blog Tour Schedule (1)

Don’t forget to share this post using #whenyourbooks!  Every time you post with #whenyourbooks you get an entry in the end-of-tour raffle for a Special Prize!

Click Here to find out more!