Mike Boldt and I have a new book entering the world TODAY.
The flap copy sums it up beautifully…
GOOD NEWS! Your mom’s hatching a baby!
BAD NEWS! Babies take their sweet time.
And when they finally do hatch?
They don’t even know how to be a dinosaur.
That’s where you come in.
You can teach the baby everything.
Silly humor and sincere moments make this hilarious and useful “guide” a must for every big brother and big sister to-be.
Great fun for family reading too!
We’ve enjoyed a couple of nice reviews. Publishers Weekly calls the book “Fresh . . . Adorable . . . Funny.” And, according to Kirkus: “Esbaum and Boldt [hit] the serious, the horrific, and the hysterical—and tenderly portray the growing bond between the two children.”
Whew. Mike and I thought it might be fun to have a chat and give you a glimpse of the interior.
Writers who cannot illustrate have no choice but to hope their works end up with an illustrator (and editor and art director) who “get” them, who will nurture our babies all along the way, making sure they get a great cover and interior art that feels exactly right. Sometimes the final result leaves us a little disappointed. Other times, we are happy-dance stunned. Your art for HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR not only feels exactly right, but will likely have readers thinking we collaborated all along the way. (Readers, we did not.)
So when you got this manuscript and started imagining the characters and their world…could you talk about that?
Thank you, Jill. So far I’ve not had to experience that side of the creative process where you trust someone with creating the visual side of your story, but it’s definitely something I try to imagine. After I accept a MS to illustrate, I feel a great responsibility to not only do the best work I can, but to do so in a way that complements the story without trying to take it over. The other thing, which is even more important to me before I take on a job, is that I hope to connect with the story. My favourite projects have been the ones where as I’m reading it for the first time, I’m smiling at all the potential images popping into my imagination. HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR was definitely one of those stories. I immediately replied to my agent with a “YES! I’d love to do this one.”
Speaking of creative mergers, I’d love to know, Jill, while this is a story about siblings, what made you decide to make this about humanized dinosaurs rather than humans?
Actually, my original vision was to use humans. But that seemed so…mundane. There wasn’t much zip to the story. Then I thought about using dinosaurs, writing a nonfiction manuscript set in a realistic prehistoric world. But there are so many unknowns . . . . Anyway, all that messing around led me to an idea to combine the two in a playful, “good news, bad news” presentation.
Was it ever a problem that my dino world also had realistic human elements?
It wasn’t a problem for me! Maybe I watched The Muppets too much as a kid, but I love those worlds and playing with the elements in them to make them relatable to humans, and yet still trying to add the Dinosaur elements to them – such as the action figures and sports teams that might exist there. Even though many of those things aren’t explained in the story, or even that important, I feel they can really help build the world that you created in this book and hopefully add to the reader’s experience.
Those unexpected elements are delightful. Some of my favorites…
–The main character’s tee shirt, if you can’t quite make it out, readers, is emblazoned with his favorite team’s logo: A great big A superimposed over an asteroid. Hahaha.
–Throughout the book are scattered picture books with titles that play on books of Mike’s or mine. Watch for I AM REX, HEAR ME ROAR!, I HATCHED!, and I DON’T WANT TO BE A STEGOSAURUS!
–The end papers! The front ones show the big brother trying in vain to engage in various kinds of play with … a stationary spotted egg. The back papers show him actually playing with that long-awaited sibling.
And man, how I love that back cover. You’ve told me that wasn’t your idea, Mike. Could you explain how it came about?
Well, one of the most understated elements in the creation process is the editor/art director team that we work with. In our case, we had the privilege of working with a really incredible team of Jessica Garrison and Jennifer Kelly. I didn’t really have much going for sketches for the back cover, and then one day, Jennifer sent me this layout with the spot illustrations that acted like directions – truly a great idea that I knew complemented the title perfectly. I just rearranged them a bit and added the hand letters, but the credit definitely goes to our great team at Dial.
Was there a part of the story that Jessica came along side with a suggestion that gave you that feeling that she just “got” the story you were trying to tell?
Yes. I originally planned for every dino spread to be followed by a wordless and parallel human spread. For instance, on the “BAD NEWS. Babies don’t know what’s dangerous. STOP, BABY, STOP!” spread, we’d see a dino kiddo hurrying to stop his baby sibling as it toddles cluelessly toward a cliff, and the next spread would show a human kiddo hurrying to stop his baby sibling from toddling off the top of a staircase. Editor Jessica suggested dropping the human element. That was the right move. Readers didn’t need me hitting them over the head to understand that the book’s a metaphor. I love the end result, a cool combination of dino and human. Outdoors, smoking volcanoes. Indoors, a comfy and recognizable human world.
Editor Jessica ALWAYS gets my humor, but this particular suggestion told me that she saw more in this story’s possibilities than even I did.
Since we’re already talking about editors and edits, was there any part to this story that you really needed to roll your sleeves up for, to work and re-work it until it felt right?
As you know, the baby was originally a brother. Just before the book reached the too-late-to-change-anything stage, the Dial team wondered if readers might better relate if the baby were simply referred to as “Baby.” That way, families could imagine it as a boy OR a girl. Gulp. But those suggestions are always worth a try, because you never know…they might make it better, right? So yeah, that took a lot of working and reworking before it flowed to my satisfaction. Happily, that no-sex Baby eventually grew on me.
Which spread did you have the most trouble feeling satisfied with?
I’ll be honest. There weren’t too many spreads that were giving me trouble on this book, Jill. Generally that’s another sign of how much I’m enjoying illustrating the story! I’d say the BAD NEWS page where baby doesn’t know what’s dangerous, had me struggle a bit more than the rest. Initially I had an idea for baby walking into a giant dinosaur’s mouth, but it felt a bit too scary. Then when I thought a bit more about the “Stop, baby, stop!”, I figured a cliff or edge would be better suited to that text. Then the tricky part became figuring out the layout to make sure the text was read in the right order still. I just hope the final works haha!
JILL: This process looks SO daunting! But the final product gives me the best kind of goosebumps. Thanks, Mike! And thanks, readers, for sticking with this long post!
GOOD NEWS! Dial has generously allowed us three copies to give away. To be eligible, simply comment below. I’ll draw three names on Friday, February 9th, and I’ll contact you personally if I can find your contact info online. Winners will be announced here in my next post on Tuesday, February 13th.
Meanwhile, winners of Leslie Helakoski’s HOOT & HONK Just Can’t Sleep are: Quinette Cook, Shutta Crum, and Sondra Soderberg. Sondra, I’m having trouble finding an email address for you. Please contact me through my website to claim your prize.
And you can still enter to win a copy of Pat’s new book, BE KIND.