First Picture Book “Inside Scoop” (& Book Giveaway!)

This month I’m delighted to share Penny Parker Klostermann’s gorgeous first picture book, There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight (releases Aug. 4, 2015 from Random House). I adore this book! It’s clever, funny, and the colorful, charming illustrations of the hungry dragon are full of good humor as well.

DRAGON cover

I’m always fascinated to hear how a picture book author landed his or her first book contract, so I asked Penny for the “inside scoop” on her new book and she graciously answered a few questions below.

1. As writers, we’re always on the look out for new, great story ideas. Where did your idea for There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight come from?

I had it in my mind to try a rewrite of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly because I love a great cumulative tale. I tried out many main characters but none were cutting it. So I headed over to Tara Lazar’s (of PiBoIdMo fame!) website and opened her list of 500+ Things That Kids Like. Dragons were on that list. I thought the perfect thing for a dragon to swallow would be a knight. From there I thought of a knight’s life and what items would logically follow the knight if a dragon happened to be on a swallowing spree. I knew, too, that I wanted a twist or two. I had no idea what the twist/s would be but I think my dragon knew all along. He has great pacing and he just seemed to know when readers might tire of his swallowing spree and need a change. He spoke up and the rest of the story just fell into place.

dragon swallowing knight

2. Were there any special writing challenges in writing to the pre-established “Swallowed the Fly” pattern?

When I first thought of doing this, I read every rewrite I could lay my hands on. I read over twenty-five rewrites. There were a few that stood out. All of the rewrites had the MC swallowing a list of items, of course, but those that stood out gave a reason for each item the MC swallowed. Having a reason for each item swallowed made the story more interesting and fun. I decided I definitely wanted to write mine that way. That was challenging but worth the extra time. Another special challenge when writing to a pre-established pattern is finding a way to make your story stand out. The pattern is a rule of sorts. What could I do to follow the pattern yet break the rule in a unique way? What could I do that hadn’t been done? I did this with my ending. As far as I know, there is not another “swallowed the fly” rewrite with an ending like mine.

totally bloated dragon

3. What was the hardest part of creating this story?

The hardest part was revising per my editor’s comments. Maria Modugno is my editor and I want to be clear that she is not the one that made this hard. She has been delightful to work with. I’m the one that made this hard. This is my first book. I’d never revised for an editor. Even though she was interested in my story, I knew I had to nail my revisions if I wanted her to acquire my book. That was nerve wracking. But eventually I calmed myself down and took some advice I’d read on many blogs. Don’t hurry. Editors would rather have you take your time and get it right. Also my agent, Tricia Lawrence, was extremely helpful as I battled nerves. She was ready to give me space or brainstorm with me or do whatever I needed.

4.  Were there any interesting “happenings” along your writing/publication journey of this book that you think might be helpful to other picture book writers?

Yes. My interesting “happening” builds on my answer to question #3 in reference to my revisions per Maria’s editorial comments.
In the end, I couldn’t decide between two revisions. Neither could Tricia. We decided to send them both to Maria. I worried I might come across as indecisive? Nope. She loved them both! She and I talked about reasons one might be stronger and finally chose one. It was almost like flipping a coin.
Then a funny thing happened. When Ben Mantle was working on the illustrations, he contacted Maria. He wondered about using the revision we hadn’t chosen. He felt it would be funnier and told Maria his thoughts. She passed them on to me and I could see his point. I told her I needed a week to think. It was crazy how many times that week I read my two revisions aloud. By the end of the week I had no doubt that Ben was right and we went with the other revision. I haven’t looked back. What a great lesson! Think of your book as a team effort. A picture book is a marriage of text and illustrations. I knew Ben was totally invested because of his keen observation. If your illustrator offers their thoughts, be willing to listen.

**To win a copy of Penny’s fabulous book, There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight, leave a comment by July 21 and I’ll randomly select a winner who will be announced in my post next month**

P.S. Penny and I were chatting about the book printing process (sparked by my post last month, Building a Book – To the Printer We Go) and she shared her 40-page picture book was created from three large printed sheets (AKA “running sheets”), which included two 16-page sheets and one 8-page sheet. I thought others might find this interesting because a reader had posted a comment asking how many running sheets were used for my 32-page picture book, The Soda Bottle School. I didn’t know, so I emailed the printer and discovered all 32 pages were printed on one huge running sheet!


Penny’s Bio:


Penny Parker Klostermann is the author of There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight. She loves all kinds of books, but especially loves very silly picture books that make her laugh. She has been known to hug her favorite picture books and seriously hopes that someday her books will gain huggable status too. Penny lives in Abilene, TX.

Find Penny online at:





Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, The Inventor’s Secret, and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Coming soon -- MARS IS, JUNE ALMEIDA VIRUS DETECTIVE! THE WOMAN WHO DISCOVERED THE FIRST HUMAN CORONAVIRUS, THE UNIVERSE AND YOU, and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Random House. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at:


  1. What a wonderful interview! Very helpful. Thanks so much for this (and I’d LOVE a copy of Penny’s book!).

  2. I cannot wait to read this! Penny, thank you for sharing your journey with such great detail :). And, congratulations! Suzanne, thanks for the great questions.

  3. Thanks so much for posting this. I love rewrites and this sounds like an especially fun one.

    Ann Ingalls

    • Even though I always seem to do literally hundreds of rewrites for each of my stories, it still surprises me to learn other authors do the same. You’re entered for the book giveaway!

  4. Suzanne, what a great introduction to a debut author! Penny’s book will certainly be popular with our child patrons and their parents and teachers. I can see this being used in many classrooms to supplement medieval-themed lessons. Please enter us in your giveaway–we would love to share an autographed copy with the children at our library.

  5. Kim Pfennigwerth

    Thank you Penny for sharing this journey. I appreciate reading how you studied other versions of this pattern to learn what appealed to you and what you felt made some work better and then how you took the time to work through doubts and nerves while revising with your editor’s notes. Both are gems for all writers to follow and use.

  6. Hey, Penny! This book looks wonderful! I love the story of the two revisions and how it eventually sorted itself out. Congratulations, Penny, and thanks for the great interview, Suzanne. Can’t wait to see the book!

    • As I read the journey of Penny’s book, I loved the unexpected plot twist at the end when she went back to the first version she hadn’t originally chosen. So interesting!

  7. Stacy Digianantonio

    Great idea! I can’t wait to read this book!

  8. How cool. Thanks for sharing your story behind the story! Congratulations 🙂

  9. Fantastic! I’m looking forward to reading this – it was such a treat to hear about Penny’s journey.

  10. I loved hearing how Penny developed her story. I feel like the more I can learn from published authors about their process the better prepared I will be for when my turn comes (hopeful thinking!) I can’t wait to read this book. It sounds delightful.

  11. Hooray for Penny! I loved hearing about how this book evolved, and especially about deciding between your two revisions–that’s what you get for going the extra mile. Can’t wait to read this one.

    • It was fun to hear how Penny spent so much time deciding between her two revisions. Sometimes I have so many different revisions going of the same story I can’t even think straight. Thank goodness for critique friends and editors! You’re entered for the book giveaway!

  12. Can’t wait to read it!
    Yikes, it’s not in my library yet! To the bookstore I go!
    As a writer it’s reassuring to read how much research can go into a ‘silly’ picture book. Sometimes I feel I’m putting in way too much time; but maybe not. Thanks for the motivation!

    • Penny’s book releases in a few weeks, August 4, so you’ll have to wait a little bit more. I agree — research can be a lengthy process whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. You’re entered for the book giveaway!

    • Thanks for checking your library. As to “too much time” . . . if you’re still improving your story due to your research, it’s worth the time. A lot of times, I find myself researching even further as I move through revisions. Sometimes the research is just what I need to move toward a ready-to-submit manuscript. So I say keep it up 🙂

  13. Congrats, Penny! Thanks for letting us in on your journey to publication. Looks like a fun book – can’t wait to read it!

  14. I love this interview, ladies!

    Knowing all of this background information makes me even MORE excited to get this book. 🙂

  15. Wonderful interview – it was so interesting in reading about Penny’s journey in writing her book and how it was published. Can’t wait to read it.

  16. Great interview – congratulations, Penny! I love hearing the “story” behind the story. Can’t wait to read this book. =)

  17. What an interesting story! I look forward to reading this clever and fun book.

  18. Congrats, Penny. And thanks for a great interview. I especially loved hearing how the dragon himself was your co-creator – how he helped you with pacing and putting the pieces together. Our characters are so wise!

  19. Three cheers for Penny + her Dragon! Love this book so. 😀

  20. Becky Scharnhorst

    Thanks to both of you for a wonderful interview! I especially enjoyed reading about the collaborative process between author, agent, editor, and illustrator. I can’t wait to read this book!

  21. Love the interview. Love the book based on the interview and can hardly wait for it to hit the shelves! Wishing you a bazillion in sales Penny!

  22. This book sounds so fun! It’s exciting to see when writers finally make that first sale. I look forward to reading!

  23. Nothing more exciting or rewarding than an author’s first sale. It took me 8 long years to get my first contract, but I would do it all over again. You’re entered for the book giveaway!

  24. Thank you for sharing this interview. I love hearing about other peoples experiences with getting their books published. I find them fascinating. No two are alike. I really want to read this book, and find out what her twist ending is. Thanks again.

  25. I love cumulative tales, too. Looking forward to reading your book and discovering how you broke the rules. Congratulations!

    • I’m a cumalative tale lover too, and got to try my hand at one with my book, The House That George Built. From my experiences, rewriting a book with an established pattern has its pluses and minuses. When I wrote mine I didn’t think about “breaking the rules,” but will definitely think about that if I attempt another one. You’re entered for the book giveaway!

  26. Great to hear more about this PBs conception and development. Can’t wait to read it and discover the twists!

  27. Jill Ellen Burwell

    As a freelance journalist for newspapers, editorial revision was a constraint I had to accept from the beginning –sometimes for no reason other than space. When I started to write electric typewriters hadn’t been invented; I composed longhand and ‘cut and paste’ was a literal operation. I revised a lot before editors ever saw my words. There is an old rule of thumb that has been my foundation throughout the years: Write it once in a flow of creativity to get it out of you, re-write it to add in anything you’ve left out out, re-write again to remove anything that isn’t needed and re-write one more time to make it sound like it was never rewritten at all. Those words have carried me down many a path less traveled. My apologies for not knowing to whom they should be attributed.
    P.S. I adore dragons and would love to know what this one has swallowed and why!

  28. What a great story behind the story! I can’t wait to read this book!

  29. I love learning about an author’s path to that first picture book. It’s always an inspirational journey. Thank you for sharing.

  30. Hurray for Penny! Can’t wait to hold this one in my hands and read it to my girls – we’ve been looking forward to it for quite some time. Thanks, Suzanne, for sharing the details of this book’s journey!

  31. Congratulations, Penny! This book sounds adorable. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  32. Rita D. Russell

    Great questions, Suzanne, and great answers, Penny! Thanks so much for the insider’s view of how an old story can be made new. I especially love knowing that Penny spent a lot of time reasoning why the MC would swallow each item. Looking forward to reading this book for sure!

  33. Thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes look at Penny’s dragon :). I am one of the lucky ones who has already read and F&G of this book and I can attest that it is wonderfully funny. Congrats, Penny!!

  34. Terrific interview, you two! The crazy thing: I had no idea Penny was going to be featured on the blog today. I’m at a retreat this week, and SHE’S HERE, TOO. What a neat surprise, after meeting her for the first time, to see this fantastic book featured on the blog. Kids are going to love its funny, colorful fabulousness! 🙂

  35. Suzanne asked such great questions, didn’t she. Thanks to all of you for your wonderful comments. I appreciate you taking the time to read this interview and celebrate with me.

  36. Penny’s book sounds huggable to me. I wish her much success. Suzanne, this is a great “behind the scenes” interview. I never expected that the illustrator would tip the scales the way he did. Wow! Just like that change was unexpected, I look forward to the book’s unexpected ending. What fun!

  37. Even though I am lucky enough to know Penny personally, I hadn’t heard her tell where she found her dragon idea. Good to know! Best wishes, Penny!

  38. Great interview Suzanne and Penny! Can’t wait to read the book.

  39. Honestly, I almost cried when I first saw this book. Just LUV it! Fantastic interview, too. It was great to meet Penny. Best of luck!

  40. Fun insights! Thanks for sharing!

  41. I can’t wait to read it and find the twist at the end.

  42. Christine Rodenbour

    I appreciate the info in this interview so much!

  43. It must have been really exciting to not only sell your first book but then to have two versions of it, both so well written that the editor loved both of them. Congratulations on your book Penny!

  44. Thanks, Penny. Your research must have been fun. I love the title and your information. Humor is definitely a plus in a picture book. I look forward to reading it.

  45. This book looks lovely!:)

  46. It looks like an adorable book. Congratulations! And thanks for the very informative post.

  47. Thank for stopping in. You’re entered for the book giveaway! Winner will be announced in my post next month.

  48. Fun, fun, fun! A great interview! I was particularly interested in hearing how Ben’s thoughts on your revisions made a difference to which one was used.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *