If you know me, you know I am pro-chicken. I think chickens make excellent picture book characters. They are flighty (but can’t fly), they are active, and they are FUNNY. Even the word ‘chicken’ is funny.
When I first discovered that the wonderful and hilarious Cate Berry wrote a book that included TEN chickens, well, I knew she needed to fly the coop and pay a visit to Picture Book Builders.
Welcome, Cate! Let me first start by saying I love when a title of a book has a double meaning. If you hadn’t already had me at ‘chicken’, well, you would have gotten me at ‘chicken break’.
Please tell us about Chicken Break! What was the inspiration?
Usually, my picture book ideas are plucked (couldn’t resist!) from the ethers of my imagination. However, this book evolved from real life.
My family ordered six gorgeous chicks from mypetchicken.com. We picked them up cheeping from the post office and immediately fell in love. As they grew, my neighbor informed me she wanted nothing to do with raising chickens. Taking all necessary precautions, (we clipped their wings! we locked our gates!) they broke out and had a spa-day in her yard. Our beloved flock decapitated every one of my neighbor’s begonias, ripped up her grass and dug a three-foot hole in her mulch. When I drove up, they were huddled together, deep in blissful sleep.
Later that night, Ocean’s 11 was on TV and the whole story gave way to Chicken Break!
When it comes to incorporating laugh-out-loud moments in a book, you and illustrator Charlotte Alder are birds of a feather! Do you have a favorite spread?
I couldn’t pick! Charlotte Adler had me laughing on every page! If pressed, I do have an affinity for the “Six chickens incognito” spread. She drew a little chicken wandering around, clueless, in a paper bag. It truly captures the whimsy and fun of the book perfectly.
This book has multiple layers. What came first the counting element or the wordplay?
I knew I wanted to write a counting book. But once I decided on chickens, the puns and wordplay took over! I try and push myself before writing to come up with the most original way I can tell a story. Since this concept was pretty simple I knew I wanted to lean into the language.
This is your second book. And it RHYMES! How did you prepare for this challenge?
We all know how hard rhyme and meter are to do just right. I thought it would be hard. But I didn’t realize I’d be revising this book for over three years. I started working on it as a picture book class assignment and I revised it all through grad school.
Writing in rhyme always starts out so fun. I had a good draft within months. But what’s easy to forget, is that you owe it to your readers to organically fuse the rhyme and the meter into a great story. That simply takes time to get right. It did for me, at least. My favorite part of the book is at the end:
Chickens waddle to the coop. Clucking, shushing, one last poop.
That poop line didn’t drop in until the third year of revision! But I’m so glad I kept working on it until I knew it was ready.
I think creating humorous picture books is one of your superpowers. Please let me pluck your brain a bit. What are three of your favorite pieces of funny-picture-book-writing advice?
- You can make anything funnier by delaying the payoff. In picture books this often comes down to page turns. If you’re setting up a joke make sure you dummy it out! You can control your comedic timing by setting up the punch line and delivering it right after a page turn.
- Surprise is a huge part of humor. If you’re just starting, think of all the ways your character could be surprised during your story. Or if you’re revising, go through your manuscript and push yourself to add and embellishmore surprising moments. I’m a big fan of milking what your inner clown started for you in your first draft.
- Just like using the Rule of Three in picture book writing, you can implement the Rule of Comedic Three. First, introduce your joke or theme. Second, validate or repeat that theme. Third, completely violate and/or surprise where you were taking the reader! This creates deliciously funny moments.
You recently invited me to be a part of the highly esteemed COOP TROOP which includes Sudipta “Her Egg-cellency” Bardhan-Quallen, Martha “Party Fowl” Brockenbrough, and the two of us. I love that you came up with a fun way for us to celebrate our chicken-y books. (I also love that it gave me the perfect opportunity to wear a chicken hat.) Please share a little about the troop.
At the end of the day, it’s just more fun to jump up and down with a flock than cheep all alone by yourself. That’s essentially how the #CoopTroop was born.
As writers there isn’t much we can control. We can write. We can submit. We can wait. And—we can have fun! Once I realized some of my favorite chicken books from 2019 were written by fabulously like-minded women, I reached out.
It seemed bird-brained not to join up and celebrate the chicken-y things of life.Of course, we’ll be spotlighting our chicken books, delivering chicken news and launching giveaways. [stay tuned with your #cooptroop hashtag ready!]
Mostly, we’ll be sharing our chicken love [and puns], wherever that takes us!
Scoop time! What’s next for you?
Chicken Break!, illus. by Charlotte Adler, (Feiwel & Friends/MacMillan) launches October 29, 2019 in stores everywhere! I have other things in the chute that I can’t cluck about just yet. In the meantime, I teach humor classes online and privately. Check out my website for the latest news, classes, school visits and events: www.cateberry.com
Cate Berry is the author of Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! (Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins) illustrated by Charles Santoso. It was pinned a Junior Library Guild selection and Publishers Weekly called it, “A buoyantly subversive anti-bedtime book.” Her second book, Chicken Break!, (Feiwel & Friends/MacMillan) illustrated by Charlotte Adler, releases Fall 2019. Cate holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches classes at the Writing Barn in Austin, Texas. She was a recent featured author at the Texas Book Festival, West Texas Book Fest, Austin SCBWI Conference (faculty) and the Literary Library Round-up (Victoria). She speaks at schools, libraries, bookstores, and conferences year-round. Visit her at cateberry.com to learn more.
For a chance to win a copy of Chicken Break!, leave a comment and/or share this post on Twitter. Please be sure to tag Cate @cberrywriter and Tammi @SauerTammi. Winner must live in the continental United States.
Congratulations, Lisa D. Kerr. You are the winner of Give Me Back My Bones!