The Upper Case: Trouble in Capital City, by Tara Lazar, and an update on all things Storystorm!

I’m excited today that Tara Lazar has dropped by to talk with us. Tara is the author of many funny-punny books, as well as founder of the incredibly inspiring January event, Storystorm. In case you hadn’t heard, her 2017 hit, 7 Ate 9, now has a sequel, The Upper Case: Trouble in Capital City (both illus by Ross MacDonald). Check it out!

As I read through this book, what struck me is how my wordy-nerdy 2nd grade self would’ve LOVED it. Remember how smart you felt, as a kiddo, when you finally understood puns? I do. And Tara throws them around liberally and masterfully in this story. By “masterfully,” I mean that they garner a laugh AND move the story forward. That is NOT easy! So let’s find out how she did that….

JE: Welcome, Tara! So I have to ask: When you wrote 7 Ate 9, did you already have ideas floating in your head for The Upper Case…or were you asked to write a sequel? Did it help that you already knew Ross MacDonald’s bright, wacky style?

TL: I didn’t have a concrete idea for The Upper Case, but Ross told me that for years, Kevin Lewis (the 7 Ate 9 acquisitions editor) had wanted to do a punctuation book with him. But Ross never came up with an idea. So I started thinking about that. I had the first line immediately–that Question Mark looked “bent out of shape”…and then I hit a dead end. For months! I couldn’t figure out a tale with just punctuation marks. Then, one night before I fell asleep, I realized that punctuation needs letters and words to do its job. That’s when things started coming together!

Question Mark is bent out of shape.

JE: A story starring punctuation marks does sound daunting! Could you tell us about your writing process? Are you quick with a first draft, for instance?

TL: Well, that depends what you mean by “quick.” I will get an idea and let it sit in my brain for months before writing it. So that part is definitely NOT quick. But when I start to put words on paper, a draft can come out in a day or three. Typically the ones that come out fastest are the ones that ultimately sell to publishers. 

JE: Wow. Kudos on your patience. If I wait months, I worry I’ll see my concept in somebody else’s new book announcement! So what’s up next for you?

TL: My next book, THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN, comes out on January 7th. And January is Storystorm! And I’ll be at FL-SCBWI’s Miami conference mid-month!

JE: Sounds like a perfectly author-y way to start the new year! For anybody who doesn’t know about Tara’s brainchild, Storystorm: Writers sign on to come up with one picture book story idea per day through the entire month of January. Sounds easy, right? Bwa-ha-ha. Here’s a link that will fill you in. There are plenty of prizes along the way. And fun. And camaraderie! Tara, how does it feel to be gearing up for your 11th Storystorm?

TL: Storystorm has grown into such a “thing,” it’s hard for me to believe! There have been so many success stories–that is, published books–that I’ve lost count. I think most amazing is the number of Tammi Sauer books that have gotten their start through Storystorm. When I began the challenge as PiBoIdMo in 2009, Tammi was the only established author I knew! But I didn’t realize she had only just released her second book. Now she’s got, what, 729 picture books???

730, I think. Tammi IS amazing (and prolific. I bow to you, Sauer.)!! Regarding Storystorm: For many years now, I’ve tried to keep up, just on my own, lurking along with the crowd, and I’ve never gotten further than Day 17. But that’s because one of those new ideas gets me so jazzed I have to start working on it. That doesn’t seem like such a bad thing! But my goal, this year, is to make it all the way through.

Thanks, Tara, for visiting with us today!

Click here for Tara’s website, where you can find out more about her, her books, and Storystorm!


Meanwhile, I get to drop some big PBB news! Although we’re all disappointed to lose the brilliant Mike Boldt as one of our regular bloggers, we’re excited that author Michelle Meadows has agreed to join us in the new year. Watch for her first post January 3rd! (No pressure, Michelle.) 😉

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum is the author of more than 50 children's books. Recent picture books include JACK KNIGHT'S BRAVE FLIGHT (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection), HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR, WHERE'D MY JO GO?, FROG BOOTS, and WE LOVE BABIES! She is also the author of a graphic early reader series, Thunder & Cluck (another Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection). In addition, she has authored two dozen nonfiction series books for Nat Geo Kids, including several titles in the immensely popular LITTLE KIDS BIG BOOK OF–– series. Next year brings her first humorous informational fiction pb, STINKBIRD HAS A SUPERPOWER. Lots more books are on the way! For more information about Jill and her books, visit her website at


  1. Looks like a really fun read. Tara you are so clever!
    Are we still able to sign up for Story Storm? I couldn’t find how to register on the website.

  2. Another fun and entertaining book! Congrats and thank you for Story Storm!

  3. Another punderful winner, Tara. Looking forward to another inspiring and productive StoryStorm.

  4. Love it! Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Looks like the perfect, punny successor to 7 Ate 9! Congrats, Tara!!

  6. Love your books, Tara! This one is especially fun!

  7. I can’t wait to read this book. I sounds so fun. Thanks for an interesting interview.

  8. Thanks, everyone! Kidlit is such a great community of creatives!

    • Oh, I cannot praise Storystorm enough! It has served me well. Plus, I love the sense of community it has offered over the years. It’s just so good to be around people who Get It. 🙂

  9. This book sounds as punny as the first. Can’t wait to read it!

  10. Thank you, Tara, for being an inspiration. I look forward to reading THE UPPER CASE.

  11. Good Job, Tara. Always fun and interesting to listen to your story!

  12. Wonderful interview, Tara. I’m already in fits of hysterics with “What’s the matter, Mark?” Thanks for being you (and keeping me inspired)!!

  13. Great post! I love the stories that just come out. But it doesn’t happen all the time (or often). Congratulations, Tara!

  14. Tara, now that I know what you sound like, I hear your voice in my head as I read your words. And that makes me excited for Storystorm. What I appreciate the most, your sharing your process with us, and your honesty and encouragement. Wait until you hear my son read The Upper Case in a Joe Friday voice, it’s hysterical, Happy Holidays, love and latkes, Annie?

  15. Can’t wait for Storystorm! Here’s to a very successful 2020 for everyone. 🙂

  16. How did I miss this post? Well, I know exactly how–we were just leaving on vacation. Congrats, Tara, on another funny and clever book. I’m a big fan of Ross MacDonald’s work–can’t wait to see it! And congrats on 11 years of Storystorm–wow! Thanks, Jill!

Leave a Reply

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