It seems only fitting, on a day that we’re all lolling about, recovering from food overload, to check out a soon-to-be-published book by professional lollers (and callers!) WALRUS SONG, by (coincidentally?) Janet Lawler, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, will splash into the world on December 7th, published by Candlewick Press.
Both Kirkus and Booklist praise Lawler’s lilting verse as well as Timothy Basil Ering’s illustrations. Booklist writes: “Lawler keeps the tone light and fun while imparting a great deal of information about a walrus’s physicality, habitats, and food sources… Ering’s brilliant, luminous, lifelike paintings capture their subject close-up and in great detail, accurately depicting his every movement and mood and perfectly capturing the setting in icy whites and deep-sea blues and greens under a purple-gray sky,” concluding that, “These fascinating creatures will entrance little readers and their grown-ups.”
Janet, it’s clear you’re inspired by nature. Do your ideas come when you’re out in nature or do you spend time digging for ideas when you’re indoors, too?
I dig for ideas everywhere, both indoors and outside, in the world around me and in books and online. I’ve even had story ideas come to me in dreams. In one dream, I had a story idea and an offer on it from a publisher, so I was quite disappointed when I woke up! In a more universal way, nature offers me peace and space that somehow encourage my creative flow. I also use walks and vigorous exercise outdoors to recharge when energy and inspiration lag.
Kids are going to really enjoy all the sounds in this book, not to mention the funny walrus faces illustrator Timothy Basil Ering painted for the spread with all the sounds. I can just see kids not only trying to make the sounds, but make the faces, too. Did you and your editor work together to decide how to show those words phonetically?
Actually, the sounds in the book (2 full spreads of them!) are exactly how they were first submitted in the manuscript. I suspect that is because I went through an elaborate writing and revising process before I finalized that part of the text:
I listened to 10 Hours of Walrus Sounds on YouTube (okay, I confess, I didn’t listen to all 10 hours, but a fair amount!). This was such a hoot (literally)! The first time, my dog started howling from the next room and my husband said, “What are you doing in there?!} (Note, many of these walrus sounds are almost human-like, and many are mating calls).
As I listened, I scribbled notes about what the sounds reminded me of: a strangled pig; snort; bell ringing; huge nose blow with a major cold; party horn; chain smoker yelling La, La, La; deep bleat; roar like a lion; train horn; whistle; sputter.
In an early draft of the manuscript, I developed these sounds using metaphors and similes, such as:
weird, muffled huffing,
like talking through towels.
At some point, I scratched all that text and focused on writing the noises themselves. I was always jealous of Dr. Seuss for putting invented words in his rhyming stories, and now I had my chance! I listened with closed eyes, sounding out each noise phonetically to create a “walrus word.” Then I pushed those mostly-made-up words around to fit into my rhyme scheme, for example:
Timothy Basil Ering created so many delightful and varied close-ups of expressive walrus faces. I suspect that he had as much fun illustrating these words as I had writing them!
This isn’t the only book of yours that features walruses. (Why do I want to call that “walri?!” Ha!) You also have some pop-up books, at least one of which features a walrus. I will never NOT be enchanted by even the simplest of pop-up books. Do you come to a pop-up project differently than a standard picture book?
I love pop-up books, too! How I approach those projects is quite a bit different than my trade picture books. To start, there are fewer spreads, so the text is usually shorter. I have a wonderful, collaborative relationship with a pop-up publisher that started years ago when my submission was the winner of an open-call contest for a Halloween pop-up book text. For some of these projects, I am given art samples tied to a specific holiday, and I develop a story to go along. For others, I’ve created a story based on a general plot suggested by the editor. I also collaborate with the paper engineers, making suggestions for interactive elements to go along with my text. On my first in-person visit to the publisher, a paper engineer apologized for the mess around her desk—literally scraps of paper scattered on the floor from hands-on experiments with different 3-D pop-up elements she was designing! What a fun job, right?
I’m impressed that you have a blog on your website. I am dreadful about blogging, but I can see that it could be a great place to spill ideas, not to mention giving students and teachers a place to learn more about you. How does your blog figure in your marketing and creative endeavors?
Your questions to me make me think you’re a pretty good blogger! And I confess that I don’t post to my blog as often as I intended when I set it up. When I do blog, I like to let readers know a bit more about me and my writing process while also generating interest in my books and the subjects that I care about. In fact, pondering your question has helped me decide on my next blog topic! It will be “I am a Walrus Detective.” I’ll share with folks my recent online training (fun and easy) identifying walrus in satellite images of the Arctic. I am one of many volunteers who screen these images for an ongoing census survey by WWF and The British Antarctic Society to better understand walrus populations and how they are impacted by global warming. Anyone can do this with a little training, and I’m hoping to encourage a few more recruits.
Since you write both fiction and nonfiction, can you tell us about any differences in the way you approach such different books?
The big difference for me, apart from the obvious one that nonfiction requires a LOT of dedicated research, is that I don’t worry about being “right” or “factual” when I write fiction. I have total creative freedom. The writing and revision process is fueled by my imagination, not facts. I can change, at will, my plot, characters, setting, etc. When I write nonfiction, I have a more disciplined routine that starts with gathering facts and really understanding a topic before diving into the writing. While my imagination can help me present the information in an entertaining way, the facts remain as a firm foundation to be honored throughout the writing process. I feel a grave responsibility to be 100% accurate as I share and educate kids about a topic.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Janet!
Thanks, Kim, for hosting me for this interview on Picture Book Builders! By the way, we have a mutual love of dinosaurs! I can’t wait to check out your new book, ONE-OSAURUS, TWO-OSAURUS! Hey—you like to invent words, too!
(Kim again: It’s my favorite thing!) And be sure to comment below for a chance to win a copy of Walrus Song. The winner will be chosen randomly from all those who comment by December 9th. And speaking of winners, congratulations to Lynn Becker, winner of Daniel Miyares’ HOPE AT SEA featured in my last post. Happy lolling day, everybody!
WALRUS SONG. Text copyright © 2021 by Janet Lawler. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Timothy Basil Ering. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Award-winning author Janet Lawler writes fiction and nonfiction picture books and early readers for children. Her work has been featured in Scholastic Book Clubs and the Children’s Book of the Month Club and has been translated into several languages, including Spanish, Japanese, and Hebrew.
Her more-than-thirty published titles include FRIGHT SCHOOL, WINTER CATS, MIRABEL’S MISSING VALENTINES, IF KISSES WERE COLORS, and KINDERGARTEN HAT.Her nonfiction workincludes WALRUS SONG and National Geographic’s RAIN FOREST COLORS and OCEAN COUNTING. Upcoming titles include OCEANS OF LOVE (Viking), Celebrate! A Happy Book of Firsts (Feiwel & Friends), and THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOPE (Farrar Straus Giroux).
Janet is fascinated by the natural world and enjoys finding humor and hope in everyday life. She loves how words make music, and she marvels at the way illustrators add depth and detail to her stories. Learn more about Janet and her books at JanetLawler.com.
Congratulations on your newest book, Janet! I can’t wait to read it.
It’s so big and pretty!
If you read it out loud to a little one, let me know how you did with the noises!
Thanks so much, Jody!
this was a great blog! I love backstories and Janet’s is quite fascinating. Thanks, Kim for sharing it!
You’re so welcome, Carol. I feel exactly the same way about backstories. I love learning then, and I also love peeking into illustrators’ studios. I guess I’m just a nosy Nellie. lol!
I love backstories, too, Carol. Each one is so different, right?
Congratulations, Janet! I look forward to reading your book.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, Sarah!
Thanks, Sarah! Let me know if you feel silly reading those walrus noised out loud! It was easy to write them, but I started giggling when I read it all out loud the first time! lol
I’m fascinated by this book’s topic and can’t wait to learn more about walruses. I laughed out loud when I read about your YouTube research and your pup. Thanks for the interview and chance to win a copy.
Thank you for entering for the drawing, Danielle!
Thanks, Danielle. Go listen to that You Tube 10 Hours of Walrus Sounds. You won’t get through 5 minutes without laughing some more!
Great interview! I enjoyed reading more about Janet Lawler. We have many of her books, and her love of writing comes through in every one of them. Her playful style is always a hit with my grandchildren. PS. One-osaurus, Two-osaurus…..that sounds like a fun one… I will have to check that out when when I am buying Walrus Song!!
Oh how nice of you, Mary. Thank you!
Congratulations! Can’t wait to hear the Walrus Song
Warning, it’s pretty noisy! lol!
Congrats! Sounds like a fantastically fun book!
It really is. Thank you, Debra!
Thanks for reading the blog. Walruses are fantastic!
I love, love, love nature books. Thanks for posting this.
Me, too! I love how many angles a writer can take with a subject.
Nature calls many of us, Kathy! I love all the NF coming out these days. Wish more of it were published bach when my son was young and loved picture books about animals and the ocean (though he’s enjoying Walrus Song as a young adult!)
This is wonderful! Thanks for sharing!
and thanks for the kudos!
Three HONKS for Walrus Song! Congrats, Janet!
Snuffle snuffle snort! Tee hee!
Three honks back at you, Alli! Thanks for planting the arctic seed!
What a lovely looking book! The writing! The art! Congrats to all!
Thanks for entering for the drawing, Jessica!
Thank you, Jessica. Candlewick did an outstanding job putting it all together in a BIG book about a BIG critter!
Putting down the sounds animals make in writing is tough. Thanks for sharing your process. It’s in my toolbox now too. Congratulations on another fabulous book!
That was so interesting to me, too, Donna.
Thanks so much, Donna. We writers sure have weird toolboxes, for sure!
This looks like such a fun book and one that incorporates facts about walruses..I am in need of knowing just how to do that for a book idea of my own, so this would be very useful to me…Thanks for writing it…
Glad it was a source of inspiration for you, Judith!
Yes, Judith! Glad to provide some helpful hints, but maybe you will come up with something better yourself! Every book is different.
What an interesting book! Congratulations!
Thanks for entering for the drawing, Tina!
Thanks, Tina! Interesting animals make for interesting books!
Congratulations, Janet! Love all the sounds and how you found a way to write them. Kudos on everything!
Thanks, Kim! Happy lolling weekend. Haha!
Thanks, Kim! I hope kids love the sounds I wrote, too. I loved writing them!
Congratulations on our book! I can’t wait to read it.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, Cinzia!
Thanks so much, Cinzia!
Congratulations on your new book. I can’t wait to read it!
It’s a beautiful book! Thanks, Andrew!
Thank you, Andrew, for reading my interview about Walrus Song. I hope you enjoy the book when you get to read it, hopefully out loud!
Congrats!! Looking forward to checking it out!
Thank you for entering for the drawing, Jen!
Thanks for browsing the interview!
I love finding nonfiction animal stories to share with my students. Walrus Song looks truly wonderful!
I’m sure it would be a big crowd pleaser, Jen!
So glad to hear this! You might enjoy having your students do the Walrus Song Maze that you can download for free off the book’s page on my website. Depending on the age of your students, one idea I had for classroom use is to have each student write one or two of the sounds on a sheet of paper, and you can have them hold up and read them, in turn, in a classroom “Readers Theatre” performance of the book.
Watch for early Dec posting on my site of Teacher Tips..
Thanks so much, Jody!
Congratulations, Janet. This looks like a fun book. Can’t wait to read it.
Thanks so much, Jennifer. I had a ton of fun writing it!
Enjoyed this interview. Hope I win so I can enjoy your newest book to
Hope it will be your lucky day! If not, your local library may well have a copy since it was a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Glad you enjoyed the interview!
Kim asked some great questions!
Walrus Song sounds so fascinating, and also fun to read. Looking forward to it.
Thanks, TL! Of all of nature’s creatures, the walrus is right up there as both fascinating and fun to learn about!
What a fabulous book! I love how you figured out how to write the sounds walruses make. Kids (and their adults) are going to love Walrus Song.
Thanks, Claire. I’m glad I went back and looked at my process to explain it all. There are so many months/years between writing and publication that I’d forgotten just how it did it until I looked at all my scribbles and drafts!
Walrus Song is going to be a great addition to any library and so fun to read to students!
Thanks for reading the interview. I hope many students will able to find Walrus Song in their library and enjoy reading it.
Who doesn’t love walruses? Looking forward to this one! 🙂 Looks enchanting!
Yes, they are improbable and lovable!!! And Tim Basil Ering captured so many great views of this amazing mammal.
Walrus Song “sounds” like a wonderful book. Readers are bound to feel like they are right there listening. Love how Janet found just the right walrus sounds and created amazing rhymes with them.
Your kind words “sound” like music to my ears! Thanks!
This book has peaked my interest in walruses!
I’m glad you want to know more about walruses! I must say that seeing one live is on my bucket list!
Yay, Kathy! You won the random drawing! I’ve sent you a private Facebook message so we can exchange emails and put you in touch with Janet about receiving your book.. Congratulations!
Late to the party but thank you for a great interview, Kim and Janet. I’m so impressed you were able to use simply the variety of sounds to create a narrative. Congratulations Janet! The book sounds lovely.
Never too late! We’re glad you enjoyed the interview. I enjoyed sharing my “walrus word journey,” with all its noisy twists and turns.
Thank you for this fabulous interview. I love the sounds- so fun!
Thanks, Mary! I”ve decided that any time I research an animal, I should examine/consider/write about sounds they make. Though I doubt any will be as fun and varied as those of the walrus!