OTTER OUGHTA KNOW, Interview with Karyn Friedman-Everham! + A GIVEAWAY!

I’m extremely excited to welcome Karyn Friedman-Everham to Picture Book Builders to chat with me about her absolutely adorable and so-fun-to-read-aloud debut picture book, Otter Oughta Know, illustrated by Michael Robertson and published by Orchard Books/Scholastic. Welcome Karyn!

KFE: Rebecca, it’s wonderful to be here to talk with you about Otter Oughta Know and craft. Thank you for the kind words about the story. Thank you, readers, for your time! 

RGL: This book is such a sweet, simple story for very little ones with a very subtle underlying message about being open to all kinds of friendships. What gave you the idea to write a book about an otter-alligator friendship? And how did you come up with SUCH a great title?!

KFE: It’s very gratifying to hear that the underlying friendship message came through. I’ve been living in Florida many years, so I guess I’ve got alligator and otter on the brain! (Ouch.) It was only a matter of time before they’d take over a picture book! Friendship stories are favorites of mine, especially when the friendship seems wildly improbable, which ties to a theme that often compels me: “things are not what they seem.” 

I’m envious of writers who come up with amazing titles – I swiped mine from the manuscript!

RGL: The rhythm of this book is SO. MUCH. FUN! Talk about re-read-aloud-ability! The cadence is so unique and yet I feel like I maybe have heard this rhythm someplace before? Can you talk about where you got the idea to use this unusual (but yet familiar) cadence for this book? 

KFE: I’m so glad you enjoyed the rhythm! In part, the sound patterns were influenced by swing music, which I’d been listening to when I began writing Otter. I love the snap and bounce of swing, and though I’m not a musician, I thought how much fun it would be to capture a bit of that jaunty, energetic sound in a story. Once the rhythm found its way into a refrain, I was hooked. In the early days, I spent a long time just playing with the sound – I loved the results when I varied the tempo and/or replaced one word with another. It dawned on me that the changeups could be used to great effect in the story – both as a storytelling tool and a means to entice children’s participation and enjoyment. 

RGL: Many editors and rhyming authors (myself included!) generally say that slant rhyme (also known as “near” rhyme”) is to be avoided. For instance, you use “know/toes” or “knows/go,” which aren’t “perfect” rhymes. The reason that most people say to always aim for “perfect” rhyme is because, in many cases, writers who use slant rhyme also tend to have inconsistent meter, rhyme scheme or other issues, indicating that they haven’t yet spent time learning the skills needed to write well in rhyme. HOWEVER, in your book, because you have created such a clear rhythm and added so much other intentional wordplay and lyrical language throughout, it is clear that the use of slant rhymes is fully intentional (and works beautifully!). Why did you make the craft choice to include slant rhyme (rather than perfect rhymes) and why do you think it works well for this particular book? 

KFE: No food for me for the next month! I’m going to live on your kind words about the lyricism, slant rhyme, and wordplay in Otter. Many, many thanks.

Oh, slant rhymes! I am a fan. But slant rhymes are tricky! By their nature, they draw attention to themselves. Finding just-the-right word that draws just-the-right kind of attention is challenging. I love the subtle slant rhyme, the one whose sound is reminiscent and slightly new, a callback and a bit of a contrast from its near-rhyming mate. I love the subtle surprise created by the contrast. To my ear, the surprise is pleasurable (unless the slant jars), and I think it piques interest, creating a pull to the next line of the story or poem. These are a couple of the reasons why, on a macro level, I think slant works in Otter, a story filled with twists and turns in plot and wordplay. 

When choosing slant rhyming words on the micro level, many thoughts go through my mind. The slant sound must be right for the rhythm and rhyme of the stanza, and the slant word must serve the story. For example, with “knows” and “go,” I want readers to linger on the words “nobody knows” as they ponder the flight mystery. I like the shift created with the use of the slant rhyme “go.” It’s punchy and active; it surprises and compels a page turn. 

I love how perfect rhyme can create a marvelous feeling of wholeness and completeness, which is what I wanted for the last two spreads of Otter. My next book is a meditative NF told entirely in perfect rhyme.

RGL: I am in LOVE with the illustrations by Michael Robertson! SO adorable… and those endpapers! Amazing! Did you have any say in the illustrator choice and/or how much input did you have into the illustrations over all? Did you have a lot of illustration notes? 

KFE: I’m in total agreement with your love assessment! Michael’s illustrations are perfectly wonderful for this story, aren’t they? At the outset, my editor, Andy Lopez-Soberano, asked if I had illustrator thoughts. Soon after, Andy suggested Michael Robertson. One look at his portfolio and it was clear to me and my agent, Joyce Sweeney, that his fabulous art was a perfect match for Otter. I hope our paths cross again!  

When deciding if illustration notes are needed, I ask myself a couple questions: 1) Will the editor and/or illustrator be confused without them, and 2) Does the story include actions and/or emotions that appear in illustration, but not in text? The action in Otter is clearly laid out in the text, so not many notes needed there. But the emotions of the characters unfold in illustration, so for that, I included a fair amount of notes. 

RGL: And now time for what has become my signature question! What is one question no one has yet to ask you about the making of this book that you are DYING to answer? (And what’s the answer? 🙂    

KFE: “Why do you write for young children?”

The audience fascinates me. The kids are fantastically imaginative, creative, and playful. They’re mini-scientists testing everything they interact with. They absolutely love wordplay and silly humor. The sky’s the limit for pretend play! All of this makes writing stories a joy. It’s a wonderful challenge to create books that entice children’s playful, imaginative interaction.

I’m breaking your rules, Rebecca. I have a second question:

“Does Otter Oughta Know come with an operating manual?”

YES! 

Here you go:  Please handle playfully!

RGL: Oh, I LOVE that so much! Thank you so much for stopping by, Karyn!

KFE: Thanks again for the fantastic interview, Rebecca! I could talk craft all day and night, especially with compelling questions such as these. Thank you, readers!  With much gratitude, Karyn

Karyn’s Bio: Karyn Friedman-Everham lives in southern Florida, where she’s seen a few gators and otters, but she hasn’t climbed into the water with them – yet. Her favorite adventures begin and end with a pen in hand. Formerly a teacher, Karyn has worked in the Head Start program and the Peace Corps. She’s utterly, otterly thrilled to share Otter Oughta Know, her debut picture book. Find Karyn at www.KarynFriedmanEverham.com

RGL: BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!!!! Karyn has graciously agreed to giveaway a 30-minute Ask-Me-Anything Zoom call! Just comment on this post for your chance to enter! Winner will be announced on my next post, May 10th!

And the winner of last month’s GIVEAWAY, a copy of Katrina Moore and Melissa Iwai’s Hope Is A Hop is…

***MORGAN LOGAN!***

Congrats! Please email me at [email protected] and I’ll be sure you get your prize!

See you next month! 🙂

Rebecca Gardyn Levington

Rebecca Gardyn Levington is a children’s book author, poet, and journalist with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme. She is the author of BRAINSTORM!, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW, and AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? A PASSOVER HIDE-AND-SEEK ADVENTURE, with seven additional rhyming picture books forthcoming. Rebecca Gardyn Levington is a children’s book author, poet, and journalist with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme. She is the author of BRAINSTORM!, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW and AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? A PASSOVER HIDE-AND-SEEK ADVENTURE, and has seven additional rhyming picture books forthcoming, including LITTLE DREIDEL LEARNS TO SPIN (Scholastic, 9/3/24), WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW (Capstone, 1/1/25) and ALWAYS ME (HarperCollins, 4/15/25). Her award-winning poems and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies, newspapers, and magazines. She lives with her family in Summit, N.J., where she enjoys bouncing on a mini-trampoline, playing Mah Jongg, and eating chocolate-peanut butter ice cream (although not usually at the same time!). Find out more and sign up for Rebecca’s monthly newsletter where she answers subscriber questions and shares tips learned throughout her writing journey at www.RebeccaGardynLevington.com.

39 Comments:

  1. This book is adorable!!! I love writing in rhyme, and you did such a beautiful job! I can’t wait to read this to my kids. I can already tell they are gonna love it! 😊 Thanks for sharing your journey and wisdom. Wishing you great success with this book!

    • Thank you so very much for the kind words, Bri! I hope your kids enjoy the story!

      And big, big thanks for the library request. Aren’t libraries the best?

  2. P.S. to previous comment: I just put in a library request for this book! I’m sooo excited to read it!!!

  3. This looks absolutely delightful! Congratulations, Karyn and Michael. Wishing you much success!!

  4. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    OMG, this looks like SO. MUCH. FUN! Congrast!

  5. Sounds perfect for storytime! Can’t wait to “handle playfully” – I’m sure they’ll love it!

  6. I can’t wait to read this-looks wonderful on every level! Congrats!

  7. Congratulations, Karyn and Michael! I can’t wait to read it. Your book looks wonderful!

  8. How cute! Congratulations!

  9. Love, love, love the adorable otter and his new friend, alligator. Can’t wait to read the whole book after hearing how you created the delightful rhythm while listening to swing music (a favorite of mine).

    • Thank you, Sandra! Otter is otterly adorable – thanks to Michael’s huggable art! I’m so grateful and fortunate. I hope you enjoy the story and its swing-y roots.

  10. This book looks adorable. I laughed out loud. Young children will love this book. And, the otter is too cute!

  11. What a wonderful interview. I’ve read Otter several times aloud. Otter Oughta Know makes me happy! The message and the slant rhyme work so well. Thanks for writing this delightful book, Karyn! This is a book I will read again and again.

  12. A fascinating discussion of slant rhyme. Thank you for that! And oh my, what a fun book, complete with bright and lively illustrations. Congrats, Karyn!

  13. I love all the fun emanating from your book. Such great illustrations! Congratulations!

  14. I, too, was intrigued by the unusual yet smooth rhythm when I first read this aloud (by smooth, I mean I didn’t stumble). Thank you Rebeca for picking up on that and asking Karyn about it, and thank you Karyn for being so brilliant and fun!

  15. Love the cadence and rhythm, and how the illustrations make it even more fun! And now I know something new about slant rhyme. I’ve put this on my must-read list.

  16. I love this! I found myself singing the words! So cute.

  17. Diversity in friendships are so important and your sweet book is a perfect example. I love the fun rhyming. I feel like I should dance while reading the rhymes. Congratulations

    • Meredith, you have no idea how many times I danced as I wrote and re-wrote the story! I hope kids get up and move, too. Thanks so much for sharing, and thank you for the kind words!

  18. So much fun! Congratulations to both of you!

  19. This looks like a great read — congrats, Karyn!

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