Our youngest, Miss L, has been having an awfully hard time lately with an immovable fact: There are many kids who are bigger and older than she is.
She’s not quite four and a half. And admittedly, she is a peanut…
Things came to a head last week, when Miss L was gearing up to attend her friend’s slime-making birthday party. We were just about to leave the house when it hit her.
“Wait, is Juliana going to be FIVE?!”
We talked for almost an hour about all of Miss L’s thoughts and concerns on the matter. And oh my. The sadness ran DEEP. While her reasons for being upset made a lot of sense, there wasn’t anything she could do about it. The reality was simple: She is small, and many are big. But there was an upside: She is bigger than some.
This dilemma and its underlying glimmer of hope were illuminated brilliantly by author Anna Kang and illustrator Christopher Weyant in the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award-winning picture book YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL (Two Lions, 2014).
Since writing this big hit, Kang and Weyant have gone on to create three additional titles that take on topics of major concern to young children far and wide. Each story centers on two creatures (one orange and big, one purple and small) working their way through a problem. THAT’S (NOT) MINE is about the conflict that arises when the fuzzy friends want to sit in the same chair. I AM (NOT) SCARED is about the things that do, and don’t, scare the pair.
Last week, Kang and Weyant released WE ARE (NOT) FRIENDS. You’ll notice in the cover art that this famous duo has become a trio, and that there are mixed feelings about the addition of a third wheel…
WE ARE (NOT) FRIENDS continues the successful storytelling style of the “(Not)” books: In sparse text, the characters express key differences of opinion that build and build, then result in a very emotional response. The core problem at the center of this tale is jumpstarted by a seemingly simple question. Can I play with you?
Through Weyant’s artwork, we instantly see that the idea is welcomed by one fuzzy friend, but not the other, thus establishing the conflict. As the adage goes, two’s company but three’s a crowd. And true to form, the beloved fuzzy characters experience all the emotional bumps and bruises that come with being left out.
At first, the big creature is in on the fun, tap dancing with the new blue friend in a vaudeville duet, as the small one steams on the sidelines. But in quick order, the big friend is relegated to the margins, as the other two play dinosaur hunters. When they ask the big one to be a scary dinosaur, the assignment is taken begrudgingly.
Sadness grows, then releases in a feverish breaking point. Kang’s text and Weyant’s art explode on the page, showing the declaration, which speaks volumes…. at a very high volume indeed.
In WE ARE (NOT) FRIENDS, readers feel all the friendship feels - expectation, disappointment, frustration, sadness and fury - then are safely and tenderly led to the realization that the addition of one doesn’t supplant an original friend. It expands the group and creates opportunity for even more fun.
When it comes to understanding the nuances of friendship, there is no way to learn except through. With concision and focus, Kang steers us into hardships and on to the finish line, where laughter and joy await. How does she do it? Let’s meet Anna Kang, and find out!
3 Questions with Anna Kang
The (Not) series takes on broad concepts in a way that's so distilled and direct. How do you weed away the many possibilities and arrive at this clear, punchy style?
The distilled and direct style started with You Are (Not) Small, our first picture book. I didn't consciously choose the style -- I was focused on the concept of perspective and subjectivity, and the tone and style came out naturally from there. When the book grew into a series, I sat down and thought about the many situations that have varying interpretations and points of view, but I wanted to keep the same pared-down style to be consistent and to engage beginning readers.
Your books have such fun twists at the end. What is the key to a great ending, and how do you know when you've found it?
I think humor or a bit of a surprise, as long as it is consistent with the tone or theme, helps achieve a good ending. I usually go with my gut to tell me if I've found it.
What advice would you give to writers who aspire to create a picture book series? What needs to be in "book 2" and beyond, to keep the fun and momentum going?
My advice is always the same: read as many picture books as you can and be aware of what you like or don't like about them; try to write every day; join SCBWI or another organization that supports writers and illustrators and provides networking opportunities; polish your manuscript until it is the best that it can be; research publishers and/or agents who feel like a good fit and respect their submission guidelines. SCBWI posted a useful set of tips and information on their site regarding this question.
As for "Book 2" and beyond, I try to find ways to explore the same concept of conflicting perspectives without repeating myself. With our latest book, WE ARE (NOT) FRIENDS, or Book 4, we broadened their friendship a bit to include a third creature, and in future books we will continue to have fun with their world and hopefully explore different dynamics.
Thank you, Anna!
WE ARE (NOT) FRIENDS is by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant, the author/illustrator team behind You are (Not) Small, That’s (Not) Mine, I Am (Not) Scared and Eraser (Two Lions), and Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? and Can I Tell You a Secret? (HarperCollins).
One lucky reader will win WE ARE (NOT) FRIENDS, signed by Anna Kang! Here's how to enter:
*** Win WE ARE (NOT) FRIENDS ***
1. "Like" this post (click the heart below)
2. Follow me (@anitraschulte) on Twitter
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