We're back from another summer vacation. Phew! Unpacking, I see two familiar faces - new books by children's author Diana Murray. Let's just say, it's not their first family vaca with us this summer. They might be ready for a rest!
The first Murray title I pull out of the bag is vibrant, lyrical picture book SUMMER COLOR!, illustrated by Zoe Persico (Little, Brown and Company, May 2018).
SUMMER COLOR! celebrates the joy and beauty of our warmest season through the adventure of a pop-up storm. Murray’s poetic narrative presents color after color, giving each hue a stage upon which to sparkle and shine. From willows and lily pads, to deer and egrets, readers encounter familiar flora and fauna on each spread. As the impending storm draws near, the book grows more and more luminous. With brilliant contrast and great exuberance, Persico's art takes us directly into and through the drama of a summer day made complete by lighting crash and puddle splash. (Here's the book trailer!)
The second book to emerge from our canvas tote on unpacking day? Sweet, peppy early reader PIZZA PIG, also by Murray, illustrated by Maria Karipidou (Random House, February 2018).
In PIZZA PIG, chef Pig makes pizza pies to-order for all of his regular animal customers. All goes swimmingly, until tough-to-please Turtle enters Pig’s restaurant. Art by Karipidou matches Murray’s cast of characters in both cuteness and cleverness. Bright, tight and paced just right, PIZZA PIG delivers a super fun and super delicious read – a great title for a child beginning to master early reading skills. (Watch the book trailer here!)
The author of these books, Diana Murray, is a writer I greatly admire for her musical, spirited, satisfying storytelling… as well as her versatility. PIZZA PIG is Murray’s first early reader, and she handily adapted her writing to this very different kidlit category.
As a writer currently transitioning a picture book manuscript into an early reader, I’ve been getting up to speed on the genre’s unique characteristics. A few questions keep popping up, and I thought Murray would be a fantastic person to touch base with, to see how she approached her work. To my delight, she was willing to share her experience!
So without further ado, here’s my latest Author Spotlight, with Diana Murray.
3 Questions with Diana Murray
Picture books and early readers are very different literary forms. What titles served as mentor texts for you, as you approached PIZZA PIG?
I was especially drawn to “Level 2” readers, and I studied texts that my kids and I both enjoyed. Two books that we read over and over again and loved were CENTIPEDE’S SHOES by Charles Ghigna, illustrated by Bob Staake, and SHAMPOODLE by Joan Holub, illustrated by Tim Bowers. Both are written in fun rhymes. Another one we adored was PIRATE MOM by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin. But that one is Level 3 and written in prose. I should note that each imprint/line of early readers has a somewhat different style, so it’s important to look at books from the particular line you’re interested in. In general, for the imprints that have a lot of licensed books (Disney princesses and such) you need to write something super, duper commercial with lots of hooks. It needs to “jump off the shelf,” as my editor said.
In PIZZA PIG, you introduce so many fun animals, while also moving quickly to the conflict. What challenges and considerations came into play, to ensure that the pacing and story arc were just right?
Interesting question! I was initially worried that the conflict didn’t come soon enough. In picture books it usually comes by page three or four. But in this case, the conflict acts more like a climax. It was somewhat the same with SHAMPOODLE. In the middle of SHAMPOODLE, a cat comes into the dog salon and creates mayhem. In PIZZA PIG, the pig chef makes every pizza just right, until a shy turtle comes into his shop and he can’t figure out what she wants. The conflict is introduced later in the story, but acts as a sort of surprise to increase tension and action and to leave readers with a deeper takeaway message.
Both of your new titles have a lovely musicality about them. SUMMER COLOR!'s phrasing is longer and more languid, while PIZZA PIG is punchy and playful. How did you find the right tone and tenor for PIZZA PIG?
SUMMER COLOR! is written in anapestic tetrameter while PIZZA PIG is written in iambic tetrameter. Anapestic meter does come across as a bit more “languid,” while iambic meter can feel more “peppy.” Anapestic meter has a greater number of unstressed syllables which makes it seem slower and longer. When deciding which kind of meter to choose for a story, I always go with my gut. SUMMER COLOR! is somewhat lyrical while PIZZA PIG is humorous and jaunty, so the type of meter I chose for each felt right to me. Also, within SUMMER COLOR!, the pace is controlled by page turns. Splitting up stanzas between pages slowly stretches the text out, and then, when it comes to the rainstorm, there are some more text-heavy pages which feel quicker and denser. So there are other ways to control the pace besides the choice of meter.
How fantastic, Diana! Many thanks for giving readers (and writers) a look behind the curtain!
While reviewing Diana's bio, I learned that we share a love of green tea ice cream (my fave!). Diana Murray has written many books for children, including the Grimelda adventures (GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH and GRIMELDA AND THE SPOOKTACULAR PET SHOW), CITY SHAPES and new title ONE SNOWY DAY, which comes out in October 2018. Connect with Diana Murray on Twitter: @DianaMWrites
I'm excited to share... One lucky reader will win *autographed copies* of both SUMMER COLOR! and PIZZA PIG. Here's how you can enter to WIN these new books, signed by Diana Murray:
*** Win SUMMER COLOR! and PIZZA PIG ***
1. "Like" this post (click the heart below)
2. Follow me (@anitraschulte) on Twitter
3. Retweet my pinned contest tweet by 8/3/18
(Submit a blog comment below and get a BONUS ENTRY!)