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Author Spotlight: Andrew Hacket



Happy Sunday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!


I'm super pumped to share another Author Spotlight and this time it's extra special...a DEBUT picture book! I've had a handful of debut picture books find their way to this here blog and they always have a special place in my heart. Today's picture book is Ollie, the Acorn, and the Mighty Idea written by Andrew Hacket, and illustrated by Kaz Windness--what a PHENOMENAL team!


Before we jump into this Author Spotlight with Andrew, we have some crucial introductory announcements. Namely, me being giddy about SUMMER.


SUMMER!!!


What a wild and busy spring. This teacher has summer break on the brain. And our school only has three weeks left! Then I will do all the house projects and write all the books and do ALL THE THINGS IN EXISTENCE. All before 10 AM. May is magical. So, come swiftly, Summer. Come swiftly.


Speaking of swiftly, since my last post, Taylor Swift shared some new music with the world. Even Dennis has been embracing his tortured poet era. To be clear, most of Dennis's poetry is angst-filled rage sonnets about never eating what he's truly hungry for. Here's a quatrain that I snatched from his journal the other day...


I eat the thing I never seem to crave

Why can't I eat the thing I always want?

Will these kids ever EVER misbehave?!

Or will they only trick and tease and taunt



In other Dennis-related announcements, this Spring has been particularly busy with author events and school visits. I've absolutely LOVED sharing The Book of Rules with new groups of kids and interacting with the very humans this is all for. During my introduction, I try to tell each group, "I wrote this for you." How wild that must feel for a little kiddo to hear.




And with each visit, I feel like I've gone to school in a different way. These kids teach me so much! They're helping me hone all my jokes, learn what works best, get my pacing down, and show me how to really listen to the audience. Two-and-a-half years in, it still feels like the coolest thing ever. I usually walk out thinking, I'm an author with a real book and kids are laughing at my silly jokes that they actually printed!? I hope that feeling never goes away. So far Dennis hasn't eaten anybody at my author visits so let's pray that continues.





Speaking of The Book of Rules, my editor, Melissa (Warten) Vogan, was recently on one of THE BEST episodes of The Manuscript Academy podcast. She talks about picture books a ton which isn't always the focus of the podcast in general. Her comments on art notes, visual storytelling, and pagination (as well as graphic novels and other things) will truly melt your face. I felt like she gave language to so much of what I've been feeling/thinking over the years. If you've been anxious about art notes or pagination, it's liberating. Trust me on this one, this is a MUST LISTEN!




Finally, there's less than 24 hours remaining on my current 25% off critique sale--registrations must be made before midnight today. Use promo code "KidlitHaHa25off" in your registration form for 25% off the total price. The code is good for both Zoom or written critiques.



Alright. Now that we're all up to date on Brian things, let's transition to Andrew things!


I've always been a fan of Andrews in general because my brother is an Andrew. Something I appreciate about Andrew Hacket's debut, is its testament to the power of the imagination. This story has so much to say and the way that it says it is truly refreshing and unique. When I first read it, I smiled and stopped several times, telling myself, "did that just happen?!" If you're looking for a picture book packed with humor and heart, this one fits the bill. So, let's talk about it!


House lights fade to black. Cue the fog and hamsters and laser beams...


Cue the spotlight.


Here's Andrew!


 

Spotlight on Craft: I’m so curious about the story behind the story. Talk to us about how this text revealed itself to you and that initial entry point into the story. Your structure and voice were really unique! What role did revision play and how did the finalized text emerge? 


The initial spark for this story came from a summertime conversation with my children about what would happen if they swallowed a watermelon seed. Obviously, watermelons would grow in their stomachs! Well, my wandering author mind couldn't leave that absurdity alone and immediately began to wonder, what if? What if that seed was something else? An acorn perhaps?


Also, around this same time I had been kicking around the idea of smaller statured character based significantly off my own feelings as a child. This character was going to be named Twig and would eventually showcase all of the amazing things he COULD do as a result of his smaller size. 


The final piece to this picturebook inspiration puzzle came from the well-loved book, There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. The absurdity and structure of this story connected so well with what I hoped to accomplish with Ollie. I also had always loved the way in which it invited children to read along and participate with the reading. This was something I knew I wanted in my end product for Ollie. 


Pulling this story together took an abundance of revision. Much of the structure was present from the first draft, however, fine tuning word choice and making sure to plant the perfect puns in the precise places was ongoing. Revision also brought about the backmatter as many critique partners showed some concern over the unsafe choices I was potentially encouraging children to make via Ollie’s eating antics. The final rounds of revision and what Ollie is today, came to be via an R&R with PageStreet prior to their acquiring Ollie. We worked to ensure each character’s motivations were clear so that the subsequent actions felt warranted and authentic. 


Themes, Ideas, and Messages: This book has a lot to unpack! I saw some definite analogies between what we do to nurture plants and what we do to nurture friendships and relationships. And I see so much more than an anti-bullying book. To me, that was almost a side layer that takes a backseat to some of the other ideas at play. What’s an important theme or message you hope readers notice that might not be as obvious as others? 


Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for your noticings! I hope that kids, parents, and teachers can find all that this book has to offer and be able to incorporate it into their lives in and classrooms in the way that is most meaningful to them. 


The takeaway I hope readers see is about self-acceptance. I think every single person feels less than at some point, even the Everetts who look like they have it all together. I hope this book, even in the tiniest possible way, can help students in owning their quirks and interests while also growing in them a little compassion for what others might be feeling. 


Comedy & Absurdity: Your book made me laugh so many times! While reading, I found myself thinking, oh my goddess is he…yepp. Andrew went there. Your main character TAKES A BITE OUT OF THE SUN AND TURNS INTO A TREE!? I LOVE IT! I think there’s tremendous value for kids to engage with texts that have abstract ideas or where there’s tension between the literal and figurative meanings. Oh, the conversations that will happen from this book…the questions! Why did Ollie have to take a bite of the sun? How do plants really get their sunlight? Can people really become trees? Why do you think Ollie became a tree? And a million more. Your book has ideas that imply a lot of trust for your readers and I really respect that. So, why is it important for kids to engage with ideas and material that dips its toes into the abstract, or even the absurd at times? And, thinking about the humor, what sorts of things did you do to make the comedy work?


It is one of my core beliefs as a teacher that kids are so, so capable and that it is often us, the grownups, who are placing limitations on what we perceive their abilities are. I released any of those limitations when approaching this story. From the level of absurdity to the embedded themes and messages, I put my trust in kids’ ability to “get it”, because they are smart and in their own little lives lacking of sun eating and tree monsters, these feelings are real and that is what they will connect with. 


I feel strongly about the absurdity because societally and educationally it feels as though we are pushing our kids to grow up faster than ever. Imagination. Fantasy. Absurdity. These are amazing places to live and students should be having a greater opportunity to explore the endless possibilities of ridiculousness their imaginations have to offer. 


For the humor I relied heavily on Ollie’s escalating antics and put my trust in illustrator extraordinaire, Kaz Windness, to bring the comedy of it to life, which she did expertly. I also am a lover of a good page turn and the tension which that can build. Watching and hearing the disbelief from students at each page turn has brought unbe-leaf-able joy.





The Pitch: Alright, Andrew. You’ve got our attention. We’re on the elevator. We only have a few floors to go before the “DING!” What’s your book about and why should parents, teachers, and librarians be excited about snagging a copy for their shelves? Give us your quick elevator pitch of the book. 


Ollie, the Acorn, and the Mighty Idea is an absurd tale of small boy with a name bigger than he is who goes to tree-mendous lengths to become big enough to stand up to his bully. Layered with science learning, SEL themes, and a healthy does of absurdity, this book, with its refrains and humor, will have kids joining in and rolling on the floor. 


Debut Picture Book: You’ve got quite the busy debut year! THREE BOOKS?! And back to back, no doubt. Busy, busy! But thinking about this first one, what does it mean to you that your book is out in the world? How has the debut process gone for you and what advice would you give for authors with a debut picutre book coming up (or THREE!?)?


The inkling of desire to write a book has nagged at the back of my brain for most of my life, but like Ollie, I always thought, “I couldn't” and “I shouldn’t”.  I was too young, I had no idea where to start, I had a job, I had a family. Now I was too old. I had so many reasons not to, that I never even attempted. And let’s not forget, trying something new also creates a new opportunity to fail. Scary!


Having my debut book released is proof positive that it isn’t too late to go for that lofty dream that has been lingering around in the dusty corners of your brain. Having my book launch and my first school visit have left me with an overwhelming sense of fulfillment, accomplishment, and gratitude!


The debut process has been smooth yet hectic! My advice for debut authors is to design the experience YOU want to have. I knew it would be hard to launch three books in 2 months and have the experience I wanted to have while being a full-time teacher, so I made the choice to take a leave of absence for the spring. I had worked for too many years not to have the opportunity to celebrate and experience the life of an author. I also knew I would be back to teaching in September so I wanted to cram in as much of this author life as I could. Cue signing up for all of the blogs, podcasts, and school visits I could. Am I overwhelmed? Yes! Am I exhausted? Yes! Am I having the best time ever! You better be-leaf it!


I understand that this is not the best choice for everyone, which brings me back to plan the experience you want to have. My actionable advice is to start early. Don’t be afraid to reach out to bloggers, podcasters, libraries, or bookstores. I am only surviving currently because most of my events and promotions were planned months in advance and these blog posts and interviews have been written long before the chaos of launch descended upon my life. 


Andrew’s Writer Heart:  What do you think Ollie taught you while crafting the book? How did you grow as a storyteller and a writer as a direct result of working on this book? What did you discover?


Writing Ollie taught me to trust myself as a writer. With 17 years of teaching second-graders, I have a pretty good handle on my audience and yet I was apprehensive of making some of the absurd choices I knew kids would love. I worried I was going too far. Now that Ollie is out, I have the confirmation that those choices were spot on. I think the uniqueness of this story was what caught the attention of editors and I have inspired myself to filter that absurd side of my writing brainless and to trust in the fantastical nonsense that spills out of my brain and onto the page.


Spotlight on Words: Let’s put a spotlight on those words, words, words….what’s your favorite individual line and why and what’s your favorite text in a whole spread and why?


My favorite line is: “BURPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!”


Is this the most beautiful line ever? No! Is it exemplifying the beauty of language? Not so much! Is it fun? You betcha!


All of the minuscule burps that came before were leading up to this moment and the ridiculousness of Ollie regurgitating everything, including Everett! I also love it because never did I expect I would be allowed to include that many exclamation points.





My favorite text from a full spread is:

Ollie launch a volley of acorns, forcing Everett from his hiding spot. With a twist of his trunk, a sway of his branches, Ollie roars, “LEAVE!”


But Everett stands firm. “You’re not scary, bark breath. You’re full of termites. You’re big, but you’re still just a twig to me.” 


Ollie stares hard at Everett, his branches quivering with anger. 


He couldn’t.

He shouldn’t.

But he does!


Ollie lashes out his leaves, tosses Everett sky high, and…


There are so many reasons I love this text. First, this is the second of three times we have “Leave!” in the story and this time it is the turning of the tables and Ollie finally feeling confident. I like how the repetition of this word shows a different perspective each time. 


Second, I love how Everett doubles down on his jerkiness. Crafting his insults was a fun exercise in trying to push boundaries without taking it too far. I didn’t always succeed. For example, the line, “You’re a campfire waiting to happen” was too far. 


Last, I love how this page and resulting pageturn build the “No, he isn’t going to do that, is he?” excitement from the listeners even though they are pretty sure he is. Those insults from Everett and Ollie’s quivering anger all let us infer what is happening, but we still aren’t sure whether or not the author is willing to take it there. I am!


Spotlight on Art: Picture books wouldn’t be picture books without the visual storytelling and art. Kaz Windness did a phenomenal job! Let’s talk about it! What’s your favorite artistic element and favorite whole spread and why?


I could do an entire post on my love an appreciation for Kaz! She is an incredible author-illustrator and I find myself inspired by her work and by who she is as a person.


My favorite artistic element are the cutaways that give us that extra glimpse into what is happening inside Ollie’s belly. For me it adds a bit of humor and it builds up to the absurdity of seeing Everett inside of Ollie towards the end of the story. 





In terms of spreads, I have to go with the vertical tree monster!! I had hoped all along that this would be included in the book, but I had no idea or expectation of how an illustrator would pull it off. Kaz nailed it! It is surprising and impactful. I can’t get enough of watching listeners’ jaws drop at this page turn. 





The Final Word: What would you like to leave in our minds to consider or further reflect on today?


Hmmm…this openendedness gives me the same anxiety a new blank draft gives me. I feel the need to say something profound yet humorous and this self-imposed pressure is bringing about silence.


All of that to say, JUST WRITE! My overthinking continually prevents me from getting words on the page and without words on a page there is nothing to revise. I regularly set a 12 minute timer and just write! I let all of the words, whether spectacular or hot garbage pour onto the page. This strategy gets me out of my head and has a tenancy to pull my authentic voice out of me. 


Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Andrew! We're excited for young readers to discover Ollie!


And thank YOU, kidlit fam for stopping by to check out Andrew's new book. To share his gratitude, Andrew has offered to pair a giveaway with this post. He is giving away a 30-minute "ask me anything" OR a virtual classroom visit--winner's choice! To enter Andrew's awesome giveaway contest and toss your name in the digital raffle hat, see details below.




TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:



Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight

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✅ Share this post on social media using the hashtag: #PBSpotlight 


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Follows and tags are appreciated so I don't miss your sharing!


***The deadline for this contest is Sunday, May 12th at 9 AM CST


Winner will be contacted on Sunday, May 12th & announced on Brian's social media channels***


About Andrew Hacket

Andrew Hacket always dreamed of writing picture books, but never believed it was possible. Then one day he thought, “I could. I should.” So he did (with a lot of hard work). And while he hopes no one swallows acorns as a result of his story, he does hope kids will be inspired to grow kindness in their communities and stand up for themselves―without eating anyone, of course. A second grade teacher, Andrew lives in Holden, Massachusetts with his wife and three children, all of whom are very mighty. Visit him at www.AndrewHacket.com.








 

Brian was born a wooden puppet. It was an idyllic, splinter-filled childhood. His best friend was a cricket. Eventually, he was eaten by a whale. In the belly of the beast, he realized that being a wooden puppet wasn't all it was cracked up to be (and there were too many strings attached). Yes, Brian wanted to be a real boy. So, he wished upon a star. Bada bing, bada boom...he became a real boy. It was pretty rad. He found himself a wife, had some kids, and sold some picture books. Recently, he may have sold his third picture book but can't say any more than that. Ironically, it is not about wolves. Brian is still a wolf fraud. He has zero books about wolves so can you really trust him about anything? Probably not. Maybe he should wish upon a star again. Maybe then he'll sell a wolf picutre book. The emoji code is a star. Toss a star emoji into your sharing of this post and receive ten extra raffle entries. Yes, ten. Keep wishing, kidlit fam. Anything your heart desires will come to you...

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