Happy Thursday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
I had every intention of getting this out on Tuesday...I had every intention.
But then Tuesday happened.
If I'm really honest I never really knew what to expect on debut day. It was this date, a looming moment in time that I knew would mean a lot. A date that would change things. But I kept telling myself it would be a normal day. I'd teach, get the boys after school, get everybody fed and to bed, and share a simple celebratory cupcake and glass of champagne with my wife, Katherine after her dress rehearsal of Oklahoma--it's a bit of a marathon week at the Gehrlein casa.
But then Tuesday actually happened.
I was not ready for such an emotionally overwhelming outpouring of love, support, and kindness. All day! All day was a stomach full of butterflies. Not the nervous, bad kind of butterflies. They were the butterflies you feel as a teenager after that first kiss with someone special. Like walking on air.
All. Day. Long.
It was an unceasing train of joy from family, friends, coworkers, students, and the kidlit fam online. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the sweet words, reviews, library recommendations, pre-orders, shout-outs, retweets, and everything in between. It's been AMAZING! Here are some snapshots from the last two days...
Originally planning to post Tuesday, I had the below blurb as the opener. I think it's still relevant.
Today is a very special day. A day I've been looking forward to for a long time. A day that shows you can be rejected 600 times and still get published. A day that shows sometimes none of this makes sense because you can land a book deal for an unqueried manuscript that was written just for fun. So keep going, kidlit fam. Keep creating. Keep playing and writing just for the fun of it. And above all...stay ready for surprises.
I'm super jazzed you're here! Thank you so much for helping me celebrate launch day for The Book of Rules. Happy Birthday, Dennis! This Spotlight was super fun to compile and I'm pumped to be "together" with the team to talk about this book. Today our Spotlight features FSG/BYR associate editor, Melissa Warten, illustrator, Tom Knight...and me. We have a pretty rad giveaway (many thanks to Macmillan!) for this post so be sure to check out the end of the interview for all the details!
Without further ado...
Here's The Book of Rules!
Tom: My first impressions of THE BOOK OF RULES were that I had never read anything like this before. It is totally unique. I was too busy laughing to have a second impression, and my third, fourth and fifth impressions were all clouded with anxiety because I had literally no idea how I was going to illustrate it!
Melissa: HILARIOUS! My favorite picture book growing up was Don't Make Me Laugh by James Stevenson, and reading this on submission made me laugh with the same delight and engagement as that book did to my childhood self for years. As an editor, though, it's not just about how I feel; it's about how readers might feel. And right away, I could think of countless children and settings that would love this book. I knew I had to have it.
Brian: My first impression of this book was probably, “what did I just write!?” Probably nothing. I’ll just stick it in a folder for a few years and do literally nothing with it. Doubt your first impressions, kidlit fam. Sometimes first impressions are misleading. Maybe something you think is just a silly experimental book...is actually your future debut!
Tom: My favorite line is “Give yourself a bear hug. A bigger bear hug. THE BIGGEST BEAR-EST HUG IN THE HISTORY OF BEARS!”. It's got everything - rhythm, alliteration AND a challenge. Who doesn’t like giving themselves a bear hug? We don’t do it enough. Also it makes excellent use of the letter B, which brings me on to the second part of your question. My favorite artistic feature is that there is a little bee who flies through the book and is on every page. Can you spot him?
Melissa: Oh gosh...it's gotta be the part with Dennis in the spotlight. "Show them your teeth. Now your claws. Now that weird thing on your foot. Gross. Go wait in the margins." Tom did sample art for that when we were deciding what Dennis should look like, and I think I showed all my colleagues a printout, I was so obsessed. It made me laugh in every pass! I love how the art and text play together here, and how Dennis is so not scary.
Brian: I don’t think I can pick a single favorite. One of my favorite lines is in the applesauce spread. I invented a few words for this book and one of them is the superlative of applesauce. The line reads, “Sit up straight. Sit up tall. Sit crisscross applesauce. Applesaucier. APPLESAUCIEST!” Just the idea of a parent or a teacher or a librarian yelling, “APPLESAUCIEST!” and the kids figuring out how to interpret that command fills my heart with mischievous joy. The other favorite line has a lot more heart. “Look at someone next to you. Tell them, “I see you. I’m glad you’re here. I do not want Dennis to eat you.” I just love how special that small moment is between two kids. Maybe we need to say things like that to each other more often…
As for favorite artistic feature...THE BEES! There is a hidden bee on every spread. FIND THE BEES!!! FIND EVERY. SINGLE. BEE!!! Also the applesauce spread is so delightfully absurd. The kids are flying on giant applesauce jars! DENNIS IS INSIDE AN APPLESAUCE JAR. This is the stuff of brilliance. It’s just the best thing in forever.
Tom: My favorite spread is the underwater scene. Underwater is my favorite place to be - it’s like wet flying. There is a lot to see, and everything looks like it might be from an alien planet. Plus drawing bubbles is very relaxing. You should try it next time you’re feeling a bit tense.
Melissa: I love the spread for "Rule #6: Make a fish face at someone." It's so bright and colorful and goofy, and Dennis driving the submarine in the background is so subtle and perfect. I love how kids can play a little hide-and-seek with Dennis on every spread, and this was my favorite instance!
Brian: My favorite spread is the Dennis spread. It’s the one where Dennis really stands out and gets to have his moment in the spotlight. Literally. There is theatrical lighting. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! It was also one of the funnest spreads to write and I’m really pleased how it turned out. We get a really strong sense of the playful, non-threatening nature of Dennis. We also get a nice close up on that weird thing on his foot...gross.
Tom: That drawing bubbles is very relaxing. Also I learned that creative blocks can always be overcome! At first I wasn’t quite sure how to illustrate THE BOOK OF RULES, but after roughly 84 beach walks, 53 bike rides, 28 sandwiches and about 126 hot baths I finally figured it out. Nothing is insurmountable, especially when you have sandwiches.
Melissa: I'm big on logic—the book I'm editing has to make sense. But what was so fun about this manuscript and artwork was,
it led me to focus on the sense of the message, rather than exclusively plot. Brian's text is so perfectly message-driven without taking itself too seriously, and honestly, I had no idea at first how Tom would begin to interpret that—and ultimately he took it in such a hilarious, absurdist direction. It was such a fun challenge for me to step out of my own box, really trust my creators, and end up in a more incredible place than I ever could have imagined out the gate!
Brian: Since this is my debut picture book, I think everything was a discovery. I loved every step of the process! The editorial passes and copyediting that went on made me so much more aware of words and their impact. And hyphens. Yes, hyphens! When you’re inventing words and punning a ton...even hyphens communicate meaning. Should it be beary or bear-y? Hmmmmm…(buy the book to see which one made it into the final cut!) This book has big Melissa Warten thumb prints and I am a better writer because of her feedback, insight, and direction! The discovery that was probably the most fun was seeing the impact the artwork had on the story. It made me excited to think about how to create space for illustrators in the future and to truly cherish and appreciate all they do to make the book...the book. It cannot be stressed enough just how much life Tom brought to this story. It’s so much better than anything I ever had in my head! Cheers, Tom! You were right! This one is a “corker!” cause of YOU!
Tom: I’m looking forward to the world falling in love with Dennis. Brian’s debut picture book is an absolute Bobby dazzler (as we sometimes say in England) and I can’t wait for the world to read it.
Melissa: I cannot wait to see the classroom pictures and the library storytime read-alouds! This is such a perfect book for groups of wiggly kiddos, and I'm so excited to see it land in those settings. I would also like to manifest a Dennis plush.
Brian: Definitely the kids having fun with the book! For me, it’s all about the kids. When I see those smiles and hear that laughter, I know I’ll have done my job. To lots of laughter!
Tom: Dennis, I’d like you to listen to me very carefully. You are a big beautiful monster, but that DOES NOT mean you always have to eat children. I know there is a long pedigree of monsters snacking on kids, but this doesn’t have to be your story. You must break the circle! Have you tried tomatoes? Delicious! What about a nice slice of fresh bread straight from the oven? Heavenly. You’ll never go back to those chewy children again.
Melissa: Dennis...I see you. I hear you. But please stay in the margins.
Brian: Consider vegetables, maybe?
As a thank you for reading this three amigos interview, and to celebrate the book launch, Macmillan has GENEROUSLY agreed to raffle off FIVE copies of The Book of Rules (US & Canada only). See details below for your chance to win a free copy!
We're raffling off FIVE copies of The Book of Rules!
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***The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, November 22nd at 9AM CST
The winner will be contacted on Tuesday, November 22nd and announced on Twitter and Facebook***
About Melissa Warten
I am an associate editor at Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. I acquire and edit picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, and select graphic novels and nonfiction projects.
Since starting with FSG BYR in 2016, I’ve contributed editorial work to bestselling and critically acclaimed titles such titles as We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal, The Pout-Pout Fish series by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna, and Attucks! by Phillip Hoose, among others. I’m a creative copywriter and an efficient project manager, and I’m passionate about diverse and authentic representation in literature. With every title I touch, I hope to guide the author to draw out the clearest, truest heart of their story, and create books that can grow with their readers for years to come.
I’m a graduate of Boston College and the Columbia Publishing Course. Outside of books and storytelling, I’m a Spotify addict, pop culture aficionado, and year-round ice coffee drinker who loves Broadway, the gym, Mike Schur sitcoms, and every dog imaginable.
About Tom Knight
Tom Knight grew up on Mersea Island on the Essex coast, where he returned to live after having children of his own. Having grown up on a small farm, Tom spent most of his time using his imagination to create new worlds from the hedgerows and haystacks.
Tom is best known for his amazing work on titles such as the Good Knight, Bad Knight series (published by Templar Publishing) and The Big Bed (written by Bunmi Laditan, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Tom is represented by the wonderful folks at Bright Group International. Please contact them for all commission enquiries.
About Brian Gehrlein
Brian Gehrlein is the author of The Book of Rules, (FSG/BYR), illustrated by Tom Knight. He also invented corn. Sometimes he travels through time. Two of the previous sentences were bald-faced lies. You get to decide which ones! Brian will neither confirm nor deny your hypotheses. They will forever remain a mystery. Yes, even after Brian has his book published, he will still write pretend, facetious bios which deprive you of basic facts about his life. Because the fictional Brian (the time traveling inventor of corn) is far more interesting than the high school English teacher who should probably be grading your essay right now. Hey, now that you've made it this far, maybe you should buy The Book of Rules!? Or review it. Or tell a teacher about it. Or a librarian. Or a parent. Or a child. Or a tree. Yes, tell a tree about my book. That is sure to lead to positive sales and reviews... thanks in advance!