Monday, September 1, 2014

An Interview with Author Marlena Zapf: Part II

I’m happy to re-introduce picture book author Marlena Zapf to you today. Last week Marlena talked with me about the writing and publication process for her debut picture book Underpants Dance. Today we’re going to focus our discussion on movement -- the movement in the book, Marlena’s background in dance, and how she uses yoga and movement for her author visits!


Welcome back, Marlena! I love how you left a lot of room for illustrations in Underpants Dance, especially when Lily is dancing in her room. “First she did this. Then she did this. Then she went round and round like this. Then she said, “TA-DA!” At these places in the book, were the illustrations by Lynne Avril what you envisioned, or a total surprise?

I feel so fortunate that Lynne agreed to illustrate Underpants Dance. She brings Lily’s spirit to life so perfectly. I believe that picture books are a dialogue between text and illustration, and so I deliberately left room for Lynne to do her thing. I only gave my editor a few notes about what I wanted (like the Toulouse-Lautrec in the museum scene) and trusted the rest. I was expecting Lynne to come up with new things, so I wasn’t incredibly surprised by the illustrations in general.


What did surprise me was that when I received the cover illustration of Lily, it looked strikingly like a dance photo of myself that had been taken that very same week. I will add that Lynne had NEVER seen a picture of me.


Your website also includes some other great photos of you either dancing or wearing that really cool tutu. Do you have a background in dance? 

I’ve always danced for fun, but I never studied dance until I was an adult. (My mother decided to save me from repeating her own unpleasant childhood experience with ballet by signing me up for Girl Scouts instead. I think I would have preferred dance class.) Perhaps it’s for this reason that people often tell me my dance has a childlike quality. I have fun, dance with abandon, and don’t care what anyone thinks of me.

As an adult, I’ve studied a bunch of different kinds of dance, and continue to take new classes when I can. I do something called contact improvisation, which is done with partners or groups, and plays consciously with the physics of gravity and momentum, as well as human connection — it’s a great metaphor for how we move through life and relationships. I’m also part of a community in New England that hosts what are sometimes called “barefoot” or “ecstatic” dances. Really what that means is you take off your shoes and dance however you want. For me, it’s a moving meditation.

School visits are such a big part of marketing picture books these days. How do you present your book to children, teachers, and school librarians? (A little birdie told me that it might involve movement.)

Lily’s story is really about self-expression, so I encourage kids to express themselves through activities that accompany the reading. And I don’t just stand there and tell the kids what to do. I engage with them. I’m certified to teach kids’ yoga and movement, so I use some of those techniques to help kids focus and then have fun with them after the reading.

If the children are sitting on the floor, I like to spread out colorful Yoga Dots, which I learned about from Rosemary Clough. You can buy them or make them out of old yoga mats. (Kids love to pick out their favorite color.) They serve a dual purpose. They give kids focus and a place to sit for the portion of the presentation for which they need to stay still(ish). Afterward, you can use them to play games in which the kids step, dance, jump, and move on or around the dots. This way, kids get their wiggles out, but the dots provide a focus that keeps things contained so that the “wild rumpus” doesn’t turn into utter mayhem. (Teachers are not fans of mayhem.)

Here’s a simple example. Set the dots around the space and play music or sing a song while kids move around the dots. You might encourage them to move at a certain speed or with a specific movement. When the music or song stops, kids jump on a dot and assume their favorite shape or yoga pose. Repeat!

Wow. I didn’t realize you were certified to teach kids’ yoga and movement, too. You are very multi-talented! It’s been a pleasure learning more about Underpants Dance and how you incorporate yoga and movement into your author visits. Thank you, Marlena! 

In case you missed Part I of my interview with Marlena, you can check it out here. You can also learn more about Marlena on her website at www.marlenazapf.com!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Join the July/August Read & Romp Roundup!


Yikes! Where has the time gone? Today is the official call for submissions for the July/August Read & Romp Roundup. If you have a recent (or even not so recent) blog post that involves picture books or children's poetry AND dance, yoga, or another form of movement, leave your link in a comment on this post. Or, you can reach me on Facebook or Twitter to let me know about your link. I'll round up all the links and post them together soon. Looking forward to hearing from you! And for those of you celebrating Labor Day, enjoy the long holiday weekend!

Submissions are open through Friday, September 5, 2014. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

An Interview with Author Marlena Zapf: Part I

Earlier this month I attended the annual summer conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), where I   so enjoyed hearing a variety of publication success stories, especially those of debut picture book authors and illustrators like Pat Zietlow Miller and Aaron BeckerToday another debut picture book author   -- Marlena Zapf -- is joining us to tell us about her own unique journey to publication. Marlena's book Underpants Dance, with exuberant illustrations by Lynne Avril, was published by Dial in April of this year. It is the story of Lily McBloom, who loves her brand-new underpants so much that she makes up a special dance to show them off. As it turns outs, she loves her underpants so much that she even takes her fancy new dance on the road -- with both hilarious and heartwarming consequences.

Congratulations on your picture book debut! Can you tell us a little bit about how Underpants Dance came to be?

Of course! When I wrote Underpants Dance and chose not to include an ending in which the protagonist “learns her lesson” in the traditional way, I knew not every editor would be jumping to publish it. So what did I do? Research -- just like SCBWI and every children’s book editor will tell you to do. And it paid off.

Here is what I did. I found out that Steve Meltzer was the Dutton editor for Walter the Farting Dog, and I figured if he likes farting dogs he might be okay with underpants, too. So I followed Dutton’s submission guidelines and sent him a query. He sent back a note asking me to email the manuscript, which I did. Then I waited…almost a whole year. Now, I’ve worked in publishing and know how busy things get. I had a good hunch that the email with my manuscript was lost for good. I also knew that Steve probably had an assistant who read all his mail. So I decided to send a hard copy with a letter politely explaining the situation. Lo and behold, the assistant did find my manuscript, and after some further editorial gymnastics, I ended up with editor Liz Waniewski at Dial and a book contract with my name on it.

Wow. That’s a great story of research and persistence paying off! If we go back in time a little further, what initially inspired you to write Underpants Dance?

I used to be a reading editor at a big school publisher. One thing you need to understand about school publishers is that they put lots of money into developing textbooks that they hope to sell all across the country. And because they need to appeal to a broad market in order to make their sales and not go bankrupt, they can’t offend anybody. So, if a state such as, oh, Texas for instance, declares it won’t acquire any textbooks that include stories about children who defy authority, well then a publisher sure as heck isn’t going to include that kind of story in its program. (Never mind that LOTS can be learned and enjoyed from stories about protagonists who misbehave and make mistakes. Luckily we have awesome librarians to direct kids to those books.) This corporate culture of self-censorship ran counter to my often contrary, somewhat rebellious, nature. And that is where the story of my story begins...


As it happened, I was in this big important publishing meeting where experts were discussing the kinds of stories we should commission. I recall something about well-behaved children who always wear their bicycle helmets and gleefully eat peas…no kidding. Two thoughts went through my mind:

1. What if a REAL child walked into this room right now? These people wouldn’t know what to do with her (especially if she were my cousin’s three-year-old daughter, who was going through her eschewing-any-and-all-clothing phase).

2. What if I jumped up onto the conference table right now and danced in my underpants?

But neither of these things happened. What happened was that I quietly nibbled a dried-up lemon danish and nodded politely while a little girl named Lily McBloom wandered into my thoughts. And she started doing everything that the children in the textbook stories weren’t supposed to do. Then, when the meeting was over, I went back to my desk and wrote the story’s first lines.

Way to go for following your heart! What was the most exciting part of the publication process for you after that?

I guess for me it was when Underpants Dance was finally released. The publication of my first book was a LOOOOOOOOONG process. It was delayed a bunch of times. I think it took about a decade from beginning to end. I’m hoping the publication of my next books won’t take quite so long.

Speaking of your next books, do you have any projects in the works that you can tell us about? I hope they will be in print soon, too!

I’ve written more stories about Lily and Lily’s sister Marigold, but my publisher is waiting to see how Underpants Dance sells before committing to something like a series. This is how publishing works now. So, if you like Underpants Dance and want to see more of Lily, please spread the word!

I’m also working on a middle grade fantasy series inspired by a quote from Joseph Campbell: “There are no models in our mythology for an individual woman’s quest.” Actually, I believe that a new mythology is being created right now, in our time, by authors, storytellers, filmmakers, and especially girls and women themselves. That’s a party I can’t help but join.

If you’d like to hear more from Marlena, stay tuned for Part II of our interview. Next week we’ll be chatting about Marlena's background in movement and how she’ll be incorporating it into her author visits for Underpants Dance!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Read & Romp Roundup: May/June 2014

Welcome to the first bimonthly Read & Romp Roundup. Thanks to those of you who submitted posts this time around. I also happened to stumble across a few additional posts related to picture books and dance, so I've included those as well. Hope you enjoy the roundup!


Danielle at This Picture Book Life shares a post about the picture book Bonjour Camille, which will be released in August from Chronicle Books. Dressed in a tutu and a top hat, Camille is a little girl with a whole lot of things to do! Check out Danielle's post to learn more about these "things" and to see several bold and energetic illustrations from the book.


Atelierstorytime shares a blog post by Anna Forlati -- the illustrator of the Italian picture book Yoga Piccolo Piccolo. Translated as "Small Small Yoga," Yoga Piccolo Picollo may not be available in an English version, but the gorgeous illustrations in this blog post will speak to everyone!


At Maria's Movers, Maria explores the wordless picture book Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, which won a Caldecott Honor in 2014. Read her post to see how she used the book in a workshop for 6-year-olds about creating new dances!


Maria was also featured in the June Book to Boogie post at the Library as Incubator Project, where she shared movement ideas to go with the picture book Here Are My Hands. A month earlier, the May Book to Boogie post featured movement ideas to go with the picture book SPLASH! by Ann Jonas.


At the Dirigible Plum, Elizabeth reviews the nonfiction picture book Dancing to Freedom: The True Story of Mao's Last Dancer. The book tells the story of Li Cunxin, who grew up in rural China and was selected as a boy to move to Beijing to train as a ballet dancer. Interestingly, the book is written by the dancer himself. The illustrations by Anne Spudvilas, some of which you can see in Elizabeth's post, help tell his emotional story.


And last but not least, Reading Today Online shares a fun interview with Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison -- the husband-and-wife team who created the new picture book I Got the Rhythm. They actually interview each other about creating the book. You don't want to miss it!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Join the May/June Read & Romp Roundup!


As you might have noticed, I've gotten a little behind with my Read & Romp Roundups. I've been pondering what to do about this, and I think I'm going to try having bi-monthly roundups -- that is, every two months -- instead of monthly roundups. What do you think? Hopefully this will help me stay on track a little better. Plus, there are lots of picture books I want to share with you and some authors and illustrators I would love to interview, so hopefully this change will give me more time for that as well. So, that being said...

Today is the official call for submissions for the May/June Read & Romp Roundup. If you have a recent (or even not so recent) blog post that involves picture books or children's poetry AND dance, yoga, or another form of movement, leave your link in a comment on this post. Or, you can reach me on Facebook or Twitter to let me know about your link. I'll round up all the links and post them together before the end of the month. And then we should be back on schedule. Hope to hear from you!

Submissions are open through Friday, July 25, 2014. 
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