One Picture-Book Roundtable Discussion
Before Breakfast #2: Featuring Author Tammi Sauer, Illustrator Scott Magoon, and Editor Alexandra Penfold

h1 October 26th, 2010 by jules

“…she liked to pick flowers.”

I had so much fun hosting this first-ever picture book roundtable discussion in August that I decided to do it again. Not only that, but to make it a regular feature of sorts. And I have author Boni Ashburn, you may remember, to thank for the very idea.

When Boni, Kelly Murphy, Maggie Lehrman, and Chad Beckerman visited that day, I had the author, illustrator, editor, and art director/book designer on deck to give me and 7-Imp readers varying perspectives on one picture book title. It was a great read, I thought. Today, we have the author, illustrator, and editor of another picture book title. The book’s designer, Lizzy Bromley (Simon & Schuster), isn’t currently available to weigh in, but we decided to forge ahead anyway. (Maybe we can catch Lizzy another time.)

And the book in the spotlight today? Mostly Monsterly (Simon & Schuster, August 2010), written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Scott Magoon (art director by day; illustrator by night). The book’s editor is Alexandra Penfold. The three of them join me today, and I’m happy they visited, but the real star of the show is Bernadette, featured above. She is a monster, but not fully so. Sure, she lurches and growls and causes mayhem of all kinds, but her deep, dark secret is that she is a little too sweet. Heading off to school, she’s nervous, wondering how exactly she’s going to fit in. In their review of the book, School Library Journal praises Sauer’s and Magoon’s collaborative efforts, writing “the interplay of text and illustration is such that the book comes across as the product of one mind instead of two.”

I’m asking author, illustrator, and editor this morning the same questions I asked Boni, Kelly, Maggie, and Chad in August. Let’s get right to it, and I thank them all for stopping by before breakfast…

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: What was your first impression or reaction to the Mostly Monsterly manuscript? (Tammi, you can simply address the writing of it, getting the initial idea for it, etc.)

Tammi: Back in 2006, I attended an SCBWI Conference in Florida. I was paired with The Alexandra Penfold (!!!) for a manuscript consultation. Even though she really liked my picture book manuscript (which, by the way, was Chicken Dance), she eventually passed because a different S&S imprint was publishing a picture book with a similar setting that fall.

Months later, Alexandra approached me about a topic she was after. She wanted a young, funny Valentine’s Day story about friendship. Oh, the thrill! Oh, the pressure! I went to the library and read Every Valentine’s Day Picture Book Ever Written.

I discovered that most of those books were about cutesy things like kittens and puppies and mice. I knew my story had to be different, so I thought as un-cutesy as possible. And came up with Bernadette. Bernadette is an ordinary monster on the outside, but, underneath her fangs and fur, she has a deep, dark secret. She—gasp!—has a sweet side.

“‘Hey, guys! Look what I did!’ The other monsters gaped.
Clearly, this situation called for Bernadette’s Secret Weapon…”

(Click to enlarge.)

(Click to enlarge.)

Scott: I felt a kinship with the main character, Bernadette. I, too, am small and blue-haired. No, wait, no. What I meant to write was that in the beginning of the story, she is a young monster misunderstood — the scenes depicting her unrequited enthusiasm and zeal are certainly familiar to my own experience.

As such, I knew Tammi’s story would resonate for me after I completed drawing this book and I hoped that it would for many readers as well—something I always look for in manuscripts. A story’s emotional moments lodged in your memory are what create a lasting love for a book and live on far past their pub date.

Another reaction I had to Mostly Monsterly was in relation to its message. While its not an uncommon theme in picture books, “celebrating differences” is not what stood out to me initially about this text. Instead it was *how* the message was conveyed and the conflict resolved. As a result of her tribulations, Bernadette playfully learns a big lesson: Be yourself. While being herself initially alienated her from from her peers, she found a way to befriend them using that which was special about her — her creativity. Nutshell: Be Yourself. Only Connect. Huge, right? Caught between the read-it-again factor, strong message and plot resolution, I knew I wanted to illustrate Tammi’s manuscript.

“During Creepy Noises Class, everyone worked on growling skills. Except Bernadette.
She burst into song…”

“Someone ate her microphone.”

Alexandra: The story behind Mostly Monsterly starts back at the SCBWI conference in Orlando, Florida, in 2006. I met Tammi Sauer in a manuscript critique session, and she knocked my socks off with her writing. While the manuscript I reviewed that day “wasn’t right for our list” (my company was publishing a similar-themed story in a matter of months), I knew that I wanted to work with Tammi. I kept in touch with Tammi through her agent, Laura Rennert, and about six months later told Laura, “I’ve had my eye out for a young, cute Valentine story with humor and friendship. Seems like it might be something right up Tammi’s alley, no?” Two months later, I had Yucky Valentines (now Mostly Monsterly) in my inbox. Just like Bernadette the monster, the story was cute and sweet, but not too sweet. And it had such a fun read-aloud quality. I knew that I wanted to sign it up!

7-Imp: Describe a part of the Mostly Monsterly process that was challenging or surprising (or both).

Tammi: When I first shared my monster story with my agent, Laura Rennert, she liked the manuscript a lot but thought it might need one more scene. So, I brainstormed. And soon I had one of my favorite parts of the entire book. The new scene involved Bernadette trying to wow her monster classmates over with some treats. The other monsters are hoping she brought bug parts, fried snail goo, or fish heads dipped in hot sauce. But. She didn’t. Her cupcakes with sprinkles turned out to be a monumental failure.

(Click to enlarge.)

“In Monster Moves Class, everyone practiced lurching techniques. Except Bernadette.”
(Click to enlarge.)

Scott: You’ve read Where the Wild Things Are by Mr. Sendak, yes? Ok. Let me ask you this, then: in the time since you’ve read it or even since you’ve seen the movie, have you drawn a monster? If so, did your monster appear as though it was in even some small way influenced by a creature from that book? Did it have big teeth? Horns? Claws? Furry? Huge eyes? Mine, too! I felt that for my concept sketches every monster design I could come up with borrowed heavily from the Sendakian monster archetype, which he defined for picture books (in my view) in WTWTA.

So, rather than fight it, I decided to have one very quintessential horned, hairy monster as one of Bernadette’s friends as my tribute to the Wild Things. (I called him “Bartonkamus” by the way…in fact I named each of the monsters to keep track of them in my scads of Photoshop layers. The short blue one was called 7-Imp!) The other creature designs were more original. I think?!

{Ed. Note: I’m sorry. I try not to intrude on interviews, but I just squealed and clapped like a three-year-old when I read that monster’s name. Not only am I honored, but hey, it’s a great monster’s name, yes? Plus, I like blue.}

“She trudged to the window and watched her classmates on the playground. They stomped. They slobbered. They scared the leaves off the trees. ‘They’re acting like total monsters,’ said Bernadette.”
(Click to enlarge.)

Alexandra: It’s still kind of amazing how serendipitous everything was about this book. Once we signed up the manuscript and started to look for artists, I asked Tammi to send her “all-star” fantasy illustrator wish list. Scott Magoon was at the top of her list, and he’d been at the top of mine for some time. His book Ugly Fish (written by Kara LaReau) is still a favorite of mine.

As I mentioned, the story was initially planned as a Valentine’s book, but as the story took shape through revision and Scott’s wonderful art, we realized that at its heart we had a really fun story about friendship and being yourself.

7-Imp: How did the finished book vary or evolve from your initial vision of the book?

Tammi: Shortly after I received the offer, Alexandra thought it would be nice if we could sell the book year-round. Ha! So I tweaked out the Valentine’s Day references and the book that was called Yucky Valentines got itself a new title: Mostly Monsterly.

The finished book more than exceeded my expectations. Alexandra’s thoughtful input took Bernadette’s story to a new level. She has been so fun and amazing to work with! As for the art, Scott completely captured Bernadette’s exuberance and personality. He also brought additional humor to the book. The diagram of Bernadette? That was all Scott. {Ed. Note: See Jama Rattigan’s blog for a peek.} The wrap-around cover image? Scott summed up the entire feel of the book right there. And the mayhem Bernadette causes at the book’s end? Perfection!

“She earned herself a gold star.”
(Click to enlarge.)

Scott: Aside from making a few tweaks to Bernadette and the monsters (one boy monster was re-drawn to become a girl monster to have more girl monsters, for instance), this book is pretty close to my initial vision. There was one more scene I wanted to illustrate from inside the Monster Academy, but I had to leave it out for space considerations. There were also a couple of other monsters I wanted to include but, again, had to leave out to have room for other things (like the text, title, you know, stuff like that!).

(Click to enlarge.)

(Click to enlarge.)

Bernadette went through a few iterations before I settled on a simple and much cuter version…

Bernadette sketches

Bernadette final: “Bernadette went right to work.”

…And, of course, there were many monster ideas. I’ve added some sketches here so you can see how it began to come together.

Alexandra: We decided to re-title it and shift the focus from Valentine’s Day to friendship and how you could be a friend and still be yourself. For a while we were stumped on the name. I even sent an email to my colleagues with the promise that I would bake two dozen of a treat of their choice for whoever comes up with the name. We had tons of suggestions, but in the end I kept coming back to Mostly Monsterly, which seemed to fit Bernadette to a T. (Though come to think of it, I never did collect on my promised baked goods prize…)

7-Imp: What’s next for you?

Tammi: Next for me is another book with Alexandra! Mr. Duck Means Business, illustrated by the oh-so-talented Jeff Mack, debuts January 25, 2011. Mr. Duck is happy with his quiet daily routines. Then one day the barnyard animals mistakenly think they’re invited for a swim in Mr. Duck’s pond. Mr. Duck goes a little haywire, then realizes that maybe a little commotion in his life is a good thing.

Bawk and Roll, the sequel to Chicken Dance (Sterling), is also in the works and is tentatively scheduled for a Fall 2011 release. With our first book together, Dan Santat made me a rock star via my author picture. He also turned me into a dance instructor on YouTube. Who knows what’s in store for me this time around.

Three other picture books are in various stages as well. One features chipmunks, one stars a not-so-ordinary princess named Viola Louise Hassenfeffer, and the third is with Alexandra and involves a cave boy in pursuit of the perfect pet.

Scott: I’ve illustrated two new books for a Kara LaReau manuscript, our third and fourth together, respectively: Otto is about a boy whose heart quite literally races for cars…

…and Mr. Prickles, a quill-fated love story involving a certain small woodland creature. Both books are funny and a bit acerbic, in Kara’s signature style, which I love so much. Both are with Roaring Brook.

Also coming a little further down the pike is a book with Charise Harper called If Waffles Were Like Boys (Balzer & Bray). It’s just as fun, charming, and quirky as the title suggests.

Most recently, I’ve completed sketches for Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal — and this book is, as Amy puts it, “not so much a sequel to Spoon as it is a change in setting.” These and other culinary/dining puns await fans of Spoon (Hyperion).

“‘And Chopsticks! They are so lucky! Everyone thinks they’re really cool and exotic.
No one thinks I’m cool or exotic.’
‘Those Chopsticks are something else, aren’t they?'”

(From Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Spoon, Hyperion, March 2009;
Visit this previous 7-Imp post to see more art from it.)

I’ve also been working on my own book, called The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot, a cryptozoological take at an otherwise canid classic tale with Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster. After that, I’ve the honor of illustrating a Michelle Knudsen manuscript for Candlewick, entitled Big Mean Mike, that’s absolutely hilarious.

I’m trying to write more of my own stories as well and, of course, my day job: working with Houghton’s stable of authors and illustrators every day as their art director.

Can’t wait for all of it!

Alexandra: Tammi’s next book with us—Mr. Duck Means Business, illustrated by Jeff Mack—is due out in January ’11, and I’m currently working on her following book, Me Want Pet, illustrated by Bob Shea, as well as Scott’s next book, The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot (which happens to be both written and illustrated by the very talented Mr. Magoon). Both books are due out in Spring 2012. And I’m also hard at work on the other fabulous books on the Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 Paula Wiseman Books list.

* * * * * * *

Note: See Jama Rattigan’s August post on Mostly Monsterly here.

MOSTLY MONSTERLY. Copyright 2010 by Tammi Sauer. Illustration © 2010 by Scott Magoon. Published by Simon & Schuster, New York, NY. All illustrations used with permission of illustrator.

Images from Otto, Mr. Prickles, and If Waffles Were Like Boys used with permission of Scott Magoon.

All sketches from Scott Magoon and used with his permission.

Opening author photo courtesy of Tammi Sauer. Cover of Mr. Duck Means Business also used with her permission.

Chicken Dance author photo used with permission of Dan Santat.

SPOON. Text copyright © 2009 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Scott Magoon. Published by Hyperion Books, New York, NY. Reproduced by permission of the illustrator.

13 comments to “One Picture-Book Roundtable Discussion
Before Breakfast #2: Featuring Author Tammi Sauer, Illustrator Scott Magoon, and Editor Alexandra Penfold”

  1. I love Mostly Monsterly! How fun to get so much behind the scenes info. Love all the sketches, and especially Scott’s note to self to “Keep Bernadette cute!” Thanks for this panel, everyone!

  2. Really enjoyed this take from all angles. Fantastic job! Love Bernadette’s character development. Long live Bartonkamus!!!

  3. Mostly Monsterly is magic! My kids die laughing every time we read Bernadette’s greeting cards! What a thrill to see sketches! Great interview! Can’t wait to see all of Tammi and Scott’s new books coming down the pike! 🙂

  4. So great! Thanks for the discussion and ‘inside scoop’. Can’t wait to get a hold of this book. Bernadette sort of reminds me of Greasle from ‘Nathaniel Fludd’. Scary and cute!

  5. OMG – Scott Magoon named all the monsters, and one was named 7-Imp! *SQUEE!*

    What a great roundtable – I love reading how everyone came to and was involved in the process.

    And I was lucky enough to read the MS of Yucky Valentines. And it was adorable, and would have made a spectacular Valentine’s Day book, but I like that Tammi’s Bernadette is suitable for year-round reading!

  6. Love love love it. No wonder, since it started out as a Valentine story!

  7. Love this book! So cool to hear about the process of making it. What a great collaborative effort!

  8. I’m glad you’re going to continue this feature. I enjoy seeing the different perspectives. Also I’m excited to hear about everyone’s upcoming projects!

    And now I have to go read Ugly Fish again. That’s one of those books I pick up and reread every single time I come across it on the shelf.

  9. So great to hear about this amazing collaborative effort from all sides. Makes me appreciate the magical alchemy of picture books even more when I see books like this that get it all right. Okay … I’m biased … but Mostly Monsterly tugs at the heart strings at the same time that it makes us laugh — quite a feat.

  10. Great, great post. Enjoyed it like crazy. Thanks for continuing to maintain your insanely high level of quality.

  11. Thanks so much for having us!


    P.S. If you ask me, 7-Imp ruled that Best Mayhem spread.

  12. What fun these roundtable discussions are!

    The 7-Imp monster is too cool!

    Very excited about all the new projects. Love Scott’s cars spread — and hello(!) Chopsticks?! 🙂

  13. Mostly Monsterly is great for my kids. I cannot wait to get the book now.

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