One Picture-Book Roundtable Discussion
Before Breakfast #6: Featuring Team Snappsy

h1 February 16th, 2016 by jules

I’ve got a review here over at BookPage of the debut picture book from Julie Falatko, illustrated by Tim Miller. It’s called Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!), released by Viking this month. Pictured above is one of Tim’s early character sketches.

Today, in another edition of the 7-Imp Picture-Book Roundtable Discussion, Julie, Tim, and the book’s editor, Joanna Cardenas, join me to talk about the book. (The art director was super swamped and had to bow out.)

If you’re a regular 7-Imp reader, you may remember when Tim visited back here in 2013 — back before publication. It’s so great to see his debut. As I note in my review, I like this book, so let’s get right to the conversation. (My favorite part comes down to a tie between “Truman Capote Chicken” and a mention of Fellini Satyricon.)

I thank all the creators for taking the time to chat about it.

* * * * * * *

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

Julie (pictured left): The idea for Snappsy came to me after meditating long and hard on what made my favorite picture books so delightful. I had recently read Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex, and my first reading left me wrung-out in awe and wonder. I had to sit down. I was so impressed by the intelligent approach to storytelling that book takes.

One night I was making dinner and was thinking about all this. I’d been working on some manuscripts that were vaguely decent, but weren’t quite right for a variety of reasons. I was thinking about Chloe and the Lion, about metafiction, about how much I want to write books that start from a place of assuming that children can handle a sophisticated story. And the words “Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself” dropped into my head, quickly followed by the rest of the manuscript. I ran from the kitchen, shouted to my husband that he had to finish dinner, and wrote the story as quickly as I could.

That first draft was something I knew I liked, but I really had no idea if anyone else would think it was any good. I’m so happy Joanna likes it. While the final manuscript was version 18, not much changed in the story from that very first manuscript. The story stayed the same. The editing was mostly along the lines of Joanna helpfully pointing out that there were probably more kid-friendly words for Snappsy’s house than “artistically askew beatnik hut.”


Cover sketches and final cover
(Click each to enlarge)


Tim (pictured right): When I first met Joanna and Denise and they handed me the manuscript, my brain was all in whirlwind, because this was my first opportunity to do a book. I wasn’t exactly sure what would happen when I opened it. I was hoping, of course, that it would be awesome, but I was scared at the same time that I might not like it. I assumed that the first time out of the gate you might have to work on something you aren’t totally in love with — just because that’s how you get you’re foot in the door. So, when I actually did open the manuscript and started reading, I flipped. I freaked out, because I liked it so much and I couldn’t believe that it was for real. I actually had to put it down and close it for a second to make sure I wasn’t delusional. When I picked it back up, though, it was still true, it was awesome, and better yet, it was completely hysterical! I felt an immediate affinity for the sarcastic sense of humor. All tit-for-tat, back-and-forth between Snappsy and the Narrator spoke straight to my soul. I was like, “Oh my God, this Julie Falatko and I are the same person!” So, that was it. I had to do it!

Joanna (pictured above, with Snappsy): At conferences, I’m sometimes asked how I know I want to acquire a project. Describing my reaction to Snappsy the Alligator usually answers that question. Simply put, Julie’s words stuck in my brain. I recited the opening five sentences that would eventually become the first page of the book all afternoon. These lines had a rhythm I couldn’t shake! I kept thinking about this misunderstood character (Snappsy) — the way he’s constantly interrupted and hardly in control of what’s happening. I could remember feeling that way as a kid (and it was always frustrating!). But I sympathized with the narrator, too. The narrator clearly felt left out. Julie had tapped into something sincere — in the most hilarious way. Plus, it was a story about storytelling! In my mind, this was a funny, layered text that broke rules. My favorite kind.


Tim first starting to work with the manuscript
(Click each to enlarge)


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

Julie: I keep waiting for it to be a terrible trial, but honestly this process has been nothing but delightful from Day 1. Everyone at Viking is so lovely, and I am the luckiest author in the world to have been paired with Tim Miller. Maybe I’m weird. Maybe I’ve missed the parts that were supposed to be difficult. I’m having a great time.


Snappsy storyboards, takes #1 and #2
(Click each to enlarge)


Tim: The hardest challenge for me was figuring out the part where the narrator appears. The question mark in my brain was how do so in a visual way that worked on its own apart from the text. I tried to set the stage beforehand by playing with ways of bringing the reader both inside and outside of the book. One tactic was to plant hidden characters, looking out at the audience, around the periphery of the images (inspired by Fellini Satyricon).

Julie: FELLINI’S SATYRICON! HITCHCOCK! Guys, thanks for making our book the intellectual powerhouse that it is now.


Snappsy character sketches
(Click each to enlarge)


Tim: Another device was to play with Snappsy appearing within panels during narration sequences — but then breaking free of them every time he snaps back at the narrator. As far as the narrator making their grand entrance at the party, I toyed with the possibility of including a scene where you see the narrator holding the book just before talking directly to Snappsy on the page. However, that wasn’t totally satisfactory to me, and I would probably still be scratching my head if Denise hadn’t suggested, “Why don’t you just make him show up at the door?” Duh. That made way more sense, but then there was still the minor technicality of setting up the moment right before. In that scene, the narrator is hinting at how inviting the party looks, and Snappsy sees the writing on the wall, so to speak, and invites them in. The dilemma was how to visually portray Snappsy looking directly at the narrator. I wrestled with wanting him to look off the page, because that seemed more natural, but then I had to have him looking at the front door of his shack where the narrator was about to appear.


More Snappsy character sketches
(Click all but last one to enlarge)


As a result, another problem presented itself, which was the fact that initially I had drawn a solid door, and—although Snappsy’s eyes were gazing through the party in that direction—it didn’t totally read that he was actually looking at the narrator whom we couldn’t see outside of the door — but more like making eyes at Party Girl. That’s where I landed though, and it might have stayed that way were it not for Denise asking me to spruce up the door to the shack after I turned in the finishes. It was kind of a boring door, and she suggested giving a little color and possibly a window (Snappsy-style). I did those edits really fast, because the clock was ticking on getting everything off to the printer. Then just before turning stuff in, I was looking at that party scene again, just before the narrator enters, and it hit me: I can have the chicken peeking through the window! That moment is probably my greatest happiness about the book, because it’s a natural bridge to the next moment, and I love it all the more because it happened just by chance.


Rough sketches/test in color
(Click to enlarge)


Julie: That narrator-at-the-door part is my favorite in the book — and one that’s so great to show to kids on re-readings.

And the silhouette-in-the-window is my 5-year-old’s favorite part, not because it’s a Hitchcock reference, but because it’s the first hint of fez. But I really love that moment of, “Wait, what is Snappsy doing?”


Rough sketch and final art: “Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.
His feet felt draggy. His skin felt baggy. His tail wouldn’t swish this way and that.
And, worst of all, his big jaw wouldn’t SNAP.”


Joanna: It took quite a bit of time to find the right visual complement to Julie’s words. This manuscript’s match had to be someone who felt inspired by the challenges inherent to the concept (like when/how to introduce the narrator).

Denise and I came across Tim’s postcard featuring a ballerina cow. Within the constraints of a postcard, Tim managed to tell a whole story. The contrast between the tutu-clad cow and the audience of confused humans (!) sporting frowns was really, really funny. Plus, Tim’s style reminded me in some ways of James Marshall (my favorite illustrator of ALL TIME). We suspected Tim would bring something special to the project, and we were right!


Rough sketch and final art: “It’s just a store. A grocery store!
It’s where I buy my FOOD.”

(Click each to enlarge)


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

Julie: I honestly had no idea what the illustrations should look like. I don’t know if this is a particular author trait, but I see the stories in terms of the words and don’t really picture anything specific. When I saw Tim’s illustrations for the first time, my reaction was, “Well, of course. That’s exactly what they look like.” They were perfect. How did he draw my words? It’s the coolest thing. And the book itself is so beautiful I can hardly stand it. The color palette! Let’s talk about the color palette. Tim, you can talk about it more, but the green, blue, and purple, especially together, are so gorgeous. It’s so perfect for that “storybook gone awry” feeling. Plus the physical book, with the spot gloss on the cover and the different case cover illustrations, is so amazing.

I guess the way it varies from my initial vision is that I had no idea a book with my name on it would be this terrific-looking. For 40 years now, I’ve pictured a book with my name on the cover to be something made of construction paper and stapled together. Since that’s been the norm up until now, I’m super digging this new normal.


Rough sketch and final art: “Snappsy, the big, mean, hungry alligator, who only liked food that started with the letter P, carried his groceries back through the forest, back down the hill, back around the pond, until he got to a surprisingly lopsided shack.”
(Click each to enlarge)


Tim: For the most part, the final book isn’t too far off from the first set of thumbnails. When I first started to plan it out, I tried to draw the whole sequence of images that I was visualizing in relation to the text. Then, I tried to plant those into a cohesive page structure. When all that was put together, it was easy to see which moments weren’t quite working, flow-wise. I cut some images from the grocery store that I liked but were clogging up the flow. The scene where Snappsy slams his door and locks himself inside the shack also got revised. Initially, I had him slam the door in one image, followed by Snappsy holed up inside as the narrator taunts a bit, and then finally he throws his window shutters open from inside as he barks back at narrator. Joanna, Denise, and I scratched our heads over it for a while, because it was reading a little sticky on the page. Then, Joanna had the bright idea to give it a Hitchcock edge, starting out with the slow dramatic camera zoom in, as it is now, to maximize the suspense. When the camera gets right up close to the shack, I wasn’t certain how to shift the camera to go inside, but then the idea came to put his silhouette in the window, which was a nice extra bit of suspense that made an easy bridge to transition indoors in the next shot and see things from the other side. The only other major change from the original thumbnails was working out the moment where the narrator appears, as mentioned above.
Joanna: My biggest hope is that I helped carry out Julie and Tim’s vision for this book. As an editor, it’s my job to listen, ask questions, and help authors and illustrators convey what they want to say in the clearest and strongest way possible. And this book has so much to say! It’s been a real trip to see the various ways early readers have interpreted the story, and it’s a thrill to hear reactions to the package (like the fun case cover!).


Rough sketch and final art: “And we all ate pudding and did the Chicken Dance. …”
(Click each to enlarge)


7-Imp: What’s next for you?

Julie: More books with Viking! The Society for Underrepresented Animals is going to be illustrated by Charles Santoso, and Help Wanted: One Rooster is coming after that.

Tim: In November, I completed finishes for my debut picture book as an author and illustrator, called Moo Moo in a Tutu, a hilarious (if I do say so myself), one-of-a-kind friendship story between an adventurous cow and very loyal duck. It comes out in early 2017 from Balzer + Bray.


(Click to enlarge)


I also just polished off illustrations for book one of a hysterical middle-grade series written by Tom O’Donnell, called Hamstersaurus Rex [below]. It’s about a quirky class pet that undergoes a transformation and helps defend a loyal sixth-grader from a werewolf-obsessed bully. That comes out in fall 2016 from HarperCollins.



Then, I’m also working on a picture book written by Mark Riddle, called Margarash, which is about an unusual friendship and the different parts of ourselves that make us who we are. Publication is scheduled for Fall 2016 by Enchanted Lion. After that, there is another Moo Moo book and three more Hamstersaurus Rex books on the horizon — and that’s about it for now.

Joanna: I have the pleasure of working with Julie on her next two picture books! This summer, look out for a gorgeously illustrated, just-spooky-enough picture book called A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman and Corey R. Tabor. And this fall, Viking will publish the first book in a funny graphic-novel series, called Caveboy Dave by Aaron Reynolds and Phil McAndrew.


Just for fun: Snappsy at the beach
(Click to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK!). Copyright 2016 by Julie Falatko. Illustrations © 2016 by Tim Miller. Published by Viking, New York. All illustrations/sketches used by permission of Tim Miller.

Photos of Ms. Falatko, Ms. Cardenas, and Mr. Miller used by their permission.

9 comments to “One Picture-Book Roundtable Discussion
Before Breakfast #6: Featuring Team Snappsy

  1. What a fun interview. Going out to find this book now! I’ve heard the title a bunch, but now I have got to go find it:>)

  2. Happy you enjoyed the conversation Laurie! Snappsy looks forward to meeting you!

  3. Ever since I heard about this book I’ve been waiting and OH, how I love it! SO clever and fresh! What a team 😀 😀 😀

    I’ve had the pleasure of getting to “know” Julie on Twitter (always fun!), have not yet had any dealings with Tim (SO talented!) and have actually had the pleasure of meeting Joanna (facilitated her workshop at our NJ SCBWI conference a couple of years back). Joanna RAVED about Snappsy and used it in her talk to great effect 😀

    I’m looking forward to EVERYthing you guys are putting out there! Thanks for this fantastic interview 😀

  4. Fabulous interview!! I’m going to have to go read Snappsy again as I definitely missed some stuff. Thanks for sharing your art process Tim.

  5. Loved the interview and how it showed the process of collaboration that goes into picture books.

    Snappsy looks like an amazing book!

  6. I absolutely loved this interview that shared the perspectives of all those involved in making this book. I just picked up my copy and it’s so fun to compare the final book to the process it went through! Kudos to all involved. It’s truly an entertaining work of art 🙂

  7. Awesome interview. Thanks for sharing an amazing look at Snappsy’s creation!

  8. Congratulations, Julie and Tim! The book is terrifically fun and so well done. Love it! So cool to learn about the process.

  9. […] Falatko (awesome interview of Julie, Tim, and Joanna at 7’Imp) Illustrator: Tim Miller Publisher: Viking Books, 2016 […]

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