Diana Murray, frequent visitor to my blog, has agreed to stop by for another visit. This time she has written a beginning reader for the “Step into Reading” series by Penguin Random House called “Pizza Pig.”
Diana Murray has published numerous picture books in the last few years and most recently won the “Best Rhyming Picture Book” award for one of her picture books released last year: “Grimelda and the Spooktacular Pet Show.” You can learn more about her at her website.
“Pizza Pig” is about exactly what you expect it to be about: a pig that makes pizza. Yet it has delightful surprises all along the way, from unexpected pizza toppings to unexpected restaurant guests. It will keep readers guessing every page what animal comes next and what their favorite topping might be. It also has a completely satisfying ending, with a little plot twist thrown in. The illustrations by Maria Karipidou are just as fantastic with details that readers will love to spend time perusing. There are side stories and characters to find, much like Lowly Worm in Richard Scarry’s books.
Welcome back Diana!
Me: “Pizza Pig” is your first leap into the “Step into Reading” series for Penguin Random House. What did you find different about its creation from the picture book process?
Diana: It’s somewhat similar to my experience with writing rebuses for Highlights magazine, except that there are page turns. Lots of attention to keeping the vocabulary simple, using repetition, and leaving the opportunity for helpful clues in the illustrations.
Me: How did you break into this series?
Diana: My agent sent the editor an exclusive submission. She liked it but wanted something more commercial, so I wrote something new with that in mind. The editor then brought the new manuscript to an acquisitions meeting, and happily, it was accepted.
Me: What gave you the idea of a pig making pizza? Why not a rabbit? Or a goat?
Diana: Funny you should ask! Because the pig started out as a dog when I first wrote this! The manuscript was called “Pizza Dog”. I chose a dog simply because kids love dogs. My own kids adore them. I also figured dogs aim to please, so it fit the personality of the character. The publisher asked if we could change it to a pig because they had too many dog books. I reluctantly agreed. After seeing the illustrations, I was pleased that I did! I liked the pig even better. I also prefer the alliteration in the title.
And it took me a while to figure out what kind of animal Turtle should be, as well. In the first draft, that character was a Badger. But I didn’t think that quite made sense. When I finally thought of a turtle it clicked because turtles are seen as being shy and quiet, which was just what I needed for the story.
Me: I love all the different animals that are included in the story and their different pizza topping preferences. Did any animals trouble you with their food selections? Were there animals that didn’t get included in the story?
Diana: I had so much fun thinking about what kind of topping each animal would want! And in cases where food preferences weren’t well known (or to add some variety), I could specify “how” the animal ate instead–such as “sloths” who like to “take it slow.”
I included a few omnivores, but I didn’t include many carnivores, except for fish-eating cats and trick-performing poodles.
Me: I love the ending of the story. Did you always have that in mind? Or did it evolve with revision?
Diana: Over time, I have learned not to start writing until I know what the ending’s going to be. This was no exception. I experimented with a picture book manuscript many years ago about a cow (named “Chef Moodette”) who knew the exact perfect dish that all her customers wanted, kind of like the movie “Chocolat”, but with animals. PIZZA PIG was inspired by that older work, but I made all the dishes based on pizza and I finally figured out an ending I was happy with.
Me: Being single for many years, it took me quite a while to learn to enjoy eating alone. I learned to not mind it. BUT I know that kids hate eating alone at school. Was this a gentle nudge to get kids to sit with each other during lunch, so no one is alone?
Diana: I didn’t think of it that specifically, but I sure hope so! I just wanted to generally show that you can reach out to someone with kindness, even if they’re different from you.
Me: If you could only have one food while stranded on an island, what would you have? Would it be pizza?
Diana: It very well might be. I guess I’d be practical and get healthy veggie toppings. Ooh, or if I could have different toppings everyday, that would really be ideal! That’s what’s so great about pizza. The possibilities are endless. In fact, I think I’ll go have some breakfast pizza right now.
I have to agree with you; different toppings everyday would be ideal. Dear readers, if you get a chance, definitely check this book out. The book was released just yesterday! It’s super cute and the rhyme is fantastic! And while I’m sure I don’t need to mention again that the illustrations add lots of little details to watch out for as well, I must at least mention the mouse waiters! Super cute! Bon appétit!