Today’s picture book is one I HAVE to share with you today. This may very well be the book that we ALL need too read right now.
As the youngest of eight siblings, Lisa Katzenberger has been making up stories to entertain herself since she was a child. She loves to write books that make children laugh, escape, and dream. Lisa lives near Chicago with her family in a 100-year old Victorian house with sloping hardwood floors and the tiniest bathroom you’ve ever seen. She is the author of IT WILL BE OK (Sourcebooks 2021) and NATIONAL REGULAR AVERAGE ORDINARY DAY (Penguin Workshop 2020). You can learn more about Lisa at her website or by following her on Twitter or Instagram.
Her second picture book, “It Will be OK,” released on February 2nd. It’s a brilliant story of an anxious giraffe and his Zebra friend who waits oh-so-patiently for him to calm down. I admit that I LAUGHED when I found out the reason for giraffe’s anxiety (he saw a spider–I can TOTALLY relate!), recognized myself in some of giraffe’s antics, and teared-up when I saw Zebra’s patience and loyalty. And then I laughed all over again at the twist at the end. This book is not only SUPER cute, but it will open up a conversation with kids about strong emotions, how to deal with them, and what to do for friends who aren’t okay. This is definitely a book I want in my classroom.
Me: You have built a career as a technical writer. What is it then that drew you to writing picture books?
Lisa: I always wanted to write books. It was a dream I’ve had as a child. So while I had a career in technical writing to make a living, I was always pursuing creative writing on the side. I started taking online classes at night a couple years after I graduated college. I wrote short stories and 2 ½ novels, but when I had kids I fell in love with the picture book format and felt like I found my spot in the writing world! Everything seemed to click.
Me: Your story of a giraffe who is worried and anxious (after seeing a spider) hits home with me right now. It feels SO appropriate to what we’re all living through. What inspired this story?
Lisa: A photoshopped picture! It was posted on twitter with a challenge to write a caption. I decided this scared giraffe saw a spider. Then I decided he was super scared, super worried, and on top of all that super embarrassed about being scared and worried of something so small. From there, it morphed into a story about our anxieties and how we can provide support to a friend just by being there.
Me: There are not a lot of books out there dealing with anxiety and empathy for children in such a concrete way. Are these important topics to you personally? Why do you think children need to hear about them?
Lisa: These are really important topics to me. I have struggled with anxiety, and while I’m managing it pretty well these days, there are still times I get all worked up or overwhelmed about something pretty small. When that happens I try to identify what I’m feeling, talk about it, and remind myself that I’ve been through tough times before and came out the other side pretty much OK.
Empathy is so vital for kids to understand, and I really think this generation is showing it more (perhaps as opposed to my childhood filled with being the target of bullying). Having empathy gives you a different perspective to think from someone’s point of view and try to imagine how they feel. It makes you not only a better friend, but a better you – as you are opening your mind to different thoughts and feelings.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Lisa: How the core of it remained unchanged throughout my 40 different drafts. There is a section in the middle with conversation between Giraffe and Zebra, and what’s in the final book is very similar to my first draft from 2017. The beginning and ending were a hot mess and really needed a ton of work!
Me: You have two other picture books out already. What does your writing process look like? What habits have you created for yourself to be so successful already?
Lisa: I never really know how to answer this question about my writing process. I somehow, miraculously come up with an idea, and then it’s really a lot of brute force hard work. A few days a week I manage to pull myself out of bed around 5:30a.m. to write before my kids wake up. I write, write, write, sending my drafts around to critique partners, then revise, revise, revise. You just have to keep showing up to the page. I don’t have a magic formula – but would love to have it if anyone comes across one!
Me: The illustrations by Jaclyn Sinquett are pitch perfect for your story. I loved the textures and expressions of the characters! Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Lisa: Isn’t she amazing?! The colors are so warm and welcoming. I really loved that Zebra is blue and white instead of black and white. And I asked for some pagination changes to put more emphasis on the final line. The new art Jaclyn came up with for that final page is simply stunning.
Me: I agree! (NO spoilers from me!) Any advice for other new picture book writers?
Lisa: Read a lot. Write a lot. Revise a lot. Don’t give up. And get involved in the kidlit community through resources like SCBWI, The Writing Barn, or KidLit411. No one has to go through this wild ride alone!
I completely agree again! Great advice. Thank you for stopping by my blog Lisa.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to read this book yet, I highly recommend it. It’s full of quiet surprises that will have you laughing (or crying), empathizing, and wanting to read it again to figure out just how Lisa did it. You might recognize yourself in it (given everything we are all going through), or someone else that you love. And if you do, maybe this book will give you some tips on what to do. It did for me! <3