Simply 7 with Charlotte Offsay–HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER

I love watching others I know succeed.  Today’s Simply 7 is another such success story.OffsayPhotoByNataliaLPhotographyCharlotte visited my blog earlier this year with her debut picture book.  That book showed her desire to change the world for the better.  Now she’s back to talk about her second picture book’s release into the world.  This book shows her desire to make kids laugh. You can learn more about her at her website.

Final Monster CoverHOW TO RETURN A MONSTER is a humorous take on the evergreen topic of “new” younger sibling stories.  Even better, this story is told in the almost-impossible-to-pull-off second person point of view!  AND it works!  Here are 10 tips to return a younger sibling who might be stealing “your” spotlight that will have you giggling along with the story until the very end.  Don’t worry, there’s a good ending that will have you feeling warm and fuzzy.

Welcome back Charlotte!

Me: Your story reminds me ever-so-slightly of “Wolfie Bunny” by Ame Dyckman.  What gave you the idea?

Charlotte: When I began writing what would eventually become How to Return a Monster, I was consumed with second-time mom guilt over not being able to give my daughter as much attention as I had prior to the arrival of her new baby brother. I began writing as a way to express the emotions I was sure she was feeling and drafted a story about a train feeling replaced by a shiny new one. After a number of twists and turns the story evolved into what it is today, a story about an older sister who is fed up of her family’s attention stealing baby and decides to pull out the stamps and ‘return to sender,’ until she discovers that perhaps she isn’t quite ready to part with her sibling after-all.

Me: Wow!  From trains to siblings.  I love that you used the “how to” format for this story.  Was that always part of the text?  Or did it come about in the revision process? 

Screen Shot 2021-09-11 at 7.09.22 PMCharlotte: I am so happy to hear that you enjoyed the how-to format! This format was something that came much later in the revision process. I had written quite a large number of drafts with a traditional narrative arc, but the story wasn’t quite working – it was full of emotion but was missing the fun. I decided that in order to add in the humor and allow for the re-readability that I wanted, I needed to a full rewrite/re-envisioning. I went back to the drawing board and studied the books that I enjoyed reading and found funny. I adore how-to books and when I tried a voice-y humorous narrator in a how-to format my story finally clicked into place.

Me:  Brilliant!  The word count on this must be incredibly small.  How many revisions did it take to make the text of this story this tight?

Charlotte: A lot.  🙂  I save a new draft every time I sit down to work on a story or anytime, I make a major change so that I can always go back to a previous version if I ‘break’ something or want to pull a line/nugget I loved from an older version. I have 35 documents of my early drafts where I tried writing this story with trains and a narrative arc, surprisingly 35 as well from after I chose the how-to format and then 7 from when I was working on edits with my wonderful editor Jill Braithwaite at Beaming Books. A large number of those early drafts had a much higher word count, but I found that my humor worked better with shorter snappier lines and so I tried to tighten the text as much as possible.

Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?

Screen Shot 2021-09-11 at 7.07.34 PMCharlotte: I was surprised by how naturally the story flowed once I finally found the right format. I have also been surprised by how many people have reached out to me to share stories of wanting/trying to return their own siblings!

Me: LOL!  That’s hilarious.  The illustrations by Rea Zhai are wonderful.  I especially loved the textures and color palette. Were there any illustration surprises for you?

Charlotte: Yes! Rea’s characters are wonderfully expressive, and I laughed out loud at the adorable grin on the baby’s face after the sister has covered the baby with stamps. There is also another page where the kids are waiting for the mail carrier and the baby can’t quite see over the windowsill which makes me smile every time I see it.

Me: Sibling rivalry is an evergreen topic, but accepting younger siblings can be really hard.  I love how you resolved this problem in the book.  Why is this something you want to share with young readers?

Screen Shot 2021-09-11 at 7.08.10 PMCharlotte: I think it is important to embrace and normalize children’s emotions around a new sibling – both the good and the less-than-good. I wanted kids to see that it is okay to have complicated feelings around having a new sibling and also to see that those feelings can co-exist with loving your sibling too. I hope that kids have fun reading How to Return a Monster, but I hope it also opens doors to talk about how kids feel about their own new family members and get a chance to think about and voice what they might be feeling or need.

Me: What is something you would return, if you could?

Charlotte: Hmmm, great question! Probably my imposter syndrome! It is still hard to believe that I get to have my name on a book, that I get to do interviews like this one and that actual children (other than my own) will hear my stories.  Becoming a published author is a dream come true and I am still pinching myself that it is really happening, and that people are taking time out of their busy days to read what I have to say!

Aww!  I love that.  Thank you for stopping by again Charlotte.

Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to read this book yet, look it up!  It’s a funny read with a clever take on the intrusion of a younger sibling story line.  It’s not often you see the how-to model and second person point of view work so successfully in a picture book.  Don’t miss the opportunity to study how this book succeeds.

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