I love a funny book, especially if there is word play involved. That’s why I’m so excited to share today’s picture book with you.
Julie Hedlund is an award-winning children’s book author. Her titles include OVER, BEAR! UNDER, WHERE? (Philomel, 2021), MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN (2014) and A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS (2013), both published by Little Bahalia Publishing.
Julie is also the founder of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, which boasts more than 1,700 members. She is a co-founder of Picture Book Summit, an annual online conference, and the co-creator (with Emma Walton Hamilton) of The Complete Picture Book Submissions System. You can learn more about Julie at her website or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Her latest picture book, OVER, BEAR! UNDER, WHERE? is so hard to describe. It’s a very simple text with an incredible amount of word play that reads like the Abbott and Costello routine of “Who’s on first.” It’s both clever high brow humor, with a few winks at low brow humor to boot. There are characters, but it feels like very little plot. Yet, somehow, this story still manages to pack a punch in the heart department! There is even back matter with compound words (which this first grade teacher loves, as we have to teach those later in the year). How all of that is incorporated into this story with such few words is sheer magic and must be read to be believed. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a book young readers will want to read over and over again.
Me: This is your third published picture book. Can you tell us about your book journey? How did this book come to be published?
Julie: I knew this book was going to be a tough one to sell, given it is so reliant on the art for the humor and story arc. I got encouragement to keep going with it from my mentor and friend Jane Yolen. She loved the manuscript and told me it was going to take a special editor who would “get it.” Luckily, I found that perfect editor with Talia Benamy at Philomel Books. She got it immediately, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Me: This book is both incredibly clever and simple. What a tough trick to pull off! How many words did the final draft end up with? How many revisions did it undergo to get to this state or was the story this tight from the first draft?
Julie: Interestingly, the draft I submitted was 81 words, and the final published version is 100. So I got to add words! It turns out those words were necessary for adding the emotional layers necessary at the end. It was a beat or two too short before.
As for revisions, this is one that came to me pretty fully-formed. I think maybe there were about 10 from first draft to submission-ready. That is personal miracle for me – LOL.
Me: That’s incredible! The word play in this book is hilarious and it’s also a fantastic way to introduce young readers to compound words! There are layers and layers of jokes here. What made you decide to approach this book in this creative way?
Julie: I love writing with wordplay, but the challenge is making it work for the story instead of contorting the story around the puns and wordplay. For me, I think of it like a puzzle. For this book, I wrote lists of “over” and “under” compound words and used those to work out the dialogue. Next, I had to make sure there was enough action for a 32-page picture book (that’s where the bear and hot-dog dog came in). Finally, I added emotional depth, mostly through illustration notes.
Me: We have to talk about the clever book cover design for a second. That title over the bear’s bottom? Genius! It includes a subtle joke, indicates the word play that will be found in the book, and gives a sneak peek at some of the gags that will be in the story. What did you think when you first saw it?
Julie: OMG, I actually SQUEALED when I saw the cover! It is nothing short of perfection. This is why I tell authors to relax about illustrations. Just set back and let the professionals work their magic. Because what they do IS magic.
Me: The illustrations by Michael Slack are so fun. Their layout and design in the book are perfectly paired with the text. I have to ask, did you have any art notes about what the characters would look like? I didn’t see any indication in the text that they would be a bird and a mole. If you did use art notes, how many were there? And how detailed did you make them?
Julie: I had a lot of illustration notes for this book, mostly to convey action and emotion. The story needed them because the text is so sparse and the story is told mostly in dialogue.
I did not, however, provide any notes on what the characters Over and Under should look like, so I was blown away by Michael’s idea to use a bird and a mole. Now I can’t imagine the characters any other way!
Me: Right? They were a perfect fit! Were there any illustration surprises for you? What is your favorite illustration in the book?
Julie: Although it makes sense, given birds and moles are small, it surprised me how big the hot-dog dog was scale-wise in the illustrations. And that fact adds so much humor. That’s why this is my favorite illustration.
Me: Any advice for other new picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Julie: If you believe in your story, especially when it’s a bit outside of the box, you need to trust that it WILL find its right home. I just sold another book I have been working on and submitting for 8 years. Never give up!
Wow! That is great advice Julie and congrats on your other book to come. I can’t wait to see what it is. Thank you for stopping by my blog.
Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to check out this book, I highly recommend it. This is one you will definitely want to study. This is how a sparse text can be both funny and heartwarming. That’s quite a tall order! Don’t miss it.