If you’re not already familiar with Tammi Sauer, Oklahoma’s picture book queen, I’d be completely surprised! BUT I suppose it’s possible. Come meet her as I talk with her about her latest picture book.
Tammi Sauer is a former teacher and library media specialist. And you know how much I love meeting other educator-writers! She is now a full-time children’s book author. She has published 30 picture books with more on the way. In addition to winning awards and earning starred reviews, Tammi’s books have gone on to do great things. CHICKEN DANCE, YOUR ALIEN, and NUGGET & FANG were made into musicals that toured the nation. WORDY BIRDY was named a Kids’ Indie Next List book, the 2021 Book Choice for Read Across Oklahoma, and a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year. And YOUR ALIEN, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was released in Italian, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and French which makes her feel extra fancy. You can learn more about her on her website or follow her on Twitter.
LOVEBIRD LOU is yet another adorable picture book that stands out from the crowd. Lou is a young lovebird with the most supportive parents on the planet. When he decides he wants to be something other than a lovebird when he grows up, his parents support him 100%. As you can imagine, this leads to some pretty funny situations and yes, there is a heart-warming “aww” ending in store. The illustrations by the legendary Stephanie Laberis help bring the text to life with bright colors and panache that make this character unforgettable. This is another picture book you won’t want to miss.
Me: You have written over 30 picture books at this point in your career. What first drew you to writing them? What keeps you writing them?
Tammi: At Kansas State University, my undergrad language arts professor, Dr. Marjorie Hancock, began each class by reading a picture book. I loved entering her classroom and knowing that the hour was going to begin in such a wonderful way. This same professor noticed I was good at writing. One day, she pulled me aside after class and said, “Tammi, you have a gift with words. You should pursue publication.” Knowing that she believed in me gave me the courage to try.
I continue to write picture books because doing so brings me joy. Well, usually, anyway! I still have moments of self-doubt and regularly worry I won’t ever come up with another good idea.
Me: Aww! I don’t think that’s possible. You always have such interesting characters. What gave you the idea of a lovebird who isn’t happy being a lovebird?
Tammi: Ever since author Tara Lazar started Storystorm (originally known as PiBoIdMo), I have accepted her challenge to come up with 30 picture book ideas during the month of January. My ideas are usually just the smallest of snippets. Sometimes the idea is simply a title.
This was the case with Lovebird Lou. Originally, though, Lou was named Bart. Later, I switched to Lou because I really liked the sound of the name when the story is read aloud. Lou’s big, supportive family often says the line, “We love you, Lou!” at silly moments throughout the book. The name ‘Lou’ gives that repeated line a nice touch of alliteration and assonance.
Me: Yes! I love the alliteration of it. Do you still get surprised while writing? What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Tammi: Yes! When this happens, it’s such a delight! In this book, Lou tries and fails to be a variety of other birds. Nothing goes as planned. Lou is super bummed. Then, out of nowhere, just the right line popped into my head to showcase his disappointment:
“Being a bird is for the birds,” said Lou. “Maybe I’ll just be a rock.”
I love incorporating wordplay into my books. In this instance, I put a fun spin on a cliche.
Me: The illustrations in this book are absolutely adorable! I love Stephanie Laberis’ work, especially all the use of color and texture here. Were there any illustration surprises for you when you saw the completed book? What was your favorite illustration?
Tammi: Steph is amazing! She did such a wonderful job of creating just the right expressions and body language for this birdy book. I was surprised at how well Steph was able to convey the love Lou’s family has for him. Everyone should be surrounded by this kind of big-hearted caring and support!
My favorite illustration, though, would have to be of Lou impersonating a rock.
Me: Usually stories with main characters who don’t fit in deal with a lot of loneliness as they tend to be outcasts. Yet that isn’t the case with your Lou. Instead, in your story, Lou is surrounded by loving parents and many other loving relatives who fully support him every step of the way. Was that important for you to share with young readers? Why?
Tammi: What a great question! The answer is YES! This was important to me as the book gives young readers the understanding that a family’s love is unconditional.
Me: I love that! Any advice for new picture book writers?
Tammi: Go directly to Linda Ashman’s website and get Linda’s Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books. I consider it the best $20 I have ever spent on my career. I WISH I had had it when I was first starting out in this business. One of the exercises in this book actually led to me writing Mary Had A Little Glam and its two forthcoming companion books. This is a great resource that I return to again and again.
Me: Linda’s book is absolutely one of my favorite resources that I too return to again and again. Do you have any other projects coming soon or that you’re currently working on that you can tell us about?
Tammi: This summer, I will have two new books. One is called The Underpants (Scholastic Press). It features a barnyard cast and is a fun and ridiculous take on the old Ukrainian folktale The Mitten. Joren Cull is the illustrator.
The other is a companion book to Mary Had a Little Glam. It’s called Mary Had a Little Plan. (Sterling). This time around, Mary discovers an abandoned lot while on walk with her father and orchestrates a renovation that benefits the community. Vanessa Brantley-Newton is the illustrator.
I can’t wait to read both of those! That first one sounds hilarious, and I cannot wait for Mary’s sequel! Thank you for stopping by my blog Tammi.
Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to track down this book (just released on February 1st), I highly recommend doing so. It’s a fun take on “the grass always being greener” combined with a lovable character you won’t soon forget.