Today I get to share a new picture book by an Alaskan author.
I’ve known Brooke Hartman for a few years now. She also visited my blog once before for one of her previous books. She is also an Alaskan mom and an award-winning author of books for children. When she isn’t writing, you can find her flying, fishing, and having fun with her family, enjoying all the magic life has to offer. You can learn more about her at her website, or follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
THE LITTLEST AIRPLANE is the book Brooke was always meant to write. She loves flying all around Alaska in a bush plane (as we locals call them). This story is perfect for young readers who love planes. They will easily identify with the main character who is a “little” plane who doesn’t feel like he can do much, but when it counts, he proves that he can. The illustrations by John Joseph really bring the cast of plane characters to vibrant life. This is a unique Alaskan book that I’m frankly very surprised hasn’t been written before now. This is a story you won’t want to miss.
Welcome back Brooke!
Me: I’m very surprised there isn’t already another airplane book out there like this, focusing on a little bush plane, given the success of picture books like “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.” What gave you the idea?
Brooke: Right? I was flying with my family in our Cessna 185 (a type of bush plane) one day on our way back from our cabin in southwest Alaska, and suddenly started wondering why I hadn’t noticed any picture books about small planes in the local gift stores—or libraries—or book shops—or anywhere! Like you, I thought there was no possible way no one has written a picture book about bush planes before. So as soon as we landed (as you can imagine, there’s not much cell reception when you’re flying across remote Alaskan wilderness), I Googled ‘airplane books’ and ‘bush plane books’ to see if my suspicions were correct. Lo and behold, there were several picture books about jet planes, or semi-nonfiction books without a storyline that described different types of airplanes, but not one that focused on the “littlest airplanes,” or bush planes. At that moment, I knew I had to write this book!
Me: Like your previous books, this is another rhyming picture book. Do you prefer to write in rhyme? Does it come naturally for you?
Brooke: In the case of the picture books I’ve sold in rhyme, including The Littlest Airplane, the story first came to me with the rhyme, so that’s the way I wrote it. In fact, my first few drafts of Littlest Airplane followed the meter of the classic Christmas song The Littlest Snowman with the Red Candy Heart simply because that’s the same emotion I wanted to trigger with my story (someone small who makes a big difference). Buuut that quickly got complicated, so I pared the text down from there. However, all of my books, especially the ones that rhyme, went through multiple (dozens!) of rounds of revisions to perfect each word and stanza so they don’t feel forced (more on that later!)
Me: It has been said that editors don’t want rhyming books, yet it’s really about selling good rhyme. Can you talk about writing and selling rhyming picture books? Have you found any difficulty with that?
Brooke: It’s true, editors and agents alike are very vocal about not wanting rhyming books, and here’s why: first, selling international or translation rights to these books is tough, the rhyme adds an extra element that isn’t easy to convert from one language to another; and second, I’ve critiqued (and written and shelved) many picture books where the rhyme feels forced or doesn’t add anything to the story. However, many bestselling books are written in rhyme! Room on the Broom, Lllama Lllama Red Pajama, Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, and even the Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site series you mentioned before. All of them are written in a rhyming meter that gives the story a fun, catchy cadence, and in some cases, also a repeated ‘refrain.’ This makes the story feel a little like a song, and our brains—including the brains of the kids reading the story either on their own or with you—pick up on that. In fact, it’s been proven that rhyme teaches kids vocabulary and reading skills faster than non-rhyme. But when a rhyme is forced, or the reader stumbles over the meter, it can detract from the story just as easily.
If you’re considering writing a story in rhyme, here’s what I recommend:
1) Also write the story as a non-rhyming text so you have the plot down pat. A mistake many authors make with rhyming books is to focus on the rhyme and forget characterization and plotline, when those should always come first. Nobody will care about the fact that you discovered the perfect rhyme for tomato if they aren’t also invested in the story or its protagonists.
2) Once you’ve written both rhyming and non-rhyming versions of your story, read them both and see which one really speaks to you. Does the rhyme add to the text, or detract from it? If you can’t decide, you might want to work on both drafts and then have your critique partners or beta readers vote on which version they prefer.
3) Read it aloud, read it aloud, read it aloud—and then read it aloud again! Oh, and did I mention this isn’t you I’m talking about? As the author, our brains automatically pronounce words in certain ways or put emphases where and when we want them, but others might not do the same. Enlist the help of family members, friends, and/or critique partners to read your work out loud to you. If people are constantly stumbling over the same word or stanza, or they’re trying to force the rhyme, it’s a neon sign some revision is required.
Me: This book bends the rules a little bit. The main character is very child-like, but we don’t meet him until almost 7 pages of story have gone by. That’s a lot of territory in a picture book! Did you get any push back from critique groups or editors about that?
Brooke: In the case of this story, showing the little bush plane initially as a spectator watching the other planes do their thing was enough for editors and critique members alike to feel this was a good introduction to our main character. This enabled the reader to see why he feels so different when we really do meet him, and inadequate by comparison.
Me: I love your back matter. I wasn’t expecting to see a diagram of the parts of a bush plane or nonfiction information in a fictional story. Was that something you wanted to include or was that something requested by your editor?
Brooke: This was 100% something I wanted to include, and luckily my publisher was just as excited about it as I was. Bush planes have quite a few parts that are unique just to them, and in the story, some of these unique parts are what enable the Littlest Airplane to do what he does best. We felt it important to highlight these both from an informational / STEM approach, as well as to help with the story itself. Plus, as a mom of young kids, I’ve realized the nice thing about back matter is that it’s there if you want to read it, but you don’t always have to. For instance, in the book Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas I mentioned earlier, Aaron Blabey includes fun back matter about both piranhas and bananas—but they’re longer paragraphs that we don’t always have time to read, and the story is just as entertaining without them as with them.
Me: John Joseph’s illustrations in this book are absolutely perfect. Were there any illustration surprises for you? What is your favorite illustration?
Brooke: I can’t believe how lucky I got with John Joseph as an illustrator! His style really is perfect for this story. John’s ability to bring machines to “life” (see his work on the Little Blue Truck series for more examples of this) is incredible. As for surprises, I’ve been fortunate to have great illustrators with an eye for detail on all my picture book projects thus far, and John is no exception—he worked on every scene and airplane character until each one was just right. For this story, I collaborated a lot with my husband (who is both a commercial and private pilot and has flown all the airplanes in this book) not only on the picture book text itself, but to find great example photos of each type of plane as references for the illustrations. John then sent us sketches as he worked on each airplane character, which my husband “critiqued” for accuracy. Similarly, since John has never been to a remote wilderness airstrip like the one in The Littlest Airplane, we sent him a lot of photos of the airstrips we’ve landed on around Alaska, and Canada as well, for him to reference. John truly did everything justice—and then some!
As for my favorite illustration, that’s a tough decision—but I’d probably have to go for the back matter! I love how John made these spreads both fun and informational.
Me: I know you’ve got several other picture books coming out and under contract. Can you tell us about them?
Brooke: Sure thing! In addition to The Littlest Airplane, I have one more picture book coming out this spring—Pega Sisters Go to Camp from Page Street Kids, illustrated by MacKenzie Haley. Then in 2023, I’m anticipating four more releases: Watch Out for the Lion! (also from Page Street Kids); two more from West Margin Press, All Aboard the Alaska Train, which will also be illustrated by John Joseph, and Little Narwhal Lost, a True Tale of Found Family, which will be illustrated by Dream Flights on Arctic Nights illustrator Evon Zerbetz; and Klyde the Kraken Wants a Friend, illustrated by Laura Borio and published by Hazy Dell Press.
Wow! That’s quite a few books. Congratulations Brooke and thank you for stopping by my blog. We look forward to seeing you again next month to talk about PEGA SISTERS GO TO CAMP!
But wait, dear readers, there’s more.
I have the privilege of kicking off Brooke’s blog tour and there is a giant giveaway courtesy of the Children’s Book Review. Please note that I am not hosting this giveaway or in charge of picking a winner. I’m simply letting you know of the wonderful opportunity that is available until April 30th. You can enter here for one of these amazing prize baskets (see picture below). There are three prizes being given away. I don’t think you’ll want to miss it!