Watch out! You never know what’s lurking around the corner. There could be a terrible hungry lion at any turn.
Brooke Hartman has visited my blog several times before. She is one of the Alaskan picture book authors I’m lucky to know. Brooke sometimes writes about Alaskan topics and sometimes not, like today’s book. Her many interests lead to the most interesting picture books. She has two wonderful daughters and an amazing husband who support her in what she does. And I’m sure her dog does too. You can learn more about her at her website, or follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
WATCH OUT FOR THE LION! is a hilarious picture book with exquisite page turns and a narrator that addresses the reader directly. It’s all a cautionary tale with the likes of “don’t turn that page” advice that young readers are sure to love because every page brings a funny new and un-alarming result. Just when you thought meta fiction was done, another picture book comes along that brilliantly flaunts all the rules like this one. Trust me when I say, you won’t want to miss this one.
Welcome back Brooke!
Me: I love the idea of looking out for a “monster” at the end of the book (or in this case a lion) and yet finding tons of surprises instead. What gave you the idea?
Brooke: The Monster at the End of This Book is one of my favorite books EVER (and so many other readers’ favorite too)! I’ve always loved the concept of interactive stories like these, ones that suck the reader in and truly make them part of the action. The original idea for this book was spurred by the mashup of three very different concepts:
- I have a chocolate lab who barks his furry face off at every car that passes our house. Every time he does, we mime in his “doggy voice” (I know we can’t be the only ones who give voices to our pets) that he had to bark because that car was probably driven by a velociraptor or a saber tooth dolphin. We then inform him that saber tooth dolphins don’t exist, so that’s not possible. He still doesn’t believe us.
- My oldest daughter has always had some degree of anxiety about new or different situations and tends to assume the worst. In most of these instances, though, once she actually meets said person or attends said event, she ends up having a lot of fun!
- The parable of the Three Blind Men and the Elephant holds an intriguing lesson about jumping to conclusions and making assumptions based on only part of the facts.
I’m not quite sure how or when all these very different situations and themes squished themselves together in my brain, but when they did—POW! Watch Out for the Lion was born.
Me: I love some of the phrases you use like “rugrat ravioli.” Your voice comes through very clearly in this story. Was that always there, or did you refine your narrator’s voice through many revisions?
Brooke: That’s funny you caught the voice in this, because this is the first book I’ve ever sold that wasn’t in rhyme! While writing in rhyme can be fun and challenging, some of your voice tends to get sacrificed in an attempt to match the meter or find the perfect rhyming word. With this manuscript, though, I was free. FREE!! I could write (almost) anything I wanted. It was liberating, and I ended up writing two more books after this one with that same voice (alliteration with a sprinkle of punch and pun). One of these projects just sold last week! (Sssshhh, more on that soon).
Me: Ohhh! That sounds promising! Writers have heard quite frequently for the last few years that books addressing the reader are done (and don’t bother writing them). How then did you end up selling this story, that does just that, to Page Street Kids?
Brooke: As writers, we hear things like this a lot: Rhyming books are done. Books with talking crayons are out. Vampires? Don’t even go there. But so far in my publishing journey, I’ve found that nothing is ever really “done.” Even if it’s hard to sell this second, just wait a week or two and it’ll probably be the hottest thing on the market. And publishers buy similar books all the time! In 2019 when I was considering writing a picture book biography about Lotte Reiniger, I breathed a sigh of relief when I found out there were no other picture book biographies on Lotte already on the market. But now, less than three years later, there are two more – and those books sold with mine already out! The moral is, if you have a good story, don’t be afraid to tell it (and try to sell it!)
Me: This book doesn’t follow the typical rule-of-three that picture book writers know so well. It has several surprises that keep going well past three. Did you get any push back from critique groups or editors about that?
Brooke: While the rule of three is a good one, it’s also just like any rule out there—made to be broken. Many great picture books don’t follow this rule whatsoever, especially bedtime books or almost anything with a nonfiction theme. With Watch Out for the Lion, the theme was to lead the reader through various situations where they had every right to be afraid of the growling, prowling lion lurking around the corner – or should they? Sure, I could’ve left it at only three situations, but that would’ve made for a pretty short book.
In fact the first draft of this had two additional pages highlighting other animals, but those got the chop (um, cut? Diced?? These sound a bit gruesome…). As much as it pained me to see those other critters go, they needed to get the axe (eek!). The resulting manuscript still had more than three, but it did make for better page turns and a more concise story. So I think the rule of three is really “how can you tell a good story in a concise way that doesn’t leave the reader bored?” with whatever magical number you need to make that happen!
Me: There are so many funny moments here. The laughs just keep rolling throughout the entire story. I love that! Yet I have heard that there needs to be a take away for every story (even the ones that just make us laugh). What would you tell readers and/or editors is the deeper message in your story here? Why is that important for young readers?
Brooke: I absolutely agree that there should be a message in every single story we read, whether the story is for children, adults, or any age in between. But not even grownups want to get beat over the head with a lesson, and kids can smell forced learning from miles away (they’re kind of like lions that way). For this story, I wanted the takeaway to be not every situation might be quite as dire as it seems, and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions until we have all the facts, no matter what someone might be telling us.
Also that getting irrationally worked up about something before we know its full implications doesn’t help anyone. Thankfully, those situations can also lend themselves to a lot of humor, and I took every advantage of that with this book in order to bury the takeaway in lots of laughs. That way even if readers don’t quite get the message, at least they’ll enjoy a fun story!
Me: Anna Süßbauer’s illustrations in this book are hilarious. She manages to terrify on one page, and make the reader “aww!” on the next. Were there any illustration surprises for you? What is your favorite illustration?
Brooke: I want to give so many examples here, but I’m afraid of spoiling some of the page turns for people who haven’t read this book yet! All I’ll say is there are some animals on these pages that just make you want to snuggle their widdo furry faces and say SQUEEEEEE!! At first, I wasn’t quite sure how Anna’s style and my words were going to fit together, but once they did it was pure magic. Plus I love how her illustration style is so unique, it really makes this book (and the animals in it) come roaring to life.
Me: They absolutely do! Can you tell us about any future projects that are in the works?
Brooke: Yes, thanks for asking! This spring, I’m ‘releasing the kraken’ with Klyde the Kraken Wants a Friend (April, Hazy Dell Press), a story about a hug-lovin’ kraken who wants nothing more than to find a buddy to squeeze, and ends up learning a valuable lesson about how friends are made. Then next year, there’s Little Narwhal Lost, a True Tale of Found Family (January, West Margin Press), based on the true story of a narwhal who wandered far from home and joined up with a pod of belugas – and is still living them with today! I also have two other super fun nonfiction picture book projects that I can almost talk about, but not quite yet, so stay tuned for more.
That’s wonderful Brooke! I can’t wait to read them. Thank you for stopping by my blog again.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to catch this book, it’s time to go lion hunting at your local book store! You won’t regret it.