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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview With Tammi Sauer

I get the distinct pleasure to interview the amazing Tammi Sauer this week!

For any of you unfamiliar with her, Tammi Sauer is a full time author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has 25 published picture books with major publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic Press, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling, and she has many more on the way. In addition to winning awards, Tammi's books have gone on to do great things. Nugget & Fang was made into a musical and is currently on a national tour, Wordy Birdy was named a Spring 2018 Kids' Indie Next pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Month, and Your Alien, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was recently released in Italian, Spanish, Korean, and French which makes her feel extra fancy.

Additionally, Tammi has released six books this year: Wordy Birdy (2/18), But the Bear Came Back (3/18), Go Fish! (7/3/18), Knock, Knock (7/18), Quiet Wyatt (9/25/18), and Making a Friend which releases November 13th.

Tammi, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest books and writing.

Thanks for having me!

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)

TAMMI: I never set out to be a children's book writer. My plan was to be a third grade teacher. During my senior year at Kansas State University, however, I had the best teacher of my life. Dr. Marjorie Hancock began every class in a beautiful way--she shared a picture book. This class involved a lot of reading, but it involved a lot of writing as well. One day, Dr. Hancock pulled me aside and said, "Tammi, you have a gift with words. You should pursue publication." Knowing Dr. Hancock believed in me helped me to believe in myself.

My favorite type of book to write is one filled with humor and heart--I want readers to both be amused and to feel something. These are also my favorite type of picture books to read. I post about a lot of funny picture books at

With six books publishing this year, do you ever take breaks? What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Ha! I work hard, but I take breaks all the time! When I'm not writing, I like to read, hang out with family and friends, binge-watch various TV series, and travel.

Would you say there is a common thread in your 25 published picture books? (Friendship, perhaps?) With such a diverse spectrum of work, what/who is your greatest source of inspiration?

The majority of my books focus either on friendship or being true to yourself. All of them, however, have moments of heart and humor.

My greatest source of inspiration would be the stuff that happens in my life--often times it's the ridiculous or annoying stuff. Those moments often serve as the seeds for books. I always tell kids at school visits to celebrate the weird stuff in life. The weird stuff is good material for stories!

I love making snowmen (or in our case, snowcats) and fell in love with Beaver as soon as I saw the cover reveal. What was your inspiration for Making a Friend?

The title came to me first. I liked that it has a double meaning--the actual making a friend and the literal making a friend.

Word play is so much fun! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

My favorite book as a child was The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown. I completely fell for that cover. There was an egg, a bunny, a butterfly, a ribbon, and flowers. What was not to love about that? I checked out that book week after week and month after month. If you were a kid going to Victoria Elementary School in 1979 and you wanted The Golden Egg Book, well, fat chance. It was mine! :)

Do you have a favorite book? (We promise NOT to tell the others) Perhaps one that was the most gratifying to write? One that means the most you or your family? Or one that tickled your funny bone the most?

I don't have a favorite book (that'd be impossible!), but I love that so many people have connected to Mary Had a Little Glam. I have received lots of notes and photos from people that share how much the book has meant to them and their children.

Making a Friend is so beautifully succinct. Did you submit it with illustrator notes? Did you get much input into the images?

I almost always include illustration notes in my manuscripts, but I try to make sure that each one is necessary. Usually, these notes share information that is not readily apparent in the text.

These are a few of the notes that I had in place in the manuscript for Making a Friend:

No matter how hard he tried—

"Good morning, Owl!" [He’s trying to befriend a sleeping owl.]

"Thinking of you, Skunk!" [He offers bouquet and offends skunk.]

"Happy birthday, Porcupine!" [He hands balloon to porcupine.]

—nothing ever went as planned.

For nearly all of my books, I offer comments on the early sketches as well as the full colored art. I only try to give feedback that I think will help make the story even stronger. Whatever comments of mine that the editor and art director agree with get mixed in with their comments and shared with the illustrator.

Wow Tammi, thank you so much for sharing these few notes, as well as the reminder that PBs are collaborative endeavors. Was it serendipity or planning for all six of these books to release this year? Are you finding that they compete against each other for attention?

Oh, gosh. I certainly didn't plan for that to happen! They definitely compete against each other. For instance, most bookstores are not likely to stock all six books.

Is there something you want your readers to know about Making a Friend?

I am crazy about the fact that the illustrator's last name is FRIEND. How lovely is that? Alison paid special tribute to a friend of hers, Jill McElmurry, in this book. If you look at the interior of Beaver's home in the final spread, you will see some artwork on the wall. Those pieces of art came from Jill, who, by the way, was the illustrator of the hugely successful Little Blue Truck series.

Thank you for letting us in on that "Easter egg" in the illustrations. It is so fun to learn these special tidbits snuggled within a book. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished authors? (Do the rejections ever get less?)

For me, the absolute hardest part about the picture book creating process is coming up with a good idea. A wow idea. An irresistible-to-editors idea.

Being a part of Tara Lazar's Storystorm each year has really pushed me to come up with a pile of ideas. Out of every thirty ideas that I come up with, one, maybe two, has real deal potential.

Rejections still roll in and they are still not fun, but, over time, they have become a lot less painful.

I appreciate your honesty and that, maybe over time, the rejections will not matter as much. A ray of hope for children literature creatives to hold onto. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

In 2019, my pals Wordy Birdy and Nugget and Fang will be back in Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants (Doubleday), illustrated by Dave Mottram,

and Nugget & Fang Go to School (Clarion), illustrated by Michael Slack.

A new character will be joining the mix, too, in A Little Chicken (Sterling), illustrated by Dan Taylor. This book stars Dot. She's a little chicken who, let's face it, is a little chicken.

Oh my gosh - that cougar's face! These covers look amazing. I can't wait for 2019. Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or anything you’re glad you didn’t know about in advance?

I wish I had known all of the stuff that needs to go into a picture book! This is my all-time favorite quote about writing picture books: "My main considerations for any picture book are humor, emotion, just the right details, read-aloud-ability, pacing, page turns, and of course, plot. Something has to happen to your characters that young readers will care about and relate to. Oh, and you have to accomplish all that in as few words as possible, while creating plenty of illustration possibilities. No easy task."--Lynn Hazen

I would have loved to have had this advice from day one!

Great advice! Thanks. What is your favorite animal? Why?

Elephants are my favorite. An elephant is both adorable and powerful. And baby elephants? Oh, I can barely handle that amount of cuteness.

A couple of runners-up in the favorite animal category include the meerkat and the Galapagos tortoise.

Thank you, Tammi for stopping by and sharing your time and thoughts with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.

My pleasure!

Be sure to stop back by Friday for the #PPBF post on Making a Friend.

To find out more about TammiSauer, or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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