The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Kristen Schroeder and Review of Alien Tomato

August 12, 2020

Today, I get the honor to interview and highlight the debut book of one of my wonderful critique partners - Kristen Schroeder.

 

Kristen grew up in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. Some of her best childhood memories involve discovering a new favorite book or author at her local library. Books introduced her to other countries and worlds.

 

Kristen loves to travel and lived in Australia for 11 years. She returned to Minnesota with an Aussie husband, two children, and dual citizenship. She began writing for children in 2014 in between running a business and raising two children.

 

Her debut picture book, Alien Tomato, illustrated by Mette Engell, released July 14, 2020 from Page Street Kids. She has two more books in the pipeline: Freddy The Not-Teddy comes out in April 2022 with EK Books, and So Much Snow, will hit shelves in late 2022 from Random House Studio.

Welcome Kristen, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut picture book and writing.

 

Thank you for having me on The Picture Book Buzz, Maria! I’ve been reading your blog for years, and full disclosure, we are in a critique group together called the BIC & HOP club. Fans of Jane Yolen may already have figured out the meaning behind the name: Butt In Chair, Heart On Page.

 

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

 

KRISTEN: I started writing for children in 2014. The best thing I did was join the 12x12 picture book challenge that year, which led me to finding awesome critique partners. I quickly fell in love with the supportive kidlit community, which made it easier to navigate all of the rejection and uncertainty.

 

My favorite type of book to write is humorous and a bit quirky. Alien Tomato is representative of that style, but my second and third books are completely different. Freddy The Not-Teddy is a heartfelt story about embracing differences and staying true to one’s self. So Much Snow could be described as a lyrical read-aloud with some rhyme (!). I definitely hope to sell more funny books in my career, but I’m also glad that I didn’t limit myself by writing only one type of picture book.

 

I love that you're exploring different styles of picture books. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

 

This goes way back -- I was the 4th and 6th grade spelling bee champ at Bel Air Elementary School in New Brighton, Minnesota. (My nemesis, Jon Cox, beat me in 5th grade, but I studied hard and came back to win again the following year.) I have always loved words!

 

And perhaps just a bit of a struggle. What inspired you to write Alien Tomato?

 

My daughter blurted out the words, “alien tomato” one day. We still have no idea why she said it, but it was such a funny phrase that it stuck with me. I put on my picture book writer’s hat and started thinking about a story straight away. What if a round red object landed in a veggie garden and some of the inhabitants thought it was an alien tomato, and others thought it was just a ball? I looked back through my drafts, and the contrary, know-it-all gopher was there from the very beginning.

It's cool to go back and see how the books evolved. How long did it take from the first draft to publication? What was the hardest part of the publication process? The easiest?

 

In 2017, after three years of writing picture books, I wrote Alien Tomato. It was published three years later. My initial vision for Alien Tomato was pretty clear and the first drafts don’t look drastically different to the finished book. Revisions included tweaking around the edges mostly, so I’d say in this case, writing the book was the easiest part. This is not always the case for me – some stories are much harder to wrestle onto the page. The hardest part of the publication process has been launching during a pandemic. Didn’t see that coming!

 

Who did! I'm wishing you lots of luck with the launch! Did anything about the illustrations surprise you (when you first got to see them)? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Kristen Schroeder, 2020. Image © Mette Engell , 2020. 

 

I was blown away by Mette’s full color illustrations. I saw some initial sketches, but her vibrant colors really brought the characters to life. My manuscript didn’t specify veggie type, so it was fun to see Mette’s choice for the ensemble cast: an expressive squash, broccoli, carrot, a bunch of radishes and three cheeky peas in a pod. My favorite spread is the one where the veggies are holding a tea party for Allie, complete with blue and white fine china and crumpets. This is also the moment when Gopher’s frustration peaks, so it’s a fun one.

 

It is an adorable tea party. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished and/or un-agented authors?

 

I’m not a particularly patient person, and there is a lot of waiting in publishing. I’ve learned to hand manuscripts over to my agent, Christa Heschke, and trust the process. Most importantly, while waiting, I get back to writing. Alien Tomato was approximately the seventeenth picture book I wrote. Christa hasn’t even seen quite a few of those earlier manuscripts, but they all formed part of my writing experience. My advice to authors just starting out – don’t get too attached to those first stories, but also don’t give up on them completely. If the idea or concept is solid, you can always circle back later and revise with more experienced eyes.

 

Excellent advice, Kristen. Jane Yolen's Owl Moon took 15 years to get the story right. Can you share a tidbit about Freddy The Not-Teddy (2022) and/or any other projects you are working on now?

 

As I mentioned, Alien Tomato was inspired by my daughter’s off-the-cuff comment. My second picture book was inspired by a stuffed animal that came home with my son from Legoland when he was seven. Freddy was a bright yellow duck/chicken type creature and we never knew exactly what Freddy was, but he became my son’s favorite. One time I referred to him as “Freddy the Not-Teddy”. Quite a few of my story ideas start with a title. I’ve already seen some preliminary sketches of Freddy from the illustrator, Hilary Jean Tapper, and he looks nothing like the real Freddy, but I’m in love! I’m looking forward to sharing him with readers in 2022.

 

Sounds like a fun story. We'll have to keep our eyes open. Thank you, Kristen for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.

 

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

Website: https://kristenschroederbooks.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KLSchroed

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KLSchroed

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/klschroeder/

 

 

Review of Alien Tomato

 

 

Is it a ball? It's red and round. That's enough to convince gopher. But the veggies are sure it's a tomato. Though, it did suddenly appear in the garden. And when it doesn't speak, the veggies are convinced it's an . . .

 

 

 

Alien Tomato

 

Author: Kristen Schroeder

 

Illustrator: Mette Engell

 

Publisher: Page Street Publishing (2020)

 

Ages: 4-8

 

Fiction

 

Themes:

Vegetables, aliens, kindness, acceptance, and friendship

 

Synopsis:

It streaked through the sky on a perfect day in July and landed in the garden…

When a mysterious red orb appears one day, the vegetables aren’t sure what to make of it. They decide that it must be an alien tomato! They name her Allie and try to make her feel as welcome as possible. But Gopher isn’t convinced. He’s sure it’s just a ball.

This delightfully silly tale and its equally hilarious art are a perfect fit for gardeners and sci-fi fans alike.

 

Opening Lines:

It streaked through the sky

on a perfect day in July . . .

 

and landed in the garden

 

What I Liked about the book:

The sudden appearance of a red, round, but silent newcomer has the vegetable garden buzzing.  Eventually, the vegetables decide it's an alien tomato. 

Text © Kristen Schroeder, 2020. Image © Mette Engell , 2020. 

 

They also decide it's best to be friendly, after all it could "zap them with lasers." They name it Allie, give it a crown, and throw a welcome party. All the while, a cantankerous gopher knows it's just a ball. It can't talk or enjoy a party, and it's definitely harmless.

 Text © Kristen Schroeder, 2020. Image © Mette Engell , 2020. 

 

Brimming with jealousy, and totally convinced he's right, the gopher hides the ball in his tunnel.  The surprise ending is a hoot. Who knew vegetables could be so cute! Mette Engell's bold, lively depictions of the vegetables and grumpy gopher, along with Kristen's zippy speech bubbles, will have kids enthralled. Using vegetables and an uncommunicative red orb as a foil for examining relationships and kindness is ingenious. Overall, this is a really funny tale that can also spark conversations on kindness, jealousy, and friendship.  

 

Resources:

 - using popsicle sticks, make some vegetable and alien tomato puppets and make a play from the story. (http://www.preschoolactivities.us/fruit-craft-idea-for-kids/fruit-and-vegetables-puppet-craft/)

- write your own story or draw a picture of your own alien fruit or vegetable.

- read Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and make some kindness rocks to give to friends and family.

- check out this fun activity guide (https://kristenschroederbooks.files.wordpress.com/2020/07/alien-tomato-activity-guide.pdf).

 

 

 

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