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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Amanda Henke and Review of Not A Book About Bunnies

It wouldn't fit in the title, but Amanda has generously offered both a book and a critique as giveaways to two lucky readers! Enjoy this interview and review, then comment below for a chance at these great giveaways.

Amanda Henke writes funny books for kids. She spends her time reading, exploring nature with family and friends, and whipping up self-proclaimed masterpieces in the kitchen. A graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, she lives in Minnesota with her family.


Amanda mostly writes books about animals. Sometimes they are being brave or making friends. Sometimes they are getting into pickles. Sometimes they are discovering their own fluffy or prickly or scaly identity. Whatever they are up to, they are usually having a good time.


Her debut picture book, Not A Book About Bunnies, releases on February 7th.


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


Hello! Thank you so much for having 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?)


I like to write in the morning. I have a desk but I reserve that for piling papers and books, and so I have no choice but to write on my couch. Sometimes I’ll make a lot of fussy adjustments such as proper blanket selection, coffee and/or tea, candle, proper lighting, soft music accompaniment, etc. All of this fussiness helps me practice the art of procrastination. I used to be strict about writing and make myself write or edit for four hours a day, but that was a lot of pressure, and my writing suffered. I find it’s more fun and inspiring to start writing with a goal of 15 minutes, and if the words are flowing, keep going for 15 minutes more, and repeat until I’m over it.


I’ve been writing for 20 years but started taking my writing seriously in 2017 when I began my MFA program.


I write mostly picture books. My favorite type of book to write is one about silly characters who are making readers laugh. I have a hard time coming up with plots but I have lots of fun writing goofball characters.


Well, you've got me chuckling! Sounds like you have characters who would enjoy helping you fuss with your writing area. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

When I was little I spent a lot of time poring over Richard Scarry books. The illustrations were just so cheerful! Lowly worm in his apple car will always have a special spot in my heart. Later in childhood I read all of the Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books I could get my hands on. I was also bananas for The Babysitter’s Club! But my all-time favorite book as a child was Three Billy Goats Gruff as read at bedtime to my brother Matt and me by my Grandma Grace, as many times as we wanted her to read it, no matter how sleepy we all were.


That is the most wonderful Grandma ever! What was your inspiration for Not A Book About Bunnies?

While I was studying at Hamline, I was writing about a lot of sweet, typical picture book characters: bunnies, bears, butterflies...and I thought, hey, I should write a book that’s not about bunnies. The title popped into my head, and I wrote the story over the course of the next four years. I wanted to write a confident underdog, and shine some light on a character who hadn’t seen a lot of love in children’s books. In the first few drafts of NABAB, Porcupine was an oyster.


While oyster's are underrated, I am glad you changed the MC to a porcupine. What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?


The fall after I started my MFA program, I went on a trip to Norway with my mom, grandma, and son. We rented a cabin on an island that was somewhat difficult to get off of. I think we wanted a rustic experience! My grandma was brave enough to drive a tiny fishing boat provided us, through the fjord so we could go to Oslo to get groceries and see other humans. The cabin had an outside fireplace with a cozy couch swing next to it and really cool views. I got into a habit of starting a fire, bundling up in blankets, and writing there. I wrote about a Moose but that story didn’t really make it off the island!


Ha! But it does sound like a wonderful place to be "stranded" with family. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for Not A Book About Bunnies?


I wrote the first draft in April 2018, and it will be published February 7, 2023, so nearly five years.


Seems to be about par for the course. What's something you want your readers to know about Not A Book About Bunnies?


I received a lot of help on this book from my fiercest editor and my harshest critic – my son, August. In fact, when my editor Allison asked for one more descriptive word choice I was stumped, but August came up with the word “Spike-tacular!” on the spot. We all loved it and it stayed in the book.


That's awesome. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Anna Daviscourt’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Amanda Henke, 2023. Image © Anna Daviscourt, 2023.


Anna did such a terrific job; she has a wonderful way with color. I shrieked when I saw the first spread, which has the most adorable squirrel librarian in a little woodland library. That melted my heart! And it was all Anna’s idea, I had no art notes for that. I think the squirrel librarian spread is such a warm welcome to the book. I also adore the spread where Porcupine shows how she Ba-Poofs! her quills, I think Anna captured a lot of joy there.


I love the initial spread too (check it out in the book review below). Though this one is fun too. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing Not A Book About Bunnies?


Getting the ending right, it went through a number of variations but I like where we landed.


What kind of marketing and promotion have you or your publisher done for this book? Do you have any marketing suggestions or ideas?


We have been using an organic approach to marketing. My publisher and I have both been discussing the book on social media, and I have a few more blog interviews scheduled. I have stoytimes and book signings scheduled for once the book is released, and I have wonderful friends and family who share my social media posts and are very supportive.


Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


I’m working on a couple of picture books, and am still focusing on lighthearted humor featuring quirky characters.


We'll have to keep our eyes open for them. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not?


Some excellent writing advice I once heard from the brilliant Nina LaCour is to make your writing time less precious. Instead of lighting a candle and brewing a cup of tea before sitting down at your perfect desk designed for endless wordsmithing, squeeze it in when you can. Maybe write for 20 minutes while waiting in the car at the school pick up line, or record a voice memo and write it down later. This goes hand in hand with another tip of hers, “Some Words on Most Days.” This takes a lot of pressure off.


It definitely does. Thank you Amanda for stopping back by to share with us your newest picture book and offering such great giveaways.


To find out more about Amanda Henke, or to contact her:


Review of Not A Book About Bunnies

PLUS a Book & Critique Giveaways


There are very few books about porcupines, both fiction and nonfiction. And even fewer celebrating the fun aspects of porcupines, rather than trying to camouflage or "change" their nature. This debut picture book is a funny look about wanting to be acknowledged and discovering friendship.

Not A Book About Bunnies


Author: Amanda Henke


Illustrator: Anna Daviscourt


Publisher: Starry Forest Books (2023)


Ages: 3-7


Informational Fiction


Themes:

Porcupines, bunnies, and friendship.


Synopsis:

Debut author Amanda Henke shines a funny, fact-filled, and heartwarming spotlight on one of nature’s most overlooked and misunderstood creatures – the loveable (but not-so-huggable) Porcupine!


There are no books about the most underrated, majestic forest creature of all time … porcupines! But there are loads about bunnies. Can't Porcupine have just this one book to herself? What is it with these attention-seeking, book-hogging carrot crunchers?!


So be sure to ignore any floppy ears or cotton tails. That is NOT what this book is about.


As Porcupine vies desperately for the reader's attention, one little bunny follows to get her attention too. Can a fluffy forest critter and a prickly, aspiring author forget their differences and become friends?


With charm and a quirky, self-aware sense of humor, Not a Book About Bunnies will have readers of all ages giggling as they watch this unexpected friendship unfold. A perfect picture book for little animal admirers, nature nuts, and especially porcupine pals—because this is a 100% porcupine story.


Opening Lines:

Hello! Thank you for opening this book.

You saw the title and you still want to read it.

This is not a book about bunnies.

It is about someone even more dazzling . . .


What I LIKED about this book:

Starting with a fun address of the reader, in a confiding, second-person voice, the book immediately sets a humorous tone. And as fun as this is, how adorable is the forest library full of bunny books with a squirrel librarian! It is clear that Amanda and Anna had a lot of fun playing off each other and creating this playful book.

Text © Amanda Henke, 2023. Image © Anna Daviscourt, 2023.


It almost reminds me of some older siblings I've known desperately trying to get their parents attention when a new sibling comes home - Look at me! I'm cute, too!

Text © Amanda Henke, 2023. Image © Anna Daviscourt, 2023.


I wasn't always so prickly.

I used to be a darling fuzzy ball.

Can you think of any other animal so soft,

so cuddly, so loveable?


Even without those little ears poking into the corner, you know the kids will call - 'a bunny.' I do appreciate how Amanda weaves information about porcupines throughout the book - such as how baby porcupines are fuzzy and called porcupettes.


I also enjoyed the word play - now that he's bigger, porcupine is "spike-tacular." And the humor between the text and illustrations - as porcupine tells the reader that his spines protect him from "Ravenous beasts" and "Ferocious feasters," the illustration features a meditating frog and happy ducks. While they are insatiably hungry and ferocious (if you're a bug), it is funny that porcupine feels the need to "Ba-Poofs" and become an "impermeable pincushion."


When Porcupine starts craving a canoe paddle (be sure to peek back at the title page), a bunny in a "Rabboat" starts waving one at him. The personalities of both just radiates through the text and illustrations. Despite Porcupine's adamant insistence that the bunny needs to skedaddle, to go practice fluffing for adoring fans, Bunny does two things which alter the course of the book. No spoilers, but the ending will bring smiles and "aww"s.

Text © Amanda Henke, 2023. Image © Anna Daviscourt, 2023.


Breaking a "rule," this book is told entirely in dialogue, either as an address to the reader or a "conversation" with the Bunny. Ana's softly colored, humorous illustrations provide wonderful energy and suspense. This would be a great book for older siblings of new babies or ones with idolizing younger siblings. The "All About Porcupines" back matter is a collection of fun facts and differences between bunnies and porcupines, narrated by Bunny. Overall, it is a really fun book about porcupines, envy, and friendship.

Resources:

- make your own "spike-tastic" porcupine.


- if you were Porcupine or Bunny what adventures would you dream up?


- draw a picture or write a description of an animal you would describe as a "Ravenous beast" or a "Ferocious feaster." Now draw or describe one that is funny or silly.


-pair this with A Porcupine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester and You Are Mine, Porcupine by Helen L. Wilbur, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman.


Not A Book About Bunnies Giveaway

& Critique Giveaway

Awesome news! Amanda is offering one lucky reader a signed copy of Not A Book About Bunnies AND another equally lucky reader a Critique.

- Simply comment below to be entered in the random drawing on February 7th.

- Be sure to say where (if) you shared the post (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), and I'll add additional entries for you.


- *Sorry US Residents only.*

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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