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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Lynne Marie and Review of The Palace Rat

Lynne Marie always had a vivid imagination and a love for folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy. She also has a soft-spot for animals.

She's the Owner and Director of RateYourStory.org and www.ThePictureBookMechanic.com, a Mentee at The Seymour Agency, a Children's Book Insider Editor, a co-host over at SeasonsOfKidLit.com, a Cybils Judge, and a Travel Agent. She lives in the heart of Florida with her family, a Schipperke named Anakin and a Mini Pinscher named Marlowe.

Lynne’s the author of The Three Little Pigs and the Rocket Project, illustrated by Wendy Fedan (Mac and Cheese Press 2022), Let’s Eat! Mealtime Around the World, illustrated by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books 2019), Moldilocks and the Three Scares, illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling / Scholastic 2019), The Star of the Christmas Play, illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books 2018), Hedgehog's 100th Day of School, illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic 2017), and Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic 2011).


Her newest picture book, The Palace Rat, illustrated by Eva Santana, releases on September 5th.


Welcome Lynne, thank you so much for coming by to talk about your newest book and your writing.


Thank you so very much for having me, Maria! I am happy to be here!


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?)


My first foray into “picture books” began in Kindergarten, when I wrote and illustrated a story about my family – I portrayed my mother on a tipsy chair, holding a Martini glass with an olive. Incidentally, my mom didn’t like Martinis and rarely drank. Even I don’t know what I was thinking when I did that so I’m chalking it up to wanting to write fiction! But there it was, posted on the wall for kindergarten parent night! I would like to think of it as an exercise in humor, but my Mom didn’t find it very funny. Still, I kept writing…and here I am!


Oh my, your poor Mom. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?


I am always inspired by my world travels and am scribbling ideas into notebooks. In fact, one such idea – inspired by a rat running across the courtyard of the Palace of Versailles in France – was what inspired The Palace Rat!

While I am always scribbling down ideas and details while I travel, I find it very hard to focus the way I need to for a truly fruitful session, so I often just collect bits and pieces and then do the bulk of my most productive writing at home, in my cozy home office surrounded by my dogs and other favorite things. I find it much easier to shut out the world and make progress on a story than when I am traveling. But that’s when I do get the most inspiration!


Such a great way to collect bits and bobs of ideas and a wonderful working space. What was your inspiration or spark of interest for The Palace Rat?

As mentioned above, we were visiting Versaille – one of the last stops of a two-week carousel tour of France. I had so many inspirations on the trip and it was this near to last inspiration that really stuck with me. It felt the most fun and leaned into a picture book more than the others. We did spend three weeks in France, but the last week was spent at Euro Disney so I spent more time “playing” that week than soaking in the jewels of France and thinking!


Got to play sometimes. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?


The library was my absolute favorite place in the whole world and I took out stacks and stacks of books each week. To be fair, I loved and devoured almost all the books I read, but I would have to say the ones I read again and again and again were collected fairy tales, nursery rhymes and bible stories. I think I liked those books the best because when you finished, there was another tale following and another and another and another, in the same book.

I also remember loving the folktales of the day – Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, as well as, Pecos Bill and John Henry. And anything with a superhero, especially on television, as I was adopted and usually they were orphaned and/or adopted too.


And though one fiction book stands out, I’ll save that one, as it was, in part, inspiration for my upcoming book BroomMates: A Bitter Boundary Battle, co-written with Brenda Reeves Sturgis, and illustrated by Nico Ecenarro (The Little Press, 2023).


What an interesting title. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about or gain from The Palace Rat?


Yes! Even though we want to inspire and empower littles ones through picture books, it’s still true that they don’t actually (as kids) have a lot of control over where they are or where they end up. So I want to say to them, bloom where you are planted, which is to say – make the best of a situation, whatever it may be. It’s probably the best advice one can give.


Good advice for the adults as well, thanks. How many revisions did The Palace Rat take from the first draft to publication? How does this compare to your other books?


It sold in 30 drafts over the many years since I first sketched out the idea in 1997. Most of those drafts represent one round of critiques from my critique group, often four or five in total. My friends at Long Island Children’s Writers and Illustrators (LICWI, now LI SCBWI) will remember seeing this manuscript several times, as will my critique groups over the years! I should note that I wrote this when Picture Story Books were still popular and it was something like 1500 - 2000 words when I first wrote it. Over the years, sensibilities about picture books changed, and I had to adapt the manuscript to fit the times. It’s now about 650 words and down a few characters!


Compared to my other books, it has a different feel as it is more classic and features the theme of “the value of storytelling” in shaping our lives and teaching us who we are. But it is like Moldilocks and the Three Scares, as well as The Three Little Pigs and the Rocket Project (as well as the forthcoming Chicken Little’s Weather Worries, illustrated by Wendy Fedan - Mac and Cheese Press, 2024) in that it is a fractured tale.


Ooh, fun! Molidlocks is one of my favorite fractured tales. What was the toughest aspect of writing or revising The Palace Rat?


Without a doubt it was whittling down the story to a manageable length to fit the sensibilities of the times (the kidlit world is constantly evolving and changing). Killing off Papa Mouse (not literally), tightening and figuring out how to give Henri agency in his attempts to solve his story problem (that he wanted to return to the King and the life he knew), without taking up space in the story. I decided to do this through desperate letters in order to streamline the text. This worked really well, but it was a bit challenging to keep the story size down while showing that these letters were intercepted. I do like the way it turned out!


Kudos for whittling it down to about half the word count. That can be really tough. When you first saw Eva Santana’s illustrations did anything surprise or amaze you? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Lynne Marie, 2023. Image © Eva Santana, 2023.


Of course I was filled with wonder about how Henri and friends would come to life, as we all are when awaiting our first glimpse at illustrations. I was pleasantly surprised at how she had found a modern, but unique and humorous way to depict the historic characters, as well as the clever way in which they thwarted Henri’s attempts to get word to the King.


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

I had mentioned BroomMates and Chicken Little’s Weather Worries, but I am also looking forward to American Pie – illustrated by Dea Lenihan, which is coming in the beginning of 2024.


Such a cute cover! And lastly, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Since I love to travel, this is another fun one. My travel has primarily been in Western and Eastern Europe and the Baltics, as well as Russia. I love New York and my heart belongs to Central Park, but I would also love to visit Yellowstone, Yosemite, and other famous National Parks one year. But oooh – I just thought of one – Volcano National Park in Hawaii would definitely merit to be among my favorites!


Thank you, Lynne for participating in this interview. It was wonderful to visit with you.


To find out more about Lynne Marie, or contact her:


Review of The Palace Rat


This is a fun story about a beloved pet rat of King Louis the XVI and his unwilling adventure which leads to his discovery of what is most important in life.

The Palace Rat


Author: Lynne Marie


Illustrator: Eva Santana


Publisher: Yeehoo Press (2023)


Ages: 4-8


Fiction


Themes:

Storytelling, Paris, King Louis the XVI, friendship, and jealousy.


Synopsis:

Henri is a palace rat living as the pampered pet of King Louis the XVI! He’s waited on paw and foot . . . but not everybody is happy about it. When a dastardly plan by the royal staff casts Henri out to the streets, he must find his own way safely home. Country mice take Henri in and kindly show him their ways of living. To survive, Henri will eat field strawberries, fashion new clothes out of rags to match the latest Parisian styles, and sleep on grass nests, dreaming of his return to the palace.


In no time, Henri will become a popular figure, spinning rich and colorful tales of palace life for growing audiences. Yet every great tale must have a happy ending . . . and when the time comes for Henri to determine how his own story will conclude, will he choose to stay with his new friends on the street or return to his regal life of comfort?


Opening Lines:

Henri lived a luxurious life in a grand palace

as the pampered pet of King Louis XVI.


He dined on delicacies

prepared by Cook


and wore elegant fashions

sewn by Tailor.


What I LIKED about this book:

Subtle, muted illustrations humorously play up the contradiction that Henri is not the typical palace pet and not everyone is excited about pampering him. But the King loves Henri and adores falling asleep listening to his stories.

Text © Lynne Marie, 2023. Image © Eva Santana, 2023.


When the jealousy and frustration of the staff and Queen Marie reach the tipping point, they kidnap Henri and leave him in the garden next to poisoned food and a hungry cat.

Text © Lynne Marie, 2023. Image © Eva Santana, 2023.

Perhaps roughly based on the City Mouse and Country Mouse, Henri is taken in by field mice in Avignon. Henri alternately bemoans his separation from King Louis and this elegant lifestyle he was used to and enjoys regaling the country mice with tales of palace life. As the days progress, Henri, hungry, tired, and chilled learns to eat from the trash, sleep under the stars in lavender fields, and make his own clothes from scraps.

Text © Lynne Marie, 2023. Image © Eva Santana, 2023.


Interspersed within each of these new experiences, Henri is seen writing a letter to the King begging for a rescue. Kids will enjoy the notes written on leaves, the courier pigeon delivery, and the palace staff and Queen's actions to intercept these letters. While Henri enjoys the country life and the crowds of mice who come to hear his tales, he still missed the King.


The ending is different, in that Henri doesn't ever contemplate taking his new friends back to experience the "city"/palace life, but instead faces a choice for his own future. While vaguely unpredictable, the ending is tender and the amazing final end paper illustration wraps it all up wonderfully. It is a touching and thoughtful book on true friendship, the "finer things in life," and being open to new experiences.


Resources:

- make your own origami or cone paper pet rat. Maybe make a few country mice, design some clothes, or create a small box for your pet to sleep in.


- what's a "luxury" you enjoy? Could live without it? If you couldn't watch TV or use a cellphone, what would you do? What about sewing your own clothes?


- write a letter to a friend of family member and tell them a story about your day.

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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