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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Sandra Salsbury (2023)

Sandra Salsbury is an author-illustrator from the Bay Area in California.

Sandra Salsbury author photo.

She lives with her daughter and husband in Berkeley, where they are occasionally visited by their neighbor’s chickens. Sandra spends most of her time working on books and going to parks with her family. The chickens spend most of their time digging up the garden.

Sandra works with watercolor, graphite, photoshop, procreate, and occasionally words. Spreckle’s Snack Surprises uses a combination of watercolor and photoshop to create the art.

For more information on Sandra, see our earlier interview (here).

Cover image of Best Friend in the World - Rabbit walking in the woods.

She’s the author of Best Friend in the Whole World (2021).

Her newest picture book, Spreckle’s Snack Surprise releases on July 4th.

Welcome back Sandra!

What was your inspiration or spark of interest for Spreckle’s Snack Surprise?

Book cover of Spreckle's Snack Surprise - Baby dragon and eight little chickens.

Spreckle started out as an illustration. I wanted to create a fun summer piece to use as a digital postcard during an online writing conference and the idea of a dragon trying (and failing) to eat a popsicle popped into my head. I ended up loving the character and illustrations so much that I wanted to give them a story.

That's such a fun way for a story to start. What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?

I certainly wouldn’t call it a fun place, but I spent a lot of time working on Spreckle’s Snack Surprise while in a hospital. I was pregnant with my daughter while working on the book and ended up having to be hospitalized and put on bedrest about six weeks before my sketches were due (and eight weeks before the baby was due). Of course my editor did not expect me to work while hospitalized, but I was just sitting there in a hospital bed all day doing nothing! So I worked on the book.

Oh no! So glad it all worked out. Bet the nurses enjoyed watching you work. How long did it take from the first draft (or dummy) to publication for Spreckle’s Snack Surprise? Was this similar to Best Friend in the Whole World?

Thankfully, I am getting faster with each book! Best Friend in the Whole World took about four to five years from idea to a book in a bookstore. I first came up with the idea for Spreckle’s Snack Surprise in the summer of 2020. I sent it to my agent that fall, and we sold it in the spring of 2021 to my editor at Peachtree just around the time Best Friend in the Whole World came out. So it will end up being just about three years exactly from idea to publication.

What was the hardest part of writing and/or illustrating Spreckle’s Snack Surprise? Why?

In the very first version of the story, Spreckle runs away from the farm in order to find the perfect snack. But then I started to worry—can a picture book character run away from home? I had to do some research. In Where the Wild Things Are, Max runs away in his imagination. In Peter’s Chair, Peter runs away to the stoop outside his house. In every book I checked, the characters didn’t seem to get very far from home, so I had to figure out a way for Spreckle to go on an adventure without ever really leaving home. The solution was not very complicated (Spreckle just explores the farm instead of leaving), but it can be really hard to reimagine the bulk of your story after you’ve already envisioned it, so it ended up taking a while.

Interesting. Shifting a plot can be so tough...even if you aren't actually "killing" the darlings. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave a story throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Spreckle’s Snack Surprise? If so, could you share one or more with us?

One of my favorite parts of the illustrations are Spreckle’s brothers and sisters: the baby chicks. I decided there would be eight of them and in every illustration where I show the chicks, I make sure to show all eight of them. Sometimes they are a little hidden, so you really have to look for them.

Full cover image - front and back; resembling a cereal box.

Text & Image © Sandra Salsbury, 2023.

Also, the cover of the book is designed to look like snack packaging and if you look at the back, you will find a book facts panel, designed to look like a nutrition label. We are 90% sure the numbers are accurate, so readers can count the number of animals in the book and see if they can find them all.

I enjoyed the front, but this whole cover is awesome! The "Book Facts" crack me up - "Serving size - 40 pages" and "Tears - 1% of book value"! Thanks also for sharing about Spreckle's siblings. Is there something you want your readers to know about Spreckle’s Snack Surprise?

When I first wrote about Spreckle, I imagined the dragon was a “he” and that’s the way I wrote the character in the story. And that was the version that was sold to Peachtree Publishing. And it stayed that way for months. But then I had a conversation with my friend Anne Appert, the author and illustrator of Blob, about the genders of characters and I started thinking about changing Spreckle to a “she.” After all, I had already written a book with a male protagonist. So I tried it out in the manuscript, and it turns out that aside from changing the pronouns, nothing else in the story had to change—not even Spreckle’s name. So I suggested the change to my editor and she was thrilled and Spreckle became a girl, just like that.

Ha! Do you have a favorite spread in Spreckle’s Snack Surprise? Or one you are most proud of? Which one?

Internal spread -  left image - Spreckle alone on haystack as rain starts. Right - spreckle on haystack sneezing, with mother hen and chickens below in the heavy rain.

Text & Image © Sandra Salsbury, 2023.

My favorite spread ended up being towards the end of the book, when Spreckle’s mother finds her at the top of the haystack. It really surprised me that it ended up being my favorite, because I didn’t think about it that much as I was working on the book. It probably sounds funny for an artist to admit that they are surprised by the look of their own art, but I never quite know what a piece will look like until it’s done.

Poor Spreckle, but I like the foreshadowing and the texture and light in the images. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I can’t share too much about my next book, because it hasn’t been announced yet, but I can say that it was heavily influenced by my daughter, in sweet ways and in very funny ways.

That's exciting. I can't wait to hear more. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

three images showing the Calif. parks department rebuilding of Big Basin State Park.  © California State Parks.

One of my favorite parks is Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz county, California. I used to go camping there every year as a child and have so many fond memories of exploring the trails. It was badly damaged from fires in 2020, but parts of the park have reopened since then and I hope to take my daughter camping there in the future.

Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not?

The best advice I have ever gotten is to freeze your butter and grate it when making a pie crust. The best picture book advice I have ever gotten was from Marla Frazee, during a talk at an SCBWI conference. She said that every page turn should show a shift in the character’s emotions. This has really helped me figure out the pacing of picture books.

Book cover of Spreckle's Snack Surprise - Baby dragon and eight little chickens.

Thank you, Sandra for stopping back by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you again.

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Boo, #PPBF post on Spreckle's Snack Surprise.

To find out more about Sandra Salsbury, or contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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