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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | series books

Stephanie Roth Sisson

Stephanie Roth SissonThe first Princess Posey book was published in 2010. How long before that were you asked to illustrate the book? And were the plans to have it be a single book at that time or were there already intentions to publish more than one book about Posey?

Susan Kochan and Cecilia Yung at Penguin contacted me in November of 2008 about the Princess Posey series. If I am remembering this right, there were two books planned initially. The first book was well received, so I think that’s what expanded the series out.

Knowing how important it is to have characters in books look the same no matter how they are standing or sitting or moving, how did you begin to create Posey’s look?

Princess Poeey and the Tiny TreasureStephanie Greene’s text created Princess Posey through her approachable and clever text. After reading the first manuscript, I thought that this is a real and relatable kid- someone we all know. As an aside, I loved that Posey’s family situation is not explained. We don’t know why her father isn’t in the picture. This isn’t a divorce book or a book about why dad isn’t there—her world is not about the absence of someone. Posey has her family, her neighbors, friends, and a teacher who are loving and nurturing and that’s enough.  

What type of drawing materials and papers do you use when you’re illustrating the Posey stories?

The Princess Posey illustrations are done traditionally with watercolors and paper. I do a little cleaning up digitally, but 90% or better is traditional media.

What do you think of differently when creating the black-and-white drawings and spot illustrations for Posey as opposed to creating the illustrations for your newest book: Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos?

Star StuffWhen I was working on the illustrations for Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos, I was preparing for a life outside of the U.S. on this little island called Mauritius. On Mauritius the air is humid (paper buckles and molds) and quality art materials are difficult to find,  plus shipping original artwork is an act of faith in an incredibly unreliable service at best. I can’t even count on a letter mailed within Mauritius with clearly printed addresses to make it to its destination. For Star Stuff, I used mostly digital media working on a Wacom™ tablet with some scanned art—mostly for backgrounds. I needed to teach myself a method that I could use that could be uploaded to an FTP server. I uploaded the book shortly before we moved to Mauritius and it worked!

Do you keep a file of images, either on paper or digitally, that helps you with ideas?

Yes, I have files for all of my books. I am also a big fan of Pinterest. Whenever I find images that I think I can use I collect them. This is a great way to create a book.

Posey has three friends, a teacher, Miss Lee, and her mother and grandfather as main characters. Do you organize your information about each of them in a particular way? What form does those records take?

Princess PoseyI keep a file with images of Posey’s world. It contains maps of her neighborhood, drawings of her house, a floorplan of her house and drawings of each room. I do a bit of the same for the other characters, noting what sort of clothing they wear. For example, Nikki wears a lot of tunics and wears a headband, Posey likes her bling.  I have scans of the characters in various positions and have a “line up” drawing with their heights relative to one another.

Do you feel that you know Posey and her world quite well now? Does it feel like a real place to you?

Yes, definitely. Her world sits as a complete place in my mind.

On your website, you wrote that Tomie dePaola was the first illustrator who made you realize that you could have a job writing and illustrating children’s books. What kind of training did you go through to make you confident in your work?

Tomie dePaolaYes, I was lucky to have met Tomie dePaola when I was in elementary school. I haven’t received any formal art training. My collection of books for children grows by the year and includes most of my favorites from childhood. I study those books. I love everything about them from the feel of the paper,  how the story is laid out, the theater of this thing we call a book. I began drawing (like most of us) as soon as I could hold a pencil, I’ve just never stopped.

What books would you recommend to budding illustrators?

Show Me a StoryStudy the books you love  and ask yourself why you like them. Study how the story unfolds, how we meet the characters in the book, and what we can tell about the characters from the pictures. I’ve noticed that many successful illustrators come from a film background. Watch movies and see what kind of lighting is used to set a mood, how scenes are framed and how things are paced to heighten the emotion of the story. As a storyteller, my number one focus is always the emotional connection between the reader and the characters and the story. As far as books go, there are so many! Leonard Marcus has written some gems about childrens’ literature, I love reading biographies of illustrators and writers for inspiration, too. My first stop though in this process of becoming a creator of content for children is the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).    

Stephanie, it has been a joy to come to know Posey through the visuals you create. Many of them show tenderness, humor, and joy … all of which young readers appreciate. Thank you for sharing your talents with us.

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Stephanie Greene

Stephanie GreeneIs the “impossible game” something you ran across or is it something you invented?

I read about it on a blog or the Internet, I can’t remember. I try to keep abreast of what six-year-olds are doing by talking to my nieces, who have little girls, or friends who do, or the children on the street where we live – anywhere I can find information.

How do you maintain your sense of what a first grader thinks about, feels, and worries about?

When I was writing the books, I didn’t think about that. Posey got under my skin and I was able to convey the feelings and indignations and concerns of a little girl her age. But now that you ask and I look back, I think she’s probably a bit like me at that age. I’m glad I didn’t realize it at the time because I find it impossible to write if I think that who I’m writing about is myself. My mother once said I was always well-intentioned as a child and I think Posey is, too. I guess I unconsciously pulled on the often conflicted feelings of having four siblings, too. They’re the universal emotions of children.

Do you find yourself writing words, actions, concerns, and then checking with “authorities” to see if your writing is age-accurate?

No. I come up with the central concept and write it. My editor offers her opinion, of course, and sometimes questions what I’ve had Posey say or do. Together, we iron out anything that doesn’t feel authentic.

Did you keep a journal when your own child was this age … or when you were this age?

No, but I sure wish I had. I did jot down things my son said (and have used almost all of them in other books), but I never kept a journal when I was a kid. I didn’t dare – having read my older sister’s diary on a regular basis, I knew one of my siblings was bound to read mine.

You’ve written about an elementary-school boy, Owen Foote, and a middle school girl, Sophie Hartley, and the primary-school-aged Posey. From where do you draw your information about what’s a part of these children’s lives at different ages?

Owen Foote, Sophie Hartley, Princess PoseyMany things have led to what I’m proud to think are books that reflect the authentic lives of children at whatever age I’ve chosen. For starters, I remember a lot of the events and emotions of my own childhood. I’ve also spent many years as a volunteer in schools to keep abreast of what’s going on. And I spy and eavesdrop incessantly on children to this day – my own and others wherever I see them. I have a constant antenna out to see what’s going on in the world as it pertains to children. Everything in life is fodder to an author.

Your books read as contemporary fiction. Are you concerned about adding in cell phones and computers and video games?

Yes. Not computers and videos games, as much, because I can have a character sit down with one of those as part of a larger scene without having to go into detail as to what they’re doing. But cell phones? I only used those in one Sophie Hartley book and I kept their presence short. (Thad broke up with his girlfriend via a text, which I know kids do. Nora longed for one.) As an adult who sees more and more children texting and watching things on their cell phones when they’re with one another, or should be looking at the world around them, cell phones distress me. They have an adverse effect on young people’s ability to relate to one another or even hold a conversation. So far, I haven’t wanted to be party to that. Should I come up with an idea in which a cell phone played a crucial role …? I guess I’ll wait and see what I do with that.

Reading a Posey book on their own is comfortable for readers ages 5 to 7, depending on their reading skill. Do you think about the words you’re using when you write for these readers?

Not really, no. I write them using the language Posey and her friends use. If I’d made Posey ten, the books would have been written differently. The age of the protagonist determines the language.

Your mother, Constance C. Greene, wrote A Girl Called Al, which is a humorous book written for what we then called young adults, as well as the other books in that series. She also wrote a book about grief and sorrow called Beat the Turtle Drum that moved many readers. When you were growing up, were you aware of what your mother did for a living? Did she involve you in any way?

A Girl Called AlMy mother sold A Girl Called Al when I was a junior in high school. Before then, she wrote short stories for the New York Daily News and other newspapers, including a woman’s magazine in Scotland. She never directly involved any of us in her writing, but since she wrote on the dining room table, we were all aware of it. Writing was what she did. She was very good and she loved doing it, but she was matter-of-fact about it. All she ever did was caution me against ever showing my spouse anything I’d written – long before I started writing. Or was even dating.

At what age did you realize you wanted to write books for children … and why?

I guess I started when my son was little. Watching him with his friends was often hilarious. They were so absorbed by, and intent on, whatever it was they were doing. It wasn’t until the day I listened to Betsy Byars give an hilarious talk at an SCBWI conference, however, that I actually sat down and wrote. It was my first Owen Foote book and I was so inspired by her that I wrote it in one draft.

Here’s a tough question: how do you write a humorous book? What do you keep in mind?

As my editor Dinah Stevenson once said, “You can’t make kids laugh by saying something’s funny.” i.e., writing that a kid “cracked up” or “laughed so hard” when what made him/her do that isn’t very funny. Having kids doing awkward or embarrassing things is kind of a cheap trick (although farts and burps are helpful tools). As with all emotions, you have to earn a reader’s laughter. I think having a good sense of humor is important, or seeing the world in a humorous way, or having an ironic viewpoint about things. Writers who write humor well generally have a kind feeling for people, I think. The best humor isn’t mean-spirited. Plus that, children are basically funny. Their view of life is so untainted and they say what they mean. Sometimes the humor arises from the fact that what they’re trying to accomplish is completely at odds with the situation. If you can get inside their heads and put it on paper the way they see it, it can be funny.

In your daily life, would the people who know you think of you as funny?

Ha! That would depend on who they are and what their relation is to me. My friends consider me funny, I think, but I’ve been told that people who don’t know me very well think I’m forbidding or remote. It’s not my fault. I have my father’s forehead – it’s perpetually furrowed.

Where do you write and what is your routine for writing? (Can you send a photo of your writing space?)

Stephanie Greene's officeI write early in the morning. By about noon, I’m worn out and spend the afternoon doing other writing-related things. If I have several projects going at the same time, I might switch to one in a different genre. We’ve lived in several houses since I started writing, so my work area has changed. I’ve written in a tiny room off the laundry room, in the living room, in an extra bedroom, and now, in a small space at the end of our upstairs hall with a window overlooking the street. I’ve never had a formal office, per se. One place where I can’t work is in any public place.

Getting back to Posey, in particular, when you write a series, how do you keep your characters consistent?

I follow their lead. They become real people to me, so I put them in a certain situation, give them their heads, and watch what they do. As with people, they act in character most of the time. All I have to do is listen and write. I love writing character-driven books. Once I have internalized the character, he or she does most of the work.

Although this is a series, it is not presented in a “story arc” that requires reading the books in order. It’s helpful to start with Book No. 1, Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade, but otherwise the stories stand on their own. When you began writing Posey’s story did you make a decision to write in this particular way? Did you plan out what would happen over 10 books or did you think of her next story after you’d completed the first?

Princess Posey and the Crazy, Lazy VacationI wrote the first book as a one-off. The little girl was called Megan. It was prompted by the response I had to a sign I saw in front of a school. I never imagined in a million years that it would become a series. It was Susan Kochan, my editor at Putnam, who told me I’d created a “hook” in the pink tutu. She asked if I had any more ideas, so I thought for a bit, came up with a list of short scenarios, and she asked for three more. That’s the way the entire series has gone.

Do you have any fan mail about Posey to share with us? Something that particularly tickled or moved you?

Many of the letters and emails I get come from parents because their child is five or six. I got one from the mother of a boy with learning disabilities who loves Posey. She sent me a picture of him holding one. More recently, the mother of an eight-year-old girl with dyslexia wrote to tell me that her daughter hated reading before she discovered Posey, and that it makes her so happy to walk into the living room and see her daughter curled up on the couch with one of the books in the series. I’m thrilled to think that my books mean something to emerging readers, and that Posey becomes real to them so they care about her. Only when a book matters do children realize that books have something to offer them.

Stephanie, thank you sincerely for writing the books you do. It’s so satisfying to have a series of books to recommend that you know will appeal to readers of this age, all the while making them laugh, and feeding their “need to read.”

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Bookstorm™: Princess Posey

 

Princess Posey Bookmap

Princess Posey and the Crazy, Lazy VacationThere have been many papers written about why children, teens, and adults like to read books that are published as part of a series. From The Bobbsey Twins to Nancy Drew to the Boxcar Children to Encylopedia Brown to Goosebumps to The Babysitters Club to Redwall to Warriors (drawing in a long breath) … okay, you get the idea. These books are popular. We like reading about characters who are familiar to us in settings that we feel we could walk through. Sometimes they’re involved in stories that we might feel are predictable, but that’s been found to be part of the charm.

This month, we are pleased to feature Princess Posey and the Crazy, Lazy Vacation, written by Stephanie Greene and illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson. The tenth book in their series, this one follows our favorite first-grader, she who wears a pink tutu for confidence, through spring vacation, a staycation replete with unanticipated adventure. Full of gentle humor and situations your own kids this age will find familiar, Posey has good friends, helpful adults, and a developing sense of self to rely on for a satisfying story in each volume.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. For Princess Posey and the Crazy, Lazy Vacation, you’ll find books for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books for this particular age group, a little younger, a little older, but primarily picture books, easy readers, and early chapter books. 

Downloadables

 

 

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Bicycles. Learning to ride a bicycle, being afraid of it, and then overcoming that fear, is one of the storylines for Posey this time around. We’ve suggested other books about bicycles.

Courage. Trying unfamiliar activities and foods, meeting new people, all of these take courage. Talk about these books with your family or classroom or storytime group. Start the conversation about stepping outside our comfort zones.

Doing Nothing. Sometimes vacations—and life—are fully programmed. No chance to be bored. We’ve listed a few books that revel in kicking back and letting imagination take over.

Early Readers for and About First and Second Grade. Long subtitle, but books that are fun to read. We’ve even included a joke book!

Frogs. Yes, there’s a frog among the characters in Posey’s vacation so you’ll find a few more frog books to read out loud.

Missing Mom. Because the series takes place during first grade, Posey frequently examines her feelings about missing her mother while she’s at school. She has a younger brother and a caring grandfather, but it’s that mom connection that the Stephanies handle so well. 

Sleep-Overs. Has your child been on their first sleep-over yet? There’s almost as much anxiety as there is in going to school! An unfamiliar house and staying up past bedtime … here are a few more books to read.

Teeth. How much can happen during one spring vacation? Well, Posey has a loose tooth. Here are some books about that tooth-losing experience, including one of our favorites, Throw Your Tooth On the Roof.

Tutus. Posey’s pink tutu is one of her trademarks. When she first sets off for school, she won’t leave home without it.

Vacations. What will we do on vacation? Kids can be simultaneously excited and fearful about leaving home for this length of time, venturing to an unknown place. A little reading about other kids’ vacations will help.

Let us know how you are making use of this Bookstorm™. Share your ideas and any other books you’d add to this Bookstorm™.

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