WILL WRITE AND ILLUSTRATE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
FOR WRITERS, ILLUSTRATORS, PARENTS, TEACHERS, LIBRARIANS,
AND BOOK LOVERS EVERYWHERE
You probably all know how excited I get when new books launch. Not only will young children (and I) get to read great stories and enjoy glorious illustrations…but when I create a blog post to help spread the word, I connect with the authors and/or illustrators. And that’s what happened with BECOMING BLUE and today’s Will Write for Cookies guest. The book just launched a few days ago – and the lovely Ellen Tarlow is offering a winner’s choice for the giveaway: A Picture Book Critique OR a copy of this beautiful new SEL book! Make sure you leave a comment and SHARE the post on your social media to help spread the word to a wider circle.
Ellen Tarlow writes stories for very young children. Her picture books include BECOMING BLUE, illustrated Julien Chung (Beach Lane Books, 2022) and LOOKING FOR SMILE, illustrated by Lauren Stringer (Beach Lane Books, 2020) which was named a Bank Street Best Book and a Kirkus Best Book of 2020. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband David, a painter. You can learn more about her at ellentarlow.com and follow her on Twitter @TarlowEllen or as tarlowellen on Instagram.
ME: WELCOME, ELLEN!!! It’s lovely to have a chance to chat with you. And I know that later in the post you are going to share an AMAZING story about how the story came to be. Plus you’re also sharing a recipe for my absolutely most favorite treat: Ice Cream. But first we all want to find out a little more about you.
Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
ELLEN: As a very young child, I often became obsessed with a book, which meant carrying it around with me for constant reference. Usually, these books would end up falling in the mud developing interesting design features and then blowing up to twice their size when dry. (Word to the wise: Trying to wash them in the bathtub doesn’t help.)
Books that fell in the mud include:
Harold and the Purple Crayon THE Perfect Picture Book (IMO). Every step of Harold’s “moonlit” walk was utterly captivating and somehow essential to the story.
Go, Dog Go! That party scene in the tree represented the meaning of life for me. I studied (and drew) each partying dog exhaustively for years.
Harry the Dirty Dog: SO terrifying when his family didn’t recognize him. ( Because of the dirt!)
Little Blue/Little Yellow Another one where the family doesn’t recognize their kid, but this time, because they are green not dirty. Hmm… I never saw that connection to Harry the Dirty Dog before!
ME: Tell us about how you got started writing picture books and what roadblocks you experienced along the way and how you found your current publishing situation?
I’ve been writing children’s books for a VERY long time. I wrote (and illustrated in flare pen) my first picture book at 18 and I had my “big break” at 63 so there were a LOT of years in between. It has been a gradual process of many fits and starts.
In my 30s, I wrote a novel about a mouse. I got an agent and it “almost” got published. I was told (a few times) that novels about animals were old fashioned. So, for a pretty long while I believed that the kinds of books I wanted to write were no longer possible and so I stopped writing.
In my 40s, I wrote a picture book (Mole Catches the Sky) and an early reader (Pinwheel Days) that got published by a very small press (Starbright Books). During these years, I also wrote many, many books for educational publishers, where I had spent most of my career as an editor.
My “big break” came in 2019. I went to a picture book writing retreat at The Writing Barn in Texas. Agent Rubin Pfeffer, Beach Lane Editor Allyn Johnston, and author/illustrator Lauren Stringer were there as the faculty. Rubin read my manuscript, Looking for Smile, and shared it with Allyn and Lauren. By the end of the weekend, I had an agent, an editor, and an illustrator. Looking for Smile, illustrated by Lauren Stringer, came out in 2020.
Since then, Allyn Johnston/Beach Lane has bought 4 more of my picture books and an early reader series. The second picture book, Becoming Blue, illustrated by Julien Chung is coming out this week.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special rom, laptop, pen and paper?
ELLEN: I am a bed person. I try not to be but no matter what office situation I have, most of what I write seems to happen in bed. But I do keep a lot of my inspiration such as books, “toys” etc. in my (lovely) attic office
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
ELLEN: I tend to write when the muse strikes, but I am morning person. I am often up in the middle of the night and stories are a good thing to think about lying in the dark. Then I can get right to it in the morning.
ME: Why do you write for children?
ELLEN: I don’t feel like I have a choice. Or to put it better, the choice I have is whether to write at all. But when I DO write (fiction) it just naturally comes for children. I guess as a child, I lived my best life in books. The belief children have in the world of stories makes them loom so large. Writing children’s books (and occasionally getting it “right”) brings me back into that magical zone. And knowing how important stories were to me, it’s wonderful to be able to help pass that on to young children today.
ME: Also, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.
ELLEN: Don’t be afraid to let go and try new things. Life is (hopefully!) long. Taking a break and getting a new perspective can really help.
WOW! I know that there are a lot of heads nodding. What an inspiring person you are, Ellen! And also sweet, since you are offering an amazing giveaway…AND a sweet recipe for…not cookies! Take it away, Ellen:
ELLEN: Oh good! This is part where I get to tell you all to forget about cookies and get involved in making ice cream! Especially if — like me — everything you touch becomes a bit lopsided. Then ice cream is the perfect dessert to impress others. It looks the same no matter what you do to it. But more importantly, just like a picture book, ice cream is magic..
To be practical, what you have to do first, is invest in an ice cream maker. And then you are off. (There are some inexpensive ones out there.)
I will share this recipe for mint chip ice cream which is how I got started in ice cream making. Fresh mint ice cream — made by infusing (just letting sit) fresh mint leaves in a warm milk mixture– is so much nicer than “store bought” mint ice cream that is made with peppermint extract. The difference is amazing!
Mint Chip ice cream:
- 1 cup milk
- 3/4 cup (sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
- pinch of salt
- 2 cups fresh mint leaves
- 5 egg yolks
- In a saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup heavy cream, salt, and mint.
- Once the mixture is hot, remove from heat, cover, and let stand for an hour to infuse the mint flavor.
- Remove the mint with a strainer, then press down with a spatula firmly to extract as much mint flavor as possible. Once the flavor is squeezed out, discard the mint.
- Pour one cup of cream into a large bowl and set the strainer over the top.
- Rewarm the minty milk. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Then slowly pour some of the warm mint mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan.
- Cook the custard, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.
- Immediately strain the mixture into the cream
- Refrigerate the mixture until chilled (a few hours at least). Then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Optional: Add chocolate chips (or you may want to melt a chocolate bar in a small bowl over a pot of simmering water, or in a microwave oven). Add chocolate during the last few minutes of the ice cream churning or when you are putting the ice cream in the container
- When finished, freeze until firm
Okay…I’m adding those ingredients to my shopping list – and guess what, dear friends. We are not finished yet. Ellen promised to share how she came to write BECOMING BLUE…and her words may just inspire YOU to come up with a new story.
ELLEN: BECOMING BLUE tells the story of quiet Blue who wishes he were more like his exciting friend, Red. Red can become a fire engine, tell cars to STOP!, and sometimes Red can even BE fire. (Blue is a little scared to try that one). When Red yells at Blue to stop copying her, he wanders off, alone and lost. His tears turn him into a river and Blue begins to understand what it means to be Blue (i.e. yourself).
This story came about because my agent (Rubin Pfeffer) suggested I try to write a book about colors. I fiddled with different story lines but nothing seemed quite right. Then one day I was reading (the wonderful book) ON EARTH WE ARE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS by Ocean Vuong, which tells the story of a young Vietnamese immigrant to the U.S. There is a sequence in which, at six years old, the narrator starts to copy an American boy he admires. It ends with the American boy yelling (from the top of a slide) “Stop following me!”
It is a horrifying moment of shame and one that I immediately connected to. While never called out like that, I did my share of copying and following those kids who seemed to “just know”. It also seemed like an important topic for kids today who have so many impossible idealizations coming at them from all angles and can really use the encouragement to just be themselves.
That shaming moment with the two boys on the slide, sparked the idea of having one of the colors (Blue) want to BE another color (Red.) I wanted the story would center on a shaming scene in which Blue is told by Red to “Stop Copying Me!” At that point, the book pretty much wrote itself. Making the story be about two colors allowed for a light touch on a pretty intense topic as well as the chance for the two colors to get together at the end to create: Purple!
What an AMAZING story! I know everyone is applauding – I’m blown away by all that Ellen has shared with us. Please make sure you leave a comment for a chance to win this wonderful giveaway – the lucky winner will get to choose either a copy of BECOMING BLUE or a Picture Book Critique with the author.
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend…a Happy Labor Day…and perhaps on this long weekend, you’ll find the time to review this book on Amazon and some of the other fabulous books you’ve read recently.