Saturday, April 7, 2012

HIGH FIVE #15: The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School

So Laura, your debut picture book is out. Here’s a big HIGH FIVE congratulations to you!
Thank you so much, Christie!  And thanks for hosting me on your wonderful blog!  And I love the fact that you collect four-leaf clovers! My daughter does the same thing. J

Title: The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School
Author: Laura Murray
Illustrator: Mike Lowery
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Month/year of release: July 2011
Word count: Approximately 900 words
Short summary or blurb:

Fresh out of the oven, the Gingerbread Man is ready for school. But when recess arrives, the class who baked him leaves him behind to cool. Longing to be a part of the class, this smart cookie takes off after them: “I’ll run and I’ll run, as fast as I can. I can catch them! I’m their Gingerbread Man.” 
With the help of the gym teacher, the nurse, the art teacher, and even the principal, the Gingerbread Man finds his way back to his class and discovers that they have been searching for him, too. A deliciously sweet ending is served up for both the Gingerbread Man and the children who made him.

Question ONE:
What are five of your favorite picture books? Just five mind you… (This might be a test.)
Wow – this is hard to answer because there are so many incredible picture books out there! So I guess I’ll just pick the first five that come to mind.

  1. Blackout by John Rocco – This is one of my new favorites and it just won a Caldecott Honor. I not only love the illustrations, but I love the theme of this book and I feel that it is so relevant and identifiable today. It is about what happens when a “very busy” family and community loses power. Suddenly all those things, like chores and technology, that were keeping the family so “busy,” are no longer available, and the family and community rediscovers a feeling of connection that is so important.
  2. Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace – My children and I love the simple, endearing illustrations and text, as well as the completely identifiable theme of being a picky eater, but “with a twist.”  We laugh out loud each time we read this book.
  3. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg – This was one of my favorites when I used to teach. The illustrations are beautiful and theme of continuing to believe in magic and wonder is close to my heart.
  4. The Mitten by Jan Brett – We just love the fun story of what happens when a child loses a mitten in the snow and various woodland animals decide to make it their snuggly home. The illustrations are incredible, you could just jump into the pictures, and the sidebar illustrations give kids hints about what is going to happen next.
  5. Roxaboxen  by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney – This is a wonderful story about what children can create when they use their imagination. It reminds me of the sheer joy of summers when I was a kid - creating outside forts and imaginary worlds that would keep my friends and I entertained for hours.
Question TWO:
What is your bedtime routine like; how do books play a part in that?

I treasure the fact that my children are still young and at home. Books have always played a big part in our bedtime routine. They are not only a way for us to learn and be entertained, but they provide a wonderful connection between us, as well. My husband and I read to our children as babies, and we still read to each of them nightly, after they have done a little reading on their own. It is definitely a special time that allows us to reconnect after a busy day and often starts other conversations. My tween son and I sometimes read separate copies of the same book, and then come together at night to talk about how far we’ve each gotten and what’s going on in the book.

Question THREE:
Aside from the great page on your website with teacher resources, how might , let’s say, a 4th or 5th grade teacher use your book for a writing lesson? (Hee-hee-hee…and you thought you were gonna have easy questions…) By the way, do you still teach?

I taught Kindergarten for 7 years, in Tennessee and Florida. I have an Elementary Education degree and a specialization in Early Childhood, so Kindergarten was a perfect fit. I am not currently teaching, as I am taking time off to raise my children. But boy, I sure am learning a lot from them! J Right now, I am concentrating on raising my own children, as well as thoroughly enjoying the creative process of children's writing, but I haven't ruled out going back to teaching eventually.

A fun lesson for the 4th grade level might be on Character Mapping or Identifying Characterization, and how characterization can affect plot. These are some things that could be discussed or mapped:

  • Who is the main character of this story?  A Gingerbread Man that was made by a class
  • What are some of his character qualities? What are his strengths and vulnerabilities? (Strengths = smart, tough, determined, friendly, plucky.  Vulnerabilities = he is lost, he is little, he might get eaten.)
  • What does the character want?  He wants to find and be a part of his class. He wants to belong.
  • What’s keeping the character from getting what he wants (conflict)?  Not knowing his way around the school, a rolling ball, a broken toe, accidentally landing in a lunch sack
  • Does he get what he wants in the end? Do any of his character qualities help him get what he wants?  Yes, he finds his class in the end with help from the school staff members, and by seeing the missing posters of himself hanging throughout the school. Yes, all of his strengths (being smart, tough, determined, friendly, and plucky) help him overcome obstacles to find his way back to his class.
Question FOUR:
What was your road to publication like? I see you have an agent. (I met Marietta Zacker at a writing conference!) Can you tell us a bit about your process and how it all happened?
The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School was 6 years in the “baking.” The story took me about 2 years to write because I was also learning how to write for children and how to write in rhyme, through SCBWI, conferences, and my critique groups.  I also had very young children at the time, so my writing time was limited each week. Eventually, I started to research and send my manuscript out to publishers who seemed to be a good fit. After many rejections, it was pulled from the slush pile by an editor at GP Putnam’s Sons and acquired. Needless to say I was giddy with happiness and still am!  After many more months, the illustrator, Mike Lowery came on board with a very fresh, endearing, child-friendly style to match the story.  I finally got to hold the hardback book in my hands a month or two before its launch in July of 2011!  What a thrill!

During this process, I continued to write picture books and started a middle grade mystery/adventure novel as well. I met my agent, Marietta Zacker (who is just awesome!) at a Florida SCBWI conference. She just negotiated a new picture book sequel-of-sorts with GP Putnam called The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck. (Oh… the adventures the GB Man can get into on a field trip to the fire station!) J

So the Gingerbread Man was a slush pile success story! Did Ms. Zacker get involved after the contract was signed? After publication? What led her to take you on?
I submitted The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School  to publishers after doing extensive research, attending and learning about the industry from SCBWI conferences, and networking with other children's writers.  My story was pulled from the slush pile at GP Putnam's Sons (in other words – I sent it in to an editor, unagented.) I submitted to publishers myself, because I felt that I didn't have enough other material to show to an agent at the time.

During the submission process, I continued to work on other books. I met Mrs. Zacker at a regional SCBWI conference when I turned in a middle grade novel chapter for professional critique.  She was interested in the work, and invited me to submit it to her when it was ready. After some time
had passed, I wrote and submitted another picture book to my editor at GP Putnam's, The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck. They seemed to be very interested in the book and asked for a small revision. During that time, I'd also written a third picture book and made quite a bit of progress on my middle grade novel.

By then, I felt my body of work was sufficient enough to show an agent that I was a dedicated writer, so I decided it might be a good time to contact the ones who seemed like they might be a good fit. I contacted Mrs. Zacker and she invited me to submit all my work. After several phone conversations to decide if we would be a good fit for one another professionally, and discussion about my writing career and goals, she offered representation. I accepted and have been very happy with her as an agent. She is professional, knowledgeable, genuine, honest, easy to get along with (and has a good sense of humor - which is often very important. J

Did your book get to keep the same title you had chosen for it? If not, what was the original title while it was on submission? Did you use any illustrator notes?
The book was originally titled The Gingerbread Man is Missing! We decided to tweak the title a bit so that the school adventure was highlighted in the title as well. I didn’t include illustrator notes with this manuscript – I hoped that my words painted a visual picture, but still left room for Mike’s unique interpretation of the story through the illustrations.

Question FIVE:
What are some writing tips you can offer other picture book writers seeking publication?   
This can be a difficult question to answer well because there are several steps in the writing journey and some readers will be at the very beginning and others will be close to publication. But here are a few tips that I hope are helpful to other PB writers wherever they are on their journey.

When I first started to write for children, I had lots of ideas, but no idea of how to begin the process of writing a children’s book. So, of course, I turned to books on the subject. Here are some really excellent books that I found so helpful. Check them out at the library or at your local bookstore.
  • Ø  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold Underdown. (Don’t let the title dissuade you. Full of wonderful, easy to digest information on getting started.)
  • Ø  You Can Write Children’s Books by Tracey E. Dils.
  • Ø  What's Your Story By Marian Dane Bauer (it is for young writers, but is an excellent resource for adult writers as well.)
  • Ø  The 2012 Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market Guide (where you can find publishers who are accepting manuscripts, contests, agents, etc.)
  • Ø  Look up (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) online and consider joining.
  • Ø  Consider joining a local critique group (you can find them on the regional SCBWI websites.) See if you can get some feedback on your story, from someone other than family members (who love you and many times can’t give you the honest feedback you need to make your story the best it can be.)  Look on SCBWI's site under regional chapters and research where the local critique groups are in your area.
  • Ø  See when the next regional or national SCBWI conference is - you can make connections with super supportive people who are like-minded and you can get your story professionally critiqued.
  • Ø  You can also consider trying to submit to Children’s Writing contests. The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market Guide 2012 has a listing of reputable contests, as well as information about publishers who are accepting manuscripts. 

Check out the Spoonful of Stories contest sponsored by Simon and Schuster for new children’s book writers. It runs every March through July. If chosen as a winner, your book will be published and copies of it will be distributed nationwide in Cheerios cereal boxes. Fantastic exposure, and this particular contest has led to publishing contracts for other stories by the winners as well. The 2012 contest is likely getting ready to start in March, so consider checking their website for past winners and the rules.

I also contacted Esther Hershenhorn, a professional writing coach, to critique my manuscript when I felt it was almost ready to be submitted to publishers. She is wonderful!

Thanks again Christie for hosting me on your blog, and the Gingerbread Man too, of course! 

Thanks for joining us. What a delightful story! Good luck on all your future writing and teaching endeavors. Thanks again!

...and keep on keepin' on...


  1. Wonderful, informative interview. The book is sooo cute. Thanks for the post.

  2. Great to know about this G post.
    Do check out my G at GAC a-z.


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