Written by Lauren La Torre, a first-year candidate, the MFA in Creative Writing, Writing for Children concentration.
Name the top three most dangerous animals. Go ahead, name them. If sharks made it onto your list, you're certainly not alone — shark anxiety has darkened many a sunny beach long before Jaws warned us it wasn't safe to go back in the water. Did “lions, and tigers, and bears” make the cut? "Oh, my!" — you're in good company. It's easy to take a cue from Dorothy and Goldilocks to fear a bear's size, teeth, and claws. It's a much harder task to turn that creature, through the magic of fiction, into a benign teddy that only wants to eat your sandwich, as Julia Sarcone-Roach does in The Bear Ate Your Sandwich. Or to convince someone of the very real fact that you are more likely to be killed by your toaster than by a shark attack, as Katherine Roy does in her Neighborhood Sharks. In a private presentation by these two talented author-illustrators this past March, Caron Levis' Writing for Children literature class was lucky enough to glimpse the alchemy behind the very serious art of picture book making.
Katherine Roy of Neighborhood Sharks fame gave students a presentation they could really sink their teeth into — a terrific mashup of time-lapse photography, original ideas, sketches, and dummies behind the making of the book that has taken the nonfiction picture book world by storm. The talented author-illustrator Julia Sarcone-Roach shared the process behind her with her unique brand of fiction featuring the escapades of a very hungry bear — or is it a dog? (You'll have to read The Bear Ate Your Sandwich to decide for yourself), a well-traveled subway car (Subway Story), and a bunch of animals who must most definitely do not want to go to bed (The Secret Plan). Ms. Sarcone-Roach shared original art, concept maps, and stories from the trenches—such as what to do when a precocious elementary school student writes to you requesting you acknowledge the particular make and model of your crane illustration. Students were able to ask questions related to developments in the authors' careers and the picture-book genre as a whole, and even solicit specific advice pertaining to their own work. One important tip: the next time you make yourself some toast, or a sandwich — watch out!