It can be tricky finding books for new readers that are attainable at their emerging level, but not boring or dry. The Snail and Worm books by Tina Kugler are the perfect fit for my 6 year old! He has been reading them aloud to me to practice his reading skills and the books are full of sweet friendship and plenty of laughs. Each book is split into three short stories and they are highly engaging with the dialogue style writing and fun illustrations.
The newest book Snail and Worm All Day was recently released the the publisher HMH Kids sent be a free copy to review as well as the opportunity to interview author and illustrator Tina Kugler!
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1. How do you find a balance in your stories so that they are both easy to follow for newly independent readers, but also entertaining and engaging? Kids need a reason is read. Reading is hard. They need a reward for getting through that chapter or story, and I reward them with the punchline. They get a laugh, and it’s motivation to keep going. If a beginner book is just phonics, with no jokes, it’s incredibly boring not just for the reader but also for the adult that is helping them. For the adults that have been in the trenches with struggling readers, you know you need a payoff, and humor is absolutely the best reward at this age. The story needs to keep the readers’ interest, keep them giggling, so they keep trying. I owned a children’s bookstore, I worked in the youth department at a public library, but it was my role as a mom, helping my youngest struggle through boring phonics books, that really opened my eyes. Every manuscript I write, I think about the kid that’s trying to muscle through it. I’m really careful about the pacing, the word choices, the sentence structures, the repetition. And just as importantly, I want to make them laugh, so they feel satisfied. Sometimes the jokes are purely visual, in the illustrations, but not in the text. I love having visual gags that go against the words, like “Meet My Pet” in the first Snail and Worm book and “The Mirror” in the second book.
2. You have previously worked in several other areas of entertainment like Disney, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros, and The Simpsons. How has working in those areas compared to working as an author/illustrator?: It’s really been a fantastic balance. With animation, there are so many worker bees, everyone is part of a big machine to make a show. I’ll be watching a cartoon I worked on, and before I can even say, “Oh, that’s MY part!” the scene is over and gone. And everything is revised, over and over, you don’t take it personally. I’m in retakes on The Simpsons, which is like the revisions department. That has really given me a thick skin when it comes to revisions with my own work, I understand it’s just part of the creative process. With being an author-illustrator, it’s mostly just ME. I have guidance from a great editor, and support from a great art director, but I write every word and I draw every line. It’s so much more creative freedom, but a lot more pressure as well. In animation, one artist designs the characters, another artist designs the backgrounds, another artist does the color styling. A writer writes the script and other artists storyboard it. When you are writing and illustrating, you wear all of those hats.
3. What does the creative process look like when you are creating new stories? Do you start with an idea of the illustrations first, the text first, or already meshed together?: My animation brain always goes back to the storyboarding process, which starts with a script. I have to write a script or I can’t draw it. (Have you ever noticed my books are all dialogue?) I work out how a character talks, what they would say, how they would act, and then I come up with a design. From there, it’s storyboarding: I work it out in thumbnails, figure out the page breaks, compositions, and onward. I sometimes talk about camera angles when I’m trying to explain something to my editor, film is so ingrained in my brain.
4. How does writing sequels differ from writing the first book? Does winning an award for a previous book effect your process or approach at all?: If you have strong characters, sequels are super fun to write. Basically, you take your established characters and give them a new scenario, and figure out how they react. The Geisel Honor did give me more confidence in my writing. I feel like I’m an artist first and foremost, so I was really shocked to be recognized as an author. My process has stayed the same, but I feel like I’ve had more opportunities since receiving the award.
The author has generously offered a signed set of Snail and Worm Again and Snail and Worm All Day (Books 2 and 3). To enter the giveaway comment below with something that interested in you in the interview or head over to this Instagram post!