Considering that I’ve worked with Ekua Holmes, Victo Ngai, Don Tate, Troy Cummings, Ashley Spires, and Tom Lichtenheld, among other artists, today’s question is a great one.
Do you know Mighty Truck, my series of picture books and early readers illustrated by Troy Cummings and published by HarperCollins?
First, in 2016, there was the origin story: How an ordinary, muddy pickup named Clarence became a day-saving (and unrecognizably clean) superhero.
Then, in 2017, came Mighty Truck: Muddymania!, in which Clarence grappled with 1) keeping his commitments to his best friend, Bruno, 2) maintaining his secret super identity, and 3) preventing disaster at Axleburg’s premier mud-flinging spectacular.
Earlier this year, two new Mighty Truck books arrived: I Can Read! titles On the Farm (Can Clarence get a mighty break from his super responsibilities when he goes back home to visit his parents?) and The Traffic Tie-Up (Can Mighty Truck undo the unintended effects of Clarence’s unsolicited advice to a friend?).
Today, they’re joined by the third (but not the final!) I Can Read! installment in the series. That’s right, it’s publication day for Mighty Truck: Zip and Beep, in which Mighty Truck helps Clarence tackle the biggest challenge of them all: keeping up with his boss’ energetic young cousins on his day off.
Working with Troy Cummings is a hoot (the characters of Zip and Beep were his idea!), and writing for the early-reader format is such a fun challenge, that Mighty Truck: Zip and Beep may just be my favorite book in the series.
So far, anyway. Ask me again this coming May when I’m holding in my hands a copy of Mighty Truck: Surf’s Up!
Click here for more information on all the Mighty Truck books. I really (wheely!) think you’ll like them.
Welcome to the Q&A for the May edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).
This month I’m talking with illustrator and author Troy Cummings and giving away three signed books: his new picture book Can I Be Your Dog? (Random House) and our even-newer easy readers Mighty Truck: On the Farm and Mighty Truck: The Traffic Tie-Up (HarperCollins).
Our I Can Read books come on the heels — make that wheels — of our two picture books about Mighty Truck, his ordinary-pickup-truck alter ego Clarence, and various vehicular acquaintances.
In Can I Be Your Dog?, the canine main character embarks on a letter-writing campaign to come up with a human companion. Kirkus says in its review, “A large format and bold, exuberant illustrations are well-matched with Arfy’s enthusiastic personality and can-do attitude. The letter format makes this a fine choice for early-elementary students learning to compose letters.”
If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you want to be the one lucky, lucky, lucky winner of signed copies of On the Farm, The Traffic Tie-Up, and Can I Be Your Dog?, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on May 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.
In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Troy Cummings.
Chris: There were some pretty big differences for me between the process of writing our Mighty Truck easy readers and my previous experiences writing picture books, but I’m curious about your perspective as an artist. How did illustrating for the I Can Read format compare to your prior work on picture books and your Notebook of DOOM series?
Troy: It’s been really fun to learn how to illustrate for these different types of books, and the types of reader each book serves.
In a picture book, the audience ranges from a baby on a lap, to pre-K kid studying the pictures, to a grade-schooler who can read, to the parent/teacher/librarian/stevedore reading out loud. It’s a wide audience, and I feel like we have lots of room to play in the illustrations.
I can put in some little background details that might be a surprise for the second or third reading, or visual jokes/surprises that happen across the page turn. And I think picture books work best when the illustrations aren’t just showing us what the words are saying, but instead are complementing — or even contrasting — what’s happening in the text.
As for the Notebook of DOOM series, which is a heavily-illustrated early chapter book series, my readers are a more focused group: students who know how to read, and are ready to transition into full chapter books. The DOOM books are structured like a middle grade book — many chapters, multiple characters, with a mystery in each book and an arc that connects the books together.
But they’re also heavily illustrated, with a lower word count and an easier vocabulary (both in terms of what the words mean, and how to “decode” the words for students learning to read). In these books, my illustrations can behave similarly to those in a picture book, but they also need to be a little more direct, in terms of supporting vocabulary or keeping the story clear for readers who come back to chapter 9 a couple days later.
But still, the DOOM books work as read-alouds for parents/teachers/librarians. They kind of straddle that line.
Finally, the I Can Read books have a very specific audience: students who are learning to read — right now! So to that end, I think my job is to support what’s going on in any given moment of the story. The illustrations need to be clear, and simple, and explicit, and show exactly what’s happening in the sentence on that very page. We can still put in some jokes and surprises, but they should never overcomplicate things, or make the reader have to pause and puzzle out what’s going on.
Chris: Mighty Truck and Mighty Truck: Muddymania! have centered on Clarence and his best pal, Bruno, but one of the things I’ve enjoyed about making these easy readers is that they’ve given us a chance to focus on the side characters. Stella is prominent in The Traffic Tie-Up, and Hattie and Mr. Dent get their turns in the upcoming third and fourth I Can Read books.
As the illustrator, do you have a favorite Mighty Truck supporting character, or one that you’re especially hoping to see more of?
Troy: The supporting characters have all been a blast to dream up. I think my favorite may be Hattie, though, because steamrollers are super-fun to draw. (If you’ve never drawn a steamroller, I recommend it. Very therapeutic.)
I also really enjoyed drawing Zip and Beep, Hattie’s young bulldozer cousins. [Chris adds: These little ones were Troy’s idea, and they’ll be the title characters in our third I Can Read book, coming this December.] They’re loosely based on certain fast-running, sand-digging, early-reading family members of my own!
The character I want to see more of would have to be Throttle, the cat belonging to Mr. Dent, the surf wagon. Throttle has some funny surfing scenes with Mighty Truck in the fourth I Can Read book.
If you’ve never drawn a cat surfing with a monster truck, I recommend it! Less therapeutic, but really fun.
To get Bartography Express in your inbox each month â€” and to have a shot at the June giveaway of Mike Jung’s Unidentified Suburban Object â€” you can sign up on my home page.
Here’s to the end of 2015, everybody. I hope you’ve had a satisfying year, and that no matter how well things have gone, it’s wrapping up for you on a positive note.
If you’re reading this, you’re one of the reasons I feel so fortunate to be doing what I do. Thank you for taking an interest in me and my books.
And if you’re someone who has taken the time to publicly recognize or celebrate or validate the work done by authors of books for kids, thank you especially for that. It makes a difference to us, and I know I’m not the only one who appreciates your efforts.
To close out the year here at Bartography, I want to recognize, celebrate, and validate those efforts by sharing with my readers a few of the kind gestures that folks have made toward my work recently.
If you follow these links, I hope you’ll look around a bit and see what other books have caught their eyes. Maybe you’ll discover your first favorite read of 2016…
- Holiday History in Chris Barton’s ‘Nutcracker Comes to America’
- Christmas Chaos in Jennifer Ziegler’s ‘Revenge of the Angels’
Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook generously spotlighted all of my picture books and then named Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet to her list of My Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books from 2015
Public Libraries Online featured An Interview with Troy Cummings, illustrator of my text for our upcoming Mighty Truck series
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch was…
- named to the New York Public Library’s annual selection of 100 notable titles for reading and sharing
- selected as one of the Top 10 Picture Book Picks for 2015 by University of Pennsylvania professor Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
- picked by the Chicago Public Library as one of the Best Informational Books for Younger Readers of 2015
- included on Reading Is Fundamental’s list of 2015 Books of the Year
- listed among the Denver Public Library’s Holiday Gift Guide: Books for Kids & Teens
- named a runner-up for Best Biography on the Huffington Post’s list of Best Picture Books of 2015
- included among Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich’s suggestions for Books to Help Kids Make Sense of Challenging Current Events and the International Literacy Association’s Biographies: People Who Make a Difference
- recommended on the This Week in Ladies podcast
- featured on Read It Real Good, Wonders in the Dark, Legal Legacy, Reading, Teaching, Learning, and Hearts & Minds
- included on this list of 500+ Read Aloud Books for the 2016 African American Read-In and among these resources for teaching about civil rights between 1865 and 1899
- used as an example in Eerdmans Books for Young Readers’ Four Tips for Writing Nonfiction Plots
- praised in this School Library Journal discussion, The Whole Truth: The Line Between Providing Age-Appropriate Content and Sugar-Coating
‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America was…
- the subject of my interview on Chicago public radio station WBEZ’s Worldview
- named by Alyson Beecher in her Last Minute Holiday Gifts: My Top 10 Picture Books of 2015
- included in Open Sesame’s 10 New Picture Books to Ring in Holiday Cheer
- featured in Orange Marmalade’s sugarplum fairies and seven-headed mice
- listed in Redeemed Reader’s roundup The Nutcracker: This is That Time of Year
- reviewed on True Tales & a Cherry on Top
Now that the cover of my next book with Don Tate has been revealed, I can show it off here, too. But why stop with just that one?
Through a combination of flukes, good fortune, and starting my work at 5 a.m. far more often than not, I’ve got four new picture books coming out in 2016. They are:
That’s Not Bunny! (illustrated by Colin Jack; Disney-Hyperion; February 2016)
Mighty Truck (illustrated by Troy Cummings; HarperCollins; April 2016)
Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (illustrated by Don Tate; Charlesbridge; May 2016)
88 Instruments (illustrated by Louis Thomas; Knopf; August 2016)
I’ve been lucky throughout my career to get paired with terrific illustrators, and I’m delighted that you’ll get to see so much evidence of that throughout 2016.
Now, back to work on 2017…
This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Rhyme Schemer (Chronicle), the new middle-grade novel in verse by Kari Anne Holt.
If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway at the end of this week.
Bartography Express subscribers were among the first to hear my big news from yesterday. In case you missed it:
I’m so glad to announce my six-book Super Truck! series with HarperCollins. Starting in early 2016, illustrator Troy Cummings (Giddy-Up, Daddy!) and I will be introducing the world to ordinary dump truck Clarence and his revved-up, to-the-rescue alter ego.
Here’s an image of the entire newsletter. For the next few weeks, you can click the image to get a fully linked version. And if you act fast, you can still get in the running for the giveaway of Texas Bluebonnet-winning author Phil Bildner‘s new book, The Soccer Fence.