Archive for the ‘Penguin Random House’ Category

5 Things You May Not Know About The Loki Little Golden Book

4/16/21

The Loki Little Golden Book is my most recent children’s book project. It was published by Penguin Random House on January 5th, 2021, and it was illustrated by Hollie Mengert. This book was great fun to write. But every book tells two stories: the story of what the book is about (in other words, the plot), and the behind-the-scenes story of how the book was written. Here are a few things you might not know about The Loki Little Golden Book:

1) In the book’s opening scene, Loki is in Asgard, fooling a palace guard by conjuring a hologram-like image of Thor. Meanwhile, the REAL Thor looks on, annoyed, in the background. The original version of this scene was quite different: the guard is eating a sandwich, and Loki fools the guard by making it appear that his sandwich has COME TO LIFE. The sandwich had a face and everything! (At least, that’s the way I described it in the manuscript’s art notes, aka stage directions.) But I think that version of the scene was deemed too surreal, so I changed it to the one you see in the book. And that’s fine. But still, part of me longs to visit the alternate universe where Loki’s “sandwich-with-a-face” prank made it into the book.

2) This is a book for very young children, and so the idea that Thor and his family are basically deities is one that I can’t explore in a book for this age group. How do you describe what a god is without getting into thorny concepts like “worship” and “religion”? That presented me with a challenge: how would I describe Asgard, commonly known as the realm of the gods? I brainstormed a few different ways of describing it before I came up with one I was happy with: “Asgard, a mythical city of heroes.” Which is appropriate for the target demo of this book, and also accurate!

3) I wanted the dragon in this story to resemble dragons from Norse mythology. So while writing this book, I found several images of dragons from ancient Norse sculptures and paintings, and I included links to those images at the end of the manuscript, for Hollie’s reference.

4) There’s a double-page spread in the book that shows Loki skulking in the shadows as Thor hangs out with the Avengers. The narration in that spread talks about how Thor “sometimes sneaked to Earth to play pranks on Thor.” Originally the art notes for that spread showed Thor hanging out with the Avengers (on the left page) and Loki using his powers to make himself look like Captain America (on the right page). That was, of course, a reference to the scene in Thor: The Dark World where Loki does the very same thing. However, I figured that the “Loki impersonating Cap” image might be too confusing to small children who most likely hadn’t seen Thor: the Dark World.

5) Most Little Golden Books are either “meet the characters” books or “plot-driven” books. In “meet the characters” books, you meet the main character of a well-known IP and his/her/their supporting cast. The first Little Golden Book I ever wrote was The Doctor Strange LGB, which was a “meet the characters” book. It’s an introduction to the world of Doctor Strange, where you meet Stephen Strange, Baron Mordo, the Ancient One, Clea, Wong, Dormammu, Nightmare, etc. I also wrote an Avengers LGB called The Threat of Thanos, which was a “plot-driven” book: it was a simple plot with a beginning, middle, and an end. Thanos comes to Earth to find one of the Infinity Stones, the Avengers try to stop him, he defeats them using the Infinity Stones he’s already collected, and then when all seems lost, Thor outwits Thanos. It didn’t introduce the Avengers to the reader. Rather, the reader is seeing one of their adventures play out. BUT The Loki LGB is that rarity: a mash-up of both types of LGB. The first half is a “meet the characters” narrative, and the second half (with Loki bringing the dragon statue to life) is a “plot-driven” narrative.

Learning About Baseball With Harley Quinn

10/10/20

Recently, Harley at Bat, a Batman leveled reader I wrote, was published by Penguin Random House. It was illustrated by Fabio Laguna, Marco Lesko, and Beverly Johnson.

I knew NOTHING about baseball when I got the assignment to write Harley at Bat. The story was supposed to be about Harley Quinn stealing a white diamond roughly the size of a baseball and Batman pursuing her. And at some point in the story, Harley and the Joker play baseball, using the diamond as the ball. Those were the rough parameters I was given by my editor. And within those parameters, I would flesh out the plot and figure out why Harley was doing all of this, how Batman figures out what’s going on, how Batman captures Harley, etc. Then I would write the manuscript, based on that fleshed-out plot.

But you see, when I was a child, my father signed me up for little league three years in a row and I absolutely hated it. As a result, I’ve scrubbed all baseball knowledge from my brain. But now I had a paying gig writing a Batman children’s book where baseball was central to the plot. How would I work baseball terminology into the manuscript when I don’t KNOW any baseball terminology? How could I become baseball-literate in time to meet my deadline for this book? How indeed…

There was a strict word count for Harley at Bat. I had to use a certain number of words – and a certain number of lines – on every page of this book. This made me feel like I was writing poetry. Like a haiku or a sonnet. So then I thought, “Why don’t I just read some poems about baseball? Maybe that will teach me how to write ABOUT baseball, and specifically, how to do so in a concise way.” So I googled “poems about baseball.” Know what? It really helped! Here are just some of the baseball-themed poems I read while writing this book:

* Kidding! It was written by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. But you already knew that.

I also watched a bunch of YouTube clips of people playing baseball. The clips didn’t just show me what actually happens during a baseball game, they also showed me how the announcers talk about what’s happening. How do they describe, deconstruct, demystify, and unpack what’s just happened for the people in the stadium and for the viewers at home? In baseball, much of the language is really colorful and expressive. Like, “Neil Walker clobbers a home run.” Or “Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hits an absolute monster home run.” Or “Tiki Broward takes that home run into a dark alley, beats it senseless, steals its wallet, and stomps on its phone so it can’t call 911.” Okay, I made that last one up. I also made up Tiki Broward, who is not a real person as far as I know.

The things the announcers say in baseball games often sound like the stage directions in a screenplay for an action movie. Superhero movies (and by extension, superhero children’s books) are a lot like action movies. And baseball players (like superheroes) wear colorful costumes. So this was very appropriate.

I had a ton of fun re-educating myself about baseball while writing this book. And I hope that that comes through when you (or your kids) read it.

 

Please contact me if you want to use this for any reason. arie@ariekaplan.com