Title of book: A New Friend for Sally
Time length to read: 5-8 min
Age recommended: 4-8
Author: David Tang
Illustrator: Lora Lee
Publisher: Tiny Robot Books
Best place to purchase: The Kickstarter page for A New Friend for Sally (http://www.tinyrobotbooks.com)
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
David: It sounds so random, but Lora and I actually met when we took part in a reality TV show in Singapore back in 2009. The show was a lot like The Apprentice except with creative people (directors, architects, graphic designers..). In each episode we had to work in groups to solve various design challenges like designing a hotel room or creating an animated video. Lora and I actually worked together for a few of these challenges, we had a great working relationship and have remained friends ever since.
A New Friend for Sally is our first children’s book.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Lora: I spend most of my time working as a freelance artist and teaching at the University of Hartford. When I’m not working I’m probably watching movies, eating sushi and cleaning the house.
David: Similarly I’m a freelance graphic designer. Other than that I like going to the gym, reading comics, playing video games and eating hamburgers.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Lora: I’ve been illustrating and designing for other people’s books and projects for a few years now. I’d been so caught up trying to make the deadlines that for the longest time I’d never considered putting out a book myself. Things changed when I started my MFA in Illustration. It was such an inspiring program that included a Children’s Book Illustration class taught by the legendary artists Ted and Betsy Lewin. I based an assignment on a childhood friendship with my pet chicken “Dodo”. I loved Dodo so much and used to hug her everyday after school. For the assignment I created a dummy book consisting of 13 illustrations, which I developed and eventually became our book A New Friend For Sally.
David: By the time I came along, a large portion of the book had already been illustrated. So I took Lora’s skeleton of a structure and after working with her to add in more pages, wrote (and rewrote many times many times) the story for the book.
How did you come up with the title?
Lora: It’s so difficult coming up with a good title! We didn’t want to reveal the chicken in the title but still wanted the readers to anticipate something interesting. At first I named it “Sally’s New Best Friend”, but we changed it several times before finally settling on “A New Friend for Sally”.
Where do you get your ideas?
Lora: I get most of my ideas from my childhood. I grew up in China in the 80s when kids used to play outside a lot more. I loved playing in the woods, drawing and doodling animals and plants. Even now I tend to get a lot of inspiration from my everyday life.
David: For some reason I tend to get a lot of my best ideas when I’m in the shower or when I’m driving, basically anywhere I don’t access to a pen and paper! If I’m actively trying to think of ideas however, I would try to put myself in the shoes of the reader; what kind of books did I want to read when I was 5? What were the sorts of things that I was excited about?
Sometimes I like going to bookstores and flicking through children’s books – but that’s more for inspiration than ideas. I’m someone who’s motivated by competition so when I read a book that has a great premise or beautiful artwork, it only pushes me more to try and do something better.
Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
Lora: I believe that everybody has a fear of certain things. And often this fear is the result of simply not understanding the actual thing that we’re afraid of. I used to have a fear of birds when I was little, as their pointy beaks and feet looked weird and unfriendly to me. But then my uncle got me this big white chicken (Dodo), I ended up loving her. So when I did the illustrations for this book, I tried to convey the same emotions I felt into the images, and encourage the readers not to judge a book by it’s cover, or in our case a chicken by it’s feathers!
David: I grew up on a healthy diet of 80s cartoons where each episode would end with an overt public service announcement, something like “Stay in school!” or “Don’t do drugs!” I was actually one of those kids who obeyed intently; I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life and I don’t drink either. If only there was an episode about not eating carbs!
So when it came time to writing A New Friend for Sally it was really important to me that the story would be more than just pure entertainment for kids. And the lesson of being open minded and accepting of others who may be different to us, is a great one for children to learn.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
David: Writing children’s books? Not as easy as you think! Everyone thinks that they have a good idea for a children’s book and that they’re easy to write, but when you actually sit down and try – it’s a completely different story! Writing for children specifically comes with a lot restrictions; words can’t be too long or contain too many syllables for example, because the younger children might struggle to pronounce them.
Another thing I learnt along the way is why so many picture books feature animal protagonists. In part because of the nature of the story and in part because this was our first children’s book, we didn’t realise that making the main character a girl would potentially alienate boy readers. Making a character a cute animal though, side steps this problem. Also: whatever you do, don’t choose to write your book in rhyme!
Do you have anything specific to tell your readers?
David: If you’re interested in reading A New Friend for Sally please check out our Kickstarter campaign (http://www.tinyrobotbooks.com)! Oh, and eat your vegetables!