Jun 29, 2013

Tammi Sauer's Picture Book Success

In my last post I mentioned some popular picture book trends and some timeless topics. In addition, franchise potential and multimedia characters are likely to generate success in this highly competitive publishing field. Examples spring to mind, many of which are high quality,  although some tilt more toward pop culture than toward timeless treasures.

It's particularly noteworthy, then, when a picture book author can achieve the degree of success demonstrated by TAMMI SAUERin recent years. (Check out her lively website here.) Notice the variety of publishers and illustrators listed with each cover photo. Tammi's success has not been assured by a predictable illustrator pairing, a single dedicated editor, an ongoing character, or even a specialty topic. The books featured in this post range from a grumpy duck, to a cowboy and a princess each at training camp, a stone-age boy, some wacky chipmunks, unlikely friends (shark and fish), and two titles with rockin'n'rolling chickens. How's that for variety?

Let's take a quick look at a partial list of her titles, in chronological order:

Sterling Publishing, 2005

(2005) COWBOY CAMP is illustrated by Mike Reed.

Kids love stories in which a character's bumbling difficulties somehow save the day. This little cowboy wannabe surprises the villainous interloper enough to make him give up and pursue his nefarious ways elsewhere.

Sterling Publishing, 2009

(2009)  CHICKEN DANCE, illustrated by Dan Santat.

Talent shows and dance competitions are the current rage on reality television programing, but contests of this type have been around for centuries. But, in the barn? Featuring Elvis Poultry and the dancing chickens? Why not?

Simon & Schuster/
Paula Wiseman Books, 2011

(2011)  MR. DUCK MEANS BUSINESS, illustrated by Jeff Mack.

Sometimes, as in the lyrics to the song, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone." Duck's isolated way of life felt perfect, until unexpected visitors intruded. Only after restoring his "peace" did he decide it would be better still with a bit of a compromise.

(2012) BAWK & ROLL, illustrated b y Dan Santat.

This sequel to Chicken Dance is fun in much the same way- a wacky premise with a pair of "chicken" chickens who suffer stage fright without the support of their friends. Fun and frantic.

Paula Wiseman Books, 2012

(2012) ME WANT PET!  illustrated by Bob Shea.

This cave boy twist on the familiar boy-wants-pet story involves a wooly mammoth, saber-toothed tiger, and do-do chick. Despite the unusual circumstances and language, kids recognize the familiar parental objections to his requests and root for him all the way to the end.

Harcourt Children's Books, 2012

(2012) PRINCESS IN TRAINING, illustrated by Joe Berger

What do you do with a princess who doesn't act like a princess? Send her to Princess Camp, natch, then count yourself extremely lucky when her natural tendencies shine through to save the day.

Bloomsbury USA Children's, 2012

(2012) OH, NUTS!  illustrated by Dan Krall.

A fun story, with plenty of exaggeration in characterization. Cartoonish antics lead to the eventual conclusion that the spotlight may not be all that it is cracked up to be.

Harcourt Children's Books, 2013

(2013) NUGGET AND FANG, illustrated by Michael Slack.

This hits the sweet spot for its target age when spontaneous and utterly sincere friendships can be threatened by peer input as young children move into social settings and learn about stereotyping and expectations.
The humor and loyalty of Fang will appeal. I love the subtle humor of naming shark's bite-sized minnow friend  "Nugget".

So what do these diverse titles have in common? How do we account for Tammi's remarkable success with picture books, minus any gimmicks or shortcuts?  

  • Her language is well-paced and lively, even without  rhymed or repetitive text. 
  • Each of her stories involves animals. 
  • Humor (in words, image, and concept) have appeal for the young reader/listener and the adult who shares the book.
  • Each features exaggerations and unexpected twists.
  • Most of all, she displays a genuine understanding of her target audience. 
This is a winning combination, to be sure, and accounts for her success across several publishing houses and illustration pairings. 

For those unfamiliar with the business side of things, the string of recent publication dates does not suggest that she wrote them all in a year or two. It's highly likely that these titles represent a decade or more of dedicated effort, including revision and rejection, ending in the refinement necessary to produce winning stories.

For anyone looking to choose powerful picture books, or to write them, Tammi Sauer's work is worth a very close look.

Tammi just tweeted that four of her upcoming picture book releases DO NOT have animals! Can't wait to see them, can you? 

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Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.