I am thrilled to welcome Anna Lazowski to The Backstory today to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the inspiration behind her debut, T. REXES CAN'T TIE THEIR SHOES (Random House Kids, 2021) with illustrations by Steph Laberis.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind T. REXES CAN’T TIE THEIR SHOES.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
T. REXES CAN’T TIE THEIR SHOES is an alphabet book that encourages kids to try new things by showing them everyday activities that animals are absolutely hopeless at. It has rhyming text, lots of silly illustrations courtesy of Steph Laberis, and some backmatter packed with fun facts of some of the incredible things animals can do.
The combination of your words and Steph's illustrations make this such a fun book. I love your animal and activity pairings as well as Steph's interpretations of them. My students had a blast trying to guess which animal and activity would be featured on each page. And the ending sends the perfect message.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
It was inspired by a game my kids used to play, they’d try to come up with all the ridiculous things T. rexes wouldn’t be able to do because of their tiny arms. We started with trying to put a fitted sheet on a bed and went from there. Then we moved on to a few other animals and I started to think about how something that brought my kids endless delight might also be appreciated by others.
This is great! Your kids must be thrilled knowing this family game led to the inspiration of your debut.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now T. REXES CAN’T TIE THEIR SHOES? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
I’ve found that my stories often come together in one of two ways. The first way is an idea just hits and I have to race to get it down before the spark of it evaporates. The second is that an idea tends to combine from a number of things and run in the background of my mind before it pops out fully formed. T. Rexes was the latter. By the time it popped into my head in a realized state a lot of the concepts had been rolling around independently of another. I knew I’d like to write an alphabet book, one that featured animals in a fun way, and one that was a gentle way of encouraging little kids. All those ideas swirled around for a while before presenting themselves united together for this book. Once the concept came together, the text followed pretty quickly.
T. REXES CAN'T TIE THEIR SHOES definitely ticks all of the boxes for those ideas you had running in the background of your mind. It almost seems like that spark created by your family game was the missing piece to bringing it all together.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
I didn’t start writing picture books until my kids were nine and twelve, and I really wish I’d started sooner because there was a lot to draw from when they were younger. But now it’s often something I hear or see that sparks an idea. Sometimes I know I want to write about a specific concept, then I have to see how the idea comes to me. I have a degree in fine arts and part of what I loved about going to art school was that you often had to take the assignment and puzzle out how you were going to bring your own voice to it. I still take that approach when writing. Sometimes I’ll come up with a topic I want to write about and work backwards from there to find the story. Other times a title will pop into my head and then the story follows from there. I don’t have a set process, I think you have to be open to however the ideas appear.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
Definitely all the books I loved as a kid and all the ones I read to my kids when they were little were hugely influential. But as someone who has worked in radio for 20+ years, most of the influence on my writing comes from that. Everything I write and edit at work is designed to be read aloud. It’s designed to be performed and listened to. Telling stories for people listening translates very well into telling stories for people who are being read to.
It is magical how books from our childhood can stick with us. And your T. REXES CAN'T TIE THEIR SHOES is the perfect type of book to accomplish this same magic.
I think part of many authors' motivation when writing is to create books that will have this same impact on others.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
I’m really not a must have person. I think because I’ve worked as a journalist and producer for so many years, I just sit down, flip the switch and start writing. It’s a skill that I’ve built up and it has come in very handy when I only have a little bit of time squished around work and home responsibilities. If I needed quiet, distraction-free time to write, I would never get to write anything! I should say though that sometimes I sit down fully intending to work on one thing, and something entirely new comes out. So I can flip the switch, but I can’t always control what happens!
This is so relateable. Time is precious and hard to come by so stealing bits of time here and there can sometimes be the only way to make our writing dreams a reality.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
If you’ve already been querying, you know the rejection in this business is brutal. You have to love what you’re writing in order to face that because it happens at every step of the way. So make sure you write what feels most authentic to you, and find a good community you can lean on for support. The kidlit writing community is a wonderfully supportive place full of people willing to help, offer suggestions and share their own terrible rejections. And the most important thing is, don’t give up! So many people want to write a book but never get around to it. If you’re already writing, revising, and submitting, you’ve already succeeded so just keep going and celebrate every step!
Perfect advice! The rejections are no joke, but the payoff and satisfaction of fulfilling this dream and persevering through all of the nos is so worth it. And I can't agree more with you about this amazing kidlit community. It is beyond supportive and there is always room for more authors.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
My second picture book, DARK CLOUD, is being illustrated by Penny Neville-Lee and will be published by Kids Can Press in Spring of 2023. I just saw some of the art for the first time in mid-January and I was blown away by what Penny was able to do with this text. It’s about a little girl learning to live with depression told in a gentle, lyrical style with lots of imagery that is accessible to kids. I think it’s a topic that’s so important for families, and I can’t wait for it to be out in the world!
I cannot wait for this book to come out! It sounds amazing. And I couldn't help myself, I had to go peek at Penny's website to get a glimpse of her incredible art. What a book this is going to be!
Where can people connect more with you?
You can find my blog and info about my books here:
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/anna_lazowski
And Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/annalazowski/
Readers be sure to connect with Anna so you don't miss out on any of her upcoming publishing news.
And make sure you check out T.REXES CAN'T TIE THEIR SHOES (Random House Kids, 2021) with illustrations by Steph Laberis. This story is sure to have your little ones laughing and begging to hear it again and again.
Anna is generously offering your choice of a MS critique or a 30-minute Zoom call to one lucky winner.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
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Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT ANNA LAZOWSKI
Anna Lazowski wrote her first picture book for a class assignment in the sixth grade and has been creating stories ever since. Now an award-winning radio producer, Anna has an MA (Journalism) from the University of Western Ontario and a BFA (Hons.) from the University of Manitoba.
Anna’s debut picture book, T. REXES CAN’T TIE THEIR SHOES (Doubleday Books for Young Readers), illustrated by Steph Laberis, was published June 29, 2021. Her second book, DARK CLOUD, (Kids Can Press) will be published in spring of 2023.
Her journalistic work has been published in various newspapers and magazines, and she has been a nationally syndicated radio columnist.
She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband Mike, their kids, and their dog Rocky.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.