The Backstory welcomes Tara J. Hannon to the blog today with her early graphic novel, BIRTLE AND THE PURPLE TURTLES. This book is perfect for beginning readers and will have them begging for the next one. Keep reading to find out how this story came to be and for your chance to win a copy of your own.
AH: Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind BIRTLE AND THE PURPLE TURTLES.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
TH: Birtle and the Purple Turtles is a story about a featherless baby bird (Teeny) who plops into Turtletown and meets Tootie (a turtle). Since Turtletown is inhabited by only turtles, they assume Teeny is a turtle without a shell. Tootie and Teeny become fast friends but when Teeny sprouts feathers, Teeny worries she isn't a turtle at all.
It’s a book about finding true belonging and accepting each other just as we are.
AH: This story is so much fun! I love the playful interaction between the characters and the relationship that Tootie and Teeny build. My second-graders are going to love this book.
AH: What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
TH: A lot of my book ideas come to me as one or two-word inspirations. The seed for Birtle sprouted while I was walking with my daughter and mom. We were playing with words by combining two animals to make one new animal … “What would you get if you crossed a frog with a hippo?” “A Frippo" “How about a cheetah and a fish? A feetah? Or a cheetish?” When we crossed a bird and a turtle, we shouted, BIRTLE! And I thought to myself, “Well, that’s fun to say!” The story itself took a bit more time to unfold, but the seed had sprouted.
AH: It is my favorite when authors can pinpoint that moment inspiration struck! I can picture teachers using this word-combining strategy with their students as a brainstorming technique for creative writing projects.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now BIRTLE AND THE PURPLE TURTLES? 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?
TH: Most stories take me a long time to work out, but Birtle was different. Once I imagined a bird/turtle combo, the image of a featherless baby bird falling from the sky and landing among confused turtles popped into my head. From there I knew the story would be about a case of mistaken identity. The hard part was squeezing the story that was developing in my head into 500 words or less. So I permitted myself to write the story without limitations. (I used as many words, art notes, and dialogue without tags as I wanted.) When I finished that lawless draft, I had a manuscript with more art notes and dialogue than narrative. That’s when I decided to try it as an early graphic novel.
AH: This is a great reminder to anyone writing to curb that inner editor that likes to butt their head into our first drafts. Good for you for giving yourself permission to just create and to see where the story led you, which in this case was toward a graphic novel structure.
AH: Did BIRTLE AND THE PURPLE TURTLES undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so, what led you to make these changes?
TH: BIRTLE went through two big revisions after submission.
When BIRTLE went out on submission, we got a quick response from AMP Kids. They said they were interested, but wondered if I would be open to other color palettes. (The original palette was primary colors.) ‘Sure,’ I said and I immediately got to work creating new color samples to offer. I think we sent them three new options. The limited pink and purple palette was the winner. After it was acquired, my editor was the one who suggested we title the book, BIRTLE AND THE PURPLE TURTLES, which I loved.
TH: The other big revision we went through was page cuts. The original manuscript was paginated to be 104 pages but AMP Kids needed it to be 80 pages. I was worried that cutting 20+ pages would weaken my story, but I think simplifying strengthened it. It was a good lesson. Sometimes less is more.
AH: Very true, but I can also imagine the trepidation at hearing you needed to cut over 20 pages. I am glad it all worked out and your final product is perfect!
AH: Are there any books/authors that you feel influenced your work on BIRTLE AND THE PURPLE TURTLES?
TH: When I started writing early graphic novels, I began consuming as many as I could. One series that I particularly enjoyed, and studied while I was writing BIRTLE was Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox’s, Fitz and Cleo series. It is so cute, and funny. I admire their pacing and humor and would highly recommend it to anyone for a good read or as a mentor text.
AH: Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
TH: That’s a good question. I have noticed that many of my ideas come from conversations with my children. Is that cheating? So often, they will say something seemingly benign or ask a random question that will spark a million thoughts and ideas. Their little minds are so much less inhibited than ours. Listening to their daily banter with curiosity is one of my favorite things to do and I am often blown away by the things they wonder about.
AH: It is not cheating at all. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned their lack of inhibition. Kids' lack of a filter when sharing ideas allows for the most wonderfully, ridiculous things to come out, and said wonderfully, ridiculous things often make great stories. I fully support the eavesdropping on kids for the future well-being of children's literature.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
TH: I do! I have an illustrated chapter book series called The Only Ghost in Town, coming out with Penguin Workshop. The first two books in the series, THE ONLY GHOST IN SCHOOL and THE ONLY GHOST AT SUMMER CAMP come out in 2025. I am SO excited to be creating a ghost book! (If you follow me at all, you know my obsession with drawing ghosts. If this is the first time you have ever heard my name, Hi, I’m Tara and I love drawing ghosts.)
Fun fact: The first book in the series, THE ONLY GHOST IN SCHOOL, was originally subbed as a picture book but never got acquired. After a few years, my agent suggested I try writing it as a chapter book. So I did and here we are. Woop!
AH: Yay! Huge congratulations on the forthcoming series and not only do you love ghosts, but I am sure kids are going to love them, too. And if I am not mistaken, you also have the second Birtle book releasing later this year, which I am super excited about.
AH: Where can people connect more with you?
TWITTER (X): @TaraJHannon
Blue Sky: @tarajhannon.bsky.social
AH: Readers be sure to check out Tara's website and connect with her on social media. And while you are at it please consider supporting Tara and BIRTLE AND THE PURPLE TURTLES in any way you can.
This could include:
- ordering from your favorite indie
- marking as want to read on Goodreads
-leaving a review
- making a library request
Tara thank you so much for sharing BIRTLE AND THE PURPLE TURTLES. I loved getting a peek at what inspired this playful early graphic novel!
Tara is generously offering a copy of BIRTLE AND THE PURPLE TURTLES along with some Birtle swag.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on social media and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT TARA HANNON
Tara J. Hannon is the author-illustrator of the early graphic novel series, BIRTLE (AMP Kids). Book one of the series, BIRTLE AND THE PURPLE TURTLES is out (!), and book two, BIRTLE AND THE (VERY) UNINVITED GARRY will be released May 2024. Her chapter book series, THE ONLY GHOST IN TOWN (Penguin Workshop) is coming in 2025.
Tara enjoys honest books that are filled with heart and humor. When not writing or illustrating she can be found being so uncool it's almost cool, with her daughters and husband, listening to audiobooks, and jogging. She can rarely be found sleeping and she is okay with that.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew Hacket is a writer, second-grade teacher, and father of three. He is also the author of the upcoming Ollie, the Acorn, and the Mighty Idea, Curlilocks and the Three Hares, and Hope and the Sea. Andrew recognizes that being a kid is hard and he writes to create ways for kids to see themselves in stories and characters, to accept and overcome their insecurities, or to escape for just a little while through the power of their imaginations.