Welcome Kate Messner! (plus a giveaway)

Chronicle Books is generously giving away a copy of Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish. Enter using the form at the end of this post.

I’m excited to host Kate Messner today. She writes about the way dialogue and speech bubbles influence her writing process. I’m looking forward to sharing some of her insights with students.

Sea Monster Speaks! Dialogue, Speech Bubbles, and Picture Book Revision

Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish is my second picture book starring Ernest, a lovable and slightly anxious sea monster In the first book, Sea Monster’s First Day, he braves the hallways of a brand new school (of fish!) and deals with the usual first-day jitters that students of all ages know so well. In the second title, Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish, Ernest encounters another common school challenge — the playground bully. How do you deal with someone who doesn’t always play in ways that are friendly and inclusive?

From the moment I started thinking about Ernest’s first story, it came to me in his own sea-monstery, narrative voice. (Yes…I have sea monster voices floating around in my head. This is normal in the world of children’s writers, even though it does sometimes make me star off into space and think about eating leech pizza for dinner.) Writing in that voice meant that while Ernest was telling the story to readers as a narrator, he’d also need to speak with other characters in a way that was clear. In my first draft of this book, I wrote those words in italics and put the other characters’ dialogue in quotation marks. But sometimes, that felt confusing. I talked a lot with my editor Melissa about this during the production process — how to make it clear to young readers who was saying what, and to whom.

Speech bubbles seemed to be the best way to accomplish this kind of clarity for kids (and to let adults reading aloud know which voice they should use for each line!) so my editor sketched out the book’s spreads with all the fish-to-fish dialogue in speech bubbles. This was an interesting process and required some revision of the text after the illustration process began. Some pages had dialogue that was simply too long or conversations that went back and forth too much for readers to follow, and those scenes had to be trimmed. In other situations, too many characters were talking on the same page, and it got confusing, so that was another revision challenge.

One of my favorite things about working on picture books is the dance that happens between the text and illustration. Andy Rash’s bright, funny illustration style and wicked sense of humor mean that there are jokes in both Sea Monster books that I’d never imagined as the author but laughed like crazy over once I got the sketches to review. There’s a lot of back and forth that goes on when a picture book is being made, and like any dance, it involves compromise sometimes. The dialogue in the Sea Monster books is a great example of that kind of revision, and it’s work that I’m always happy to do. At its best, this process creates a book that’s the best of two people’s creative ideas. To me, it’s one of the most magical things about writing picture books.

Chronicle Books is offering a 30% discount until September 6. Just enter this promotion code: SEAMONSTER. Now is the perfect time to get your copy!
Kate Messner is one of the authors I admire most. I love the way she writes in many genres and topics, and follows her creativity. Mostly, though, I admire how genuine she is and the way she cares about people. If you’ve not been over to Kate’s website, I hope you make time for it soon.
This post is part of the MAKING FISHY FRIENDS Blog Tour. Check out the other stops below:
Tuesday 8/20/2013: Kid Lit Frenzy 
Wednesday 8/21/2013: There’s A Book  
Saturday 8/24/2013: Reading Rumpus 
Sunday 8/25/2013: 5 Minutes for Mom 
Monday 8/26/2013: Ruth Ayres Writes 
Tuesday 8/27/2013: The Family That Reads Together 
Wednesday 8/28/2013: This Kid Reviews Books 
Thursday 8/29/2013: Sharpread 
Friday 8/30/2013: KateMessner.com

{Thanks to all who entered. The giveaway is now closed. Gretchen was the recipient of SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH.}

Let's Be Email Pals!

Teaching writers doesn't have to drown us.

Enter your information to receive my free eBook, plus weekly tips and encouragement for teaching writers.

Don't worry, I won't send you spam, and you can unsubscribe any time. (I'd hate to see you go, though.) Powered by ConvertKit


  1. Oh I love Kate Messner books~ so happy to have another one in the world! Very cool to hear about the revision process for this PB 🙂

  2. It's fun to hear about the collaboration that occurs between the author and the illustrator. Can't wait to share this post with my students.

  3. I loved this one, Kate! My students really enjoyed hearing your story about the sea monster in the lake during our Skype, so I know they'll love this book!

  4. Thanks for this, Ruth! I love it when author's share insights into their writing process. Kids enjoyed Sea Monster's First Day, and I know they'll like Bossy Fish just as much.