Brianna Caplan Sayres is the author of the new children's picture book Where Do Steam Trains Sleep at Night? She also has written the children's books Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night? and Tiara Saurus Rex. She lives in Seattle.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your newest book, Where Do Steam Trains Sleep at Night?
A: The idea for my newest book really started with my first picture book, Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?. The idea for that book came from my then 2-year-old son. Back then, he loved trucks, and one night he asked me, “Mommy, where do dump trucks sleep at night?”
At that point, I had been writing for children for many years, and I knew that the question my son had just asked me was perfect for a picture book (though it took me a while to figure out exactly what picture book to write).
Once my first book, Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?, was accepted for publication, it seemed natural that a second book about trains going to bed would be a perfect sequel to my book about trucks going to bed. (Though it took me a while to figure out how to write that one too.)
Q: Do you plan out the entire story before you start writing one of your books, or do you make many changes along the way?
A: For my first book, Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?, it was more a matter of finding the right angle to approach the book with.
Once I had figured out that I wanted to write a book about truck mommies and truck daddies putting their little trucks to bed (just like boys and girls go to bed), then I set out to write one stanza for each truck.
And since a 32-page picture book needs 12 double-page spreads, I think that, to start, I wrote one stanza for each of 10 or 11 different trucks. Then I wrote an ending stanza that imagined the child’s own trucks going to sleep in his or her room at night.
That format stayed pretty much the same as I worked on revisions with my wonderful editor. But she asked me to revise several of my stanzas to make them even better. Every time she gives me feedback, my manuscript improves.
Also, my editor pointed out that, in my original draft I submitted to her, I had never actually answered the original question, “Where DO Diggers Sleep at Night?” So I added in two stanzas about where the trucks might actually sleep at night.
For my second book in this series, Where Do Steam Trains Sleep at Night?, my first step was really thinking of enough kinds of trains to write interesting stanzas about.
Then I had to make sure each stanza was as strong as it could be. I especially tried to make sure that each stanza works well for a parent to read aloud to a child. I also tried to make sure that I am never rhyming for the sake of rhyme. Each stanza has to make sense as well as if it were written in prose.
Also, each train has to fit with the bedtime ritual I have paired it with. (So the fire train gets sprayed with a bedtime shower from his father and the mama steam train steams up a cup of hot cocoa for a bedtime snack for her little one.)
For most of my picture book manuscripts, I just start writing. Because the ideal picture book manuscript is 500 words or under, I don’t do a lot of planning before I start writing for most of them. Although some of the manuscripts I have worked on do require nonfiction research before I start.
And once I did give a picture book problem a character that was so tough, my dad read the beginning of my story and asked, “Oh, no! What is he going to do?”. And I had to tell him, I had no idea. Eek! My character was stuck! (I eventually got the poor picture book character out of his predicament, but it was a definite challenge for a while. )
Q: What would you see as the age range for your new picture book?
A: I think that Where Do Steam Trains Sleep at Night? is ideal for boys and girls who are ages 1 to 5.
Q: At what point in the process did you see the book’s illustrations, and did you have an idea of what they might look like?
A: My editor has shown me Christian Slade’s pencil sketches for each book in the series. I am always so very excited when I see how Christian has interpreted my words. (I feel so very lucky to have Christian as the illustrator for this series! His illustrations are incredible!)
As a picture book author, I always try to create situations that invite illustrations. But I am never exactly sure what those illustrations will be. My job as an author is to create half the book. I am always so excited to see what Christian’s illustrations will add to my text.
(For the very first stanza of Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?, I had no idea how Christian would illustrate the second half of my opening stanza, “Do their moms reach front to backhoe/ when they give a good-night hug?” I knew it would be adorable, but I didn’t know how an illustrator would draw it. And I am so very thrilled with what Christian drew—which became the cover of the book!)
And in Where Do Steam Trains Sleep at Night?, Christian added a wonderful extra-surprise to his illustrations. On each double-page spread, Christian hid an adorable little engineer-mouse. It is so much fun reading reviews from parents where they say how much fun their child is having finding the mouse on each page!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am currently working on an easy reader manuscript that I envision becoming the first in a series.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: You should know that in between Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night? and Where Do Steam Trains Sleep at Night?, my second picture book was published. It is a super-fun (and wacky) picture book about the Miss Dinosaur Pageant. This one is called Tiara Saurus Rex, and it is illustrated by the fantabulous Mike Boldt (who has made the most amazing dino-beauties)!
Also, my next book in my vehicle bedtime series, Where Do Jet Planes Sleep at Night?, will be published in 2017. I have already seen Christian Slade’s pencil sketches for this one, and they are incredible! Can’t wait till everyone else gets to see them too!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb