Sue Fliess is the author of two new children's picture books, Little Red Rhyming Hood and How to Trick a Christmas Elf. Her many other books include How to Track an Easter Bunny and Mary Had a Little Lab. She lives in Northern Virginia.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your take on Little Red Riding Hood?
A: That’s a great question. The answer is not short! Even though I have many books out, there is a first time for everything…
Summer of 2017 I came up with what I thought was a fantastic idea. My idea was for a story-loving wolf who was secretly following a girl to her Grandmother’s book club, so that he may fulfill his lifelong dream of having someone read him a story. But Little Red sees him and is scared of the wolf. She runs off each time before he can explain himself.
I was calling it Little Red Reading Hood. I looked up the title/story idea everywhere and couldn’t believe someone had not done it yet! I loved it. My critique group loved it. My agent loved it!
Since it was August, and most of publishing takes that time to either vacation or catch up, we thought we’d wait until September to sub it. But one editor had been in touch with my agent, so we tried her with it.
She promptly turned it down, but also informed us that just two weeks beforehand, another manuscript with the same name and many similarities had come across her desk—and she said she thought it had been picked up by someone.
Argh! Someone had beaten me to it, after all! I could not in good conscience continue to submit this story. So, I do what any author does after having a manuscript thwarted: I slumped over and whined.
I happened to whine to my husband while we were at our friend’s house that night and my husband said, “Oh Sue, you write so much in rhyme, you should just write it as Little Red Rhyming Hood.” It was perfect! What a great title!
But then I had to come up with a story. That took many (many) tries, but after a few months, I had a working manuscript and we started submitting it. And we sold it to Albert Whitman, who loved it for all its quirkiness. Yay!
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: The story is about a little girl who doesn’t have many friends and gets teased because she only speaks in rhyme. Her nemesis is a boy named Big Brad Wolf, who tries to scare her daily.
Her life changes and she’s filled with hope when her grandma shows her a flyer for a poetry contest. But on the night of the contest, Big Brad scares the rhyme out of her…and into him! They then have to work together to win the contest.
I hope kids read it and embrace their differences—maybe realize that what makes them different is what makes them special—in a good way. And maybe it will also show kids that everyone has different strengths and they should be more accepting of those who are different, even be friends.
Q: You also have another new book out, How to Trick a Christmas Elf. What inspired that story?
A: This story took a different path. My publisher wanted to expand on what we are now calling the Magical Creatures and Crafts series and wanted an Easter and a Christmas book.
The first was How to Trap a Leprechaun. I knew we couldn’t be trapping bunnies or elves, so I brainstormed on titles and came up with How to Track an Easter Bunny, and the kids make an Easter Nest (it’s a thing!) to attract their bunny and fill it with glitter so she leaves a trail to all the hidden treasures.
Then I came up with How to Trick a Christmas Elf. Since elves themselves are magical, this is no easy task. But the kids in the book make a miniature sleigh for the elf to distract him, so they can see if they’ve made the naughty or nice list. It works!
And kids at home can make their own miniature sleigh craft following the directions in the book. They can leave it out for their elf or hang it on their tree as an ornament.
Q: What do you think the illustrations--by Petros Bouloubasis and Simona Sanfilippo respectively--add to the books?
A: Oh my, where to begin?! Thank goodness for talented artists.
I’ll start with Petros – his illustrations are so unique and detailed and quirky. So much individual style. I think for the books he is doing of mine with Albert Whitman & Co., it’s an absolute perfect match.
The characters in the books: Mary of Mary Had a Little Lab, Little Red from Little Red Rhyming Hood, and Princess Pippa from our forthcoming The Princess and the Petri Dish (April 2020), are all strong female leads, innovators and creative types. He makes these amazing girls stand out like no one else could.
I even got to meet Petros in his hometown of Athens, Greece, this past July while on a family trip. Super nice guy and he bought me coffee, so…clearly, he’s great.
Simona Sanfilippo has truly captured the childlike wonder and sense of adventure of the children in our Magical Creatures and Crafts series with Sky Pony Press. Her illustrations are full of sweetness and the details she adds to the story that aren’t in the text are so creative and wonderful.
She started with How to Track an Easter Bunny and How to Trick a Christmas Elf and thankfully has signed on to do several more in the series! Next year, I look forward to sharing How to Find a Unicorn (March 2020) and How to Meet a Mermaid (Summer 2020). Don’t you want to know how?
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have many projects I’m working on now (and usually!), but this time is a little different because two of them are under contract already and have deadlines.
One is an elementary-age spy book series with Trustbridge Global Media that I’m having so much fun with and the other is another sweet Little Golden Book that will follow my I’m a Ballerina! book.
The other four projects I’m writing are personal projects I hope to be able to get back to soon, hopefully in the new year.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Well, I’m always out and about and love giving sneak peeks and updates, so if anyone would like to keep tabs on my projects and whereabouts, they can sign up for my quarterly newsletter easily at the bottom of any page of my website. Thanks so much, Deborah!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb