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Author/Illustrator Laurie Keller has been making standout picture books since her debut, The Scrambled States of America, hit shelves a decade ago. With a sequel in stores and new projects in the works, Laurie stopped by to take part in 5 Questions.

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Scope Notes: The Scrambled States of America: Talent Show hit shelves last August (100 Scope Notes review). Were you always planning on writing a sequel to the original Scrambled States of America, or did the right idea happen to come along?

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Laurie Keller: I never planned to write a sequel but kids have asked me for years if I would write another book about the states.  The thought intrigued me so I played around with different scenarios in my head but I didn’t want to do it unless I could come up with a strong enough story to complement the original.  Kids have been fascinated with the love story between Nevada and Mississippi so the idea of having a wedding between the 2 lovebirds seemed like a likely sequel.  But I decided to keep their courtship going for awhile (I don’t want to have to do a sequel where they end up in divorce court after having gotten married too soon).  SO, I started thinking of other scenarios that would work well with a big cast of characters and two ideas topped my list — one of which was a talent show.  I figured most kids have been in or been to a talent show and could relate to that.

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It was a lot of work pulling it all together but I really enjoyed working with the states again.  So much so that I’m planning on one more sequel using the OTHER idea that topped my list — having the states go to summer camp.  I’m not going to do it right away but I definitely won’t wait another 10 years!

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SN: At one of the schools where I work, we recently added a few Scholastic Video Collection DVDs, including Arnie the Doughnut and Scrambled States.

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How has it been to see some of your books adapted to video (and in the case of Scrambled States, puzzles and games)?

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LK: I’ve been blown away at how Weston Woods/Scholastic and Ceaco/Gamewright have taken my stories and expanded on them and done such fun things with them.  Both companies have been a blast to work with.  Weston Woods is in the process now of animating The Scrambled States of America Talent Show and the animator they’re using is HILARIOUS and so talented!

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SN: Of the books you have written and illustrated, which was the most difficult to create? Why was that the case?

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LK: Most of them have had their “challenges” but I’d have to say that Do Unto Otters was probably the most difficult.

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I tried to write a book about manners on and off for years and kept putting it aside because everything sounded too boring or preachy (the last thing I wanted!).  After deciding to attempt it one last time, I focused more on The Golden Rule rather than etiquette and I came up with the pun Do Unto Otters.  I researched otters and found that they were very social, playful animals and I knew that they’d be perfect for a book on manners and social skills.  Things finally started to come together after so many years of trying!

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SN: How much attention do you pay to the latest picture books? Or maybe I should say it this way: You enter a bookstore. Which section do you hit first and why?

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LK: I always go to the children’s section first!  I became a collector of children’s books years ago when I worked as an illustrator at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, MO.  I started looking at children’s books for visual inspiration but I became so hooked on them and knew that’s what I really wanted to do some day.  I have a large collection that I love pouring over when I need a bit of inspiration.  I still buy them because it’s fun to see what other author/illustrators are creating.  It helps push me in new directions and it’s always inspiring.

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SN: You are illustrating an upcoming book Me and My Animal Friends. What should readers expect from this release? Any other projects in the works?

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LK: Me and My Animal Friends is a song by Ralph Covert of Ralph’s World.  I’ve been a big fan of his music for years and was so excited to have gotten the opportunity to illustrate his song.  This book is different from any that I’ve worked on before because I created it mostly on the computer by scanning in lots of textures and patterns that I drew and doing a sort of “cut paper” technique in Photoshop.

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Also the layouts are a little simpler with very few of my usual “asides” because it’s for a younger audience than the 4-8 year olds my books are typically geared for.  It was a good challenge for me and so much fun to work on.  Right now I’m finishing the writing for my next book which will be published in Fall of 2010.  I don’t have a title yet but it’s about smiling.

Many thanks to Laurie Keller!

Visit Laurie Keller’s website.

Visit Laurie Keller’s blog.

Read the outstanding Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast interview w/ Laurie Keller.