Talk about Bayou Bliss!
Today we have the distinct honor of welcoming children’s author and poet B.J. Lee to Alphabet Soup to celebrate the official release of her debut picture book, There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth, illustrated by David Opie (Pelican Publishing, 2019)!!
B.J.’s a former librarian whose poems have appeared in oodles of periodicals and anthologies, including Highlights for Children, Spider Magazine, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, One Minute Till Bedtime, The Best of Today’s Little Ditty, Dear Tomato, and the National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry.
Yes, this girl’s been busy scribbling away in her Florida hideaway, and her first picture book is rollicking good fun. She’s taken the classic “There Was An Old Lady” cumulative nursery rhyme and given it a Floridian spin — a cool way to introduce kids to some of the critters who hang out in her part of the country.
Seems B.J.’s Gator swallows a moth — who knows why — and it makes him cough. Only one thing to do: swallow a crab to grab the moth. But the crab “skittered and scuttled and gave him a jab.” What to do? Swallow an eel to nab that crab!
As you can imagine, this was just beginning of Gator’s problems. He keeps swallowing more creatures, bigger and bigger each time (have you seen the stomach on that guy?) until he actually gulps an entire lagoon! Hoo Boy!
You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens to this guzzling gator and all those bewildered animals in his belly. Kids will love turning the pages to see what animal’s next (ray! pelican! panther! manatee! shark!). Of course this story is a riot to read aloud with its catchy rhymes, repetition, bouncy rhythm and amphibious alliteration (cough, cough). And David Opie has amplified the hilarity with his emotive, dynamic illustrations.
Just had to ask B.J. all about her publishing journey, tinkering with the text, and yes, she’s sharing a recipe (did someone say PIE?)!
🎈HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY, B.J.! 🎈
Congratulations on the release of your debut picture book! Tell us about the exciting day when you learned your manuscript had been accepted for publication.
Thank you so much Jama! I’m happy to join you on Alphabet Soup to celebrate THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH!
The acceptance of this book had me on tenterhooks. Once I had finished this manuscript, it dawned on me that it would be best suited for regional publication. So I set my sights on Pelican Publishing, and stuck with them. I subbed it on March 3, 2016 and for over a year had brief email correspondence with the editor that showed me she was very interested. However, no acceptance came.
Then, on April 13, 2017, after thirteen months and ten days, I opened an email and was trying to scream, “Gator! Gator!” – but nothing was coming out of my mouth except croaks. My husband, Mal, came rushing in because he thought there was something wrong with me! Well, there was! My book had been accepted!
Why did you want to write about gators? Any especially memorable personal encounters with them since moving to Florida?
It wasn’t so much that I set out to write about gators…. One day in a local lake we saw a juvenile gator riding waves. His image stuck in my mind. He was so cute! And I realized how larger-than-life gators are. That’s when my Gator character was born.
Why did you decide to write a spin on this particular nursery rhyme? Was it a childhood favorite?
As a poet, I’ve always liked cumulative rhyme, including the “There was an old…” stories, as well as “The house that Jack built.” I thought this particular cumulative rhyme would serve my Gator character. I had two other “There was an old…” works in progress, but when I got the Gator idea, the others went on the back burner.
Can you discuss some of the specific challenges of writing a cumulative story in rhyme? Did you do many revisions? Do you have any advice for those wanting to adapt a classic nursery rhyme?
It is quite challenging to write a story in cumulative rhyme because it has to be coherent. Each new rhyme is dependent upon the last, and vice versa. In this case, each animal had to be somewhat bigger than the one before so the swallowing sequence would make sense. In general I find picture books to be mind-bendingly difficult to write, and Gator was no exception.
I did a ton of revisions as with all my books.
The advice I would have for anyone trying to write this type of book is: look for the hierarchy and have things be logical.
Which of Gator’s ‘swallowees’ is your favorite? Were there any other creatures you considered including in the story that didn’t make the cut? If so, why did you ultimately decide to leave them out?
I have to say that Pelican is my favorite swallowee because I love the internal rhyme: “No gator’s belly can handle a pelican.”
Yes, there were many other creatures throughout the revisions. This book was almost called There Was an Old Gator who Swallowed a Skeeter! But in the end I couldn’t make that happen. The moth worked much better because, with his rhyme, cough, I had an action that would work for the climax. In various versions I experimented with a weevil, tick, worm, lizard, frog, gecko, heron, armadillo, and bayou instead of lagoon because some of these seem to be better southern or Florida words (lizard/gizzard, gecko/echo, weevil/evil), but in the end, they just didn’t seem to go anywhere.
What do you like best about David Opie’s illustrations?
I think David Opie is a master storyteller. One of the things I was worried about in this book was that Gator would appear cruel or savage, but David captured the humor perfectly, and avoided any menacing quality.
How do you plan to promote your book?
I’m having a book launch at an event called the GatorFest on March 10, which Boyd Hill Nature Preserve dreamed up when they saw my book galleys. If anyone is in the Tampa Bay area on March 10, stop on by! Other than that I am doing a blog tour and school presentations.
Please check my website: www.childrensauthorbjlee.com
or my Twitter @bjlee_writer for details.
What are you working on next?
I’m writing picture books, poetry collections and a verse novel.
Can you please share a favorite family and/or regional recipe with us?
I’ll share my recipe for Alligator Pie. This is a new recipe that seems appropriate for my book. I’m having fun trying out gator recipes, looking for something I can use for my launch.
B.J. Lee's Alligator Pie
- 1 box Pistachio Instant Pudding Mix (large size)
- Milk (amount called for on box)
- Heavy cream
- Graham Cracker Crust
- Chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and white chocolate chips for decoration (or similar items)
Pour milk and pudding mix into a large bowl. Whisk for 2 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream.
Pour mixture into a graham cracker crust (homemade or store bought). Chill or freeze, depending on what kind of pie you feel like.
When you are ready to serve, gather your decorations and remove pie from fridge/freezer. (If frozen, you will need to let it thaw a few minutes before the decorations will stick.) Slice and decorate with chocolate chip eyes, peanut butter nostrils, and white chocolate chip teeth.
Eat the alligator before he eats you!
~ recipe shared by B.J. Lee, author of There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth (Pelican Publishing, 2019), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
🐊 A SURPRISE FROM MR CORNELIUS 🐊
Mr Cornelius was so excited about B.J.’s first book that he made some Nutter Butter Gators to celebrate!
He simply melted some green Candy Melts in the microwave, dipped in the nutter butters, then added candy eyes and white jimmies for teeth. Needless to say, he was very proud of himself, not because he was able to make these, but because he didn’t get scared of the gators afterwards.
He thinks all munchkins who read this book should make some of these cookie gators! Thank you for writing this book, B.J. We are thrilled for you!
THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH
written by B.J. Lee
illustrated by David Opie
published by Pelican Publishing Co., February 1, 2019
Picture Book for ages 5+, 32 pp.
For a chance to win a signed (by the author) copy of There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, February 13, 2019. You may also enter by sending an email with GATOR in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!
Terrifically talented Tabatha Yeatts is hosting the Roundup at The Opposite of Indifference. Hitch a ride on the nearest gator to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. If you have to cough, for heaven’s sake don’t swallow any moths!
This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. This week Beth Fish is featuring a cool cookbook-comic book targeted for middle grade readers. Put on your bibs and aprons to enjoy her review and the rest of the tasty goodies being shared by others.
* Interior spreads in this post, text copyright © 2019 B.J. Lee, illustrations © 2019 David Opie, published by Pelican Publishing Co. All rights reserved.
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** Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.