Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 13, 2022

Book Giveaway: CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR by S.D. Wenger Oct. 1

Shaunda Wenger’s debut picture book, CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR illustrated by JoJo Ensslin and published by Albert Whitman and Company on October 1st. They have agreed to send a copy to the one lucky winner in the US.

Just leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Let me know other things you did to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. So, thanks for helping Julia and Ryan.

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. If you want to make sure you don’t miss seeing that you won, please click “Notify Me of Follow-Up Comments by Email” box. I will leave a comment in reply if you win the book. Thanks!

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In this quirky tale with a STEM foundation, Chicken Frank wants to convince his doubting barnyard friends that he is a dinosaur. Cluckity-roar!  But when results of a DNA test inspire Frank to hold a reunion with toothy distant relatives, will Frank become a tasty chicken nugget?

Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! offers a perfect blend of humor and information in its exploration of evolution, extinction, and scientific debate. Wrapped up with a surprise, yet satisfying, ending, Chicken Frank and his barnyard pals discover friendship and family can be found in unexpected places.

This comic-book style picture book is for dinosaur and animal lovers everywhere.

BOOK JOURNEY:

I’m so excited to be here to share a little about my journey to publication with my debut picture book, CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! and what I learned along the way. Thank you for asking me! It’s hard to believe that Chicken Frank is quickly approaching his first birthday! It’s definitely been a fun ride to see him bring joy and learning to so many readers.

I’m a teacher and so the idea for CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! was sparked one day in my classroom in 2017. My students and I had been discussing the evolutionary link between birds and dinosaurs. The students were fascinated by learning that some dinosaur genes are still carried by birds today and that even if the traits are no longer expressed and seen, the genes that carry the code for them are still present in the DNA after millions of years.

The students were also awed by the idea that some scientists have been trying to figure out how to “turn on” some of those genes in order to bring dinosaur traits back into existence, like teeth or long tails, for example.

Bring back the dinosaurs? Was this even possible? The excitement in the students was palpable as they discussed the possibilities on how the world might be different, if that were to become true. Of course, it’s highly unlikely, but it was fun to see them imagine, just the same.

Yet, what delighted my students even more was hearing an alternative idea. That dinosaurs didn’t need to be brought back through genetic engineering, because they already existed … in the form of a chicken!

Yep. A chicken.

That’s all you need to satisfy any crazy cravings for dinosaurs. A chicken.

The students were tickled. As was I, and during that moment of shared laughter the character of Chicken Frank flashed in my mind’s eye—a chicken who believed he was the real deal. I couldn’t wait to tell his story, and I credit renowned paleontologist, Jack Horner, for inspiring it in his TEdTalk video.

In its published form, CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! is illustrated as a comic-style picture book. My publisher, Albert Whitman, found the perfect illustrator for this project in Jojo Ensslin, an artist who has much experience in creating characters in different formats, including animation! I love how he brought our characters to life.

Every story goes through revisions and changes before publication, but perhaps mine went through more than most before landing in its present form.

For one thing, the opening scene of Chicken Frank doing a DNA test in order to get evidence about his dinosaur roots was originally written part of the climax! However, the editors had a fun vision for bringing Chicken Frank to life, and this suggestion came after we signed the contract. So yes, changes and revisions can happen even after signing.

Another way that the story changed was in its structure.

When I first submitted CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! to Albert Whitman, it was written in a traditional narrative form in which the story line began with the introduction of a character who felt and acted differently from other chickens and was determined to find out why. However, although the editors liked the humorous dialogue and the banter between Chicken Frank and his doubting barnyard friends (who questioned all that he said and did), they asked me to increase the pace and dialogue of the story in an R&R. They also wanted the concept of evolution to be inherent in the text, because they didn’t want back matter.

To me, this felt like a tall order. Could I get the idea of evolution and adaptation of traits across in a short picture book story that was focused mostly on dialogue?

I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

Initial rewrites put the word count up over 800. With editing and feedback from critique partners, I was able to whittle it down to about 630. However, I still worried that the manuscript was too long. When I happened to chat with authors Heather Montgomery and Lisa Amstutz about my concerns for its length at the 2019 summer SCBWI conference where we met and talked at one of the evening socials, they assured me that I was definitely in the ball park for word count on creative nonfiction. So after a little more tightening, I sent it back to Albert Whitman, and waited, with hopes high.

When the email came, it was not cause for celebration. The publishing editor was passing on the project.

In an instant, I realized why. I reread the original R&R editorial letter (something I had already done a thousand times before). Reading between the lines, I saw that the publisher wanted a comic-style manuscript with snappy dialogue. What I had delivered was a compromise. A story that held mostly dialogue, but was still rooted in narration. Furthermore, I realized that with a comic-style manuscript, they’d need back matter.

Of course, I was devastated.

A couple nights later I woke up at 3am a script of Chicken Frank’s story rolling through my mind like text on a teleprompter screen. Immediately I grabbed a pen and wrote it down in a notebook as fast as I could.

That ubiquitous bedside notebook is what saved Chicken Frank.

Within a couple months, after sharing the new manuscript with my critique group, I had new version that fit the bill for the R&R. However, I didn’t know what to do with it. After all, I’d already failed on delivering it. Yet, I also knew the that editor who had worked with me in guiding the R&R, Christina Pulles, had loved Chicken Frank as much as I did. If CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! was picked up by a different publisher, I was going to feel badly since the new version had been inspired by AW’s editorial guidance. So after gathering my courage to resubmit, I finally sent the manuscript back to Albert Whitman with apologies for doing so, but also explaining why it was landing in the inbox.

Thankfully, my gut instinct was right! AW was thrilled with the new story. Their offer and contract moved forward and the rest is history.

What I learned from my journey is this: there is definitely more than one way to tell a story. Chicken Frank had gone through 3 different forms, and each form felt publishable. However, it takes an entire creative team to bring a story to market. And for Chicken Frank, everyone needed to be on board with the final product.

I’m glad I pushed past the disappointment from the rejection of the R&R in order to brush myself off and try again. And by trying again, I didn’t merely modify a few words here and there, or trim the word count. I completely rewrote the story from scratch.

Again, there is more than one way to tell a story. However, even though CHICKEN FRANK went through 3 different structures, the heart of the original narrative never changed. I still recognize Chicken Frank and his message—that our history and what makes us unique is fascinating and worthy of being shared, especially with family and friends.

Thank you so much, Kathy, for inviting me to write about my journey. I hope that my experience inspires other writers keep sticking with the stories they want to tell—to turn their stories sideways, upside down, and inside out when things don’t seem to be working. Because even if the structure changes, if the author knows his/if her characters, enough time has been spent with them, the original takeaways will still shine through.

SHAUNDA’S BIO:

Although Shaunda Wenger, writing as S. K. Wenger, holds both bachelors and master’s degrees in science, she has always been a writer and reader at heart. As a teacher she strives to help students see the connection between creativity, art, and science. As a writer with numerous adventures in the outdoors, she loves weaving tidbits of the natural world into her stories and is especially excited if they pivot on humor. She looks forward to bringing more books into the world with the support of her wonderful agent, Stacey Kondla at The Right’s Factory.

Shaunda lives in Northern Utah in a place called Cache Valley that offers mountain views in all directions.

JOJO’s BIO:

Jojo Ensslin works as an illustrator, animator, filmmaker and artist. He lives in Düsseldorf, Germany.

For 5 years Jojo held a lectureship for animation, film and sound at the University of Applied Science / Peter Behrens School of Arts in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Shaunda, thank our for sharing your book and journey with us. I enjoyed reading how you manoeuvre all the bumps in the road. I was like your kids in your class, I didn’t know that some dinosaur genes are still carried by birds today. I admire your courage and persistence at cutting the word count and still maintaining the fun of the story. The book looks super funny and JoJo did a great job creating illustrations that add to the fun. Best of luck with the book.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. I’m a big fan of this story and love the art, as well! Go, Shaunda! [Newsletter Subscriber]

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Lynne! I love hearing this!

      Like

  2. I enjoyed this post, especially learning how this book “evolved” into its published form. As a scientist, I’m excited to read this book for mentor text. I’m an email subscriber and shared on Pinterest, Facebook, tumblr, and Twitter.

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Danielle. I hope you enjoy the book for both the entertainment and the science 🙂

      Like

  3. I love this book and Shaunda’s work. Great job! The illustrations are fantastic!

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Marci!

      Like

  4. Shaunda, you know I am a huge fan of your book! I loved reading this interview and learning more about the inspiration with your students and I can’t wait to see what’s next! Congratulations on all of the attention you’ve received.

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Laura!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Congrats, Shaunda!! Your book looks so much fun and I can’t wait to read it! Going to request it at my library now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Jessica! I hope you enjoy it!

      Like


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