Tammi Sauer has written 25 children’s picture books including the Nugget & Fang series. She is also the author of a Jambo Books selection for our 5-6 year old subscribers in May 2019. In Mary Had a Little Glam, Sauer taps into the nursery rhyme to create a modern, generous, joyful character with a flair for beauty and style. We were delighted to chat with Sauer about her characters and craft.
Jambo: You grew up on a farm in Kansas. Now you live in Edmond, Oklahoma. Do you live on a farm there?
Sauer: No, but my kids wish we did!
Jambo: Did you make the choice that Mary would be African-American? If not, how was the decision made?
Sauer: I did. So many girls already saw themselves in Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious. I wanted Mary to be African-American so that many other little girls would be able to see themselves, too. My editor agreed.
Jambo: How have you seen the children’s book publishing industry change with respect to encouraging books that star children of color? Have the types of stories that have children of color as protagonists changed?
Sauer: Earlier in my career as a picture book author, I noticed that children of color were often found in the supporting cast of characters of a book but they were rarely the stars. It seemed the only time I did see a child of color as the star was in an issue-driven book, usually about slavery or Civil Rights. Now, I see more and more books that star a child of color in which the color of the character’s skin is not the central focus of the book. The child is simply celebrated as a child.
Jambo: Do you get the opportunity to have input on your illustrators?
Sauer: In the majority of my books, I do. When my editor proposed asking Vanessa Brantley-Newton to be the illustrator for Mary Had a Little Glam, I said, “Yesssssssss!” I could not have been happier. In my mind, Vanessa IS Mary. I love that lady so much!
Jambo: Can you give us a sneak preview into the two upcoming Mary books, Mary Had a Little Plan and Mary Had A Little Jam?
Sauer: In Mary Had a Little Plan, Mary notices an abandoned lot in her neighborhood. She does her best to turn the situation around, but she realizes she can’t tackle it all on her own. Mary then enlists the help of her nursery rhyme friends to help make this neighborhood spot a fun and inviting place for everyone to enjoy.
In Mary Had a Little Jam, Mary loves making music on her own, but she discovers nothing beats the fun of jamming with her nursery rhyme pals.
Jambo: You do a lot of school visits. What is your favorite part about doing school visits?
Sauer: I love getting kids excited about reading and writing, but my favorite part is knowing I’ve made connections with kids. At a recent school visit, a little girl handed me a note at the end of the day. The last line stated, “You make me light up like Christmas lights.” How can you beat that?
Jambo: That is awesome feedback. It seems that children’s picture book authors have a very difficult task in that they must tell a rich story, get readers to care about their characters and bring it all to a close in just a few words. How do you approach that challenge?
Sauer: Oh, goodness. I give weekend-long talks on this very thing, but, to condense it down to just a few words, this is most often my approach: I make my main character active, relatable, and flawed and put that character in a situation in which he or she encounters a problem that he or she needs to solve. While working on my character’s story, I try to remember to tell as much as possible in as little as possible. It’s not always easy, but I love the challenge.