April 3, 2012

Cori Doerrfeld Shares The Creation Of Her Picture Book Little Bunny Foo Foo! And Then Susanna Shares One Of Hers To Make Up For The Glitch!

Welcome, everyone, to today's very special treat!

You may remember Cori.  She did an interview and giveaway here in February 2011 (see Part 1 and Part 2.)  She is a talented author/illustrator who has illustrated multiple books, including two for Brooke Shields as well as the recent Seashore Baby and Snowflake Baby, but in the last year she has also published Penny Loves Pink and Little Bunny Foo Foo which she both wrote and illustrated.  I hope you will enjoy her entertaining tale of Little Bunny, which makes for perfect spring fun and a great Easter gift :)
Take it away, Cori!

All my stories find their origin in childhood. I am inspired by my own childhood, as well as the ones I've witnessed as a daycare teacher, nanny, and mother.  When I was little, I loved the bizarre, the unique, and even the scary.  I loved Stephen Gammel's illustrations in Scary Stories, and I was a huge Tim Burton fan.  When I started creating stories and characters of my own, I was naturally drawn to similar themes.  At the daycare, we sang every children's song known to man, and the one that always stuck out as odd to me was "Little Bunny Foo Foo", especially the way my coworker sang it.  The traditional song turns the bunny into a goon, but my coworker always turned the bunny into a monster instead.  The children just loved the idea of a bunny transforming into a monster, and so did I. Images of a seemingly harmless bunny hopping through a forest kept creeping into my mind. What would she look like if she turned into a monster I wondered…

As both an illustrator and an author, I usually visualize a story before I write any text. Based on my initial thoughts, I'll do a very rough thumbnail version of a book.  This way I can see right away how the art will flow one page to the next, as well as how to best break up the text.  My original version of “Little Bunny Foo Foo" was much darker and intended for an older audience.  

My husband and I attended several comic conventions a year to sell and promote our work, and this is where my initial version premiered.  We printed little paperback copies off the computer.  It was always a good seller, and kids seemed to like it too.  The violence was no worse than the Tom and Jerry cartoons so many of us grew up with.  When a publisher showed interest in the book however, I was asked if I could find a way to push the story even further and to tone down the manic, mallet wielding bunny.  The editor suggested that Bunny Foo Foo could use something softer to bop the mice, like an oven mitt.  It took me nearly a year to rework the story.  I struggled quite a bit at first.  I was not only attached to my original version, but I found it difficult to formulate just how I could push both myself and the song in a new direction.  The editor’s suggestion of an oven mitt was stuck in my head, and one day the idea just hit me all at once.  I find a lot of my story writing problems are solved this way.  If I just think on an issue long enough, eventually lightning will strike.  Obviously if Little Bunny Foo Foo is bopping mice with an oven mitt, it’s because they stole the cupcakes she had just finished preparing! 

I know many people liked the way Foo Foo bopped the mice due to random, unknown reasons in the original version, but I really liked the idea of telling one story with the text, and another with the illustrations.  In my finished, published version of Little Bunny Foo Foo, the text is only a slightly modified version of the classic song.  The illustrations however, reveal a lot more to the story; showing an increasingly frustrated rabbit simply trying to recollect her cupcakes.  This plot line gave me several opportunities to create fun little scenes where mice and birds collaborate to steal Foo’s cupcakes, as well as the chance to show why the Fairy meets her fate in the end.  

Little Bunny Foo Foo is my second self-authored title, and was therefore still a learning experience.  Every story, even once it is picked up by a publisher, goes through several transformations.  The end result is more of a team effort than I realized before becoming a published author.  An author must learn to balance input and requests from the publisher with maintaining the integrity of the original idea.  Mallets may become oven mitts, but sometimes cupcakes with sprinkles are the perfect way to sweeten a strange and disturbing bunny’s desire to scoop up field mice, and bop them on the head.

I hope you all enjoyed this glimpse into the creation of a picture book and will all feel inspired to go out and buy Foo Foo for your friends and relations! :)


I realize it didn't turn out to be quite what I promised...!

Chalk it up to Cori having a new baby and me being over-scheduled and both of us feeling time-crunched resulting in a slight miscommunication...  It turns out Little Bunny Foo Foo, since it's based on the familiar rhyme, didn't actually change text at all from pre- to post-published, so it's not a good candidate for comparison.

Luckily, I know another writer... and I finagled my way into her files... :)

SO.  Since I want to deliver on my promise, I hope you will accept something of mine instead of something of Cori's for now.  Cori has another book in the works that she thinks will be much better suited to this type of post, but since it's not published yet, we'll have to wait for that one.  Meanwhile, hopefully this will suffice:

I'm going to share the creation of Freight Train Trip with you, if that's an okay substitute for Cori.  I chose it because most of my other books had such minor changes from my version to the published version that they wouldn't be very interesting for this exercise.  But Freight Train... that's another story :)

I got the idea for this story from my children and my nephews, but particularly from my nephew, Eli, who was going through a heavy train phase when this story came to mind.  I wrote it in rhyme because I wanted to capture the rhythm of the train.

Here is the original:                    And this is the published version:

Chug.    Chug.
Freight train pulls out of the yard.               The freight train's pulling from the yard.
Locomotive’s working hard.                        The locomotive's working hard.
“Safe trip!” calls the stationmaster.             "Safe trip!" calls the stationmaster.
Chugga, chugga, train rolls faster.               Chugga chugga, the train rolls faster.
Locomotive in the lead
Changes gear and picks up speed.
Chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga choo CHOO CHOOOO!
Clicka-tacka-clicka-tacka too HOO HOOOO!
Engine rushes down the track                      The engine rushes down the track
Ninety-seven cars in back                          with ninety-seven cars in back.
Full of lumber, grain and ore                      They're full of lumber, toys, and more,
Headed for the Western Shore.                   and headed for the western shore.
                                                          Chugga chugga choo CHOO CHOOOO!
                                                          Clicka clack too HOO HOOO!
Down the line a crossing gate                     Down the line a crossing gate
Closes telling cars to wait.                         closes telling cars to wait.
Freight cars rumble.  Rails are humming.      Freight cars rumble.  Rails are humming.
Bells clang, “Look out!  Trains a-coming!”     Bells clang.  "Look out!  The train is coming!"
Locomotive thunders past.
Freight cars follow just as fast.
Chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga choo CHOO CHOOOO!
Clicka-tacka-clicka-tacka too HOO HOOOO!
Engineer sees up ahead                             The engineer sees up ahead
Signal lights are flashing red.                      that signal lights are flashing red.
Has to stop his speeding train                     Racing toward him, running late,
‘Til the light turns green again.                    Is the eastbound six-oh-eight!
Switcher moves him to the side                   The engineer sees in a flash
So two trains will not collide.                      that trains are headed for a CRASH!
When the westbound track is clear,               Where, oh, where is Switchman Jack,
Puts his engine back in gear.                       who's supposed to switch the track?
Railroad track begins to climb.                     TOOOO-HOOOO!  TOOOO-HOOOO!
Engine’s working double-time.                     The whistle wails.
Up the mountain, what a strain                    Hurry up and switch those rails!
For the long and heavy train!                      Just in time Jack flips the switch
When it clears the snowy peaks,                  Trains rush past without a hitch!
Down the other side it streaks.      Chugga chugga choo CHOO CHOOO! Clicka clacka too HOO HOOO!           
Chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga choo CHOO CHOOOOO! 
Clicka-tacka-clicka-tacka too HOO HOOOOO!
Races toward its destination,                       The train speeds toward its destination
Slows and pulls into the station.                   It slows and pulls into the station.
Cargo haul is safely done.                           The cargo haul is safely done.
Journey’s over.  It’s been fun!                      Our journey's over.  It's been fun!
Chug.    Chug.                                          Chug.  Chug.  CHOOOOooooooooo!
(Text copyright Susanna Leonard Hill and Little Simon 2009 all rights reserved)

I tried VERY hard to get this lined up so you could see the changes easily.  It works on my preview.  I can only hope it comes out right on your view!  Please forgive that one tiny line of chugga chuggas after "trains rush past..."- it was supposed to be on two lines but just wouldn't fit right.  (And if it doesn't come out right, let me know, but I probably won't have time to fix it until Thursday!)

So now.  What do we see?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller? (sorry, I couldn't resist :))

The changes they asked for were:
1.  Make it more dramatic.
2.  Put in the articles.  (You know.  All the "the"s.)
3.  There was some disagreement as to how the chugga chuggas read.

They asked for more drama.  I gave them more drama.  Funny that the only critics of this book have said it's too dramatic :)

As for the articles, I liked the rhythm better without them.  I fought for them.  But I was out-voted by the copy editor who convinced the editor that it wasn't proper English without the articles.  "What about Sheep In A Jeep?" I said desperately, but alas, it was not to be and the articles went in.

We ended up changing the chugga chuggas so no one would stumble, although I confess when I read this aloud, I say it the original way, which makes sense to me, and sounds more train-like :)

So what do you guys think?  Is it helpful to see this?  Which version do you like better?

Having spent way too much time trying to get these columns to line up, I really hope you guys find this useful! :)  Please let me know.  And of course, if you have questions, fire away in the comments.

And now, I'm off to 2 days of intense school visiting (although I'm still planning to get Would You Read It up tomorrow... somehow... :)) so forgive me if I don't get around your blogs as much as usual!  I'll catch up eventually :)

(And, just so you know, in a couple days I'm going to pull some of the verses from the published version because I'm not really sure I'm allowed to post it like this, so learn from it while it's up :))

Have a lovely day! :)


  1. This was a wonderful post. I loved reading about the journey Little Bunny Foo Foo took to completion, and, as I am writing a scary story right now, I was interested to read Cori's penchant for fearful tales!

    Susanna, what a super exercise, I had no problem following the parallel texts. I like both. I actually DO like the extra drama in the second version but DO NOT like the addition of the articles. Leaving the articles out creates much more of an anthropomorphic emphasis and, to me, brings the story much closer. The articles have a kind of distancing, formal effect for me, which detracts.

    Oh, my, I hope disagreeing with a Little Simon editor isn't going to get me in trouble? :-)

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed it... (since it took me about 97 hours to get that text to line up! :)) and the editor who was in charge of that stage of this book has moved on from Little Simon so I think you are safe :)

  3. I like the Bunny Foo Foo story. I think it's hysterical when the bunny bops mice. I like Ms. Doerrfeld's idea of making the bunny kind of a monster.

    It is interesting that Ms. Doerrfeld had to change the illustrations for the publisher and in your example, you had to change the words. I like the "tacka-clicka-tacka too " :)

  4. Glad you found it interesting, Erik! Cori's version of Foo Foo is really fun!

  5. I find your comparison very useful in trying to see things fromt he eyes of the editors/publishers. I am going to bookmark this post for future reference. Thanks for sharing and good luck with your school visits!

  6. I love the behind the scene story behind "the real story" of Bunny Foo Foo. Thanks for sharing your before and after. I have Sandy Asher's Writing it Right and have enjoyed seeing the progression of a story. That's interesting about the articles. We read Sheep in a Jeep last night. No problem. Good luck with all your school visits.

  7. Ok...before I even read about the "articles" issue...I was wanting to lose some of the articles!!! Even looking back, and rereading...yes...I agree with you! I did like the added drama in the published version. I loved that you let us see the comparison. Thanks!
    Cori's book sounds so funny! I have to read it!
    Have fun on your school visits!

  8. Really enjoyed the interview with Cori -- cute title on her new book. Kids will love that! Think I really enjoyed seeing the train verse she submitted, and how it ended up in publication. Very enlightening and helpful! Enjoy your school visits.

  9. Cori, your illustrations are darling...I loved Bunny Foo Foo as a child AND adult! And Susanna...your comparison of the two versions was extremely helpful. I actually liked your original version (I agree about the articles), but the shortened length of the final version was better. A good look into the editing process...I know I'll need to give up something in the process. Someday....

  10. Interesting changes. I agree with you about the train noises (it's more fun to read them the original way) and the articles (I like it better without them), but I do like the tension and action in the final version.

    I absolutely adore the image of bunny foo foo with a mallet and a manic grin towering over a pyramid of mice. Cori, do you sell prints of your work? That one is brilliant.

  11. I think one of the things I find most interesting is that the change from "train pulls" to "train's pulling." But I do like "from the yard" better than "out of the yard." It's fascinating to see how small changes can make big differences in the overall story.

  12. I found this fascinating. As an unpublished author, these sorts of insights to what happens during the publishing process are real gems. Thanks for posting it.

  13. How interesting Susanna I like your version much better, no wonder I'm struggling lol. I've thought of a ? for you for your Oh Susanna off the back of this, I'll get emailing before I forget.

    p.s. A bunny monster is awesome!

  14. This is great! I will read it with the original chuggas - they sound more, what's the word,...ah, dramatic! Sorry, when reading (almost singing) with a quick rhythm I barely noticed the article changes, save one. Definitely missed the tacka amongst the clackas in the publ. version though. I like the impending doom you added. Please do this again sometime!
    Loved Bunny-Foo-Foo as a kid too. (Or maybe I was taken with bopping my brother on the head, 'til he was bigger and bopping mine!)

  15. This was so interesting to be able to see the pre-published and post-published versions. Thank you for posting.

  16. Thanks, Catherine :) And I got your email - thanks for that too :)

  17. You're welcome :) i hope it was useful in some way :)

  18. So glad if you found this useful, Julie! And that Little Bunny Foo Foo song is so fun to sing... and we can always use an excuse to bop our brothers :)

  19. I'm so glad you found it helpful, Randy! And thanks again for that lovely post on Sunday :)

  20. A lot of the language changes were necessitated by adding the articles which changed the meter of the lines!

  21. Among other things, this exercise is a good example of how subjective the writing game is. What one person likes, another doesn't! You should see the review someone wrote of this book on GoodReads. It gave me physical pain! It's been up for ages and I still haven't gotten over it. She said, "Truly one of the most bizarre board books I've ever read. A train trip almost turns into a disaster when two trains narrowly avoid crashing into each other because Switchman Jack IS READING THE NEWSPAPER. Most kids probably will enjoy the colorful trains and ignore the carnage lurking around the bend, but there have to be other train board books out there that don't include an undercurrent of mortal peril." Really? Does she really think I would subject kids to mortal peril? Ouch! I agree - the maniacal bunny is great! I hope the above reviewer doesn't see the book, though :) Who knows hat she'll say about THAT! :)

  22. Glad you found it helpful, Jarm! Your comment reminded me that I meant to include the different word counts. But I don't have them easily accessible right now... darn...!

  23. Glad you liked it., Pat! I think kids will love Cori's book - how could you not find that maniacal bunny fun :) The train one is mine.

  24. Thanks Penny! And you will love Cori's book - I think it's just your kind of humor :)

  25. Thanks, Stacy! I haven't read that - I must get it!

  26. Thanks, Donna! I'm glad you found it helpful! Please keep in mind that I'm going to take down some or all of the published version in a couple days because i'm not sure I'm really allowed to have it up :)

  27. Thanks so much for posting the comparisons. I can agree with the publishers on somethings. The end product seems shorter, more personal, and intimate (we know someone named Jack). I don't think the articles needed to be added, but it's still very good. I hope you don't havve to take it down; it provides a learning example of what publishing does. :)

  28. So glad you enjoyed it Brenda! (But I probably will have to take at least some of it down.)

  29. Very useful post!! THANK YOU!

  30. Glad you liked! You should do one of these too!

  31. Thank you for sharing, that was both enjoyable and very informative to read! And I love the illustration of the manic Little Bunny Foo Foo!

  32. So glad you enjoyed! :) You've got to see the rest of Cori's book - so great!

  33. Cori--I find it so interesting that you visualize the book before you write any text. You think in pictures--I believe I think in words. I am not an illustrator--so I hear words in my head that turn into stories--I need to work on seeing the pictures a little more too.

    Susanna--I loved the side by side post of your ms with your final product/book. What a cute book--I'll have to get my hands on it! I have to say that I think I like some of your stylistic choices over the editor's. In Texas we would totally say, "Trains a comin!!" :)

  34. Learning here. Fast! You are bodaciously, beautifully, wonderfully, lovingly, super fantastic! I learned some stuff just now. *squeezing you tight*

  35. P.S. I like the original version. It seems easier to read and say out loud. Especially if a parent has to read this fifty times a day. You know? The kidlet can memorize the original version easier. Just might be me though.

  36. Although I see the addition of the articles gived the published version more of a "paragraph" feel, the original version sounds and feels like a train experience. But that could be just me.

  37. I appreciate that you like the original :)

  38. So glad if you learned something and it was helpful :) And, even though I'm happy with how the book came out, I appreciate that you liked the original version :) (I confess, I still like it better too - but maybe that's just me stubbornly clinging to my original vision!)

  39. I also think in words first, which give rise to pictures in my head - so interesting how different people's minds work! And I'm glad you liked the side-by-side mss. I'll admit, I was sorry to lose "train's a-comin'" and when I read it out loud I still say it that way :)

  40. I'm looking forward to reading Little Bunny Foo Foo! Also really enjoyed the comparison between your two versions. Thanks so much for sharing that because it really helps.

    One other thing...I've found that Google Docs is a great place to create documents intended for the web/email. It's futile trying to format in MS Word or other word processing programs and transfer it accordingly. If you create something in Google Docs and cut/paste to your email, blog post, etc. the formatting stays intact. I've created tables in Google Docs and copied the table to an email and the formatting and line spacing didn't get messed up.

  41. LOVE this post, both parts of it!

    Cori - an oven mitt - ha! I'm not an illustrator, but I am very visual, so I often think of possible images first that then might inspire the actual words. Very interesting how you needed to soften the story for mass consumption -- and even more interesting that a publisher wanted it even after you essentially self-published. Or did I read that wrong?

    Susanna - Yup, your original flows better for sure! I have to do this a lot with the early readers I write. For example, I just revised my poem "Jake the Snake" to include articles, contractions, and proper punctuation (rather than "poetic" punctuation) so that it would be easier for a beginner to read. Definitely lost some rhythm, but that's the way it goes. I think you have a lot more leeway when you actually write a book of verse rather than a rhyming PB, though I'm just guessing on that...

  42. Oh, but I do like the drama of the published version.

  43. Glad it was helpful! And thanks so much for the google doc tip! I will have to try that! Does it work in blogger? Or just wordpress?

  44. Wow! That reviewer is someone who may take her picture books just a wee bit too seriously.

  45. I don't use wordpress but I think it should work in both. I found this link for wordpress users Really, though, If you're just copying/pasting text from a Google Doc document (not spreadsheet or form) you don't need to embed it. Just copy/paste.

  46. My kids and I used to have fun doing the Little Bunny Foo-Foo hand gestures while saying the rhyme. :) This looks like it's going to be a great picture book.

  47. Oh...and as far as the contest...April is very busy, but if you decide to do it, I'm sure I'll join in...I can't resist.

  48. I really don't know... I've never published a book of poetry. Iza's done a book of rhymes/tongues twisters... maybe we should ask her :)

  49. I'm still on the fence. I'd rather do it in May if it's easier for people and more people will want to do it!

    Penny Parker Klostermann wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    Oh...and as far as the contest...April is very busy, but if you decide to do it, I'm sure I'll join in...I can't resist.

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  50. This book is out already, Tina, and very fun if you like a slightly maniacal bunny! :)

  51. Thank you, Kim!

    Kim Murray wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    I don't use wordpress but I think it should work in both. I found this link for wordpress users Really, though, If you're just copying/pasting text from a Google Doc document (not spreadsheet or form) you don't need to embed it. Just copy/paste.

    Link to comment


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