CAROL GORDON EKSTER: Your recently released picture book, Lotte’s Magical Paper Puppets, with Page Street Kids is a lyrical, lovely and unusual picture book biography with repeated phrases and onomatopoeia. It’s a fascinating subject about a woman who created the first feature length animated film a decade before Disney. Tell us the story behind this story.
BROOKE HARTMAN: I was surfing FaceBook one day and came across a video someone shared about Lotte’s life (you can watch it, along with most of her films, for free on YouTube!). I was awestruck by this fearless pioneer of animation history, and also by the fact that I’d never heard of her before. I was no stranger to fantasy in film, and grew up on steady diet of anything Jim Henson and George Lucas could cook up. But Lotte’s films were something completely new, almost ethereal. Her story resonated over and over in my head, and soon the first stanza of a story about her life did, too:
Long before a cartoon mouse,
Or Snow White swept a little house,
There was a girl named Charlotte.
Everyone called her Lotte.
That was it! I had to write about her. The rest of the story flowed out, and that stanza is still the same as it was the first day it all started.
CGE: Did you have to do a lot of research for this story? Can you tell us a bit about that process?
BH: So. Much. Research! I wanted to ensure I got every detail of Lotte’s life exactly right while keeping a narrative flow. I watched as many of her films as I could, dove into her IMDB and Wikipedia pages, and read two biographies about her from cover to cover. For one of these biographies, Lotte Reiniger; Pioneer of Film Animation, I even got in touch with the author and swapped questions about Lotte’s life; there were some facts—such as when Lotte pasted her silhouette puppets up in windows and shops during the last months of WWII—that I wanted to double check. This author (Whitney Grace) and I still keep in touch, and are even doing an article for a puppetry journal together.
CGE: The art is so well suited to the story. Did you have any say in choosing the illustrator?
BH: Aren’t the illustrations breathtaking? I wasn’t sure what Page Street’s team had in mind for art and aesthetic, but when they sent me links to Kathryn Carr’s website, I couldn’t believe how perfectly her style mirrored Lotte’s. We were in touch a little throughout the process, though most of our communication came through the editor and art director. But I’ve bought several items from her online shop that she does on the side, like these beautiful papercut silhouette nightlights that are now in my kids’ rooms.
As for surprises, I really loved all the little details around the text and the occasional lone image that made this book extra special.
CGE: Tell us your journey into becoming a children’s author.
BH: I didn’t start out writing picture books, actually, I started out with an idea for an epic YA fantasy complete with massive world building and a 120k word count (and am still slowly but surely working on that). But many years ago, I had an idea for a picture book about a dragon that ate unicorns (!) and loved the challenge of writing in that format. Picture book texts might seem simple, but they have to capture the attention of both the child listener and adult reader, be entertaining, carry some sort of hook or message without feeling preachy, and do it all in 600 words or fewer. After I had kids of my own and was reading a whole lotta picture books, more ideas kept flooding my head. Soon I had half a dozen polished picture book manuscripts and figured I might as well start querying them!
CGE: You write both fiction and nonfiction picture books. Are you drawn more to one than the other?
Interestingly, I once thought I wrote mostly fiction, until I took a good hard look at all my picture book projects and realized that the vast majority of them have some nonfiction element. Even my first picture book, Dream Flights on Arctic Nights, is a fictional story to introduce readers to a nonfiction subject; the arctic and the animals who live there.
But really, I write about any subject that grabs me and won’t let me go. If I get an idea, I chew on it for a while. If it’s still stuck in my head a month (or longer) later, there’s a chance it might stick with readers, as well.
CGE: You reached out to Writers’ Rumpus, you have a few new books in the pipeline, and you obviously work hard at this publishing business. Do you have a schedule for writing and promotion? And can you tell us a little about your process.
BH: I wear a lot of hats, so right now my writing process involves scrounging little crumbs of writing time between managing my kids’ distance learning, my part-time job in behavioral health, teaching online as an adjunct writing instructor for my graduate alma-mater, and serving on the board of directors for the Alaska Writers Guild. Originally I had two book launches scheduled for this fall, and I’m so glad we moved one of them to next year. But I really love the marketing and promotion process, and releasing this lovely book into the world has given me something to look forward to!
As for new projects, I’m always fiddling with a new idea and like to have a “backlog” of projects that are polished (or nearly so) for my agent to send out into the world. I have one book launching next year and two more in 2022, and we’re on submission with a few more. My fingers (and toes, etc.) are crossed for a 2023 release!
To keep up with Brooke and her writing life and upcoming books, you can connect with her here:
Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter: @BrookesBooksAK