Tara Lazar on juggling 'Your First Day of Circus School,' Storystorm & more

Your First Day of Circus School by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Melissa Crowton (Tundra Books)

Your First Day of Circus School by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Melissa Crowton (Tundra Books)

I had the pleasure of getting to know Tara Lazar through her PiBoIdMo, which evolved into Storystorm — a challenge that encourages participants to come up with picture book ideas, with the help of a different blogger each day for a month. I love participating in this challenge and was thrilled to get the chance to be one of the guest bloggers. Now, it’s my honor to welcome Tara on my new blog, THE KIDS ARE ALL WRITE, to talk about her fun and perfect back to school book, Your First Day of Circus School.

Welcome, Tara! As the creator of Storystorm, the kid lit world’s annual idea generator, can you share with all your fans and friends how you came up with the idea for Your First Day of Circus School? Did you use any tips from your challenge or did it come from somewhere else?

Gosh, I wrote the original manuscript TEN YEARS AGO so I forget exactly what prompted the original idea. I do recall wanting to write a story with visual gags and puns, and this was the result. In the story, an older brother who's BTDT shows his younger sibling all there is to learn at Circus School--at first in a teasing sibling way. By the end of the book, the Big Brother gets his just desserts and the two are friends again.

What was the journey of your idea? At what point did you know it was viable? Was it fully grown when your editor bought it or did the journey continue after that?

The idea was fully formed when Tundra bought it. There was some going back and forth with the illustrations and wording so the jokes shined.

Tara Lazar (courtesy of Tara Lazar)

Tara Lazar (courtesy of Tara Lazar)

Congratulations on Melissa Crowton’s work being chosen for the Original Art 2019 featured artists exhibition at the Society of Illustrators museum in NYC! So many of the jokes are visual riffs on your words. Did you provide art notes?

Lots of art notes. I talk about that on my blog.


Was there anything that surprised you about Melissa’s work? What are your favorite spreads and why?

The cafeteria is my favorite spread! So much to discover. Melissa added so many fun details to every page. Did you notice the Little Brother's mouse pal? Or the typing poodle?

The typing poodle! Illustrations by Melissa Crowton for Your First Day of Circus School by Tara Lazar (Tundra Books)

The typing poodle! Illustrations by Melissa Crowton for Your First Day of Circus School by Tara Lazar (Tundra Books)

You’ve been making kids laugh for a long time with word play and spunky characters who don’t follow the rules and find unexpected and satisfying ways to solve their problems. Do you see any common themes in your body of work? Why do you think those themes connect with you?

The common theme is laughter. That's all I really try to do with my stories. I want kids to have fun reading, to help instill a lifelong love of books.

In 2009 you created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) which you renamed Storystorm in 2017. Since then, you've offered a month-long Storystorm challenge in January, with blog posts by kids lit creators, aimed at inspiring folks to come up with ideas for their own books. I have been honored to be one of your bloggers as well as enjoying being one of the participants. What inspired you to do this and to keep doing this? I am guessing it is a tremendous amount of work!

When I began Storystorm, there was no writing challenge or community for picture book writers. NaNoWriMo challenged novel writers to complete a first draft in one month, but completing a picture book in 30 days was not much of a challenge. Writing one picture book a day for a month was crazy-making! So then I thought one IDEA a day was doable. And fun! I thought maybe a dozen people would want to do it with me. I was shocked when a couple hundred joined. Every year since then, more participants have joined in, so it now hovers around 2,000. And I've hosted the event so many times now that I've streamlined the work required to make it happen.

What are some of your proudest success stories from Storystorm? How does it feel when someone shares that their new book was originally a Storystorm idea?

I am proud of all the writers who take the challenge. Yes, some get published, but everyone who joins Storystorm is serious and working hard toward that goal.

The thing I hated when I was working to become published was people thinking I had a "nice little hobby". It was not a hobby to me; I was working toward a dream job, a career. I think that everyone who joins the Storystorm challenge is likewise trying to get to that place, and that having a structured, free challenge with kindred spirits lifts them up.

The cafeteria zoo in Your First Day of Circus School by Tara Lazar. Illustrations by Melissa Crowton (Tundra Books)

The cafeteria zoo in Your First Day of Circus School by Tara Lazar. Illustrations by Melissa Crowton (Tundra Books)

Storystorm is actually just one of the many things you do for the kid lit community. You mentor, you teach, all this while raising two daughters. How do you do it all? And why do you do it all?

Well, I love what I do. When you love something, you don't even have to make the time for it, you just do it. It's in your nature. But honestly, I'm just sitting on a comfy chair all day, so what else am I gonna do???

What’s the most valuable writing advice you’ve ever received — and have you understood it differently or more deeply over time?

Jane Yolen's B.I.C.: butt in chair. (I would change that to butt in COMFY chair.) Stories don't write themselves. So get to work.

If you’d gone to circus school, what would your major have been?

Juggling! I taught myself to juggle when I was 10, but I never went beyond the typical three beanbags. I could juggle two in one hand, and do a couple fancy tricks, but I would have loved to learn something more impressive.

Thanks, Tara for talking with us on The Kids Are All Write!

Tara is the author of many funny picture books, including Your First Day of Circus School (Tundra Books, June 2019) and The Upper Case, Trouble in Capital City (Disney/Hyperion, Oct. 2019). She created and runs PiBoIdMo, now called Storystorm, an annual, free, month-long challenge to brainstorm ideas. She’s co-chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Plus Conference and an SCBWI member. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters and the world’s cutest hamster, Ozzy. You can visit Tara at the links below:

Website: taralazar.com

Twitter: taralazar

Instagram: taralaser

Pinterest: taralazar