The disgruntled protagonist of Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book)! makes an encore appearance next month in a new picture book by Julie Falatko and Tim Miller. In Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever! (Probably), Snappsy and his pal, a persistent chicken, discover the trial and error of friendship. While all the gator really wants is a quiet evening to himself, his fowl friend won’t leave him alone, insisting they have the sleepover of the century. Snappsy wants none of it, yet he just may come around and realize that having a best friend is not such a bad idea after all.
Released in February 2016, the original Snappsy adventure marked the children’s book debut of both author and illustrator. Bolstered by four starred reviews and considerable buzz, the title now has 48,000 copies in print. Though Falatko had been writing for children for quite some time, “the stories weren’t quite what I wanted,” she said—until Snappsy popped into her head one evening in 2012.
“I’d been reading a lot of picture books, and the ones I liked best were stories that acknowledged the intelligence of readers,” she recalled. “I’d just read Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex, and I was thinking about how smart that book was, when Snappsy’s story came to me in a rush—that had never happened to me before! I was in the middle of making dinner, and I yelled to my husband, ‘You have to finish making dinner,’ so that I could sit down and write what had suddenly appeared in my head. Actually I hate to tell that story, because it sounds so magical.”
Magical or not, things fell into place quite nicely after that interrupted dinner. Falatko signed on with agent Danielle Smith at Lupine Grove Creative; she submitted the manuscript to Joanna Cardenas at Viking, who took an immediate shining to Snappsy. “When I saw the title, how could I not open the manuscript immediately?” Cardenas recalled. “I read the first few lines and right away I could envision the characters and their mannerisms. Being able to visualize the book, and having the opening lines come back to me days after I read them, indicated that this was a special book—and one I wanted to pursue. Everyone in-house also fell instantly in love with Snappsy.”
Making the Perfect Match
Determined to find “an artist who would be inspired by the challenges that Julie’s text presents,” Cardenas and art director Denise Cronin took their time selecting an illustrator for the project. A promising match surfaced at the 2014 SCBWI winter conference, which the editor and Cronin attended separately—and each picked up a postcard featuring an illustration by Miller: a cow in a tutu who would eventually become the star of the artist’s solo picture book, Moo Moo in a Tutu, published by Balzer + Bray last April. “Denise and I had a similar vision in mind for the Snappsy artwork, and we both responded to Tim’s style,” said Cardenas. “And we were intrigued by his image of the ballerina cow—he was able to tell a whole story in this one image.”
Miller, who studied cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, admitted that he originally “never saw illustrating children’s books in the cards” for him. He was working as the manager of after-school and family programs at the Queens Museum, and drawing and painting in his free time, and enjoyed watching young museum visitors respond to the art—and loved drawing with them. “I began thinking about the possibility of creating my own art in picture-book format, in order to further engage kids,” he said, which inspired him to attend the SCBWI event.
After the conference, Miller was thrilled when Cardenas contacted him about the possibility of illustrating the original Snappsy the Alligator. “The first day I met with Joanna, I was over the moon, but trying to play it cool,” he recalled. “When I opened the manuscript on the train home, I loved the story and felt an immediate affinity with Julie’s sense of humor. But since this was my first book, I was terrified that I wouldn’t get it right, and totally overthought everything.”
Miller needn’t have worried. When she and Cronin saw Miller’s initial thumbnail sketches, Cardenas said, “We were blown away—they were right on point. Every page turn we’d envisioned was right there. And we loved Tim’s visual jokes—they added his stamp to the story. I can’t imagine anyone else illustrating Snappsy!”
The decision to continue this character’s story in Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever! (Probably), which has a 60,000-copy announced first printing, was “a very organic one,” the editor said. “These characters are larger than life and can’t be denied—it’s almost as though they demanded to have their world expanded from the beginning. And what we had hoped would happened did happen: readers felt the same way about these characters as we did.”
Author, illustrator, and editor all agree they’d welcome the opportunity to do a third Snappsy tale. “There’s so much more to chew on and so much more for these characters to get into,” observed Cardenas. “Oh gosh, wouldn’t that be fun!” said Falatko of bringing Snappsy back again. “I have a vague idea for another story, but haven’t yet played with it. Let’s just say that nothing else has come to me in a rush when I’ve been making dinner—at least not yet.”
Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever! (Probably) by Julie Falatko, illus. by Tim Miller. Viking, $16.99 Oct. ISBN 978-0-425-28865-8