Author and MFAC alum Eija Sumner talks about her debut picture book, Crocodile Hungry (forthcoming from Tundra Books, January 18, 2022) illustrated by John Martz.
A hilarious story about a hungry and hapless crocodile, for fans of How to Give Your Cat a Bath and I Want My Hat Back.
What can crocodile eat?
Canned ham? Too hard to open.
Beef jerky? Gets stuck in teeth.
Eggs? Bite shell, get toothache.
Crocodile must find food. But where?
Though crocodile is surrounded by food, he doesn’t know it. He’s used to food coming in packages and boxes and in handy tins. Will the hungry crocodile figure it out?
Readers big and little will laugh out loud at the simple but hysterical text and illustrations by debut author Eija Sumner and cartoonist (and now resident crocodile expert) John Martz.
What inspired Crocodile Hungry?
The Oregon Zoo. Seriously. My youngest daughter and my husband both love crocodiles, so any zoo visit meant we had to see the crocodiles (to keep them both happy). There’s a nice little pond for the flamingos right after visiting the crocodiles. After one zoo trip the two of them came home yelling, “Crocodiles eat flamingos!” and didn’t stop. For weeks, months! The two of them yelling about crocodiles eating flamingos was the catalyst to this story about a very hungry crocodile who just can’t find anything to eat even though the flamingos are right there.
What were the challenges (literary, psychological, logistical, etc.) in bringing this book to life?
Look, some picture books need thirty-seven drafts and then thirty-seven more. I have plenty of those that live on my computer, I’m working on edits of one of those right now. But Crocodile Hungry is not one of those books, it is the rare unicorn of a picture book that hasn’t changed too much from beginning to end.
Being patient about sharing it has been the most difficult challenge because picture books take a long time! Crocodile Hungry sold in April of 2019, so publishing is great for developing patience and maybe long, time-consuming hobbies.
What did you edit out of this book?
The title! The original title was, “Crocodiles Eat Flamingos!” which although incredibly fun to yell, was a little violent in its description and we didn’t want to spoil what may or may not happen in the story.
One of my favorite changes that came up in editing the picture book with Samantha Swenson was stream-lining Crocodile’s diet so that everything he is craving and looking to eat would stay within a crocodiles carnivorous diet– even, I suppose, canned ham and linguiça.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
The boring answer is my day job. The more exciting answer is reading! But seriously, spending time with my family and friends, talking walks, riding bikes, garden planning, eating chips and giant corn nuts.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Writing works best when you’re having fun or when you’re writing for yourself first. Forget publishing and all that exterior noise and just have fun. Put what you need to put on paper.
Writing is a rollercoaster of ups and downs, successes and failures, so lean into any and all successes. I feel like my writing advice is the same as my parenting advice: do whatever works for you, you’ll figure it out even if you don’t know what you’re doing, nobody knows what they’re doing.
What is next for you? What are you working on now?
Writing during the pandemic has been practically impossible! I’m working on edits for my next picture book which comes out in 2023, also from Tundra/PRH. And I’ve been very slowly revising a YA novel in verse about a teen who finds confidence, community, and strength through basketball.
Crocodile Hungry arrives on bookshelves January 18, 2022, and is available for pre-order from wherever books are sold!
After years working in public and academic libraries, Eija Sumner earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University in 2019. Crocodile Hungry is her first picture book.
Eija received the T.A. Barron Fellowship for Excellence in Fantasy Writing, the Anne Tews Schwab Award for Excellence in Critical Writing for her extended critical essay, “Language and Sound in Story,” and the Frances and Kermit Rudolf Scholarship Award for the most promising manuscript in the field of nonfiction while a student at Hamline University.