giveaway · haiku · mentor texts · poetry · process

Behind the Scenes of I Haiku You + a Giveaway

Leave a comment on the bottom of this post for a chance to win a copy of I Haiku You.

Betsy Snyder has been my author/illustrator heroine for the past two months. Why? Because she wrote the book, Sweet Dreams Lullaby, that promises a smooth transition to bedtime for my daughter every single night. Sweet Dreams Lullaby is the perfect book to help a little one drift off to sleep with nature-inspired dreams. To learn more about it, check out my blog post where I assert that it’s the best bedtime book ever.)

Right around the time I started reading Sweet Dreams Lullaby to my daughter every night, Betsy Snyder published yet another book of poems. I Haiku You is a collection of 20 haiku poems about childhood friendship and love. It’s not only a perfect Valentine’s gift for any young child, but it can serve as an excellent mentor text if you’re teaching children how to write haikus, at Valentine’s Day or any time of the year.

This post is one of the stops on the I Haiku You Blog Tour. On this stop, Betsy shares some information with you about how this book came to be, from the title to the poetry to the illustrations. If you choose to use this book with your students, then you can certainly use excerpts from the interview during minilessons or in your conferences. (Please note: Betsy shares lots of images in this post, which you can click on to enlarge.)


Behind the Scenes of I Haiku You

by Betsy Snyder

From book to book, the creative experience is never exactly the same. Each book presents its own set of unique challenges, so I find myself adjusting, learning and growing along the way. Below I’ve shared my behind-the-scenes process for writing and illustrating I Haiku You, my newest picture book published by Random House.

1. The idea. After Haiku Baby was published, I knew I wanted to make another haiku book, but I wasn’t sure what form it would take. The book began to take shape when my editor at Random House offered me an idea for a title—”How about “I Haiku You?”, she suggested. I loved it instantly (and I loved Heidi for entrusting me with such a gem). Having a strong title gave me the inspiration and nudge I needed to start writing.

2. The words (well, sort of). While I’ve numbered the stages for the sake of clarity, in actuality, the steps of writing and illustrating are often intertwined and inseparable for me. I’m more of a visual thinker, so sometimes I write around the image, going back and forth between the words and the pictures. But we have to start somewhere, so let’s start with the words.

I set out to write a collection of haiku centered around simple moments of love and friendship. I brainstormed subjects for my haiku by making a list of childhood objects of affection: a favorite teddy, a pet dog, a smiling moon—even a cherished bedtime book. Using the same traditional 3-line, 5-7-5-syllable, third-person format that I adhered to with Haiku Baby, I began writing the haiku. But they didn’t work. My early drafts lacked the intimacy and sentiment I was searching for. I was stuck.

I found my muse in the most unlikely of places—kids’ sappy valentines. Looking at haiku through a different lens made me realize I needed to shift to a second person point of view. When I began to imagine the haiku as sentiments being read aloud to a child, I found a voice that was meaningful and heartfelt, yet playful and clever, all at the same time. The haiku worked on two different levels—as a valentine from a parent to a child and as a valentine from a child to an object of affection.

you be my jelly,

i’ll be your peanut butter—

let’s stick together!



3. The sketches. After my editor and I were happy with all the haiku, I was ready to move on to the pictures. As always, I began with lots of thumbnails (little sketches that help me quickly explore basic concept and composition). Then I went back and picked my favorites from the bunch.

Next came the tricky part. I had to build an arc. At that point, the haiku and thumbnails were all individual moments—I needed to string them together and bring some continuity to the collection. I began arranging the haiku moments from morning to night AND in order of the seasons.

Determining the final order of the haiku was like trying to solve a puzzle with a gazillion different solutions. To help me visualize the page turns (and not go crazy), I made a blank mini-dummy of the whole book, using paper clips to secure the thumbnails in place on the pages. This allowed me the freedom to shuffle things around to my heart’s content. When I finally had an order established, I shared a thumbnail storyboard with my editor and art director.


I finalized the sketches by drawing them at full-scale, refining characters, tightening details and designing open spaces for the text.


4. The final art (at last!). While it may seem like my style remains constant from book to book, in reality, I make conscious decisions to push my art and color palette in one direction or another, depending on what’s right for each project. My editor, art director and I agreed that the art for I Haiku You needed a different sensibility than my previous books—something warm, nostalgic, and more universal in appeal. Yay, a new style!

While I loved the imperfect, stampy feel that a true linocut technique could bring, I just didn’t have time (it was early 2012 and the book has a fast-track pub. date of December 2012). I found a speedier solution for the line work that was more immediate yet still reductive—I drew the line with marker on acetate and scratched away at the edges with a stylus. This process gave me the naive, handmade line quality I was aiming for.


After drawing the line and painting the watercolor washes separately, I scanned everything in and assembled all the pieces and parts on the computer. So, my final art ended up being digital, which felt natural to me—it’s how I do my collage style as well.


5. The finishing touches. Lastly, I needed to make some final format decisions. For paper choice, we opted for the softer, natural feel of an uncoated matte stock. It was also time to resolve the remaining book elements, like the jacket, end papers, title page and credits. I had fun with these bonus parts of the book, incorporating secondary details that kids (and parents) could discover little by little, with each consecutive reading. For example, the boy on back of the cover also appears mailing his valentine on the title page. Thoughtfully designing these extra features truly completes a book—it’s like wrapping your package up with the perfect bow.



So, that’s the true story of making I Haiku You, in a nutshell—or shall I say “in a thumbnail”? (sorry, corny valentine humor). I’ll leave you with the book’s trailer animated by my husband, a “making-of” story I’ll save for a another day…



  • Many thanks to Random House for sponsoring this giveaway. One lucky commenter will win a copy of I Haiku You.
  • To enter for a chance to win a copy please leave a comment on this post about Betsy’s behind the scenes information about her book, writing haikus, or teaching poetry.
  • All comments left on or before Thursday, February 14th, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. EST will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Friday, February 15th. I will announce the winners’ names at the bottom of this post no later than Sunday, February 17th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Random House will ship the book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you only leave it in the e-mail field.)


Want to check out the other stops on Betsy’s blog tour? Here are the links:

1st Stop: The Children’s Book Review

2nd Stop: Writing and Illustrating

3rd Stop: U.S. Kids

4th Stop: Here!

5th Stop: Watch Connect Read , Colby Sharp, Nerdy Book Club


Comments are now closed.  Thank you to everyone who left a comment.

I used a random number generator and Kay’s comment number was selected.  She wrote:

I loved reading about the process you went through for both writing the haiku and creating the artwork–especially the work organizing separate moments into a whole. I’m also thinking of how I can use haiku in my class. I’ve been wanting to experiment with book spine poetry, and haiku might give an added twist.

41 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes of I Haiku You + a Giveaway

  1. Can’t wait to add I Haiku You to our collection. There have been so many great Haiku books in the last few years…Guyku, Dogku, etc. My students will love this new addition!


  2. The “second person” slant was a great idea! Snyder’s many steps & much time to creating this book made it a book that I would love to share with my students, hoping to inspire them to write haiku poetry.


  3. I love teaching poetry in reading, but I always have a hard time guiding them when it comes time to write poetry. If you can find inspiration in Valentine’s, maybe the our kids can too! Candy hearts and Superheroes Valentines, welcome to fourth grade! I think I will need this book to show them when we are finished!


  4. What a sweet book! I love all the background info about the writing process. I thought it was interesting that choosing a 2nd person point of view was a turning point. That would be a great discussion in class. I also love the idea of building a storyboard with thumbnail sketches of the whole text. Great post!


  5. I decided I had to have the book when I read, “you be my jelly, i’ll be your peanut butter—
    let’s stick together!” For many of my readers who find longer poems hard to manage, haiku is a way to “get it out” in a succinct manner; thus, I have a collection of haiku format poems and you can probably guess what will be on our table on Monday morning!


  6. Haiku isn’t as easy to write as it seems….I love how Betsy takes us into the process and shows us the struggle she had with finding the correct voice and point of view while creating this book.


  7. I am so in love. I didn’t know Valentine’s Day was my favorite holiday until I started teaching… and poetry is my favorite writing genre to teach… I am lucky that I have such young students, so that I can impart the JOY and FUN of writing poems, and that anyone can do it. I would love, love, LOVE, this book!


  8. I loved reading about the process you went through for both writing the haiku and creating the artwork–especially the work organizing separate moments into a whole. I’m also thinking of how I can use haiku in my class. I’ve been wanting to experiment with book spine poetry, and haiku might give an added twist.


  9. Reading of the process makes the reading of the book so much richer. I love the fact Betsy has put in things that will become more prominent when you reread. Sounds perfect for some close reading.


  10. I am so excited! I intend to buy Sweet Dreams Lullaby for my daughters-in-law who are each due to deliver another beautiful baby this spring. But the Haiku book and Behind the scenes of Haiku U…Wow!! I will be sharing with my teachers and their students. If I win it will be a second copy we can all share. Thank you Betsy for sharing your process.


  11. What a wonderful way to present Haiku! I have never seen it done this way before. I think that it will maximize on engaging the students. I’d love to win that book!


  12. Perfect! I was just wondering how I could do V day differently this year. Using the haiku is great. I wanted to begin putting poetry into each weeks language arts lesson and this makes the perfect kick off to a long spring of poetry. Thanks for the post and the mentor text!


  13. I love Sweet Dream Lullaby. I think I heard about it from your blog. I have gifted it to 5 parents to be and their little ones. I can’t wait to read this new poem book. I really enjoy the community you have built here. Thanks for being a blessing to me!


  14. I love this book! I love how you showed us your writing process and gathered your ideas from lots of places! This looks like a great book I could use with my students!


  15. Thanks for sharing this process! I’m definitely going to share it with my students. Always good to show them authentic writing experiences and I live this behind the scenes look at how your book came to be!


  16. I wish I had this book right now! I have a high school boy writing poems for his girlfriend’s valentine present 🙂 This would certainly give him some inspiration.


  17. I “heart” haiku! I enjoyed reading about the process, too, as I am working on a poetry book with images that my father drew. In my case, the images came first. The illustrations here are precious. I’d love to be able to share this with my students. I will probably buy a copy, but you can put me in the drawing. Maybe I’ll win one to pay forward!


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