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Book Trailer Premiere: THE UPPER CASE by Tara Lazar and Ross MacDonald

The Upper Case: Trouble in Capital City arrives on October 15th. Today we get a first look at the trailer for the book.

But first I asked author Tara Lazar a few questions about the book (and other stuff):

Travis: Hi Tara! The Upper Case is a bit of a follow-up to 7 Ate 9. How do you approach a follow-up/sequel? Did you have this story in mind since 7 ATE 9, or did it come later?

Tara Lazar: I’ll reply to this with the same answer for “How do you brush an alligator’s teeth?” VERY CAREFULLY. 

It’s difficult to follow-up a popular book. You want it to have a solid story, something that adds onto the tale that already exists, not a simple regurgitation of what you already put out. So I think a sequel can be more difficult than the original. Sure, you already have established characters, and you know their personalities, but you have to bring something extra to the table…and by “table,” I mean book!

Travis: Was there a particular spark/inspiration for this story?

Tara: Ross MacDonald (the amazing illustrator) and I have become friends. We were discussing a potential sequel and he mentioned that he and Kevin Lewis, the original acquiring editor, had always wanted to do a book together featuring punctuation. So I took that quote and ran with it.

Problem was, I couldn’t figure out the story beyond the opening lines. It took me months to finally realize punctuation never appears alone–it needs letters and words to do its job. Once I figured out the story could have both punctuation *and* letters, it finally came together.

Travis: What’s the most helpful writing advice you’ve received?

Tara: To keep working on new stories. Not all that you write becomes a book. So if you want to consistently have new books coming out, you need to write more and more. Don’t wait for something to be acquired to write something new. Finish a story, then start another.

Travis: A very important question: what snack puts you in peak creativity mode?

Tara: Excellent question. I am not a person of habit; I like to mix it up. So as long as the snack is delicious, it will get me hopping. Talk about mixing it up–lately, I’ve been into Indian hot mix. It’s puffed rice, peanuts, lentils and raisins with spices. It really wakes you up!

I also asked Ross MacDonald about the illustrations for The Upper Case:

Travis: What sorts of things did you look at or research in preparing to illustrate The Upper Case (and 7 Ate 9)?

Ross Macdonald: I spent a lot of time trying to figure out which ‘font’ to use for the characters in both books. I originally tried using all kinds of different, funky fonts for the different characters. But I knew that each character was going to appear in all kinds of different positions – walking, running, sitting – and in all kinds of backgrounds and situations. I decided that the more elaborate, decorative letterforms were distracting from the characters’ actions and facial expressions. I think the characters look just right now, but it took a lot of footwork to get there.

Travis: What medium do you use? Did you try anything new for this book? If so, why?

Ross: The art is a combination of letterpress printing, for the characters, and watercolor with touches of colored pencil.

I started out as a printer when I was a teenager, and I still have a letterpress printing shop downstairs from my illustration studio. Besides the presses and equipment, I have a couple dozen cabinets full of old printing type. A lot of that is large wood type from the nineteenth century – the kind of type they used to use to print circus posters. In fact, lots of it came from a printer in Peru Indiana – an old circus town.

All of the characters in both books are originally printed from that wood type – I put the type on the press, rolled color ink on them, printed them, and then scanned in the proofs and used those printed letters as the basis for the characters.

Using printed letters as characters isn’t something I’ve done before.

Travis: How has your work in making props for movies informed your illustration work? Or has it not?

Ross: A huge part of movie prop work is the research involved. All of the things I make – maps, documents, ancient tomes, magazines, newspapers, etc etc – all start out with extensive research. Researching so many different things and different periods brings me into contact with all kinds of cool stuff that I wouldn’t normally encounter. Right now I’m doing research for a movie project, and I’m looking at Viking, Hittite and Byzantine art, the Book of Kells, the Voynich manuscript, Celtic jewelry, and a thousand-year-old illuminated manuscript known as the Cotton MS Vitellius C III, otherwise known as the Old English Illustrated Pharmacopoeia. I become so immersed in the research that it definitely sticks with me, and it does pop up in my illustrations work. I get ideas for compositions, techniques, color combinations, and all kinds of jazz like that.

Travis: What snack puts you in peak creativity mode? Or what snack powered this book?

Ross: Sunflower seeds! I can’t live without them.

And now, for the first time, the book trailer for The Upper Case: Trouble in Capital City (out October 15, 2019 from Disney-Hyperion).

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Omg! What wonderful interviews and a super fun trailer, I was dancing to the music and cracking up at the puns!

    I’m so glad you figured out the rest of the storyline, Tara, and thanks foe the great questions, Travis. And so cool about the letters!