GROWING UP GORILLA
Written by Clare Hodgson Meeker
(Millbrook Press; $31.99 Library Binding,
$9.99 Kindle, Ages 8-12)
Good Reads With Ronna is the second to last stop on a month long blog tour comprised of assorted great posts about Growing Up Gorilla. The goal is to help get the word out about this terrific new nonfiction book that will change the way you look at gorillas, their familial bonds and their socialization while you root for baby gorilla Yola and her mother Nadiri.
Growing Up Gorilla chronicles the story of Yola, a baby gorilla at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, and what happened after her mother gave birth for the first time and walked away from her. It is also the story of the dedicated zoo staff who found innovative ways to help Yola bond with her mother and with the rest of the family group.
Growing Up Gorilla is a nonfiction chapter book for ages 8-12 that focuses on the social structure of gorilla families and how they learn from each other as well as demonstrating the challenges zookeepers face when helping the animals they love. Filled with great photos, this will be a popular book for animal-lovers of all ages. With a durable library binding, it’s a must for any classroom or library collection.
As a reviewer I often try to read as little as possible about a book before I set eyes on it so that I can experience it the same way a reader would. Now that I’ve read Growing Up Gorilla I can report that I was hooked from the first page and can’t say enough good things about it.
Recounted chronologically in six chapters with additional info about gorillas plus an author note, a bibliography/further reading, and a glossary in the back matter, this nonfiction book makes for compelling reading. Meeker starts off by introducing readers to Nadiri, a nineteen-year-old gorilla who is about to give birth. The zookeepers and other pros who work with Nadiri are concerned that she will not bond with her baby because she herself was rejected by her birth mother. Nadiri was actually looked after for her first nine months of life by infant-care expert, Harmony Frazier. Eventually a surrogate mother for Nadiri was found, but the early days of mothering hadn’t been modeled for her by another gorilla.
I loved not knowing where the story would take me and found Meeker’s writing kept me turning the pages to see whether newborn Yola and Nadiri would connect right away. I was also eager to find out how the zookeepers and experts would plot their course of action should things go south. It was fascinating to see the commitment and selflessness of the zoo staff pay off. Like me, readers will realize how much they are learning while also being totally engrossed in the story.
As expected, Nadiri showed no interest in her offspring so the plans to win her over were launched. A den for Yola and her carer, Harmony, was made nearby Nadiri’s. This was so she could see the attention being paid to her baby by Harmony 24/7 for the first three days following birth. Perhaps that would spark her own maternal instincts. This also allowed the other gorillas to be introduced to Yola as the newest member of the troop safely from afar.
At first there were small victories like when Nadiri visited the den that Harmony and Yola inhabited. However, once Yola cried after not being held, Nadiri grew anxious and left. Another time she came over and patted the baby’s head and tucked her security blanket around her. That was considered quite a breakthrough moment. Still more was hoped for.
Zookeeper Judy Sievert took charge of Nadiri’s visits in an effort to get her interested in picking up and nursing the newborn before her milk dried up. Although the nursing window quickly passed, Nadiri began responding positively to other actions. The keepers would provide food treats and encouragement that Nadiri did not ignore. One of my favorite anecdotes was when Judy offered Nadiri apple pieces on a spoon. She placed the spoon right beside Yola’s face to lure her close to the baby. Nadiri approached but cleverly tried to grab the fruit with her hand. Judy gestured and said that Nadiri had to use her mouth and offered the spoon again. It worked! “Nadiri leaned in next to the baby’s face and ate the apple.” I was delighted when that happened so I can just imagine how Judy felt.
Many middle grade readers will relate to the tense dynamic between Nadiri and her attention-seeking half-sister, Akenji. I worried that Akenji might hurt Yola as she was more dominant than Nadiri, and perhaps jealous of her baby. Fortunately that never happened. Early on we also meet Leo, the silverback and another member of the troop, because he appears to be intrigued by Yola frequently watching her through a gate. Meeker makes sure to update us on how these relationships fare over the course of the book, too.
In Growing Up Gorilla, Meeker engagingly details the coordinated efforts of everyone at Woodland Park Zoo who was invested in Yola’s and Nadiri’s relationship. So much was at stake in their successful reunification and the emotion behind the efforts was palpable on every page. The fantastic full-color photos make it hard not to fall for baby Yola. Nadiri’s difficult past also invites our compassion. There are helpful sidebars throughout on interesting topics ranging from gorilla dens, gorilla families, gorilla vs. human development and gorilla talk, all designed to further educate us and help us to appreciate the complexity and importance of gorillas who “share 97.7 percent of the same genes” as humans. Since finishing the book, I’ve been sharing the uplifting story with everyone who loves a happy ending. I recommend this for animal lovers, budding zoologists and anyone who cares about the preservation of our primate cousins.
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
READ A REVIEW OF ANOTHER NONFICTION ANIMAL BOOK HERE.
BLOG TOUR LINKS:
Written by Joni Klein-Higger + Barbara Sharf
Illustrated by Monica Gutierrez
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $5.99, Ages 1-4)
Little ones will love the mystery, rhyme and repetition in Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah, an entertaining read-aloud board book written by Joni Klein-Higger and Barbara Sharf with colorful and sweet illustrations by Monica Gutierrez.
In this adorable story, seven different farm animals show up on seven consequent nights knocking, tapping, rapping, swishing, thumping, rat tat tatting and scratching on Bubbe’s front door. Each one leaves a different present such as oil, onions, and eggs. Bubbe’s porch is a busy place during Hanukkah! Young readers get a glimpse of assorted hooves, paws and even a tail in the artwork as well as an accompanying animal sound printed in larger font such as neigh, bwak, or woof to clue them into the gift giver’s identity. Having children guess what all those ingredients are for and who is dropping them off only adds to the enjoyment of this engaging holiday book.
Klein-Higger and Sharf have given a fun Festival of Lights spin to the popular “Twelve Days of Christmas” song: On the first night of Hanukkah, what did Barnyard Bubbe see? One sack of meal. “Oh, my. Who has left this for me?” After seven nights of anonymous donations, Bubbe knows just what to do on the eighth night—make latkes for the bevy of adorable barnyard animals!
MEET THE AUTHORS
Meet Joni and Barbara on Sunday, December 8 at 10:30a.m. at Pasadena’s Southern California Children’s Museum.
This co-hosted PJ Library event is part of the Jewish Book Festival. Klein-Higger and Sharf deliver a “special Hanukkah treat” as they “bring their story to life and perform original songs sure to please the 5 and under set.” Cost is $5 per child at the door.
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
NOTE: This review also appears in the December issue of JLife Magazine San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys
Find more Hanukkah books here.
GO, GIRLS, GO!
Written by Frances Gilbert
Illustrated by Allison Black
(Beach Lane Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)
Who said transportation stories are just for boys? Doubleday Books for Young Readers Editor-in-Chief Frances Gilbert never did, and her new picture book, Go, Girls, Go! proves it. This energetic rhyming story with its bold and bright artwork puts girls behind a wealth of wheels to inspire future Danica Patricks, Sally Rides and Molly Williamses.
A dozen diverse and spirited drivers, pilots, motorcyclists and more demonstrate that girls get a kick out of things that go Wooo!, Whirr! and Toot! just the same as boys do. And who knows what future vehicles might strike their fancy when they see themselves positively depicted on the pages of this picture book? Gilbert’s written about girls conducting trains, operating giant cranes and flying planes because anything and everything is possible, especially when powered by girls.
What I especially enjoyed about Go, Girls, Go! was the anticipatory page turns that had me wondering what would come next in terms of rhyme, sound effects—Vroom! Hoot! Clank!—types of transportation and of course, the illustrations. I immediately found myself repeating “Go, Girls, Go!” with as much enthusiasm as a preschooler. In other words, be prepared for multiple, lively read-alouds because this is not a quiet book. It’s also a celebration of girls moving over from the more passive passenger seat and taking control, and that’s something to shout about.
Allison Black’s cheerful, graphic-style illustrations complement Gilbert’s entertaining and fast-paced rhyming prose. Youngsters will happily follow the visuals while learning the words because the modes of transportation are easily identifiable and the rhythmic language is easy to memorize. What a fun way to get excited about things that go Roar! Honk! and Crunch! So make tracks to your local bookseller and get a copy to help your child’s imagination soar.
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Follow Frances Gilbert on Twitter @gogirlsgobooks
Follow Allison Black on Twitter @allisonblackart
Click here to read a guest post by Frances Gilbert about using rhyme in Go, Girls, Go!
ON THE CRAFT OF RHYMING PICTURE BOOKS
GO, GIRLS, GO! AUTHOR
Today I’m happy to share an enlightening post on craft by Doubleday Books for Young Readers Editor-in-Chief, and Go, Girls, Go! author, Frances Gilbert. Many picture book authors face a challenge when writing in rhyme. Does the meter work? Does the rhyme feel forced? Is the story best told in rhyme? Frances offers helpful insights into her approach from both sides of the editor’s desk so please read on.
ON RHYMING PICTURE BOOKS BY FRANCES GILBERT
I’ve been a children’s book editor for over 25 years and one of the most common reasons I reject picture book manuscripts is that they rhyme badly. So why, for my first foray into writing a picture book myself, would I choose to write Go, Girls, Go! in rhyme??! Rhyming, we’re so often told – by editors, by agents, by fellow writers – is not encouraged. Bound to fail, hard to translate. But I love rhyming books. I love reading them, and I love publishing them. Turns out, I love writing them too.
The number one mistake in rhyming texts is when the rhyme overwhelms the story rather than serving the story. The monotony of a 32-page story all told in the same rhythm can wear a reader down after a few pages. As an editor, I often start these submissions thinking, “Okay, let’s see if this can be sustained . . .” and after a few stanzas say, “Oh please stop. I can’t do this anymore.” The sing-song-y-ness of “dah-duh dah-duh dah-duh, dah-dah” in line after line pummels a reader with sameness. It also encourages authors to make terrible word choices: odd or forced descriptions or line endings because that last word HAS. TO. RHYME. My test: Extract a line out of your rhyming text and ask yourself if you’d write it the same way if it DIDN’T have to rhyme. If the answer is no, it’s a bad line. The rhyming has to feel effortless.
Effortless AND creative. Listen to the “Hamilton” soundtrack. I know it’s a high bar, but learn from how Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote an entire musical in tight, creative rhyme full of variety and rhythm changes and surprises and cleverness and word-play delights. Internal rhymes, humorous rhymes, break-outs into a different rhythm altogether. A surprise around every corner. Now imagine if all two hours and forty-five minutes of “Hamilton” had been “dah-duh dah-duh dah-duh, dah-dah.” That’s not a ticket you’d have paid $300 for.
I broke “Go, Girls, Go!” into four primary sections, each one showcasing three girls, their vehicles, and the sound of their vehicles. It starts: “Emma drives a fire engine, / Meg conducts a train, / Jayla steers a big red tractor hauling loads of grain.” Those lines alone are not breaking any creativing writing boundaries. It’s a pretty standard A-B-B rhyme scheme. Had the rest of my text been in the same rhythm and rhyme scheme, it could have gotten old quickly. But my next two scenes actually don’t rhyme at all; they introduce the sound words and, after another page turn, end in a rallying cheer: “Vroom! goes Emma. / Hoot! goes Meg. / Clank! goes Jayla! / Go, girls, go!” The break from rhyming in these scenes, while still maintaining a bouncy rhythm, gives the reader a different reading experience for a few pages before launching into the next set of girls.
This is the pattern for four sets of girls, and then for the finale we break into a different rhythm and rhyme scheme, A-A-A-B this time: “Girls can race and girls can fly. / Girls can rocket way up high. / What about you? Give it try! / Go, girl, go!” It gives the reader an indication that the book is approaching a crescendo, and then it lands on one final cheer on the last page (which doesn’t rhyme with anything).
Did I plan this structure deliberately ahead of time? No, I just wrote it. But I followed this mantra the entire time: “Don’t bore your reader. Don’t wear your reader down. Let the rhyme serve the story.”
I was grateful that reviewers picked up on this: Booklist called the rhyming “propulsive”, which is the best descriptor I could have hoped for, with the style of the rhyme matching the forward-moving vehicles in the book. And Kirkus said, “With repeated readings, pre-readers will be reciting the words on their own,” which thrilled me, because rhyming can help kids quickly get the hang of reading along if the rhythm grabs them. And that leads to repeated readings, which is the test of any good picture book.
So don’t be afraid of writing in rhyme, but please remember: “Don’t bore your reader. Don’t wear your reader down. Let the rhyme serve the story.”
Follow Frances Gilbert on Twitter: @GoGirlsGoBooks
Click here to read more about Frances in an SCBWI Kite Tales interview by Christine Van Zandt.
Come back tomorrow (Wednesday) for my review of Go, Girls, Go!
Edited by Amanda Grant
With illustrations by Harriet Russell
(Phaidon; $24.95, Ages 7-10)
The popular and influential Italian cookbook for children, The Silver Spoon for Children, has been updated for its tenth anniversary with a newly designed edition. Forty traditional recipes show kids and tweens it’s easy to create delicious meals from a few, quality ingredients. The opening pages include some background about Italian cooking, followed by equipment identification, and helpful techniques—a good place to start if your child is new to cooking, or, needs a review.
Kids comfortable in the kitchen can dive right in, selecting relatively straightforward snacks like Prosciutto & Melon, or making their own dough (for Pizza, Pasta, or Focaccia), or testing delectable desserts such as Hazelnut Cake or Fruits of the Forest Ice Cream. Each recipe has four pages, enticing the reader while clearly conveying the instructions. Recipes begin with an overview listing ingredients alongside a full-page color photograph of that dish. The next two pages have written directions beside illustrations, teaching in two different ways.
Our ten-year-old daughter chose to make Baked Maccheroni with Parmesan and we were pleased with the tasty results. This recipe has simple ingredients but requires some diligence to properly complete the sauce, developing it from roux to béchamel. (What a difference from boxed Mac & Cheese!) As with many of these Italian staples, once a child has mastered a basic recipe, they can add their own flair or vary the ingredients each time thereafter.
While many recipes were familiar favorites, I was happy to discover new gems such as the Banana Cream dessert. It calls for just six ingredients that we usually have around the house and can be assembled in minutes—the perfect weeknight treat.
Parents, if you’re using this cookbook more than your child, there’s also the new and luxurious The Silver Spoon Classic adult cookbook. Put both on your holiday wish list, or treat yourself! Pair the books with an apron or wooden spoons and a whisk for the perfect gift year round.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com
Click here for another kids cookbook review.
This sturdy board-book edition of the hardcover picture book from 2015 is great to share all year long. With just 24 pages of spare and inspiring text, dePaola’s peaceful, pleasing art takes center stage. The little boy on the cover wakes up to behold the beauty of a new day and the wonderful things that surround him. “Open your eyes, and see, and say thank you.” Children learn with each simple sentence and illustration to be present and look at each day as a gift. Look and be Grateful is a gentle and sweet introduction to mindfulness and gratitude which are never too early to share.
Little fans of the beloved Pout-Pout Fish will be delighted he’s back, under the sea, serving up tasty dishes for Thanksgiving in Be Thankful, Pout-Pout Fish. Mr. Fish has invited friends and family from near and far to join him at the celebration. It’s a pot-luck dinner for which all of the guests are grateful. When the meal is over and everyone’s full, Mr. Fish is feeling especially thankful not only for the food, but for the full feeling in his heart.
Told in 12 full-color pages, this rhyming board-book makes a sweet addition to any toddler’s Pout-Pout Fish book collection. It’s also an ideal gift when visiting during the holiday. Dive into a copy and share today.
I love the die-cut turkey feathers design of this 12-page board book. Inspired by the hand-print turkey art craft so many children proudly create at Thanksgiving time, each finger/feather in Five Little Thank-Yous represents a paper-cut illustrated spread devoted to a particular thank-you message. It starts off with “Thank you for this sweet, warm home, blessed with family all my own.” The four other feathers mention thanks for food, friends, love and “…most of all, I’m thankful to be the one and only, special me.” What a terrific and important message to impart to children at Thanksgiving.
Fab and felt-clad Turkey (on the cover) is just one of the adorable Flanimals animal characters in this 20-page cumulative concept board book.T is for Thanks (and Turkey!) explores themes of gratitude and friendship courtesy of the letter T. The story begins when Tiger gives Turtle some tulips in a tea pot as a gift. Such a lovely gesture! Sadly, the present breaks when Turtle sneezes. Turkey’s on hand to offer some tissues. In fact he humorously always wants to be included in the cumulative repetition that kids will love. “T is for Thanks and Tape and Thunderstorm. And Turkey!” Some tape mends the broken tea pot and Turkey’s wings keep the rain off Tiger while Turtle’s retreated into his shell.
It’s great how the friends get up to some fun antics that kids will relate to all while sticking to the letter T. Things get messy though when Turkey gets onto a trampoline with tacos given to him by Toad. That causes no end of trouble as you might imagine. But with caring, thoughtful friends, everything will work out in the end providing everyone (and Turkey!) is on good behavior.
This book provides many levels of entertainment and positive reinforcement whether it’s counting the tulips (three), noting with little ones how all the animals’ names begin with T, seeing what else they can spot in the art that might pertain to thankfulness and the letter T, and most importantly, seeing the kind way friends treat each other.
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click here to read a review of another Thanksgiving book.
Written and illustrated
by Simon James
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
Junior Library Guild Selection
In this heartwarming story about companionship, award-winning author and illustrator Simon James shows readers that you don’t have to be perfect to find your perfect fit. Mr. Scruff tells the story of a large, scruffy dog who had no one until he finds his certain someone, even if it’s someone that may not have been initially considered the perfect match.
The story opens in a park setting of fall colored leaves and happy people walking their children and pets. Running ahead on the grassy pathway is a little dog named Polly, with her curly hair and red ribbon on top of her head. We turn the page and see a woman walking Polly in a stroller, who also has curly hair and a red ribbon on top of her head. “She belongs to Molly.” Simon’s illustrations clearly show that these two are visually quite the match.
They say dogs start looking like their owners and that is definitely the case with the dogs we meet. (My own dog Bailey had red hair matching my husband’s!) Eric, hairless, with his nose pointed in the air, is on a leash crossing the street with a hairless man. “He belongs to Derek.”
“But who’s this? It’s Mr. Scruff …” We find the unkempt bottom heavy beige dog with a long face sitting alone inside a cage surrounded by a dog bed, a bowl and a toy ball. The next room shows the vet with a small boy and his small dog.
Page after page of adorable artwork in ink and watercolor with a warm Quentin Blake quality introduces readers to various dogs whose names and features resemble their beloved owners. “But things are looking rough for poor old Mr. Scruff. Wait a minute! Who’s this?”
The seemingly sad story of Mr. Scruff takes a positive turn when an unsuspecting new character is introduced. He is small, not big; black not beige; young not old and his name does not rhyme with Mr. Scruff. But “They seem to like each other.” The boy, Jim, and his parents know Mr. Scruff “needs a place to call his very own and that is what matters.”
This poignant story of companionship is a super fun read with its uplifting rhymes. The drawings and story left me with a smile on my face, demonstrating that we can always find friends that are both similar and not so similar. Teachers and parents alike can share the message that we are surrounded by a whole world of people who may look different than us, but who still may be our most perfect companions. Jim gave Mr. Scruff a chance and together they became an absolutely perfect fit! And what happens to the little dog named Tim and scruffy, old Mr. Gruff? Shhh! You have to read the book to find out …
- Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Read a review of another picture book about friendship here.
Written by Jen Bryant
Illustrated by Cannaday Chapman
(Abrams BYR; $17.99, Ages 6-9)
★Starred Review – School Library Journal
Jen Bryant, who has won numerous awards for her books for children, which include biographies of poet William Carlos Williams, and Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White, has written the biography of August Wilson. The picture book, presented in two acts and 48 pages, is an inspiring and lyrical introduction to the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Black playwright who died in 2005.
Young readers are probably unfamiliar with Wilson’s work and Bryant writes mostly about his early years at school and the beginning of his career.
Frederick August Kittel, Jr. was raised with a sister and single mother, who cleaned houses. His mother, Daisy, made sure Frederick learned to read, telling him, “If you can read, you can do anything – you can be anything.” Bryant tells about the racism Wilson and his family experienced—brick-throwing, name-calling, fights, and accusations of cheating—driving Wilson from school after school, setting him on a course of self-education, reading all day in libraries. Wilson finds the “universe opens wide” when, as a teenager, he encounters Black authors Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison.
His first paid writing job was completing his sister’s homework; he bought a used typewriter, composing poems after he finished washing dishes at the diner. The talk and stories of Black men in his community, many working at menial jobs, provided the dialogue for his poems and plays. Working odd jobs in a soup kitchen, Wilson listened to stories. “Who’s there? What are they saying … and why?” he asked himself, and these figures became characters in his dramas.
Debut illustrator Cannaday Chapman uses a limited color palette of earth tones to show the expressions on Wilson’s face and his connection to his environment.
Bryant includes a detailed Author’s Note explaining her interest in Wilson, her extensive research, and her process for writing the book. Students will enjoy her description of spreading her pages down her hallway. Feed Your Mind is an important book about an author of color, who endured poverty and racism, and whose life shows the power of literacy and community.
- Guest review by Julia Wasson, veteran educator and curriculum developer.
Read another picture book biography here.
Written by Melanie Heuiser Hill
Illustrated by Jaime Kim
(Candlewick Press; $16.99; Ages 3-7)
Like the cumulative tale and nursery rhyme, “This is the house that Jack built,” Heuiser Hill’s text similarly “builds” the setting up of the dinner table. Grandad initiates the opportunity for a family gathering by constructing “this table,” and the rest of the family pitches in bit by bit—each one contributing a layer or detail that adds richness and diversity. The multifaceted colors, textures, and patterns in Kim’s illustrations reflect the movement and excitement in getting together. In simple lines and shapes, each page highlights the delighted facial expressions of the multicultural family members who have gathered to share a meal made from scratch.
In fact everything set on the table is a hands on, homemade creation. The “sunflowers picked by … cousins,” the “napkins sewn by Mom,” and the meal itself come straight from the heart. Every object has sentimental value. Even the everyday “forks and spoons and knives” honor those loved ones who have passed on. “Gifts from Dad’s grandma long ago,” the utensils allow past generations to be present at the table.
For those who love multicultural and multigenerational themes, Around the Table That Grandad Built is a wonderful addition to the home library. Equally important—especially in this day and age—are the opportunities the book provides to talk about essential values. Thankfulness, hard work, love, and selflessness can be discussed anytime you’re around the table. Consider sharing for Thanksgiving!
- Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Read about last year’s Thanksgiving books here.
ILLUSTRATOR OF GRETA AND THE GIANTS
ABOUT GRETA AND THE GIANTS
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)
Greta is a little girl who lives in a beautiful forest threatened by Giants. When the Giants first came to the forest, they chopped down trees to make houses. Then they chopped down more trees and made even bigger homes. The houses grew into towns and the towns grew into cities, until now there is hardly any forest left. Greta knows she has to help the animals, but how? Luckily Greta has an idea that will lead to the Giants and the animals working together in harmony. An additional section at the back explains that in reality the fight against the giants isn’t over and Greta needs the reader’s help.
This book has been printed sustainably in the UK on 100% recycled paper. By buying a copy of this book, you are making a donation of 3% of the cover price to Greenpeace UK
INTERVIEW WITH ZOE PERSICO
Please tell us how you came to be a picture book illustrator?
Growing up I had many artistic influences that led me to go into what I do today, especially in books. I struggled with reading, but the illustrations always kept me eagerly invested and inspired. I originally wanted to be an animator, but quickly figured out that illustrating was my passion and wanted to figure out how I could achieve it as my career. I returned to my love for children’s books and knew I wanted to create works of art that would help others like they did for me. With family, friends, my partner, and educators who always supported me every step of the way I signed onto my current agency, got an early jump start into my career, and graduated college. I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator for over five years now and happily receiving great projects such as Greta and the Giants.
What medium/technique did you use to create the illustrations in GRETA AND THE GIANTS and how did the metaphor of the giants as symbols of corporate greed influence your choices?
I use Photoshop CS6 and a Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 to create my illustrations, though I am heavily influenced by traditional materials and try to capture the magic of them through digital means. I use custom brushes that emulate watercolor, gouache, colored pencils, and so on. Before starting the final art for Greta and the Giants I knew that I really wanted to push some new painting techniques, so I practiced using traditional materials beforehand to figure out how I can capture them digitally.
The giants were quite a challenge! I needed to figure out how to portray the giants in a fantastical, but realistic way. It would have been too easy to use stereotypes as a crutch for their design and using certain physical traits to show how “ugly” they are is harmful because that’s telling readers having those traits are negative. I thought that illustrating them mostly from perspectives of Greta and the citizens of the forest, such as them looking up and only seeing their shoes and pants as well as not being able to see their faces as clearly due to the massive distance between them, was a perfect and simple way to achieve that the giants “have their heads in the clouds” more than anything else. They realize that they are causing harm and want to do better and I wanted to make sure their designs were an easy transition to the last spreads of the book as well. They have always worn normal clothes just like everyone else and their size doesn’t change. They are still giants! The change comes into how the new compositions show a better connection and understanding between them and the forest dwellers.
I was taken immediately by the gorgeous jewel tones in your palette. Please explain the decision behind that.
Thank you! I had a lot of fun with this palette for this book. When the design team told me they really wanted to a painterly look and using light for color and mood contrast I was immediately excited. I’ve always tried to push these elements in my personal work and I knew I wanted to push myself even more for this project. Since I have been painting traditionally on the side more, I’ve found new color palettes that I wanted to emulate in Greta and the Giants. I used warm tones for heavily lit areas and went with cool tones for shadows. I mixed colors on top of each other like I would with watercolors to keep interest and connection in each area. I have been in love with using a very bright candy red lately and knew it would be the perfect accent color in a sea of multiple shades of green. For the last spread I wanted to go with a sunset palette to help end the book on a warm and uplifting note. Overall, I would say the goal for this book was to have a mostly nature-inspired palette (greens, browns, oranges) with accents of fantasy-inspired colors (pinks and blues).
What inspired you about this particular story?
Throughout the years I’ve been finding ways to alleviate my carbon footprint on the planet as best as I can and having the chance to work on this project was right up my alley. I was inspired on now only how I can help show others on what we can do to help fight climate change, but to come together and speak up against “giants” by the power of your voice. I hope the illustrations in Greta and the Giants inspire children to ask questions. I hope it inspires parents and guardians to teach them about what is happening. I hope it inspires adults to speak out and vote.
Do you have a favorite illustration in the book?
Yes! Funny enough my favorite illustrations are the spreads that include the city. I rarely paint urban subjects and it was a fun challenge to depict what the giant city could look like from a distance. I’m proud of how it turned out!
I also enjoy illustrating animals as well. Any time I got to paint the fox was always fun for me!
What was the biggest challenge of creating the art for this picture book that’s dealing with a serious topic aimed at younger readers?
I would say finding the right visual balance of fantastical and visually showing a depiction of a real life issue. I wouldn’t be doing the message justice if I went a super happy and bright route for the illustrations. I want to show the dark sides of what’s happening to our home and make it easy to readers to understand that. I also wanted to show signs of hope and warmth as well. I use bright and inviting colors and character designs that young readers can gravitate towards. I paint light shining down on characters such as Greta to show that she is a beacon of hope. It’s little things like this that I add in my illustrations to help readers understand that things are serious, but we don’t have to be kept in the dark. It’s amazing how color and light and design choices can naturally click in your brain to know when something is “relaxing” or “melancholic” or “frustrating”. Illustrations are so important and I love that I get to create them.
As the giants learn about the negative impact of all their building and polluting, they begin to take on less fierce qualities. Was this intentional?
Absolutely. As I mentioned in the previous question regarding the giants, I really wanted to portray the giants in a way that they aren’t so different from the rest of the forest dwellers. Earlier spreads of the book emphasize how tall they are, how hard it is to see their faces from far away, and so on. There’s a disconnect and the giants aren’t aware of the damage they are causing. Towards the last spreads you can see their faces better and their postures and expressions are much more approachable. They are still giants, but there is now a more positive relationship between them and the folks living below them. I am hoping our real life “giants” can listen and start a positive dialogue with us to a better and healthier future.
Which illustrators have most influenced you as an artist?
I have so many! Some illustrators that have influenced me include Amélie Fléchais, Elena and Olivia Ceballos, Yvan Duque, Matthew Forsythe, Rebecca Green, Robin James, and many many more.
Thank you Zoe for your thoughtful answers. I hope everyone picks up a copy of Greta and the Giants to appreciate the beautiful artwork you’ve described in the interview and to see how wonderfully it complements the story.
Visit the below bloggers for reviews and other Greta and the Giants related coverage.
Tuesday 11/12: This West Coast Mommy
Wednesday 11/13: Happily Ever Elephants
Thursday 11/14: Here Wee Read
Friday 11/15: Picture Book Play Date
- Interview by Ronna Mandel