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THE 2021 SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD BLOG TOUR

WELCOME TO DAY 4 OF THE STBA BLOG TOUR

 

STBA 2021 Blog Tour


FEATURING INTERVIEWS WITH

AUTHOR RABBI MYCHAL COPELAND

&

ILLUSTRATOR ANDRE CEOLIN

DISCUSSING THEIR

HONOR-WINNING PICTURE BOOK

I AM THE TREE OF LIFE: My Jewish Yoga Book

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BOOK SUMMARY:


The Torah is called the Tree of Life. Just as a tree is always growing and changing, the Torah’s ideas can help us grow and change, too. Yoga can do the same. Both can help us strengthen ourselves, calm our minds, and learn to appreciate the world around us.

Written by rabbi and certified yoga instructor Mychal Copeland, I Am the Tree of Life encourages us to explore both the world of yoga and the stories of the Bible and find meaning in both.

INTERVIEW WITH RABBI MYCHAL COPELAND:

GoodReadsWithRonna: Congratulations on your great honor, Rabbi! What a pleasure to have you as our guest today.

“How might it feel to stand at Mount Sinai? To dance at the red sea?” are the inviting opening words to your lovely picture book. This gentle and meaningful introduction to yoga through Torah exploration is a wonderful idea for a story. Please share your inspiration with us. Is this a practice you use with children?

Rabbi Mychal Copeland: This book came together organically, doing yoga with children at Jewish summer camps and synagogues. We imagined, together, which stories we could form with our bodies. I loved seeing kids use their imagination and how easily they understood what it means to embody, or become, an animal, object, or character. Those ideas evolved over many years into the poses in the book, alongside poses I brought into my adult Jewish yoga classes based on the weekly Torah readings and holidays.

GRWR: The beautiful blend of the spiritual and physical come together seamlessly in I AM THE TREE OF LIFE. What do you feel your book offers to youngsters especially now when they have been coping with an unprecedented pandemic?

RMC: Parents of young children are striving to bring grounding, healthy practices into their kids’ lives, especially during this pandemic. Yoga teaches adults and children that we can regulate our own breathing, calm ourselves down when necessary, pay attention to what we are feeling, and to be empowered in our bodies. Children have lost their daily opportunities for movement, so I’ve been thrilled to hear that this book has helped them get moving during this time. I hope that has, in turn, connected them to their spiritual selves and to the world around them as they embody a mountain, tree or a fish.

GRWR: I love how there’s a boat pose to signify Noah’s Ark. Did you have trouble finding poses to correlate to the various stories? Or did you select the stories based on existing poses?

RMC: I have been teaching yoga in a Jewish context for many years, and in my practice I connect the poses to the weekly Torah portion or Jewish holiday wherever there is a meaningful link. I have collected so many poses that fit perfectly with our stories. In fact, I had a tough time choosing which ones to drop to make the book the right length for children!

 

Tree pose int1
Interior spread from I Am The Tree of Life written by Rabbi Mychal Copeland and illustrated by André Ceolin, Apples and Honey Press ©2020.

 

GRWR: Do you have a particular favorite illustration and if so, why?

RMC: The book is based around the image of the tree, both as a metaphor for our Torah and of our bodies. The cover so perfectly brings those images together with a child coming into Tree Pose against the backdrop of a tree so we can see how our feet are like roots, legs like a trunk, and arms like branches. I also love the way he integrated the Torah stories we are about to read into the Tree of Life while we are forming Tree Pose on the opening pages. I also love the Crescent Moon, because Andre so beautifully captured the sweeping feeling of this pose and the story in Genesis.

 

Crescent moon int5
Interior spread from I Am The Tree of Life written by Rabbi Mychal Copeland and illustrated by André Ceolin, Apples and Honey Press ©2020.

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GRWR: The book is filled with a variety of wonderful Torah stories. Is your hope that, in addition to wanting to try yoga, children reading your book might also become interested in further Jewish study?

RMC: Yes! My hope is that the short glimpses into the Torah stories will pique a child’s curiosity to know the full stories. Perhaps at a Passover seder, they will hear the Exodus narrative and remember that they tried a yoga pose from that formative story. If they feel like that story is theirs because they embodied it, even better. I hear so many young adults say that they don’t feel Jewish enough, that they didn’t learn enough to feel it’s theirs, or that the Jewish community doesn’t accept them as being fully Jewish. My hope is that our upcoming generation of kids feel like they own their own Judaism. It is not someone else’s tradition that they are peering into. It is wholly theirs to live, learn, and create.

GRWR: I love how at the end of the book you address what’s Jewish about yoga. For those reading who do not yet have the book, what’s your answer?

RMC: Yoga emerges from the Hindu philosophical tradition. Jews have a long tradition of being open to learning and incorporating wisdom from other traditions that surround us (medieval liturgy based on Arabic poetry, piyyut, is another great example). But movement also has a long history in Judaism. Our ancient rabbis discussed how to move our bodies during prayer, recognizing that words are not the only way to pray. One medieval Jewish mystic matched Hebrew letters and vowels with head movements. Other kabbalists envisioned different aspects of God as a chart in the shape of a tree, the Tree of Life, and mapped that chart onto the human body. And Hasids used body movements to enhance their prayer.

So yoga is a practice that Jews are borrowing, but spiritual movement is not new to our people.

GRWR: This is such a feel good, calming read. What other Jewish or non-Jewish children’s books have you enjoyed reading for your own writing inspiration?

RMC: Howard Schwartz and Kristina Swarner’s Gathering Sparks (a Sydney Taylor Award winner) has been such an inspiration to me, inviting children to contemplate a complex spiritual, mystical idea in a way that is both relatable and calming. Their book, Before You Were Born, has that same mystical, whimsical quality. I have also been heavily influenced by Rabbi Sandy Sasso’s work (In God’s Name, God’s Paintbrush and so many others), bringing a depth of spiritual conversation to an ecumenical audience.

GRWR: What else would you like to mention about your experience writing the book?

RMC: In early conversations with Apples and Honey Press, we wanted to make sure that the children pictured in the book would represent the diversity of the Jewish community. They brought Brazilian artist, André Ceolin, to the project and I am overjoyed with the illustrations. Portraying children of color in books does not solve the deep-seated issues we face in the Jewish community or our larger American culture. Yet making sure People of Color are represented in Jewish children’s literature is one way we can show kids they are visible in Jewish life, while showing white children that a diversity of racial and ethnic backgrounds is what Jewish looks like. We can offer the next generation an invitation to connect themselves to Jewish stories and other Jews. Collectively, we can make intentional choices about which stories and images are passed on.

 

INTERVIEW WITH ANDRE CEOLIN:

GRWR: Congratulations on your great honor! What a pleasure to have you as our guest today, André.

On the very first spread of the book readers see the tree of life pose along with the tree itself representing the Torah. Can you speak to some of the wisdom shown on the different branches of the tree, the preview of stories to come, and how you imagined this particular illustration?

André Ceolin: Both Ann Kofsky, from Behrman House, and Rabbi Mychal have given me the guidelines and important insights for that illustration, coming up with the idea of the tree showing the passages in each branch.

The tree is strong and healthy, and each branch of it shows an image which represents a passage from the Torah. For me it shows that the wisdom from each passage lead us to a balanced, steady and healthy life.

GRWR: Can you please tell us how you created the artwork? Was it done digitally? And what made you choose this color palate? How long did it take to complete the illustrations?

AC: On a piece of paper and using a good pencil, I always start with several small sketches, the size of a thumbnail, for each illustration to be done. In doing so, I experiment several approaches, having a general idea of the drawing structure, without being distracted by the details.

After evaluating all the miniature sketches, I shoot some photos of the best ones and then, start to work at the computer in a bigger and more detailed version, which will be sent later to the editors and authors for evaluation .

Once approved, I get started with the final version of the illustration, more elaborate and colorful. This step is made digitally as well.

Regarding the color palates, each drawing has its own one in order to express the feeling and the time period in which the story takes place.

Normally, it takes from 2 to 4 days for each illustration, from the sketches to the final version, depending on its complexity.

GRWR: Do you have a particular favorite illustration and if so, why?

AC: The illustration with Jonah inside the giant fish is my favorite, because it was really fun to illustrate that monster-fish. Besides, the image shows some tension, at the same time that it shows hope.

 

Jonah and The Whale int16
Interior spread from I Am The Tree of Life written by Rabbi Mychal Copeland and illustrated by André Ceolin, Apples and Honey Press ©2020.

 

GRWR: You made all the poses look so easy and fun. Did you have to learn yoga to be able to illustrate this book?

AC: Yes, I had to learn a little bit about Yoga, despite not being able to do many of the poses (maybe one day I will take some Yoga classes). Rabbi, through her feedback helped me a lot to correct and make right each of the poses illustrations, as shown in the book.

GRWR: Who are some of the illustrators who have influenced your art?

AC: There are many artists whose work I admire. Stephen Michael King, Rodney Mathews, Rebecca Dautremer and Edivaldo Barbosa de Souza are some of the artists who inspire me.

GRWR: Is there anything else you’d like to mention about your experience illustrating this book?

AC: Illustrating The Tree of Life was a very rich and enjoyable experience in which, in addition to learning about yoga, I learned about the wisdom of the Torah and Jewish culture.

 

GOODREADSWITHRONNA THANKS YOU BOTH SO VERY MUCH FOR YOUR THOUGHTFUL REPLIES!

 

BIOS:

You can find Mychal getting into yoga poses while teaching, writing, reading Torah, and even leading Shabbat services at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.  Mychal is both a Reconstructionist and Reform rabbi, earned a masters and teaching credential from Harvard Divinity School, and is a certified yoga instructor, fusing Jewish spirituality with movement through yoga. She co-edited Struggling in Good Faith: LGBTQI Inclusion from 13 American Religious Perspectives (SkyLight Paths, 2016) and I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book (Apples & Honey Press, 2020)  is her first children’s book. She leads yoga sessions that are steeped in Jewish thought and prayer, melding breath and posture practice with Jewish ideas.  Her interests span Jewish magical texts, interfaith dialogue, Jewish issues of inclusion, and teaching Judaism as a spiritual path. 

Click here for my Facebook page where people can find me and yoga opportunities for their kids.

 

Ceolin photoAndré Ceolin is a self-taught illustrator from Brazil He started his first attempt at sketching around the age of four when his father brought home some reams of paper from work. It was in that moment that he fell in love with painting and drawing. André initially got a degree in pharmacy at UNIMEP. Though he worked in this field for several years, his artistic passion was too strong to ignore. As a young father, he was surrounded by beautiful children’s books and was always drawn to the spontaneity of the imagery. He then decided to switch gears and studied at School of Visual Arts in NYC, Melies, and Escola Panamericana de Artes to develop a signature look and learned new illustration techniques. He illustrated his first book “Um Dia na Vida de Micaela” de Cauê by Steinberg Milano, published by Editora Roda & Cia in 2009. Ever since, he has illustrated over 20 books by great publishers in Brazil such as Roda & Cia, Saber e Ler, SM, Moderna, FTD, Editora do Brasil, Editora Abril. He loves working with books targeting juvenile readers from the very young age to middle-grade and young adult. When not illustrating, he creates toys and small sculptures for his son. He also enjoys bicycling, playing his guitar, and, singing. Visit his website here.

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BOOKMARK THESE SITES:

Association of Jewish Libraries

Sydney Taylor Book Award
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STBA BLOG TOUR DATES

Below is the schedule for the 2021 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. Please follow the links to visit the hosting blogs on or after their tour dates, and be sure to leave them plenty of comments!

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2021 

Lesléa Newman and Susan Gal, author and illustrator of Welcoming Elijah
Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Picture Book Category
at A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal

Sofiya Pasternack, author of Anya and the Nightingale
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Middle Grade Category
at 100 Scope Notes at School Library Journal

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2021

M. Evan Wolkenstein, author of Turtle Boy
Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Middle Grade Category
at Mr. Schu Reads

Jane Yolen and Khoa Lee, author and illustrator of Miriam at the River
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Picture Book Category
at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast 

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2021

Anne Blankman, author of The Blackbird Girls
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Middle Grade Category
at The Paper Brigade Daily at The Jewish Book Council

Monica Hesse, author of They Went Left
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Young Adult Category
at Jewish Books for Kids

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2021

Tyler Feder, author of Dancing at the Pity Party
Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Young Adult Category
at Out of the Box at The Horn Book

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2021

Tziporah Cohen, author of No Vacancy
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Middle Grade Category
at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors

Podcast interview at The Children’s Book Podcast

Blog Tour Wrap-Up at The Whole Megillah

Read about last year’s 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour here.

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Picture Book Blog Tour – An Interview With Chick Chat Author Illustrator Janie Bynum

MEET JANIE BYNUM

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR OF

CHICK CHAT

(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

CHICKCHAT cover

 

 

It’s Day One of the CHICK CHAT BLOG TOUR as well as its book birthday! Peep! Peep! GRWR is so happy to participate and celebrate the hatching. Please enjoy the following interview with Chick Chat author-illustrator Janie Bynum and her insights on this fun new read-aloud picture book for children.

 

CHICK CHAT SUMMARY:

Friendship comes in all shapes and sizes.

Peep, peep, peep! Baby Chick has a lot to say!

Everyone in Chick’s family is too busy to chat with her. But when chatty baby Chick adopts a large egg—she finally finds a friend who is a good listener. When her egg goes missing, Chick is heartbroken, until she finds that it has hatched into a brand-new friend!

INTERVIEW WITH CHICK CHAT AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR JANIE BYNUM

GoodReadsWithRonna: Hi Janie! Welcome to the blog. I’ve got lots of questions for you today.
In your author bio on the book’s copyright page, you mention how talkative you were as a child. Can you expand on this and how it influenced creating your main character Baby Chick?

Janie Bynum: Being an inquisitive, talkative, and determined child, I’m sure I tested the patience of my family—and quite a few teachers. Baby Chick and I share all of those personality traits—as well as being a fairly self-reliant youngest sibling. As I wrote and revised Baby Chick’s story, this very talkative youngest sibling emerged. So I ended up writing from a perspective (with a voice, as it were) that I understood as a kid.

In early versions of the manuscript, Baby Chick actually spoke instead of only peeping. But, I ultimately chose to have her peep in such a way that sounds like she knows exactly what she’s saying (and she does). This way kids can interpret what she may be saying—either inferred by the illustrations or by whatever words they imagine for her.

 

CHICK CHAT int1 breakfast
Interior spread from Chick Chat written and illustrated by Janie Bynum, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

GRWR: Which came first, the Baby Chick character design or the story?

JB: The Baby Chick character art came first.

GRWR: It was funny how everyone in Baby Chick’s family is unaffected (to the point of almost ignoring her while they’re otherwise occupied) by her nonstop peeping while she carries on joyfully by herself. Is there something to be learned from her sheer self-contentedness?

JB: Possibly … by enjoying our own company, not being entirely dependent on others to “make” our happiness for us. Baby Chick is creative and makes her own fun; and, in doing so, she discovers something to nurture, which ultimately hatches into a friend who listens.

GRWR: I was absolutely convinced Baby Chick had found a rock not a big egg. Was this deliberate?

JB: No. The giant Galapagos tortoise’s egg—which I used for reference—looks very much like a round stone. Only at first, when she hasn’t fully unearthed the object, does Baby Chick not know that it’s an egg. But once she uncovers it, she realizes it’s some sort of egg—maybe not a chicken egg because it’s so round. But Baby Chick either doesn’t notice the difference or doesn’t care. It’s an egg without anyone to tend it, so she decides to be its guardian.

GRWR: I’m curious why you decided to make the baby turtle a quiet character rather than one “with a lot to say” like Baby Chick?

JB: I could’ve made the baby turtle/tortoise even more talkative than Baby Chick, which would’ve been funny. But I wanted Baby Chick to be rewarded (for all her nurturing and protection of the egg) with a friend who likes to listen. It’s also a sort of celebration of the yin/yang relationship, how seemingly opposites are actually complementary (in this case extrovert/introvert).

 

CHICK CHAT int2 Sister
Interior spread from Chick Chat written and illustrated by Janie Bynum, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

GRWR: Do you see Chick Chat as primarily a friendship story or did you feel there were other themes you wanted the book to explore?

JB: The friendship theme is wrapped around a story about self-sufficiency; and, as you noted earlier, self-contentedness. So, it really has two main themes.

GRWR: What medium do you work in when creating your artwork?

JB: I used a combination of digital media and traditional watercolor, which is the way I generally work. For Chick Chat art, I worked on my iPad (in an app called Procreate) and in Photoshop on my Mac computer with large monitor. I used traditional watercolor for some areas, and added real paper and paint textures (with Photoshop layers) to give more depth to some of the digital color.

GRWR: As someone who began telling stories first visually, do you usually create your dummy with thumbnails and then add the prose later?

Studio paint 2
Painting space in Janie Bynum’s studio ©2021.

JB: I usually have a character in mind first that I must draw so that I can get to know them. A seed of a story germinates as I’m drawing. As I start writing the story, I sometimes create a simplified mind map to look at arc, action, and direction possibilities. Then I write some more. And I revise. And then I revise the text some more.

When I feel like I have a fairly finished manuscript, I start thumbnails. Inevitably, the text changes as I work on thumbnails and rough sketches. So, as I create the rough dummy, I work back and forth between words and pictures until I feel confident that the story (both visual and written) is ready to submit to my agent.

GRWR: I enjoyed a lot of the little unexpected details you included in the illustrations like Baby Chick’s grasshopper friend (or cricket), and the punny titles of the books Sister is reading. Did you do this in all the books you illustrate even if you didn’t write them?

JB: Thank you. Since I write/illustrate for a fairly young audience, I try to add details that older readers (especially adults) will enjoy. While I don’t include a small observer character (who sometimes participates) in all of the books I illustrate and/or write, I have done so in a few. In Otis, which I wrote, a red bird appears in many of the pictures; and, in Porcupining, written by Lisa Wheeler, a grasshopper observes and sometimes participates.

GRWR: What do you do to spark your creativity? Is your process to work daily, inspired or not?

JB: In addition to creating children’s books, I work as a creative director and graphic designer (outside of children’s publishing), so creative problem-solving is part of my day every day. But, one of the things I do as a creativity spark—at least several times per week—is just draw for no reason at all, with nothing in mind until pencil meets paper (or stylus meets iPad). Many times character ideas come from these sessions.

GRWR: How long did it take to complete Chick Chat from the idea stage to the final book we can order from bookstores today?

JB: Roughly two years: story and book dummy, spring 2019; art delivered January 2020; published book January 2021.

 

CHICK CHAT int3 NoAnswer
Interior art from Chick Chat written and illustrated by Janie Bynum, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

GRWR: Who are some of your current kidlit illustrator faves and why?

JB: I have soooo many favorites, and for so many different reasons.

I love the color and stylized work of Felicita Sala. I adore the haunting stylized art of illustrators like Isabelle Arsenault and the cheery whimsy of Louise Gay. Carter Goodrich’s dogs are divinely humorous, and he possesses quite a deft hand with paint. With Sophie Blackall’s art, I’m inspired by her use of color, texture, and pattern. Her work is retro and contemporary, both at the same time.

Oliver Jeffers’ composition on the page (including an amazing sense of negative space) and his sensitive use of color and line inspires me. Matthew Cordell’s spontaneous linework and non-complicated watercolor embodies a spontaneous loose feel that I aspire to in my own work.

I like Ryan T. Higgins’s ink line coupled with his graphic use of shape and color (and, of course, his humor); the gorgeously strange art of Mateo Dineen; and the Matisse’esque art of Olivier Tallec.

GRWR: What’s in the works for your next book?

JB: A very creative beetle is the hero of my current work-in-progress. Also, I’m considering creating something for Gary the Worm to star in. (To find out who Gary is, visit my Instagram @janiebynum.)

GRWR: Is there anything else you’d like to add that perhaps I haven’t addressed?

JB: I’d like to let educators (including parents and grands) know that they can find Chick Chat activities at my website (janiebynum.com) and at northsouth.com/resources. And last, but not least, thank you for including me in your blog!

GRWR: It’s been such a pleasure being the first stop on your blog tour and getting to know you and Chick Chat better. Thanks for your terrific answers!

 

AuthorIllustrator JanieBynumBIO:

Janie Bynum grew up in Texas and graduated with a BFA in graphic design with an emphasis on illustration. As an author/illustrator, she has created many lovable characters and stories for younger children. Her work has been recognized as a Junior Library Guild Selection. She loves to travel and experience other cultures, drawing inspiration from the people, landscape, and cuisine. Known to her friends as a bit of a nomad, Janie lives in a nearly-100-year-old storybook house in southwest Michigan—for now.

Website: janiebynum.com

Instagram: @janiebynum


CHICK CHAT BLOG TOUR PARTICIPANTS AND DATES

·       Dulemba.com – January 28

·       Dreamreaderkids – February 2 Instagram/Blog review +giveaway

·       Storymamas – March 10 review + giveaway

·       Kidlit411 – March 26 illustrator spotlight

 

CLICK HERE TO READ ANOTHER AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR INTERVIEW

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Creating a Successful Virtual Picture Book Launch by Molly Ruttan

-AN INTERVIEW WITH MOLLY RUTTAN-

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR OF THE STRAY,

ON LAUNCHING A PICTURE BOOK DURING A PANDEMIC

 

06 Molly holding THE STRAY
Molly Ruttan and her book, THE STRAY (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Randomhouse).

 

The traditional children’s book launch is typically at a bookstore, someone’s home, or occasionally at a venue related to the subject matter. Prior to the pandemic I attended several book birthday parties and launches every month, but since being stuck at home, I’ve begun watching them on Facebook and Instagram or via Zoom. I was so impressed with Molly Ruttan’s Instagram launch in May that I asked her if we could discuss the ins and outs of creating a virtual book launch.  As a special bonus, Molly’s kindly offered to share her Instagram Live launch today so please scroll down to watch. Please note that due to copyright protections Molly’s book reading of The Stray has been edited out. You can also read my review of the picture book here.

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GoodReadsWithRonna: What made you choose to do your virtual launch on Instagram rather than on another platform like Facebook?

Molly Ruttan: First I want to say thank you, Ronna, for having me on your excellent blog. It is truly an honor to be featured here.

As I watched the world closing down because of the pandemic, I realized I needed to start planning a virtual book launch for my debut author/illustrator book THE STRAY, (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Randomhouse). The idea was extremely intimidating—I struggle with keeping up with social media, and I had no experience with live social media events, at all. On top of that I am terrified of public speaking and don’t feel terribly photogenic! But a good friend from my book critique group, April Zufelt, met with me several times (virtually) and provided such an ongoing and positive pep talk that she convinced me into thinking I might be able to pull it off! We chose Instagram Live because she was most familiar with it and so could teach me how it would work

GRWR: Did you make an outline for the presentation? Tell us about how you came up with the program.

01 Off camera bulletin boards
This was the view from where I sat at my desk, during the filming. Even with all this help I still left things out!!

MR: I tend to get like a deer in headlights when I’m put in front of a camera—winging it would not be a good idea—so I knew I would need an outline of the itinerary posted where I could see it, to help me keep on track. I put it on a bulletin board, and then while I rehearsed I kept adding notes and reminders to the point where I needed a second bulletin board! Then with my nerves rattling I decided to keep the whole display up during the live show. I didn’t end up using it that much, but it was nice to know it was there.

Outlines and lists were also crucial for my preparation. I made lists every step of the way. I had a vision that I wanted the launch to be like a birthday party, and I wanted it to be interesting for kids. I had previously made a hat of my main character Grub, for Halloween, so I knew right away I would wear it, and it also gave me the idea for the craft.

02 IG post
I created a week-long Instagram giveaway to generate interest and to have a fun way of ending my party by announcing all the winners. This IG post was the last day before the event. I gave away sticker sheets, tote bags, pins, art prints and books.

I proceeded by brainstorming other things I might do at a birthday party/live presentation with kids present. Once I got a good idea of what I wanted to include, I wrote out a schedule for myself to keep track of what I needed to make time for each day. In the months before, I had started making swag, but I had stopped when things started to shut down. With April’s encouragement I decided to proceed with ordering it and using it for a week-long Instagram giveaway to generate interest.

I also created several short animations as invitations and reminders. (I had previously animated my own book trailer). It was additionally tricky because at the time, we were in lockdown. But fortunately a few days before the event the lockdown lifted, so my (grown) daughter Sydney offered to come over and help me. That was a godsend. (We were still very careful not to get too close to each other, though!) Sydney helped me adjust the flow of the presentation and organize the props so that everything would be at hand at the right time. She arranged the background and framed the scene. I rehearsed virtually in front of her and April, and we refined. My book launch day happened to fall on my Dad’s birthday, so the day before the event I baked cupcakes and decorated one of them to match the book, so I could light a candle and blow it out, to celebrate both of them.

 

03 Stills from Molly Book Launch.
Two frames from the recording where I am doing a draw-along demo of my main character, Grub, and showing how to make a Grub hat.

 

GRWR: Which type of online launch do you think best highlights an author or author/illustrator’s picture book: Q+A, talking head, combination of both, or something else?

MR: I think this is something that really depends on the type of book you’ve written, and who your audience is. It also depends if you are the writer, the illustrator, or both. I had trouble finding any launches to view in preparation— this was still pretty early on. I viewed one that was done in a Q+A format, and although I found that format interesting, it didn’t have quite the energy I wanted. Since my launch I’ve seen some interesting power-point type presentations, and/or pre-recorded video demos within a Q+A, which I thought worked well. I think it also depends on the tech you have available. I work on a desktop MacPro that doesn’t have a camera on the monitor, so doing a Zoom-type presentation where I could share my screen wasn’t an option. In the end I think any format can work as long as you keep your audience in mind and speak to them. I got through it by imagining that I was talking to kids.

My sister Linda Moldawsky created three beautiful activity sheets to go along with the book. They are available and free to download from my website, www.mollyruttan.com, along with directions for the craft and a coloring sheet.

GRWR: How much time should someone expect to prep for their launch?

MR: Again, I imagine it depends on the type of book you’ve written, and what you plan to do. I gave myself a month, which wasn’t a lot of time, especially since in addition to preparing for the launch activities, I was also ordering the swag & creating the animated announcements. Plus I was busy with work. I would advise giving yourself more than a month! Write out what you want to do way ahead of time and create a schedule. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!

GRWR: How long a program should it be?

MR: Regarding the length of the event, as I mentioned before, I rehearsed and then revised places that went too long or could be expanded. My launch took about 45 minutes because that was how long it took to get through everything. It was longer at first because the craft took forever! I realized I needed to make some of the craft pieces before-hand and have them ready, like in a cooking show, and that worked much better. I’ve seen some launches that are simply an introduction and then a reading; their launches are much shorter than mine was. I think short & sweet is great; longer is great too if you have a presentation that is engaging. (The launch video I’ve posted on You Tube is much shorter because I took out the book reading.) 

GRWR: Do you recommend including a giveaway to viewers during the launch?

MR: I would recommend it! I believe people truly enjoy winning things, and I get a lot of joy giving presents to people. Announcing the winners was a fun way to end the “party” and having a winner to announce the next day (from the giveaway during the event) was a great way to follow up on social media. I also ended the “party” by showing the beautiful activity sheets that my sister had made. It felt a little like handing out party favors– something for everyone!

GRWR: What was the hardest thing you encountered when creating your presentation? For example, looking at camera, not having a live audience to gauge interest, keeping on schedule, figuring out the tech, etc.?

MR: Aside from getting over my stage fright, and trying to remember everything without squinting at my notes that were pinned up everywhere, the hardest thing for me was the social media tech. I had decided early on that I wanted to “film” the event at my table in my studio, so that I could have all my art supplies and craft materials in view. I thought it would be as simple as attaching my phone to an old lamp stand, but it wasn’t. Among other things, like lighting and sound, Sydney figured out how to connect her phone feed to her laptop so I could see what I was doing—something that would have caused me to have a meltdown! She also helped me with Instagram afterwards. Good tech people are invaluable!

GRWR: In terms of feedback from viewers, was there a particular part of your talk that was most popular?

For the giveaway during the event I requested people send in the drawings they did during my draw-along Demo. This is the IG post I created to announce the winner.

MR: Because of the way that I was filming, I was unable to see comments as they came in during the event. When I watched the recording afterwards I was truly awed and touched by the enthusiasm of my audience. It’s hard to pinpoint if any one thing stood out—there was a lot of response all the way through it. One of the things I had done was a draw-along demo, with a giveaway attached to it. I was delighted to see so many pictures flooding in after the event! All in all it was well attended, topping out at about 70 people logging on, with between 30-40 at any one time.

GRWR: Was there a call to action, so to speak, when you do an IG live event so that people watching will buy the book and get it signed like they do at an in person event? How do you and other people launching handle that aspect?

Book Plate photo
This Book Belongs To: Book Plate for The Stray by Molly Ruttan.

MR: In terms of making the book available to buy, I put a message in my Instagram bio, with the link to my page on the Penguiun/Random House site, which has many different choices of venues. At the end of the party I instructed people to the link. Unfortunately there was no way of signing the books, using that method. I did make book plates, some of which I had signed and sent to a local bookstore, but I didn’t mention that; I had only sent a handful. Of course I signed the books that were in my giveaway, but I have been thinking about how to honor the people who bought my book at the launch … maybe I will do another IG “call to action”, so I can send out the rest of my name plates! I am honestly not sure what other people do. Launching a book during a pandemic is definitely a work in progress!

GRWR: What was the one most useful pieces of advice you were given about doing a virtual book launch during the pandemic?

MR: I was pretty stressed out getting all of this together—I almost lost sight of the fun and joy in it. April kept telling me not to worry so much about it, and to enjoy the time and the process. It was really good advice, and it made a huge difference. It kept me in touch with how much I live in eternal gratitude for having a book that I have created, in my hands. I have tried to keep her advice in mind ever since, for my life!

In the end, I really don’t know how my launch compares or if it was even successful!  But I did it. I pushed through fear and stress, I had a great time, and I learned to laugh at myself, to boot. Thank you so much for your time and interest in my book birthday party, Ronna!

And thanks Molly for your honest and helpful insights into putting a virtual launch together. This info is going to come in handy for a lot of authors and illustrators over the next few months.

 

FIND MOLLY RUTTAN ONLINE:

Check out her website! www.mollyruttan.com

Facebook: Molly Ruttan

Instagram: mollyillo

Twitter: @molly_ruttan

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An Interview with Author Illustrator Victoria Ying

AN INTERVIEW WITH

AUTHOR ILLUSTRATOR

VICTORIA YING

BY CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT

 

DPotA Cv_C1 C4 1

 

INTRO:
Last month, my ten-year-old daughter and I attended an amazing event at the LA Zoo, hosted by DC Entertainment. A group of middle-grade graphic writers and illustrators wowed the crowd with their “superpowers” sharing the stories-behind-the-stories and demonstrating their lightning-fast art skills. VICTORIA YING caught our attention with her interpretation of Wonder Woman as a tween so I wanted to know more about the wonderful woman behind Wonder Woman.

 

DCComics Zoo Event VY
Victoria Ying sharing her art at the DC Comics LA Zoo Event. Photo ©Christine Van Zandt 2020



INTERVIEW:

Interior illustrations by Victoria Ying from Diana: Princess of the Amazons
Interior art from Diana: Princess of the Amazons written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale with illustrations by Victoria Ying, DC Comics ©2020.

CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Your new middle-grade graphic novel, Diana: Princess of the Amazons (DC Comics; $9.99, Ages 8-12) is about Wonder Woman as an eleven-year-old girl. As the only kid on Themyscira, the island of the Amazons, understandably, Diana’s a bit lonely. How did you go about envisioning the famous Princess Diana as a tween?

VICTORIA YING: We first looked at the original iconic design for Wonder Woman and then tried to imagine what she would look like as a kid! We wanted to have those shadows of the person she would become without being too obvious about it. She has her bracelets, a simple rope headband, and her pleated skirt. Things that would allude to her future, without showing our whole hand.

CVZ: You’ve illustrated pictures books before and are the author-illustrator of a wordless picture book, Meow! How was illustrating a graphic novel different?

VY: I was so lucky to be able to have Shannon and Dean Hale as collaborators for this project. It is my debut graphic novel project and they are industry veterans who really understand how to write for a visual medium. They left a lot of the decisions up to me, but would keep the important descriptions in the text.

CVZ: Tell us about your process.

VY: For comics, I first lay out my rough sketches with rough text in ComicDraw for the iPad. Then I submit this for approval. Once the sketches are approved, I take them and do a tracing paper style draw over of the rough sketches for a clean finished drawing in Procreate. Lark Pien was our colorist and she takes the work to its finish.

CVZ: Your middle-grade graphic novel, City of Secrets, is coming out in July (Viking, 2020). How does it feel to be both the writer and artist?

VY: I originally wrote City of Secrets as a NaNoWriMo project. I was so afraid to have to draw the city! When my friends commented that I had great story structure and good characters, but terrible description, I realized it was because I relied too much on my illustrator brain and decided to try it as a graphic novel instead. It turned out that I LOVED drawing the puzzle-box city!

CVZ: You’ve worked on films, picture books, middle grade novels—what’s next?

VY: City of Secrets has a sequel coming out in July of 2021, and I’ve just announced a new book with First Second Books called Hungry Ghost, a YA contemporary about an Asian-American girl struggling with an eating disorder. I have a wide range of interests and all kinds of stories I want to tell. I hope that my career will let me tell as many of them as I can handle!

CVZ: Thank you for taking time to talk with us. We look forward reading all your new stories!

 

BIO:
Victoria Ying is an author and artist living in Los Angeles. She started her career in the arts by falling in love with comic books; this eventually turned into a career working in animation and graphic novels. She loves Japanese curry, putting things in her online-shopping cart then taking them out again, and hanging out with her dopey dog. Her film credits include Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Paperman, Big Hero 6, and Moana. She illustrated the DC graphic novel, Diana: Princess of the Amazons. Watch for her authored graphic novel, City of Secrets, out July 2020.

Author Illustrator VictoriaYing
Author/illustrator Victoria Ying.

CityofSecrets CoverReveal FBInstaLINKS:
Twitter: @victoriaying
Instagram: @victoriaying
Website: http://www.victoriaying.com

Check out a preview here.

INTERVIEW BY CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT:
(www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting,
Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 Check out a DC graphic novel review here.

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I Am a Thief Book Review With a Guest Post by Illustrator Molly Ruttan

I AM A THIEF!
Written by Abigail Rayner
Illustrated by Molly Ruttan
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

I Am a Thief book cover

 

Happy Book Birthday 🎂 🎈to I Am a Thief!, written by Abigail Rayner with art by Molly Ruttan, marking her illustrator debut.

I enjoyed hearing about this picture book’s artistic evolution when Molly was working on the illustrations (NOTE: We’re in the same picture book study group), but I hadn’t read the story or seen any sample spreads. What a thrill it’s been to finally read I Am a Thief! It’s a humorous, thoughtful, much needed tale about taking things, okay, STEALING things then facing the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong. Please read my review then get the inside scoop on illustrating the book by the artist herself, Molly Ruttan.

BOOK REVIEW:

Starred Review – Kirkus

The main character in I Am a Thief, Eliza Jane Murphy, is a star student having racked up all kinds of achievements and accolades at school. But when temptation in the form of  a “brilliant green” stone on display in her classroom shouts her name, she heeds the call and swipes said item. Regret and guilt set in immediately and Raynor does a great job in her prose by conveying how these feelings overwhelm Eliza. Molly’s images wonderfully depict how riddled with remorse poor Eliza is. It’s not easy to capture the raw emotion of guilt but Molly succeeds especially in the scene where the menacing gemstone weighs heavy on Eliza’s conscience as she tries to swing with her friends. The challenge now is that while it was easy to nick the stone without anyone seeing her, Eliza worries that she’ll get caught trying to put it back.

 

int spread1 IAmaThief
Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The awful feelings follow her home. She proceeds to ask everyone if they’ve ever stolen anything. Her dad exclaims, “Never!” though his facial expression says otherwise as it appears he’s about to take a slice of cake from the fridge. Eliza’s mom says she took a magnet once, and even Grandpa George, Nana Iris and her dog James, the sausage thief, admit they’re not completely innocent.

Molly’s hilarious WANTED posters depicting all the guilty family members begin to get crowded with each page turn as Eliza realizes that almost everyone at one time or another has taken something whether it’s as small as a sugar packet or as big in Eliza’s mind as her theft of the stone.

 

int spread2 IAmaThief
Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The part that will especially please readers is when Eliza returns the stone to her teacher and, rather than chastising her student, tells her she’s brave. Owning up to her misdeed and its possible consequences takes guts. Here Eliza realizes that this one bad thing doesn’t define who she is nor should it. Her unburdening heals her and her “heart started singing again.”

I Am a Thief provides parents, caregivers and teachers an opportunity to explore with children the ramifications of taking things when they don’t belong to you, who ends up hurting the most when something is stolen, and how to right the wrongs we may do. I’m glad this book is out in the universe because it’s going to help a lot of families comfortably and honestly approach this important topic in a really relatable way. In fact, this clever and creative pairing of prose and pictures is likely to get you thinking about the behavior you’re modeling for kids the next time you go to grab a few packets of sugar at the coffee shop.

GUEST POST:

Hi Ronna,
It’s so exciting to be a part of your fantastic blog! Thank you so much for having me!
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I Am a Thief! by Abigail Rayner is my debut as an illustrator as you mentioned above. It came to me from NorthSouth Books via my wonderful agent, Rachel Orr. The second I read it I knew I wanted to jump in.
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One thing that immediately hooked me into the story was actually not the obvious. I have no real memory of ever stealing anything when I was a kidI was much too shy and intimidated by the world to ever step out of line! (Although I probably did steal a crayon or two from a restaurant!) But more so, I’m an identical twin, and the question of identity has always been fascinating to me. For Eliza to impulsively take a sparkling stone to keep for herself, and then to allow that stone, and that act, to redefine how she sees herself, is to me an incredibly interesting bit of human nature. I was hooked, and I decided to illustrate her identity crisis alongside her moral crisis.
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I decided to have the green gemstone transform along with Eliza’s moral transformation. I started by showing it as a separate character (“The stone made me do it”) to a beautiful object (“I knew what I had to do”) to finally a lens in which Eliza could see a faceted world (“Everyone is a lot of things!”) I love crystals, and have held and admired many. It wasn’t too far of a leap for me to imagine that a crystal could encompass a journey.
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Int art IAmaThief
Interior artwork from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.
Regarding her identity crisis, I decided to use the imagery of the cat burglar, because this image is an archetype and is immediately recognizable. Eliza’s perception of what a thief looks like would most likely be thisthe Halloween costume version! Besides, it was really fun to draw!
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As I was figuring all this out, I was filling my sketchbooks with notes and drawings. The story is full of characters, some written and some implied, and it was an amazing thing to watch Eliza and her whole extended family, her teacher and her classmates appear on the paper and take on a life of their own.
Abigail Rayner is a brilliant author and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Hopefully I’ll have another chance to be her partner in crime!
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BIO:
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Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books is available September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram @mollyillo
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A HUGE thanks to Molly for stopping by to share her unique I Am a Thief! artistic journey. It’s fascinating to get an inside perspective and I know it will add to everyone’s appreciation of this terrific new picture book.
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  • Review by Ronna Mandel
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Kids Book Art: Celebrating Our New Look for Turning 10 by Beth Spiegel

GOOD READS WITH RONNA
GETS A 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY MAKEOVER!
MEET AUTHOR + ILLUSTRATOR BETH SPIEGEL
WHO DESIGNED OUR NEW HEADER

 

Good Reads With Ronna blog header artwork by Beth Spiegel
Good Reads With Ronna Blog 10th Anniversary Header by Beth Spiegel ©2019.

 

I had the pleasure and good fortune to meet Beth Spiegel in 2018 at a children’s picture book study group. She told me she was participating in an upcoming artists’ open house close to where I lived. Curious about what she had produced over the years and keen on supporting a local woman artist, I stopped by to see her work. I was instantly struck by an illustration of a woman seated at a table in a bird’s nest hat. It could have been me if she’d had curly hair! Right there and then I told Beth that I had been eager for an illustrator to redesign the Good Reads With Ronna header for its 10 year anniversary and wondered if she’d be interested in creating something with a similar aesthetic.

I asked Beth if she could personalize the header with things I love including books, cats, travel and tea so they’d feature prominently in the new artwork. She agreed so we met and discussed the particulars of the image and the final version of Beth’s beautiful watercolor now graces the website, much to my delight. I’m thrilled to share the following interview highlighting Beth’s artistic journey and I want to give a great big shout out of thanks for her spot on interpretation of a kidlit book reviewer on the job.

AN INTERVIEW WITH BETH SPIEGEL:

GOOD READS WITH RONNA: Did you always plan to be an illustrator?

BETH SPIEGEL: Funny you should ask because I still have a book I made as an art project in the second grade and in the “back matter” I wrote …

“When I grow up, I want to have lots of pets and make lots of books.”

GRWR: What artists have influenced you or had an impact on your approach to illustrating?

BETH: There are so many. Looking at my bookshelf I see books illustrated by William Steig, Virginia Lee Burton, Roger Duvoisin, Mary Blair and Hillary Knight alongside the contemporary illustrators, Matthew Cordell, Melissa Sweet, Sydney Smith, Erin Stead, Benji Davis, and Hadley Hooper. There’s great illustration happening now. It’s inspiring but also intimidating.

GRWR: Please tell us about the books you’ve illustrated.

Rosa's Room book cover art by Beth SpiegelBETH: My first book was Rosa’s Room written by Barbara Bottner and published by Peachtree Publishing Company. The opportunity came about because Bottner saw an exhibition of my watercolors of abandoned buildings at the Pasadena Museum of History. She says they inspired her to write a story.

“Bottner offers a heartwarming story of a young girl moving to a new house and a too-empty room … Spiegel’s softly colored watercolors are the perfect complement to the text, showing the transformation of both Rosa and her room … A welcome addition sure to calm the worries of youngsters facing a similar situation.” Kirkus Reviews

First Grade Stinks! book cover illustr by Beth SpiegelNext was First Grade Stinks! written by Mary Ann Rodman, and also published by Peachtree. The story of a frustrated first grader pulled me in because I sympathized with the main character Haley from the start.

The third book I illustrated was written by Eve Bunting Will It Be a Baby Brother?, published by Boyds Mill Press. This came about because the art director saw my work on the “Picture Book Artists” website.

Will It Be a Baby Brother? book cover art by Beth SpiegelI got to meet author Eve Bunting a year after the book launched. I was a host illustrator for the Mazza Museum’s Studio Tour. Each year they travel to a different state and visit picture book illustrators that live there. I’ll never forget watching their giant tour bus pulling up in front of my studio house on my tiny street. Then 40 picture book enthusiasts getting off and amongst them was a special guest … Eve Bunting. I felt honored to be part of the Mazza tour and very happy to spend time with Eve. She’s very charming.

GRWR: What is in the pipeline?

BETH: To be honest I don’t know. Since the last book I illustrated, I’ve also started writing. In fact, I snuck a few of my titles into the painting I did for your banner. Look for Almost Flying, Excuse Me Mr. B., as well as The Yellow Umbrella, all of which I am writing and illustrating. It feels good to be doing both and am excited to start submitting them to agents and editors.

GRWR: What do you do when you’re not working on children’s books?

BETH: I take long walks. I recently moved near downtown L.A. so there’s new territory to explore. I love to get out to sketch and people watch. Travel is a passion.

GRWR: You’ve also worked on films over the years. How has that informed your children’s book art and writing?

BETH: I’ve been lucky to have received offers to edit documentaries for film and television. The majority were about subjects I care about … animals, artists and the environment. The most recent was “Pandas 3D” for Imax.

I liked editing films for Imax. The audience is young and one is challenged to find a way to express complicated ideas in a clear way fun way. While editing I also learned about pacing, and how to recognize those “story telling” moments. I think about all this when I work on illustrations.

Fortunately I’ve never stopped working on picture books. I joined a talented writing group a few years ago, that’s helping me develop my story ideas. I’ve also been working in my studio further developing/finding my “voice” as an illustrator.

Editing has been a great experience but now I’m excited to focus solely on making books. I love the picture book format. At best they are both simple and profound. To get that right, even a little, is a dream for me.

GRWR: What medium/s do you create with and does your process involve many steps and and any digital work?

Author and illustrator Beth Spiegel Photo credit Susumu Tokunow ©2019.
Author and illustrator Beth Spiegel in her studio. Photo credit: Susumu Tokunow ©2019.

BETH: I like to work in many mediums. Often I use pen and ink with watercolor, but recently started to paint digitally, which I like more than I thought I would. The important thing is that the medium suits the story.

I start every day journaling using pen and ink. Sometimes I write, sometimes I draw. Those messy marks help me start an illustration or a story and often get me going when I’m stuck. The painting of the lady reading, you liked for your banner, started as a morning doodle. As you see the bird’s nest was originally two mice nibbling some decorative fruit. Not sure why I changed it.

illustration of lady in hat with mice on top by Beth Spiegel
The Hat Fit Everyone Quite Well illustration by Beth Spiegel ©2019.

Here is what it looked like:

GRWR: What are some of your all-time favorite children’s books? 

BETH: Oh there are so many, but a few are: Amos and Boris, Olivia Saves the Circus, Iridescence of Birds, Lost and Found, Little Gorilla and Hello Lighthouse.

Read more about Beth at her website www.bethspiegel.com and follow her on Instagram at BethSpiegelIllustration.

My heartfelt thanks again to Beth for sharing her candid and interesting replies today. I’m looking forward to seeing what new books she will be writing and illustrating so watch this space!

  • Interview by Ronna Mandel
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Butterflies in Room 6 by Caroline Arnold – A Review and Interview

BUTTERFLIES IN ROOM 6: SEE HOW THEY GROW
Written and photographed by Caroline Arnold
(Charlesbridge; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

cover photo by Caroline Arnold from Butteries in Room 6

 

REVIEW:

Caroline Arnold’s new nonfiction picture book, Butterflies in Room 6, is both an educational and enjoyable read. Its release last week could not have been more timely, especially for those of us living in SoCal who have been privy to a rare treat of nature.

“Those black-and-orange insects that seem to be everywhere you look in Southern California aren’t monarchs and they aren’t moths. They are called painted ladies, and these butterflies are migrating by the millions across the state,” says Deborah Netburn in a March 12 Los Angeles Times article.

If Butterflies in Room 6 doesn’t make you want to head back to Kindergarten, I don’t know what will. Arnold takes us into Mrs. Best’s classroom to witness first hand the amazing life cycle of a painted lady butterfly. Colorful and crisp photographs fill the the book and are most impressive when they accompany all four stages of this butterfly’s brief but beautiful life. The first stage is an egg. The second stage is a larva also know as a caterpillar. Following this is the pupa and third stage when the metamorphosis occurs that transforms the pupa into a butterfly. The forth or last stage is when the butterfly emerges as an adult and the cycle will begin again.

 

int photo pg 15 by Caroline Arnold from Butterflies in Room 6
“Inside the chrysalis the pupa is transforming into a butterfly.” Interior photo from Butterflies in Room 6 written and photographed by Caroline Arnold, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2019.

 

A host of illuminating facts are shared in easy-to-understand language complemented by Arnold’s fab photos. Helpful notations on each picture explains the process depicted. Seeing the faces of the delighted children engaged in Mrs. Best’s butterfly project is certain to excite young readers who may also be planning to participate in this “common springtime curriculum activity.” If there is no project on the horizon, this book (coupled with a video recommended in the back matter) is definitely the next best thing.

 

interior photo pg 22 by Caroline Arnold from Butterflies in Room 6
“One by one the butterflies come out of their chrysalises.” Interior photo from Butterflies in Room 6 written and photographed by Caroline Arnold, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2019.

 

Obviously a lot goes into raising butterflies and Arnold provides step by step details so anyone thinking about this will know exactly what’s involved. Pictures illustrate the process from preparing the eggs sent via mail, to leaving food for the soon-to-be caterpillars and then shifting their environment to one that is ready for the pupa stage before moving the chrysalis (thin shell) covered pupa into a special “flight cage” that resembles a clear pop-up laundry basket. Ultimately butterflies emerge. This particular part of Butterflies in Room 6 will thrill every reader who has vicariously followed along with the class’s journey. When Mrs. Best allows each child to hold a butterfly before they fly away, whether to a nearby flower or to find a mate, the reader will feel a sense of joy at having been privy to this unique experience. I know I was!

 

interior photo pg 28 by Caroline Arnold from Butterflies in Room 6
“It is time to let them go.” Interior photo from Butterflies in Room 6 written and photographed by Caroline Arnold, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2019.

 

The book contains enlightening back matter including “Butterfly Questions,” “Butterfly Vocabulary,” “Butterflies Online,” “Further Reading” and “Acknowledgements.” Arnold must have read my mind when she answered my question about the red stains on the side of the flight cage. Turns out they are due to the red liquid called meconium, “left over from metamorphosis.”

 

Interior photo pg 31 by Caroline Arnold from Butterflies in Room 6
“Each child gets a turn to hold a butterfly.” Interior photo from Butterflies in Room 6 written and photographed by Caroline Arnold, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2019.

 

While the book should certainly find a welcome place on the shelves of schools and libraries, I also hope it will find its way into homes across the country so families can share in the wonder and delight of butterflies that Arnold’s words and photos perfectly convey.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

INTERVIEW WITH CAROLINE ARNOLD

GoodReadsWithRonna: First there was Hatching Chicks in Room 6 and now there’s Butterflies in Room 6. What was the history of how this second book came to be?

Caroline Arnold: Several years ago, when I was doing an author visit at Haynes school in Los Angeles, I met Jennifer Best, a kindergarten teacher. Each spring, her students learn about life cycles. Two years ago I spent time in her classroom while they were hatching chicken eggs in an incubator. That resulted in my book Hatching Chicks in Room 6. At the same time, the class was also raising Painted Lady butterflies from caterpillars–watching the caterpillars grow in a jar, turn into chrysalises, and, after a week or so, emerge as beautiful butterflies. It seemed like the perfect sequel to Hatching Chicks in Room 6.

GRWR: Your photos are wonderful. How difficult is it photographing elementary school children whose awe at the butterfly project you capture so well? And the subject themselves – the images of the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis are an eye-opener! How hard was this?

CA: As with the book about chicks, I realized that the best way to tell this story was with photographs. I embedded myself in Jennifer Best’s classroom, which enabled me to follow the process along with the children and get the photos I needed. A challenge was that neither the children nor butterflies stayed still for long! My secret was to take LOTS of pictures. The story takes place in real time, so I had to get the photos I needed as they happened. There was no going backwards. For the close-up photos I raised butterflies at home. Even so, catching a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis isn’t easy. The whole process only lasts about a minute, so I had to watch constantly to catch it in time. And no matter how many times I watched a butterfly come out, it was always miraculous.

GRWR: Where do you go to enjoy nature in L.A.?

CA: I am a bird watcher and like to go for walks on the beach and watch sandpipers and other shorebirds skitter at the edge of the waves or pelicans flying in formation. I also enjoy walks on the path along Ballona Lagoon in the Marina, another great place for birdwatching. But, one of the best places to enjoy nature is my own backyard and my neighborhood near Rancho Park. Ever since writing Butterflies in Room 6 I have been much more aware of the variety of butterflies that one can see in Los Angeles—monarchs, swallowtails, painted ladies, white and yellow sulphurs, and many more. Last year I bought a milkweed plant for my garden and was delighted to discover several weeks later monarch caterpillars happily eating the leaves. A surprising amount of nature is around us all the time—we just have to look!

 

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The Wonderling – An Interview With Author Mira Bartok

THE WONDERLING
Written and illustrated by Mira Bartók
(Candlewick Press; $21.99, Ages 10-14)

Read Our Author Q & A Today
&
Attend a Book Signing on Friday, 11/10 in West Hollywood
Scroll down to find out more! 

 

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok cover image


SUMMARY:


The Wonderling, written and illustrated by Mira Bartók and soon to be a major motion picture, garnered a great amount of attention, and deservedly so, even before the book deal was done. Reminiscent of classic literary odysseys and the best of contemporary fantasy, with a sprinkling of steampunk, The Wonderling opens in a thrillingly dreadful orphanage for young groundlings – part creature, part human. In this Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Children, all pleasures, especially music, are forbidden. But the hero of the story, a young one-eared fox-like groundling yearns for friendship and love. All he has is a half memory of a special song that will lead him to his destiny. After staging a daring escape with the help of a small mechanical bird, Trinket, the Wonderling sets off on a glorious adventure through forests and wild country, to the shiny city of Lumentown, ruled over by the High Hats, where he will discover the mysterious Songcatcher and unlock the secrets of his past.

Written in stunning prose and decorated with Mira’s exquisite illustrations, The Wonderling is a hugely enjoyable and original fantasy filled with vivid and eccentric characters and a plot that twists and turns. You will find echoes of King Arthur, of Dickens, of Kenneth Grahame; you will find brave mice in armor, and giant crows that terrorize the skies; you will find innocence, humor, hope, and ultimately triumph.

GOOD READS WITH RONNA INTERVIEWS MIRA BARTÓK:

GRWR: Can you please speak to the world building you so brilliantly created for The Wonderling – did you have certain places and buildings in mind when you wrote the novel and drew the map?

BARTÓK: The settings I created for the book came from various places—books, images online, dreams, my imagination, and travel. I probably gleaned the best ideas from looking at Gustav Doré’s images of 19th century London and Henry Mayhew’s 19th century descriptions of London’s poor. Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of London was also essential, as was actually walking about in that wonderful city. I also spent many hours looking at maps from classic children’s books and in library archives. The feeling of Gloomintown, the City Below the City, came from a combination of re-reading Dickens’s Hard Times, looking at old engravings of London’s sewer system, and studying Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno. A crazy mix!

GRWR: I’m thrilled there’s going to be a second book because I cared about your characters, well the good ones anyway! Who did you have the most fun imagining and why?

BARTÓK: I definitely had the most fun writing about Quintus, my Fagin/Artful Dodger Rat groundling! Mostly because he’s funny, he loves to make up songs (therefore, I get to make up his lyrics), and he’s complicated. He’s a thief, a rogue, and an opportunist, but he’s also a really good guy.

GRWR: In addition to sharing a strong sense of hope and tolerance, your story also touches upon the power of dreams. Do dreams influence your writing?

BARTÓK: I can’t even begin to tell you how much! Sometimes entire scenes are mapped out in my dreams. I have very epic dreams populated with many different kinds of creatures. If only I could sleep all the time and have some machine transmit my dreams directly into books, I’d probably finish my books sooner!

GRWR: The Wonderling gives a voice to the marginalized. I especially liked when Arthur, who was marginalized himself as a groundling, befriended Peevil, the mouse and Trinket, the bird. Was that one for all and all for one teamsmanship one of your intentions?

BARTÓK: Not really. I knew Arthur would make one good friend, but I had no idea he would make so many. I realized half way through writing the book that part of his journey is learning that he has friends who have cared about him all along.

GRWR: Wire, Miss Carbunkle, Sneezeweed, Mardox the manticore and even His Excellency the powerful White Hat, were so vivid and nasty, yet so unique in character. How difficult was it to create the villains?

BARTÓK: Easy as pie! I lOVE creating villains! But Miss Carbunkle was harder to write about since she has more of a backstory. She is and will continue to be the most complex villain, therefore she is the most interesting and difficult to write about. She will transform a little in Book Two, and her character will deepen in surprising ways. The Man with the White Gloves and Wire are really sociopaths and will continue to be nasty little fellows in Book Two. And I will, I am sure, have a ball writing about them!

GRWR: What is it about the Victorian era that interests you?

BARTÓK: I think that era appeals to me because I see such a parallel between the Industrial Revolution and all the problems we are going through today. And in London, things were exceedingly hard for children, women, immigrants, and the poor. When I read about the nightmarish working conditions for children in the coal pits during that time, and how horrible living conditions were for poor immigrants living in Spitalfields, it’s hard not to think of the sweat shops of today, or the global refugee crisis, and the rise in homelessness. The Victorian Era was also a time of great and wondrous technological inventions, just like today. And like today, people often didn’t think of the ramifications of the technology they created, for better or for worse.

GRWR: Quintus, your Fagin of sorts, is an intriguing individual. What can a character like him bring to the story for young readers who may not be familiar with any Dickens?

BARTÓK: I think he can bring a sense that some characters who do bad or illegal things aren’t always bad through and through. Sometimes there’s a good reason for their misconduct. And there’s also room for them to change and grow.

The Wonderling author Mira Bartók Photo Credit: Doug Plavin
Mira Bartók, Photo Credit: Doug Plavin

AUTHOR BIO:
Mira Bartók is a writer and artist whose New York Times best-selling memoir,
The Memory Palace: A Memoir,
won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography.
The Wonderling is her first novel for young readers.
She lives in Western Massachusetts.

MEET MIRA BARTÓK THIS FRIDAY IN WEST HOLLYWOOD!

Mira Bartók discusses and signs The Wonderling at Book Soup on November 10th

Event date:  Friday, November 10, 2017 – 7:00 p.m.
Event address: Book Soup
8818 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Below is an abbreviated schedule of upcoming appearances. Find a full listing of Bartók’s events on her website.
· Monday, November 13 in Portland, OR: Public book reading and signing at 7 p.m. at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, OR 97005
· Saturday, December 2 in New Salem, MA: New Salem Town Library reading and signing event from 2-4 p.m. at Swift River School, 149 West St., New Salem, MA 01355
· Wednesday, December 13 in Northhampton, MA: Local author series event from 7-8:45 p.m. at Forbes Library, 20 West Street, Northampton MA 01060

HERE ARE MORE HELPFUL LINKS:
· Q&A
· Discussion guide 
· Chapter sampler
· Author video

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Meet Author Illustrator Cornelius Van Wright

BUCKY AND STU VS. THE MIKANIKAL MAN
Written and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

Bucky and Stu vs. The Mikanikal Man picture book cover

 

Today Good Reads With Ronna is happy to share an interview with Bucky and Stu vs. The Mikanikal Man author illustrator Cornelius Van Wright.

HERE’S A DESCRIPTION BY PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE OF BUCKY AND STU VS. THE MIKANIKAL MAN

It’s the adventure of a lifetime when best friends—and self-proclaimed superheroes—defeat bad guys of their own invention.

It’s wonk ’em time when Bucky and Stu have to stand up to Phat Tyre, TrashMan and Hose-Nose. No matter that the bad guys are all made out of household items that Bucky and Stu have assembled themselves—these bad guys don’t stand a chance against the boys’ power moves. Still, it’s quite a surprise when their latest villain, the giant Mikanikal Man, gets zapped during a lightning storm and comes to life! The battle—and thrill—of a lifetime ensue. Full of surprises and laughs, this upbeat, action-packed story celebrates imagination, creativity, and friendship in even the most unexpected forms. Cornelius Van Wright’s hilarious illustrations are full of surprises and are perfect for portraying the high-speed antics of two enthusiastic boys.

Q & A:

GRWR: This is a wonderfully imaginative and humorous tale that actually encourages and celebrates make believe and pretend play. How or when did the seed of this story get planted in your mind?

Cornelius Van Wright: Thank you for your kind compliment. The seed to this story came a couple of years ago when I painted a picture of a boy playing chess with a robot. I painted it for fun but people asked me what was the story behind it. So I thought about the picture and slowly this story came to me.

GRWR: As an author/illustrator, does the story come first or do you picture the characters and draw them then see where they take you?

CVW: For me the images always come first. I tried writing words first but it did not work for me. I see the world in images.

GRWR: Bucky and Stu remind me of so many kids at this age – inventive and full of big ideas. Were you primarily interested in exploring the friendship aspect of this book or the adventure the boys seek?

CVW: The relationships came before everything else. Bucky and Stu’s adventure is based on their relationship and that relationship extends to the Mikanikal Man.

GRWR: Is there one particular spread in the book that’s your favorite and why?

CVW: Visually I enjoyed the scene when the boys face certain DOOM after ticking off Mikanikal Man. But story wise, I care for the scene where The Mikanikal Man Spins Bucky and Stu around and around and the boys say, “We can fly!” This was the boys’ inner dream becoming reality.

 

9780399164279_MikanikalMan_TX_p01-32.indd
Interior artwork from Bucky and Stu vs. The Mikanikal Man written and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2015.

 

GRWR: Do tummy rumbles take your mind off whatever you’re doing like they do for Stu and the Mikanikal Man?

CVW: Yes, this part is autobiographical.

GRWR: Are the boys modeled after anyone you know?

CVW: Bucky and Stu are modeled after two friends I met my first year in college. One was very thin and angular (Bucky) and his best buddy was rounder with shaggy blond hair (Stu). I always wondered what they were like as kids. So this was my first sketch of what I thought they would look like.

GRWR: What would you like the takeaway for readers of this story to be?

CVW: I would love for kids to play using their creativity and imagination.

GRWR: Who were some of your favorite authors and illustrators as a child and who do you admire now?

CVW: As a child my mother bought me lots of Little Golden Books and Big Little Books (many of which I still have). Today I admire Jerry Pinkney’s art and Mo Willems’s and Oliver Jeffers’s storytelling.

GRWR: What would you use in your office to build your own Mikanikal Man?

CVW: Lots of Amazon boxes and empty towel rolls!

GRWR: Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

CVW: I am continuing exploring kids going into imaginative lands and using their wits (and anything else on hand) to get them out of trouble! I make the sketches into books (with Scotch Tape bindings) and show them to publishers.

Cornelius Van Wright head shotCheck out the downloadable CCSS-aligned curriculum guide here.

Cornelius Van Wright wrote and illustrated When an Alien Meets a Swamp Monster, and has also illustrated several other picture books, including Princess Grace (by Mary Hoffman) and Jingle Dancer (by Cynthia Leitich Smith). His work has appeared on Reading Rainbow and Storytime and has been exhibited with the Society of Illustrators. He lives in New York City.

  • – Interview by Ronna Mandel
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Q&A With Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole Plus Giveaway

An Interview With Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
About Sam & Dave Dig a Hole
Plus a Giveaway!

 

 

Sam Dave Dig Hole cvr

 

Ready? Grab your copy (it’s the book birthday today for Sam & Dave Dig a Hole), brew a cup of tea (in honor of Jon), sit back and enter the world of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, two of today’s most creative talents in the children’s book industry. After you’ve read the Q&A, scroll down for a link to my review of the book and to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway. Sam & Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 4-8) – in stores now.

 

INTERVIEW

Good Reads With Ronna: I read in the promotional material that you were eating together at a diner here in L.A. when you began discussing the book. So, which came first, the chilaquiles or the egg, I mean the fried egg that is? Okay, joking aside, – when you sat down to brainstorm, did Sam & Dave exist already or just a hole to dig?

Jon Klassen: Oh! That morning? Everything. It was Sam & Dave and the hole that we came up with that morning. We left breakfast with basically that Sam & Dave are two kids going down and digging a hole, and missing what they wer searching for and ending up somewhere different from where they started off. All that stuff was kind of worked over the breakfast table.

GRWR: Now why digging as opposed to building? I’m just curious as they’re both things kids love to do.

KLASSEN: I think that maybe initially, it was. The idea of vertical movement through the book either up or down was kind of maybe the first little bit of the thing we got talking about.

Mac Barnett: Yeah, we did talk about both that morning.

KLASSEN: Yeah, I think we did talk about going up. … if you’re building up you kind of know what’s up there, there’s not really any mystery to it because you are just going higher into space. But digging down, if you start the way the book starts, where the ground is at the very bottom of the page instead of being able to see everything, you’re kind of finding things out as you turn the page. It’s just more exciting as a story and also something that kids can see their way to doing. If you’re building something that seems really complicated, it’s not as relatable …

BARNETT: Jon and I were both diggers as kids … We’ve dug a lot of holes. Everything that I built as a kid I was disappointed in and never looked like I wanted it to look. But I was never disappointed by any of the holes I dug. Those came out great!

GRWR: Has either one of you ever dug up any neat stuff as a child?

BARNETT: My best friend when I was a kid, we dug a lot of holes. And then he told me one time, when we dug a hole, that he found this little plastic skull that had red eyes that he told me were made out of diamonds and created this elaborate mythology around it. I was so amazed that we had dug this thing out of the ground.

And then he told me like three years later that he had just dropped it in the hole before he put his shovel in and then pretended to pick it up. I was devastated. I had created an entire mythology that just crumbled. I lost three years of my childhood that day. That was my big discovery which turned out to be false.

KLASSEN: There was a tree in a field behind our house. We lived in sort of a suburb in Toronto for a while. There was this big field that they kept promising they were going to turn into a school but it just being this crappy field. And it wouldn’t grow anything because it was sort of filled with … half-hearted attempts to pour cement or dump bricks. It was just a horrible little field, but we really liked it because you could run around and we built baseball diamonds and stuff back there. But the only thing that grew was this one tree that looked like it was never gonna ever sprout a leaf, but it was this gnarled thing. And I had a long row of unfortunate hamsters that got buried under the tree one by one after you know, you get a new hamster and it would die, you get a new hamster and it would die. There were probably like eight of them under the tree.

And every now and then I would go and try to find one of the hamsters. I don’t think I ever did though, I think I kept forgetting where I had buried them.

BARNETT: That’s amazing. Your story managed to be even more depressing than mine, Jon.

GRWR: When you collaborate on a book as a team, do you check in with each other daily?

BARNETT & KLASSEN: On this one (Sam & Dave) we did.

BARNETT: Particularly. Extra Yarn – a little bit less so. We talked about that book a lot and had a lot of conversations. That was probably closer to weekly, if that. Jon and I talk a lot anyway, though, and so were just talking everyday probably before we started working on this book. So this gave us something to talk about.

GRWR: Now you’ve got skulls and hamster skeletons to talk about.

BARNETT: You know what? You know there were skeletons in this book for a little while.

KLASSEN: Yeah.

BARNETT: And then, maybe then, they got taken out. But at one point there were a lot of skeletons in this book. Monster skeletons. Yeah Jon and I would talk. We’d open up an audio link between our computers every day and just talk about the book. And Jon would be making sketches and send them over to me and then we would talk about those. And sometimes he would create something that was so good that I would have to rewrite the text to support the illustration that was a moment that hadn’t occurred originally to us, but Jon would have a good idea. I think we each had a lot of impact on the other’s work. More so than any other collaboration I’ve done and I tend to collaborate closely with the illustrators I’m working with.

GRWR: Were all the fabulous “so close yet so far” visual gags always planned or did they evolve organically as the story evolved – in other words, was the book carefully plotted and dummied from the start so every page turn would be full of anticipation or did some of the things you came up with actually surprise and delight you, and maybe move you in a different direction?

BARNETT: It was definitely written for every page turn to have something like a near miss to build anticipation. That said, the exact mechanics of it changed. For instance, when they split up and go around the diamond. That was a way to miss the diamonds that wasn’t in it originally., but was just a drawing Jon did that we both really liked. It was definitely written very consciously to create that sense of anticipation and frustration. But it defitintely kept evolving after that as well. It was Jon’s job to kind of then work out how to exactly to maximize the emotional impact of all the near misses.

GRWR: Did you intentionally want an ending that’s open to interpretation, something to spur little and big imaginations or do you feel what occurs (without revealing too much) is obvious to the reader?

BARNETT: I think that any book is a conversation between the person who is making it or people who are making it and the reader. Any piece of art is a conversation between the creator and the reader, and some conversations demand a little bit more from their listeners than others do. Some conversations somebody is just talking right at you, they’re not really listening or making any contribution back. I think this isn’t one of those books.

This is a conversation that invites the listener/reader to participate a little more closely and that’s particularly true with the ending.

KLASSEN: I think that for me with this book, with the ending of it, what I’ve come around to and settled on, is that  everything that, I think, that we want them (readers) to know is in the pictures.

BARNETT: Yes.

KLASSEN: The specifics in terms of discussing it like this or talking about it in a review or in a paragraph that describes the book for booksellers, or whatever else, it’s a tricky one. Because you can’t exactly say what happens. There’s not much of a term for it, but you know what happens because it’s in the pictures.

As specific as we want to get is the picture. I think that’s the best way of putting it. That is as much information as we know and as we want to know.

BARNETT: And that’s as much as we’re giving. I think that’s true of the sublime. That it’s a place where words can’t necessarily go.

GRWR: I think there needs to be more of that in books for kids’ imaginations these days.

BARNETT: I agree completely. It’s a reason that I come to literature and that I’ve always come to literature. And yet mystery, ambiguity, the sublime, these are things that are sometimes considered off limits in children’s books. And I don’t know why? They’re some of the greatest pleasures that art can offer.

GRWR: Do either of you have any rituals you practice before beginning work?

KLASSEN:  I eat a lot of peanut butter.

BARNETT:  Jon you make tea.

KLASSEN: I make what?

BARNETT: You make tea.

KLASSEN: I do make tea, yeah that’s true. I usually wake up and put water on for tea in sort of a blind stupor before I’m even knowing what I’m doing. Yeah, and just all of the  stuff that goes along with that. I don’t know, I think that right now I’m in a spot, and I was for this book as well, where I don’t really have a studio place that I go to a lot. I work at home in a makeshift area ’cause I’m kind of between places I work and so I didn’t have as much of a routine with this one as I did with some of the other books. Usually I like to make the same lunch for weeks and weeks …

GRWR: Okay so Jon your routine is that you have tea in the morning.

KLASSEN: (Laughing) Yeah!  Short answer is I have tea in the morning. (Laughter)

BARNETT: Yeah, that was all Jon’s ritual right there. My working is a kind of, my process is ugly and chaotic and there’s a lot of anxiety over not working and a lot of pacing around the house. I don’t know … the impetus to write has to come from the excitement of the idea or a contractual obligation (laugh). Those are the only reasons that could get me into a chair. I don’t have any kind of regular writing process.

GRWR: That’s cool.

BARNETT: I was gonna say both of us … would like to have a studio space. I don’t have one. I’ve always wanted one which is one reason that I think we always open that audio run between our computers. It kind of creates the illusion on some days when it feels … because it’s a lonely job writing books … it will create the illusion that you’re sharing a studio space with someone. A lot of our conversations just become quiet like, I just hear like shuffling of papers, the clinking of a mug over on Jon’s side of the desk for, you know, 20 minutes, 40 minutes or whatever, but it can be reassuring to have the sense of another person kind of struggling along working on stories, too.

GRWR: Wow what did people do 30 years ago?

KLASSEN: Well, they wrote pretty good books. (Laughter)

BARNETT:  I was gonna say, 30 to 40 years ago, you do know the all those stories about like, Sendak sleeping on … Ruth Krauss’s couch and that kind of stuff? I mean people were collaborating on books so many of them lived in Manhattan or on that corridor from basically Manhattan to Maine that they were in the same room so much of the time. I think that it’s kind of cool that after a period where I think it’s a good thing that you don’t have to live in New York to write a children’s book or to illustrate them. Technology has allowed us to get a little bit closer to that romantic ideal I always have of you know Sendak and Krauss in the same room.

KLASSEN: There doesn’t seem to be those meccas anymore of like creative people headed for one town to do whatever it is is going on there, as much, so you have to sort of replace that with something.

GRWR: That’s great that lots of avenues have been opened for people that wouldn’t have existed. That’s what we need.

BARNETT & KLASSEN: Yeah, exactly.

BARNETT: That’s the good thing about it, right, that you don’t have to live in Manhattan to make picture books?

GRWR: I mean you could collaborate with someone in London now.

BARNETT: Yeah. I would definitely do that. Jon, you know, Jon hates English people so he would not do that.
(Laughter)

GRWR:  But he likes tea. (Laughter)

KLASSEN:  The world has opened a little bit too wide. (Laughter)


BARNETT: Yeah, I think that is. That’s so cool. And you do see more of that. You do see people collaborating with illustrators in different countries.

GRWR:  … I actually lived in London, so I think it would be pretty cool.

BARNETT: I lived in London for a little while, too.

KLASSEN: It’s a great town. Mac was kidding. I like English people.

BARNETT: That is true, Jon does love English people. He was just there.

KLASSEN: I was just in London like two weeks ago. It was great. 

GRWR: Oh, were you doing promotions?’

KLASSEN: I was actually there twice this year for stuff. Walker books who publishes these books, the parent company of Candlewick, puts on these really cool events for this book. We went to a bookstore in London and saw a whole shop window full of dirt for the Sam & Dave book. it was really neat.

GRWR: Oh, that’s fantastic 

KLASSEN: Yeah, it was fun. 

GRWR:  Guys, what’s the wildest question you’ve been asked by a kid when you’ve been at a school or at a signing?

KLASSEN: Mmm…I always think it’s weird that they want to know how old I am. And I don’t know what they think of the answer. When I say I’m 32 or 33 or whatever the heck I am. I don’t … and they always go, “Whoa!” I don’t know what that is?

BARNETT: They think you’re old. When they ask how long have you been doing books and you say seven years, then that means that’s older than them. I think it is crazy.

BARNETT: Oh, I was with some kindergartners in Chicago over winter and a little guy asked me how do you make a book? And so I ran through that and then he raised his hand again. And he said, “How do you make a baby?” And I was … was not ready for that presentation. That’s definitely the wildest thing I ever got asked. I told him I don’t make babies, I make books.

(Laughter)

GRWR:  That’s a classic, just fantastic! Can you share any of your secrets for writing a successful picture book or maybe just tell me the elements that you strive for?

BARNETT: One thing that I think is so important for me because I can’t draw, but I do think picture books are a visual form and that even writing a picture book is a visual act. So, I’m always very conscious of the fact that there have to be strong images that I’m trying to create in my texts. And a really tight relationship between text and image. To essentially use the text most often to create opportunities for illustrators to look good, and to have some of the most exciting things in the stories that I’m working out happen in the pictures, the pictures that I’m not drawing, right and I don’t even have any conception of how it will turn out necessarily. I would say the three things that I’m always pretty conscious of is that relationship between text and image. Page turns, I think page turns are like the basic building blocks of a picture book. Each page turn is an opportunity to turn on the light or surprise and then lay out. Just like trying to create opportunities for interesting lay out and making sure that I’m writing about different kinds of images and that the scenes are changing or that the things we’re seeing are changing.

GRWR: That’s super. What about you, Jon?’

BARNETT:  Just go with animals, that’s all he does.

KLASSEN: Yeah, it’s as simple as that (Laughter).

KLASSEN:  I had a friend in college who, we were talking about what we think makes a story, and when we think we have a story versus just like some weird cool idea. And he said it was when you feel like it ended, at the end. Even if you didn’t know it was headed somewhere, he thought that as long as you feel like something ended, that’s when you have a complete story. And I like that … even my definition of what an ending feels like is kind of changing and this book changed it for me again, I think. You don’t really know what you want an ending to feel like, but as long as it lands in the definition of that word … picture books, especially are so short … have all sorts of different ways of making that happen and satisfying, whatever it is. It could be a totally local problem – it doesn’t have to be a big philosophical point although the better ones end up finding those things even accidentally. But as long as it feels like something that started ends, then you’ve got the book. I love the idea of how wide open that is and how you can sort of satisfy an audience with ways that they didn’t even know they could be.

GRWR: Or ways that you didn’t even know.

KLASSEN: Well, yeah. Well I think that works both ways, exactly. Like it surprises me as much as it surprises an audience I think when anything works. You don’t plan it. You’re trying to find a way to make it end and to make it feel like it just ended under its own power kind of.

GRWR: That’s how I felt at the end of this book. I was “Yes! Just a loud, “Yes!”

BARNETT: Oh, cool!

KLASSEN: Oh, that’s great!

GRWR: That’s just how I felt. Like, they did it, they did it. I love it. This is excellent, you got me and you’re gonna get everybody with this.

BARNETT & KLASEN: Aaaww.

GRWR:  Can we count on you for a third collaboration, a kind of picture book trifecta?

KLASSSEN: Oh, yeah probably.

KLASSEN: I don’t know. I don’t know if it will feel like, you know a trilogy or anything like that.

BARNETT: I think this book is very different from Extra Yarn and I think the next thing that we do would probably be different again. But yes, yes.

GRWR: Yes? Oh awesome. You could be chameleons. I feel you both are very chameleon-like in what books you do. …  If we took away your names, could people still identify you?  Each story, each picture book, everything is so different. It’s very chameleon-like … Do you intentionally do that or do you just feel like that’s part of the creative process that when a person creates it’s just constantly changing?

BARNETT: Well I don’t like to repeat myself I think first and foremost. The stories that I tell or just in general, I don’t like to repeat myself .. and to do so in a book feels like such a wasted opportunity. Particularly picture books are such a young form. We’re just still figuring out what’s possible in them. I mean something that looks like a contemporary picture book doesn’t really even come around until like Wanda Gág, you know, and even then there’s a long time before Wanda Gág’s vision of what a book should be sort of won out. So we’re working with something that’s less than a century old and I feel like I’m just like running around on a blank map trying to like put flags in as many different areas as I can and it’s exhilarating!

GRWR: That is such an exciting way to put it!

BARNETT: Top that, Jon!

KLASSEN: Yeah. Now I can’t talk at all.

GRWR: That said, Jon, how do you feel about that?

KLASSEN: I think Mac’s got more range than I do that way. I think that even though I read a lot of Mac’s things, sometimes he’ll send me a text he’s working on … and I just I can’t believe he switched gears so quickly from the last thing he did. It’s all self-contained. It’s working under the rules of this particular one. I think he understands that concept of just following a very local set of rules to the story and having fun with that inside of it. There are probably themes and things that you could find. But it would take a minute, I think, because they are so self-contained. I like changing things myself and I always try to keep the decisions and the work kind of local to the story … I mean, I’m not sure that I stray as far from the things that I like, maybe story wise a little bit. To think of the ideas I’m working on for other books in the future are consciously sort of trying to keep trying different things. But I have a few things I like very much that I keep sort of going back to and I’m not sure I’m done with yet. So I don’t know if I have as much range that way. I’d like to think I do but I’m not sure when it all finally comes out of the printing press, it kind of looks like if it sits next to the other one it’s pretty close. (Laughter)

BARNETT: Oh, I think there’s something to not being attached to a visual style just writing picture books that is really liberating, too, and there’s something self-erasing about it. Kids will look at Extra Yarn or Sam & Dave Dig a Hole and see them, I think, as Jon Klassen’s book. That’s certainly how I saw books as a kid even when they were written by different people. I always identified them as the illustrator’s first. And so I think that if Sam & Daves or Extra Yarns sit comfortably, visually next to the Hat books, kids will often kind of lump them together that way, so you could see that as … self-erasing, but it actually … allows you to write in so many different styles.  And part of why I feel so liberated, is it’s a completely different set of rules if I’m writing in Jon Klassen’s visual universe. Things work very differently in that world than they would in Adam Rex’s visual universe. And it is sort of like writing stories that take place on two different planets.

GRWR: Yep. That space on the shelf is getting larger and larger.

BARNETT: Oh, man. I know. It’s too big. People are tired, tired of my books, Ronna. They don’t want to get the phone call that I have a new book anymore. (laughter)

GRWR: What about you Jon?

KLASSEN:  I think so. Yeah, I think we line up pretty close on that.

GRWR:  If you guys weren’t creating books for kids, what would you be doing?

BARNETT: I think I would be teaching in some form. The plan I had right before I decided to write books, I was going to go and get my Ph.D. and become a medievalist. I may have been, you know, stroking a fat beard and reading Icelandic poetry.

GRWR: Did you say a medievalist?

BARNETT: A medievalist, that’s right.

KLASSEN: If you go to Ren (Renaissance?) faires, they’re all over the place.

BARNETT:  I wasn’t a Ren faire medievalist. I was one of the cool ones, Jon. There’s a whole club. (Laughter)

KLASSEN: There’s always one guy in a Ren faire saying you have to call me doctor. And that’s the guy with the PhD.

GRWR: (Laughter)

BARNETT: And The turkey legs are outstanding.

GRWR: But anyway, parents and caregivers who purchase these books will be reading my interview with you on the blog so what would you like to say to those parents?

BARNETT:  Hmmm, with me I think one interesting thing about the way picture books work … I would just say kind of thank you to them because they’re so much a part of it, not just for buying the books and choosing to read this book. By reading the book, a picture book, they’re so often read by a parent or caregiver or teacher, librarian or babysitter, they’re really as much of the creation of the experience as Jon and I are. They’re kind of the unsung 3rd creative force in putting a picture book together. I made this text. Then Jon interprets the text in illustrations which is then interpreted again by a parent before it finally reaches the audience. They’re choosing voices and telling our jokes and sometimes choosing to take out little pieces of dialogue or add things in. So really they’re like actors interpreting a performance so I thank them not just for getting the book, but for being part of an experience of bringing this thing to life.

KLASSEN: Yeah, I would try and say the same thing. My first picture books, well, we didn’t have a lot of picture books  in our family’s house growing up. But my grandparents had all their books from when their kids were young. I think they had a lot more book clubs and stuff back then. There were all of these Dr. Seuss books and the reader books and things like that. They just had shelves of these things that were all the same size, but they were done by different authors and different illustrators and stuff. I still don’t really think of those guys very much. I think of those books and that room and that house and that time, all together as one big sort of feeling, and I still think that that’s still mainly the reason why I make books is because of that room and that house and those years and them having those books in that house it just creates a place you want to revisit. And this is the best way I sort of knew how to go back there was to keep trying to make these things. And the idea that they are in these houses and these rooms, they are making a place for their kids and memories that sort of you know the books are sort of merged into the memories of these rooms and those times. And it’s all sort of one thing, and they’re making it for them by having these books around. They are sort of creating a place for these kids that they can go and hear these stories, but also just feel like they feel in a really general way. It’s very important. It’s one of my most important memories.

GRWR: It’s hard getting rid of books.

BARNETT: I still have all of mine from when I was a kid. It’s true. I like what you said that, Jon. I always feel so grateful. We’re really, when we make books, like in a very intimate way invited into families and it’s such a privilege.

GRWR: I agree. I have to say that it’s been a privilege for me to chat with you guys but I’ve kept you long enough so I just want to say if there’s anything else you’d like to add before I let you get back to the rest of your day.

BARNETT: I just wanna say thank you, Ronna, this is a lot of fun talking to you.
KLASSEN: Yeah, thanks for the time. We really appreciate it, and thanks for liking the book so much. That’s really great.

GRWR: Oh, that’s fantastic. Jon, I guess I’ll see you in L.A. or at the Ren (Renaissance) Faire.

BARNETT: We’ll all see each other at the Ren Faire. I’m coming down. (Laughter)

GRWR: Best of luck to you guys. I know the buzz is continuing to grow over Sam & Dave and I just wish you the best of luck. Thank you so much.

Interview by Ronna Mandel with special thanks to Armineh Manookian for her invaluable help!

Click here to read Ronna’s review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole.

Want more humorous insights from Barnett and Klassen? Click here to read Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen Make a Book: A Transcript

ABOUT BARNETT & KLASSEN

Mac Barnett is the author of several award-winning books for children, including President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, and Extra Yarn, illustrated by Jon Klassen, which won a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and a Caldecott Honor and his most recent, Telephone. Mac Barnett lives in N. California.

Jon Klassen is the author-illustrator of I Want My Hat Back, a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor book, and This Is Not My Hat, winner of the Caldecott Medal. He is also the illustrator of House Held Up by Trees, written by Ted Kooser, which was named a New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children’s Book, and Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett, which won a Caldecott Honor. Originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Jon Klassen now lives in Los Angeles.

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Mix It Up! by Hervé Tullet, A Review, Interview & Giveaway

MIX IT UP! FUN FOR EVERYONE

9780811879545_largeGood Reads With Ronna recently interviewed notable Parisian artist and author Hervé Tullet via email before his upcoming trip to Los Angeles. Tullet, the creative force behind the best-selling Press Here, and his latest, Mix It Up!, will be at both MOCA & LACMA this weekend conducting mural workshops for children using his books as inspiration. Both books are published by Chronicle Books, cost $15.99 each, and are recommended for ages 3-5.

REVIEW
Mix It Up!
is an interactive board book of the coolest kind. It’s the type of book children will reach for frequently, and each time engage with it in a new and exciting way. Picking up where Press Here left off – although each book stands on its own – Mix It Up! requires no battery or password. In fact it’s better than any app because youngsters get to hold the book in their hands and take a journey through color under Tullet’s expert tutelage. Note: Insert fab French accent here, “Tap that gray spot. Just a little, to see what happens.”

Written in the second person, Mix It Up! invites kids to place their hands on the page, close their eyes, and count to five then MIX IT UP! They can tap, rub, smudge and smoosh to their hearts’ content without getting a drop of paint on them. I couldn’t wait to turn each page to see what Tullet had in store. This book got me away from the computer and onto my feet, moving, tilting and turning pages to and fro, but really, it’s okay to read it seated as well!  The best part is finding out what happens when various colors come together on the page. Tullet’s text will make each youngster interacting with Mix It Up! feel satisfied, successful and ready to smoosh some colors on their own. – Ronna Mandel

INTERVIEW
Good Reads With Ronna:  At what age would you recommend parents begin introducing art to their children to look at? To engage in?

Hervé Tullet: Babies don’t know anything, which is why I think they know everything. With their eyes they experience everything as new and interpret everything without any prior experience. This is imagination. They are the artists, our real artists, that’s why I think that museums are the perfect place to feed them with colors and shapes and sensations without any restrictions (except maybe at feeding time!)

GRWR: Were you stirred and moved by art as young as age three – five like the age of the kids your books are geared to?

TULLET: It was a different time, and people didn’t raise children the way they do now. During my childhood, I learned a lot from being alone, from being bored, from not knowing. When I was a teenager, books and museum became my way out, my breath, my salvation

GRWR: Your new book is just so kid-friendly. Why do you think no one has thought of your brilliant idea for a book like Mix It Up! sooner?

Herve Tullet_standing with paint_HiRes.jpgTULLET: On the one hand, hand I think that ideas are in the air and everybody can catch them. That’s what happens when you find one; it looks like it came out of the blue. On the other hand, I think that it is a long process of maturation and that I spent lot of time on, nearly obsessed, to find, to  think, to search, go on thinking again, erase, cut and at last find  the ideas.

Press Here and Mix it Up! are the result of this long process, the high point of 20 years of exploration and work.

GRWR: By having kids get down on their hands and knees with some color and a paintbrush (at your workshops), while you’re out there motivating them, what are the things you’d like to achieve?

TULLET: I’m motivated by having a great time all together and making great memories. And maybe, from this experience, it will create a desire to have another one, or it will be a seed that will flourish later on, out of the blue. Or, maybe not exactly out of the blue.

GRWR: What do kids say to you after they’ve worked on the enormous mural?

Mix-It-Up-cvr.jpgTULLET: A look, a smile, a word, a hand shake, a kiss, a sign, a thank you. All these are so deep, so sincere, so true, to me that I accept all of them as true gifts.

Here’s some advice Tullet offers attendees to this weekend’s artsy workshops: “… one thing, please listen to my prompts very carefully. That’s it! That’s all what you have to do! Except the babies of course, they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do!”

Don’t miss Tullet’s L.A. appearances this weekend at MOCA & LACMA on Saturday, 10/11 and Sunday, 10/12. Head to L.A. Parent to get more details by clicking here. In that article, you can also read Tullet’s reply to my question: Is there anything you’d like to say to the families of L.A. and Southern California who will be attending your events?  I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of his warm and welcoming response.

To purchase Press Here and Mix It Up! head to your local independent bookseller.

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Even Monsters … by A.J. Smith Virtual Tour & Giveaway

Welcome to the EVEN MONSTERS Virtual Tour & Giveaway courtesy of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky!

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Even Monsters … written and illustrated by A.J. Smith, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2014.

Be sure to scroll down to devour every last morsel of our exciting EVEN MONSTERS by A.J. Smith art contest, giveaway, interview & EVEN more!!

MONSTER ART CONTEST: Even the bravest little monsters can be scared of what’s lurking in a closet or under the bed. Author and illustrator A.J. Smith’s family-friendly picture book, Even Monsters (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99, Ages 4-8 ) written and illustrated by A.J. Smith, is perfect for helping children understand that sometimes the things we are afraid of are not scary at all. In fact, they can be quite funny – see Fur of The Loom undies above!! To help kids overcome their fear of the dark and see how silly monsters can be, A.J. invites them to participate in the Monster Art Contest. Children ages 2-9 can send in their best monsters drawings for the chance to have their art animated into their own music video! The best 100 drawings will appear in a special Even Monsters art gallery, and the top 20 drawings will be animated into their own music video. WOW!

http://www.evenmonsters.com/artcontest.html
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PLEASE WATCH THIS TERRIFIC EVEN MONSTERS BOOK TRAILER BEFORE YOU READ OUR INTERVIEW.  Even Monsters Book Trailer

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR A.J. SMITH

Hi AJ! EVEN MONSTERS is ADORABLE and something both my kids would have loved when they were younger.  There’s something to discover on every page meaning kids will want to go back again and again to see if they can find something new. Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 5.43.03 PMGRWR: With that last sentence in mind, did you deliberately include those tiny cute orangey-red, big-eyed creatures for kids to seek out on every page (and perhaps count)?

A.J. SMITH: Certainly I want the story to be fun and engaging in its own right, but yes, the little cooties were added as a way to extend the life of the story by inviting kids to come back for multiple reads and explore the book for cooties. Taking it even a step further, kids can print and play this cootie-counter game: http://www.evenmonsters.com/cootieCounter.pdf

GRWR: I noticed a lot of broken items scattered throughout the book and thought you got into the young monsters’ heads quite well. Were you a monster when you were growing up?

A.J. SMITH: Kids (and monsters) can sometimes be destructive even when intentions are at their best. That said, I was an exceptionally gentle and thoughtful child who never did anything wrong. It’s possible my parents may have their own perspective on the matter, however.

GRWR: What prompted you to take this picture book one step further by introducing the digital element where kids (with help from their parents) can scan the QR codes throughout the book for assorted fun activities?

A.J. SMITH: I like the idea that a children’s book is a toy. Yes, it’s hopefully an eventual gateway to bigger literary endeavors. But in the meantime, a picture book should encourage interactivity and play. QR codes were just one more way for me to help facilitate that, which then brings you to more content online that revolves around Even Monsters. Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 5.52.51 PM GRWRAside from the fact that you’re obviously very talented, what else would you say influenced you to first enter the world of animation and designing?

A.J. SMITH: Thanks for the kind words. I’ve always liked to draw from a young age … Always enjoyed cartoons and books. I could talk all day about specific influences from pop culture to everyday events in childhood. But mostly I just always wanted to create stories and make people laugh. Animation, design, illustration, and writing became the best ways (for me) to make that happen.

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An Interview With London Ladd, Illustrator of Under The Freedom Tree

GRWR CHATS WITH ILLUSTRATOR LONDON LADD

Under The Freedom Tree – a 2014 Junior Library Guild Selection!

Illustrator-London-Ladd
Illustrator London Ladd, Under The Freedom Tree, Copyright © 2014 Charlesbridge Publishing.

Today Good Reads With Ronna and London Ladd discuss how, as the illustrator of Under The Freedom Tree (Charlesbridge, $16.95, Ages 6-9) by Susan VanHecke, he came up with the illustrations for this picture book which we’re highlighting for African American History Month (also known as Black History Month). If you didn’t see yesterday’s post where we interviewed author Susan VanHecke, please click here to read it.

BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY
We’re joining other reviewers this week as part of a special Charlesbridge Publishing blog tour and hope you’ll take the time to visit all the bloggers’ sites. We’re also delighted to be giving away one copy of Under The Freedom Tree, so enter by clicking here for a chance to win. This giveaway ends at midnight PST on February 24, 2014. Please be sure to write Freedom Tree in the subject line and include your address. Like us on Facebook for an extra entry. A winner will be chosen by Random.org and notified via email on February 25th. Good luck!

REVIEW
Under The Freedom Tree shares the story of three captured slaves, Frank, James and Shepard, during the Civil War, who take an enormous risk to escape across dangerous waters in Virginia to reach the Union Army on the other side only to discover they are still not totally free. However, with the help of clever General Butler, a lawyer before the Civil War, the three fugitives are able to remain with the Union side on a technicality. The winds of change were beginning to blow in the right direction.

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Cover image, Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd, Copyright © 2014, Charlesbridge Publishing.

VanHecke delivers a powerful tale told poetically in free verse and based on actual accounts of the creation of America’s first “contraband camps.”  After word of Frank, James and Shepard’s successful escape, others followed suit. First hundreds then thousands.

Runaways.

Stowaways.

Barefoot, mud-crusted.

Better forward than back.

Former slaves built a community in what was known as Slabtown, or the Grand Contraband Camp. By day they worked for the Union, but they were freer than they’d ever been, some living in a home of their own for the very first time.  Silent witness to this all was the majestic old oak tree, the Freedom Tree. Illustrator Ladd conveys so much spirit and emotion in every spread, whether by depicting children being taught under the shade of the oak or the joyful gathering of the community to hear the reading of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. “Lives forever changed under the Freedom Tree.”

Be sure to sit down with your kids and read this fantastic picture book that helps shed light on a little-known yet inspiring event of the Civil War. Also included are a bibliography and author’s note at the end providing more historical information that helps place many of the events in Under The Freedom Tree in context.

INTERVIEW WITH LONDON LADD

Good Reads With Ronna: When a publisher approaches you with a book to illustrate, do you see the completed manuscript or is it still rough round the edges? I’m curious because I wonder if your illustrations have ever influenced the direction a book can take?

London Ladd: It depends on the publisher. Most of the time I’ll get a completed script, but there have been a few times I will get something that’s in the last stages of editing. It’s minor wording that doesn’t affect my ideas.

Good Reads With Ronna: What is your illustration process, i.e. do you research the subject matter, then sketch and finally paint the art to be used?

London Ladd: I’ll usually read and reread the manuscript, then I do a few small quick thumbnail sketches. After that I start diving into the research and this is the most fun because I get to learn new things, but sometimes I get so involved I get lost and have to pull myself back into focus. After gathering myself I do more sketches to storyboard all the pages. Then I take A LOT of reference photos. I draw the final sketches and send to the publisher for feedback and after things are approved I paint the final artwork.

GRWR: In terms of medium for Under the Freedom Tree, did you use acrylics and combine them with pastels and colored pencils like your bio describes or did you try something different with this book?

Ladd: I primarily use acrylic paint, but recently for Under the Freedom Tree, I’ve combined colored pencils and pastels. I feel it adds more depth to the art and creates a signature look. When I’m working I get messy so my clothes will get covered in paint. It’s a bad habit I’ve tried to stop but I get so locked in I can’t help it. In the past I’ve tried oils on top of the acrylics but when it got on my skin I had bad reactions and discontinued use.

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Interior spread from Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd, Copyright © 2014, Charlesbridge Publishing.

GRWR: What is your favorite illustration in Under the Freedom Tree?

Ladd: That’s a difficult answer because I really love each illustration in this book for various reasons. If I had to pick one right now it would be the first page with them running because when I first read the manuscript that page came alive so clearly in my mind’s eye and heart. I could vividly hear the sound of the crickets chirping, the pounding feet of the three men in the tall grass, the hurried sound of their breathing in the night as they sneak off. If you watch the book trailer that’s exactly how I saw it in my head.

GRWR: Which was the most difficult to complete and why?

Ladd: I think the page where the people are rebuilding after the Confederate soldiers torched Hampton. I didn’t know how to approach it. What do I show? How do I convey in my illustration the words effectively? When I traveled to Hampton to do more extensive research and see landmarks like Emancipation Oak, Fort Monroe and Sewel’s Point (the spot where the men escaped from) I stopped in the Hampton History Museum and they had this amazing exhibit from that era. There was a replica of a burnt brick wall with an actual photo of Hampton after the fire in 1862. When I saw that I knew exactly how that page should look. It’s funny because without visiting I would have never created that page.

GRWR: Is it difficult as an illustrator to try to capture a unique moment in time and have your illustration convey a mood or incident?

Ladd: Wow that’s a good question. I guess it depends on the project. For March On I wasn’t born during the march on Washington so wanted to capture the moment. What would it be like if I was there and to be a part something so special? For Oprah I felt a connection to her story. I’m also an only child who had a fierce determination to better myself and succeed. With Under the Freedom Tree it was a spiritual experience for me as an African American. The issue of slavery can be a sensitive subject, that’s why it was so important for me to visit the sites and gain a deeper understanding of what I’m illustrating. To see the Emancipation Oak, a 400 year old tree that still stands to this day in person at Hampton University, and to stand on the very shore in Norfolk, VA and look across the Chesapeake Bay, filled me with so many ranges of emotions. The contraband slaves are not widely known in history so I wanted to illustrate their amazing story of bravery, courage and strength with honor.

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Interior spread from Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd, Copyright © 2014, Charlesbridge Publishing.

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An Interview with Aaron Becker

PURE IMAGINATION,
An Interview With Aaron Becker

Headshot of Aaron Becker, author and illustrator of JOURNEY, Copyright © 2013 courtesy of Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA., 2013.
Aaron Becker, author and illustrator of JOURNEY, Copyright © 2013 courtesy of Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA., 2013.

Today’s interview with Aaron Becker, author and illustrator of JOURNEY (Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 4-8), comes to us courtesy of Hilary Taber and just before the naming of the 2014 Caldecott winner and honors announcement later today.

NOTE: At the time of posting we did not know that JOURNEY was named a 2014 Caldecott Honor Book. Congratulations to Aaron Becker!

Treat yourself and your children to one of 2013’s most talked about picture books, Aaron Becker’s JOURNEY. Though wordless, this colorful tale speaks to its readers in so many different ways, a big part of why JOURNEY will continue to bring immense pleasure to so many for years to come. Find out about Aaron Becker here with Hilary’s insightful interview.

Hilary Taber: Thank you for this interview, and thank you so much for the book as well. It’s gorgeous, so beautifully and wonderfully illustrated. My family has enjoyed it so much.

Aaron Becker: Thank you.

Hilary Taber: Congrats, too, on all the starred reviews! Horn Book Best of 2013, a New York Times Notable Children’s Book, so many accolades for JOURNEY. It must have been so fun to get those, and very affirming.

Aaron Becker: Yeah, it is and has been an amazing response. Like nothing I anticipated or was really imagining.

HT: Was your family delighted?

AB: Well, for sure. Totally, yeah … I mean, that’s something I always wanted to do … a children’s book, and to get to do one is delighting enough. And then people respond to it in ways I wouldn’t have even anticipated. It’s just very exciting.

HT: So, you have always wanted to write a children’s book or illustrate one?

AB: Oh, yeah. When I was a kid I made my own books … I wrote my own stories and drew pictures … it was one of my hobbies. This is my first book and I’m almost forty … there was a career in the middle there. I spent about a decade working as an illustrator on motion pictures.

Cover of JOURNEY by Aaron Becker. Copyright © 2013 by Aaron Becker, from Candlewick Press.
JOURNEY. Copyright © 2013 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

HT: Do you feel that your career in movies helped you as a picture book illustrator?

AB: It sure does. Certainly there’s the technical side of just learning the craft of telling stories through pictures. We do that in film and in books. So, there’s just a lot of technical stuff I learned – composition, how to lead the reader’s eye, where you want them to go – but it’s a different craft as well. So, there’s some crossover for sure.

HT: I have some familiarity through my family with film production. I read that you refer to the picture book as having sets in it. Are the main characters like actors?

AB: I know, I caught myself using that word (sets), I noticed that too. It’s how I think, only right now I’m working on the third … there are three Journey books … I do think in terms of film. In some ways I think that if films were easier to make, less capital intensive, and less time intensive, I’d be making short films, not books. The nice thing about a book is that the scope of the project can be taken on by one person … it’s easier for me to be just like, “Okay, I’ll work with an editor – you know, with an agent.”

HT: Do you feel that you had people in your past, family or mentors, or somebody that was very key or crucial to you becoming an illustrator today?

AB: It’s easy for me to think in terms of books I like, but my parents definitely were important. Especially my mom, she was very focused on feeding my interests. She bought me a pad of paper, she bought me markers, and she made sure I had trips to the library to get out my drawing books and stuff.  So, I was encouraged, but I wouldn’t say there was anyone around me doing this kind of work. It was my own interest for sure.

HT: It was your own journey.

AB: Yes, it was absolutely my journey.  I started working on this book just after my daughter was born, and I had lost my job with the film company … I had always wanted to do this children’s book thing, a now or never kind of feeling, all my cards on the table, just a “Hail Mary pass.” It definitely felt like a journey, especially because it took so long for the book to come out. You know, it was about a three year process from inception to publication, which actually isn’t long for a book. It seemed like forever.

Interior spread from JOURNEY. Copyright © 2013 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
JOURNEY. Copyright © 2013 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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An Interview With K. G. Campbell, Illustrator of Flora & Ulysses

Illustrator and author, K. G. Campbell discusses Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures
and more with Ronna Mandel!

K. G. Campbell is the illustrator of Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures written by Kate DiCamillo.
Illustrator and author K. G. Campbell

I had the good fortune to sit down with K. G. (Keith) Campbell earlier this month when he joined Kate DiCamillo for a Flora & Ulysses book event at Vroman’s in Pasadena. He’s a charming L.A. local with an intoxicating accent who’s not only an extremely talented and versatile illustrator, but an author, too. This Q & A focuses mostly on his artwork.

WIN:

Click here now to enter our giveaway. Thanks to Candlewick, we’re giving away 3 copies of Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12). Please write FLORA in the subject line, include your address and enter by midnight on Sunday, November 10, 2013.

INTERVIEW: 

GRWR: A quote I read called you an “up and coming illustrator.” How do you know when you’re no longer up and coming, but have arrived? What’s changed?

K. G. CAMPBELL: Well I think that’s a description from Candlewick Press and at the time I’d had only published one book, Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters for which I won the (2013) SCBWI Golden Kite Award. But since then I won the Golden Kite and an Ezra Jack Keats (New Illustrator) Honor for Lester. Flora & Ulysses had just come out and also Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman had also just released. I think you know you’re no longer up and coming when you no longer have to search for work. Candlewick just came to me recently and offered me another project

GRWR: Did you take it?

K. G.: Yes, actually. And also I’ve turned down a few. I guess that’s when you know – when you don’t have to pound the pavement.

GRWR: Tea Party Rules is with which publishing house?

Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by K. G. Campbell
Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by K. G. Campbell, Viking Children’s Books.

K. G.: Tea Party Rules is with Viking. My second picture book with Kids Can Press, which is my manuscript, is due to come out next spring. It’s called The Mermaid and the Shoe.

GRWR: Can you please tell us the process when you try to develop the characters after after receiving Kate’s (DiCamillo) manuscript and how long it takes?

K. G.: So obviously the first thing that you do is read the manuscript. You try and get a feel for the characters which isn’t difficult for Kate because her characters are so three dimensional, quirky and hilarious. You look for visual clues you have to be really careful to see if there’s any physical descriptions in there. And you go from there.

Kate DiCamillo's Flora & Ulysses from Candlewick Press with illustrations by K. G. Campbell.
Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses from Candlewick Press with illustrations by K. G. Campbell.

Being an LA local, what I tend to do is a little casting. I go in search of the perfect Flora or the perfect Phyllis or whoever it is. But unlike a casting director, I can select from anyone who’s ever lived. They can be friends or family, they can be famous actors They can be TV actors. They can be film actors. They can be theatre actors. They can be fictional. I try to find a type that will fit that character. Then that sort of gives me a feeling how they’re going to react physically in any given situation they’re faced with, expressions and all that stuff. And then I do the sketches based on that. And then, in this case, but it’s not always the case .., well, they always go through the art director and the art director has some input as to whether they think that physical manifestation of the character is appropriate. In this case, because Kate is Kate, they (the sketches) also went to her. Often, usually in fact, they wouldn’t go to the author. The author has very little input in the illustrations. But Kate had something to say. Some characters were modified from my original sketches. Now they are what they are so that’s perfect.

GRWR: Who was the most difficult character to draw or create?

K. G.: I think the most difficult was probably Ulysses himself, because, and it’s actually technical reasons. It’s a middle grade novel so the format is quite small. All of the images are printed as 5×7. I drew them very slightly larger just so it would crisp up as it was reduced, but I didn’t want to draw so much larger that I didn’t know what was going to happen to them. Ulysses is a squirrel and everybody else is a human being and human beings are much larger than squirrels. And in fact, I made Ulysses slightly larger than real life so that he would be visible. So getting the amount of character that we wanted to into Ulysses when his scale was so small, that was the most difficult part.

Flora, Ulysses and neighbor Mrs. Tickham with the Ulysses Super Suction vacuum as illustrated by K. G. Campbell. Candlewick Press.
Flora, Ulysses and neighbor Mrs. Tickham with the Ulysses Super Suction vacuum as illustrated by K. G. Campbell. Candlewick Press.

GRWR:  Who was the easiest to draw?

K. G: Phyllis.

GRWR:  I love the look of Phyllis. I feel like I’ve met her before.

K. G.: I wanted someone with a crazy, curly hairstyle, girlie, melodramatic.  And I actually had a person in mind for Phyllis. She was inspired by a Broadway actress. Phyllis is like my original sketch. Some changed a bit, some changed a lot. But not Phyllis.

GRWR: What medium do you work in?

K. G.: I usually work in water color and colored pencils combined but Flora & Ulysses was executed entirely with colored pencils, no water colors.

GRWR: You’ve lived in Kenya, Scotland and California. Is one locale particularly more inspiring for you as an artist?

K. G.: Yeah, I would say Scotland, probably. The weather and the atmosphere make it a less attractive place to live, but it’s definitely a very romantic and gothic setting. And it makes for a good location for the kind of gothic stories that I like. Not that Scotland was the setting for either Lester or Ulyssses. It wasn’t. But in my future writing I think some of it will be set there.

GRWR: Since you do not consult with the author, is it scary interpreting their vision or is that a challenge you enjoy?

K. G.: It’s definitely more difficult illustrating for other people’s manuscripts than my own. Obviously not all illustrators are in my position. Not all illustrators write as well so they may not make that comparison. For me I do have that comparison and it’s definitely more difficult and more time consuming because you have more parties involved who make changes, so it becomes a bit more difficult. I wouldn’t say it’s more intimidating or daunting, but it’s more of a challenge.

GRWR: Do you prefer to illustrate others’ books or do the entire book yourself.

K. G.:  It’s easier to illustrate my own, but illustrating other people’s work does take me to places that I wouldn’t have gone. So in that sense the product that emerges at the end is perhaps more surprising and unexpected. It becomes something of a team effort almost like a play, I suppose, or when you have several screenwriters working together it becomes a collaborative process and the creation is the product of that.

GRWR: You studied art history, did interior design yet always felt the call to illustrate even as a child. What stopped you from pursuing that from the start?

K. G.: Well that’s quite a complicated answer. And to be honest I’m not 100% sure that I have an answer to that. I was flattered and encouraged to take an academic route as I graduated from high school. My academics were pretty strong and I wound up going to a fairly prestigious school which is Edinburgh University. And really at that point I made the decision not to go to art school and I put down the pencil and I didn’t pick it up again for decades. I got onto a different path.

Cover artwork from Lester's Dreadful Sweaters by K. G. Campbell.
Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters written and illustrated by K. G. Campbell, Kids Can Press.

GRWR: But it was always tugging at you to return to it?

K. G: Yeah. And the more I delved into exploring children’s literature and illustration, the more I felt compelled to do it, the more I felt very strongly that I had the talent and the skill to participate in that world. So I began to take it more and more seriously and so here I am.

GRWR: At that point, did you go back to school?

K.G.: No. As an artist I’m more or less self-taught. I’ve done some life drawing classes. Obviously I’ve done a bit of research on the materials and stuff online, but on the whole you would call me a self-taught artist. I did however go to UCLA and Art Center Pasadena for some night classes in creative writing, in children’s writing and specifically in illustrating. I did a class with Marla Frazee who’s a well-known children’s writer and illustrator who lives here in L.A. She teaches at Art Center. While it wasn’t an art class per se, it wasn’t teaching you to draw, it was teaching you how to use whatever skills you had and whatever style you had to illustrate and how images participate in a book and how they enhance a text. I did a great writing class with Barney Saltzberg who’s another local author/illustrator who has had a string of books published. He teaches a night class at UCLA in writing for kids basically.

GRWR: Did you find when you weren’t working in the field of children’s books that you were still drawn to it, that you still loved wandering around the children’s books department of a bookstore?  

K. G.: Oh all the time! In fact I never really stopped reading children’s literature which a lot of my adult peers find a little odd. But definitely my favorite books probably are children’s books or perhaps adult books that have a fairy tale quality to them to some degree. I love sort of sophisticated middle grade novels. Philip Pullman, who wrote The Golden Compass, is one of my favorites.

GRWR: Which illustrators have most influenced you?

K. G.: Edward Gorey, Tim Burton and Lisbeth Zwerger, an Austrian artist.

GRWR: How many hours per day do you devote to your projects?

K. G.: Well, I try to do a full workday. I am my own boss. I’m probably not working a full eight or nine hours, but maybe about six or seven hours a day. And depending on where I am in a project will dictate how much of that time is allocated to illustrating and how much is allocated to writing. An ideal scenario is kind of half and half – three and half hours writing and three and half hours illustrating. Something like that. But  in the real world, as deadlines loom for my illustrating projects, I find that the writing has to take a back seat to some extent because the illustrations have to get done and that’s what happens.

GRWR: Any advice for new illustrators?

K.G.: I would certainly say if you haven’t, then take a class, some classes, in illustrating specifically because it is a distinct branch of artistic output and it’s about bringing to a text something that perhaps the text doesn’t already contain. But it has to be complementary. And in many cases, especially in picture books, you’re telling a story along with the text. Sometimes you are a carrying a subplot as well, and you can throw in characters, usually a pet or something, that aren’t mentioned in the main text and you can have things going on, a whole storyline, that’s purely visual. So I think understanding what illustration is is very important. It’s more important than any level of artistic skill or style.

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