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An Interview with Vicky Fang about Layla and The Bots and Friendbots

 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH VICKY FANG

AUTHOR OF 

LAYLA AND THE BOTS: CUPCAKE FIX

AND AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR OF

FRIENDBOTS

 

 

SHORT SUMMARIES:

Layla and the Bots Cupcake Fix cvrCUPCAKE FIX 

Blossom Valley is opening a new community center! But they need to generate buzz for the grand opening. Layla and the Bots know how to help: they will build a cupcake machine for the party! But will their invention be a piece of cake… or a recipe for disaster? With full-color artwork on every page, speech bubbles throughout, and a fun DIY activity that readers can try at home, this early chapter book series brings kid-friendly STEAM topics to young readers!

 

 

 

 

Friendbots Blink and Block book1 cover

FRIENDBOTS

Meet the robots Blink and Block in this STEM-inspired, Level Two I Can Read Comic by debut author-illustrator Vicky Fang.

Blink is scanning the playground for treasure, but Block is pretty sure there’s no gold to be found. When Blink finds a penny and decides to make a wish, will these two new pals find treasure after all—or maybe something even better?
Blink and Block Make a Wish is a Level Two I Can Read Comic, geared for kids who are comfortable with comics, can read on their own, but still need a little help.

 

 

 

INTERVIEW:

Colleen Paeff: Hi Vicky! It looks like I caught you right in the middle of two book launches. Layla and the Bots: Cupcake Fix came out on June 1 and Friendbots hits bookstores on June 22. Congratulations! How exciting to have two books coming out in one month! How does it feel?

Vicky Fang: It’s so much fun but also quite exhausting! Social media is such a strange place and two book launches means I’m on it more than I’d like to be. But I had the amazing opportunity to do an in-person launch party for Layla and the Bots: Cupcake Fix with Linden Tree Books and it was amazing! Even though it’s my sixth book (gasp!), it was my first launch party! I had so much fun celebrating the book with friends, new readers, and even some Layla and the Bots fans I met for the first time.

 

CP: Oh, my gosh. That sounds amazing! It must have been so nice to see your fans live and in-person. Friendbots is your debut as an author/illustrator. How was the experience of creating that book different from your previous experiences writing the text alone? Were you surprised by any particular aspect of the author/illustrator process?

VF: Illustrating a book is so much work! I mean, writing a book is too, but there’s definitely a different kind of pressure to illustrate a whole book within a few months, including revisions and cover illustrations, etc. I do think that between Book 1 and Book 2 I got much better at designing panels that would be fun to draw. I also had a much better sense of how long the drawings would take. Creatively, I’m more comfortable incorporating wordless panels as the author-illustrator. Somehow, it feels less like I’m just leaving a hole there, because I know I’m the one who’s going to have to fill it!

 

CP: One thing I love about your Layla and the Bots books is that I can never anticipate what’s going to go wrong (and something always does!). When you set out to write those books do you start with the problem, the solution, or something else entirely?  

VF: Ah, that’s a great question! I usually start with the solution, in some rough form, just in the sense that I think about something that would be fun to design! So an amusement park for dogs (Happy Paws), a suped-up go-kart (Built for Speed), or a cupcake machine (Cupcake Fix). From there, I think about the problem they might try to solve and that leads to the specifics of the solution they come up with. It does feel a bit like a fun puzzle trying to plot those books!

 

Laylaandthe Bots in volleyball
Interior illustration from Layla and The Bots: Cupcake Fix Credit: Scholastic Inc., Vicky Fang, Christine Nishiyama (2021)

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CP: Coding plays a big part in your books–even the board books. What would you recommend to parents who are intimidated at the thought of coding, but who want to foster a love (or at least a level of comfort) with coding in their children? 

VF: A lot of people ask me this question! First off, I incorporate coding into the books because I think computational thinking is so important for all kids, whether or not they want to code or become software engineers. It’s really about being able to break down a problem logically and think through the solution in small, logical pieces. I’m just hoping kids start to think in these logical blocks: if/then, and/or, etc. And they do already naturally! It’s just about seeing those logical blocks and realizing that those blocks are how you give instructions to a computer. Besides books, there are also great tools and toys out there. Scratch/Scratch Jr., Code-a-pillar, and Sphero are just a few that parents might look into!

 

CP: Awesome. Thank you! You’ve written (and sold!) a picture book, chapter books, board books, and an early graphic novel series. What do you like about writing in so many different formats and do you have a favorite?

VF: As a former product designer, I get inspiration from the strengths and restrictions of the different formats! The format is part of the ideation process for me. I don’t have a favorite. I love the conceptual and tactile nature of board books, the poetic precision of picture books, the fun of chapter books, and the theatre-like quality of graphic novels!

 

LaylaandtheBots int Sweettooth
Interior illustration from Layla and The Bots: Cupcake Fix Credit: Scholastic Inc., Vicky Fang, Christine Nishiyama (2021)

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CP: How do you know which format is right for which story idea?

VF: I usually have an idea floating around in my head and it will click with a format, based on some of the qualities I described above. I have an ongoing list of ideas that I keep, usually of vague picture book ideas. But then separately, I’ll decide I want to try a particular format and read a lot of books and realize, oh, this is perfect for that idea about X! And then I start writing it. It becomes a bit of, what format has the right shape to fit the story I need to tell? Which will give me enough room for the characters and the plot? Which will support the visual needs? Which will fit the age group the best?

 

CP: I understand you worked as a technology product designer for Google and Intel. What exactly is a technology product designer and what are some of the coolest projects you worked on during that time?

VF: Yes! I designed the user experience for products, which means I designed how things should work. By the end of my time at Google, I was a design lead, which meant I oversaw the creative team, which included interaction designers, visual designers, writers, and even voice/audio designers. I loved working on projects that used technology to create surprising and delightful experiences! I designed DIY cardboard robots that you could build and code yourself, interactive voice games for kids, and a building that lit up and played music when you held hands in the space. Those are just a few of the projects that I loved!

 

CP: That sounds amazing! Tell me something I might not know about working for Google!

VF: Ah, what wouldn’t you know? Hmm … I think you hear all about the amazing perks and the amazing people. So what wouldn’t you know? One time, we took dozens of our cardboard robots and set up a giant robot dance party in the hallways in the middle of the night and videotaped it. We had a lot of fun—but we did a lot of work too!

 

CP: Hahaha! I love that!! I read that you were a theater major in college (me, too!) and an actress on Charmed and other TV shows. How did you get from theater to tech? 

VF: Oh, cool, I didn’t know that! I moved to LA to act but was working at some startups to pay the bills. One startup actually had very little work to do, so I spent my days teaching myself Photoshop and making little Quicktime animations in the most inefficient way possible. From that, I got jobs making Flash animations, which lead to coding Flash websites, and I eventually ended up going to grad school at Parsons School of Design to get an MFA in Design and Technology!

 

FriendbotsBook1pp4-5
Interior illustration from Friendbots written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, HarperCollins BYR ©2021.

 

CP: What skills from your previous professions have been most useful to you as a children’s book author?

VF: One of the things I love is that I feel like writing pulls from ALL of my experiences! Acting I think is an obvious one, in terms of story and character, and emotion. It also helped with understanding the agent landscape! But I also feel like all of the design work helps me craft stories, and understand how to respond to critique feedback, and be creative on demand, etc. Both acting and design have helped me as an illustrator, in thinking about color and layout, and visual focus. In some ways, I think of myself as somebody who just loves creating in different mediums—whether that be technology or pictures or words!

 

CP: What is your favorite thing about writing for children?

VF: I love that I feel like I can make a positive impact on even just one kid with a book. It never feels like a wasted effort. I love seeing kids embrace the books and become inspired to make fan art or invent something or write a story.

 

CP: What are the three most important tools in your “Writer’s Toolbox?”

VF: First off, my critique partners. I met Christine Evans and Faith Kazmi in 2017 and I wouldn’t still be here if not for their moral and creative support. Secondly, my agent. Elizabeth Bennett is an amazing partner who gives me the most insightful and inspiring directional guidance. The third, I would say, is creative brain space. I find that I have to give myself space to create and forgive myself when I’m not able to (which inevitably happens with life, more than I’d like!).

FriendbotsBook1pp6-7
Interior illustration from Friendbots written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, HarperCollins BYR ©2021.

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CP: What’s next for you?

VF: I’m finishing up Friendbots Book 2, which launches this fall. And I’m excited for Layla and the Bots Book 4, Making Waves, which launches in January 2022. I have an unannounced project coming in 2023, and I’m always working on new ideas!

 

CP: Great! I look forward to reading them all. Thanks, Vicky! 

VF: Thank you, Colleen! It’s been a pleasure chatting books with you!

 

Author Photo Vicky Fang
Vicky Fang Photo ©Lindsay Wiser

BRIEF BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent five years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author of nine new and upcoming STEAM books for kids, including Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code, Layla and the Bots, and her author-illustrator debut, Friendbots. Find Vicky on Twitter at @fangmous or on her website at www.vickyfang.com.
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WHERE TO BUY VICKY’S BOOKS:

https://vickyfang.com/books/layla/#cupcake-fix

https://vickyfang.com/books/friendbots/

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: @fangmous

IG: @fangmousbooks

FB: @fangmousbooks

Website: www.vickyfang.com

 

FOR MORE ON VICKY FANG:

KidLit411 Author Spotlight

Get to Know Vicky Fang

12 x 12 Featured Author (On writing for different formats)

Storyteller Academy: Student Success Story

Google Product Designer Creates New Graphic Novel Series (BleedingCool.com)

Launch Countdown: Reflections and Results

CritterLit Interview

Cynsations: Journey to Publication

Awesome Activities from Vicky Fang

Code a Musical Instrument: An Introductory Scratch Activity

Build a Balloon Powered Speedboat

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021, from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books). Click here for more info.

 

Check out https://www.soaring20spb.com/to read about more debut authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators.

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An Interview with Annelouise Mahoney, Author-Illustrator of Julius and Macy

AN INTERVIEW WITH

ANNELOUISE MAHONEY

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR OF

JULIUS AND MACY:
A Very Brave Night

(Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

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Julius And Macy A Very Brave Night Cover

 

 

SUMMARY OF JULIUS AND MACY: A VERY BRAVE NIGHT

Julius and Macy like to play heroes. Julius pretends he’s the defender of the forest, while Macy has a quieter strength. When their snack disappears one night, they decide to track down the only one who could have taken it―the Night Goblin. They both have to be brave in their own ways, and they ultimately discover that the real thief isn’t anything like they imagined.

With its endearing characters, this gently told tale reminds us that we each have courage within us and that kindness can make all the difference.

 

INTERVIEW WITH ANNELOUISE MAHONEY

GoodReadsWithRonna: Congratulations on your author-illustrator debut, Annelouise! Does it feel surreal right now after all your hard work to hold Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night in your hands? How long has it been since you first began this creative journey in general and specifically for this picture book?
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Annelouise Mahoney: Hi Ronna. Thank you so much for having me over today. Yes! Surreal is the perfect word for how it feels. Surreal and grateful! It’s been a long journey into picture books. It took about 10 years of serious focus to break into children’s books and of those 10 years, it took 5 years for the making of Julius and Macy
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GRWR: I adore bravery stories since I was not the bravest of kids, nor were my children. Tell us how you decided on this topic for your picture book.
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AM: I adore bravery stories too! I didn’t set out with a definite topic for this book at the beginning. It was more finding the characters that resonated with me and asking questions as I drew them over and over again. So the characters came first. The more I drew Julius and Macy the clearer their story became.
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Julius and_Macy int2 interview with Annelouise Mahoney
Interior art from Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night written and illustrated by Annelouise Mahoney, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing ©2021.
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GRWR: Burning question. Are you more Julius or more Macy?  
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AM: That’s a fun question! Honestly, I think I’m a little bit of both. I love to go after something I’m passionate about but feel bravest with someone by my side. I feel the younger me is more adventurous like Julius, but the older me is more cautious like Macy.
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GRWR: Please walk us through your approach to writing and illustrating. Did you conceive the text first and then illustrate it, vice versa, or did everything happen simultaneously?
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AM: I’ve learned to stick to the illustrations first. Not full illustrations, but loose sketches of ideas, and build from there. I gather all the loose sketches into a folder and begin placing them into a small thumbnail template. The template is an 8×11 piece of paper where I can see the story in one place. When I can see the story, and feel the visual narrative is working, then it’s time to add the words. This part of the process takes a long time for me. It’s a lot of experimenting to get the words right. If I start with the text too soon, I usually end up straying from my story.
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GRWR: Can we talk about your gorgeous artwork and how you create it?
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Photo courtesy of Annelouise Mahoney
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AM: In the beginning when I’m moving away from the very loose thumbnail sketch and planning out the compositions for each spread, I use Post-it notes to redraw certain elements, or add to what I already have. This part of the process takes a long time for me. It’s figuring out compositions and looking for how to express a feeling. I’m also looking for areas that may be repetitive and looking for the most interesting way to show the story. There is a lot of experimenting happening at this stage. The Post-it notes help me to not get attached to any single idea as I can just take it off or move it around without having to redraw the whole spread.
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Photo courtesy of Annelouise Mahoney
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When I think what’s happening on the page is working, I scan the sketches into the computer and make the images bigger in photoshop. I’m looking for more specific information I can give to each spread, making sure the compositions work within the trim size and add the text to make sure everything reads well in the space. 
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This dummy stage will then repeat as I go through revisions with my agent and then my editor until the story is fleshed out and polished.
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Once the story is polished, I begin all over again with small thumbnails but this time I’m focusing only on color. For Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night, I made a color guide to help me navigate the color choice for each spread before going into final art. I found this part extremely helpful because I was painting in watercolor and I had to know how I was going to approach each painting.
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Photo courtesy of Annelouise Mahoney
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I then repeated the process of scanning in the tiny thumbnails in Photoshop and making them much bigger to fit into the book template. I was interested to see where I need to focus on adding details and how the images read in the true size of the book. It’s checking and double-checking that the text will fit and I’m getting the color transitions right. Once the loose wash looks right and I can see where I’m going, I took large sheets of Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper and cut them down a little larger than print size.

I painted each page in watercolor, with lots and lots of wash layers. I would work on a few spreads at a time so there was time for the paint to dry, and time to look away from a work in progress. There is an uncomfortable moment in each illustration where it looks ugly and messy and doesn’t feel like it will work before it does. When the painting was dry and complete, I scanned each painting into the computer and used photoshop and my Wacom tablet to set each painting into the picture book template provided by my publisher, Two Lions.
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GRWR: Now that you have one book under your belt, are you busy with promoting it, or are you also making time for more artistic pursuits?
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AM: Promotion does take a lot of time, and I’m enjoying this moment very much. But yes, I’m working on two other book dummies at the moment and I’m hoping to get them submission-ready soon. 
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GRWR: Do you have a routine you like to stick to when working on a project?
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AM: I really need to be flexible as a working mom and often bring my book dummies, Post-it notes and pencils with me wherever I go. As far as a routine, I definitely wake up early each day before the demands of my family take over, and I work at night when there is another wave of calm. Those precious hours are protected for when I really need to concentrate.
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JuliusAndMacyAVeryBraveNight int3 Interview with AnneLouise Mahoney
Interior spread from Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night written and illustrated by Annelouise Mahoney, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing ©2021.
 
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GRWR: Is there a spread in Julius and Macy that really resonates with the child in you and the mother in you?
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AM: Oh wow, what a beautiful question. The spread of the book with panels of Julius and Macy walking into and through the dark cave resonates with me as a mother.  When my daughters were very young they would slip into pretend play very easily. They craved adventure and enjoyed little scary moments where they were challenged to be brave. The Los Angeles zoo has a man-made cave meant for little ones to explore. We’d visit it often and my girls would become more and more brave to venture through it, their imaginations on fire as they explored every corner.
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As an author, I find writing a children’s book a bit like walking in the dark. There are times when I don’t know where I’m going, I can’t see the story, I can easily spook myself, but there is the need to keep going even if the unknown feels scary. As a child, I craved adventure stories and had a very active imagination. I think I’d be excited to walk into a cave, as long as I had a friend beside me and it wasn’t completely dark.
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GRWR: What would you love for children to take away from reading your book?
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AM: I would love children to explore what bravery means to them and see the many ways they’ve been brave in their own life. I’d like children to know that there is a unique form of bravery to reach out to someone, especially when you notice someone struggling to belong, as well as the bravery and trust to reach back.
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GRWR: Has anyone in particular been influential in your kidlit career?
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AM: I had a brave moment myself, and enrolled in a class taught by Marla Frazee at Art Center College of Design. She lit the way for me when I was really struggling to understand the craft of writing for children. She taught in a way I could understand by breaking things down to get to the heart of the story, finding the emotion in the art, trusting what your sketches are trying to tell you. Most importantly, when writing as an illustrator, stick to the sketching first. I’m still learning and growing, but those lessons influence how I write and how I create a book. 
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GRWR: What important lesson or invaluable piece of advice have you learned along the way in your children’s publishing experience that you’d like to share today?
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AM: I believe that if you want to write for children, be passionate about it. Really put in the time and love to learn the craft. Be passionate about what you are working on. Publishing takes time and you want the love for your story to carry you through the rejections, revisions, and care that will ultimately polish your book better than you could ever do alone. 
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GRWR: What can we expect next?
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AM: I hope to make many more books! That’s really all I want to do. Whether I have the honor of working with another author to create a book together or have the opportunity to publish more of my own stories. It’s the greatest privilege to make books for kids. 
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GRWR: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to mention? 
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AM: I’d like to mention to your readers that I have activity pages that correspond to my book available for download on my website. www.WoodlandAbbey.com 
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Also, I’m a member of a wonderful group of children’s book authors, The Picture Book Scribblers. We are all available for school visits paired by theme or individually. You can find us here https://picturebookscribbl.wixsite.com/home
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Thank you so much, Ronna. It’s been an absolute pleasure to chat with you today!
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GRWR: What a wonderfully frank and informative interview. Thank you, Annelouise, and best of luck with Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night.
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BRIEF BIO

Annelouise Mahoney photo courtesy of ©Michael Chang

Annelouise Mahoney has worked in animation for DreamWorks, DIC Animation, Sony, and Saban Entertainment. She has also worked as a colorist for Marvel and Image Comics on such series as Uncanny X-Men, Generation X, and others. This is her first picture book, and it was inspired by the depths of her daughters’ friendships and the many ways they are brave, especially with someone on their side. She loves to explore the forest, can’t resist a cave, and has a lot of love for all those named Julius in her life. Annelouise lives in Southern California with her family. Learn more about her at www.woodlandabbey.com.
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Order your copy of Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night: Mahoney today.

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SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook: Woodland Abbey

Twitter: @WoodlandAbbey

Instagram: Annelouise Mahoney 

 

CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE ACTIVITY PAGES

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Julius and Macy A Very Brave Night-4 GiveawayTWO GIVEAWAY OPPORTUNITIES

1. Enter our Twitter giveaway @goodreadsronna for a chance to win a signed copy of Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night together with a special Giveaway Prize Package from Annelouise that includes an 8×11 print of cover, a sticker sheet, and a round sticker. Eligible for U.S.  only. One winner will be selected at random and announced at 6 pm PDT on Friday, April 9.

 

             WIN!          WIN!          WIN!          WIN!

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2. Additionally, five lucky winners will each receive three fabulous books celebrating the art of making and keeping friends, including Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night, courtesy of Two Lions. Details and entry form can be found here (US addresses).

 

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Click here to read another recent author-illustrator interview.

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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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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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