Celebrate the Lunar New Year and learn about all of its traditions with this Big Golden Book!
Every year, millions of Asian families come together to celebrate the first new moon in the sky. Now preschoolers can learn about the zodiac animals, the delicious food, the exciting parades, and all the fun traditions. Filled with colorful illustrations and simple, yet informative text, this Big Golden Book is perfect for reading again and again to the whole family. Happy Lunar New Year!
Growing up, I read many Golden Books, but never one about my own culture. When I first read this manuscript, I was so excited to see a story about a holiday that I grew up celebrating and with characters who reflected me and my family. I’m thrilled that this next generation of Asian children will get to grow up seeing themselves represented in ways that we didn’t have. It was also a treat to bring the words of Mary Man-Kong, the author, to life! She has written several other stories for Golden Books, Disney, and other licensed properties.
Q: What was your process for illustrating the cover?
The art director, Roberta Ludlow, provided very detailed guidelines for illustrating the cover and each spread–which I really appreciated. For the cover, she and the team at Golden Books wanted two children in traditional outfits running with a dragon. I started with three different rough sketches.
Once the team picked their favorite, I filled in base colors and finally rendered the details and lighting.
Q: What traditions are covered in this book?
Though this book mostly focuses on 春节 (The Spring Festival, aka the Chinese term for Lunar New Year), it also touches on other cultures and countries that celebrate Lunar New Year, including Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Q: What was your favorite part about illustrating this book?
I designed the family to look like mine! The parents and grandma are modeled after my own, and the designs for the little girl and boy are based on my brother and me as kids.
Q: What do you love most about how the book turned out?
I love how the festive scenes like the fireworks and dragon scenes remind me of my own childhood celebrating Lunar New Year with my family!
Q: Do you have other projects in the works?
Yes! I have three other picture books releasing in 2024 (MAMIE TAPE FIGHTS TO GO TO SCHOOL by Traci Huahn, Crown/Penguin Random House; STAY ANGRY, LITTLE GIRL inspired by the words of Madeleine L’Engle, FSG/Macmillan; GOODNIGHT SOUNDS by Debbie S. Miller, Bloomsbury). My author-illustrator debut picture book, CELEBRATING DONG ZHI: THE WINTER SOLSTICE is releasing in 2025 with Bloomsbury.
BUY THE BOOK
Support a local independent bookstore and purchase a copy here.
Michelle Jing Chan is a queer Chinese American author-illustrator who works on picture books and comics for kids and teens. Ever since she could hold a pencil, Michelle has loved using art to bring the daydreams in her head to life. Her work has been featured in the Wing Luke Museum, Buzzfeed, and Upworthy. When not drawing, Michelle is petting the neighborhood cats, obsessing over a book, or getting jump-scared by spooky TV shows. Visit Michelle at www.michellejingchan.com or on social media @michellieart.
Mary Man-Kong is a children’s book editor and author living in New York City. When she’s not editing or writing, she loves traveling with her amazing family on awesome adventures.
BUG ON THE RUG – Pug is snug on his rug. But what happens when along comes BUG?! With a claim to the rug?! The two engage in a hysterical, rhyming battle of wits and strength until Slug asks the necessary questions and helps them find common ground. Rhyming is an important developmental reading skill. It teaches phonics (decodable text) and helps young readers infer content. This is a fun story to build those skills–and is an epic read-aloud!
INTERVIEW WITH SOPHIA GHOLZ:
Welcome to GoodReadsWithRonna, Sophia! I’m excited to have you as my guest to learn more about your wonderful new picture book BUG ON THE RUG.
GoodReadsWithRonna: I’ve read that as a child you enjoyed horses. I’m curious where pugs fit into the big picture—was it the rhyming potential, their utter adorableness, or something else?
Sophia Gholz: Thanks, Ronna! I’m excited to be here to celebrate BUG ON THE RUG with you.
I often referred to myself as a “barn rat” as a kid and spent as much time with horses as I could. To this day, the smell of a farm still feels like home. While there were always barn cats, dogs, and a slew of other characters in the mix, there weren’t any barn pugs, unfortunately. My love of little dogs actually came about in adulthood. When I lived in New York City, I had a Brussels Griffon who everyone mistook for a pug. I just adore little foofy pooches and their giant personalities. But pug love aside, the true inspiration behind this book is my younger brother. I have lovingly referred to my little brother as Bug for his entire life. I feel very lucky to call him one of my best friends. But much like Pug and Bug, it took my brother and me a long time (and a few trials) to reach best friend status.
GRWR:Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you’re a plotter, did you know the whole story before you set out to write it? If you’re a pantser, what was it that motivated you to tell this story and keep at it?
SG: I’m a total panster. I find that if I plot out a story then the story no longer feels fresh and exciting for me. I like to write as a reader—learning something new with each page turn. So, I go off feeling, emotion, and what story I want to read in that moment. This often means heavy (and I mean, HEAVY) revisions later. But that initial excitement and mood is what I try to capture in the first draft and that same feeling is what keeps me going. With that said, I do a lot of mental pre-plotting and generally have a sense of where I want the story to go before I begin. I do sometimes start writing and realize I’m going in the completely wrong direction and have to start over. In those cases, I end up working out some plot issues or character problems before I really get going. But aside from the occasional false start, I don’t usually write anything out before I begin.
GRWR:Did you have as much fun, any LOL moments, writing this story as I had reading it?
SG: My goodness, yes! I had SO much fun writing this book. Like I mentioned above, I try to write as a reader and don’t really plot ahead of time. So, as those words were coming out, I was giggling along as the voyeur. One of the most fun moments I had while writing this was when Pug rethinks his day. I had a great time coming up with a ton of absurd things Pug might have done during his daily routine.
GRWR:I adore a rollicking rhyming read-aloud like yours. Does rhyming come easily for you?
SG: Thank you! Rhyme has always felt natural to me. When I began writing years ago, my first picture book manuscripts were mostly in rhyme. However, I admit that I wasn’t a trained rhymer. Once I really began digging into the varying rules of rhyme and meter, I grew very afraid. I was so scared that I’d unintentionally blow it that I fully stopped rhyming. It’s taken me a few years of practice and determination to come full circle with a rhyming text, and I couldn’t be happier. Rhyme is so much fun to play with and write!
GRWR:You have two new books, both humorous although one is nonfiction. What do you enjoy most about writing in each category?
SG: You know, I don’t really see them as different categories when I write. For me, I try to write nonfiction the same way I write fiction. The only difference is that I have preexisting pieces of the puzzle when I write nonfiction. But I like to write each with the mentality of just having a fun or interesting story to tell. That said, I do enjoy all the cool facts I learn while researching nonfiction subjects. Education never ends!
GRWR:Sophia, this book is an uproarious and engaging approach to teaching phonics to children eager to learn how to read. Was that always your intention or did it just happen organically?
SG:When I first heard BUG ON THE RUG referred to as a great learning tool for emergent readers, I was so happy … and surprised! I did not initially have this in mind when I wrote the book. For me, it was about reading these words out loud and having a ton of fun. I’ve always enjoyed playing with sounds, alliteration, and tongue twisters. This book is a bit of an ode to that. But I understand how important teaching phonics in fun ways is, especially as I’ve helped my own little kiddos learn to read. With that in mind, I truly hope young readers have a great time with this book.
GRWR:Susan’s art captures both the heart and humor of your story. What did you think when and if you saw sketches or finished art? Which is your favorite spread and why?
SG:I am obsessed with Susan’s art! OBSESSED. Fun fact: I’d been eyeing Susan’s work online for a while and was a big fan before we worked together. So, I was thrilled when Sleeping Bear said they thought she would be a great fit for this manuscript. When I saw the initial sketches, I was flipping out. Seriously. Susan’s art is hilarious! Plus, she completely surprised me in the best of ways. For example, I originally envisioned Pug inside his home when I wrote the book. But Susan created the setting outside, and it made so much more sense. Susan added her own hilarious spin to this manuscript, and I feel so lucky to have worked with her. I think my favorite spread is probably the last page. Pug’s expression is priceless!
GRWR:What do you hope young readers will take away from BUG ON THE RUG?
SG:Humor aside, this book is ultimately about empathy, sharing, and taking ownership of our actions. I hope readers can see themselves here and know that people can have disagreements, but still be friends. Owning our mistakes is difficult. But it’s important to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others, just as it’s important to learn to forgive and move on.
GRWR:What can we expect next?
SG: I’d love to see more of Pug and his friends! In the meantime, A HISTORY OF TOILET PAPER (AND OTHER POTTY TOOLS), illustrated by Xiana Teimoy, is a humorous nonfiction picture book that’ll roll into bookstores this August. Everything else is still top secret for now. Stay tuned!
GRWR:Thank you, Sophia. It’s been delightful chatting with you. I wish you and Susan much success with BUG ON THE RUG.
INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN BATORI:
Welcome to the blog, Susan, and congrats on your latest picture book! I adored DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT! which I also reviewed here so I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to ask about your art in BUG ON THE RUG.
GoodReadsWithRonna: I immediately noticed the lovely European-like city and snow-capped mountains in the distance. Did you set this story in Budapest where you live and if so, why?
Susan Batori:Sadly there are no snow-capped mountains in Budapest. Originally, the story written by Sophia, was set in a small Swiss town. That is why I drew small, red roof European-ish houses and you can find a cable car which is often seen in Switzerland. The story was rewritten later but we decided to keep the drawings with the Swiss landscape.
GRWR:When you read Sophia’s manuscript, what were your thoughts about how you wanted to illustrate the story?
SB: When I read Sophia’s manuscript I fell in love with it at the first glance. I felt this is my story too because I love the funny and witty tales, these are very inspiring and so easy to illustrate. After reading the manuscript I immediately saw the pictures, compositions, and the characters in my head. There was a little challenge because of the disparity of sizes of the pug and the bug, but I hope I solved it well.
GRWR:What medium did you use to create the illustrations and was there anything about the story that influenced your decision?
SB: I work on a computer and a digital tablet. I love them because they make my work much easier and the publishers like it too. It makes work simple. Besides I can imitate the aquarell feeling, paper textures, and the brush strokes. My digital illustrations are often mistaken for a “real” drawing.
GRWR:What is your process like from when you receive a new manuscript to submitting final art?
SB: After reading the manuscript I use the internet for finding help about the characters or the background. In this case, I started to search pug videos. I try to figure out what kind of things make a pug a pug, or a slug a slug. I mean how they move or sit, what their colors are, what if I draw a smaller nose or shorter legs to them … etc. This is a very useful activity and it entertains me. So I start sketching the characters and show them to the client. Next, I design the composition of the pages and with the publisher, we try to find the best solutions. Then I am ready for coloring where I try to deliver some kind of atmosphere or feeling. In this book, I wanted to illustrate a summer-mountain feeling with a lot of greens. If everyone is happy with the colored pages I send them to the art director. That’s all. Easy peasy. :)
GRWR:The dynamic of the character interaction cracks me up, especially when slug shows up. Was any particular character, Pug, Bug, or Slug, especially fun to work with?
SB: Haha! Yes, Slug is really a funny character. It was interesting because in each book I illustrated there was a character who was my favorite but here all three were my favorites. They have their own humorous personality.
GRWR:I loved your art in Robin Newman’s DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT!, and love it here, too. I see a common thread of a humorous conflict and sweet resolution in both stories. Do you enjoy illustrating humorous picture books? Are there any challenges you must consider?
SB: Aww, thank you! Somehow I am very good at illustrating feelings, especially humorous actions and facial expressions. I just LOVE working on hilarious books or stories, and drawing funny animals is my favorite job. It makes me happy and I believe if I am happy while I am working on these, the children will be happy too while they are reading them.
I wouldn’t be a good illustrator without humour.
GRWR:Do you have a favorite spread?
The first page when Pug hugs his rug, I find it so cute.
Then there is the “rug-fight” scene. This is the most dynamic page in the book.
And I just love the very last page when everyone is on the rug. I think that is very funny.
GRWR:Any plans to write and illustrate your own books?
SB:I have a few ideas but there is no time for them … yet. ;)
THANK YOU FOR THE GREAT QUESTIONS!
GRWR:Thank you for making us smile!
Sophia Gholz is a children’s book writer, music lover, avid reader, and the award-winning author of The Boy Who Grew a Forest and Jack Horner, Dinosaur Hunter! She lives in Orlando, Florida.
30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG
Written by Amanda Davis
Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Associate Publisher-WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group: Peggy Schaefer
What I Love About the Cover:
My husband, children and I were living overseas on 9/11 and remained there for a handful of years afterward so I’ve primarily gleaned info about the tragic events of that day through children’s books, friends’ accounts and documentaries. I continue to learn more new things about 9/11 which is why the cover (by Sally Wern Comport) for Amanda Davis’s new picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag intrigued me when I first saw it. It reminded me of when my children would play the parachute games at nursery and that feeling of joy, exuberance, pride and connectivity their faces conveyed. Add to that the multicultural, multi-generational and multi-abled group of people holding up the iconic flag, and you have all the makings of a moving picture book cover. And though we cannot tell a book by its cover, we can surely get a sense. Here Comport conveys texture, optimism, and subtle details about the myriad individuals involved in the 9/11 flag. There’s no way anyone seeing the book on a bookstore shelf, in the library, in a newsletter or on social media will not want to find out what the story is behind the cover and the book’s title. Read on to get the inside scoop of why this story of hope in the shape of a flag should be added to your TBR lists.
GoodReadsWithRonna:Amanda, now you know my reaction to the cover, what was your initial reaction to the cover? How do you feel it captures the essence of your story?
Amanda Davis: My initial reaction to the cover was that it filled me with light and hope. The bright colors that Sally chose along with the choice to depict a diverse group of people working together to hold up the flag, perfectly highlights the themes of unity, strength and healing, that are the essence of the story. I’m also really happy that the cover is inclusive of all types of people since the flag was stitched by many different people in diverse communities throughout the United States.
AD: Peggy, what direction (if any) was given to Sally regarding inclusivity and the cover concept in general?
Peggy Schaefer: Sally is an amazing and accomplished artist, so we didn’t give her a lot of specific cover direction. The art director talked with her about the cover in general, and she came back with two options. We chose to move forward with this one because, as you said, it captured the emotion and essence of the story. We actually didn’t talk about the cover design until after the interior was storyboarded. This can be helpful, because details come to the forefront as artists work through their sketches.
Inclusivity is a topic that we talk about for every project. In this case, it was essential to accurately portray the story of the flag and all those involved in its journey. We also want every child to be able to find themselves in our books. The importance of being inclusive for young readers cannot be overstated.
GRWR: Amanda, can you talk a bit about the process and challenges of writing a creative nonfiction picture book about a difficult topic in history?
AD: Great question, Ronna. 30,000 Stitches is a creative nonfiction story and with that, in my opinion, comes an added weight of getting the facts and details in both the text and art accurate. On top of that, I wanted to make sure the text navigated the topic of 9/11 in a way that was not just factual but also accessible to children and highlighted the hope that came out of the tragic events. With that said, one of my favorite parts of this process was researching and interviewing the sources for the story. I have a background in journalism so this is right up my alley! I connected with the Ground Zero Superintendent, Flag Tour Staff, and founder of the New York Says Thank You Foundation. I’m honored to have spoken with such selfless, kind, and generous people whose dedication to helping America heal after 9/11 was inspiring. To this day, they continue to give back and be of service to others, which is truly exceptional. I’m grateful they’ve been so generous with their time in helping us get the story right and their willingness to check and recheck for accuracy.
AD: Peggy, can you talk about this fact-checking process from the editor’s perspective?
Peggy:This was an interesting project in that regard. The body of the book, as you said, is creative nonfiction, and there are not a lot of specific details in the story itself. Most of the factual detail is in the back matter, which came from your interviews with those involved in the flag’s journey. Their willingness to review for accuracy was so valuable. A different challenge came in being precise in the art details. Sally is incredibly detail-minded in her art, so it was clear she was paying a lot of attention to detail, and that gave us a big head start. But even as we were drawing to the conclusion of the work, we were checking details in the art, things like uniforms and locations and such.
GRWR: Amanda, were you familiar with Sally Wern Comport’s work before she was chosen as your illustrator? Did you have any say in this process?
AD: Yes! I love Sally’s art! I was a huge fan of her work in Ada’s Violin and thought her textured mixed media style would be perfect in depicting the torn and tattered nature of the flag. There’s actually a funny and fateful backstory here. Before WorthyKids acquired 30,000 Stitches, I had interest from another publisher who asked my agent and I to reach out to illustrators and come back to them with some names. Sally was one of the artists I reached out to and connected with. As fate would have it, after I signed with WorthyKids, Sally found her way onto Peggy’s list of suggested illustrators. When Peggy shared the list with me, I tried to contain my excitement when I saw Sally’s name on there but told her that it was a BIG yes from me.
In the end, it all worked out, and I’m beyond thrilled with the way Sally interpreted the text. Her illustrations bring life and emotion to the text; expanding on the story in a way that words alone can’t do. Through her visuals, we see the many hands and hearts the flag touched. The visual techniques she used convey a beautiful and symbolic parallel between the transformative healing of both the American people and the flag. As the flag heals, the people do, too.
AD: Peggy, how did you find Sally Wern Comport and what factors made you eventually land on her for 30,000 Stitches? Why did you feel Sally’s style was a good fit to help bring the story to life?
Peggy:I’ll answer your second question first. I fell in love with Sally’s style when I saw her portfolio online. Her work is so rich and dynamic. Honestly, her style wasn’t what we had gone out looking for, but it just felt so right. I bought copies of a couple of Sally’s books, including Ada’s Violin—and seeing those reinforced my feeling that Sally was the right choice for the book.
Selecting the artist was a fairly collaborative process. I worked closely with the art director, who sent me a selection of possible styles, and I shared my suggestions with him. And, of course, I shared with you as well. After we narrowed it down, I reached out to several agents about possible artists. Sally’s agent is actually the one who brought her to my attention, based on the description I gave him of what I was looking for. Later, I found out that you had been in touch about Sally. I don’t know if the agent remembered that or if it was a coincidence. I like to think of it as serendipity! Everyone on the team was blown away by Sally’s style. It was so unexpected and conveys so much emotion. I couldn’t be happier that we were able to work with Sally on this project.
GRWR:Amanda, can you tell us about the submission process for 30,000 Stitches?
AD: The submission process for 30,000 Stitches was a good old-fashioned slush pile success. I submitted the story (then called, THE FABRIC OF AMERICA) in February of 2019 via snail mail and seven months later received an email from one of Worthy’s assistant editors asking if the story was still available. I of course said yes, and connected her to my agent for the story, Melissa Richeson. Melissa connected with Peggy and the rest is history! :)
AD: Peggy, how did you get your eyes on 30,00 Stitches, and what made you say yes to the project?
Peggy: As you mentioned, the manuscript first came in through the slush pile. As is sometimes the case, we were intrigued from the start, but the book was a little outside the core area that we publish into, so we didn’t act immediately. But it stuck with us, and when we reached out again, you connected us with Melissa. I was so happy to be able to acquire the book because 1) it’s a story I’d love more people to be familiar with; 2) the underlying themes of unity and healing and resilience are so important for kids; and 3) our readers are a generation who did not experience 9/11 firsthand and this is an age-appropriate introduction to this critical moment in U.S. history. But really it was your lyrical use of language that drew me in from the start. Everyone on the team who read the manuscript had an emotional reaction to it—and asked “Why didn’t I know about this?” And more than one told me it brought tears to their eyes or gave them goosebumps. That’s the kind of book I want to publish—books that touch the heart as well as the mind.
GRWR: Amanda and Peggy, this year will mark the 20th remembrance of 9/11, and we recently reached a generation that was not alive to witness the tragic events of that day. What do you hope readers, both young and old, take away from 30,000 Stitches?
AD: Especially after the challenging year we all just faced, I hope that 30,000 Stitches can inspire others. I hope it offers healing to all those in need. I hope it serves as a reminder that light can come from darkness. That we can rise from the shadows if we unite and come together. We are resilient. We are strong. We are connected through our stories. Stories of suffering. Stories of loss. Stories of compassion. Stories of kindness. Our stories are stitched together. Our stories are the fabric of America.
Peggy: I don’t think I could have said it better than Amanda. That’s why she’s the writer!
GRWR: Thanks to you both for this revealing Q&A. I know I learned tons and am sure our readers did, too!
How can readers get their hands on this beautiful story?
You can pre-order a signed copy of 30,000 Stitches through:
And we’re wrapping the reveal with a DOUBLE GIVEAWAY!
1. Complete the form below for a chance to win one of ten (10) signed copies of 30,000 STITCHES. Winners will be selected in May.
2. Amanda is also giving away a 30-minute Zoom call for a picture book author or author-illustrator to discuss a current project and/or answer industry questions OR a 30-minute classroom visit for educators and librarians.
Get extraentries when you pre-order a signed copy of 30,000 Stitches from Silver Unicorn Bookstore here. Please DM a screenshot of the receipt to Amanda on Twitter @amandadavisart.
In the comments below, share a recent bright spot you experienced that gave you hope or joy. Please note that all posts are moderated prior to appearing so be assured your comments will be seen and posted and your name will be added to Amanda’s generous giveaway. Good luck!”
Deadline to enter the contest is Thursday February 4th, at 5:00 PM EST. Amanda will announce winners on Friday, February 5th via Twitter.
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. After losing her father at the age of twelve, Amanda turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became her voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell her story. She was thus inspired to teach art and pursue her passion for writing and illustrating children’s books.
Through her work, Amanda empowers younger generations to tell their own stories and offers children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again.
Amanda is the recipient of the 2020 Ann Whitford Paul—Writer’s Digest Most Promising Picture Book Manuscript Grant and teaches art at a public high school in Massachusetts where she was selected as 2020 Secondary Art Educator of the Year. Amanda is the author of 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG and has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology, FRIENDS AND ANEMONES: OCEAN POEMS FOR CHILDREN. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.
Check out all the other websites on this exciting cover reveal blog tour.
Illustrator and author, K. G. Campbell discusses Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures
and more with Ronna Mandel!
I had the good fortune to sit down with K. G. (Keith) Campbell earlier this month when he joined Kate DiCamillo for a Flora & Ulyssesbook 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.
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.
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 Rulesis with which publishing house?
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.
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.
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 & Ulysseswas 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.
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.