Raven Howell's Blog

October 25, 2020

A "Charmed" Fairytale

Many friends, colleagues and fellow writers have reached out to me recently, discouraged with the state of affairs in the world, our nation, our society, our economy – all effecting creativity and work life in one way or another. We decided to pick a positive event to focus on and share as encouragement to remind each other of the magical moments that occur, if even on a small scale.

#writerslifeforme

After spending weeks, months, or years of writing, re-writing, editing, critiquing and polishing manuscripts, I await responses from my submissions. As a full time writer, some of my work is assigned, some commissioned. Recently a special "charmed" situation came about. A couple of years ago my agent requested a submission from me for a publisher looking for a fractured fairytale series to add to their catalog. Unbeknownst to me, a delightful experience was about to unfold.

I worked night and day for many months on a draft and proposal for the book series. This was my first serious attempt at writing a fractured (twisted) fairytale even though it's a popular children’s book genre, and I’ve enjoyed the few I’d read. After submission I tried to be patient through the obligatory waiting period, wondering if all those hours, days, weeks, months, blood/sweat & tears I dedicated were worthy of attention.

Jack and the Lean Stalk was my obvious take on Jack and the Bean Stalk. I wrote a story that flips some of the qualities of the original Giant with the boy, Jack. The main change was the addition of the theme of anti-bullying and acceptance in a community of diversity. Charmed moment #1! The editor was specifically interested in an anti-bullying theme at that time. How lucky! Pursuant to a couple of editorial meetings, I was offered the book deal.

Charmed situation #2: working closely with the senior editor in sharpening, tweaking and polishing the text. A wonderful relationship was forged with an extremely gifted person. I now understand several key ingredients of how to tighten and clarify a plot, serving me well in my writing work since.

Ok, now for my publisher’s pursuit to find an illustrator whose work would be befitting. Being a lover of the arts in the children’s literary community, I come across many talents whose artwork sticks with me, and have several I dream of contacting tucked away in my heart….and somewhere in my notebook journals. So, my editor says to me, “I’ll send you this illustrator’s portfolio to look at. I have a feeling you’ll connect with her artwork and it may be perfect for our book.” Ok. Sure, send it over.

When I received illustrator Sarah Gledhill’s email and portfolio package, I smiled and literally shouted out loud- charmed moment #3! I had been wanting to work with Sarah for several years, finding her illustrations sweet, whimsical and charming. Uh…yeah, pretty please let’s have Sarah do the illustrations! Ha! And I was so charmed to find Sarah one of the nicest and most playful artists that I am honored to work with. We continue to collaborate to this day.

My book is being actively promoted, and particularly in the current climate, it’s heartening to see Jack and the Lean Stalk being stocked in independent bookstores and in elementary school classrooms. And frankly, it’s crucial to receive those royalties to pay bills.

Funny how sometimes things just come together rather magically. Jack and the Lean Stalk has been one of my best selling books to date, and I’m left feeling grateful, and charmed.

Jack and the Lean Stalk
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Published on October 25, 2020 05:50

August 14, 2020

An Editor's Tips/I'm the Elf, you're Santa

My writing career has branched more seriously into the role of editor. It’s challenging, fun, and I’m always learning something new. When it comes to working with author and illustrator submissions, I receive lots of inquiries about what is expected, what is needed, how to do right to find, work with, and have a healthy and happy relationship with an editor.

Here are a few things I’ll share. This is my own opinion of course, and every editor as well as every author and illustrator has their own set of do’s and don’ts.

First, an editor wants the artwork or text to achieve the creator’s intentions. So, it’s never about someone else changing it, but instead, finding the clearest and strongest path to achieve the submitter’s concept and ideas. I’m also playing the role of pretending I’m the book buyer and reader. Will I like what I’m reading or seeing? Is there a powerful theme, plot or vision? Any pointless words to dispose of that simply clutter the plot? Does the artwork flow easily from page to page? Is the color scheme appealing to the age group?

From here, it’s important to keep in mind that we both have the same goal to make a book, artwork, story, poem, any submission, the very best it can be! I’m the behind the scenes Santa’s helper, the Elf that works on building and mending the most lovely toys for girls and boys (or adults). You’re the “Santa” that will ride it into the world on a magical sleigh. It doesn’t matter if the work is self-published, traditionally published, released to just friends and family, an article for a magazine, an on-line publication – who is the target audience? How many will it ultimately reach? Where does it lovingly belong? We prep for this behind the scenes, while you end up ultimately delivering it.

If you’re the author, trust in the illustrator’s playing field. Allow them the space to travel in their paints, pencils, and palette’s to make your written dreams come to life. Most artists are quick to make adjustments if they are off track, and teamwork is integral. Drop the defenses, and it’s okay to suggest and even stand firm at times, both as writer and illustrator. If you have a super reason for something and can justify its relevance or how important it is – great! Together, we often come up with lots of compromises not previously considered.

The last thing I’ll say is to really know what you’re writing or illustrating about. If you’re passionate about your submission and have done the research, I’ll know. Your subject and you need to have some intimacy. For example, when I work with other poets, I value an explanation of why there’s a choice to not have a rhyme in a certain spot or why having a bumpy last verse is the way to go.

So, keep these things in mind – and you’ll have a smooth ride. Happy writing, illustrating, and creating!
Chuckles and Smiles
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Published on August 14, 2020 06:47 Tags: authors, childrens-authors, editing-tips, editor, writers

May 31, 2020

If You Give a Mouse an interview

For me and my children, it started with “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”, and then we were off and running, making sure we had the latest Laura Numeroff picture book in our household when it was released. Whether it was another in the "If You Give A" series or not, Laura's books lined my kids' bookshelf during their childhood.

To date, Laura’s releases continue to entertain and bring joy and smiles to literally millions of children around the world.

With so many changes we’ve all had to make recently, I’m finding it important to share our support, time and kindness with kids in reassuring ways. Laura agreed, and allowed me into Mouse’s world for a fantastic interview that is sure to bring a giggle and cheer to all readers.

Laura, you’ve written so many wonderful Mouse books considered kidlit classics now. Mouse is beloved by many children around the world, and a joyful character. May I ask Mouse some questions?

“Absolutely! Mouse loves being interviewed!”

First, we want to know, Mouse, do you wear your whiskers in or out of the face mask?

“My whiskers have to go inside the mask. I usually just tie my bandana around my face!”

When washing your hands, some suggest singing the Happy Birthday song two times for the length of the wash. What song do you sing?

“I sing MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB but I substitute the word “Lamb” for “Mouse”!”

What do you always like to have in the refrigerator?

“Nectarines, ice-cream sandwiches, pumpernickel, crunchy peanut butter, dill pickles, whipped cream, tuna fish, olives, orange juice, and milk.”

Favorite type of cheese?

“I don’t like cheese.”

During the quarantine, you’ve picked up an instrument to learn. What was it? How did that go?

“I got a little harmonica but I couldn’t blow hard enough so it didn’t go so well. I prefer to whistle.”

What’s your favorite word?

“Splendid"

What's your favorite form of exercise these days?

“I love to do yoga.”

Finally, what advice could you share with our children’s community?

“It’s very important to do what adults tell you to do, like wash your hands and sneeze into your elbow. And, read! A lot! Reading is great for your imagination and to take you places you’d never be able to go on your own! Stay safe! Love, Mouse.”

Laura Numeroff
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Published on May 31, 2020 06:55

April 20, 2020

How to Babysit a Logan author and illustrator discuss why cats are love bugs and why human faces are challenging.

April is Autism Awareness month – a great time to feature one of my favorite picture books, How to Babysit a Logan by Callie Metler-Smith and Cindy Vatatthil.

I read this touching children’s book last year when it was released and ended up sharing it with many friends. The story follows an autistic child through the eyes of his beloved cat and friend, Thunderbolt. The result is a gentle informational with the storyline written in an easy conversational tone. The accompanying imaginative illustrations deserve just as much attention since they pop out and can’t help but bring the pages to life.

Callie, How to Babysit a Logan is a true story. Was there one point in particular that you knew was significant to write into your story or plot, and highlight?

My son, Logan, has asked me to write a book about Thunderbolt so I wanted to make sure I captured all the things that made their relationship so special. I also wanted to highlight the many quirks that makes Logan unique.

Cat Thunderbolt is a relatable character. It’s not an easy feat for an author to take the reader into the eyes, life, and perspective of someone not human. Let’s say Thunderbolt was a dog. What breed would it be and what do you imagine may happen in his day with Logan that would differ?

I love this idea! I imagine that Thunderbolt would be a big black lab. Thunderbolt is a total love bug and has the personality of most labs I know. I think he would still support Logan in the same way, but would be unable to get up on the counters anymore!

How do you handle your writing/creative routine? Are you a fretter if say, you started a story and then haven’t gotten around to finishing it? Or do you freely tackle your inspiration at the times it comes your way?

I have to be very intentional about my writing time. If I don’t start out with a plan for it, it doesn’t happen. I will usually start a story and tinker with it on my phone when I have down time for a few weeks. I love working with Lynne Marie, so I will often bounce it back to her to get her thoughts.

Is there anything special that you consider essential to have around or near your work space when writing or involved with artwork?

My perfect writing day involves green tea with honey, the movie Breakfast at Tiffanys, and spinach and artichoke dip. This last year I got more intentional and I love putting in my headphones and getting comfortable and writing. I usually begin with some sort of devotional or prayer time.

Which scene or sequence in How to Babysit a Logan was the hardest for you to capture?

I really struggled with making sure there was enough heart in the story. I wanted to spotlight the relationship between Logan and Thunderbolt, and spent a long time making the interactions between them was just right.

Did it take you a long time to write the general draft, something that you went back to over and over again, or did it come quick?

It took me about 6 months to work out the story in my head and probably about three months to really polish it and get it where I wanted it. I had met my illustrator, Cindy, at that point and I really wanted to work with her on this project so I fast tracked my writing process quite a bit.

From the perspective of your creative spirit, what was the most influential place you’ve traveled to?

Nature is my favorite place and I’ve had the pleasure in the past two years to visit a beautiful beach in Florida and hike near Pine Mountain, Georgia. Both places provided a lot of grounding and inspiration for me. I am hoping to go back to Pine Mountain this summer.

Give us an example of a real life “Thunderbolt” situation that impacted you creatively for your book. Is there a special cat moment or two?

There are so many! One of my favorite memories of Logan and Thunderbolt is when Logan was about 10. Logan was laying on his stomach on the couch and Thunderbolt was laying on his back. Thunderbolt kept flicking his tail on Logan’s ears to get him to giggle. I’m not sure who was having more fun! Thunderbolt has always been so loving with Logan. He loves to press his forehead to Logan’s as if to say, “I’m with you.” We had a teacher one time say, “If you know Logan, than you know who Thunderbolt is.”

When considering the artwork for How to Babysit a Logan, did you know you wanted the story to have collage work? How did you end up working with Cindy?

I didn’t at first, but when I saw Cindy’s work I knew she was the one I wanted. I had contacted her about another project and when that project fell through I asked her about my book. I felt like her style complimented mine so well and she was also an amazing human which was a bonus! It made it very special to work with her.

Finally, what sentiment would you like the book fan to leave with after reading your book?

A common phrase in the Autism Community is “I don’t just have to teach my child about the world, I have to teach the world about my child.” I’m hoping that this book provides people some insight into Logan’s world, but also shows them how great that world is.

Cindy, this is your first picture book release and introduction as an illustrator. Congratulations! How have you celebrated?

Thank you! It was really quite low-key, actually. The book arrived in the mail one day, my kids gathered around as I opened the box, and then my eldest child asked me to sign her copy. It was really sweet and special to be able to share that moment with them. Also, a few weeks after the book's release, my son's kindergarten teacher asked me to come up and read to their school. It meant a lot to me that my first school event was one that my son could be a part of. I am not a fan of public speaking, so I was extremely nervous...but, I knew I could get through it when I saw his sweet face in the crowd.

Your site, Painting With Scissors, is chock full of gorgeous artwork. What’s your favorite collage work theme?

My favorite thing to create would be cityscapes. Don't get me wrong, nature is inspiring. Portraits are fun. But, there is nothing like capturing the intricate and lively beauty of a skyline full of skyscrapers. As a city girl, I may be partial, but I don't think there is anything more lovely than that.

Your cut-out artwork from How to Babysit a Logan endearingly captures the heartfelt relationship between child and pet. Are you a cat or dog person?

Despite having many clients who are avowed "cat people," I can quite honestly say that I have always been more of a dog person. However, after building a life that involves three kids, I think my mentality has shifted and I may have transformed into more of a fish person...

Do you favor certain collage textures? What colors/palettes do you tend to move toward?

I have always been a fan of the fauvist art movement, with its bright and bold use of color. I also love using textures that compliment one another and work together to create a tapestry of beauty. When I put colors or textures together, I'm always guided by an underlying instinct which tells my "gut" yes or no. Quite literally, in my mid-section, there is just a sort of feeling I get when something looks right...or doesn't. And I always, always, always work from that!

What are the most difficult characters/images for you to capture in collage?

Human faces are challenging, which is why I ultimately prefer to leave them blank. Within the context of the face, eyes are the hardest to get right because if they are wrong the whole piece kind of feels hokey. Also, hands are an artist's nightmare - they are one of the hardest things to get right. But, if you really get down to it, so is posture, and lighting, and proportion and perspective. When you really stop to think about it, it's ALL hard. That's why, when I'm creating my art, I just like to turn on some music and switch my mind to auto-pilot, because if I think too much about what is difficult, I will psych myself out and forget about all that is possible!

For the cover of How to Babysit a Logan, did you create or choose the font style? The 3D effect allows the cover artwork its crispness, clarity, yet provides softness on the eyes.

The cover art font for How to Babysit a Logan was completely under the direction of Callie Metler-Smith, the book's amazing author and editor. I simply gave her the illustrations and she was the master of the text and layout. Sadly, I am so old school that I wouldn't even know how to overlay the title, unless I did it with paper and glue and my own two hands.

Were there other cover images that were options, or did you and Callie know this was the one to use?

Thanks, in part, to a hurricane, a pregnancy and a major home renovation, the illustrations for this project took me over a year to complete! As I worked on it, my main focus was to finish the page spreads inside of the book and then tackle the cover image last. I submitted each spread as they were completed, never expecting for any of them to take center stage. And yet, once all of the inside pages were done - right when I was geared up to make one last image to be used on the front - Callie surprised me with the idea that page 7 would work as the cover. She mocked up some images of how she thought it should look and it actually really seemed to fit the characters and the story. Thunderbolt's back is turned, showing us from the beginning that his focus is always watching over Logan as opposed to looking around at the world. He's a watch cat and he takes his job VERY seriously. We get that, just from the cover! I think it's brilliant and I like the subtlety that Callie used in delivering this message.

Your influences range from Dr. Seuss to Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Eric Carle and Richard Scarry, naming just a few. If you were working in your yard and encountered The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and could ask him anything about himself or his creator, what would it be?

I would ask him if there was a food he absolutely wouldn't eat. It would be an interesting thing to know, I think...kind of like asking Andrew Zimmern what his worst meal was.

Knowing you enjoy baking, what would you make The Very Hungry Caterpillar for lunch?

Dinner rolls are my specialty, so I might make a couple dozen of those to start off. From there, I would cook up some of my delicious crock-pot ribs slathered in barbecue sauce. And, finally, I would add a nice, crunchy side salad (just for the much-needed greenery).

Say he needed new shoes for all those feet. What would your collage cut-outs look like?

All of the shoes for The Very Hungry Caterpillar would be funky and colorful, just like the sort of butterfly that he would someday become! Maybe there would be a boot here and there (like the Elton John-esque glittery Doc Martins I used to own in my teens) or a solid Mary Jane complete with shiny buckles and polished leather. Of course, if my daughter were to influence me in the process, I would have to broaden the pain threshold and allow for a good number of those feet to wear heels (the higher, the better).

On the same whimsical note, how would Thunderbolt and Clifford the Big Red Dog get along?

Being that he's a cat, Thunderbolt might be a bit indifferent to Clifford the Big Red Dog...but, we are living in surprising times, so who knows?! It would be interesting to explore a pet-themed version of "The Odd Couple." I'm thinking Thunderbolt would be more like Felix Unger and Clifford would be more like Oscar Madison. (And now the theme song is stuck in my head....ha!)

And finally, as a children’s illustrator, what are your dreams for the future?

My dreams for the future would be the same as every person - to do more! I LOVE making art, but I also LOVE writing stories. I would be so honored to write and illustrate another book (or twenty) and have them inspire children in the same way that the authors and illustrators of my childhood have inspired me! Passing it on...that's the ultimate goal!

How to Babysit a Logan
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Published on April 20, 2020 06:49

February 16, 2020

Dedication & determination! It took artist Linda Stephen 600 hours to create the artwork for her new book.

After over 25 years of combining colored patterns, textures and lots of detail, one can safely state that Linda Stephen is an origami artist extraordinaire. Linda’s origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, also includes her unique “extensions” such as the use of yuzen patterned papers, handmade washi papers, and unique origami sculptures.

When I saw Linda’s paper art illustrations from the new book, The Day We Went to the Park, I was astounded, and found myself reaching out with questions and insight into her creative world. Receiving a bright response, I found her friendly, worldly, and seemingly patient with those of us who still grapple in trying to make those first few folds of paper evolve toward perhaps just a simple paper flower. Besides, when she happened to rather casually mention that she’d read around 1,000 books a year with her children when they were growing up, I knew our conversation would sparkle!

We share similar picture book influences such as The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, and Frederick by Leo Lionni. Her influences as an artist range from the Japanese series “Guri and Gura” (by Rieko Nakagawa/Yuriko Yamawaki), The Day the Goose Got Loose (by Reeve Lindbergh/Steven Kellogg) to illustrators such as Susan Jeffers and Mark Teague.

Linda, what are you most inspired by?

“I’m inspired by the beauty that surrounds us in every season. I particularly love watching people being active outside. This may be a farmers’ market, an outdoor jazz concert, a local park or beach. In my art, I aim to celebrate both the festive and the quiet moments in our everyday lives. There is beauty of place, and of spirit, all around us, though these are often overlooked.”

You’ve spent lots of time traveling around the world and lived in Japan for several years. What’s your favorite place to travel to?

“I do love Japan, particularly rural Japan. I love narrow roads and old markets and the contrast of high-speed trains next to 800-year-old temples. Another favorite place is the fjords of Norway – hiking up a mountain to touch a glacier.”

Tell us a few things about your new book, The Day We Went to the Park.

“I am always inspired by local parks and the people of all ages and all walks of life who enjoy the parks alone or with a friend or with family in every season. The art for The Day We Went to the Park is inspired by Holmes Lake Park in Lincoln, Neb. and Grand Lake in northern Michigan.”

“The most challenging origami from my book was a child in the foreground who is kneeling on rocks poking with a stick in the water. For me, making a person who is walking or running is straight-forward (though it still takes a long time). The challenge with the kid next to the pool was in getting the right angle for the shoulders, arms and legs. I eventually recruited a model to do the movement I was looking for (though we did it bending over grass rather than at the water). I must have changed the position at least 100 times. The kid was still not glued down during the photo shoot for the book.”

“My origami landscapes take anywhere from 20 hours to six months. I love listening to audio books while I work. This helps me to keep going (what’s next in the story?) even if I am tired. I prefer finding a series because one artwork usually takes 60 hours. The Day We Went to the Park took about six months and 600 hours. I work on a ping pong table so I have a lot of space to have little origami pieces in front of me and lots of paper choices spread out to choose from. I never have any liquids on the table – and no snacks, either. I may have a cup of coffee or tea behind me on a bookshelf. The only liquid on the worktable is a little bit of bookbinding glue.”

For the whimsical-minded, if you could cook and form a pizza, or bake a cake with origami-like techniques and appearance, which would you choose?

“I would choose a pizza. The flat geometric shape is easier to make than a 3D cake. We could make a square pizza by making four “triangle bases” and fitting them together, for example. You’re reminding me that it’s time to eat!”

Finally, you share “design thinking” techniques with children K through 12. What words of advice and artistic inspiration can you share with not only students but with all of us?

“The goal of “design thinking” is to create and encourage future innovators and breakthrough thinkers. Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, is also “math you can hold in your hand.” For most models, origami requires extreme precision in folding and in following directions. One missed step results in a dead end. When I teach origami, I emphasize following the steps, the importance of strong creases, etc. I also share examples of where a wrong turn led to something new. Sometimes, a closed box turns into a coin purse by accident. Or a cat head turns into a fox head – depending on the angles of the ears. Are these mistakes or are they new discoveries? Yes. Persistence and practice and an aim for perfection is important in any endeavor. Students also need to understand that a mistake can also result in a new invention. Much of art – and of scientific research or engineering projects – involves a lot of research and development – trying, testing, trying again. Students need to understand that it is okay to make a mistake and that is it okay to start over and try again. This is play with paper but it is also part of practicing how to discover new solutions.”

Thanks, Linda, and much success with your book!

“Thank you! Happy folding and happy exploring!”

The Day We Went to the Park
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Published on February 16, 2020 04:15

January 15, 2020

"When I am drawing, I let my mind go quiet and don’t think too hard."

In its sixth year of publication, illustrator Maris Howell and I celebrate our picture poetry book specifically dedicated to the autistic, ADD and ADHD communities, Dozy Poems, Cozy Days.

Following is a summarized glimpse of Maris' responses when he was interviewed by a special ed student pursuing artistic and writing goals of her own.

"Hello Julie! It's good to hear that our book is well liked in your library. I hope I can answer most of your inquiries and provide you with encouragment on your own ambitions toward the arts.

I recently graduated college with an accounting degree and am working in a wonderful firm, but I illustrated those poems when I was 19/20 years old.

I participated in various art classes outside of school for things like drawing, sketching, and illustrating. I remember less of what I actually drew but I remember more vividly all the great teachers I had that were very passionate about art and showed me how art can be a therapeutic, healthy outlet.

When I illustrated Dozy Poems, Cozy Days I just zoned out and went to work. Most of the time when I am drawing, I let my mind go quiet and don’t think too hard.

There were no outside influences with respect to my illustrating. I find my best work is when I concentrate on the subject and let my hand do the rest! I use my imagination and focus on one drawing at a time without thinking about the bigger picture until later on.

I used many different sizes of brushes and applied different drawing methods throughout. It was fun and relaxing.

I would love to participate in more art activities in the future as a hobby because it's such a great outlet and it's good for me to use the other side of my brain!

Take your time to discover what's best for yourself. For me, I just don’t push too hard or consider any drawing a failure. Each drawing has the chance to provide you with insight and more confidence.

My advice? Don't give up on what you want to do. This has helped me with life in general. If you are ever stuck, try switching things around or make a change. This will open up more opportunities and possibilities. "Dozy Poems, Cozy Days: Poems to Calm the Active Child
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Published on January 15, 2020 05:26

December 21, 2019

When beloved children's author Lisa Wheeler exclaims, "Woolly mammoths! And dogs!", I know we'd all get a kick out of being her best friend!

Who else but children’s author Lisa Wheeler could deploy a joyful, percussive march with a bright rhythm and splash of humor to what is an important message for small children?

“People don’t bite people.
It’s nasty and it’s rude!
A friend will never bite a friend.
Biting is for food!”

Lisa’s follow up book to “People Don’t Bite People” is “People Share with People”:

“It’s good to share a blanket.
It’s nice to share some fries.
It’s great to share your crayons
BEFORE somebody cries.”

It’s no surprise this writer enjoys cardio drumming! Her verse is musical, and in my opinion, these two “People” books are most representative of Lisa’s unique style.

Inspired by Dr. Seuss flair, Humbug Witch whimsy with a touch of Charlotte Zolotow and Jack Ezra Keats sparkle, this prolific author has had a career spanning over 20 years. It’s no wonder she says it’s not easy to focus in and stop her head from spinning when I start chattering about her terrific books and work over the years.

Lisa, can you give a snapshot of your career in writing, and the circumstances or inspiration leading up to it?

“As a child, I loved books, especially books that rhymed. I also loved silly songs, jump-rope rhymes and the hand-clapping games we played on the school playground. It's no wonder I have an ear for meter, beats, and rhyme. (But, unfortunately, I cannot play an instrument or read music.)”

“It feels as though I've always had words in my head. Those words usually lined themselves up in such a way that they came out as little rhyming poems. But it wasn't until I was 32 years old that I decided to try and get published. I think I needed that time to grow the thick skin necessary to handle the rejection that comes with sending your work out into the world. So I did it. I sent stuff out and watched it come back… over and over again! Nearly 4 years and over 225 rejections later, I sold my first book to Allyn Johnston at Harcourt, Inc., One Dark Night (still in print).”

What’s the best thing about creating picture books for children?

“I love that first burst of inspiration that leads to a great new idea. When I am up to my elbows in a new manuscript, I'm all in my head and it's just me and the work. I love that part!”

‘My second favorite thing is seeing the art. It's like finally getting a snapshot of a baby you've only read about in letters. And, of course, it's the kids themselves. It still blows my mind that a child I may never meet is reading my books. It's a responsibility I don't take lightly. What if one of my books is their first introduction to reading?! That's heady stuff!”

Which one of your books would you recommend to first time readers?

“You're asking me to say which of my children is my favorite. Too hard!"

"I do have a four book easy reader series called Fitch & Chip. These two guys still crack me up! (I've often thought that I am both Fitch, an introverted wolf and Chip, a ham of a pig.)”

Do you find it more challenging to write a book, get it published, or market it?

“In order of hard to easy I'd say: market, publish, write.”

“Writing is the fun part. Yes, it can be hard, but it's where I find my joy.”

“Getting it published is something I have little control over. I can make sure the writing is stellar, but ultimately, the decision to publish it or not falls with the publisher.”

“But marketing is excruciating for me. All my insecurities come to the forefront, especially where social media is concerned. I love talking to kids at schools and am good with the whole presentation part of the job. But everything online makes me panic a little.”

What’s a favorite topic you could easily write several projects about?

“Woolly mammoths! And dogs! I have sold and unsold manuscripts about both.”

What’s your favorite holiday, and for fun, can you write us a verse about it?

“Family, food and football,
My favorite season--Fall,
Thankful hearts while holding hands
Thanksgiving has it all.”

You mentioned a book concerning the topic of skilled trades people with Loren Long is in the works. Wow, that's some sparkling collaboration from my point of view.

“I got the idea for this book while my husband and I were renovating our master bathroom. We've done many home projects ourselves and this one was fairly stressful.”

“Anyway, while struggling with tile, I recalled something my husband, who worked in skilled trades, explained to me many years ago. He had said that sometimes, the engineers and designers at his company drew plans on paper, but sometimes had no idea how they would work in 3D. So as my husband's department began working on these projects, they would have to think outside the box to make these drawings come to life.”

“Coming from a blue-collar background, I thought of all our family members who worked in trades and how these men and women are the ones who take someone's "dream" and make it reality.”

“I wrote Someone Has to Build the Dream and it sold to Lauri Hornik at Dial. The amazing Loren Long is illustrating the book and it is a true collaboration. The book comes out in 2021. I am very proud to pay homage to the people who build our dreams.”

I was so happy to see your book Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum is re-released! Are you more Wrigley’s or Bubble Yum?

“Definitely more minty than sugary! Orbit Sweet Mint is my current go-to. I only chew half a stick at a time and get rid of it after about 5 minutes.”

Illustrator Laura Huliska-Beith’s pictures are some of my favorites. You’ve worked with many fabulous book illustrators.

“I have had the privilege of having some of the best artists ever illustrate my books. I could never pick one favorite. I've met a few of them along the way--usually if we're getting an award or speaking at a conference together. One of my earlier books, Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story, was illustrated by Janie Bynum who was already a friend of mine. That was so awesome! But I didn't try to tell her how to do her job. As writers, we need to respect the illustrator and let them do their work.”

Your Dino book series is a hit with children! Enter Dino Christmas where a lot of fun holiday action takes place. If it were possible, what activities would you share with the Dinos this winter?

“I like making crafty things, so I think I'd be decking those halls with the dinos followed by a slide down the hill. Then, I'd warm up with some good cocoa. If I'm lucky, my hubby will have baked something yummy to go with the cocoa.”

Are you still finding time to offer critique services and workshops now and again to other children’s writers?

“Currently I am mentoring a picture book writer through SCBWI-MI, so I want to devote my time to her work.”

“The last few picture book boot camps I have done have been for SCBWI in various regions. I haven't organized one on my own in about 3 years. That said, two days ago I gave a shop-talk in Kalamazoo. I love talking to fellow children's lit writers and am always open to invites to speak.”

Is there something you would recommend today to the young writer you were 25 years ago?

“Yes! Believe in yourself! I was the last person who thought I would succeed. My husband, children, friends and family all had faith in my talent. I struggled (and still struggle) with self-doubt and self-esteem issues. I wake up in the morning surprised that I get to make a living doing what I love.”

Along those lines, what would you advise or share with someone just starting out in the business of children’s writing?

“Learn all you can from every resource available. When I started out, the internet wasn't an option. I limped along until 1997 when we finally went online and I began seeking out fellow children's writers. Then I found SCBWI and learned more in 3 months than I had found on my own in three years.”

“At conferences, instead of worrying about making connections with the bigwigs, I make friends with other attendees. These lifelong friends I met at conferences have taught me so much. I feel so grateful for everyone who has touched my life and my career in some way.”

Lisa Wheeler
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Published on December 21, 2019 05:34

November 20, 2019

Illustrator/author Alison Jay reveals why having Ant and Bee in her workspace now would be very helpful.

About ten years ago, I became enthralled with the children's picture book, I Took the Moon for a Walk written by Carolyn Curtis and illustrated by Alison Jay. I didn't want to put it away, and it stayed on my nightstand for a very long time. I had no idea how the artist got that cool "crackling" texture across her illustrations and I loved those dear, sweet, delicate tiny faces and expressions in rather humongous moon spheres or on a child's large, round, bright head and face.

It has always been easy to follow illustrator Alison Jay's publishings over the years because her artwork is incredibly distinctive and whimsical. You see the book cover or picture, and right away you know - 'that's Alison Jay!'

This creative artist has a busy schedule, so I feel grateful that Alison and I found time for a little blog fun!

Alison, to give us a backdrop, you went to school for Graphic Design. You were involved with animation shorty thereafter. Any useful tools you take with you from that time that you use to this day as an illustrator?

“My time working in animation was useful as I started to understand storytelling with pictures. I have only written and illustrated three of my own stories so far but I always try to add little incidental narratives to the backgrounds of my books, which I guess is like a story board, and that leads straight back to my time in animation.”

Fellow author and friend, Phillis Gershator’s picture book, Listen, Listen, was illustrated by you. That’s another great read that I can return to again and again, especially because I find little details in the artwork that I could have sworn I had not noticed before. So the book is always giving me a new surprise! I really enjoy that aspect of your illustrations.

“I love adding little visual jokes, and tiny details. And it’s wonderful when children or adults write to me and say that when they look at one of my books for a second, third or fourth time they notice new details. Over the years I seem to add more and more of these tiny details -my paintbrushes have certainly got smaller and my glasses thicker!”

You have also had incredibly eclectic jobs as an artist with commercials, posters, packaging and more. What was it like working on a Kellogg's commercial?

“Ha! Yes, I enjoyed working on the Kellogg's commercial although I only really needed to paint a couple of key images. The animators did most of the work. It sounds greedy but the payment for an advertising job is very good. I haven’t had any advertising work for years now so if any agency would like to hire me I’m available : )”

Even as a child, I’ve always liked a bowl of plain cornflakes and then adding my own amount of sweetener if needed. What's your choice- plain or frosted flakes?

“Oh dear…ssshhh - I don’t really eat cornflakes. I’m a toast eater for breakfast. (Sorry, Kellogg’s!)”

Tell us about your exhibition of The Nutcracker in Tokyo.

“The exhibition in the Ghibli museum in Tokyo was amazing. I was invited by the incredible Oscar winning animator Hayao Miyazaki to participate in an exhibition of The Nutcracker. He had seen my version of the book published in Japan by Tukuman Shoten. He also invited me to the opening of the exhibition. I still can’t quite believe it all happened! I was completely blown away by Mr Miyazaki and all the Ghibli team’s generosity.”

Your latest release in the United States is titled Looking for Yesterday (Candlewick Books) Looking for Yesterday. The unique theme of the book weighs the value of science with the deeper messages of new days and adventures that in turn create new memories. All this comes via Grandad's wisdom.

Because the story is written and illustrated in such a heart-felt manner, I have to inquire if you had a grandfather who shared these type of thoughts.

“Oh, thank you so much. I've illustrated a few books since Looking for Yesterday, but that was the last book I wrote from scratch.”

“No, unfortunately I never knew either of my grandfathers. However, the old man in my book is a little bit like my dad. He had a beard, and was an engineer. He worked at an aeronautical company and helped in rocket development when he was younger.”

“My dad was very clever and seemed to just know how many miles it is to the moon and the sun, and the speed of light, sound, etc. It was brilliant when I was a child! He could very often explain any scientific questions. I thought all adults knew those things at the time. My dad also traveled quite a lot when he was younger as did my Mum - although he never rode a motorbike!”

“As far as the young boy in the story, he is a little like my brother who has always been fascinated with anything astronomical. I don’t ever remember him looking for worm holes, although he's a keen gardener now.”

Tell us about your inspiration to write the book.

“I listen to a lot of radio when I'm working, and there are lots of interesting programs. One afternoon I heard a program about theoretical physics -not that I fully understand the theories. I certainly didn’t inherit my dad’s scientific brain, but I liked the idea of all the different possibilities of time travel and repeating our best days.”

Explain your illustrative process - the oil painting and crackle glaze you use that is so distinctive to your creativity.

“I think I developed my style very gradually and I guess by trial and error. The crackle glaze effect came about by my love of old paintings. My cousin worked at a company that made decorative furniture. She used the varnish to create an aged effect on lamp bases, trays, etc. so I thought I would try it on my paintings. The varnish is quite tricky to use. It needs three different processes and seems very sensitive to moisture in the atmosphere. After years of using the varnish, I still sometimes need to wash it off and start again if it hasn’t worked properly. It can be very frustrating, especially living in a notoriously soggy country.”

What's your favorite color/shade to work with when it comes to picture books? Are there any you gravitate toward? Shapes you're drawn to?

“Good questions! I do have a pallet of colours I use all the time. I love Prussian blue - such a deep blue when used without white. I like to graduate my skies from pale to darker so it’s a great colour even for night skies. I also use a lot of green as I LOVE painting trees. I never get bored of painting them because there are so many different shapes and colours as the seasons change. I now live in a very leafy area of London. We are surrounded by trees. I think the changing light and colours of the trees has come out in my work.”

“Shapes I am drawn to seem to be round ones. The Grandad in Looking for Yesterday is very plump, and my animals are often quite overweight. Who doesn’t love a big round cuddly cat or dog? I am guessing a veterinary :)”

You have been either author/illustrator or illustrator to way too many picture books to list! Every one is such a treasure. Please tell us one or two of your favorites, and why it's special to you.

“Oh, that’s a very difficult question. I am never really happy with my books and that is definitely not false modesty. I can always see the mistakes and how I could have tried a better composition or painted bits better. For me it’s always difficult to try to depict the picture that’s in my mind’s eye. There always seems to be an element of disappointment. I guess that makes me try a bit harder for the next book or picture.”

“If I was forced to choose a favorite book of mine, it might be Bee and Me, mainly because the natural world and environment is something that means so much to me. I wrote and illustrated Bee and Me, although it’s wordless. It’s been used in schools on world book day and to promote awareness of the importance of bees.”

“I’ve received wonderful letters from children about how they have sprinkled bee friendly wild flower seeds after reading Bee and Me, so to think I have helped the natural world in some tiny way makes me very happy.”

If one of your books could be made into a mini movie, which one would you pick and why?

“I think again it might be Bee and Me. My brother, a film maker, made a sort of slide show film with music of Bee and Me. It was used for a presentation I gave a couple of years ago, but to see it as a proper animated film would be very exciting! His Bee and Me version is now on U-Tube. The publisher, Old Barn Books, posted it last year.”

What's your favorite animated movie?

“Wow, I have many. I love the Ghibli films (of course), especially Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro. When I was at the Ghibli museum, we saw a film called Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess which was wonderful. It was only 12 minutes long but is now one of my all time favorites. Another of my absolute favorite animated films is Hedgehog in the Fog by Yuri Norstein. It’s very beautiful. I also love the Pixar film UP and the very early 1930’s Disney films. There are too many to mention - I think you can tell that I LOVE animation.”

If you could have either Ant or Bee (from the Angela Banner book series) come to live as a special magical muse in your workspace, which one would you choose and why?

“Could I have both? It would be too cruel to separate them! I loved the Ant and Bee books as a child. I am illustrating a book at the moment by Hayley Barrett and it stars lots of insects, especially ants and a bumblebee, so to have Ant and Bee living with me at the moment would be very helpful. I would need to be very careful not to squash them.”

You find out Beatrix Potter loves to eat carrots...and she's coming over for dinner! What do you cook?

“My just-made carrot and coriander soup with coconut, followed by a large slice of carrot cake.”

What would you ask her?

“I might be cheeky and ask her to draw and paint Jeremy Fisher and sign it for me.”

Finally, what's the best advice you could share with a young illustrator just starting out?

“My advice would be to try not to put off being an illustrator even if you’re not as successful as you had hoped at first. Try different ways of working but avoid following trends, and above all - enjoy making pictures! For me, it’s the best job in the world.”
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Published on November 20, 2019 11:11

November 1, 2019

Kidlit author Buffy Silverman searches for snow fleas and happily answers questions about a worm's capability to grow in brains!

During childhood, if you spend long hours collecting insects, worms and words – well, you’re probably headed toward a career as a children’s author and poet. This describes Buffy Silverman. I’ve enjoyed Buffy’s insightful and whimsical poetry and writing for many years now and was thrilled she and I were able to make a connection!

Buffy, you’ve written over 90 books. You’ve had hundreds of poems, articles, and stories published in magazines and with educational publishers. That’s an incredible feat! With a large catalog of material already written, do you ever have days when you think you may run out of ideas that you’re passionate about sharing?

"One of the great benefits of having a dog is that I spend time outside every day—and that leads me to noticing what’s going on in the natural world. As long as my dog keeps sniffing, I’ll keep finding inspiration. There are certain topics that I’ve returned to many times (Insects! Predation!) I try to find new angles and approaches to writing about these subjects."

Tell us about your non-fiction books for kids.

"Many of my nonfiction books were written for series developed by editors. Some of these were featured subjects I knew little to nothing about. Mars? Pokemon? The Titanic? Cutting-edge Brain Science?? The trick for me is to start digging into research. The more I learn about a subject, the more interesting it becomes. And once I’ve discovered the “wow-factor”, I know I can write about a subject for a young audience."

What percentage of time do you usually spend on researching the facts versus the actual writing?

"I wish I could say I was organized enough to answer this question. Usually I go back and forth between researching a topic and writing about it. And as I’m revising, I delve into the research again. I’m a minimalist when it comes to outlining and note-taking—and that might not be the most efficient approach."

Millbrook Press is releasing a new book you wrote, titled On a Snow-Melting Day, next year.

"I don’t usually like to rush the seasons, but I’m counting the days until February 4, 2020 when On a Snow-Melting Day is released. The book will appeal to young listeners and readers, 3-8 years old."

Did it take long for you to find On a Snow-Melting Day a publisher?

"Surprisingly, no! The spark of the story began as a phrase I scribbled in a notebook on January 10, 2018. I participated in the Storystorm challenge, and on that day, Heidi Stemple encouraged writers to pay attention to what’s around them. That’s advice I give myself all the time. When Carol Hinz had an open call in spring of 2018 for nonfiction manuscripts that could be illustrated by photographs, I had recently finished my snow-melting manuscript. I almost didn’t submit it because I pictured it with illustrations, not photographs. But a friend who had read the story encouraged me to send it in. The moral of the story is to always listen to your writing friends."

What surprises can the reader expect to find “on a snow-melting day”?

"The book is an extended poem about all the changes that occur as winter retreats and spring begins. It features chickadees sipping from icicles, spotted salamanders marching over melting snow, and insects warming themselves in skunk cabbage. For a preview, read the synopsis at Kirkus Reviews which (to my amazement and gratitude) gave the book a STAR! Here’s a link to the review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-re... "

Your poems are included in a variety of anthologies.

"I was thrilled to have a poem published last year in J. Patrick Lewis’ The Poetry of US (published by National Geographic.) That poem, entitled “Tulip Time Festival” is about the annual tulip festival in Holland, Michigan, which is a one-hour drive from my house. Here’s a secret… I had not been to the festival when Pat asked me to write about it. But I watched online videos of the festival, and read all about it. Since then I’ve attended the festival--twice! I have also been proud to write poems for several of the Poetry Friday Anthologies, brilliantly put together by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong."

Who are your poetry mentors?

"My writing focus has wandered over the years, from narrative nonfiction for magazines, to writing nonfiction for educational publishers, to poetry. I think I first caught the poetry bug when I enrolled in an online children’s poetry class with Laura Purdie Salas, about 10 years ago. As I delved into children’s poetry, I discovered that this is the writing I am most drawn to and is what I want to do when I grow up! Many children’s poets who bring nature to life inspire me—Barbara Juster Esbensen, Valerie Worth, Joyce Sidman, Leslie Bulion, Douglas Florian, Deborah Ruddell, and Irene Latham have written books that I’ve read over and over again. I think poetry books are really the best mentors for anyone wanting to write poetry."

When writing for children, do you think it’s always important for your poem or story to encompass a particular message, or do you feel it’s fine to write and share literary kids’ work with entertaining in mind, and perhaps simply to show the reader another way of looking at something?

"When I write poetry it’s usually for an audience of one—myself! My ten-year old self is tickled pink when I come up with interesting word-play, a clever rhyme, or a humorous view. I suppose if I were trying to include a message it would be to encourage readers to notice the magic of the world around them. I do hope that young readers pick up on my enthusiasm for nature, and that an awareness of the natural world leads to a desire to protect our environment."

Your first published book, Bat’s Night Out, will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year! How wonderful - and perfectly befitting for this time of year when bats are prevalent. It would appear to be a great book to take on classroom visits.

"Yes! I often include Bat’s Night Out as part of a school program. When I speak to students, I highlight different approaches to a single nonfiction topic, including an informational book, some narrative nonfiction, and poetry. Bat’s Night Out portrays one night in a bat’s life through narrative nonfiction."

What quirky animal fact from your book, Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks? makes you smile when you think of it?

"Kids love the gross factor that’s included in a few questions in this book. I can guarantee that I’ll get a shudder when I ask this one: Is It True That a Worm Can Grow Inside Your Brain? And every student will want to hear more. Some of the questions clear up common misconceptions, which I count as a win. I’d rather kids not think that sharks are bloodthirsty killers or that bats are blind and get tangled in your hair."

What advice could you share with a writer just starting out?

"Go to your library and read, read, read! I’m a frequenter of the new book shelf at our children’s library, so I can imbibe what’s being published today. And don’t give up…I think my Kirkus star makes me an overnight success story, only thirty years in the making."

What inspires your photography?

"I’m lucky to live on the swampy end of a small lake in Michigan, so I spend a lot of time photographing the critters that live near me—dragonflies and damselflies, monarch butterflies, ladybugs munching on aphids, and more. I especially like to photograph the change of seasons. My dog ends up in a lot of photos."

If it were a “snow melting day”, what would you photograph?

"I always search for snow fleas when the snow starts to melt, but they are not that photogenic. I keep my eyes open for skunk cabbage blooms and tree buds stretching. Most of the illustrations in On a Snow-Melting Day are stock photos, but I’m delighted that a few are mine."

Fun stuff:

Pippi Longstocking is spending the day with you! What happens?

"I’d bake a pie for Pippi, probably with the Michigan blueberries I pick and freeze during the summer. After the pie I’d bring Pippi down to my basement office and let her choose whichever books she’d like to read."

Charlotte (Charlotte’s Web) wrote “Some pig” as one of her messages to save Wilbur. There were other messages she wrote: “Terrific,” “Radiant,” and “Humble.” What message would you send out?

"I might ask Charlotte to write a new message— “Look up, look down, look all around. Notice what’s happening outside your window!” Maybe that’s a little long for a humble web. But she was some spider, so perhaps she’d oblige."

On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring
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Published on November 01, 2019 00:19

October 15, 2019

Author Amy Newbold considers sharing lasagna with a monster and space travel with Harold & his purple crayon

When one thinks of French artist Monet, visions of pretty landscapes and gentle colors come to mind. Probably, like me, the images are of water lilies, ponds and flowery fields. So when author Amy Newbold, and illustrator Greg Newbold consider “If Monet Painted a Monster” in their new children’s book, I’m intrigued and ready for the vivacious art history tour!

How delightful to share a little conversation with Amy. She is the author of three Tilbury House picture books that are unique on theme and not only fun, but educational for kids as well.

Amy, what roused you to write your first children’s book, “If Picasso Painted a Snowman”?

“I got the idea while visiting the Musee Picasso in Paris. Picasso experimented so much with materials and styles. I saw not only paintings, but sculptures and paper cut-outs. I wondered (aloud) what his snowman would look like, and my sister told me I should use that as a children's book. I had been trying my hand at writing picture books, and I loved the idea, so I ended up creating the kind of book I would have purchased for my kids in an art museum gift shop if it had been available.”

I know you grew up building snowmen in your childhood, but if you were required to build a snowDOG, what would you choose?

“Although I love Bernese mountain dogs and had a border collie mix growing up, I'm going to choose a corgi. They're kind of stocky, and have short legs and big ears. I think they're adorable. And I might be able to approximate their shape in snow-form.”

When you were writing your first book, did you already have your following books in mind?

“No. I thought "If Picasso Painted a Snowman" would be a stand-alone. The publisher was getting good response on pre-orders though, so they asked me to consider a second book before the first one was released. Greg and I brainstormed artists and a theme, and then I ran that by the publisher. Once we agreed on "If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur", I got to work. It was much more difficult writing the second book. I had to start from scratch and complete it on a deadline. Having that experience taught me about the work of writing, though, and now I know I can create on days when I don't feel "inspired." That was a good lesson, and it continues to help me as a writer.”

How long did it take to place "If Picasso Painted a Snowman" with your publisher? Did you spend a lot of time submitting your manuscript?

“It took about 8 years from first draft to signed contract. However, I didn't submit it that entire time. I'd taken the manuscript to the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference and gotten encouraging feedback on it. I submitted it to a lit agent in 2013. It did not get picked up by the agent. Greg was busy with other projects, and I was recovering from cancer treatments, so I ended up shelving the manuscript for a while. In 2016, Tilbury House contacted Greg about illustrating another book, and as he talked to them about their publishing focus, he thought my book might be a good fit. I submitted to Tilbury with a query letter and the manuscript. They asked me to send them comparable titles, and then they had Greg do a sketch dummy. After that, we signed a contract. I had not written any artist biographies for the back matter at that point, so I had a bunch of research and writing to get done in time for publication.”

What advice would you share with other children's writers starting out in the business?

“Learn your craft, get critique partners, and write. Then write some more. It is a learning process, and it's hard work, so if you educate yourself, get feedback, and keep writing, you will get better.”

Would you say that your books come to fruition because of a 50/50 creative inspiration from both you and Greg (the illustrator), or is it your own incentive?

“With my first book, "If Picasso Painted a Snowman", it was definitely my idea and my project. Greg saw my early drafts and suggested a couple of artists, but that was it. Initially, he wasn't on board with illustrating it. I think the thought of imitating all those art styles was a bit daunting. By the time we were in contact with Tilbury, he was ready and he fully embraced the project and had a lot of fun creating the art for the book. I joke that it took me several years to talk him into doing the illustrations. "If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur" and "If Monet Painted a Monster"If Monet Painted a Monster If Monet Painted a Monster by Amy Newbold were far more collaborative and closer to that 50/50. Greg was involved from the beginning with those books as we chose themes and artists. He helped write a sentence in da Vinci when I was completely stuck, and I did a rough sketch for the Monet cover when he wasn't happy with his early designs. We're a good team, and it's fun to work together!”

Your second book, “If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur”, is a favorite among many dino-loving children! All nineteen artists you’ve featured are wonderful. Which one is your favorite and why?

“I have become a big fan of Alma Thomas. As a kid, I was fascinated by astronomy, and she painted space themed paintings. She also painted aerial view florals, which I love. Her art is colorful and fresh, and I am so impressed with her career and her story. (On a quick side note, my dinosaur loving kids are thrilled that their dad finally did a dinosaur book).”

Monet, the subject of your most recent book, rejected the more traditional approach to painting nature during his life. Because of this, he influenced a shift in color and light in the world of art from that time period.

Amy, I see all your wonderful books as distinct stand-outs in theme, idea and information from other children's books available these days. Do you find that as an author you’ve also tackled a little bit of a non-traditional approach in some way like Monet?

“Oh, that's a really big compliment! I hope so. I really wanted to create a book that did two things: introduced kids to art in a simple, fun way; and, let kids know their own individual styles matter. One of my kids was told at a pre-school that he had to conform and create his art just like everyone else. It frustrated him, and me, and Greg. Kids are so naturally inventive and creative, I wanted to write a book that encourages those traits.”

Do you think you or Greg would have liked Monet as a friend?

“I like to think so. I loved the quote I found by him about drawing caricatures of his teachers when he was in school. I think I would have connected with his drawings and humor in school. Greg loves to go painting outdoors with other artists, so I imagine he would've spent quite a bit of time painting with Monet and his friends.”

Any ideas floating around for another book?

“Yes, I always have ideas. At this time, there isn't another art book on the horizon, but I have three fictional picture books in various stages of revision. There are a couple of non-fiction picture book ideas I want to research, too. I also have a YA novel in the works. Jumping to a novel-length project has been a challenge, but I am learning. A lot of skills in story-telling apply to both picture books and novels.”

If you had the chance to have a monster over for dinner to discuss your new book, what meal would you prepare?

“Maybe lasagna? Or better yet, I'd get Greg to grill some steaks or chicken!”

Would you go on a hike with a friendly dinosaur? Why? What do you suppose would happen?

“Yes! I love dinosaurs. I've always had a soft spot for stegosaurus, but I like many other species as well. If I hiked with a herbivore, it would probably stop to bask in the sun by a lake, and forage in a mountain meadow. I love taking pictures, so I would photograph the dinosaur and the wildflowers.”

What’s your favorite picture book from childhood?

“It's so hard to choose. I loved Go, Dog, Go! The pictures fascinated me, especially the scene where the dogs are at the party in the tree. It was easy to read on my own. I loved books by Bill Peet, too.”

Who in contemporary children's art is a favorite?

“Loren Long is an amazing artist. Greg was already acquainted with him when I finally met him in 2017 at a book convention. Loren is very gracious, and very talented. He illustrated Matt de la Pena's book, Love, and has his own wonderful series of picture books about a tractor named Otis.”

What’s the most favorite place (city/country) you’ve visited and why?

“I love to travel, and I've been to some great places, but I'd have to choose Maui, Hawaii. It's so relaxing there. I'd sit in a beach chair, put my feet in the warm sand, hold a book with the intent to read, and watch the waves at sunset. I love the snorkeling and hiking and whale watching, but mostly I love sitting by the ocean. It's restorative for me.”

Raisinets or Reese's Peanutbutter Cups?

“Reese's Peanutbutter Cups.”

Hot dogs or marshmallows at a campfire?

“Marshmallows! I love toasting marshmallows to the perfect golden brown.”

Monopoly or Parcheesi?

“I liked both as a kid, but I've definitely played Monopoly more, so I'd have to say Monopoly. However, I love board games, and I am more likely to play Clue, Life, Risk, Settlers of Catan, Splendor, Codenames, etc.”

Finally, you're sitting in a nice, cozy writing area at home. Harold with his Purple Crayon marches onto your desk. He looks up and smiles at you. What happens next?

“I would follow Harold on an adventure, perhaps through a jungle or even better, into space. That'd be amazing.”
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Published on October 15, 2019 10:52 Tags: artists, children-read, parents, picture-books