For today’s stop on the DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE blog tour, we have a special treat – a JOINT interview with illustrator Rebecca Gerlings! Joint interviews are extra special because they require extra coordination – especially when the illustrator is from the UK and the author is from NJ! Thank you for having us, Kidlit411! Here’s the link so you can pop on over. (Oh, and there’s a giveaway too!) Happy reading!
The official Diva Delores Blog Tour continued yesterday and again today with stops at Vivian Kirkfield’s PICTURE BOOKS HELP KIDS SOAR blog. Yesterday, DIVA DELORES was featured as Vivian’s Perfect Picture Book Friday pick and today I’m featured today on her Will Write for Cookies series weighing in with my thoughts about cookies, of course, as well as some hopefully tasty insights into why I write for kids, who my favorite favorite authors were as a kid and more. Oh, yes, and there’s a giveaway as well!
Please pop over. There are cookies!
*Delightfully decorated cookie (shown above) created by Miss A!
Today I’m delighted to be interviewed by Melissa Stoller over at her blog. Her format is the “3 Question Interview” and for one of the questions I talk about glasses – special glasses (pictured above). Curious? Then, grab a cup of tea and head on over. That’s what I’m doing. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link. Thanks, Melissa for having me!
Today, I’m thrilled to be a part of the ’TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS blog tour. At this stop, I’m pinching myself because I get to host author Glenys Nellist and illustrator Elena Selivanova in their first ever joint interview! It’s always a treat to interview an author or an illustrator, but it’s extra special to have both chiming in at once, especially since Elena lives in Russia and speaks Russian!
ABOUT THE BOOK: ’Twas the Evening of Christmas, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova and published by Zonderkidz, echoes the familiar language and rhythm of Clement Moore’s beloved poem, but instead of focusing on Santa, it focuses on Baby Jesus, who is, after all, the true hero of Christmas.
Get a preview with the book trailer, then join us for the interview below, which has been edited for clarity. I thank both women for joining me and apologize if anything was lost in my understanding of the translation.
Thanks so much for joining us today, ladies. Well let’s get started with my questions bolded.
Question #1: Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/illustrating.
Elena: Ever since I can remember, I have always drawn. Perhaps, it was predestination? I was born in Siberia, but grew up south of Kazachstan. Later I moved to Moscow, where I had an excellent education at the Moscow State University of Printing Arts which gave me incredible freedom and confidence. I studied world literature, the theory of composition, fine art, history of religion, material culture, history of costume and more.
What a rich background you bring to the drawing table. No wonder your illustrations sing. And let me also add from the book flap that Elena has worked for twenty years in children’s book illustration and has illustrated over 100 books!
Glenys: I have loved reading, writing and anything to do with words ever since I can remember. It all began at primary school in England, where one day a week, I was one of the lucky few withdrawn from the classroom to sit in big, comfy armchairs in the teachers’ lounge and write. When I became a primary school teacher myself, I wrote poems and stories to use in my classroom, but it wasn’t until my husband and I came to pastor a small church in the United States, that the publishing world opened up for me. It was at that little church that I began to write my own curriculum, to be used in children’s ministry, and pretty soon had this crazy dream of writing a children’s storybook Bible. It was a dream that would take me ten years to fulfill, but it was worth pursuing!
And I’m so glad you followed that dream, Glenys!
Now, Glenys, can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the story?
Glenys: Well, I’m sure like many families, when my four sons were young we would gather round our candle-lit Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and read the much-loved words of Clement C Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Even though we only heard it once a year, it’s such a classic poem that we all knew it by heart. When I began writing for children, that poem popped up in my memory and I wondered if I could rewrite it, using Moore’s familiar rhythm and rhyme, but instead of basing the story around Santa, it would be based on Jesus—the real hero of Christmas.
Elena, your magnificent illustrations bring beautiful fullness to the book. What drew you to Glenys’s ’TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS story?
Elena: Probably this is the most exciting and magical story in world literature
and Glenys’s delightful accents gave a powerful impetus to the work.
And you did a glorious job! I just love how your intricate illustrations bring Glenys’s text to life in a special way on each spread.
And now a question for both of you: What would you like readers to take away from this story?
Elena: Serenity and peace.
Glenys: I never intended this story to replace the Christmas classic, but I hope that it might be used alongside it, so that little ones won’t lose their focus on the One who would change the world. I hope they take away a real sense of the love God has for them, in sending baby Jesus to earth.
Your shared story is indeed a wonderful companion piece for the Christmas season. I will be reading your delightful collaborative work with my Sunday School classes in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait to see their eyes light up as the story unfolds in this charming new way.
Finally, since this book celebrates Christmas, do you each have a favorite Christmas tradition that you’d like to share with our readers?
Glenys: I am from England, where my four sons grew up, and so our Christmas traditions are quite different to those in the USA! (For example, in a British home, you won’t find folks decorating cookies….you’ll find them making mince pies!) But I think my favorite tradition has to be pulling Christmas Crackers at the dinner table before we eat our turkey, sprouts and roast potatoes! I think you might know these as ‘poppers’. The idea is that two of you grasp both ends of a cracker and pull. It ‘pops’ open and you get to keep what’s inside. There’s always a corny joke or two, a little plastic toy, and the iconic paper hat, which everyone in England wears for Christmas dinner. Here’s the photo to prove it…
Elena: Every year my family waits, as eager as children, for the arrival of a huge Christmas tree (see picture below). It’s a sparkling tree and the most charming sight ever. It’s a great tradition in my family!
Thank you, again, Elena and Glenys, for chatting with me! Zonderkidz sure knew what they were doing when they teamed you up for this book! Blessings to both of you as we celebrate the Christmas season.
Find out more about Glenys and her books here: Author Website
See more of Elena’s beautiful art work here: Elena Selivanova at Beehive Illustration
NOW for the GIVEAWAY!!!
If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of ‘TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 11/30/17 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday! The GIVEAWAY is now over. A winner has been selected. Thank you to all who entered.
Please join me in welcoming four-time picture book author Carol Gordon Ekster as we chat about her newest book YOU KNOW WHAT?, illustrated by Nynke Talsma and published by Clavis, a Belgian publisher, about a little boy who’s doing his very best to postpone bedtime by asking lots of questions. Her other books include RUTH THE SLEUTH AND THE MESSY ROOM (Character Publishing), BEFORE I SLEEP, I SAY THANK YOU (Pauline Press and Media) and WHERE AM I SLEEPING TONIGHT? (Boulden Publishing) Take a look at the YOU KNOW WHAT? book trailer below, then enjoy the interview that follows, with my questions in warm blue to match the book cover..
Question 1: First of all, welcome, and congratulations on this latest book. What inspired you to write YOU KNOW WHAT?
I love writing on planes…the confinement, the focus…my mind flies off into its best creative space. So there I was, in August 2014, on an airplane to meet my grandson two days after he was born. My laptop was on the tray and I was working on a story. I heard the child in front of me say to his parents, “You know what?” And my fingers immediately started typing a new document. That day I began brainstorming, more of a cause and effect exercise with every sentence beginning with, “You know what?” But when I returned home and began the real work on that draft, it developed into a conversation between a mother and son where Oliver uses the repeated, “You know what?” to postpone his bedtime. The story wasn’t planned, it came to me like a gift. I wonder if I hadn’t been in that exact seat or not heard this child’s “You know what?” would I have picked it up somewhere else? I think catching the right story idea is a miracle!
I think you were meant to be sitting in that exact spot. What a wonderful example of being intentional and ever on the look-out for story sparks.
Question 2: Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey.
No, I did not always want to be a writer! Writing is hard. I was passionate about teaching and lived and breathed it most of my life as a fourth grade teacher. There was little room for anything else. Then my last seven years before retirement, writing snuck in like a welcome surprise. The need to write came over me at the beach one day. I felt taken over and had to walk to my car to get post-its, the only thing I had to write on, and a pen. I came back to my seat on the sand to write my first picture book. It was never published and unless it undergoes major revision, will never be sold. But that was the first of many. I started writing late in life and am making up for lost time. It was the 20th manuscript that I wrote that was the first to sell. Starting to write while teaching was a sweet beginning into this journey because I got to share it with students. I became a better teacher and a better writer and I believe my students became better writers because they saw the writing process in action. They were my first critique group! Now retirement gives me the time to live and breathe writing. It’s such a great second career in that I get to continue communicating with children, but I can do it anywhere and on my own schedule.
Your journey into writing is inspirational and a lovely reminder that writing is a craft/career that one can hone and develop at any age.
Question 3: Most books by American authors are published first in English and then, if we are lucky, they get translated into other languages. But YOU KNOW WHAT? was first published in Dutch! Tell us a little bit about that process.
This process was definitely a little scary! The Dutch version came out in December 2016. I couldn’t help in its promotion, see it bookstores, check Amazon’s Author Central to know how it was selling. I had to trust in Clavis Books. I was excited at the possibility of extending my readership. And Clavis brings their books to all the international book fairs, which is wonderful. Both Chinese and Korean publishers already bought the rights. My other books have never been translated into another language, so I’ve been ecstatic. The English version came out September 1, 2017 and now I can get involved in marketing and help spread the word…like right here with you.
And here’s the Dutch cover so our readers can see what that version looks like.
Question 4: Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?
Yes! I have activities, as I do for all my books, on my web page. I am a teacher first and foremost and as I’m writing a book I’m often thinking of extension activities and asking myself questions like will this work for a mentor text for strong verbs, alliteration, etc. With YOU KNOW WHAT? someone in my critique group suggested a different ending, which left things open ended. I loved that and immediately knew I’d make a sheet that children could fill out with what they thought that last “you know what?” might be. And I got the sweetest e-mail from a winner of the Shelf Awareness giveaway. She read the book with her five year old granddaughter with her granddaughter reading Oliver’s part while she read the mother’s part. Because YOU KNOW WHAT? is entirely a dialog between Oliver and his mom, the book lends itself to that kind of readers’ theatre. I hadn’t thought of that and was thrilled to learn of another way to read this book.
Here is the link where you can find language arts, math, creative arts, dramatic play, and gross motor activities that coordinate with the book. Terrific!
Question 5: Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline? Also, where can interested readers find your books?
I recently sent out my 80th manuscript. And I have SO many more on my desk top in varying degrees of readiness to be sent out to publishers. I am not yet agented so I do research about where to send my stories and then send them out on my own. I am hopeful there will be more published books in my future.
As far as where readers can find my books, I love supporting local bookstores. But if that isn’t an option, you can find the book at all e-tailers. Also, I love public libraries and am an avid user myself. You can ask your library to get the book for you if they don’t already have it.
Wow! 80 manuscripts. Now that’s something to aspire to. Thank you so much for joining me here today, Carol. And readers, here’s how you can learn more and connect with Carol:
Group blog: https://writersrumpus.com/author/cekster/
About the author:
Carol Gordon Ekster taught elementary school teacher for 35 years. Her first published book, Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?-A Story of Divorce, Boulden Publishing, 2008, was an About.com Readers’ Choice 2012 finalist for Best Children’s Book for Single Parents. “The Library Is The Perfect Place”, was acquired by Library Sparks magazine, 2010. A picture book, Ruth The Sleuth and The Messy Room, was on Character Publishing’s debut list, 2011 and was awarded the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval. Her picture book, Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You, Pauline Books and Media, released January 1, 2015 and is now in its third printing. The book was the 3rd place winner in the Catholic Press Association’s 2016 Book Awards in the children’s category and was a finalist for the ACP Excellence in Publishing Awards 2016. Her first e-book came out spring 2015 as part of a digital library with Schoolwide, Inc. Her new book, You Know What? with Clavis Books came out first in Dutch, December 2016, and the English version released September 1, 2017. Korean and Chinese versions are in the works. Carol spends time in critique groups, doing exercise and yoga, and working on her books.
Today I’m delighted to be interviewing picture book author Danna Smith in celebration of her newest picture book THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE. Published by Candlewick Press and beautifully illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE is a non-fiction tale told in verse about a young girl and her father, the falconer at a medieval castle, as they experience the joys of taking a goshawk out for a training flight. It has received glowing reviews, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Kirkus Reviews calls it a “rhapsodic tribute to the craft of falconry” and School Library Journal hails it as “An imaginative and unique title to introduce elementary schoolers to hawks and falconry in a medieval setting—an ideal read-aloud selection, too.” I couldn’t agree more! Treat yourself to the book trailer below and then join me for the interview with my questions in green to match the books lovely landscape.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Danna. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer?
Thank you for having me, Laura. For as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed writing poetry and stories. In my childhood, I would often turn my creations into handmade paper books, stapled at the spine. I’d give them to my mother who saved them in a keepsake box like precious treasures (she has always been my biggest fan). I wrote my first poem when I was 8 years old, my first short story when I was 10 and my first picture book when I was 17. As I grew older, I didn’t have a clue about how to follow my dream of becoming an author so I went to college, got married and started my family. I kept writing in my spare time. It wasn’t until I found the organization, SCBWI, in 1996 and went to my first conference in 1999 that I got serious and gave it a real go. My first book was published in 2004 by Disney-Hyperion and many books followed such as Mother Goose’s Pajama Party, Arctic White, and Swallow the Leader. Today, writing is my full-time job and I feel so very blessed to be doing what I love.
A lovely journey, for sure. I’m glad you discovered SCBWI back in 1996 – and for any aspiring writers, exploring the SCBWI website and attending a conference is a great way to get started!
What inspired you to write a book about falconry in medieval times?
Growing up, I was exposed to all sorts of creatures through my father who trained, bred, and rehabilitated animals. My father was also a falconer and I enjoyed going out to train and hunt with birds of prey with him. I didn’t know it at the time, but falconry is an unusual art and sport, and not something many children are exposed to. As I look back, I’m happy to have had these experiences, especially since I am a writer because I now have an opportunity to share this fascinating sport with others in a whole new way.
I chose to set the story in medieval times because I am fascinated with a time where falconry was a part of daily life. Also, as a writer who understands the need for layers in a picture book, I thought the setting would add extra appeal, what child doesn’t like castles?
I’d love it if I had a picture of my father and me with the hawks but if there is one in existence I haven’t been able to locate it. Instead, I’ll share a picture of my cousin, sister and myself holding one of the hundreds of snakes my father bred (I’m the monkey in the middle). And another of my dad at around age 23 with a couple of his birds. My dad was a falconer for 50 years and as far back as I can remember, if he wasn’t at work, he had a bird of prey on his fist.
What an amazing childhood! Your dad must be so proud of all your accomplishments and honored to be such a source of inspiration!
I was immediately drawn to your lovely verse – reminiscent of “The House That Jack Built” but without the cumulative element. How was your gift for verse developed? What made you decide to tell this story in half-rhyme?
Thank you, Laura. My gift for verse comes naturally, my grandmother was a poet and my sister is a songwriter. I also had an uncle who taught me the meaning of rhythm and cadence (and always had me giggling) with his off-the-cuff limericks and other forms of poetry while we clapped our hands to the beat.
I wrote The Hawk of the Castle in several formats (rhyme and prose) to see which worked best. There were many, many drafts but when I hit upon the current hybrid format which had the feel of an old-fashioned poem, I knew I had found the perfect way to tell this story.
That’s the sign of a true writer – ie. writing “many, many drafts” and in “several formats”!
Bagram Ibatoulline’s magnificent illustrations beautifully complement text, for they truly do transport the reader to a different time and place. What was it like to work together?
Unfortunately, I have not met Bagram Ibatoulline but working with him through my amazing editor, Andrea Tompa, was a wonderfully positive experience. Because this book is non-fiction, the falconry details and medieval elements had to be spot-on. Bagram Ibatoulline rose to the challenge and surprised me at every turn with his detailed life-like illustrations. It is truly an honor to have been able to collaborate with Mr. Ibatoulline.
An honor indeed. (And thanks for sharing this delightful spread with us today!). It’s truly magnificent.
Finally, can you give us the inside scoop on some of your current projects? What’s a typical writing day like for you?
Unlike many writers, I do not write creatively every day. But that doesn’t mean I am not pondering, scheming, and dreaming up rhymes and stories in my head daily (in fact, I do this so often that my family accuses me of being in Lalaland much of the time LOL!). I sit down at my computer only when an idea is worked out in my head (I need to have a beginning and an end before I start). When I’m not writing a new story, I am revising, critiquing the work of others, reviewing picture books on my blog, connecting with editors and my agent on various projects, and promoting my books.
My agent is currently submitting several of my manuscripts (crosses fingers), and at the moment I have several manuscripts in various stages of completion.
I have five Little Golden Books under contract so I’ve been revising the text and enjoying sneak peeks of covers and interior art. Getting to see the art for the first time is a thrilling part of the process! Watch for Springtime Babies (available for pre-order now) and The Colors of Winter in 2018 then Rocket-Bye Baby, Wake Up, Freight Train! and The Colors of Summer in 2019.
So many wonderful books on the horizon! I look forward to checking them out. Thank you so much for joining us today, Danna.
I was my pleasure, Laura! Again, thank you for having me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danna Smith is a SCBWI member and award-winning author of over a dozen picture books including ARCTIC WHITE, SWALLOW THE LEADER, and Little Golden Book, SPRINGTIME BABIES. Her most recent picture book, THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE: A Story of Medieval Falconry, received two starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Danna is currently living in northern California with her husband and two grown children where she is hard at work on her next book. You can learn more about Danna and her books at www.dannasmithbooks.com
To learn more about Danna and her books, please visit the following:
Picture book author Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum’s newest book, BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER releases two weeks from now and I’m so excited that she’s here today to give us a little preview interview. Published by Scholastic Press and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER is a story of sister rivalry/affection with a clever monsterly twist. Kirkus Reviews hails it as “Monstrous sisterly fun”. Thank you for joining us today, Andria. It’s always fun to get to meet the author! Well, let’s get started with my questions in pink and Andria’s in black to complement the book cover.
What is the inspiration behind BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER?
Truth be told, this book is based on something that happened to me when I was a child. I actually lost my sister–on purpose when I was about five and she was three. The world was a very different place back then and parents gave their children a lot more freedom. Luckily, my little sister was found by two older girls and safely brought home. But as I grew older I was tormented with guilt over what could have happened. This book is a love letter to my sister and the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood.
Your sister must be so touched. And as a sister myself, I love that this book celebrates sisterhood!
And here you are with your sister! LOVE this retro pic! What would you like readers to take away from this story?
Sisterhood is a multifaceted relationship deeply rooted in love. The kind of love that inspires courage, strength and fearlessness. I hope children will find their own inner strength when they read BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER.
In addition, I think Edwin Fotheringham made a huge effort to take the “scary” out of the monsters in the book. Instead they’re cute, colorful and funny which allows young children to imagine engaging with the monsters without fear.
Well, if the cover is any indication, your text and his illustrations are a winning combination.
BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER is not your first book. Tell us a little bit about your journey as an author.
My writing journey has been long and challenging. I’m lucky in the fact that I knew I wanted to write children’s books since I was very young. But I wasn’t a good reader and that hampered my writing skills. I did give up trying to get published many times, but I always came back to writing because I love it. Thankfully, persistence is probably my strongest quality.
When my children were little, I focused on writing poems and short stories for magazines like Cricket and Highlights. My first book sale (A GRANDMA LIKE YOURS/A GRANDPA LIKE YOURS, Kar-Ben Publishing, Lerner Publishing Group 2006) didn’t come until after I was 40. Around the same time, I sold an emergent reader written in poems called TWO SWEET PEAS to Bebop Books, Lee & Low Books, Inc. 2006. It was almost 10 years before I sold another book.
Yes, persistence is a crucial quality for a writer. Children’s periodicals are a great venue for children’s writers. Now I want to take a peek at your work there too!
Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?
I’m a big fan of teacher’s guides and I’m in the process of creating one for BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER. But until it’s done, I’d suggest teachers focus on the common core goals of Speaking & Listening. Specifically, the Who, What, When, Where, How and Whys of the story. Then they can give their classes a chance to draw pictures of what their Inner Monsters might look like.
Also, in an earlier version of the manuscript, I had Lucy make a ticket for Mia to Monstralia. Teachers might ask students: What would you call a world populated by monsters? Students can take this challenge a step further by creating maps of their monster worlds.
These are great ideas, Andria!
Finally, what’s the one question that you wished I’d asked but didn’t.
Well, since you asked ;-), I wish you would have asked if I have any other books coming out?
Why yes I do! In the fall of 2018, Sterling Children’s Books will publish my next book called BOATS WILL FLOAT. It’s a rhyming picture book about what many different boats do, illustrated by Jordi Solano. Originally, it was intended as a follow-up to my picture book called TRAINS DON’T SLEEP, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. But I have a feeling Jordi will be adding his own story through his beautiful illustrations.
Thanks so much for inviting me to share my books with your readers, Laura! They can follow me on Twitter @andriawrose and find more information about my books on my website: www.andriawarmflashrosenbaum.com
Thanks so much for joining me today, Andria! And congratulations on this newest release. =)
AUTHOR BIO: Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum dreamed about writing picture books for children of all ages since she was eleven years old. She has a Master’s degree in Special Education from Bank Street College and writes from her home in New Jersey. Her poetry and short stories have been published in Babybug, Children’s Playmate, Cricket, Ladybug, Highlight, Spider and Turtle. Her short story, “The Color of Hope” won the 2008 SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for fiction. She is the author of multiple picture books including A GRANDMA LIKE YOURS/ A GRANDPA LIKE YOURS (Kar-Ben Publishing, Inc., Lerner Publications), TRAINS DON’T SLEEP (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER (Scholastic Press) with several more in the works.
Don’t forget to enter the GIVEAWAY!!!!!
Andrea has generously offered to send a free copy of BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER (Scholastic, September 2017), written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, to one lucky winner. If you’d like to enter, simply leave a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Tuesday, September 12, 2017 (the day the book releases!), at 12:01 am EST.
Today I am delighted to be doing a joint interview with early reader author Pepper Springfield and illustrator Kristy Caldwell. Last spring this dynamic team made their debut with Meet the Bobs and the Tweets, their first book in the new BOBS AND TWEETS series for emerging readers published by Scholastic. Today they’re here to chat about the recent release of the second book in the series, BOB AND TWEETS: Perfecto Pet Show. Thanks so much for joining us, Pepper and Kristy. Let’s get started.
Question #1: First of all, welcome. Since this is our first time meeting, please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/illustrating.
Pepper: Thank you Laura, we really appreciate having the opportunity to talk with you about the Bobs and Tweets!
I deftly avoided going to law school after college, instead attending the Radcliffe Publishing Program, and started working at Dell Publishing as a publicity assistant. I worked with really talented adult book authors such as Richard (Revolutionary Road) Yates, Danielle Steel, Belva Plain, Gay Talese, and Gordon Liddy. I loved my job but I also liked being in school so I went to NYU at night to get an MBA. Shortly after I graduated, I was approached by someone at Dell who wanted the company to start a classroom book club to compete with Scholastic. I took the job, started a classroom book club called the Trumpet Club and have worked in children’s book publishing ever since.
I think now is a good time to come clean that my real name is Judy Newman and after running the Trumpet Club for 7 years, I came to Scholastic in 1993 and am now the President of Scholastic Book Clubs.
And while for all those years, I wanted to write a book I never had the courage to actually sit down and get my stories out of my head and onto a piece of paper (yes, paper in those days!). I am supposed to be an expert on children’s book publishing and I think I was terrified that if a book I wrote wasn’t perfect that I would be exposed as a fraud. But eventually—decades later—I finally got up enough nerve to start writing, find Kristy, and work with an editor. But I still felt the need—until very recently—to hide behind my pseudonym…Pepper Springfield. Although I’m still getting used to being an author and having people know that I am Pepper, it’s been wonderful to finally be able to talk openly to wonderful and supportive people like you about my passion for the Bobs and Tweets books and my journey as an author.
Well, henceforth, you will always be both Pepper and Judy to me. I’m so glad you overcame your hesitation to write!
Kristy: To me, it always looked like children’s book illustrators had the most fun, but initially I didn’t know how to become one of those people. I always hacked my jobs to incorporate some illustration duties. Everyone needs illustration at some point. Eventually, I moved from Monroe, Louisiana, to New York to attend the ‘Illustration as Visual Essay’ graduate program at the School of Visual Arts. Rachael Cole, the art director of Schwartz & Wade, generously agreed to be my thesis adviser, and she guided me to an understanding of what the process of creating a picture book can be, at its best. I also worked as an intern at Schwartz & Wade during that time. I think I was their first intern! After graduation I participated in Pat Cummings’ Children’s Books Boot Camp. I didn’t have a lot of confidence at that point, and Pat taught me a lot about standing behind my work.
I was very lucky to receive the initial email about Bobs and Tweets based on the strength of my portfolio on the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators website (SCBWI for short). Judy saw something in my work that made her think I could be trusted with these characters, and I’m so grateful for that.
What a wonderful story of how you got your start! I hope this inspires other illustrators to keep building their portfolios.
Question #2: I’m so delighted you found each other! Now, Pepper (aka Judy), please us a little bit about the inspiration behind the BOBS AND TWEETS books. And Kristy, what was your creative process for bringing Pepper’s characters to life pictorially?
Pepper (Judy): I visit many classrooms all over the country as part of my day job and I was always inspired to find books for kids who aren’t great readers—particularly 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade emerging readers—those kids who struggle with vocabulary but don’t want to read “baby books.” I know those kids need books that have interesting stories and well developed characters that are funny and relatable but easy enough to read if you’re not a confident reader.
We know that rhyme—and engaging color illustration—work really well in helping kids read successfully so I wanted to try an unorthodox format: an 80 page rhyming, fully-illustrated chapter book.
One night the phrase “Bob the Slob” popped into my head. Bit by bit, I developed that one phrase into a cast of characters who all live on Bonefish Street. There are the Bobs, a family of real slobs, but the youngest member of the family, Dean Bob, is quite fastidious. He and his dog, Chopper, navigate life with a family who is not above driving their jet ski into the Bonefish Street community pool and building a half pipe ramp for skateboarding in the middle of the street. Fortunately, Dean meets Lou Tweet—the youngest member of the Tweet family of neatniks who have unwittingly moved directly across the street from the Bobs. Lou is NOT like the rest of her family. She loves rock ‘n’ roll and isn’t too neat. Quickly, Dean and Lou become best friends.
There’s also Mo, the self-proclaimed Mayor of Bonefish Street. Lifeguard Mark, in charge at the Bonefish Street Community Pool, Ms. Pat, the kids’ incredible teacher, and a whole cast of kid and adult characters.
Kids have a lot of pressure on them—including dealing with complicated family lives—and I wanted to create empathic characters that readers would cheer for and feel connected to.
I think one of the most gratifying things so far is that Meet the Bobs and Tweets was voted by kids as one of 32 “Young Readers” titles chosen from 12,5000 for the ILA/CBC Children’s Choices 2017 Reading List. That says to me that kids are finding the books and liking them organically.
I LOVE your phrase “and finding them organically”! That is a great tribute to your books and what we, as writers, parents, teachers etc. want kids to be doing – finding and falling in love with books “organically”!
Kristy: The characters are so wild and woolly—even the Tweets, who are wound so tightly that they are always a hair’s breadth away from total breakdown—that there’s a lot of fun to be had in the details. The stories really embrace the messiness of family and friendship.
Since it’s a series, the biggest challenge was to design characters kids would want to spend a lot of time with. The Bobs play a lot of pranks, and I wanted to make sure they don’t feel mean. The Tweets can be very rigid, and I wanted to make sure they feel capable of having a good time, too. Pepper (aka Judy) had already done a great job of digging into the characters’ backstories. I think I did three or four rounds of character design before it started to feel right. I have some secret inspirations. I thought about some of the more eccentric members of my family and pulled details directly from them. That helps me think about the characters more three-dimensionally, too.
Note from Pepper: Me too! Some of the characters are definitely inspired by real people in my life.
Yep, I have to agree. The real-life people we know can certainly be inspirational.
Question #3: You are only the second author/illustrator team I’ve had the chance to interview. I’m curious to know how much and in what ways you collaborated in the process of bringing your first book and now this second illustrated reader to final publication stage?
Pepper (Judy): This is actually the first interview Kristy and I have done together as a team and it’s so much fun. And you are asking a key question about our collaboration. I know many picture book authors and illustrators never meet (and I just read about how you met Jane Chapman—your illustrator—for the first time. ). I do understand how the writer and the illustrator working on a project from different perspectives (and different countries even!) bring their individual visions to the book to create something special and amazing.
But for Bobs and Tweets I knew I needed to find an illustrator who could collaborate with me along the way at every step. I was so excited to find Kristy Caldwell through the SCBWI website. Her portfolio wasn’t that extensive at the time but there was something about the whimsical way she drew that just resonated with me.
An example of Kristy’s artwork from 2011 (5 years before Meet the Bobs and Tweets was published!)
She was brave enough to take a cold call and come and meet me for breakfast in Soho and then we just got started. I realized I had to be clear—in the text as well as in my verbal conversations—about who these characters are. Over many breakfasts at The Cupping Room in Soho in New York City, we worked through the personalities and signature behaviors of Lou and Dean and the whole cast of characters. Bit by bit we developed these characters over breakfasts—and that is saying a lot since really neither I not Kristy are morning people—but those breakfast meetings were the best for our schedules and creative flow.
I would write about the characters and Kristy would draw them and it felt like magic, watching the two points of view come together. There are so many characters in these books and each of them requires lots of discussion and back and forth. We also want to make sure the world of Bonefish Street includes diverse characters and feels real and relatable.
Kristy: I don’t remember much about our first meeting except that I almost immediately knocked my water over, but I guess it went well from there!
We met the most frequently in the beginning, during the concept stage for the first book. But we have continued to meet in person at critical stages like the early writing and thumbnailing—for Perfecto Pet Show and now for Book Three too. I think it sets us down a good path. In person it’s easy to see which ideas Pepper is particularly excited about, and that’s really helpful. We try to support each other. By talking together in the early stages we also have a rare opportunity to discuss new characters and dig deeper into the community we’re slowly building with each book.
Question #4: Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?
Pepper: Because Meet the Bobs and Tweets was a non-traditional format we created a handmade dummy of the text with black and white illustrations. We sent out about 50 copies of that dummy—along with a survey—to teachers to share with their students and get some feedback. From those survey responses we knew that teachers would use Bobs and Tweets to do a variety of lessons: comparing and contrasting, rhymes and rhythm, conventions and usage of standard English grammar, recall and retelling, and more. We actually had a really wonderful teacher send us a lesson plan on these topics that is free to download on pepperspringfield.com!
The original dummy cover and our first student survey.
We are working on a program where kids can say whether they are a Bob or a Tweet, holding up a Tweet or Bob specific paddle, and then explain why they say that. We’ve been trying this out informally with kids we know and the responses are fascinating. I think teachers will get really rich lessons when kids use their critical thinking skills and stretch their vocabulary to describe their opinions about themselves within the Bobs and Tweets framework.
We don’t want to make these books too heavy handed or curricular but I do think they really lend themselves to be class conversation starters and generate very insightful and meaningful feedback. Also, to help teachers get some insight into students’ family lives.
Kristy: A third-grade class did put on a play based on the first Bobs and Tweets book. I was totally blown away. The school emailed me a few photos, and it was inspiring to see how big the actors’ smiles were. I recognized specific illustrations from the book in the painted backdrop, and I think they improved everything!
Like Pepper said, I think the strong contrasts throughout the books are an opportunity for kids to appreciate each other’s unique strengths. The relationship between the Bobs and the Tweets evolves. It was important to Pepper and to me that the “slobby Bobs” get to be the good guys sometimes.
These sound like wonderful extension ideas and I LOVE that a class decided to put on a play based on your first book. That’s a sure sign the loved it!
Question #5: Finally, what’s next for each of you? Any more collaborative, or independent, works in the pipeline?
Pepper (Judy): It took us three years to get Meet the Bobs and Tweets from that first coffee shop meeting to a published book. Since then we have spent so much time and creative energy developing the characters and the world of Bonefish Street that there is so much rich material to mine for future books.
We love Ms. Pat, Lou and Dean’s marvelous, pet loving teacher who has a real penchant for children’s literature (hint: check out the names of her pets!); the kids in the class, the colorful adults in the Bonefish Street community, and the always surprising Bobs and Tweets themselves.
Right now we are working on a Halloween book for Fall 18 and have lots of ideas for future books and interstitial material. My dream would be for this world to be turned into an animated series as a companion for the books! What I have learned in this process, is that if you believe in your characters and your stories strongly enough and have the courage to NOT hide (like behind a pseudonym!) anything is possible if kids love your books.
Kristy: As Pepper said, we are actually at work on Book 3 as we speak! The world of the Bobs and Tweets is growing richer. We get to explore new emotions and new connections between characters, and—not to give anything away—I’m having a lot of fun mapping out all of Bonefish Street, which we hadn’t done before.
I also have a picture book coming up that will tell the life story of Isabella Bird, a trailblazing adventurer who lived in the 1800s. Away with Words is written by Lori Mortensen and will be published by Peachtree Publishers in Spring 2019.
Congratulations to both of you! I shall look forward to the Halloween book with many more to follow, I hope. And AWAY WITH WORDS sounds marvelous, Kristy! Can’t wait to read that as well. Thanks for stopping by and best wishes for continued success. Enjoy the journey!
About the Author:
Pepper Springfield (aka Judy Newman to close friend and family) was born and raised in Massachusetts. She loves rock’n’roll and chocolate, just like Lou Tweet. And, like Dean Bob, she loves to read and do crossword puzzles. Judy hates the spotlight, but Pepper is getting used to it! If Pepper had to choose, she would be a Tweet by day and a Bob at night.
About the Illustrator:
Kristy Caldwell received an MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts. She is a full-time illustrator and part-time Tweet. While working in her art studio in Brooklyn, NY, Kristy gets her creativity on like Lou Tweet, drinks tea like Dean Bob, and hangs out with her energetic dog, Dutch.