YOU ARE YOUR STRONG: A JOINT Author and Illustrator Interview with Danielle Dufayet and Jennifer Zivoin

Published by Magination Press, Books for Kids from The American Psychological Association.

Today I am delighted to be doing a joint interview with picture book author Danielle Dufayet and illustrator Jennifer Zivoin.  YOU ARE YOUR STRONG (Magination Press, 2019) is Danielle’s debut work.  Jennifer has illustrated many books, but this is their first collaboration.  Thanks so much for joining us today.

From the Front Flap: “YOU ARE YOUR STRONG is an empowering exploration of children’s emotions that will develop self-awareness, peace and calm. With diverse characters and scenes featuring a range of different family relationships…the book shows kids that they will have help along the way to being strong and in control.”

Now for the interview with my questions bolded.

Laura: Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/illustrating.

Danielle: I was not a reader as a child –too busy running outside and climbing trees! I wasn’t read to either – just wasn’t a tradition in our household, but before you feel sorry for me…I am now a published children’s book author!! I always loved writing, however, even as I child. I’d write poems to express my feelings and observations. When I graduated high school I told myself I wanted to be a children’s book author. I read an awesome picture book by Lilian Moore (Little Raccoon and the thing in the Pool). I was blown away by its simplicity and deep message – all executed in the sweetest, most entertaining way! I thought, I’m going to do that too!

Jennifer: I have always been attracted to visual storytelling, and originally thought that I wanted to pursue animation.  However, illustration turned out to be the perfect fit for me.  I love being able to conceptualize and then bring to life the entire visual world of each book, from the character designs to the settings to the lighting in each piece.  I began illustrating children’s books in 2006 when I was chosen as the artist for the “Pirate School” books by Brian James. A few years later I signed with my agent Mela at MB Artists, and have been illustrating books and children’s projects ever since.

Laura: So interesting, Danielle, that you weren’t a reader, but clearly always a keen observer and participant in all the wonders of the world – climbing trees etc. That is so key to writing! And, wow, Jennifer, what a great journey into the field and I’m also particularly grateful to have had one of my magazine pieces illustrated by you! 

Danielle, can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind this book?

Danielle: The inspiration behind this book was: Life (going through a difficult situation where I was feeling mad, sad, scared and worried all at once.) and Art: I saw the movie, Room, in which a 5 year old boy (played by Jacob Tremblay) tells his mom his (long) hair is his strong. Later, he cuts it off to give to his mom who’s had a nervous breakdown. It made me ask myself: what is my strong? Turns out, I am my strong –we all are our own strong! And sharing strong is good! 


Laura:  And such a good message it is! 

Jennifer, you have illustrated over 30 picture books. What drew you to  Danielle’s YOU ARE YOUR STRONG?

Jennifer: The editors at Magination Press selected me as the illustrator for “You Are Your Strong,” and when I received the manuscript, I loved the way that the text made me feel.  The words were empowering and poetic.  Since the text focused heavily on emotions, there was tremendous freedom for me to explore how I wanted to create characters and environments.

Laura:  And you did an amazing job!  One of the most striking aspects of your illustrations, in addition to your wonderfully charming and diverse depiction of children, is your sweeping use of color to capture each emotion.  Tell us about this choice. How did you choose your colors?

Jennifer: First, I chose a color palette for the whole book.  Then from that palette I selected only about 4 colors for each page – a main color representing the emotion, an accent color to make the character stand out, and usually two other colors that blended nicely with my other choices.  For example, pages about sadness were filled with shades of blue while pages about anger were bright red.  Then, I used light and the color strokes to define the atmosphere, movement and energy of each page.   For pages in which the emotion is directed externally towards another person or the environment, the lighting and movement were bold and energetic.  For emotions that were directed inwardly and were more contemplative, the scenes were softer.  

Laura: This is so interesting and I’m delighted that the publisher has permitted us to share one of your interiors so readers can get an idea of what we are talking about. In this illustration you use red to depict anger. 

Published by Magination Press, Books for Kids from The American Psychological Association.

Laura:  Danielle, 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?

Danielle: I have a handout that kids can fill in as to what their strong is. It asks: what are the things that bring out the happy, calm, brave and gentle already in you? The key word is already. I want kids to know they already have everything they need inside of them!

Laura: Sounds great! And I would also add that your book also includes wonderful “Note to Parents and Caregivers” by Julia Martin Burch, PhD which includes thoughtful tips and suggestions for helping children handle strong emotions.

Finally, for both of you, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

Danielle: I have a couple of manuscripts out on submission and I’m working on a funnier picture book right now about impulse control, friendship and the love of picture books! 

Jennifer: I am currently creating the artwork another of Danielle’s titles through Magination Press, which readers can look forward to in the next year!  In addition to this forthcoming publication, I am keeping busy illustrating several other book projects.  I am also excited to have finished a dummy for my first authored/illustrated picture book, which I hope to see on bookstore shelves someday.

Thank you BOTH so much for stopping by today and I wish you the greatest success with this new book.  Learn more about Danielle and Jennifer below.

Danielle Dufayet, born in Yonkers, New York, now lives in sunny San Jose, California, where she writes children’s books and paints. She also teaches English and Public Speaking (Self-Empowerment) to grades K-12. Danielle read her first picture book (Little Raccoon and the Thing in the Pool) when she was 18 whereupon she was blown away by its simplicity, timelessness and transformative power. That’s when she knew it was her calling. Thirty-five years and a Master’s Degree later, she finally made her dream come true and she’ll have TWO books out in 2019 – one about inner strength and managing big emotions, called You Are Your Strong and the other, Fantastic You!,  about self-love/compassion.

Website: https://www.danielledufayetbooks.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/danielledufayet

Twitter: https://twitter.com/danielledufayet

Art Website: https://www.danielledufayet.com

Jennifer Zivoin has always loved art and storytelling, so becoming an illustrator was a natural career path. She has been trained in media ranging from figure drawing to virtual reality, and earned her bachelor of arts degree with highest distinction from the honors division of Indiana University.  During her professional career, Jennifer worked as a graphic designer and then as a creative director before finding her artistic niche illustrating children’s books.  When she is not creating art in her studio, her favorite hobbies include drinking cocoa while reading a good book, swimming on hot summer days, and spending time outside with her family.

Jennifer lives in Carmel, Indiana. 

Visit her at http://www.JZArtworks.com

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR Spotlight: A Interview with Matt Forrest Esenwine and Fred Koehler in Celebration of FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s First Book Birthday!

Flashlight Night_hi-res coverToday I am delighted to be celebrating the first book birthday of the delightful picture book FLASHLIGHT NIGHT which released one year ago today. FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, published by Boyds Mill Press, is an engaging rhyming bedtime story written by Matt Forrest Esenwine. Paired with Fred Koehler’s spooky, yet spectacular illustrations, it captures the imagination and begs to be read again and again.  Not surprisingly, FLASHLIGHT NIGHT has received glowing reviews (pun intended).  Kirkus Reviews (who gave it a coveted star review!) describes it as a “rousing read” with “delicious language and ingenious metamorphoses.” The Horn Book praises it as “an old fashioned, rip-roaring imaginary adventure.” I call it mesmerizing and fun!  Congratulations, team FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, and thanks so much, Matt and Fred, for joining us today to chat about the process that brought this charming book into being.  Let’s get started.

First of all, welcome. Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/editing. 

30688174_10216331665152702_4983291287571529728_nMATT: Thank you so much for inviting us, Laura! I’m so thrilled to be able to chat with you and Fred about our book. To give you the short version of my journey, I’ve been a creative type and have writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first song when I was 7 or 8, and it was horrible – something about a goat on a boat being swallowed down a throat – but it was really fun to rhyme and tell a story at the same time. (You see what I did there?) Anyway, my first published poem was in a local college’s literary magazine; I was a junior in high school and it felt so cool to have a free verse poem actually published, for all the world to see. Over the years, I had a number of poems published in various  journals and anthologies, but I always felt like my style wasn’t quite right for most adult-focused publications. Then in the late ’90s I wrote a couple of children’s poems, but didn’t know what to do with them…and over the next several years more and more children’s poems started popping out of me, and I felt it was time to do something about it. So in 2009 I joined a local SCBWI writer’s critique group, then joined SCBWI later that year, and started sending out my one manuscript for a poetry collection…which didn’t go anywhere, but it was a good, necessary start!

fred_koehler_MFRED: Hi Laura. Great to be with you. I like to think of myself as an artistic redneck who’d rather be creating cool stuff or out fishing than just about anything else you could offer me. I started working towards a career in publishing when my second child was on the way – he just turned nine. I always knew it was tough to break in to the industry but I just kept showing up, making friends, and revising my work till they had to give me a shot. All in all, it was probably about 4 years of trying before I finally got my foot in the door. Now I’ve got seven picture and two novels with my name on the jacket, and hopefully another half a lifetime to make a bunch more.

Wow, I love how both of you have followed your passion and I spot a common theme of patience and persistence in your journeys into the field.

Now a question for Matt. Your love of language is evident in FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s  rich word choice and rhythmic rhyming verse. How was that love developed?

MATT: The simple answer is, it helps being a nerd in school! I always loved learning as a child, and would read my parent’s dictionary or encyclopedia set sometimes when I was bored. When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I used to make up word searches and word puzzles and my teachers would make copies (remember the old mimeograph machines??) to pass out to the class. I suppose you could say that was my first experience being published! But as I got older I learned how much fun language could be in writing. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Jencks, introduced me to Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, Chaucer, and a wide array of classic poets which really spurred me to learn and practice form, rhyme, and all sorts of other poetic devices.

Sounds familiar  – especially the word nerd part!

And now a question for FredYour spooky and dark, yet not too scary, illustrations pair perfectly with Matt’s text.  What is it about Matt’s story that drew you to the story? Also, tell us a bit about you created such a flash-lit feel in the illustrations.

flashlight-10eFRED: I often follow my gut on whether or not to accept a manuscript. I don’t read the synopsis or the art notes. I just focus on the exact words that the publisher wants on the page. If those words resonate with me, I take the project. Matt’s story for FLASHLIGHT NIGHT created an instant connection. I was a kid again, running through the woods with my friends, playing capture the flag or flashlight tag. Any time words can create that sort of visceral reaction, you know it’s something special. As for the illustrations, I was intentional about what lived “inside” the flashlight beam and what stayed “outside.” Anything outside the beam had to live in the dark and had to be part of the real world. But inside the beam, all bets were off. I did as best I could with my graphite and paper, then let Photoshop enhance the contrast between the light and dark areas.

MATT: That is probably the one thing people comment on the most, regarding the illustrations: how ingenious it was to keep the darkness reality (which is usually what kids are afraid of) and to make the light of the flashlight’s beam the fantasy.

flashlight-night-workingThe illustrations work BRILLIANTLY to enhance the text. Well done!  

Now a question for both of you. It’s always extra special for me to have both that author and illustrator here together chatting about their book.  Did you interact?  Please give us a little peek into that part of the book’s creation.

MATT: Interestingly, the editing process began even before our editor, Rebecca Davis, called me to make an offer! In Dec. 2014, 4 months after I had sent her the manuscript, I learned that the manuscript had won the New England SCBWI Peg Davol Scholarship, which afforded me the opportunity to have the manuscript critiqued by an established author; I would then be given time to revise it and have it critiqued again by an editor or agent at the New England SCBWI annual spring conference. As it turned out, one week after I had my first critique, Rebecca called to let me know she wanted to purchase my story – and during that time, I had made a couple of small but significant revisions. So I sent her the revised manuscript, and we then began tweaking things here and there over the course of the next couple months.

Although we connected on Facebook, Fred and I did not really interact with each insofar as the book is concerned; Rebecca handled the juggling act of matching text with the visuals She shared with me most of Fred’s sketches and illustrations, asking my opinion about certain things – which was greatly appreciated, since it is not a standard practice with most publishers! Some things we agreed on, others we didn’t – but as the editor, she of course had the final say. One particular change was in one of Fred’s spreads, where there was a lot going on visually – I don’t recall the specifics – and Rebecca and I were concerned that the illustration was so detailed that it took away from the flow of the story. I don’t recall if Fred remembers that at all.

Conversely, another example that stands out is the spread that reads, “Adventure lingers, stirs about,” near the end of the book. Those were not my original lines, but once we saw Fred Koehler’s illustrations we realized that what I had originally written was not going to work with his sub-narrative of the three kids on an adventure. So I had to rewrite that section in order to balance the text with what was going on with the pictures. It truly was a collaborative effort among the three of us!

FRED: My process is to take an author’s words and go sprinting off in whatever crazy direction my brain takes me. Maybe we had one or two emails back and forth? I think he got to see the concept. But otherwise, all of our communication has happened after the book went to press.

MATT: That’s true, we’ve been in touch much more since the book came out than beforehand!

Before we wrap up, what’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring children’s picture book writers/illustrators?

MATT: I know this is going to be more than one piece of advice, but I would say read as much as you can! Get a feel for what’s out there, see what people are writing, learn how they are writing it, and then try to do your own thing. I paid very close attention to detail in my story, choosing every word carefully to make it flow and rhyme and be fun to read, and I never settled for “good enough.” However, I did eschew certain standard writing rules they always teach at workshops:  I do not follow a “rule of 3’s,” there is no problem anyone has to solve, no one is given any names (in fact, there is not even a boy or girl mentioned!), and the main character, grammatically speaking, is the flashlight! So I think it’s important to note that one can bend rules or even throw out rules, as long as an editor realizes you know what you’re doing!

FRED: Here’s practical advice. Create an annual budget for your writing and give yourself permission to spend it. If you can put aside $1,000 a year, that might get you a couple of local conference or maybe an out-of-state trip to attend a bigger book-making workshop. If you want it to become more than a hobby, treat it like an investment.

MATT: That is, indeed, very good advice. I budget for one SCBWI workshop each year, plus I’ll be heading to my second Highlights Foundation workshop in October to spend 5 days with Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard, I budget for my website and postcards and such, and I also set aside funds for purchasing books (not just other books, but my own, to sell). Creating books might be a lot of fun, but it’s still a business.

Thank you both so much for joining us today and happiest of birthdays to FLASHLIGHT NIGHT!

To learn more about Matt visit his website

To learn more about Fred visit his website

And now, since this is a birthday celebration, we have an extra special treat –  not ONE but TWO GIVEAWAYS!  In celebration of FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s first book birthday, Matt is offering ONE SIGNED copy of the book to one lucky winner.  And a second winner will receive an awesome packet of KidLitTV swag! (The book was featured on KidLitTV’s StoryMakers last year.  To see that episode, press here.

If you’d like to enter for a chance to win one of these book birthday treats, let me know by commenting below. All entrants will be entered in both giveaways. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident, ages 18 and up.) The giveaways end Wednesday, 10/3/18 at 12:01 am EST. The winners will be announced that day!

 

 

 

 

DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE Blog Tour: Stop SEVEN

spring book eventsFor 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!

‘TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS: A Joint Interview with Author Glenys Nellist & Illustrator Elena Selivanova (And a GIVEAWAY!!!!!)

 

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…163726_186641114681398_450526_n

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! 

Christmas tree

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.  

AUTHOR and ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Pepper Springfield and Kristy Caldwell in Celebration of their newest release: BOBS and TWEETS PERFECTO PET SHOW

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.
Meet the Bobs and TweetsI 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.

Kristy artwork 2011

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.

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Mary Morgan in Celebration of PIP SITS

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Author-Illustrator Mary Morgan’s newest book, PIP SITS  (I Like to Read®), released last month. Published by Holiday House as part of their I Like to Read Series, it’s the sweet story of Pip, a porcupine, and the little ducklings who think he’s their mama. PIP SITS has received some lovely reviews.  Kirkus Reviews calls it “A good read for hatching new readers” and SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL compliments Mary’s illustrations as “endearing”.  I’m thrilled today to have Mary as my guest. Thank you for joining us, Mary!  I believe this is the first time I’ve had an author-illustrator here to chat about a book!  Well, let’s get started.

What is the inspiration behind PIP SITS?

 I was inspired by an antique photograph of a young girl sitting in the grass with many ducklings on her lap. The look on her face was pure joy. I tried to find an original idea that would also capture the bliss children have when relating to animals. I thought about birds imprinting on whoever they first see when they hatch. I have raised baby birds and it is very interesting to have a tiny bird imprint on you. So this was how the idea of the story was hatched.

How wonderful for your readers, Mary, that you had the creative instinct to write a story based on these bits of inspiration. 

PIP SITS is not your first book. Tell us a little bit about your journey as an author/illustrator.

I was born in Chicago and grew up in Kansas City. My summers were spent in Tulsa with my grandmother where I first took art classes at the Philbrook Art Gallery and later was an assistant art teacher. I could do what I loved there, draw! My grandmother always encouraged my art with trips to the ballet and art museums. She let me keep all kinds of animals to draw from: mice, guinea pigs, chicks and even a small bat. My father’s nightly readings of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and the Wind in the Willows also inspired me. I was enthralled by these books and knew I wanted to create books too.

What a wonderful way to grow up!  And I’m so glad you listened to that inner voice that said “I want to create books too!”

Since you are my first author-illustrator, I know my readers will be extra interested in hearing what your process was like as both author and illustrator in creating this story.

I wrote the story in a rough form first. Then I made many character sketches of Pip, the porcupine. After this, I imagined the scenes in the book. I drew very rough ideas of what the images would look like on each page.

Then I rewrote the story many times working out all the details. When at last I was content with the story I did the finished drawings.

I find it interesting that you wrote the story first.  I, for some reason, imagined that you would begin with sketches. But, I can see that both are integral in your creative process.  Fascinating!

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?

 My web site is www.marymorganbooks.com. On my web page there is a section called, fun page. There I show you how to make dragon pizzas, draw a dragon and help Little Mouse find another place to sleep. Here is an example…

In the book, Sleep Tight Little Mouse, Little Mouse found many places to sleep. He slept upside down with bats in a cave, inside kangaroo pouches and even in a bird’s nest. Can you think of other ways animals sleep that Little Mouse might like to try?
Make a drawing of him sleeping like these different animals.

That “Fun Page” is a treasure, Mary. I also did a little poking around, Mary, and discovered a terrific  educator’s guide for PIP SITS available at Holiday House.

Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books and other work for sale?

I have many projects I am working on. One is a fantasy about a young girl that migrates with the Monarchs. I hope this story will bring interest to the difficulties the Monarch Butterfly is having with its environment. I am also working on a book about a bilingual bird and another about magical tutus. My books can be bought on Amazon.com.

Thank you so much for joining us, Mary! 

About the Author

Mary walkingAfter studying art at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Instituto de San Miguel de Allende in Mexico; Mary worked as an illustrator at Hallmark cards for ten years.

Mary illustrated her first book in 1987. In the past twenty years she has illustrated over forty books, many of which she also wrote: from Jake Baked a Cake, Sleep Tight Little Mouse to her most recent book, Pip Sits.

Mary and her husband divide their time between France, their home is in a small medieval village, Semur en Auxois, their sailboat, which is now in The Canary Islands and their families, especially their grandchildren!

 Web site: www.marymorganbooks.com

JOINT-INTERVIEW: A Chat with Picture Book Author Jodi McKay and Illustrator Denise Holmes in Celebration of the Release of WHERE ARE THE WORDS?

words_coverToday I am delighted to be doing a joint interview with picture book author Jodi McKay and illustrator Denise Holmes.  WHERE ARE THE WORDS? (Albert Whitman, 2016) is Jodi’s debut work.  Denise has illustrated numerous books, but this their first collaboration.  Thanks so much for joining us today.

Synopsis: Period wants to write a story but can’t find the words, so his friends offer their help. Question Mark asks around and Exclamation Point finds some enthusiastic words from some unexpected places. Now all Period needs is an idea, but from whom?

Now for the interview with my questions bolded.

Jodi, congratulations on your debut!  Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the story.

Jodi: Thanks so much, Laura! The idea behind this book came from a horrible case of writer’s block. No amount of chocolate or deep breathing exercises helped me untangle a good idea for a story and I literally sat in front of my computer and asked, “Where the heck are the words?” or at least that’s the PG version. Oddly enough, that question was the spark that I needed and the concept quickly came together afterwards. Knowing that there were books already available about writing or telling stories, I knew that I needed to put a different spin on it and I wanted it to be in the form of a quirky kind of character. Cue the punctuation marks!

Denise, you have illustrated quite a few picture books. What drew you to Jodi’s WHERE ARE THE WORDS story?

Denise: I have to admit this book was new territory for me. My other books have had children as the main characters, so I have been so used to drawing kids. When my agent sent me the manuscript and I got really nervous! But after reading it a few times, the characters started coming to me and I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone and illustrate this book. The words are so funny and the characters are so wonderful. I really fell in love with it!

One of the themes of this book is collaboration – coming together and combining your strengths to create a great story. This is humorously depicted in the delightful interactions between Period and his punctuation pals and in the interplay between picture and text.  How collaborative was the process for you as author and illustrator? What kind of communication was involved, if any?

Jodi: First, I would like to say that I got lucky when they chose Denise to illustrate our book. I didn’t want to say too much regarding the art because, 1. I wanted it to be a surprise, and 2. I knew she would add so much more to the story that I wouldn’t have even thought of and I didn’t want to hinder her process. There were a few times that I was given the opportunity to provide suggestions or ask questions all of which Denise graciously addressed. That was done through my editor and I’m assuming their art director, never directly to each other. Now we communicate fairly often to chat about our teacher’s guide and promotional work. She’s great!

Denise: I think this might be standard in the industry, but the editor is the middle person when it comes to working on picture books. In this case, Jordan gave me the art directions and I just went for it. I did finally get talk with Jodi after I finished the book. We have collaborated on promo materials and I look forward to collaborating on events and maybe even a follow up book! What do you say Jodi? I think Period needs to go on another adventure!

Laura: What would you like readers to take away from this story?

Jodi: Gosh, a few things really. I hope readers will see how the punctuation marks are speaking and connect that to that actual role of each mark. That is the educational component of this book and one I think is helpful for little learners. I also want kids to see what is possible when they open their eyes to what is all around them rather than just focusing on what’s in front of them. You never know what you can discover! Last, I hope children capture the importance of helping each other and working together for any cause. That piece of the story was created as a result of my own experience with the kidlit community and how helpful everyone has been over the years.

Denise: That it’s good to have friends to help you out, even if they are a little silly!

Laura: What one piece of advice would you offer to young writers/artists who find themselves staring at a blank page?

Jodi: Engage your senses to find that spark! Look in all directions, listen closely to what’s going on around you, pick up different objects to feel what they are made out of, make something that’s smell reminds you of a loved one’s cooking, eat what you made to see if you can go deeper into the memory. Take all of that and see what comes up for you. Creativity comes in various forms so be open to everything.

Denise: I often have days where I have artist’s block. I will step away from trying to force a drawing; go for a walk, read a book, or grab a snack and come back to it. When you get back, just start filling up the page with doodles, something will eventually come out of it.

Finally, what’s next for each of you?  Any more collaborative works in the pipeline?

Jodi: I’m still writing and working with my agent on different picture books. There is one particular that is a companion to WHERE ARE THE WORDS? and I hope it works so that I can team up with Denise again!

Denise: I have a book called Phoebe Sounds It Out (written by Julie Zwillich | Owlkids Books) coming out in April 2017 and I am working on the 2nd book in the series called Phoebe’s Day, Today. As far as collaborating, I would absolutely love to work with Jodi again. I was very inspired by her writing and would jump at the chance to work together again!

Thank you both for inspiring us with your thoughtful responses.  We wish you the best of success with this clever new picture book!

img_8920Bio: Jodi lives in Grosse Pointe, Michigan with her husband, son, a couple of mischievous pets, and at least one ghost. She discovered that she loved to write when she was 8 years old, but decided to finish school before pursuing it full time. Now she is an active member of the incredible kid lit community and is proud to be represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency. Jodi’s debut picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS? is set to release on December 20th and she can’t wait to share it! If you would like to chat with Jodi, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter. You can also connect with her at www.JodiMcKayBooks.com (Look for the teacher’s guide!) or by email at Jodi@JodiMcKayBooks.com

drawingportrait_smallBio: A native of the Detroit area, Denise graduated with a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003. She has sine been a freelance illustrator working on many different projects from logos and greeting cards to magazine publications. Her other picture books include IF I WROTE ABOUT YOU, THE YOGA GAME BY THE SEA, and THE YOGA GAME IN THE GARDEN. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.  Visit her online at www.niseemade.com.

Jodi’s Blog tour:

November 14thhttps://albertwhitman.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/qa-with-jodi-mckay/

November 18thwww.KidLit411.com

December 5thhttps://laurasassitales.wordpress.com

December 12th–  http://www.karlingray.com/blog.htm

December 19thhttp://jumpingthecandlestick.blogspot.com