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!

 

 

 

 

LOVE IS KIND: Illustrator Lison Chaperon Shares her Creative Process

I’m delighted and honored to have the illustrator for my newest picture book LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, 2018) here today to share the creative process behind her delightful illustrations.  It’s not often you get to see the process explained and shown with such detail. It’s fascinating!  Take it away, Lison Chaperon and… merci!  Enjoy!

Bonjour Laura! I’m so happy to have been chosen to illustrate your wonderful story. It was such a joy to illustrate! Your story and characters were a great source of inspiration. I’m pleased to share my creative process with you and the readers of your blog. 

When I received the manuscript, the first thing I did was to read it several times and determined the page breaks. The story is an adventure for Little Owl and for the readers so it was important to create surprise effects from one page to another.

1 page breaksThen, I worked on the character designs. I tried several techniques (ink, felt pens, pencils, watercolor…) before finding the right combination to render Little Owl’s feathers: watercolor and color pencils.

2 Little Owl Designs3 Granny Designs4 Characters DesignsOnce the look of the characters was determined, the amazing editorial team needed the cover. So I looked for cover ideas. The image had to be eye-catching, sweet and it had to capture the book message. Below are my proposals:

5 Cover sketchesHere is the sketch chosen by the team and the final art:

6 Cover final sketch7 Cover FinalThen I started the sketches. This is my favorite part! I love finding ideas, working on compositions, thinking about little details… I first storyboarded the whole story, trying different compositions through very rough tiny sketches. 

8 thumbnailsWhen I determined what worked best, I did more detailed sketches at full-scale with text.

9 Illu 1 sketch10 Illu 2 sketchI also did colored roughs to give me a first idea of the colors.

11 Illu 1 rough color12 Illu 2 rough colorOnce all the sketches were approved by the team, I went on to the final art. 

I reported the final drawings on watercolor paper (scale 110%). I wanted delicate and refined colors with a lot of nuances to express the atmosphere, the message of the story, and Little Owl’s feelings. So, before starting to paint the final art, I did several tests with the watercolor and the color pencils to find the right balance. And here is the outcome:13 Illu 1 final14 Illu 2 Final

Thank you, Lison, for sharing your process with us. I continually marvel at all that goes into illustrating a picture book and I feel so blessed that you were chosen to illustrate LOVE IS KIND!  The Zonderkidz team had great vision.  I’m thrilled that my words get to share page space with your wonderful illustrations.  

Happy reading, all!

DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE Blog Tour: FINAL STOP!

IMG_6392“Rain drops on roses and whiskers….” Ahh, I never grow tired of singing “My Favorite Things” from THE SOUND OF MUSIC. And now I’m singing away because I just LOVE the theme of the last and final stop of the DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE blog tour. Thanks so much, Kerry Aradhya of Picture Books and Pirouettes, for putting together this lovely and creative post ! Happy reading all!

 

‘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

GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE: Launch Party!

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There’s an ADORABLE new picture book out just in time for Valentine’s Day called GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE.  Written by Diana Murray and humorously illustrated by debut picture book illustrator, Bats Langley, GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE (Sky Pony Press, 2017) is the story of an appealing young monster who wants to make his sweetheart the perfect valentine. Unfortunately, he’s also hungry! The story is funny and cute and would make a wonderful addition to your Valentine’s Day book collection.  I also find it amusing that it’s currently listed as #1 at Amazon in the category “Children’s Spine-Chilling Horror” and “Children’s Valentine’s Day Books”. That’s quite a combination – and a winning won!    

To celebrate it’s release, the AFA Gallery in SoHo hosted a monstrously delightful book launch event.  The three hour event included…

 book-themed treats…

lots of opportunity to chat with author and illustrator…img_3830

and, of course, books to be signed !

Many of Bats Langley’s preliminary sketches were also on display and for sale.  img_3832

I hope these pictures give you a sense of the magic, not only of the event, but of the book itself.  I can’t wait to share my newly signed copy with all my teacher friends as well as our children’s librarian.  Happy reading, all!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR:

Diana Murray is a poet and picture book author whose other books include City Shapes, Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch, and Ned the Knitting Pirate. Diana’s award-winning children’s poems have appeared in many magazines, such as Highlights and Spider. She lives in New York City with her husband, two very messy children, and a motley crew of lizards, snails, and fish.

Bats Langley grew up in Wolcott, Connecticut and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. His art has been shown in galleries in New York City, Los Angeles, Hangzhou, China, and has even been displayed in the United States Capitol building. Mr. Langley has also been a regular contributor to Ladybug and Spider magazines. This is his first picture book. He resides in New York, New York.

ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Jennifer Zivoin

Last week the mailman delivered the June issue of Clubhouse Jr. which includes my story “Bugged and Blue”. It begins on page 24, if you care to take a peek. The editorial team did a wonderful job with layout.  But what I especially admired was their choice of illustrator. I was immediately smitten by Jennifer Zivoin’s darling depiction of the characters and setting of my story.  In fact, I was so charmed that I looked her up online. Jennifer Zivoin earned her Bachelor of Arts degree with highest distinction from the honors division of Indiana University. She worked as a graphic designer and then as a creative director before finding her artistic niche illustrating children’s books.  This is Jennifer’s first collaboration with Clubhouse Jr. She has also illustrated 29 published children’s books and about 17 magazine stories and covers. Here’s the best news yet – she has agreed to an interview!  So without further ado, let’s get started.

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Have you always loved illustrating?  Tell us a little bit about your journey as an artist.

I have always loved art and drawing, but didn’t always realize that I wanted to be an artist.  In fact, when I was very young, I wanted to be an astronaut or a paleontologist!  However, when I was in 4th grade, I saw “The Little Mermaid” for the first time in the movie theater, and was absolutely captivated.  That was when I knew that I wanted to be an artist….or a mermaid!  I loved the beauty of telling stories with pictures, and began working towards that goal: sketching the human figure, exploring different illustration styles, taking classes, and researching the animation industry.  For the longest time I was convinced that I would become an animator, but towards the end of college, I realized that my true passions were the still image and being connected to creating all of the visuals for a story, not just a small piece of a larger whole.  I began my professional career as a graphic designer, and later became a creative director at a multimedia marketing firm.  All the while, I was building my illustration portfolio, building a client base, and learning the skills that I would use in running my own freelance illustration business.  My first children’s book project was the “Pirate School” young reader series, released by Grosset & Dunlap in 2007.  In 2008, I signed on with MB Artists and officially left the corporate world to pursue illustration full time.  Since then, I have had the opportunity to illustrate so many interesting projects!

I love how you depict the characters and setting of my story.  As an illustrator, how do you go about creating visually appealing and engaging spreads?

Before I draw any sketch, I begin with scribbly thumbnails, always in ink.  The idea is to quickly try out as many compositions as possible and not to get caught up in erasing or perfecting any line work.  I love to explore interesting perspectives.  My goal is to find designs that will bring out the essence of each character and capture the mood and movement of each scene.  After I design the characters and decide on a composition, it is time to work on the full size sketches.  When it is time to paint, I look for a color palette that will support the imagery in expressing the tone of the piece.

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What is the revision process like when illustrating? 

When the art director receives the artwork, the team must make sure that the images not only meet the visual goals for the story, but that they work functionally within the type layout.  For “Bugged and Blue” the very last sketch originally showed the roller coaster in more of a profile.  However, when it was put into the layout, it turned out not to be the best solution when text was wrapping around it.  For the revision, I changed the view to show the track in more of an “S” shape, with the head of the roller coaster coming towards the viewer.

Many of my readers are writers. From the illustrator’s perspective, what do you look for when agreeing to illustrate a piece? Do you like illustrator notes?

I enjoy being able to work on a variety of projects.  I have illustrated everything from educational work, magazine illustrations, product illustrations, museum exhibit facades, early readers and picture books.  I love when something about a project strikes a personal cord with me.  Sometimes, particularly with educational work and anything with a quick deadline, I need art notes so that I can work quickly and correctly.  However, with some of my picture books, which have longer timelines for completion, the art directors have given me tremendous freedom, with little to no art notes.  I love having the opportunity to rise to the challenge that having complete illustrative freedom allows, and always try to bring something extra to those projects, to live up to the art directors’ faith in me, as well as to try new things for myself as an artist.  However, for every assignment, no matter what the size or deadline, I try to give my clients illustrations that are beautiful and that will meet the visual goals for the project.

As a parent, writer, and former teacher, I’m always interested in how other writers/illustrators balance their time between writing, other jobs, parenthood, and life. Any tips  for productivity and balance?

I have two daughters, age 5 and 1, so finding time to work can be difficult.  I work after the kids go to bed, early in the morning, weekends, holidays….whenever I get a chance.  I have a babysitter who comes one morning a week to play with the kids while I am in the office, and I have great support from family members.  However, being a mother has changed how I have to approach a work day.  Work-at-home moms of young children rarely get long stretches of uninterrupted time to work.   Learning to paint my art digitally has made a huge difference in helping me manage work and motherhood.  If the kids give me 15 minutes, I can work for 15 minutes, save the file, and come back to the piece later.  Being able to capture short periods of time for work throughout each day adds up throughout the week and helps keep the projects moving forward.

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 am blessed to have multiple projects in the works at any given time!  Right now, I am working on illustrations to accompany as story to appear this fall in Ladybug Magazine, an educational young reader book, and a picture book with Magination Press which will be released in 2017.  My art has also recently appeared in the newest issues of Babybug and Clubhouse Jr.  For updates about other upcoming publications in which my art appears, to view my portfolio or to check out my books, visit my website at www.JZArtworks.com.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jennifer. It was wonderful having you and thanks again for so beautifully illustrating “Bugged and Blue”.

“Bugged and Blue” written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin appears in the June 2016 issue of Clubhouse Jr. magazine. (Copyright 2016, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.)

 

GOODNIGHT, MANGER Blog Tour: STOP FOUR

IMG_0241I’m so excited to be doing a joint interview with Jane Chapman! I loved learning a bit about her process as illustrator and I think you will too. Pinch me and then head over to Penny Klostermann’s A Penny and her Jots for the interview.

SKUNKS and SKETCHES: Thoughts on the Creative Process

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NOTE: I simply can’t resist piggybacking (or should I say skunk backing) on yesterday’s skunky quiz with a few writerly thoughts on skunks, elephants, and creativity, so please bear with me and enjoy! 

Can you guess what these are?

They’re preliminary sketches for the sleepy little pair skunks and the large pair of frightened elephants that appear in GOODNIGHT, ARK. When Jane Chapman first posted them on Facebook a few months back, I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I was amazed at all the detail and artistic brainstorming that went into developing these delightful animals. They clearly show that she spent at least as much time “playing with pictures”  as I spent “playing with words” in the creation of my story.

Jane’s sketches are a wonderful reminder that there is joy in the process of creating and that creating takes time.  Don’t rush the process by just sketching one skunk or elephant.  Sketch a a full page of them!  Likewise, don’t rush to finalize your word choice or your plot twists. Keep on playing with those words and let the creative process work its magic. Fill an entire notebook if you need to. That’s what I did!

As a fun aside, and in conclusion of today’s skunk-themed thoughts, if you have a copy of GOODNIGHT, ARK, you might enjoy examining these sketches and then perusing the pages of the story to see which sketches made the final cut.  The students I share the sketches with LOVE doing this and I have to agree, it’s fun!

Enjoy!