Archive for ‘Notes’

May 2, 2016

Interview with Molly Idle

Last Friday, I shared the newest addition to the Flora series, FLORA AND THE PEACOCKS. Today I am excited to share with you my interview with the talented author/illustrator Molly Idle.

molly

What aspects of childhood do you like to capture in your art and writing?

I think, captured in the books I make, are my feelings from childhood. Love and belonging, anxiety, anger, wonder… those feelings are what I try to connect with when I work.

Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?

Oh, so many! Visually, I am hugely influenced by classic films. If it’s a 1940s musical, filmed in Technicolor- I’ve seen it, and most likely, love it! Lovely lines are what draw me to certain artists. I never tire of watching Disney’s early animated films, and the work of the Nine Old Men, like Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnson, and Marc Davis.
And I could stare at drawings by Daumier and Degas forever.

What advice would you give to beginning authors and illustrators?

To authors, I would say: Read and write every day. To illustrators, I would say: Draw every day. Nothing will do so much good for you as consistent practice will.

Since you are an author and an illustrator, what comes first for you when creating a book?

It’s different for every book. Sometimes, an image pops into my head, and I start working from there. Other times, a name, or phrase comes to mind, and that becomes my starting point for a story. Beyond that initial “lightbulb” moment though, there’s a back and forth in the way I work between imagery and writing (if there are words in the book). Sometimes, a picture tells me what needs to be said, or more importantly, what doesn’t need to be said. And other times, it’s the text that directs my visual compositions.

The FLORA books were groundbreaking in their storytelling structure. I love how the flaps help move the story along. How did the use of flaps in that manner come about?

Prior to making picture books, I used to work in animation. When I started playing with the idea of creating a wordless picture book about friendship, told through dance, I knew it was a story that was all about movement. And I wondered if there was a way that I could bring the illusion of movement created in an animated scene, into a book. Making moveable flaps that acted as animated “key frames” was the answer!

What challenges did you face in creating a book with flaps?

The first challenge finding a publisher that was up for trying something new. Fortunately , Chronicle Books took a look at my original dummy of the book, saw what I was trying to do, and took a chance on it, and me! Not for nothing is their corporate motto “See things differently.” Once they has acquired the book, I worked in tandem with my editor, art director, and designer to figure out how the flaps would work in printing and production, and what they would cost. We also had to figure out a way to make the flaps as durable as possible!

I love how the flaps do different things in each of the books. In FLAMINGO – the flaps were showing the next scene. In PENGUIN – the flaps were showing movement along the ice. In PEACOCK – the rise and fall of the plume flaps were showing an intensified emotion of happy or sad. What things did you do to keep pushing the creative boundaries?

The stories themselves present challenges that keep me pushing my creative boundaries. Each story needs to be told in the way that best suits it. In Flamingo, the flaps needed to be such that they would allow the reader to change the characters interactions with one another. In Penguin, the characters were skating, and I needed to find a way to move them physically closer and farther apart as they skated through the book, in the same way that their relationship moved closer together, and father apart, emotionally. Hence the horizontal flaps. But in Peacocks, the story was about the push and pull of attention within a trio of friends. I wanted the reader to be an active part of that push and pull between the characters. The best way I could think of to do that, was to make the flaps part of the characters themselves. Making the tails of the Peacocks into the flaps was the ideal means of doing just that.

Your FLORA books have a beautiful movement and choreography to them. What were your influences?

The answer to this question takes us back to my love of old musicals. I could watch Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, dance all day!
Here is a clip from Singing In The Rain that makes me smile every time…

Any future tales in-store for Flora?

Yes! Coming out in 2017 are two new Flora board books:
Flora and the Chicks, and Flora and the Ostrich!

Board books, cool! What aspects of friendship you are exploring? Will the books have your signature flaps?

As to the board books…
Flora and the Chicks is a counting book, and Flora and the Ostrich is a book of opposites.

florachicks

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Some rapid fire questions.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an author/illustrator?

I might go back to making movies… or maybe I’d try my hand at something completely different, like gardening.

Favorite pick me up snack/drink?
Espresso!

What book is on your bedside table?

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne

Where can readers find you on the Internet?
www.idleillustration.com
Facebook: Idle Illustration
Instagram: @mollyidle
Twitter: @mollyidle

Thank you Molly for stopping by today and sharing a bit about yourself. Wishing you many future successes.

March 2, 2016

Interview with Julie Falatko and Snappsy

Yesterday I shared the humorous SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK). Today I am excited to share with you my interview with debut author Julie Falatko and her sidekick Snappsy!

Julie_02Can you tell us a little about your writing journey? Ups/Down/Anything in Between

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve loved books and writing my whole life. The problem was that I didn’t realize that “writer” is an actual real job that people still do. I loved writing, but it didn’t occur to me that living humans could be writers. So I got an English degree, and very briefly tried teaching, and got a library degree, and worked as a technical writer and a copywriter. Those are the only types of writers I thought I could be: writers who wrote bank brochures. I was in my mid-30s when it suddenly dawned on me that the people writing the books that came out every year were a) alive and b) human.

What aspects of childhood do you like to capture in your writing?

So much of being a kid is being an intrepid explorer of a new and wondrous world. Kids go out and find giant flowers and blimps and sweaters with dolman sleeves and it’s all like, “WHAT IS THIS STUFF?” and the grownups are cynical and tired and shrug and say, “You know. Stuff.” I like to capture that thread of the world being a magical, cool place.

Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?

For picture books: William Steig, Russell Hoban, Arnold Lobel, James Marshall, Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, Bob Shea. Gosh, that’s so many dudes. That’s embarrassing, but those guys are absolutely huge influences on my writing.

For creative living (how to navigate a creative life with humor and grace and hopefully not starve in the process): Carter Higgins, Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, Melissa Guion, Jen Corace, Lucy Ruth Cummins, Tim Miller, Greg Pizzoli, Ame Dyckman, Jory John, Russ Cox, Tina Kugler, Dasha Tolstikova, Sage Blackwood, Zachariah OHora, Diandra Mae, Josh Nash, Dev Petty, Lauren Eldridge, Isabel Roxas, Anne Ursu. They are my friends but more than that I feel like the internet has allowed me to create a happy little biosphere that I can populate with this magical room full of amazing, hilarious, creative, wonderpeople. If I make a stack of their books on the floor, it practically glows at me in encouragement. They are the people I look to when I’m feeling unmoored or uninspired, and they inspire me with their view of the world.

I listen to podcasts a lot and sometimes the process of hearing someone else tell a kind of story out loud helps to shake my story loose. At the top of the list are Can I Pet Your Dog, One Bad Mother, Let’s Get Busy, Mystery Show, Dear Sugar, and The Yarn.

The book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert has become a constant touchstone for creative inspiration.

Also Paul Simon’s eponymous first album is jam-packed with story songs, and I put that on while I’m making dinner and sing along loudly and it’s a quick reminder of how story structure works.

Can you share your writing process with us? Panster/plotter, paper/pen. Specific habits or tips that have served you well?

For picture books I’m always a pantser. I may have some idea of where the story is going to go, but usually not. I’ve written stories where I write one sentence and walk away for a while – hours or a day – until I figure out what the next sentence is going to be.

For longer books (chapter books, MG, YA) I do come up with some sort of outline. I don’t do anything formal. I make chapters or scenes in Scrivener to get a sense of the structure. I tend to write those books out of order, so it’s helpful to know where to put the random scene I wrote that day.

I write a lot in pencil in notebooks. I keep notebooks all over the place. I love the sensory aspects (and the lack of distraction) when writing something out in pencil. Then I revise it as I type it in. And then I usually have to print it out again at some point and write more on it in pencil to figure out where it’s going.

The habit that has served me well came about by accident – I had to wake up early to write because that’s the only time my house was quiet. But now it’s a habit and I love waking up and getting started on writing first thing.

Snappsy and “the Narrator” are so cleverly written. I love both their voices. Anything in particular that helped to bring their distinctive personalities out?

It helped to come up with exaggerated versions of the characters when I was thinking about how they might react to any situation. The narrator might be Marty Stouffer or David Attenborough. He likes hearing himself talk, and he likes narrating. Once I described Snappsy as John McClane (from “Die Hard”) because he’s this regular guy that got thrust into a crazy situation. Although Snappsy doesn’t know how to shoot a gun, and instead of a dirty tank top, he wears a tie. Snappsy is also sort of like Ron Swanson. He wants to be alone, in his house, doing his things. He wants everyone to mind their own beeswax.

Would you like to tell us a little about your upcoming titles?

The Society for Underrepresented Animals is about a bunch of offbeat animals who start a support group because they’re not in any of the picture books. They’re thinking of writing their own book. Then a bunny shows up, and they’re all offended because of course the bunny has been in so many books. That one is going to be illustrated by Charles Santoso. I’m so excited to work with Charles! He’s amazing.

Help Wanted: One Rooster is about a cow who has to interview rooster candidates because the farm’s rooster ran off. Everyone she interviews is worse than the last. Some of them aren’t even roosters.

Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Writing and getting published are such a slow process, and that’s fine. It’s what makes for better books. Don’t let yourself feel rushed. The process is going to be slow no matter what, so you might as well embrace it and take the time to make the best book you can, and to write more books and better books all the time.

************************************************

Now some rapid fire questions for Snappsy.

Who is your best friend?

My what? Oh. Uh. Huh. I guess it’s this chicken who keeps bringing cheese plates to my house.

What is your snack of choice?

Pretzels dipped in peanut butter.

What is your favorite vacation spot?

My own comfy chair.

If you weren’t an alligator what animal would you like to be?

A bear. That hibernation thing sounds fun.

What’s it like working with Ms. Falatko?

She followed me around a lot. She’s nice and all, but she’s almost as pesky as that chicken.

Where can we follow you and Ms. Falatko?

Julie’s website is juliefalatko.com, and she’s on Twitter @JulieFalatko and on Facebook at JulieFalatkoAuthor.

 

Thank you Julie and Snappsy for stopping by today and sharing a bit about yourself. Wishing you many future successes (and Chicken too).

October 10, 2015

Interview with Jack and Holman Wang

Cozy-Classics-Jack-and-Holman-Wang

Today I am have an awesome interview lined up with the duo team, Jack and Holman Wang, that are the creators behind the Star Wars Epic Yarn books and Cozy Classics series. Checkout my review of the Epic Yarn series and a chance to win the books! Enjoy!

1) Prior to creating the Star Wars Epic Yarns books, you created a series of board books called Cozy Classics which abridged adult classics such as Les Miserables, Oliver Twist, and Emma. What was the driving force behind bringing these stories to young children?

J: I came up with the concept for Cozy Classics after my older daughter was born. I was reading a lot of word books about things like colors, shapes and animals, which got a little stale. That’s when I started thinking about how to make board books more fun and original for kids and adults. I came up with the idea with abridging classics in twelve words, and organizing word books around the concept of narrative. Then Holman came up with the idea of needle-felted illustrations. That’s when Cozy Classics was born.

H: We wanted our books to appeal to any one of any age, serving as true word primers for wee ones, storytelling vehicles for older kids, and fun, ironic abridgements for adults. Hopefully, we’ve achieved that goal.

 

2) Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?

H: One of our literary heroes is Maurice Sendak. He once talked about a great misconception regarding children’s books: that they should always be healthy, funny, clever and upbeat. But Sendak wanted to show “the little tattered edges of what life is like.” So in Where the Wild Things Are, Max yells at his mom (unheard of for a children’s book at the time). In the Night Kitchen features full frontal nudity of a little boy, while Outside Over There depicts a fantastical baby kidnapping by goblins! So we agree with Sendak’s attitude that children’s books don’t need to be hyper-sanitized.

 

3) Where you always into crafts? How did you come upon needle felting and why did you choose it as your medium versus other 3D art styles?

Jack and Holman Wang - Halloween CostumesJ: I wouldn’t say we were always into “crafts.” We made a lot of stuff when we were kids, like our own Halloween costumes out of cardboard, without any help from our parents. We didn’t think of it as “crafting.” We were just doing stuff as kids and having fun.

H: As an adult, I never thought of myself as a “crafter” until I taught myself to needle felt, expressly for the purpose of illustrating Cozy Classics. Needle felting is actually a fairly new crafting technique that is still growing in popularity, but it seemed old-fashioned in a way that we thought resonated perfectly with the classics.

 

4) Is it truly amazing that you are able to boil down the essence of each movie into 12 words. Can you share your process for determining which scenes and which words to choose?

J: When you only have twelve words to work with, you have to focus on the main narrative arc. You can’t just pick the twelve coolest or most iconic scenes from each book or movie, because you have to make sure there’s at least some sense of narrative continuity for the uninitiated. Then you need to ensure that each image conveys in a direct way a child-friendly word or concept. So a lot goes into determining each page.

H: For example, Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope begins with the words “princess” and “trouble,” because that’s the essence of the story: a princess is in trouble and needs to be rescued. The next two words are “boy” and “learn”—Luke needs to learn to use the Force and become a Jedi. So on one level, our books just pair simple words with simple images, but on another level we’re trying to help parents and kids find the story arc for each character.

 

5) Did illustrating Star Wars seem daunting since it is so iconic and universally recognizable? What steps did you take to make the art as authentic as possible to the movies?

H: Absolutely, it was daunting! When abridging classic novels, there’s always room for interpretation, because the original text is written. But with Star Wars, the original “text” is filmic, so we knew that readers would have a very clearly idea of what they wanted to see. So it was less about interpretation and more about homage. We ensured authenticity by watching the movies again and again, and studying film stills, and then recreating sets and doing location photography as slavishly as we could.

J: We even flew down to the Imperial Sand Dunes in California—where George Lucas filmed parts of Return of the Jedi—for the desert scenes on Tatooine. It doesn’t get more authentic than that!

 

6) Any new books we should be on the look out for?

J: Yes! Our Cozy Classics series is moving over to Chronicle Books starting next spring. Chronicle will be re-issuing backlist titles, as well as three new titles: Great Expectations (spring 2015), The Nutcracker (fall 2015) and The Wizard of Oz (spring 2016).

 

7) Where can readers find you on the Internet?

H: Our website is jackandholman.com and our Twitter handle is @jackandholman. You can find all of our additional social media pages from there!

 

Check out this video to get a Behind the Scenes look at the making of the Star Wars Epic Yarn books!

September 12, 2015

Interview with Laurie Wallmark

Laurie WallmarkI am delighted to bring you today’s interview with Laurie Wallmark, author of the beautiful non-fiction story Ada Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. Check out my book review.

1) Writing for children is not your first career. Tell us about your background and how you came to write picture books.

Writing is my third (out of four) careers. After graduating from college with a degree in biochemistry, career #1 was as a scientific programmer in the pharmaceutical industry. While working there, I received a masters degree in Information Systems. For career #2, I left Corporate America and opened a mail order company specializing in books about adoption and infertility. I had a bookstore on the web before Amazon! One day I had an idea for a middle-grade novel, so here came career #3. I didn’t try picture books until several years later, because I knew how hard they were to write. Coming full circle back to computers, I now teach computer science at the college level, both on campus and in prison. I’m also in my last semester in the MFA program, Writing for Children and Young Adults, at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Wow that is impressive that you’ve had such a variety of careers with a continuous connection to science.

 

2) What was your inspiration for writing about Ada Byron Lovelace?

I’m drawn to writing about strong, underappreciated women in STEM. I feel it’s important for all children, not just girls, to realize the contributions of women in science, technology, engineering, and math. People often ask me how I heard about Ada, since she’s such an unknown (until now) person. My reply is, “Do you remember when you first heard about <insert famous person’s name here>.” I know when I learned about George Washington, because I went to Washington Elementary School, and his picture was in every classroom. But what about all the other familiar names from history? I certainly don’t remember how I heard about them. My guess is I first came across Ada in one of the many books about mathematics and mathematicians I read as a child.

I only learned of Ada Lovelace a few years ago because of a Google Doodle.

 

3) Can you tell us about your writing process? (research, writing, finding the story)

Writing biographies starts and ends with research, research, and more research. Whenever possible, you want to use primary sources so you don’t receive information filtered through someone else’s impressions. As I do the research, I keep a list of events from the person’s life I think might make a good picture book scene. Then I let the project sit for a while to allow time for my subconscious to come up with an approach to sharing that person’s accomplishments with the world. Even though a biography is nonfiction, it still needs to contain a story arc. It’s up to me as the writer to find that story. Finally, it’s time to sit down and write. And rewrite. And rewrite. And…, well you get the idea.

 

4) What advice would you give to someone who wants to write nonfiction?

Writing nonfiction is rewarding and a great deal of fun, but only if you enjoy doing the research. Yes, you want a fun and engaging story, but it’s important your facts are correct. After all, your book might be a child’s only source of information about your subject matter. When you do your research, you often find conflicting “facts.” It’s your job to dig deep and discover the truth.

 

5) What projects are you working on now?

I’m working on a picture book biography about Grace Hopper, another strong woman in STEM. Like Ada, she’s an important person in the history of computing. Grace was the first person to use words in her programs instead of only “1”s and “0”s.

Yeah another STEM book about women in technology!

 

Some rapid fire questions.

Fact that most people don’t know about you?
I have prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. My college students have to sit in assigned seats. Otherwise, even at the end of the semester, I still can’t tell them apart. I tell them if they say “hi” to me in the hallway, I’ll always say “hi” back. This is because I’m a polite person, not because I recognize them. This is why any events I help organize always include name tags.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
Read children’s books, of course.

Favorite pick me up snack/drink?
I only drink water—about a gallon a day.

Where can readers find you on the Internet?
Website: http://lauriewallmark.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauriewallmarkauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/lauriewallmark

 

Laurie Wallmark writes exclusively for children. She can’t imagine having to restrict herself to only one type of book, so she writes picture books, middle-grade novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing or studying, Laurie teaches computer science at a local community college, both on campus and in prison. The picture book biography, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, October 2015), is Laurie’s first book.

Be sure to checkout other stops on the blog tour:

9/15/2015 – Frog on a Blog (STEM and Trade Picture Books)
9/22/2015 – Writing and Fishing (Interview)
9/28/2015 – My Brain on Books (About Writing Ada)
10/2/2015 – Still a Dreamer (Interview)
10/6/2015 – Robin Newman Books (Writing About Strong Women)
10/9/2015 – Yvonne Ventresca’s Blog (Five Detours on the Road to Publication)
10/13/2015 – Writing and Illustrating (Writing Firsts)
10/15/2015 – Geek Mom (Acrostic Poem)
10/18/2015 – The Children’s Book Review (Interview)
10/20/2015 – Kaleidoscope (Using Ada in the Classroom)
10/26/2015 – Gold from the Dust (Interview)
11/6/2015 – Picture Books Help Kids Soar (Five Favorite STEM Women in History)
11/6/2015 – VCFA Launch Pad (Interview)

September 6, 2015

Reading to Babies plus book recommendations

Recently I received the following question from a friend and thought I would share my response as it might be helpful to other new parents.

anjbook2Q: My daughter is five months old and I haven’t been able read her much except book that you gifted. Can you help me with what kind of book should I read to her now?  Also I am not good at storytelling to such a small baby. So any pointers would be very helpful.

First I am so happy to hear that you are reading to your daughter that is wonderful. Just the act of your baby hearing your voice for periods of time will help with her development. An NPR article about early childhood reading states:

“Early exposure to language, whether through reading, talking or even singing, has a profound influence on children’s learning through life, research has found. Hearing language from a TV isn’t the same, studies have found. For young children, the words have to come from a real live human.”

So don’t worry about whether you are good at storytelling or not. You are doing just fine. If you do want to make reading more entertaining consider speaking in funny, exaggerated voices. Or take on the deep voice of a hearty pirate or a high-pitched fairy voice. Your baby will love you reading with any voice you take on. Another way of making the reading more interactive is to have the child find things on the page. Ask “Where is the cow?” or “Where is the mouse?” while reading the book and her point to it. (I can’t remember at what age I did this with them. You might have to wait until they are a little older.)

There is no mandatory amount of time that you need to read. Some babies will sit still and get through three books others may start squirming after half a book. It’s okay. It’s more important to make it a part of your daily routine. When my kids were babies I would read a few books right before nap time and then again at bedtime. I would also keep a basket of board books near their toys in the family room and upstairs in their bedroom, that way they could reach them once they were mobile. My oldest loved books so much that I would place her favorite book away from her to encourage crawling and later walking.

As for what type of books to get, I would recommend board books because babies find many uses for books with the most popular being a chewing toy. Babies also love lift-the-flap books, books with textures, and books with photographs of other babies and young kids. Here is a Pinterest search link for finding the best board books for babies.

Here is a list of our favorites:

Baby Faces Board Book (Smile, Sleep, Eat, Hugs & Kisses)
Bear on Bike, Bear at Home – Stella Blackstone
One Moose, Twenty Mice – Clare Beaton
Goodnight MoonThe Big Red Barn – Margaret Wise Brown
B is for Bear – Roger Priddy
What Makes a Rainbow – Betty Ann Schwartz and Dona Turner
Pajama Time – Sandra Boynton (actually any Sandra Boynton book)
Where is Baby’s Bellybutton – Karen Katz
Peekaboo Zoo: Lift the Flap Book – Susan Hood
Brown Bear, Brown Bear – Eric Carle
Tails – Matthew Van Fleet
A Children’s Treasury of Songs – Illustrations by Linda Beck
Violet’s House – Julie Aigner-Clark
Peek-a-Who? – Nina Laden
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site – Sherri Rinker
Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell
We’re Going On a Bear Hunt – Helen Oxenbury
Little Blue Truck – Alice Shertle
Tons of Trucks – Sue Fliess

 

If you have a favorite board book let us know by leaving a comment. Thanks!

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