Moon: A Cover Reveal

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by Alison Oliver (Clarion Books, April 17, 2018)

I’ve been a fan of Alison Oliver’s work for a long time. (Proof.) And now, look at this stunning cover of her debut as both author and illustrator. Gorgeous, right?

I asked Alison to tell me a little about Moon, and here’s what she said:

Moon is a story about a little girl with too much to do. She wonders what it would be like without chores and homework and lessons. What it would be like if she could be herself. Late one night, Moon meets Wolf and goes on an adventure to the Great Forest where Wolf teachers her all the wolfy ways—pouncing, playing, hiding but also, stillness. In that stillness Moon finds her true self—and that is wild!

From the publisher:

Like most children, Moon has a busy life. School is followed by homework, followed by piano practice, followed by chores; and the next day it all begins again. And then, one night, she meets a wolf.  This wolf takes her to the forest, away from the endless round of things-to-do. In the forest Moon learns to howl, to hide, to be still, and how to be wild.  And in that, she learns what it’s like to be free.

Preorder Moon here.

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How to Make Friends With a Ghost + an interview with Rebecca Green

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by Rebecca Green (Tundra Books, 2017)

Here’s your fall storytime favorite! It’s already mine. Author and illustrator Rebecca Green stopped by to answer a few questions about this book and her beautiful work.

Welcome, Rebecca!

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When, how, or why did you get into picture books?

I’ve only been doing picture books for the last two years or so. Before, I was doing editorial, gallery work, and older chapter books. I signed the contract for How to Make Friends with a Ghost right when I was signing on with my children’s publishing agent, and I just sort of got launched into the industry. I absolutely love working in this field, from the broad possibilities for illustrations to the people – everything’s been great.

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How to Make Friends with a Ghost is your debut as an author, right? How was the experience of both writing and illustrating for the first time?

Honestly wonderful. Because the story is mine, I still feel enthusiastic about it – I still feel just as excited about the characters as I did the day I started writing the story. It’s gone through such a change from that first day and it’s been an amazing learning opportunity. I also get to do a lot more in terms of promotion and marketing and that’s very fun for me.

Can you tell us about your process?

I usually do sketches with a black colored pencil on paper. Those are then sent to the client and we go back and forth with revisions or changes. Once I am ‘good to go to final’, I then redraw the illustration on Bristol paper and use either gouache, colored pencil, or a mixture of both to do the final painting. I then scan the illustration, taking it into the computer and I use Photoshop to clean up the illustration, making the background clean and white.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

Maira Kalman is definitely one of my biggest real life art heroes. I absolutely love her work and her writing. As far as fictional characters, I’ve always admired Jesse from Bridge to Terabithia. That book is one of my all-time favorites, and he is a such a strong and compassionate character.

What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

A painting by Nashville artist, Harry Underwood. It’s a small piece, maybe 8×10″ and it portrays a woman who remarkably resembles by mother. In sloppy pencil, it reads “Life goes on”. His work is quite sad and eerie and I love it.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently illustrating a memoir, and another picture book, both for other authors. In coming months though, I am hoping to carve out some time in my schedule to work more on personal work and writing.

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Z Goes First: A Cover Reveal

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by Sean Lamb and Mike Perry (Imprint, 2017)

How great does this look? Thanks to Macmillan for this good-looking cover reveal!

Illustrator Mike Perry is new to children’s books, but you might know him from his work on Broad City. How great are these animations?

But now, books:

This is your first time illustrating a picture book. What about Sean Lamb’s text inspired you to take on this project specifically? 

I love the idea of breaking with conventional wisdom. Who was it that said Z had to go last in the first place? This is a story of rebellion wrapped up in a fantastic journey.

This is a new audience for you! What are you hoping young readers will take away from Z Goes First? Are you excited to have your art in front of kids specifically? 

I wanted to make a book filled with color and texture, something natural and fun while retaining the elements that allow for an easy understanding of the alphabet.There are a lot of alphabet books out there, but none quite like this.

How did you approach bringing each letter to life? Any letter in particular that was your favorite to illustrate? 

It speaks to the excitement that all learning should possess. I knew right away what Z should look like. Z of course being my favorite creation out of the group. The rest I drew in multiple variations until we found the right one for the story.

And a note from the book’s author, Sean Lamb:

Z’s story isn’t one you’d find in a typical alphabet book. It’s more of a quest, one which I hope parents and kids will love as Z takes them on a journey through the alphabet.

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Sean Lamb, photo by Steve Hyma

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Mike Perry

Can’t wait to see this one on shelves!

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An Anniversary, A Newsletter, and a Giveaway!

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A Rambler Steals Home / This Is Not a Valentine / Everything You Need for a Treehouse

I started this blog six years ago. What was my first post?

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This one. (FPH forever.)

It was a Sunday. It was the tenth anniversary of that day. I wanted to do something comforting and hopeful. I’ve always found that in books.

Six years later, this online notebook with bad photographs and only my mom reading has become a career in writing them. And librarian-ing again. And meeting the best book people along the way. This blog isn’t going anywhere, but I do want a place to share even more. And so!

A newsletter! I won’t spam you or share your email address. But I will give away books. It’s a thing.

Up for grabs first: three copies of my first picture book! Subscribe by the end of September to enter. Easy!

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(I really think you’ll like this thing. We do!)

Click here to subscribe.

From the bottom of my picture-book-filled soul, thank you.

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PS: I also wrote about Princess Hyacinth for Design Mom two years later! That post is here

Grandmother Thorn + an interview with illustrator Rebecca Hahn

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by Katey Howes and Rebecca Hahn (Ripple Grove Press, 2017)

One of the best parts of the book world is its people, and the joy of celebrating their books’ entrance to the world. The author of this book, Katey Howes, has been a friend for a long while, and we’ve both been fans of Rebecca’s work. I had some questions for them both.

Meet Rebecca!

When, how, or why did you get into picture books?

As an artist, I have always had a few lofty goals – as most artists do. The ultimate achievements so to say. One of those has been to illustrate a children’s book, I just didn’t know when or how this would ever happen.

A few years after working as a Character Artist with Disney, I got the opportunity to freelance with Random House Publishing illustrating a few of the Pooh Adorable’s board books. It wasn’t using my own style but I still jumped at the chance. I had to match the Pooh Adorable’s books already published and of course be on model with the Pooh Characters, but it was still a really fun experience. It was nice to work on a job that didn’t have a super quick turn around and longer lasting power than magazine illustrations. The Pooh Adorable’s books ran through their ideas after 5 books with me and the project was completed.

After working on the Pooh books, I continued to freelance, dipped my toe into making merchandise and moved on to showing my personal artwork in galleries. (Another of my lofty goals.) It wasn’t until a few years after my son was born that I was introduced to Ripple Grove Press and given the chance to illustrate a book with my own imagery and style.

How did Grandmother Thorn come to you as a manuscript, and what were your first thoughts about the text?

My husband works for Laika and had heard that RPG was looking for an illustrator through the grapevine and the rest is history. Lucky for me, It was the right time and the right fit.

I thought Grandmother Thorn was a mature story, but that younger kids could still connect to the struggles of perfectionism and control. These issue seem to be important lessons through all of life’s phases! I could also relate to those struggles personally and I felt a deep connection to Grandmother Thorn in this way.

Can you tell us about your process?

People tend to think that my illustrations are done on a computer. They are actually all done by hand. Hand sewn, painted, and pieced together.

First, I do a lot of research. I can not really draw something repeatedly and from different angles until I really know it. So I make a Pinterest board and do lots of sketching to just get a feel for the subject.

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Next, I get to know my characters. This was a collaboration between the publisher, Rob Broder and myself. We went back and forth several times to get Grandmother Thorn and Ojiisan just right.

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After finishing the page thumbnails, I work with layers and layers of tracing paper over my rough drawings to clean up the final drawings.

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After the final drawings, I transfer the characters onto paper to paint and then cut out.

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Then I pick out papers, colors, and textures that might go well with each page and start the process of piecing together.

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The parts for each layout are sometimes cut out like pattern pieces for a quilt.

I plan out the stitches and pre-poke the holes for any sewing that will need to be done. The paper would tear and I would never be able to get a needle through the layers if I didn’t.

From here, it’s all just a trial and error process of creating my “puzzle pieces” as I go. I mostly use Yes Paste to combine the parts of my illustrations. It works the best with all of the different materials and thicknesses of papers.

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For this final spread when we see Grandmother Thorn enjoying the beauty of her “imperfect” garden, I ended up having to color code the leaves so that I could keep track of all of the pieces when they were cut out! I thought that I might be truly crazy as I cut out each berry for that layout.

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Sometimes all of this detailed work and late nights will make me a little crazy, but luckily I have a little studio buddy (and very vocal art director) to keep me connected to the here and now. :)

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Who are some of your story heroes?

Johnny Boo books by James Kochalka, Hug Machine, XO, Ox, East Dragon West Dragon illustrated by Scott Cambell, The Sea Serpent and Me illustrator Catia Chien, comic book artist Chris Ware, Mouk, the Mr. Bud series by Carter Goodrich, and artist Souther Salazar.

What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

I have an unframed print of James Jean’s called Chang’e. The arrows make me think about how changes can be painful but the figure looks so strong, that she can handle them. I also love the little gallery that has formed under my desk. My son and husband are the artists.

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What’s next for you?

My next project is still top secret. I can tell you that I’m working with the wonderful writer Kelly Thompson to create a picture book series. We have known each other for a long time and are very excited to get a chance to work on a project together.

I hope to find time to continue making my personal artwork and I plan on embellishing prints of my personal work with embroidery and other fun additions to make them unique and more accessible to a larger audience. I can never just work on one thing.

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Isn’t that incredible?

Grandmother Thorn is such a lovely book, and seeing how the art was made is so fascinating. I asked the author, a debut, what it was like to see text she’d written illustrated in this way, and what it felt like to see for the first time. Here’s what Katey had to say:

Making picture books is such a collaborative journey, and it takes a lot of trust. Once your words are acquired by a publishing house, you have to have faith that your editor and publishing team have a vision that brings out the best in your story. I was blessed and lucky that Rob and Amanda Broder, at Ripple Grove Press, not only had a vision for Grandmother Thorn, but also that their vision was open enough to allow Rebecca’s talent and creativity to really flow. Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 1.17.36 PM

I had been inspired to write Grandmother Thornby the nature in my own backyard, and by the woodblock art (or ukiyo-e) of the Japanese artist Hiroshige. Looking back, I think I hoped that the illustrations would somehow do justice to those influences. And I hoped for an illustrator who could make the garden appear as if it, too, was a character in the story. From the moment my editor sent me the first glimpses of Rebecca’s work on the book, I knew she was capable of doing all these things and more. I was a little surprised by the style. But it was such a good surprise! If I had thought at all about the actual medium in which the book would be illustrated, I suppose I imagined watercolors. (I’m not sure why.) What Rebecca created with multimedia was so much better than the vague images in my mind – so layered, and detailed, and original. Her art elevated my words to a new level. I continue to be awed by how meticulous and beautiful her work is.

Picture books, you guys. They are something special.

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2017 Picture Book Summit

Print It’s back! The third annual Picture Book Summit is gearing up with another stellar lineup. And the best part is that you can attend this conference from your home and in your pajamas. Is there a better perk for a writer?

People ask me all the time how to start writing picture books, and I always answer in some combination of read read read and work work work. This is a great opportunity for studying the form and learning from some spectacular creative talent.

Check it out!

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The lineup for the 3rd annual Picture Book Summit online writing conference, set to take place Saturday, October 7, has been announced. Early Bird registration is now open. (Until August 25th!)

Headlining the event is Tomie dePaola, author of Strega Nona and more than 200 additional children’s books. The 2011 recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for lifetime contribution to American children’s literature will appear live to provide the opening keynote address.

The live online writing conference, reaching working and aspiring picture book writers across the globe, will feature a full day of keynotes, workshops and panels featuring top authors, editors and agents.

Also providing keynote addresses will be superstar picture book authors Carole Boston Weatherford (multiple Caldecott honoree, author of Freedom in Congo Square, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom and more than 50 additional books for children) and Adam Rex (New York Times bestsellers Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and School’s First Day of School).

Attendees will also enjoy workshops from author Steve Swinburne (Sea Turtle Scientist and Safe in a Storm), Julie Hedlund (My Love for You is the Sun), Greenburger Associates Literary Agent Brenda Bowen, and Laura Backes, publisher and founder of Children’s Book Insider, the Children’s Writing Monthly.

Panel discussions will include a selection of children’s publishing’s top editors and agents. There will also be networking and submission opportunities for attendees.

The full day’s lineup, along with registration information, can be found here.

Also! There’s a free Mini Summit on August 22nd, perfect to dip your toes into online learning. Sign up here

Email me if you have any questions, and I’ll do my best to help.

 

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Picture Book Summit was founded in 2015 as a collaborative project by the founders of Just Write Children’s Books, 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, Institute of Children’s Literature and Children’s Book Insider, the Children’s Writing Monthly.

A portion of the proceeds from this year’s event will help restock the library shelves of two disadvantaged schools in Oregon and Connecticut.

A Different Pond

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by Bao Phi and Thi Bui (Capstone Young Readers)

Here’s an intimate look at a family’s traditions in a new place. It’s familiar, but not. Home, but not.

A young boy and his father head out on an early morning adventure full of streetlights and stories and minnows.

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They park by a pond. Under the stars. In the dark.

For fish.

For food.

For America is expensive.

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Around a fire, the boy eats bologna. The dad remembers Vietnam. The pair. The pond.

The book is full of cool, dark blues. Warm, bright light. Calm and comfort. Home and home.

Both Phi and Bui came to America as small children, escaping Vietnam and heading toward hopeful futures. Their experience reflected here is a reminder for all of us—one of our ability to welcome and to love. A reminder of our humanity.

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Thanks to Capstone Young Readers for the images in this post. 

Colette’s Lost Pet

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by Isabelle Arsenault (Tundra Books, 2017)

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A new kid. A mission. A teensy, tiny fib.

This story could have ended so much differently–preachy or didactic or womp womp. And yet here, it’s a seed that sprouts a shared experience. That grows friends and imaginations and oh yes I have seen that bird.

But here, the neighborhood swells with maybes and hope and what’s your name? And this maybe-bird builds a community.

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Plus this thing is just so gorgeous.

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And I wish my handwriting looked like that.

It’s a perfect slice of life, when life is a new house and no friends and in one short afternoon you’ve got a squad. Kids do this so well, so seamlessly, so much better than grownups.

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If you can’t get enough of this sweet, dreamy art, take a look at this post where Isabelle talks with the folks at Picturebook Makers about Jane, the Fox, and Me.

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PS: Much more to come, but did you know you can preorder both This Is Not a Valentine and Everything You Need for a Treehouse now?! Here and here. I can’t wait for you to see these books!

And for fun, there’s one more #emojibooktalks over on Instagram! Do you know this middle grade novel?

Nerdcamp + #emojibooktalks

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my first book / my next book / All the Wonders buttons

The past week has been one big book-y blur. And every bit of it was so wonderful.

I went to Nerdcamp in Michigan, which was a pinch me kind of week. The internet literally came to life right before my eyes, and tiny square avatars became dear, dear friends. It took an astounding crew of volunteers to plan something this magical for teachers, librarians, authors, and illustrators, and just plain wow.

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Do you know Emily Arrow? We led a session on oomph-ing up your storytime, and it was so much fun. We made it into Travis’s recap post here if you want to see us in quasi-action. What you can’t see or hear is the banana shaker! Or how I said if you’re not sweating during storytime, you’re doing it wrong. (Which I mean in the least judge-y way, promise!) I’m working on a post of insta-storytime hits, so keep an eye out for that.

I also led a session on creating story arcs with these incredible talents: Melanie Conklin, Laura Shovan, and Stacey Riedmiller. I even got the scribbles in the middle of our session for a story I’m working on now. It was so energizing and very, very special.

And then this amazing thing happens after the grownups leave Nerdcamp–the kids come storming in. Hundreds and hundreds of them. It’s this incredible night that feels like a big book party sleepover thing. It’s Nerdcamp Junior, and it was spectacular. Kids shuffle from author to illustrator to pizza to Draw-Off, and leave with books and a notebook and ideas and new friends.

I got to work with fourth graders, and we rolled emoji dice to make stories and poems and here’s my favorite. Sam and I wrote this together:

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Amazing, right?

I’m a huge emoji fan for booktalks. They are these perfect little visual representations of big themes, perfect for summarizing the best parts of the best books. This is how I’d book talk A Rambler Steals Home, and I love love love walking kids through the story this way.

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I love to challenge kids (and grownups!) to guess a book based on a string of emoji, and after a little more plotting and brainstorming with Emily, #emojibooktalks was born. So! What does that mean? Keep an eye on my Instagram feed, swipe left, and guess the book! I kicked things off today with an easy one. Do you know it? Stay tuned for more!

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The rest are here! But I’d bet you already know it . . .

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Life on Mars

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by Jon Agee (Dial Books, 2017)

The trickiest thing to get right in a picture book is its drama between the words and the pictures. Its theatrics. Its page-turning-suspense.

Jon Agee is so very good at this. Always, and Life on Mars is not an exception.

This brave little astronaut heads to Mars. With a neatly wrapped up gift. That’s what you do when you barge in on someone else’s life.

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Except, nobody seems to be there after all.

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Except . . .

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Luckily, this brave little astronaut forges on, and he does find life. A flower, a yellow one, nestled into some steep rocks.

And he is thrilled.

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There’s something so delightful in this gigantic martian just going along with it. Maybe he’s scared the little astronaut will get spooked. Maybe he’s spooked himself. But to lay down and lift this small invader up to see his rocket ship? The sweetest.

Strangers, but friends.

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PS: Here’s a fun interview my pal Travis did with Jon. And where we all first got a peek of the trailer!