Everyone + an interview with Christopher Silas Neal

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by Christopher Silas Neal (Candlewick, 2016)

I’m happy to introduce you today to Christopher Silas Neal, a picture book creator I am a big fan of. He’s got quite the illustration portfolio, but this spring’s Everyone was his debut as both picture book author and illustrator. Here’s hoping he makes many more. Enjoy!

How did you get into picture books?

Over and Under the Snow was my first experience making a picture book. I had been an illustrator for about seven years, making art for magazines, posters, and book covers before Chronicle Books called with Kate Messner’s manuscript. Kate’s approach to writing about nature was more lyrical and unexpected than a typical science based picture book and Chronicle was looking for a non-traditional artist. Even though many of my biggest influences were classic picture book makers, I hadn’t thought I would be one myself.

Narrative illustration felt overwhelming and daunting—character building wasn’t something I had ever tried and building scenes was certainly not my strong suit. I had previously worked as a graphic designer and my approach to image making is more flat and simple than what I thought readers expected from picture book art. The industry wasn’t as visually diverse as it is now and at the time, most books about nature would have featured fairly detailed and rendered paintings. I just didn’t see me having a place in that world. But, I loved Kate’s writing and the folks at Chronicle Books are so nice and very design oriented, so I thought if there was ever a chance, this is it.

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My pictures are often quiet and still with a lot of space—the fact that this book was set in wintery woods was reassuring.  A big challenge was figuring out how to add depth without using the things that traditional painters rely on like lighting and perspective—visual tools I typically don’t use. I like to think the personality in the art comes from me trying to fit a painterly peg into a graphically flat and naively drawn hole.

Where did the beginnings of Everyone originate?

When I first met my agent Stephen Barr at Writer’s House I had a few book ideas floating around, but Stephen was more interested in an animated gif I had made. It was based off a drawing I did for the New York Times about a boy whose parents were deported to Mexico. It’s a simple image of a boy crying and his tears turning into two birds. Stephen thought the idea had promise as a book and I spent the next year turning it into a manuscript and book dummy. In the end I think I had made fifty versions before sending it to publishers. Eventually, we sold the idea to Liz Bicknell at Candlewick.

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Can you tell us about your process?

The writing process happened organically. I started with that original New York Times image and tried to think of other visual metaphors that involved nature bending and morphing to reflect our emotions. After a bit of sketching, writing and playing with ideas, a theme developed—when we feel something, the world feels it too and reflects those feelings back at us—and I illustrated three emotional expressions: crying, laughter, singing.

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It took a lot of patience for the words to develop. I had one version where I spelled everything out in the text i.e.”…the boy’s tear turned into a bird and flew into the sky. The bird whispered to the clouds and soon the clouds were crying, too,” but my editor, my agent, and I all agreed that the story was better left simple and open ended. After many, many revisions I pared it down to the few words that appear in the book.

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I was listening to a lot of John Lennon—he uses these wonderfully simple, repetitive phrases—and I tried to put some of that influence to the words of this book. I can almost hear a John Lennon melody when I read from Everyone, “When you cry you are not alone. When you laugh happiness grows. When you sing everyone listens.”

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9780763676834.int.2 I wanted the art to match the simplicity of the text so the illustrations are made using just three colors. My process starts with pencil sketches and then digital mockups where I think about color and composition. The final art is created in layers or separations very similar to print making. Each color is drawn and/or painted separately and then scanned as a black and white image. Then I add color to each separation—one is colored black, one blue, one tan—and they are layered on top of each other to make a complete image.

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What does a picture book text need in order for you to feel excited about illustrating it?

The words should be poetic or simple or surprising and there needs to be room for me to add to the narrative. If the text is too descriptive, there isn’t really much for me to add.

Who are some of your story heroes?

One of my favorite books is Frederick by Leo Lionni. It’s a simple, emotional book about four field mice storing food for winter. Except one mouse who gathers sun rays, colors, and words. I love how you can see the process within the final images. The reader can mentally pick apart the textures and scraps of paper like a puzzle.

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

Leanne Shapton paints wooden blocks to look like re-imagined book covers. The art is all typography and shapes. I have one of her blocks painted as Jaws by Peter Benchley.

What’s next for you?

I have a third book with Kate Messner coming out in Spring 2017 called Over and Under the Pond. In Fall 2017 I have another book with Candlewick about a hungry cat. In Spring 2018 I have a series of board books about shapes and colors and animals. Beyond that are books with authors Jennifer Adams and Barb Rosenstock.

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Thank you, Christopher! Your readers have lots to look forward to, and I am so very glad you are a part of the world of picture books.

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EVERYONE. Copyright © 2016 by Christopher Silas Neal. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Ada’s Ideas + an interview with Fiona Robinson

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by Fiona Robinson (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016)

Here is a look at a stunning new book about Ada Lovelace, from a stunning illustrator whose work I have completely fallen for. I got to talk to Fiona about her new book, and I’m excited to introduce you to both of these leading ladies! And so:

How did you come to know and love Ada Lovelace’s story?

I first came across Ada Lovelace in a slightly circuitous manner. I had seen the play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, and was enthralled by a lead character, Thomasina. Thomasina is a Regency era child genius – a girl brilliant at maths, physics and engineering. Though she seemed an impossible character, I fell in love with her and the idea of a girl like her existing in that era.

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Later I read that Stoppard may have based his character on one Ada Lovelace, little known in the mainstream world, but deeply respected in the world of computer science as the world’s first computer programmer. Thomasina existed!

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The more I read about Ada the more I fell for her…

I’m so happy that Ada’s Ideas is in our gallery of Undies. Is there a story behind how the case cover evolved for your book?

I’m so excited that the case cover for Ada’s Ideas is in The Undies Gallery! Initially we were thinking of stretching the horse image around the book, but the proportions didn’t fit the format. I’d already made the endpapers, based on Jacquard loom hole-punched cards, which were what Ada’s program was based on. The endpapers seem to me very abstract and elegant. I first saw such cards when visiting the Silk Museums in Macclesfield, UK, and adored them then.

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Abrams designer Alyssa Nassner suggested we take the endpapers to wrap around the entire case cover, and I loved it! The contrast between the cover and case cover really encompasses the spirit of the book to me – imaginative young Ada on her flying horse, then the cool but beautiful math of the hole punched cards.

Can you tell us about your process?

With the art for Ada’s Ideas I wanted to try something new – 3 dimensional images, which I hoped would capture a little of the Victorian era, and the drama and theatricality of Ada’s life.

This involved drawing out the images, then painting them with my favorite Japanese watercolors.

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I then cut out the images very carefully with an X-Acto blade. I used over 500 blades to produce all the cut images for the book!

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Once cut, I layered all the images for each spread to different heights using my son’s Lego bricks and glued them in place.

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Then each spread was photographed.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

Hmmmm, story heroes…

My all time favorite children’s book has to be Humbert by John Burningham. It’s about a carthorse who dreams of pulling the Lord Mayor’s golden coach in a parade. It’s truly wonderful.

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One of my favorite pages has Humbert’s owner, Mr Firkin, drinking a pint in the pub (that’s not a scene we’d see nowadays in kid’s books!). But I loved the book as a child because Humbert is a working class hero. And John Burningham’s illustrations are still captivating to me.

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I’m also a huge fan of Edward Lear, especially his Nonsense Botany!

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

I have a few pieces of art at home I treasure, but at the moment my favorite is this cyanotype (or sun print). I created it with my boyfriend Jay. We coated paper with two mixed chemicals, then placed the paper out on a fiercely sunny day with some anemones I’d just bought from Chelsea Flower Market laid on top. We left them in the sun for 4 minutes, then washed the paper in cold water. And we got this. It was quick, simple and I love the end result!

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What’s next for you?

My next book concerns cyanotypes too!

Again I’m researching a Victorian woman for a non-fiction picture book… and I’m really excited about it!
This time the story is that of Anna Atkins, who created the world’s first photographic book. In 1843 she put together a book of cyanotypes of British seaweed. It is stunning. There’s only about 13 left in the world, but I got to hold and look through one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this year.

Here is an image from my research (note my gloved hands!):

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I’m still in the early stages of doodling and sketching for the art. Here’s a few samples.

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I may even do the illustrations as cyanotypes, hand tinting them, as below.

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Thank you, Fiona! Such an honor to have your work here today.

 

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Thanks to Fiona Robinson and Abrams Books for Young Readers for the images used in this post.

 

Over the Ocean

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by Taro Gomi (Chronicle Books, 2016)

There’s no better time to stand face to face with the ocean than summer, and I’ve spent a lot of time doing just that.

It asks you to feel small.

It asks you to watch with wide eyes.

It asks you to hope.

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And that’s what Taro Gomi does in this book. The original text is from Japan, from 1979, and yet it is timeless. Wishful. Dreamy.

Of course it is. Isn’t that what oceans are all about? And isn’t that what big questions are about too?

What is over the ocean?

She wonders. That small she. I imagine she’s watching with wide eyes. And we hope with her, right here at the edge of the sea.

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The passage of time over these pages is marked by the big ship, making its way from right to left on the horizon. It’s always in sight, bridging the physical and metaphysical worlds of this story. Interesting that it moves opposite the page turn, right? As a reader, this slowed me down. Swayed and bobbled my eye from left to right, balancing somewhere between the question and the answer.

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And visually, the lower third of each spread is anchored by that ship and the wide blue ocean, leaving more room for hope above. I like that.

A lot.

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And let’s talk about the trim size of this book–how it opens to a rectangle to represent the seas, but closes small enough to feel like something you can grasp and tuck tightly into your pocket. A perfect visual representation of the concept of the book itself. Perfect for the picture book’s form.

Perfect.

I love how this book ends without an answer. Our heroine doesn’t move from her spot by the shore. Her heart, though? Her imagination? Her questions? Big and beautiful and open.

Let’s all be like this girl. Windswept, but not weary.

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PS: The team at All The Wonders is proud to spearhead the #BooksForBetter initiative, whose goal is to give families and teachers a resource to find great read aloud books that celebrate diversity, compassion and inclusiveness. We envision a movement that will grow well beyond our efforts, but we’re getting it started with a monthly Twitter chat and Instagram campaign. 

Join us the first Monday of each month (beginning August 1, 2016) at 8pm EST for an #ATWchat about children’s books that showcase the human potential for goodness. Then post your favorite books on this topic on social media under the hashtag #booksforbetter. We’ll be compiling and sharing your ideas, making it simple for every family to find #booksforbetter.

More here.

I love Over the Ocean as a #booksforbetter selection. Let’s take a long look at what might be on the other side of the ocean. Or our neighborhood. Let’s wish them closer. Let’s hope for our world together. 

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The Bear and the Piano

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by David Litchfield (Clarion Books, 2016)

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I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but make sure you check the bottom of this post for the closing endpapers. A beautiful before and after of a beautiful story. And while we’re talking endpapers, check out this delightful new Instagram feed featuring notable endpapers.

Endies, right?

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So let me back up a bit. I suppose since it’s the middle-ish of July I can start boldly proclaiming what my favorites of 2016 are, right?

Well. This bear. This piano. His first fans. Paws down.

It’s a book that made me sigh and cry and open it again immediately after closing. It’s a book I photographed so I can swipe through it on my phone when I’m away from my bookshelf.

I’ve never done that before.

But I’ve never read a book like this before.

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There they are: bear and piano. A curious cub and a mysterious machine. Four seasons of growth, both in the bear’s size and his musical talent.

It’s pacing that is subtle and epic at once. One page turn and a lifetime of ambition.

And talent. And happiness.

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The piano made space for bigger dreams. The people made space in their boat. His bear friends in the forest watched him go. And the bear headed for the city, for fame and fortune, to applause and ovations.

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Except.

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Bears belong together. And friendship is more valuable than fame. It’s a homecoming with a jaw-dropper of a page turn. You’ll see.

And hear.

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This trailer features its UK cover at the end, and what a sweet look at the bear and his piano.

And for more on this stunning story, art from the book, and its inspiration from a song by The White Stripes, check out this post from Jules at Seven Impossible Things.

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Ooko

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by Esmé Shapiro (Tundra Books, 2016 [out today!])

One of the best things about being in so many overlapping circles of the kids’ book community is that I often get a look at a book early. And this is one that has caused me to watch the calendar day after day after day after day to make sure I don’t miss telling the rest of the world when it’s ready. And people, it’s ready.

Meet Ooko.

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Oh, how his face changes from happy to hope. Hope mixed up with some sadness, that is. Look how he’s got a fierce grip on those things he loves–his stick, his leaf, his rock. But look at where his eyes land–on happy hedgehogs, two by two.

While that might be the look of despair, let’s not forget his fierce grip. Ooko goes friend-hunting.

There’s a hole, a tree, and a moose. But no friends.

Until:

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A page prior, Ooko spotted this Debbie playing with a funny-looking fox. The kind of fox you might have at home. The kind that starts as a puppy.

But then again, Ooko is the kind of fox that looked for a friend under a moose, and Ooko is stumped.

But then again again, Ooko is resolute. Adamant. Single-minded. Debbie-minded.

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Debbie-minded enough to stick cotton candy on her head. Easy-peasy.

And it’s dear and sweet and heartbreaking to watch Ooko try so hard. And then, thanks to some smeared or shattered glasses, Ooko turns into Ruthie. A funny-looking fox, fit for a Debbie.

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(Side note: best leg hair in a picture book this year? Or ever? Not to mention that sock bun.)

It doesn’t take Ooko long to get completely over this Debbie’s games.

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This picture–OOOF. Right? Prim and proper and blow-dried and dressed up and despite wanting to be loved, this was not the kind he was looking for. According to the hairy-legged-lady’s gallery wall, Ruthie was all of those things that a fox is not.

And isn’t that the best news?

Because maybe, maybe, when you hightail it from the house that fits you wrong, you run into someone on the outside. Someone who likes sticks. Someone who wants to play.

Oh my crickets, this book. Be a Debbie and track it down, will you?

For more Ooko fun, click here for an Ooko Storytime Kit.

And don’t miss the grunts and squeals of our hero in his very own book trailer.

For friends who took a while. For Debbies who turn out to not be.

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Thank you to Tundra Books for the images in this post. Be sure to click to enlarge!

Little Red

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by Bethan Woollvin (Peachtree Publishers, 2016)

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Okay.

So this book. Have you seen it? There’s a familiar story at its heart, but this one takes that soul and stretches it into something so subverted, so surprising, and so darn wonderful.

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Let’s just start with a bang. Those undies! Fierce. Be careful with this one.

And then some story sneaks onto the endpapers: a vulnerable girl and a sly wolf. You think you know this one. You might be wrong.

This illustration on the title page is one of my favorites in the whole book. Look at her tongue! That determination. Those boots! An open door. Let’s go.

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Wolves, of course, are big and bad and scary.

“Which might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl.”

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Little Red isn’t like most little girls. Remember that tongue? She is fierce and unflappable and completely in charge.

And couldn’t we have guessed that from those eyes on the cover, cutting and cunning? Or maybe from the hot red that identifies her through the pages?

She is a heroine with some real bite.

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Well. I can’t turn the next page for you. Trust me, (she says, with wide-wolf-eyes) you’ll want to.

If my word for it isn’t enough, check out this post from my dear pal Danielle at This Picture Book Life. (Safety in numbers, you know. Especially if there’s a wolf and a Little Red on the prowl.)

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Presenting . . . The Undies!

 

It’s okay.

We’ve all done it.

Stripped off the dust jacket to expose the naked underbelly of that brand new picture book. Peeked underneath the taped-on-Mylar of library books, desperate for an Easter egg or two. Sighed with delight and intrigue when we catch a glimpse of that unexpected story.

When the case cover functions as a design feature, we’re all aflutter.

Are you?

Go on. Look underneath.

Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes and I are proud to announce a new award dedicated to the case cover: The Undies.

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What is a case cover? This is a case cover. And we want to award the cream of the crop.

Here’s how The Undies will work:

Now through November 1st, 2016 we are accepting nominations for the best case covers of 2016.

In November, Travis and I will announce shortlists in a variety of categories and then we’ll open up the polls. The winner will be decided by popular vote (see also: you). We’ll announce the winners shortly thereafter.

To nominate a case cover for the 2016 Undies:

  1. Check out the case cover gallery we have going at Design of the Picture Book (that’s right here, in the upper right of the main page) – if the case cover you want to nominate is already there, no need to nominate it again.
  2. Make sure your nomination was published in 2016.
  3. If the case cover you want to nominate is not in the gallery and was published in 2016, take a picture and send it to me at carterhiggins (at) gmail (dot) com. Put THE UNDIES in the subject line.

Anyone (including publishers) can nominate.

It’s time to recognize this unsung part of the book – what do you say?

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Jill & Dragon

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by Lesley Barnes (Tate, 2015)

You’ve got to see this book. And you’ve got to stick around for some extras from Lesley Barnes, its author and illustrator.

It begins on the endpapers.

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Once upon a time there lived a terrible dragon.

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And then on the title page, we can guess that we’ve just seen a snippet of this girl’s book. You can tell she’s a book lover by that throne of books she’s sitting atop. (Keep an eye on Dog throughout the pages. He’s not too sure about all of this.)

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By the time the story starts, we’re already in the middle of it.

We’re already sympathetic to this big, pink, dragon who’s dripping with knights and the letters from his story. But Jill, sweet Jill, with patterned pants equally as eye-catching as Dragon’s, ropes him up and invites him out of his story and into hers.

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It’s the tea party that changes everything.

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It’s that tea party that makes room for an exquisite gatefold and a happy ending.

It’s a meta tale that’s dazzling and dreamy and unexpected and just plain wonderful. What Lesley Barnes accomplishes with this color palette and style is nothing short of design time travel.

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(The previous three pictures provided by Lesley. Many thanks!)

I asked Lesley about her inspirations for this story, and she’s graciously given us this sneak peek behind the scenes.

As for what inspired her style for this book? These.

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Even better, these guys.

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That’s Frank and Pumpkin, Lesley’s dogs. On the left is Frank, who inspired Dragon’s look, and Pumpkin, who inspired Dog’s. Jill & Dragon is even dedicated to this duo!

One of my favorite things about books is when other art is inspired by its own. Like this fabulous Dog brooch, exquisitely crafted by Lesley’s friend, Jennifer Loiselle. 

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And how about this creation by the Felt Mistress herself, Louise Evans? Incredible.

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Untame your inspiration along with this trio. Use your talents wisely.

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Be Glad Your Dad…(Is Not an Octopus!) + An Interview with Sara Jensen

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by Matthew Logelin and Sara Jensen; illustrated by Jared Chapman (Little, Brown, 2016)

Once upon a time, I started this blog. It worked fine and looked nice until it didn’t anymore, and that’s when a superhero named Sara Jensen came to the rescue of this damsel in distress. She’s the genius behind the Book Party (seriously, click it), has the most heart-able Instagram feed out there, and is an extraordinary human with a huge, huge heart.

And then she told me she also wrote a book for kids.

I’ve been looking forward to it ever since.

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Dads. Endearing and embarrassing. Equal parts hilarious and heartfelt, which is exactly what this book is all about.

So while most of the time you’re glad your dad is your dad, let’s not forget there are times when he is a grouch and a grump and a total groaner. But even then, at least he’s not a dog who’d lick your face to say hello.

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The text is sharp and funny and allows for scene after outlandish scene to unfold. Each spread is an entire act by itself–vignettes set with understated props that balance the highly expressive characters. All of this action is wham-bammed in front of a brightly lit backdrop, perfectly setting the scene.

This kid’s hopes for a cool dad, melted away with the drips of that cone itself. Can’t you see it in both of their eyes?

Like we said. Dads.

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And at the end, a closer look at these oddball animals and the facts that make them everything you’re glad your dad is not. Pick up this one along with Pink is for Blobfish, and you’re set for a storytime celebrating all of your favorite wonderful, weirdo animals.

Fun, right?

I asked Sara a little more about this book, and I’m so happy to welcome her out from behind the scenes of this blog. Meet Sara Jensen, friends!

CH: How did this book happen?

SJ: It’s funny, I have never ever thought of myself as a writer and I am not sure I even do now. This book was written with my good friend Matt Logelin, who had previously published a memoir called Two Kisses For Maddy. From the moment Matt and I met, we realized that we for sure had the same style of parenting/talking to our children. We also for sure had some cocktails involved.

Late at night at a bar in my small island town we talked about how our kids didn’t think that we were very cool. I am the QUEEN of the “would you rather game”, where you force somebody to make a choice between two awful things. We started thinking about a G-rated version of it, where we’d ask our kids if they’d rather have us as parents or some kind of obnoxious animal. The ideas came fast and furious after that until we’d filled up dozens of notecards.

It helped that Matt had written a grownup book before too. We also had amazing editors at Little, Brown who helped us every step of the way.

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CH: Do you have plans to write more books for kids?

SJ: I’d love to write another children’s book with Matt. Matt and I have such an easy time bouncing ideas off of each other. We think in the same way enough to make it pleasurable but are also different enough to give each other a hard time. We both love our kids so much and are so inspired by them.

I’m just now realizing that all three of our kids have lived through very intense early lives: Maddy with the loss of her mother the day after she was born, Rose being adopted from foster care, and Henry with an early diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. Despite all of this they have tremendous hearts, are super sharp, and are so insanely hilarious. Way cooler than Matt and I will ever be and they are only 8 years old.

CH: What did you and Matthew think when you first saw Jared’s illustrations?

SJ: Oh, it took a while to find the right illustrator. We saw a lot of work by so many talented people. The moment we saw Jared’s work we both got so excited. I think that we tried to be kind of cool about it, but Im pretty sure my reply had several exclamation marks and that Matt’s voice cracked he was so happy. Jared is so funny and had a big beard, which Matt and I both value a lot. I’m working on my beard right now, I feel a little left out. Illustration is SO critical to making or breaking a book. We are so thankful for Jared. Jared has been sharing his concept sketches of BGYD on his Instagram, its so amazing to see the process.

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CH: What books are your kids loving right now? And related: what book do you remember the best from growing up? And is it still something you think about now?

SJ: Currently Henry is reading the Edible Selby, Serengeti (a book about Africa), some fish guide about reef fish that a professor of Marine Biology lent him when we went to their house for dinner. His favorite baby books were New Socks (he would CRY to make read that book over and over) and The Little Island.

Rose is currently reading Wonder, Sisters Grimm, and Harriet the Spy. Her favorite younger book (we met Rose when she was 3) is Rosie Revere, Engineer.

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

SJ: We have a lot of old artwork in our house. Lots of photographs, old French cartoons that had been my grandfather’s. I also love American and Mexican retablos. I love buying weird little paintings off of people on the street. We have a tiny nude that is in our bathroom, I can’t really explain why I love it, I just do.

I also have this piece that Rosie made of Henry sitting on the toilet. She had worked on a “kindness quilt” at school, each child had to illustrate an act of kindness they had showed another person.

When I walked by it in the hallway at school I laughed so hard. It was her brother sitting on the toilet, and it said “I Pote trand my brother when i was littl.” I potty trained my brother when I was little. It’s so funny to me still, and totally true. They are two months apart and she got him out of diapers within a week of moving in with us. She is amazing.

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CH: What else should we know about you?

SJ: I am a very involved in the Type 1 diabetes community as a result of my son’s diagnosis at age 5. I am the creative director and a council member of Beyond Type 1, a nonprofit that works to raise awareness and fund an eventual cure.

I am also the creative director for interior designer and TV host Genevieve Gorder. She is so great to work with and so supportive of my outside interests, I’m so lucky to know her.

I am working on a side project in honor of Rose too, it will have to do with foster care and she and I are still working on the specifics.

CH: What sort of story influences do you have as a designer?

SJ: Even thought I insist I am not a writer I have always been a storyteller. Both of my parents were. I also love the idea of being able to tell a story with only pictures, letting the reader realize the words, and the idea of having a story just written and having the reader think of the imagery.

I have a major problem with seeing movies based on books. I’m always worried that they won’t honor the parts of the book that were so important to me.

Because my husband is a graphic novelist I have grown to really like some of them, I wouldn’t say that I am a fan but I loved the Buddha series by Osamu Tezuka and recently a heartbreaking book called Rosalie Lightning written by our friend Tom Hart about the loss of his child.

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Thank you, Sara! (She’s pretty great, right?)
Be sure to pick up Be Glad Your Dad…(Is Not an Octopus!) which is out today!
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Pink is for Blobfish

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by Jess Keating, illustrated by David Degrand (Knopf, 2016)

I mean, just look at that guy. How could you not love him? I do. I do, I do.

Making picture books means collaborating with the whispers of someone else’s art. And now that this particular book is off the printer and into the hands of readers, I got to eavesdrop on this conversation between Blobfish’s author and illustrator.

To Jess! And David!

JK: Hey guys! Hey Carter!

I’ve been really blown away by all of the love for my new book, Pink is for Blobfish! Working on this book was an incredible experience, and it’s so wonderful to see it reach the hands of young readers—thank you so much!

Today, I wanted you to meet one of the shining stars behind Blobfish! When I was writing this book, I couldn’t stop picturing what sort of illustration would accompany my (often bizarre) text. When my editor sent me David DeGrand’s take on our creatures, I was so thrilled! His work is hilarious, quirky, and a perfect match for the series. I’m jealous of his talent!

To celebrate David and his awesome work on this book, we got together for a virtual chat! I hope you enjoy it, and check him out online too! Without any adieu whatsoever, here we go!

Starting with a trip down memory lane, what inspired you to get into art and illustration?

DD: I started drawing cartoony illustrations and comic strips after my fifth grade art teacher assigned us to write and draw our own comic strip. I instantly fell in love with the process and so I kept writing and drawing my own comic strip that I would show my family and friends. It became on obsession and eventually a career, which I’m very fortunate for!

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JK: As a writer who is completely jealous of illustrators, I’d love to know more about your process. Can you take me through it? What happens after a manuscript like Pink is for Blobfish is sent your way?

DD: All illustration projects are a little bit different, so the process varies according to what the project entails. When I got the manuscript for Pink is for Blobfish, the first thing I did was look up as many reference photos as I could find for the different animals. I then started sketching different designs for each animal to try and find the funniest and silliest way to represent that animal in the book. It was a ton of fun!

JK: You get to pick one artist in history (alive or dead!) and have coffee with them. Who would you choose?

DD: This is really tough, but if I had to pick just one artist I would love to sit down and talk with Ed Emberley. His simple art instruction books were a big part of my childhood, so his influence has been with me as long as I can remember. But more importantly, I really admire and respect his point of view that drawing and creating should be accessible to everyone and that it shouldn’t be intimidating. He made it easy and fun for anyone to pick up a pencil and create a picture, regardless of your artistic background, and that’s something I have always admired and learned from.

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JK: A must-ask for all the kidlit writers reading this: what was your favorite children’s book growing up?

DD: Hands down it was Where the Wild Things Are, I must have read it every night for years. It started my obsession with monsters and all things strange and bizarre!

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JK: Killer journalism time: do you have any favorite snacks to munch on while you’re working? (I’m partial to popcorn.)

DD: I almost always have a bag of either almonds or pistachios on my drawing desk to munch on. I like to try and snack guilt free!

JK: Okay, time to share some DeGrand wisdom. Say a budding illustrator is reading this. What are the one or two best pieces of illustration advice that you would give them?

DD: The best advice I can give to someone wanting to be an illustrator is to simply draw what makes you happy. Sometimes I think artists can get caught up in trying to keep up with a popular artistic trend thinking that will help them in the business, but that’s not really being true to yourself. I think all artists should simply have fun with the creative process and by doing that your unique voice will always come through. When you’re enjoying what you’re creating, that joy will shine through and your art will find an audience.

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JK: You’re stranded on a deserted island. Which three books do you bring with you?

DD: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey, and Robert Ebert’s Book of Film by Roger Ebert (I’m a huge movie geek!).

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JK: Lastly, when I was researching you online, I came across this photo. Readers need to know: what exactly is going on here and did you win the Showcase Showdown or what?

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DD: Oh yes, the moment I was almost famous! Here’s the story: I occasionally contribute cartoons and comics to the one and only MAD Magazine. One of the cartoons I did was a parody of The Price is Right. Drew Carey saw the cartoon and enjoyed it enough that he bought the original art from me! If that wasn’t enough, the producer for The Price is Right invited my wife and I out to LA and gave us a backstage tour and let us sit in the audience for a taping of the show. Right after the show I was able to meet Drew Carey very briefly and get the picture taken with him. It was all very surreal and amazing, to say the least!

Thank you so much, David! And a huge hug to you, Carter, for hosting us! We love ya!

(Anytime, pals. Blobfish friends are forever!)

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