Firebird

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers (Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014)

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

When you open a book to sweeping, fiery endpapers, it’s almost as if you can hear the symphony begin. The author, Misty Copeland, is a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. The illustrator, Christopher Myers, is a Caldecott Honoree for Harlem and the son of the legendary Walter Dean Myers.

We are in stellar storytelling hands.

Firebird_MC1

(image here // Copeland dancing the Firebird)

Firebird_MC2

(image here // Copeland dancing the Firebird)

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

Christopher Myers’s art captures the lines and shapes of a dancer’s movement. Intricate, suspended, and dizzying.

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

Misty Copeland’s words are fire and poetry to a timid youngster’s soul.

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

I adore the anticipation in this spread, the dancer waiting for the curtain to rise, and I imagine a lump in her throat and a belly full of as many swoops as the folds in the curtain.

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

Each page turn reveals a composition that is even more striking than the last. This is a pairing of musicality, movement, and a jaw-dropping array of colors and feelings. The way her words and his pictures create an animated harmony is exactly how music and movement do the same in the ballerina’s world.

A perfect pas de deux.

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

For more on Misty Copeland, take a look at this. She is a lovely storyteller, both in her books and with her body.

 

 

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

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Review copy provided by the publisher.

Ninja! and an interview with Arree Chung

Ninja! by Arree Chungby Arree Chung

published June 2014 by Henry Holt and Company, an imprint of Macmillan.

Friends, I’m so excited to have Arree Chung in this corner of the internet today. I met Arree last summer at SCBWI in Los Angeles, and am humbled every time I think about how we share an agent and a friendship. He’s an expert storyteller with a bright, animated style and a fresh perspective. Ninja! is his debut picture book, and it will be far from his last.

First, you should watch this short film. And here’s my confession. Arree sent this to me a number of weeks ago with the caveat that it was unreleased and not to share. Except: it was too awesome not to. So I showed it to my students, because single-digit-aged kids are pretty good at secrets and don’t have Twitter accounts anyway.

They loved it. And I mean L O V E D  I T. Each class, without fail, asked to watch it many, many times in a row. So we did.

Meet Maxwell, and then meet Arree.

breaker What has been the most surprising thing about this whole debut picture book thing?

The most surprising thing about the publishing process is how long it takes to actually bring a book to market (1.5 – 2 years).  My background is in games, where companies can publish with the click of a button and make updates via the internet.  The process gives me appreciation for the care that goes into the publishing process.  It also helps to have a great team of people to work with.  Everyone from your agent, publisher, editor and art director in making the book and then there’s publicity, marketing and sales folks that help in getting the book out. 1stCoverAn early cover design. An early cover design. Ninja_Revision_Notesrevision notes.

I’m fortunate to have a supportive publisher in Macmillan.  They have a great team of experts.  Each one helps you with a specific aspect of the publishing process.  I’ve learned so much.  I’m so grateful I’ve been in good hands.  I’ve worked hard to hold up my end of the deal and make something special.  With Ninja it was easy, because I loved it so much.

Who are your creative and/or literary heroes?

Oh, so many!

Authors:
Roald Dahl
E.B. White
Jack Gantos
Judy Blume
Jeff Kinney

Illustrators:
Russell Patterson
Chris Ware
Yuko Shimitzo

Author/Illustrators:
Shel Silverstien
Wolf Erlbruch
William Steig
Mo Willems
Peter Brown
Leo Lionni
Maurice Sendak
Ian Falconer
Jon Klassen
David Shannon
Bill Peet
Calef Brown

Comics:
Jim Lee
Scott McFarlane
Jeffrey Brown
Bill Watterson
Jim Davis
Charles Schulz

Animation/Film:
Brad Bird
John Lassetter
Guillermo Del Toro
Chris Sanders
Danny Boyle
Tim Burton
Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit)
Steven Spielberg
Hayao Miyazaki

Can you talk about the similarities and differences in animation and the picture book form?

I love both mediums for different reasons.  Both mediums can transport the reader into new worlds.  I love it when a book or movie captures my imagination and I am completely immersed in a world that has been built.  The world is invented but it feels familiar and the story resonates with honesty.  I hate it when a story is force feeding me a message and it feels like an infomercial or when a story rambles without a focus.  Storytelling is magical when it has both the imagination and heart and speaks to you directly and honestly.  A great story is so exhilarating.  There’s nothing in the world that feels like it.  I love both animation and picture books because they have the ability to create magic.

How they are different?  Well, I think the main difference is that film tends to be a passive experience.  The viewer is in a dream like state that watches the story unfold.  It’s like being suspended in a time capsule and you watch everything that happens.  You take the story in a more subliminal kind of way. NinjaCreepAway Spread14_15Books on the other hand I think are active experiences.  You as the reader actively interact with the words and pictures.  It’s like your brain is the film projector and is working to play the story.  Because of this, I think books are much more intimate experiences.  You go at your own pace.  You stop, question and wonder.  Sometimes you’re so engaged, you speed all the way through and sometimes you like to read slowly just because.  Readers engage books with their imaginations and a lot of the story is told in-between the words, the page turns and the illustrations whereas films are full experiences that use all the arts of composition, acting, music and visuals to put you in a state of suspension.

Both are magical and I love doing both so much.

Can you give us any behind-the-scenes information on how you created the short film? Did you get to know Maxwell differently in that format?

Yeah!  It was so thrilling to bring Maxwell to life.  I had a pretty good idea of who he is as a character after creating the book but actually seeing him move and casting Taylor Wong as Maxwell brought another whole dimension.

As for production, here’s a quick behind the scenes look of what it took to make the short film.  I plan on doing a much more in-depth look in a separate blog post.

We used 4 software tools: Photoshop, Flash, After Effects and Final Cut Pro.  The process was a highly collaborative effort between folks at MacMillan, myself and David Shovlin, the animator.  It was a ton of work to do but a ton of fun as well.ShortFilm_Process

In all, it took about 5 weeks of work.  David and I worked really hard on it and I’m really proud of what we created in a relatively short period of time.2013-09-09 23:23Where did Ninja! come from?

It’s been my dream to make my own picture books for a long time.  The first conception of Ninja came when I was in art school.  I jotted down “A boy goes creeping around the house dressed as a Ninja and causes trouble.”  That was probably in 2007 or so.

Maxwell_1st_CharacterSketchesNinja_Thumbnails        MaxwellScanNoPencil Ninja_Thumbnails        MaxwellScanNoPencil Ninja_earlySketches-1Early Ninja! thumbnails and character sketches.

In 2012, I decided to do the Illustrator Intensive at the SCBWI Summer Conference.  We were given an assignment to submit a story along with a manuscript, thumbnails, character sketches, and a finished illustration.  Up to that point, I had been writing stories for years but was stuck on many of them.  For the workshop we had to write down answers to the following questions:

WHO
WHAT is the dilemma?
WHERE does it take place?
HOW is the problem solved?

This really helped me a lot.  Previous to this, many of my stories didn’t have focus and wandered a lot.  Ninja was a big break through for me as a storyteller and I had lots of people who helped guide me through it.   I’m so thankful for Rubin, my agent, and Kate, my editor.  The more I worked on it, the more the world and character took shape and gained depth.  It was so much fun to make.

Do you remember any art you made as a kid? What was it?!

Yeah, I made a lot of ninja stars and origami.  I was also obsessed with Legos.  I loved to build cruiser space ships and large fortresses armed to the teeth.  Whenever my uncle bought us Legos, we would make the thing we were supposed to make and then tear it apart and then make what we wanted to make.  Making your own thing was much more fun.

I was a huge comic book reader and collector as well.  I bought all of the X-men, Spiderman, Spider-ham, Batman and Spawn comics.  I still buy comics.

I also really love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I used to record all of the episodes.  In fact, I used to press pause on the VCR and trace drawings of the Ninja Turtles by overlaying paper onto the TV.  At school, everyone thought I was the best drawer, but I never told anyone my technique til now!  Eventually I copied so many drawings I could draw it out of memory.  I tried to do the same technique with Transformers but that wasn’t nearly as successful because I didn’t understand perspective as at 12 year old.

And now what’s next for you?Ninja_GhostStoryI’ve got a lot of things I’m working on.  I have lots of Ninja stories to tell with Maxwell. (I’m so excited about all of them!)  One of them involves an old Chinese folktale involving ghosts!

I’m also illustrating two Potty Training books for kids that are hilarious.HowToPeeillustrations from How to Pee

I have lots of picture book stories I’m developing and I’m also writing a middle grade novel titled Ming Lee, All American.  Ming Lee chronicles my experiences growing up as an ABC (American Born Chinese).  It’s deeply personal and is funny in that Louis CK, embarrassing but honest kind of way.  I would describe it as Judy Blume meets Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Of course, it is its own thing that I am figuring out.  I have a sense of what I want it to be but you never know what it will be until you get there.

Ming_Lee_Cover MingLeeHairCut

breaker A huge thanks to Arree for this peek into the mind of a master craftsman. Be sure to get your hands on Ninja! this week!

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Number One Sam and an interview with Greg Pizzoli

Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoliby Greg Pizzoli

published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion

I’m honored and thrilled to have Greg Pizzoli back to the blog this week. About a year ago we talked about Kroc and The Watermelon Seed, and in the many weeks since, that thing (and Greg!) won the Geisel Award! My kindergarteners call him ‘the BURRRRPPP man’ which I’m pretty sure is the highest praise any mere mortal can achieve.

But today! Today is the birthday of Greg’s latest and greatest, Number One Sam. This is my favorite tweet about it:Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 3.47.57 PM(And side note, you should follow Matt Roeser at Candlewick cause he has impeccable taste and eyeballs.)

And this (!) is the trailer:

breaker Greg chatted with me about process and art and picture books, and I’ve read these answers about a billion times and am still learning. Enjoy!

Your spot color. Wow! Can you talk about why such a stripped-down design with a limited color palette is such a powerful visual device?

Great question!

To be honest, I’m not sure. But, I think it comes down
to working from an intention, and just having a plan, or restrictions
set in place from the beginning. You can’t just grab another color
from somewhere – when it comes time to make final art, we’ve done
rounds of pantone tests and paper tests, and the limitations and
possibilities are in place, so nothing is casual. Maybe it makes you
consider things in a way that is unique to working in that way?

I know for me, if I’m doing a book that is printed in a limited color
palette, it can feel restrictive in one sense, but there is a real
freedom within the limitations, if you know what I mean. There’s not
endless guessing the way there might be with a CMYK book. Obviously we
do lots of tests and make sure we get the base colors right for the
book, but once that is done, I can start carving out the drawings and
not worry too much about the colors, because we’ve done so much work
on the front end. It’s a challenge I enjoy.

Here’s a photo of a spot color test proof. Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

Why do you think your stories are best suited to the form of the picture
book. What can you do in this form that you might not be able to in another?

This is a tough one, Carter. Boy, I come to your blog looking to have
a good time, maybe show a video or something, and you slam me with
this “why picture books” stuff. Sheesh. “Gotcha blogging” right here.
But that’s fine, I’ll play along.

I’m kidding, of course. But, it is a tough one. I guess it’s not all
that complicated for me. I’ve always loved picture books and I think
it’s because there are so many possible ways to solve the problem of
telling a story with text and images. It’s a cliche I think, but you
really can do anything in a picture book. But here again, I like the
restrictions. As much as I might complain to my editor that I “just
need one more spread” to tell the story, it’s actually nice to have a
structure where you have to fit a complete world, with a character, a
problem, and (maybe?) a solution to that problem in only 40 (or so)
pages.

There’s something about how deliberate every decision has to be
that is super appealing to me. I’ve been working on writing a longer
thing recently, a series, and it’s not as though I’m not deliberate
when working on it, but I’ll admit that it feels as though not as much
is hinging on each line or picture in the same way. With picture
books, you don’t have room for anything to feel arbitrary. I like
that.

Also, I thought you might want to see these. Sam started out as a
print of a weird dog (top) and then I made a print of another
(cuter) dog, and he kept coming up in my sketchbooks until he became
Number One Sam (bottom). Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

What do you think are the most important considerations when creating a book trailer?
How do you think through compressing an already spare narrative into a short
animation? Are there aspects to animation you wish you had access to in
picture book art or vice versa? (I guess mostly I’m curious about how book
trailers share storytelling space with picture books and what they can do
differently. Does that make sense?!)

Ya know, it’s a complicated thing this book trailer business. I am
really happy with the two we’ve done so far, but I definitely can’t
take all the credit. Jimmy Simpson, directed and animated both the
trailer for The Watermelon Seed and for Number One Sam, and he is
pretty incredible to work with. Both times we started working, I had
already finished the book, and I had a very basic sense of what I
wanted the trailer to be, but he figures out all of the transitions
and added all of the touches that make them work as well as I think
they do. For example, the “wink” shot from the Number One Sam trailer –
that’s all Jimmy. And of course, he does all of the animation.

I draw the stuff, which is somewhat complicated because you have to
keep everything separated, meaning draw the arm on a different layer
from the body, and the hand on a different layer than the arm, and the
ear on it’s own layer, etc. Basically everything needs to move
independently of everything else, but my characters are pretty simple,
so it’s not too big a deal.

And the music is key. My buddy Christopher Sean Powell composed the
music special for both trailers. What a talent, right? He plays in the
band Man Man, and has his solo music project called Spaceship Aloha,
and was a part of a pretty seminal band from these parts called Need
New Body. I’m thrilled we get to work together on this stuff.

But, to your actual question, I see the trailer and the book as
completely separate things. They have their own pacing, and their own
objectives. With the book, you want everything to feel complete, and
have an emotional pay off of some kind. And you have the narrative arc
to keep things together. With the trailer, it’s more of a tease. You
don’t want to give it all away. And I guess our objective is to just
make them fun and unique.

Book trailers have become more popular, and there is a sort of
template for how they are done that we have tried to stay away from.
We just want them to feel different enough to maybe stand out. It’s a
super small community in some ways, and my book trailers certainly
aren’t racking up millions of views or anything, but we enjoy making
them for their own sake, partly I think because we all just like
working together. If other people dig them, and check out the book on
top of that, that’s icing.

What types of trophies do you have lining your shelves? What kind do you
wish you had? Side note: What would a book called Number One Greg be about?

Beyond my published books, which I kind of think of as trophies in a
way, there are a couple. Last year when I finished the art for Number
One Sam, my editor Rotem sent me a trophy that I keep on my bookcase.
And recently I was looking through some old family photos and found a
first place ribbon that I had won for a school wide art contest in
the 1st grade. My family moved around a ton when I was little, so the
actual winning piece was lost. I remember it though! It was a big
piece of yellow poster board with a marker drawing of outer space.

Maybe it’s time to do a space book? Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli breaker And now for some art from Number One Sam. Thank you, Greg! (Click to make any of them larger.) Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

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The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

beekle_cover

by Dan Santat

published 2014 by Little, Brown (release date is tomorrow, April 8th. I’d recommend lining up outside your local bookstore as soon as possible. You want this book.)

Sometimes, you can tell that a story is going to squeeze its way into your soul.

I got those story-goosebumps when I saw this trailer recently. Hat tip to Mr. Schu and Margie Myers-Culver probably. Or maybe Mr. Santat himself. But:

breaker Maybe sobbed is a more appropriate word choice than saw, because that’s what I did. It was all I could do. But some things you see with your eyes, and some things you see with your heart alone.

I saw Beekle.

This is Dan Santat’s first offering as an author in a decade, though he has illustrated about a trillion books in the meantime. His work is inviting and bold and gripping and nuanced and so clearly Santat. Paired with his own words now, they haunt and amaze. Sweeping and startling and so very shivery.

(Speaking of all those Santats, my students peek under every dust jacket thanks to Kel Gilligan. They are super disappointed if a) the library mylar is in the way and b) if it’s a plain old case cover. Smarties.)

Thank goodness for this: The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat And this. The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat Whether accidental or intentional, the title is a nod to other epic journeys. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Tintin, Pete and Pete (remember those redheads?). All of those escapades belong to memorable characters.

But Beekle. See him up there on the cover? That milky lump with the crooked, shy smile? No one has remembered him yet, because no one has ever imagined him. Not with their eyes, and not with their hearts.

The folks at the bus stop (save the tiny schnauzer) are too busy with real life and grownup things like tracksuits and newspapers. Of course they can’t see him. That’s why he’s looking at you, the reader. So in you go. The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat Beekle was born on a magical island, a home for imaginary friends to wile away the days until they were dreamed up by a real friend. He waited and waited to be picked, and watched everyone else get imagined. And Beekle was alone, so . . .

. . . he did the unimaginable. The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat The whiff of a wild thing on those waves . . . you recognize Beekle’s sailboat and crown, right? SENDAK_1963_Where_the_Wild_Things_Are_pp31-32

(image from here.) The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat Beekle’s sailboat reaches the real world, but no one stops to hear the music. Like any good adventure and friend seeker, he finds branches to climb and a lookout to perch. The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat But no one came.

And then.

If you slowed down and savored the pictures, you might have seen a gust of wind pick up something thin and white. That thing, thin and white, stuck right to a limb holding Beekle. That thin and white canvas, her dream. The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat So many moments add to the magic of this, in addition to the anticipation and raw rooting we are doing for our hero. See the leaves? The stars? That’s how she drew the leaves. That’s how the leaves look on the tree, too. That shape creates instant charm and magical mood, sure. But also, remember the beginning? The waiting and the hoping? On the island, all of that happened under the stars. The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat Friends are matched under the stars.

That’s when the world begins to feel a little less strange.

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If there’s a word that means flabbergasted and gobsmacked to the infinitieth power, that’s what I was when I got Beekle in the mail from Dan’s editor at Little, Brown, Connie Hsu. Not only did I get a sneak peek at this gorgeous story, but I got my very own friend. 

beekle  How did he know a squatty, mechanized lightbulb bearing tools for creating and messing up and creating anyway was the perfect friend for me?

The stars must have been out that night above Dan’s studio. Thank you, Dan. So, so much.

Out the Window

Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young by Cybèle Young

published 2014 by Groundwood Books Out the Window by Cybele Young Don’t you hate throwing your ball out the window and being too short to see where it bounces? The worst. Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young But the worst gets better, because in its place a spectacular parade clash-crashes by. Except when you’re a frantic, too-short creature, it’s really hard to see over the windowsill. Good thing you’re a clever whippersnapper, and push that chair up to take a peek. Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young And just when you can finally see outside, the book tells you to turn around.

You’ll stumble smack dab into the spectacle.

Juggling shrimp on a unicycle! A bat on a hanging, clangy contraption! Pink swans pulling a turtle on a wagon! Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young Thanks to this parade, you might just get your ball back. It’s one fantastic game of catch.

And check out this trailer to see the book in its glorious action. Mesmerizing.

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P.S. – Remember the Twitter chat with Groundwood Books and Cybèle Young? The transcript is here, if you want to add to your art-to-study and books-to-love pile. It was such fun!

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (and an interview with illustrator Christian Robinson)

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson written by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

(Published 2014 by Chronicle Books.)

Have you seen the buzz flitting about this book yet? Allow me to flit a bit more. It’s a spectacular collaboration, a spotlight on an unforgettable lady. I have to believe that Patricia Hruby Powell’s dance background fueled the sparkle in her words, and Christian Robinson’s connection to Josephine is electric in his art.

Have you seen the trailer? (The music is by Patricia’s husband’s jazz band!)

breaker Before you enjoy my chat with Christian Robinson, be sure to check out this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Initial cover and color sketches? Yes.Christian RobinsonAnd this interview at Seven-Imp from 2012 is where I first fell for Christian Robinson. Also, more swooning over at Design Mom, where I covered Harlem’s Little Blackbird.

Perhaps you saw his art at Google last week in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?Christian Robinson's MLK Google DoodleGorgeous.

Here he is. So happy to have him visit. (Click any image to enlarge.) breaker Hi, Christian! Can you tell us a bit about your process, both the physicality of creating and it’s origins?

I like to do my research. I’d describe the start as cultivating curiosity for the characters and setting in the story. I go to the library and absorb all the visuals and facts that will influence and inspire the work.

Then I start sketching, sometimes rough concepts; other times, more polished work. I basically work on creating enough art to share my vision with the art director and editor.

Then layout sketches — I like to use Post-its. These are great, because I can easily switch out sketches that aren’t working.

Then, once approved by the editor and art director, I create images in Photoshop, tying down shapes and colors. Then, final art collage and acrylic.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonHow would you describe your studio in three words?

Sunny, quiet, magical.

Now how about a little more. It seems like it would be a magical place to capture the spirit of your work. What do you think?

The creative process in general is pretty magical. I imagine that magic must rub off on any space ritually used to make stuff. Josephine was illustrated in my studio/bedroom. It’s a sunny, warm and small room in a big San Francisco Victorian home built in 1891. I like creating in bright spaces, with lots of natural light, I also like being able to look out a window and take in any inspiration the city has to offer in the moment. Now I work in a larger shared artist studio, which is also nice. Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonI am crazy about your short, What is Music? Can you tell us about the inspiration behind that? Could you ever have anticipated those golden kid-responses?

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! Well, I was inspired by the work of John and Faith Hubley, who created animations to home audio recordings of their daughters playing together as children.

(Moonbird is one of the many award winning shorts they made together.)

I could only cross my fingers and hope the questions I asked would get such responses!

The story about Josephine Baker being in your early awareness of art is remarkable. What does the magnitude of that feel like?

It feels unbelievable, like I’m I might wake up at any moment. This was a dream project for me, but it also carried a lot of self-imposed pressure, this is Josephine Baker we’re talking about! I had to constantly remind myself to just trust the process, and not have a panic attack every time I couldn’t illustrate something as well I would have wanted.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonWho are your creative heroes?

Honestly, Beyonce – ha! Kind of true though. Josephine Baker, Ezra Jack Keats, Hayao Miyazaki, Ray and Charles Eames, Sade, Yuri Norstein. Pretty eclectic list, but it’s what’s coming to mind at the moment.

What memories of picture books do you have from your much younger years?

As a child I struggled learning to read and write and needed a little extra help to keep up in class. I remember being intimidated by reading and not being very attached to books without pictures. My love for books came later. Although I totally remember feeling like a champ in elementary school if I was able to get to Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar first during reading time.

If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, and across form or genre, who would it be and why?

Picasso, because he’s Picasso! I’m sure I could learn some things from one of the world’s most celebrated and inspiring artist.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonWhat’s next for you?

Currently illustrating a picture book loosely based off my childhood experiences of riding the city bus with my grandma. Written by the amazing Matt de la Peña.

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Raise your hand if you’ll join me first in line for that collaboration? Seriously. And Beyonce! As if I needed one more reason to be crazy about this guy. Thank you, Christian! And thanks, too, to Patricia Hruby Powell for writing words that dazzle. This one is spectacular. Check it out!

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Thanks to Chronicle Books for the images in this post, and also for a review copy of Josephine. All thoughts (and gushing) my own.

Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue

RedKnitCapGirlToTheRescueby Naoko Stoop

published 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Naoko Stoop’s work has enchanted me for some time now. I’m thrilled she is in the picture book world because her voice is unique. It’s haunting and heartwarming at the same time. Terribly beautiful. I wrote about Red Knit Cap Girl over on Design Mom, and now she’s back in another lovely episode.

And how thrilled was I to connect directly to Naoko and find out some nitty gritty details of her process, inspiration, and drive to create story? Very. Hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have!

Be sure to visit Naoko’s etsy shop if you are still in the hunt for Christmas gifts. I’d take one of each, wouldn’t you?RKCG2-10(Click any image to enlarge. You have got to see the detail and texture in its full glory!)

When did you first know you were meant to be an artist? Was it a particular moment? A habit? An inspiration?

I have to say, I still hesitate to call myself an “artist”. Because, to me, “art” is about expression, and everyone has his/her own way to express themselves. I’ve been very, very lucky that I’ve made a career in what I love to do. I never considered that I would be in the art field when I was studying business at college, or working in marketing for a big corporation back in Tokyo. Back in those days, I felt something was missing in my life. I didn’t know what it was, but I remember that my grandmother used to tell me that when I was five, I never stopped drawing. Her words stayed with me for years. Several years ago, when I was feeling lost, I quit everything and started to paint. I was hoping to find new prospects in my life and nurture my inner child, and it opened me up to a new world of possibilities. Since then, I’ve been painting.

What are your creative influences – in books, or film, or art, or nature, or anywhere else?

I grew up mostly in Tokyo. I was a typical city kid, busy with studies and school activities—I didn’t spend much time outside. After college, I lived in Vancouver B.C. Canada for about a year, and it was the first time in my life that I was exposed to nature on such a large scale: huge mountains, endless rain forests, magnificent glaciers and lots of wild animals. Canada’s natural beauty amazed and inspired me. I felt so spiritual by just being in nature, it gave me a sense of security and stability which I never felt in Tokyo. My time in Canada has been a strong influence on my current artwork, considering that I didn’t yet know how to paint when I was there. Life is interesting; I would’ve been very happy living in Vancouver had I stayed there, but I’m not sure if I would’ve become an artist. It was living in Brooklyn that gave me creative inspiration—Brooklyn definitely has an artistic atmosphere, with a lot of support for young artists. People accept individual creativity and don’t negatively judge your work. When I was painting on used brown paper grocery bags, a gallery owner discovered me, and she gave me my first gallery show opportunity.

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And who are your creative heroes?

Hayao Miyazaki,
Hokusai Katsushika,
Maurice Sendak
Is there a book from your childhood that has stuck inside your soul?

It’s not a book, but an early Miyazaki movie, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” It had a strong influence in my developing my own stories. I also love Totoro by Miyazaki. Totoro is my spiritual home :)

Which comes first – the story in words, or the story in pictures?

Definitely story in pictures first. I develop the stories in my head with sketches, visualizing the storyline. Later, I write a simple text to accompany the illustrations.

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Tell us a bit about your physical process of creating art? I see wood, paper, paint, and pencil? Your pictures are so tactile and lovely – the spread with the waves (where their eyes are squeezed closed tight!) grabbed me and plopped me right into that sailboat with them! What a rush!

First, I find a piece of wood which has the right grain for the scene, then I start with background. This is the most intriguing part of my painting process because wood grain gives me a spontaneous pattern, and I can never predict the exact result before I paint on it. (Sometimes, I get very a different painting idea by looking at the flow on the grain!) When the background is dry, I start drawing the outlines of the scene with inks, then color them with acrylic paint, gouache, pencil and pastels… whatever would suit best to give the appropriate texture for the scene. I try to use found materials as much as possible, since I believe that art is a form of expression and separated from materialism.

What parts of Naoko are in Red Knit Cap Girl?

I created Red Knit Cap Girl as my inner child. I drew her playing in nature with forest animals, which I never had in my real childhood. I came to realize that I wasn’t the only one—people started telling me that Red Knit Cap Girl reminded them of their childhoods. I guess Red Knit Cap Girl could be lots of people’s childhoods! When I realized she wasn’t me anymore, I think I grew up a little bit :)

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Will we see any more of her adventures?

Yes! I am currently working on the third Red Knit Cap Girl adventure, coming in Fall 2014.

What’s next for you?

As long as I’m able to, I’d like to keep creating. I’m grateful to the people I work with—those who read my books and talk about my work. Thank you so much for interviewing me.

No, thank you, Naoko for the glimpse into your studio and story-loving soul. We are thankful! Are you as inspired as I am?

Thanks to Little, Brown for the images in this post. (Don’t forget to click on them to see them larger! You won’t be disappointed.)

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A Funny Little Bird

A Funny Little Bird by Jennifer Yerkes

(published 2013, by Sourcebooks)

Jennifer just won the Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators at their 2013 exhibition, The Original Art! Huge congrats! Good eye, jury.

A bird, a fable, and eyes that look past what’s seen to the heart of it all. That’s what’s wrapped up in these pages. I wrote these words about another story recently, but it’s truth here, too: It’s spare, but soars.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

This little bird is almost invisible, and he’s had it. He marches off with soggy, scraggly   claw-steps, and face to almost-face with a magnificent bird. This is when his love affair with beautiful things begins. Because with a collection of beautiful things, he gets noticed.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Negative space is a funny thing, just like this little bird. It’s a puzzle in plain sight, a double-take, and then a heart-smile when you get it. And illusion. An allusion.

In contrast to the stark and white expanses, the color is a splash. Vibrant patterns and saturated colors all unbound by expressive lines. It’s a mashup of flair and restraint, and it will hypnotize you.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

And while you explore this aesthetic playground, settle in a bit with this bird. You won’t be alone.

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P.S. – Other books I love with an exploration of negative space? Black and White and Round Trip!

Thanks to Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky for the images in this post.

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by Germano Zullo and Albertine

{published 2013, by Chronicle Books}

I’m in that bleary-eyed, inspired, and terrified post-SCBWI haze. Are you?

That’s why this book is perfect for this time. And isn’t that always why picture books are perfect? There’s something magical about those moments that are captured, when the polaroid’s positive sheet has just pulled away from the negative. That moment, exposed. That’s the one I mean.

CLICK TO READ MORE

The Monstore and a conversation with Tara Lazar and James Burks

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words by Tara Lazar, pictures by James Burks

{published (TODAY!) 2013, by Simon & Schuster}

I have been looking forward to this book for a very, very, very long time. As long as it took Manfred to grow into a big old red monster from just a wee thing. (And once you know him you will assume like me that it took days and years and eons for that to happen.)

You see, Tara is one of those insta-friends. We’ve never met in real life, but she better prepare for a crushing hug of love once we do.

And in celebration of this grand opening, I went straight to the source. And so for you, enjoy this conversation with the creators of The Monstore. But beware…

NO RETURNS. NO EXCHANGES.

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Who did you create first, the kids or the monsters?  James

The one thing I was most excited about with this project was getting to draw monsters. As soon as I got the email from Simon and Schuster asking me to do the book I started sketching out pages and pages of monsters of various sizes and shapes in my sketchbook. Then I ended up going back and picking out the ones that I thought best represented Manfred, Mookie, and Mojo. The rest ended up being the background characters.

After that I designed the kids and the manager. The manager was probably the toughest because I had a different idea as to what I thought he should look like and the publisher had another. I originally pictured him being much bigger so that he could keep all the monsters in line but the publisher wanted something different so I ended up going in the opposite direction and making him small. I think he turned out great. He’s a great character. Kind of mysterious.

Tara

And the way that James drew the manager, it gave me an incredible idea for a sequel. But I may be getting ahead of myself.

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How long did it take to arrive at your style for the illustrations? 

James

It didn’t take long to come up with the style for the book. It’s pretty much the way that I draw and design characters. The textured coloring was something that I had just started experimenting with because I wanted the book to look more picture-booky and less comic book style. I ended up creating some custom brushes in photoshop that gave me a nice textured effect and I left off most of the outlines so it felt more painted.

Tara

To me, the illustrations have a cool 3-D effect that I’ve not seen in other picture books. It’s just one of the things that makes THE MONSTORE unique.

{Carter here. Here’s a great example of that 3-D effect Tara mentioned. See how Manfred is busting out of that frame?! He can’t be contained!}

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Do you have any favorite moments in the book?

James

I’m pretty happy with all the pages. There are so many great moments and things happening. It was a fun project to work on for sure. One of my favorite pages in the book is where the monsters are crammed inside the house. There are just so many fun things happening on that page. One monster flying a underwear kite, another eating the tree, and a third tossing a roll of toilet paper out the window. It’s contained chaos.

Keep your eyes peeled for the little eyeball character I named “Peepers,” he tends to hide in various places through out the book.

Tara

It was so cool when James told me he names all the characters he draws, not just the three monsters I mention in the text. It helps him to give each monster a distinct personality. So when my girls and I got the book, we started naming every monster. There’s a girly balloon monster they named “Kiki” and a monster who looks like he has buttons up his chest, so my youngest calls him “Elevator”. I think they are more creative than I am! My girls were also better at spotting “Peepers” hidden on the pages than I was!

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This book is a fun house! You won’t know if you’re walking right side down or upside up. The colors will leap off the page and super soak your brain. It’s vibrant, funny, and a heck ton of surprising. James’ illustrations are the perfect complement to Tara’s wacky words, and you should put this in your nightly rotation pronto.

And maybe knock five times under the last box of sour gum balls at your local candy shoppe. You just might find The Monstore!

Also? I LOVE that the title on the spine is written from the top down. Three cheers for fewer library shelf-induced neck cricks. Am I right?!

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!

Do you want a copy of this?! (Answer: YES.) Well, great, cause I’m giving a copy away! Just leave a comment on this post by Tuesday, June 11th at 12:00 PST, and I’ll draw a winner!

And if you can’t wait to play the odds, check this opportunity out! If you call Tara’s local indie (908-766-4599)to purchase a copy, they’ll ship it out to you signed and personalized!

{The cover image at the top of the post links to IndieBound, and Tara wrote an awesome post about other places to get The Monstore here.}

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