Petra + An Interview with Marianna Coppo

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by Marianna Coppo (Tundra Books, 2018)

This book instantly shot up to the top of my favorites list. It is a smile from start to finish. I chatted with Marianna Coppo about Petra and how it was made, and hope this shoots it to the top of your favorites too.

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

When I was little I was very much attached to the world of books and images. Being a solitary child, I read a lot and drew just as much.

Even today the characters of my favourite childhood stories – all by Roald Dahl – have the faces of those created by Quentin Blake.

I don’t have many memories, though, related specifically to children’s picture books. I started getting into them much later, when I began to study illustration.

When I began studying, I was ignorant of picture books – I probably still am – and was knocked off my feet when I made their discovery. I fell in love with picture books (the wonderful ones, naturally), because with children’s picture books it’s difficult to fool the reader.

There aren’t many tricks. A picture book works if there’s a strong idea behind it. They say a lot with so little. When a picture book works, text and images blend together perfectly, creating something magical. So, it’s a world in itself. And at the heart of it form, content, and rhythm are condensed into 32 pages.

In 2015, two years after finishing my studies in illustration at Mimaster in Milan, I attended a year-long course in Bologna at the Accademia Drosselmeier, a center of studies dedicated children’s literature. There I read and looked at thousands of books and I haven’t stopped looking since. I think it’s safe to say that I have a joyful obsession with picture books. And I now draw with a different perspective: words and images grow within the limited space of a book, an enclosed space that allows me to express myself as best I can, I hope.

Petra and dog Petra as an egg

How did Petra come to be?

The idea for Petra came to me around three years ago. I had been working on a different project that wasn’t working at all. The best ideas always seem to come to me while I’m working on something else. On balance – well, at least for me – I think that every story is an attempt to respond to a personal need. Or perhaps stories are questions asked at the right moment. When I wrote Petra I was going through a terrible period. I felt like I was running on one of those indoor exercise bikes and getting nowhere.

Nothing was going right, but at the same time I was afraid to make a change. So I think Petra came from a necessity for me to change perspectives. I needed to see unknown things with a renewed optimism.

Things are always in flux. Petra rouses a dog, for example, and no matter how much she tries to stay still, sooner or later, she gets thrown here and there.

The message, for me, is not “be yourself.” What I wanted to say is that the “yourself” is whomever you want to imagine yourself to be. It was a liberating idea for me.

The choice of a rock as the main character was easy: it’s a fixed object, that can be considered useless, but can also make leaps and bounds!

Petra in winter

Can you tell us about your process?

My creative process is totally chaotic. The first step is insight! That moment of grace that compensates all of the work and frustration that will come after.

Then there’s months and months of this…

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Then I go straight to the final artwork (I’m trying to change the process and find a middle way between my scribbled storyboard and final illustrations).

Then I do all of the final artwork again. This is repeated at least three times.

At a certain point, I make myself stop, otherwise it would be never ending.

Fortunately, I usually like the results from the fourth round.

What do you hope readers take from Petra?

I wanted children to enjoy playing with the different perspectives and playing with Petra. I also wanted readers to try looking at things from a different point of view to see how things change depending on one’s perspective.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

Oh dear. I don’t know if I have an answer. I don’t have true heroes. Or perhaps I have so many that I’m not sure I can call them that. In the world of contemporary picture books, I think Jon Klassen’s and Mac Barnett’s work is absolutely genius.

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

I collect ugly and absurd things that don’t make sense. A lot of these “things” are also in storage because of a recent move, but here’s one. It’s a package of pasta that I found in a souvenir shop in my hometown, Rome.

As you can see, there’s an image of the coliseum with the writing “Made in Italy” on the package, but the pasta itself is made in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. How clever is that?!

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What’s next for you?

I’m working on the final touches to my latest book, A Very Late Story (to be published by Flying Eye Books in late spring).

And I’m also working on a new project about a dog, which is filled with… dogs!

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

How to Make Friends with a Ghost

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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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?

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!