Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hello 2018

Hello 2018 • © Super Jane Smith

Super Star Children's Book Review: Undefeated

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers—Cara Chow, Denise Holmes, Joan Charles, Sharon Calle—and I are so excited to be championing books celebrating everything from gender diversity, people of color, the LGBTQ community to ethnic, cultural and religious minorities, people with disabilities and developmental challenges to controversial topics, unique family situations and anything and everything I did not include. It is to say we take a rightfully board view of diversity! We aim to shine a light on books that bring both familiar experiences to those who do not often see themselves represented in books and new experiences to those looking to expand their worldview. Here at Bird Meets Worm we believe in the power of story to build empathy and thus a better world for you and me and everyone. Look for a new review on the second Wednesday of every month.

                        

UNDEFEATED: JIM THORPE AND THE CARLISLE INDIAN SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM
By Steve Sheinkin
Nonfiction (ages 10-14) • 288 pages
Published by Roaring Brook Press • 2017
ISBN 1-596-43954-8


I’m about as far from being a football fan as you can get (full disclosure: I was in marching band in high school and even after attending every football game for four years, I still don’t know the rules or how the game is scored), but even I couldn’t put down this fast-paced, compelling book.

Undefeated tells the intertwined stories of Jim Thorpe, star of the Carlisle Indian School football team and legendary coach Pop Warner. These two larger-than-life figures, along with the other members of the school’s incredibly talented squad, forged the era’s “winningest” team, and along the way invented the modern game of football.

Threaded throughout the narrative is the sad history of our nation’s mistreatment of Native Americans. Thousands of young people were sent to so-called Indian boarding schools where they were forced to shed their languages, traditions, and even their Indian names in order to erase all links to their families and culture.

Far more than just a tale of underdogs, this book is exciting, sad, infuriating, and inspirational all at the same time. It stands as a true testament to the athletic prowess of Jim Thorpe and all the young men of the Carlisle Indian School football team who, against all odds, refused to accept defeat and fought their way to the top.

Buy this book:

Barnes and Noble

Independent Book Stores

Reviewed by: Joan Charles

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Hilli Kushnir

Happy New Year & welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month. 

I’m thrilled to pieces to be kicking off the new year by chatting it up with the fabulous Illustrator/Designer, Hilli Kushnir! I’m a huge fan of her sweet style and friendly, lively characters! Hilli is a caffeine-addicted artist living in NYC, who specializes in children’s books and greeting cards. You can view more of her artwork here! 

Ooo! Can I pet you, little lamb?! So sweet!

Q: You have illustrated several fabulously adorable children’s board book series, including the Clap Hands Baby Books & the Baby’s Big World Series. Dish with us about the unique challenges of creating a series (verses a one-off title!) as well as how you approach developing characters and consistent design elements to tie it all together.

A: Aww, thanks for your kind words there! I think that as with everything, it takes a few pages to get the vibe going, and the longer you work on a project, the better you are familiar with it. The books that you mentioned are baby books, so pages did not have a very intricate scene and most of them had very few characters, so it’s generally simpler. What I like about a series of books is that exact familiarity—so even if you're working on 8 books and the process takes over a year, it's easy to dive into every book, because you already know what you're doing and have a style set up. Of course, that's also the disadvantage, that you are working in the same exact style for a long period of time, and if you change your mind about something or think "oh, I should have done this differently" it's usually too late. Also, sometimes you need a break from that and you want to do something completely different!

Right now I am working on a series for early readers called "This makes me Feel..." which teaches kids about dealing with their feelings, and unlike cute baby books, which is my comfort zone, these were more complex, longer (32 pages), and needed varied compositions, different view points and mood related color pallets. As always, the first book was the hardest, because it set the tone for the rest of the series, and I was not used to drawing kids in big groups or drawing adults altogether. Actually, the way we worked is that we did the covers and two color spreads, then had them approved, and then moved to doing the rest of the books in a more organized page by page fashion, which has a more natural flow. So now looking at the book, I could tell right away which pages were done first, because when you work on pages from start to finish, your characters kind of grows with the book, and I can see the difference between those initial pages, and the pages that were added on later. In terms of personal growth as I progress with this series (6 books, 4 completed) I become better, things flow better, and I feel braver about exploring new territories. That's definitely a great thing when you feel like you "own" your work and have a trusting collaborative relationship with your art director.

Uh, oh!! Don't cry over spilled milk, little guy! It's ok!!!

Q: You create a lot of super duper cute artwork for both children’s book publishing as well as for art licensing markets like greeting cards, puzzles and games. Give us the scoop on how publishing and art licensing are both similar and different.

A: I just love drawing cute stuff! I love creating characters that I would want to hug, so my work tends to fall into the kids territory, because my characters are young and cuddly. But the more I work and the more I'm exposed to work of other talents, past or present, the more I want to grow and try new things. Surface design is better for that, specifically greeting cards, because you get to experiment with whatever you want and see if that sells. It also allows you to express your humor and generate your own content. Clearly in a book, if you didn't also write it, you need to adhere to an existing manuscript and usually art directors would pick you based on books you have previously done, so there's less room for craziness there. In both industries, the more you work with people the more they trust your visual vision, and generally, that gives you more creative freedom. I find that for me, being primarily a book illustrator, the best is to work on a book and some cards (or prints) at the same time. With a book you need a break, and surface design gives you that break.

Q: What is a typical workday like for you? Set the scene (workspace, materials, accessories) and describe your responsibilities (art making, business stuff) and creative juju (rituals, inspiration, process).

A: I work from home and I work only digitally, so in terms of studio, my studio is a desk in my living room with some colorful books around me, a calendar I write deadlines and daily stuff I need to do (if I have a book, I break it down to pages per days but it never ends up being what I planned). After I send the kids to school I tend to procrastinate. I move slowly even after they're gone, with my coffee and would either go over to Instagram with my coffee in bed, or respond to messages that accumulated over night from different time zones. I get to actual work around 9 and start by replying to emails and figure out what I need to do that day and prioritize as needed. All the work that requires communication, planning, sketching and clear thinking needs to be done when I'm home alone. My kids are young teens and don't require constant attending, but even so I think best when no one is around. Writing these words for instance had to be done before they come back from school, because as a mom, there's always something you need to keep track of at the back of your head, and when they are away that's my time to dedicate my mind to something entirely. This is also the time of day, unfortunately, when I'd start thinking about all the stuff I need to buy online, so I don't get actually productive in terms of execution until the afternoon. Once I've already established my pencils, kids and other people are no longer an issue, so most of my coloring work is done in the afternoon and early evening. When I have tight deadlines I work at night, but it's not something that I like doing everyday. I also try to get to the gym during the week and that's done in the afternoon as well and is calculated into the work week so that I have long days and some shorter days. 

Adorable!! I wonder whose birthday it is?

In terms of inspiration, I use Pinterest a lot, mostly for vintage mid-century references and color palette ideas. Once in a while, when I feel I need some change, I would have a talk with myself and see if I would like to try some new style or topic, and set goals for the upcoming period. It gives me a better of sense of who I am and who I want to be. I'm not big on motivational slogans, so I try to come up with my own that will work specifically for me.

Q: Tell us all about your MOST favorite illustration project: one from your past and one from your present.

A: PAST—This is a sample I did for my agency, Astound. Before you get any books you need to generate a lot of work that looks like the book you wish you did. This is one of those sample. It's raw in texture and very minimal in color with a lot of use of lines and transparencies. There is something fresh and singular to me in that sample and I never managed to find the opportunity to recreate it. I'd love to do a book in that style.

PRESENT—I like the feelings series I mentioned before. I never before had to work on groups of kids interacting, and I really liked doing that, so here are a few examples because I can't chose.

It's so hot today, I kinda want the elephants to spray me!! Ha!

Q: What do you know now that when you first began your illustration career you wish you’d known about: art licensing? book publishing? business? self-promotion?

A: Here are a few thoughts:

     • As a woman: make your own money as soon as you can.

     • Sadly, unless you're a superstar or a self-marketing pro, art in itself is not as profitable as tech or corporate F/T jobs, so if you want to deal with art you need to know this.

     • I was a designer before and it took me a while to figure out what sort of illustration I want and am most equipped in doing. There are a ton of online classes available today that will give you a lot of information on your options as an illustrator, so try to take those right away.

     • Get an agent. Yes, they take 25-30% of your profit, which is always a hard pill to swallow, but they will, especially in publishing, get you clients of caliber that is nearly impossible to get by yourself. Then when you build a name for yourself you can think about what to do next.

     • Work hard at building yourself. Send everything you think is good to everyone and don't overthink it and don't take rejection personally. Most will say no, but someone will say yes. Eventually.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Sitting in my fire escape in a sunny 80 degree weather, my mind at ease with all project, reading a book.

Thank you so much, Hilli, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm!! We love your artwork!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Happy Holidays from Super Jane

© Jane Smith • Christmas Kitty

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Super Star Children's Book Review: Allison

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers—Cara Chow, Denise Holmes, Joan Charles, Sharon Calle—and I are so excited to be championing books celebrating everything from gender diversity, people of color, the LGBTQ community to ethnic, cultural and religious minorities, people with disabilities and developmental challenges to controversial topics, unique family situations and anything and everything I did not include. It is to say we take a rightfully board view of diversity! We aim to shine a light on books that bring both familiar experiences to those who do not often see themselves represented in books and new experiences to those looking to expand their worldview. Here at Bird Meets Worm we believe in the power of story to build empathy and thus a better world for you and me and everyone. Look for a new review on the second Wednesday of every month.

                     

ALLISON
By Allen Say • Illustrated by Allen Say
Picture Book (ages 4-7) • 32 pages
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company • 1997
ISBN 0-395-85895-X


Allison’s story begins when she becomes aware that she is ethnically different than her parents and subsequently learns that she was adopted. Allison compares herself to her classmates, who look like their parents. She wonders why her biological parents gave her away and questions who she really is and where she belongs. She even takes out her frustrations on her parents. It isn’t until she adopts a stray cat that she learns that what really makes a family is the bonds of love and commitment, regardless of blood ties.

Allison is simply, subtly, and succinctly told through Say’s dialogue and watercolor illustrations. This is the kind of book that can be read and enjoyed over and over by both adults and children, separately and together.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Cara Chow

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Super Star Interviews: Zara Gonzalez Hoang

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I’m pleased as punch to be chatting it up with the fabulous Designer/Illustrator, Zara Gonzalez Hoang! I’m a big a fan of her fun & graphically bold artwork, and I was so excited to meet her in person this past February at the SCBWI NY conference! Zara grew up in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. She lived a nomadic life for a number of years that took her from one coast to the other and back again before settling in Falls Church, VA. She lives with her mad man husband, tiny demon son, and curly-coated corgi in a little mid-century modern house stuffed with books and art supplies deep in the suburban woods. You can view more of her artwork here.


Special Delivery: Octopus Friend for Life!!

Q: You recently became represented by Andrea Morrison at Writers House and landed your first children’s picture book contract. (Congratulations!!!) Give us all the fabulous details on your forthcoming picture book.

A: Thank you so much! Andrea has been so great. I met her at a local SCBWI conference right as I was getting ready to send out queries and I consider myself super lucky that she was willing to take me on with half a dummy and a few poorly written stories to show!

The book I just finished illustrating is called Thread of Love by Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal—a mother/son writing team that have written a number of books together. The book tells about Raksha Bandhan—an Indian celebration of the love between brothers and sisters. The text is super cute and I was able to use tons of color and pattern in the illustrations which made me super happy. It comes out in Fall 2018 with Beach Lane Books / Simon & Schuster. I’m very excited about it. I can’t believe I still have a whole year until I will be able to see it in person!

I’m also working on a few of my own stories right now, trying to get them ready to send out and I thank my lucky stars every day for my agent and my writing group because they have all been so helpful in finding things in my stories I didn’t see and helping me tease them out.


Oopsie!!!

Q: I absolutely LOVE your darling characters, graphic sensibility and sophisticated palettes. Dish with us a bit about your creative process—initial ideas, sketches, finished art, all the good stuff!

A: I wish I had a more formal process, but I’m pretty all over the board. Things usually start with sketching, probably on paper, but sometimes on my tablet. (I use a Wacom Cintiq/Mobile Studio Pro.) I am trying to be better about starting a sketchbook at the beginning of a project and just using that book to get down all of my ideas (so they are all collected in one place) but I am so bad about just grabbing whatever piece of paper is handy that I end up doing a lot of taping things in.

I don’t thumbnail nearly enough but I am trying to get better. I’m constantly looking at picture books and artists I admire to try to figure out their composition secrets. My work is always so focused on the character that I have to remember that the background (or lack there of) and the composition are just as important.

I also tend to jump into color early because I like to figure out my color palettes before I get too far into a project. For me the color palette really sets the mood and often I will figure that out before I finalize what my characters look like. It helps me see the illustration or the book better once I know how the colors will be…not that they don’t change while I’m finalizing—they typically do a bit, but they tend to stay mostly true to what I first imagined.

Lately I’ve been playing around a lot with traditional media. I’m not confident enough with it (yet!) to create final artwork that way but I am trying to teach myself to loosen up a bit and I can already see the positive influence playing with traditional media is having on my digital work. 

On the go—vrooooom!!!

Q: You spent several years working in advertising and for a variety of start-ups as a designer and creative director. Tell us a bit about what was fabulous and what was not-so-fabulous about these experiences, and how they have shaped you as a freelance Illustrator—from both the artist and the businesswoman perspective.

A: I think the best gift I got from spending time working in advertising is my professionalism and work ethic – and also my ability to work quickly under tight deadlines. The best gift I got from working (and founding) Start Ups was probably to see first hand that by pushing forward and continuing to experiment you can get to somewhere you weren’t expecting.

Being a freelance illustrator is hard. You have to wear a lot of hats, and there’s a lot of self-doubt that comes with doing something as subjective as illustration. I feel like the skills I learned working in those industries have definitely helped build my backbone and strengthen my will to keep going when things aren’t always going as easily as I would like.

I think the hardest parts of those jobs were the long hours and the feeling (especially in the case of advertising) that I wasn’t working on anything that had meaning. I come from a family of teachers so it’s hard to see the value you are adding to the world when your parents and siblings are educating young minds and you are trying to corrupt them by promoting rampant consumerism.

I had a lot of good times in advertising too and I definitely owe a lot to the industry in terms of fostering my creativity, but I am much happier now that I don't have to be a part of it. 


Uh, you better watch out there, kiddo!! Yikes!

Q: Now it’s time for one of my most favorite questions: In what ways do you balance your work as a professional artist with your role as a mama of an active, fun little kiddo?

A: This is always the hardest question! I don’t think I’m that fantastic at balancing the two, but I try to do my best. Sometimes (like when there are deadlines) that means I spend less time being Mama. Other times, like when school is out for holidays or my kiddo is home sick it goes the other way. My son goes to a half day preschool, so I try to get my important must do work done while he is away. If I’m lucky, he will still nap in the afternoon, so I get a bit more time to work. But if not, then depending on what I have on my plate, I will end up working into the evening. I’m lucky to have a supportive spouse, who is willing to pick up the slack when I have work to do, but I must admit that I never quite seem to find the right balance. Hopefully, once my kiddo is a bit older and in school a bit longer, I’ll be able to find a better balance, but I’m a total work-a-holic, so probably not!

Busy, busy, busy city!! What to do first?

Q: The movement to inspire, create and support more diverse books for children has become a force. As a Jewish-Latina illustrator, what efforts in the children’s book publishing community would you praise? And what changes would you like to see?
A: I haven’t been in the kid lit world for very long, so I’ve only been paying more attention to what has been going on in the last year or so, but what I am seeing gives me hope that things are getting a little better.

The We Need Diverse Books movement is gaining momentum and the publishing houses seem to recognize that they need to try to get more diverse voices out there. However, I think there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made within the publishing houses to have more diverse voices in editorial meetings and in positions of power.

Still, I am encouraged. As a mixed-race and non-christian person growing up, there were no books for someone like me—but I’ve flagged at least a dozen being published in the next year (or published this year) that speak to me in a way no book during my childhood did. And of course, I also feel a personal push to try to develop some of my own stories, which deal with diverse subjects.

Q: Describe your most perfect day.

A: A rainy day, my bed, a book, and some cozy pajamas—and no interruptions, of course!

Thank you so much, Zara, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We can’t wait til your NEW picture book, Thread of Love, is available! Hooray!!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

© Jane Smith • Happy Thanksgiving!