Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Super Star Children's Book Review: A Lady Has the Floor

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers—Joan CharlesSharon 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. (And yes, this month's review is a day early in deference to Hurricane Florence!)



A LADY HAS THE FLOOR: BELVA LOCKWOOD SPEAKS OUT FOR WOMEN'S RIGHTS
By Kate Hannigan • Illustrated by Alison Jay
Picture Book (ages 7+)  • 32 Pages
Published by Calkins Creek • 2018
ISBN: 978-1-6297-9453-2


A Lady Has the Floor is the rollicking account of the extraordinary life of Belva Lockwood, the most interesting, dynamic, and influential woman you’ve never heard of.

From earliest childhood, Belva refused to let the fact that she was a girl get in her way. Over the objections of her father, she enrolled in college, graduating from Genesee College with honors in 1857 (but not without a fight)!

After teaching in New York schools for several years, Belva was eager for new challenges. She moved to Washington DC after the Civil War, where she entered law school. She was one of the first women in America to earn a law degree (but not without a fight)! As an attorney, she championed the rights of the poor, the weak, and those without a voice, eventually becoming the first female to argue before the Supreme Court (but not without a fight)!

Perhaps her greatest fight was the struggle for women’s suffrage. Not only did she campaign vigorously for a woman’s right to vote, she actually ran for President twice – in 1884 and 1888. And although she lost, Belva’s candidacy was another important battle in her lifelong war to secure equal rights and opportunities for women.

Especially timely in an election year when a record number of women are running for public office, Belva’s story is a testament to the power of saying yes to your own dreams and aspirations – even when everyone around you is saying no.

Alison Jay’s illustrations are the perfect complement to Kate Hannigan’s lively text. Painted in soft, glowing colors in her signature na├»ve style, Alison shows us a strong, secure Belva striding across the pages just as she strode through life, checking items off her cosmic “to do” list, while leaving a better world in her wake.

“Fight, fight, fight everlastingly – not with your claws and fists, but with your wits.” – Belva Lockwood

Buy this book:

Barnes and Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Joan Charles

Monday, September 10, 2018

Night School

Welcome to Night School, Owlets!! • © Jane Smith

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Jennifer Gray Olson

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. (And yes, I know it's Wednesday—my apologizes! Back-to-school got the better of me!!)

I’m thrilled to be chatting it up with the rock star Author/Illustrator, Jennifer Gray Olson! I'm a fan of her awesome artwork and am so glad to have had the pleasure of joining Jennifer for book events at our local SoCal bookstores back in my LA days!! She i
s the author/illustrator of Ninja Bunny, Ninja Bunny: Bunny vs. Bunny and Me and Mr. Fluffernutter. She grew up in sunny Southern California, where she spent most of her time indoors, drawing imaginary worlds and the characters who inhabited them. Not much has changed. She still lives in Southern California and still draws everyday. But she tries to go outside more...You can view more of her artwork here!

Rock star cuteness!!

Q: You are a super star author/illustrator, masterfully offering your audience humor and fabulous characters! Give us the scoop on your process—from ideas & manuscripts to thumbnails/sketches & color art. What comes first the art or the writing? 

A: For me, my process typically starts off with doing warm-up drawings just for fun or a way to work out something I’m going through at the time. Characters usually show up for me at this stage. If I like the character, I will then come up with a general concept or story to go with her/him. Normally, I don’t really do any actual writing by this point, just a collection of sketches and notes. If the concept and character still feels strong, I will present it to my critique group and get feedback and direction on how to round it out. I’ll then thumbnail it out—many many times in some cases—before laying out a loose dummy or rough draft of the book. I generally leave the writing for last. I like the illustrations to do most of the heavy lifting and try to use the words only when necessary to propel the story forward or to emphasize certain elements of the story. 

Meow! Meow! Meeeeeooow!!!

Q: Dish with us about your most recent picture book, Me and Mr. Fluffernutter—give us all the wonderful details: how the book began, how it sold, what you’re working relationship with your publisher was like—you know, all the good stuff!

A: Mr. Fluffernutter, like most of my characters, started out as a warm up sketch I did one day. Mr. Fluffernutter is a somewhat stubborn cat who finds himself in some pretty unpleasant situations as a result of his human best friend. She makes him play dress up, have tea parties, go swimming with floaties on...needless to say, he’s not entertained. Me and Mr. Fluffernutter was my second book in a two book deal with Knopf; my first was Ninja Bunny. My publisher at Knopf was Alison Wortche. We had a great working relationship. Me and Mr. Fluffernutter was the third book we had worked on together, so we had developed a good rhythm at that point.

Karate carrot chop!!

Q: An author/illustrator’s job doesn’t end with publication—this is when promotion kicks in! What advice would you give fellow author/illustrators on book promotion?

A: I actually have a lot of thoughts on this topic. As authors/illustrators, I think so much more of this aspect of publishing is in our hands than we realize. We need to be our books promoters, cheerleaders and biggest advocates. Some people are fortunate and they have a huge backing by their publisher and its publicity department. And some people aren’t even sure if their book has been assigned a publicist at all. The biggest thing I would encourage authors/illustrators to do is to simply ask your publisher what resources are available. There’s no harm in it. And more often then not, if you’re enthusiastic about a promotional idea, your enthusiasm will be contagious. I know personally that I saw the difference in the amount of feedback I got from my first book, which I highly promoted, and the third one that I did not promote nearly as much. 

Illustrator mama getting it done like a boss!

Q: As the working illustrator mom of three, in what ways do you balance your home life and your work life?

A: Most days I feel about as balanced as a three-legged donkey on ice skates. To say I struggle with this, is an understatement. Luckily, my youngest just started first grade, so for the first time all three of my kids are in school all day. The one thing, when I can manage to stick to it, that seems to make a huge difference is focusing completely on one role at a time. When it’s my designated work time, I need to focus only on work. My studio is in the center of the house and has no doors, so this can be challenging. When the kids are home from school, I try to focus completely on them and my household responsibilities. Constantly splitting my focus and jumping from work to kids to house to errands over and over again leaves me feeling overwhelmed and unsuccessful at all of it. 

Ghostly nightmare dream.

Q: Like many of us who work in the children’s book publishing world of fluffy bunnies and adorable kittens, you also have a fabulously rich dark side to your artistic inclinations. Dish with us a bit about this and what role it plays in balancing your picture book work.

A: Like I had mentioned before, most of my book concepts come from my warm-ups, so for me it’s essential to my book making process. When I draw for myself, it’s almost like writing in a diary. It helps me unclutter my mind and problem solve issues I may be struggling with. It’s almost like taking out my emotional garbage, so that I can focus on work. Once I have an issue on paper, I’m much more likely to be able to move on from it.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Between work, kids and household duties, life can be pretty hectic, so my idea of a perfect Sunday would be one free of plans or obligations. I’m not particularly good at being idle, but sometimes sitting on the couch watching movies for a few hours can be pretty awesome.

Thank you so much, Jen, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We think you rock!!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Jaime Zollars

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. (Please note that I do know today is actually Wednesday! I'm afraid I'm a day late this month! But what can I say?—it's summer!!!)

I’m pleased as pink lemonade punch to be chatting it up with the rockstar Illustrator, Jaime Zollars! I've been a total fan girl for Jaime's artwork going back many, many years to when we were both living in Los Angeles, unpublished and doing lots of volunteer work with the SCBWI! Jaime holds a BA in photography from UMBC and a BFA in illustration from the Art Center College of Design. She has illustrated children's books, magazines, newspapers and ad campaigns. Her clients include Random House, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic and many more. She is inspired by fairy tales, Flemish painters, forgotten paper and flea market photographs. Jaime currents resides in Charleston, South Carolina with her dashing husband, sarcastic 10-year old son & sunny 5-year old daughter. You can view more of her artwork here!

Jaime with photo bomber cuteness!!

Q: You are the master of mysterious & wonderous middle grade novel book covers and interiors! Give us the scoop on your process—from ideas & sketches to typography & color/BW final art—for approaching the unique needs of this genre as an illustrator.

A: Middle grade covers are my favorite assignments. My process ends up being slightly different every time because every book is different. I see book covers as puzzles to solve, where content, mood, and typography need to be be carefully considered and then seamlessly blended. This is almost always a fun challenge.

From a technical standpoint, I try to read the book first (if the deadline allows for it and I get a full manuscript) and I take a lots of notes. I write down setting information, mood, favorite quotes, favorite moments, important symbols, and anything else I can imagine making its way to the cover. This ends up saving me a ton of time in the long run. Even though these details are my favorite aspects of creating imagery, I understand that a quick and captivating first read is truly what makes a cover stand out. I start making very loose and tiny (1”) thumbnail compositions. I try to vary these as much as possible, and often barely pencil in anything but the major shapes, curves, and proportions of my ideas. I leave space for type and sometimes rough out the type myself. When I get them to an interesting place, I start filling in details. I usually pick 3-5 or so that I like the best, scan them, and print them out a bit larger (3-4”). I then use vellum paper or a light box to refine and add details and submit those to the Art Director.

Process—aka artist brain scan.

From a creative standpoint, I pay specific attention to the mood of the piece. The overall feel of a cover comes first for me and has to match the story so that the illustration not only attracts readers - it hopefully attracts the right readers. As I’m refining my ideas, I keep this in mind and make sure that I’m not simply focusing on my own favorite images. If I get stuck, I sometimes go to the book store and note covers that I like. I then ask myself why I like each one. My aim is not to copy those covers, but to acknowledge what draws me to them. I look at all kinds of covers, not just those in the children’s section. It might be that an image uses silhouettes for a dramatic effect, is monochromatic, employs the use of pattern, or involves a very close up view of something. These observations may drive me to try my hand at similar conventions within the world I’m drawing, resulting in a larger pool of possibilities from which to begin. We often get wrapped up in our own habits, and breaking them can be especially useful when trying to give each author something uniquely theirs.

Once an art director gets my sketches, she will show them to the editor and may come back with a favorite or two to refine, along with notes or suggestions. I’ll then make tighter compositions of the favorites (often with value or color) and those will be shown at a larger meeting until we are happy. Sometimes I will draw the type, and sometimes the publisher will hire a lettering artist or typeset it themselves. Then it is on to final art!
Ooo! Doesn't this look fabulously mysterious?! Lettering by Alyssa Nassner!

Q: What is your most favorite middle novel project that you’ve worked on and why?

A: This is an impossible question at the moment, mostly because it is the variety of these novels that I cherish the most. The overall challenge of bringing something new every time is the real joy in this process for me. While I’ve enjoyed each cover experience for different reasons, I will say that The Greenglass House books by Kate Milford opened my mind to using a flatter, more graphic style, and this opened many possibilities (and jobs!) for me. And I love being a part of the rich world she has created. I am working on book three in the series right now.

Enter a Glossy Web
by McKenna Ruebush will always be near and dear to me. The book has so many surprising and thoughtful details that I was encouraged to include in my tiny pencil renderings for the chapter headings. They are still some of my favorite drawings. 

Carter and Grit by Sarah Jean Horwitz was one of the most fun covers to brainstorm, with its animatronic cats and gritty city details alongside beautiful fairy gardens. The story’s competing worlds allowed me to experiment in mixing graphic elements alongside delicate renderings in the same image.

I suppose my long answer is an attempt to explain that I’m still embracing (and learning from) each cover that comes my way, so it is difficult to pick favorites!

Trio of book cover awesomeness!!!

Q: Your debut picture book as an author-illustrator, The Truth About Dragons, releases in Spring/Summer 2020. Chat with us a bit about transitioning into writing as well as illustrating. How does your process as an author-illustrator differ from that of illustrator-only work?

A: Oh boy, I resisted writing my own stories for years. I resisted because I felt unqualified next to those who have trained in writing and put in the work to make it a career. I resisted because I knew it would be hard and I was afraid that I couldn’t do it. I also preferred the idea of collaborating with a great author. Alas, for years I found that even though I was getting jobs illustrating the books of others, I failed to connect with a majority of the titles. After waiting around (too long) for a perfect storm, I decided it was time to give writing a try. Even though it seems like everyone I’ve ever met is writing a picture book, actually sitting down and making one is difficult. The process is also much longer (at least in my case) as an author-illustrator. I’m lucky to have an amazing agent, Stephen Barr, who was able to look at all of my ideas, pick out the most promising, help in its development, and encourage me along the way. I’m sure I would have quit without his regular prodding and insistence that making my own book was a worthwhile endeavor. Stephen was also able to sell it 18 months later, when I finally had something tangible in hand. I was thrilled to sell my first book at age 40! I only wish I would have had the courage to trust my own ideas much sooner. Even though I felt like I’d already made this book when it sold, the process only begins upon selling a book. I was then introduced to my editor (the amazing Deirdre Jones) who shares (or at least humors) my love for details. We spent several months ironing out all of the kinks and fine-tuning the story. I used to think that having complete control over my book would make things simpler, when in fact it makes the process much more daunting and difficult for me. I have jumped from text to image and back again thousands of times making adjustments. I am responsible for the entire project, which is simultaneously exciting and stressful, but uniquely rewarding! I have also found much more joy in the process of working with my agent and editor through the process than I thought I would. I used to fear revisions and change (the messiness of a book’s moving parts) but I now see these things as a necessary process that will result in a better book. After years of hemming, hawing, and doubting, I’m excited to finally be producing final art for my own title.

Every fantastical middle grade novel needs a wonderous map! Am I right?!

Q: The children’s publishing market is vast and often it can be a challenge for creatives to find where their work is best suited. Dish with us about your journey to find your niche within the children’s publishing world. And what advice would you give fellow illustrators about finding their own niches?

A: I would say that trusting your gut is important. It is very easy to say this now, but I remember not being able to do so years ago. I’ve always had work that felt sophisticated for the younger set, but I still wanted to work in books for young readers. When I graduated from art school, I went to New York and showed my portfolio. Everyone seemed to love it! The only hiccup was that all of the children’s publishers felt I’d do great in the editorial world, and all of the editorial art directors felt I’d be championed in the world of children’s publishing. I subsequently spent years splitting my work between “personal” gallery work, and “commercial” picture book work. Neither was exactly what I had wanted to be doing, but it worked for years at paying the bills. There came a point where my gallery work was being recognized in annual competitions, and at the same time I felt burned out producing what I thought everyone wanted from me in the publishing world. I started teaching and continued raising my kids (now 5 and 10) while regrouping and setting new goals. I noticed that the artists I admired were able to be themselves across multiple illustration markets. I started to pay close attention to what it was that I wanted for myself. My students at MICA were amazing and talented. Their exponential growth and joy in creating reminded me that I still had much to accomplish myself, and gave me the energy and courage to jump back into the freelance world full-time. Four years ago, I spent a year researching agents and channeling what I love about illustration back into my work. I then submitted to and signed with my current literary agent at a time when I felt confident in my work and goals for the first time in years. My work finally represented what I wanted to spend my time doing. I didn’t even fear being rejected (for the first time in forever) because I wasn’t willing to go back to making work with which I felt no connection. Being older and understanding that time is our most important resource helped greatly with that realization. A clear and focused vision alongside an agent who is on the same page has been everything for my career the past few years. Every assignment has been an appropriate and exciting challenge and I now look forward to my work every day!

Q: Throughout your career you’ve worked with both art agents and literary agents. What would you say are the advantages of each? As well as the challenges of each?

A: I have worked with both types of agents and there are pros and cons to each scenario. I won’t speak for everyone here because every agent is different, but can speak to my experience and those of my illustrator pals. Generally, an art agent can find you work in many different markets and categories under the umbrella of illustration. With these agents, you may be able to get jobs illustrating for books, magazines, advertising campaigns, merchandise and whatever else you can imagine. These agents usually take higher fees (25-35%) in exchange for advertising to and keeping up with multiple markets. There are also art agents specific to the children’s market. These agents can find you all types of work under the category of children’s art, which may include children’s products, books and magazines. These agents may also find you educational work. This is artwork for textbooks, reading books, and classroom posters. Educational projects really helped me out when I was beginning my career, allowing me paint and draw for a living in the years before my first trade book deal was signed.

Luminous, lovely and intriguing!

A literary agent will typically charge a lower fee (about 15%) but generally limits his scope to securing book deals alone. While there exist literary agents who will work with illustrators-only, most are interested in helping to develop and debut author-illustrators. Literary agents are often people with excellent editing and writing skills who can be a wonderful help to illustrators beginning to write. Literary agents run the gamut from being relatively hands-off to very editorial with their clients, guiding every step in the process to publication. Their limited scope allows them to focus on one market, which often means they are tuned into the nuances of their territory and adept at helping find an author-illustrator’s niche. Alas, they won’t be calling you for cool wine label illustration jobs or other art opportunities unrelated to publishing.

Which type of agent you should choose really depends on your work and where you fit, whether or not you want to focus on your own stories, and most importantly - where you find your match. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of finding an agent who understands and is excited about YOUR goals. You can have the world’s best agent, but if you are not on the same page about the desired results, you will never achieve them! You must first be honest with yourself about these goals, because your agent cannot help you if she don’t know what you want. Ultimately you must feel like your agent believes in your work and knows how to sell it. If you can find that match, their designation (whether an art agent or literary agent) is not most important. There are many art agents who are also excellent editors, and literary agents who have brokered jobs outside of their wheelhouse. This is another scenario where trusting your gut is sound advice!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My most perfect Sunday varies in its activity, but not in its company. I love spending the limited time I have outside of work (and driving to and from kid-activities) with my family. We are at that point in life where our son is more than halfway to college. This realization has led to some deliberate and dramatic scheming to spend more time together. We are entertaining buying a camper and hitting National and State Parks with our limited free weekends. This may turn out to be an absurd idea, but I think it would be even more absurd not to follow through!


Thank you so much, Jaime, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We love your awesome art, and we can't wait for the release of The Truth About Dragons! Congrats!

Super Star Children's Book Review: Can I Touch Your Hair?

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 ChowJoan CharlesSharon 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.

                       

CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? POEMS OF RACE, MISTAKES & FRIENDSHIP
By Irene Latham & Charles Waters • Illustrated by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko
Poetry picture book (ages 6+) • 40 pages
Published by Lerner Publishing Group • 2018
ISBN 978-1-5124-0442-5


One of the very first things children notice while they are growing up is differences between themselves and their peers. Can I Touch Your Hair? stands out from other children’s books that tackle the subject of diversity. Through beautifully illustrated poems, we see the real problems that children are facing when learning that the world is made up of a rainbow of colors, creeds, shapes, sizes, and orientations.

In a key scene, a girl and a boy of different races are paired up to complete a poetry assignment. The children decide to pick topics they can both write about. At first, their poems just reflect their differences. They soon discover they have much more in common than they initially suspected.

“Sometimes we say the wrong thing, sometimes we misunderstand. Now we listen, we ask questions.”

Can I Touch Your Hair? opens very necessary doors to discussion and questions, which ultimately lead to understanding. This unique book inspires tolerance, while guiding young minds toward understanding that despite our differences, we have much more in common than we think.

Buy this book: 

Barnes & Noble 

Independent Bookstores 

Reviewed by: Sharon Calle

Friday, July 27, 2018

Wonder Cat & Bowwowza

© Super Jane Smith • Never fear—Wonder Cat & Bowwowza are here!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Super Star Children's Book Review: Windows

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 ChowJoan CharlesSharon 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.



WINDOWS

By Julia Denos • Illustrated By E.B. Goodale
Picture book (ages 4-8) • 32 pages
Published by Candlewick Press • 2017
ISBN 978-0-7636-9035-9


Windows is the seemingly simple story of a boy and his dog on an early evening walk around their neighborhood. The text is spare and thoughtful and Goodale’s gorgeous artwork feeds us a wealth of rich details to enjoy—each read offering a new glimpse into the lives of the boy’s neighbors and friends: a yogi wobbling out of tree pose, a painter at work, a skateboarding friend waving hello.

And, of course, with the red hoodie the boy wears throughout the story, you can’t miss the homage paid to Peter, star of the iconic picture book, The Snowy Day. It is as if Peter may have traveled through time and space to grow into the boy whose adventure we are on.

The boy in Windows also gently, subtly evokes headlines in recent years of young boys of color in hoodies being mistaken for threats they are not. And in doing so, offers us, the readers, a meditation on what it means for our children to be safe, free and part of a community.

Windows
shares with us the best, most hopeful version of this: a boy and his dog enjoying their neighborhood, being privy to sunsets, dance parties, dinners, hugs, and finally, returning home safely to the family that loves him.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Jane Smith