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I've been a total fan girl for Jaime's artwork going back many, many years to when we were both living in Los Angeles, unpublished and doing lots of volunteer work with the SCBWI!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

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Jana Curll

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 tickled summer sunburn pink to be chatting it up with the super fun Illustrator/Designer, Jana Curll! I’m a big fan of Jana’s delightful artwork, which is always chock-full of fabulous details. Jana has been working as a children's illustrator for over 10 years, starting out on the graphics team at Vancouver's Science World, and most recently, as one of the rad team at Kidzsmart Concepts. In her free time she does...well...more kids' illustrations, picking up gigs for great companies such as the amazing folks at Usborne and Owl Kids. Jana currently focusing on the children's book market. You can view more of her artwork here!

How totally fun! Do you want to play?

Q: You are a total rock star at creating fabulously fun & adorable activities (I’m talking puzzles, games, mazes & more!) for kids—each complete with a cast of amusing characters and plenty of space for typography. Give us the scoop on your approach & process for creating these complex pieces.

A: Thanks for your kind words! I think that artistically I'm naturally an "maximalist",  which tends to lends itself well to illustration that you have to 'figure out' and can get easily lost in. 
Richard Scary's books were a big influence for me growing up. I like the idea that multiple stories and moments are happening at the same time in the same place. If there is a game or activity involved you need to make it accessible for kids,  which often means testing it (with a crayon!) and finding ways to make it fun along the way. Once the bones have been worked out,  I pretty much slide into a 'more-is-more' mindset. 

Isn't this amazing?! I can't get enough of all the fun details!

Q: I absolutely LOVE the world map jigsaw puzzle you created for Usborne Publishing! Talk us through the development of this project from ideas & sketches through final color art.

A: The world map with Usborne was super fun to create and I worked closely with my Art Director,  who provided me with lots of guidance, sketches, and feedback. They were amazing to work with and came to me with the concept. Since then, I've done eight illustrated maps for other clients (which are in various stages of publication) and will eventually get their own section on my website. I find that maps are intellectually and artistically satisfying in that I have to work really hard at figuring out the balance between accuracy and abstraction. They are puzzles in themselves. Then, of course, I get to fill up 
every square inch (or centimeter in my Canadian case) with as much stuff as will fit.

Q: Dish with us about who/what/where/when inspires your artwork.

A: I really enjoy work that delivers something different every time that you look at it. I'm also super inspired by work that says a lot with very little language. I've always been a fan of graphic novels and comic books and I'm currently in that place of elbowing my way into creating some time and space in my life to bring these ideas into existence. 

Mysterious creatures = fabulous adventures!

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

A: Of course,  I'm very proud of the world map with Usborne,  and it's definitely up there as one of my favourite pieces. I also really enjoy some of my personal pieces,  which are character driven and I get to try out some new mediums and techniques.

Q: What would be your absolutely DREAM illustration project?

A: I would love to get into children's books and am really inspired by some of the middle grade work that is coming out. I love the innovation that is currently happening in the industry and would love to be a part of it! 

What do you like best on the playground?!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My perfect Sunday is sleeping in (which, as a morning person with young children, is rare occurrence), good coffee, and absolutely nothing on my to-do list. 

Thank you so much, Jana, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We think you're fabulous!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Elephant Love

© Super Jane Smith • Elephant Love!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Super Star Children's Book Review: Love

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.




LOVE
By Matt de la Peña • Illustrated by Loren Long
Picture Book (ages 4-8) • 40 pages
Published 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Reader  • 2018
ISBN 978-1-524-74091-8


This beautifully crafted picture book celebrates love as a constant, beginning with the moment we come into the world, through times both good and bad, until we’re ready to set out on our own.

Matt de la Peña’s quietly lyrical prose poem shows that love helps us find hope, even in the darkest of times, as in the moment when a young girl is comforted by an old lady after a fire. “Stars shine long after they’ve flamed out,” she tells you, “and the shine they shine with is love.”

Love helps us find joy, in simple things like the rustling of leaves or in the family stories told by relatives.

Love brings us comfort, through something as simple as a hug and words of reassurance that everything will be okay.

Loren Long’s lovingly crafted illustrations of children and families are rendered in warm hues that subtly support the message of love in it’s many forms.

We need a book like this at a time like this, when love seems in short supply. Older children will find themselves drawn to the book again and again, sometimes for joy, sometimes for comfort, sometimes for reassurance, but always for love.

Buy this book:



Reviewed by: Joan Charles

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Super Hero Girl

© Super Jane Smith • Super Hero Girl To The Rescue!!!

Super Jane Luggage Tags for Mpix

Shop my fabulous, customizable metal luggage tags from Mpix! Perfect for summer travel!

© Super Jane Smith • Customizable Metal Luggage Tags for Mpix

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Lynn Brunelle & Anna-Maria Jung

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 buzzing with excitement to be chatting it up with the fabulous Writer, Lynn Brunelle, and Illustrator, Anna-Maria Jung, who are the team behind the super fun NEW non-fiction activity book, Turn This Book Into A Beehive! (which is a total hit in my house! The super kiddo is all about bees and our book cover beehive is hanging in the backyard! And we discovered some carpenter bees nesting in our deck while hanging it! So awesome!) Lynn is a four-time Emmy Award–winning writer for Bill Nye the Science Guy and author of over 45 books, including the bestselling Pop Bottle Science and Camp Out! She is a regular contributor to KING-TV’s New Day Northwest as a family science guru and NPR’s Science Friday. And Anna-Maria is the author/illustrator of three stand-alone graphic novels. She illustrates for the editorial market, children’s books, graphic novels, and apparel. 

How cool is this cover?! You totally know you want to build this book cover beehive!!

Q: Your NEW non-fiction activity book Turn This Book Into A Beehive! has released! Congratulations!!! (You can buy it here!) Give us the full scoop on this title from each of your individual perspectives—how you came to the project, how it developed, you know, ALL the good stuff!

(Lynn): I had read an article about the demise of the honeybee and the hive collapse disorder. It was eye opening! So much of our food comes to us thanks to the pollination of bees. If the bees go, so does our food supply. The article was a real downer and didn’t offer any solutions so I went digging for a way for people, especially kids, to make a difference with things they have around the house. This is the book that came from all that research and amazement I discovered about bees. When I learned that mason bees liked hollow tubes, I looked into rolling up paper. Then I thought maybe there could be a book that includes paper to make a hive. I was so pleased to be able to come up with a book that delivered information in a fun way and also offered an actual project that helps solve the problem! It’s like a transformer—a book that transforms into a way to save the world!

(Anna-Maria): I had previously worked on a book with Workman Publishing, and thankfully, they asked me to illustrate another one—Yay! They sent me the manuscript and I was very excited. I thought it was an amazing idea that the book could be turned into a bee-hotel. 


This was the biggest project I had ever worked on, and sometimes it was pretty stressful. But after nailing the style and character design for the bees, things became easier. My favorite part was how much I learned about bees—I actually annoy all my friends with bee facts now. Oh, and my publisher and I started developing many silly bee-puns when communicating during the job.

Be a bee superhero! 

Q: Writing quality non-fiction requires extensive research, organization and editing. Dish with us a bit about your approach to writing non-fiction—from initial concepts to research to writing to revisions.

(Lynn): I always read everything I can find on whatever subject I am thinking about. Then I track down experts. I look at museums, universities, and zoos, and find out who is doing the cutting edge work—who knows the answers. Then I talk to them.

While researching this project, I learned that honeybees and social bees only made up 2% of the bees in the world. 98% of the bees are solitary wild bees that do amazing work as pollinators. Then I went online and did some more digging. All honeybees are domesticated and were brought here by colonists. In fact, honeybees have been domesticated for a loooooooong time! There are images of beekeepers carved into caves, chiseled into Egyptian art, painted on Greek pottery, and minted into Roman coins.

I went to garden stores to watch for bees and to ask plant experts what they knew about bees. It turns out that the solitary bees like mason bees are native bees and they’re amazing pollinators. I saw some of the houses these garden centers were selling to attract these bees. I contacted experts at the Museum of Natural History and I called zoos. I found the USDA mason bee lab in Utah and spoke with bee people from around the country.

Then I made a prototype of my paper hive and stuck it out in my garden. Mason bees came! It worked! And my garden has never been so productive.

My favorite thing is to make big concepts accessible to people of all ages. Especially kids. And I think using laughter and hands-on fun is a great way for kids to learn. So when I was writing, I kept thinking about what kind of activities I could include to help kids really absorb the content. The fact that bees are positively charged and flowers are negatively charged, which makes pollen leap to a bee, is FANTASTIC! And you can show that with a balloon and confetti. The fact that bees are amazing smellers is a perfect lead in for getting kids to tune into their own sense of smell. I test the experiments and activities myself and then I make my kids do them. Then I go into classrooms and have a bunch of kids test them so I know they really work.

I made an outline, sample pages, proposal, and prototype and pitched that to Workman. When they said yes, I created my first draft and bounced it off the experts to make sure I was using correct information. I polished it up and passed it to my editor.

Then I got edits, some of which I took and love—because they made the book stronger—and some of which pointed to what I didn’t explain well enough in the first draft. It’s a wonderful collaborative process. Combine that with great illustrations and a great book design, and the end product is so fun! There’s a lot of revision between idea and concept and finished product. It’s a long and hard but rewarding journey!

Aren't these cutie bees totally adorbs?!

Q: I love your fun, sassy & detailed illustrations! Illustrating for non-fiction has the challenge of not only requiring this level of fabulousness, but it also requires an extensive number of illustrations, including ones that accurately display non-fiction details. Chat with us a bit about you approach illustrating non-fiction books—from research to sketches to organization to color.

(Anna-Maria): Well, when I first read the manuscript I usually feel extremely overwhelmed (which should get better with each job) and try to avoid a panic attack. Then I put descriptions for required illustrations into a color-coded excel-table along with a time-line. I need a high level of organization in order to function, so this is the super-boring part of the job. I sent Workman my list and asked them to mark the illustrations they want to be done in a more scientifically accurate way.

Sometimes the publisher provides me with images, but I usually do additional research and collect images, read articles, and watch documentaries on the topic on YouTube.

After the research is done, I do first sketches—if the art doesn’t need to be realistic, I try to think about how I can make it funny, put in little references and jokes, tell an additional story—that’s coming from my background as a cartoonist and my humor was very much influenced by the Monty Python. I love adding some secret nerdy humor as well. The feedback process is very important, so I send those sketches to the publisher and wait for approval. After that: Inking and coloring—all digital.

Q: Dish with us about your typical workday as creative professionals—routines, rituals, inspiration & practical practices. Set the scene for us, too—what does your creative workspace look & feel like?

(Lynn): I wear a lot of hats. During the school year I wear the mama hat in the morning—I get the animals walked, fed and settled, then the boys up, fed, and on the bus.

Then I put on the writer hat. I make a pot of tea and settle in to write. My home office is upstairs and I have a big wraparound desk in the corner where I can gaze outside at the yard, the street corner, and the woods beyond. Books and art line the shelves. There’s a dog bed under the desk and a cat bed on the desk so I can be surrounded by happy satellite furballs. There’s a lot of action out the window, from deer and coyote crossings to people walking their dogs, kids on bikes, and the occasional eagle soaring by. I live on an island in the Pacific Northwest and it is dreamy.

First, I make my list of what I need to get done, check e-mails, and organize the desk. Then I jump in. I always make sure I have plenty of water so that forces me back to reality to take bathroom breaks. Otherwise, I would get lost in thought and find that I had been sitting all day! For breaks, I walk the dogs and ride the stationary bike for five minutes and do a little circuit of exercise and then plunk down for another stint.

My husband shares the office with me and when he’s home we make lunch dates and break the day up that way. We work well together and it’s fun to have the company. Plus he’s a great sounding board if I come up with an idea or write something I need feedback on.

(Anna-Maria): My workday is quite organized considering I’m a cartoonist. Typically, I work from 9am – 5pm (depending on the workload). I work from an office, which has become super important to me after working from home for over 10 years (I highly recommend an office to all freelancers). As I mentioned before, I REALLY need organization. I use Google calendar with color-coded tasks for the day depending on what needs to be done.

My workspace is a standing/sitting desk (I can switch working positions) with a Cintiq and a second computer screen. Next to that is my drawing desk and behind me are bookshelves with plenty of art books to check out should I need to. 


I like to switch from digital to analog and back all the time, but in the end I finish everything digitally. My important weekend ritual is going hiking to get my head clear. 

Just one of the fabulously fun activities in Turn This Book Into A Beehive!

Q: What is your MOST favorite activity from Turn This Book Into A Beehive!?

(Lynn): It’s the actual making of the mason bee home that I love—turning the book into a hive, then watching as things unfold in the garden.

With Mason Bees, every girl’s a queen. She finds the house—usually a hollow reed or stem or a tube, even paper tubes in an inside-out book cover! She gathers and piles food, lays an egg on top of the food pile, and then gathers mud to spackle a wall. In a good hollow tube, she can make 6-10 little rooms with an egg and a food supply in each one.

Aside from the actual turning the book into a beehive, I am a fan of the Cheetos pollination experiment. It’s funny and it shows the point very well.

(Anna-Maria): I think it’s actually building the beehive with the parts of book—I just think it’s such a cool idea to provide a home for solitary bees.

Q: If you were a bee, what kind of bee would you be? And why?

(Lynn): Hmm. The temptation is to say Queen bee, of course. But honestly having babies all day for your whole life sounds like a lot of work even if people are feeding you honey and fanning the air to keep you cool all day. So I would have to say a mason bee. Probably the Blue Orchard bee. They have such a beautiful color—a jewel-tone blue and green, which flashes in the sun. They live near each other but they have their own space. They’re friendly. They don’t sting. They’re crafty—they make mud walls!—and they’re good moms, making sure their babies have a room of their own and a supply of food. Plus they spend their days flopping on flowers. That sounds fun. On top of that, they do a lot of good for the world.

(Anna-Maria): I would definitely be some sort of solitary bee – I would enjoy my time alone, but visit the honey bees from time to time to get my “social fix”. I’d get some honey from them, chat a bit, maybe party with them, but then I’d return into my comfy little hole somewhere.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

(Lynn): I like being the first one up. The dogs usually wake me around 6:00. I get up and walk them and feed them (and the cat). I do a little yoga routine. Then I make tea and snuggle in on the couch with my book. (If it’s warm enough, I will snuggle up with my favorite blanket outside on my favorite chair. The animals always come, too.) I have a couple of hours to read and think and dream and meditate before the happy chaos of family erupts. We’ll make pancakes and coffee and have a good breakfast and a lazy start to the day. Then we putter—outside in the garden, or in the garage making stuff. My husband and sons like to work with wood and I make fused glass. Lately my older son and I have been experimenting with silk-screening. My younger son and husband are building a ukulele. If it’s warm and sunny we may all go out for a kayak paddle, a bike ride, or a hike. (We live across the street from The Grand Forest—an old growth forest in the temperate rainforest zone with fir and spruce and maple trees in delicious, velvet coverings of moss.) In the evening we’ll have friends over to cook outside and sit around the fire pit under the stars.

(Anna-Maria): Get enough sleep, get a good breakfast, and go on a nice little hike in the mountains with some friends. Exhaust myself during that hike, see a lot of interesting animals on the way, and then have Schnitzel in some restaurant. After that, have a nap and maybe later see some friends again for a nerdy activity like gaming or a movie, or just a drink in my favorite bar in Graz.

Thank you so much, Lynn & Anna-Maria, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We love bees and your NEW book Turn This Book Into A Beehive!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Super Star Children's Book Review: Mockingbird

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, 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.



MOCKINGBIRD
By Kathryn Erskine
Middle Grade (ages 10 & up), • 235 pages
Published by Puffin Books • 2010
ISBN 978-0-14-241775-1


Ten year old Caitlyn and her community must cope with the aftermath of a school shooting, which claimed the life of Caitlyn’s older brother, Devon, and two others at Devon’s school. Before the shooting, Caitlyn had depended on Devon to navigate her social world, an opaque labyrinth for Caitlyn, who is on the autism spectrum. Now, bereft of her brother and her mother, who had succumbed to cancer years earlier, Caitlyn has only her dad at home, but he is drowning in his own grief.

With the support of the school community, Caitlyn befriends a first grader who lost his mother in the shooting. She also learns to be a friend to an unlikely schoolmate: the cousin of the shooter. Caitlyn convinces her father to work with her to complete a special project begun by Devon. In the process, Caitlyn learns about empathy, friendship, and the most elusive of all concepts, closure.

Mockingbird is the most poignant, exquisite, and moving first person narrative I have encountered since reading Flowers for Algernon. Every scene in this story aches with the incongruity between Caitlyn’s perspective and that of the other characters, not to mention the reader. At times, this mismatch is hilarious; at other times, it is heartbreaking. As the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I deeply appreciate Erskine’s portrayal of the school community and the rich complexity of its characters as they cope with trauma and with children who are different. I first read this book two years ago and fell in love with it. Reading it again now, after so many more school shootings, it feels even more relevant and urgent.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Cara Chow



Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Rebecca Petruck

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators, designers and creative professionals 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 excited to be chatting it up with the super star Writer, Rebecca Petruck! When I moved from Los Angeles to Wilmington, North Carolina not that long ago, I looked to connect with other NC creatives, also working in children’s publishing, and was kindly welcomed by Rebecca. She is the author of BOY BITES BUG (May 2018) and STEERING TOWARD NORMAL (2014), both with ABRAMS/Amulet. BUG received a starred review from ABA Booklist, who said it’s "...funny, perceptive, and topical in more ways than one." SLJ called it "a sure bet for reluctant readers." She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington, and is a mentor for Pitch Wars, Writing in the Margins, and SCBWI Carolinas. She is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary. You can follow her on Twitter here and you can check out her books here! 



Isn't Rebecca totally adorbs?!

Q: Your NEW middle grade novel BOY BITES BUG releases on May 8th! Congratulations!!! Give us the full scoop on this title—ALL the juicy details! 

A: We change a lot between kindergarten and middle school. I used to eat mud pies and smoke candy cigarettes like the other cool kids, then graduated to unicorns, softball, and Mathcounts. I also changed schools three times, moving from Minnesota to Louisiana to Mississippi. I sometimes wonder who I’d be if I’d grown up with the same group of kids since kindergarten.

Will Nolan has been friends with Darryl that long and thinks he knows all there is to know about him—until Darryl calls Eloy Herrera a racial slur.

The moment is a crossroad. Will knows it. He doesn’t like it and pretends it isn’t, but he knows, and now he has to decide what kind of person he wants to be. While he feels loyalty to an old friend, even a boneheaded one, his new friendship with Eloy grows more important to him each day.

Changing friendships has long been a theme of middle grade, though I think it may be seen more frequently in stories about girls. Here’s one for the boys.

What does any of this have to do with eating bugs? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Bug appétit! (Psst! You can read an excerpt here!!!)

Q: How did BOY BITES BUG come to be? Tell us all about the process of submitting and selling the manuscript as well as the back-and-forth process of developing the project with your editor.

A: Because this is a second book with the same publisher, BUG sold on proposal rather than as a finished manuscript. Sometimes, what seems as if it will work, doesn’t. The version of BUG you will read is so wildly different from the synopsis, you wouldn’t recognize it if it didn’t still have the bug eating. The thing about the bug eating, entomophagy, is that it’s cool, but it’s not a story. Why do the characters eat bugs? How does it affect the characters’ decision making and the story as a whole? I’m lucky my editor was able to give me time to figure it out, even if some of the “time” was because he rejected the version I thought would be “the one.” That stung! But he was right. I love BUG now. I genuinely have moments of not really believing I wrote it. 


How fun is this cover?! You know you totally wanna read this!!

Q: Dish with us about your writing process—routines, rituals, inspiration & practical practices. Set the scene for us, too—what does your writing space look & feel like?

A: I have a small desk against an oversized window that looks out on the mountains of northwest North Carolina. In addition to my laptop, I always have a lined, yellow writing pad, Pilot G-2 1.0 mm pens (seriously, I buy these in bulk), Post-It Notes, and usually a craft book, most often Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. When I’m stuck, I’ll either walk around or open Wired for Story as if it’s a tarot deck, and whatever page I land on has the thing I need to hear right then—and it always does. Lately, I’ve also been helped by Donald Maass’s exercises in The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

I don’t have a routine other than I write in the mornings and in timed, 30-minute stretches. If I’m struggling with focus, I listen to a guided meditation that’s on YouTube. You can search by length or issue, like, “Five-minute meditation for focus,” and a bunch of great options pop up. My favorites are Jason Stephenson and Sarah Hall.

Q: An author’s job doesn’t end with publication—this is when promotion kicks in! What plans are in place for promoting Boy Bites Boy—both by your publisher and on your own? What advice would you give fellow authors on book promotion?

A: My professional background is in PR and marketing, so I have many thoughts of, “I could do this! And that! And this other thing!” But I’d have to be Doctor Manhattan of the Watchmen comics to accomplish everything. It’s easy to feel like that means I’m failing my book.

My advice to others is to list all the things you could do, then list the time/energy/money/enthusiasm you have and get real with yourself. Starting as early as you can (many conferences schedule six months to a year out), make a plan, break it down into smaller tasks with due dates, then let go—don’t “should” on yourself for things you’re not doing. Be excited and focused on the things you are.

For BUG, I’ve offered free visits to schools in my area, created a promotion with my local indie bookstore (Hi, Foggy Pine Books! You can pre-order from them here!), and contacted companies in the entomophagy community to request discount codes for people who want to try insects. I also applied for a grant from my local arts council to attend the American Library Association’s summer conference, and last year submitted a proposal to present at the North Carolina School Library Media Association (which I did in the fall). It may seem like a lot, but there are a dozen area conferences I could have submitted proposals to, several more national conferences I could have traveled to, dozens of bookstores in my region I could have contacted about in-store events, and don’t even get me started on all the insect treats and promotional items I could have bought.

What I have to remind myself is what others have said: My number one marketing tool is my book. It’s the single most important thing I can do to market myself. So, while there are things I can do to help the book, my focus is best spent on the quality of the book itself—and on writing the next one. 


Ooo!! Tasty! Yummy! Delish!

Q: You are a plot super star extraordinaire and even teach a workshop on plotting novels! What are your top 3 tips for fellow writers on developing plot?

A: 1) Know it’s all about Character. Plot is the soil your characters need in order to grow, but no one cares about a book that is only dirt. (To be fair, I would totally read about dirt, and this made me do a Google search, and now Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David Montgomery is in my TBR.)

2) Have a tool to see the big picture. At some point, even pantsers need a way to see everything they have in order to know what to cut, keep, develop, or re-think. It doesn’t matter what the tool is as long as it truly helps you pull back for a very wide-angle view.

3) Ask different people with different experiences for feedback. I geek out for plot, so I’m always happy to talk with mentees and clients, and personally I brainstorm everything with my critique partners. We each approach potential plot knots in different ways, and often my CPs help me see where the real story is versus whatever shiny thing has caught my eye.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday. (And what tasty bug recipe would you eat at the end of it?!)

A: Swimming beneath a waterfall then lying in the shade beside a friendly dragon on soft grass with a book, bottle of Champagne, and Brie sprinkled with black ants.

Thank you so much, Rebecca, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! And congrats on your fabulous new book!!!