Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Super Star Children's Book Review: The Way to Rio Luna

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 Charles, Laurie Young, Sarah Orgill—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 broad 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.

           

THE WAY TO RIO LUNA
By Zoraida Córdova
Middle Grade (ages 8-12) • 336 pages
Published by Scholastic • 2020
ISBN 978-1-3382-3954-6


What if you were sure magic was real, but no one else around you believed?

If you’re Danny Montevideo, you try to keep your belief to yourself. But as Danny is shunted from one foster family to the next, he finds it hard to keep his faith in magic alive. Especially once his sister Pili disappears and can no longer read to him from their favorite book of fairy tales, The Way to Rio Luna. Although everyone assumes Pili ran away, Danny knows that she would never leave him to face life alone. Something terrible has happened to her and it’s up to him to save her.

A fateful school field trip to the New York Public Library sends Danny on the greatest adventure of his life. There, he tumbles into a world where magic is real. He makes friends with Glory Papillon, a girl he meets at the library, and together they set out to find Pili—and the real Rio Luna.

The Way to Rio Luna is a fun and exciting introduction to a series that will have the reader looking forward to the next volume of this light-hearted fantasy adventure.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Bookshop

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Joan Charles

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Countdown to HELLO NEW HOUSE Book Release






































The countdown has begun! My NEW picture book, HELLO NEW HOUSE, releases one month from today & I couldn't be more excited! Look for fun interviews complete w/ freebie giveaways all month long!

Pre-order your copy today:




Super Star Interviews: Merrill Rainey

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 thrilled to pieces to be chatting it up with the 
cowboy-boot-wearing, award-winning illustrator, designer, and paper engineer Merrill Rainey! (Who just happens be an old illustration buddy with a fabulous set of NEW children's books releasing this month!!!) Merrill likes to experiment with tools and uses markers, cut paper or whatever is available to make beautiful things out of junk! You can enjoy more of his creations here!

Hello there, friend!

Q: Your brand NEW duo of Color Cut Create paper toy activity books are releasing this month with Odd Dot! (Congratulations! SO fun!) Give us the full scoop! We want to know every little detail!

A: Man, where to start...I couldn’t be more excited for this series to be coming out. It combines my love of paper engineering with my love of creating. It’s like a match made in heaven!

This project was a blast to create, from figuring out how to build volcanoes, to a horse drawn wagon and so many things in between. I even went as far as designing ground cover that you can intermix with each other to create your own terrain and landscapes. It is 176 pages of pure bliss!

Each book is designed with young people in mind. The books give their creators the opportunity to design, create, and learn the basics of paper engineering. So in other words you get to Color, Cut, and Create! It is paper engineering made easy! This book series is designed to promote creative success with minimal direction.

Did I mention yet that Odd Dot’s design team is made up of geniuses? They are so amazing that not only do the books look AWESOME, but they are also creatively engineered so that the pages can tear cleanly from the book spine, so there is no need for cutting or tearing up the pages (AWESOME!). They even took it a step further and printed each toy on an uncoated material that is basically indestructible. That way you don’t have to worry about your creations falling apart or tearing as you build and play with them (MIND BLOWING!). The books are such a nice package!

I can’t forget to give a shout-out to my editor Justin Krasner! What a rad individual to work with! He is such a positive force that no matter what type of day you are having, an email from him always puts a smile on your face.

(Psst! You can pre-order your own copy of the Color Cut Create books here:)

How totally fun are these NEW books?!

Q: The Color Cut Create books first began their journey when you self-published an earlier version titled Color-Cut-Create! Paper Toys. Dish with us about how the original version became the super star duo book set of today.

A: The concept for Color, Cut, Create! actually originated from a featured section that I currently create for Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill magazines called Color, Cut, Play! In each issue of the magazine you will find a center spread that includes themed paper toys and a play-set that you can color, cut, and build. I have engineered paper toys ranging from Santa’s sleigh with flying reindeer, to a deep-sea diving submarine, to a build your own leprechaun trap for St. Patrick’s Day, and many more!

Being able to create this section for the magazines gave me the opportunity to try out something that I see an important need for, which is the opportunity to get glue, crayons, and scissors in the hands of today’s youth and teach them how to successfully create.

From there, I took my idea a step further and self-published Color, Cut, Create! Paper Toys • Super hero edition. This particular activity book not only looks super cool, but it had an instructional twist to it. I took the concept behind Color, Cut, Play! and broke the creative process down to three basic steps or sections: Build, Design, and Create. Section 1 is ‘Build’. It teaches how to build paper toys using simple directions. Section 2 is ‘Design’. It gives the users an opportunity to design their own characters. And Section 3 is ‘Create’. It gives instructions on how I create my own paper toys and provides blank grid paper that anyone can use to build & design his or her own creations. Color, Cut, Create! Paper Toys was a success!

Then, as if it were fate, I met my editor Justin through an SCBWI event. I had inquired if Justin would be interested in seeing this project that I was working on and he agreed. So, Teresa (my agent at Bookmark Literary) and I submitted my idea and long story short, here we are about a week and a half away from publication date!

I wonder if a super villain lives in this volcano?!

Q: Paper engineering is a unique skill! Tell us a bit about your approach and process for designing paper toys and novelty products—initial concepts to prototypes to final products.

A: My process always begins with a plan, or a sketch. This is where I get all of the thoughts out of my head. During this time, I start to form a plan of what I’m going to do next.

All of my toys are built off of a box like shape. This shape gives me the stability I need to make my toys stand up successfully! To me that is KEY because nobody likes a toy that continually falls over.

Once I have a general idea of what I’m going to make, I start on a prototype. A prototype is a preliminary model that allows me to figure out and test the functionality of my toy before adding in all of the cool details. Prototypes give me the opportunity to experiment and explore how I am going to make a 3D object out of a single flat sheet of paper. Keep in mind that during this stage, I normally create many, many prototypes before I settle on what I think the best and final one will be.

From here, I start to give the toy some personality by adding in things like a head, arms, legs, etc. You know, those things that a toy needs to be able to come alive! And before I’m finished I always add a small heart!

To sum up my creative process, I tell everyone that a successful paper toy is built on Ingenuity, Stability, Creativity, and a little bit of heart!

Many times when I am creating my products, I will let my kids build and play with them to see how they react. It allows me to observe firsthand what is or isn’t working, and how I can make it better. I sometimes refer to my children as my S.M.E.’s. (Subject Matter Experts) :-)

From idea to finished project! Fabulous!

Q: Tell us about your typical workday as a freelance Illustrator—routines, rituals & practical practices. Set the scene for us, too—what does your creative workspace look & feel like?

A: On a normal day, my workshop is bright, full of art tools, trinkets, paper, and toys. All of the things I need to create with and be inspired by.

But right now, my workshop is torn up! We recently found out that our basement sprung a leak, and since paper and water don’t play nicely together, we decided that we needed to waterproof our walls so that I can get back to engineering awesome paper creations!

With how nutty this year has been so far, I can honestly say that all routines have been tossed out the door, and the only ritual that I still have is sipping on a nice cup of coffee as I begin my work day.

I have started something new this past summer that I currently call ‘collage sketching’. Instead of sketching with just a pencil, I pack up a baggie of paper scraps, scissors, and glue. Then I find a location where I can sit and create for a while. I use this technique to challenge myself to see things as shapes, while keeping in mind the positive and negative space that forms around them. It’s amazing how dynamic a simple object can look by just infusing it with the space around it. This form of sketching has given me the freedom I was looking for to be able to loosen up in my sketchbooks, and not feel so tight, or intimidated when sketching with just a pencil or pen. Recently, it has helped me to be able to refuel and gain clarity on projects that I’m currently working on.

Ooo! Let's play!

Q: What was your most treasured picture book as a child? What is your most favorite picture book now? Why?

A: As a kid, I don’t know if I truly ever had just one book that I treasured over another. I do remember always picking out the Berenstain Bears Spooky Old Tree from my school library. I also remember my first Scholastic Book Club book that I received from my kindergarten teacher to get me to start reading. It was a book based on a 1986 cartoon I enjoyed at the time called Kissyfur.

Today, I also enjoy many books! Most recently two books that have really pushed me to be better at my own writing and art are You Matter by Christian Robinson and a board book called LINES by Sarvinder Naberhaus. Both the words and illustrations in each of these books have opened my mind on thinking more metaphorically with my work. The way both authors use their words in relationship to the illustrations is just beautiful. To me both books are great examples on how text and illustration should work together.

Q: Describe your most perfect summer vacation.

A: My perfect summer vacation (which is most of our summer vacations) includes the opportunity to travel and experience new things, try new food, and take in the sights and sounds of a new landscape. I love taking mini road trips that allow my family the opportunity to find the smallest town with the biggest everything in it. We love detours that take us to see historical sites, unique or fun things, and celebrities like Punxsutawney Phil. I love experiencing something for the first time. I love when hidden surprises occur and make that moment in time so worth it. Then, when I return home, I love sitting around a campfire where I can retell stories about our recent experiences. Perhaps I love all of this because in the industry of making books…story is key!

Thank you for having me on Bird meets Worm! It’s been a blast talking with you and your readers, cheers!

 It's our pleasure! Thank YOU, Merrill & congratulations on your amazing new books!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Super Star Children's Book Review: Parker Looks Up

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 Charles, Laurie Young, Sarah Orgill—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 broad 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.


PARKER LOOKS UP

By Parker Curry & Jessica Curry • Illustrated by Brittany Jackson

Picture Book (ages 4-8) • 32 pages

Published by Aladdin • 2019

ISBN 978-1-5344-5186-5

 

Parker Looks Up begins with the Curry family’s real life outing to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Parker, her sister Ava and her friend, Gia, stroll from artwork to artwork, pointing out all the fun details—jeweled necklace, bushy mustache, brilliant feathers—against the backdrop of the museum’s grand architecture.

 

Parker’s day the museum culminates in the viral moment when she arrives at the portrait of Michelle Obama, painted by artist Amy Sherald, and look ups. Jackson’s bright and energetic artwork captures the awe, recognition and inspiration Parker feels as she looks up at the iconic portrait of the former First Lady. And the audience can’t help but be caught up, too!

 

The power of representation is evident and joyously celebrated as we see Parker imagining herself and all she can be and do in the image of Michelle Obama.

 

Buy this book:

 

Barnes & Noble

 

Bookshop

 

Independent Bookstores

 

Reviewed by: Jane Smith

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Super Star Interviews: Charlene Chua

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 tickled summer sunburn pink to be catching up with the fabulous children's book author-illustrator Charlene Chua! I'm a long-time fan of her delightful characters and gorgeous artwork! Charlene has created illustrations for everything from advertisements, apps and toys to magazines and, of course, books. And in fact, we are talking today all about her numerous children's book titles releasing both this year and next!!! Exciting! Originally from Singapore, she now lives in Ontario, Canada. 
You can view more of her artwork and books here!

One hug = yay! Tons of hugs = not so sure!

Q: Your adorable NEW picture book, Hug?, releases next month with Kids Can Press (Congratulations!! Hooray!) and we want to hear ALL about it! Give us the full scoop!

A: Thanks! Hug? is a pretty special book for me, since it's the first book that I've both written and illustrated. It's not the first picture book that I've ever written (there are several that have just not gone anywhere), though it may be the one I wrote the fastest. I think the Hug? came about one day when I was talking to my husband. I cannot remember exactly what we were talking about, but it eventually led to 'what if a whole bunch of animals kept wanting more and more hugs, and at some point it was just too much?'.

Beyond the fun images though, Hug? is a reflection of how I feel sometimes. When I wrote it, I just wanted to put a humorous spin on the scenario. In reality, the feeling of being quietly overwhelmed and then having an outburst can be an upsetting thing for everyone involved. In my own experience, people get confused and defensive; they don't understand why I am 'suddenly' upset, or they think I am being overly sensitive or moody. I think the animals in the book are nicer; they are genuinely confused but seem to at least have an inkling that maybe they had something to do with the situation!

I did want to make it clear that there is no real 'bad guy' in the story (well, ok, maybe the Tiger is a bit naughty!). The animals in the story aren't mean, they just want something from the girl and it doesn't occur to them that they're making her more stressed. On her part, the girl doesn't voice her objections until things become unbearable. It's kind of reflective of how society works sometimes. Sometimes people are quite oblivious to the harm they cause. Sometimes people don't speak up until they can't bear things any longer. Things flare up and fall apart, or fall apart then flare up.

It has been interesting listening to how others receive the book, and how they interpret the themes within it. Mental health, emotions and the importance of boundaries are some of the themes that keep being associated with the story. I never really thought about writing the story to specifically deal with those issues; if anything, I tried to keep the story somewhat ambiguous. But I am glad that people seem to think it is both a fun story and one that may help with larger issues.

Lastly, the book is also special to me because of my cat, Uno. I had been meaning to do a book with her in it for years, and so I decided to base the cat in 
Hug? on her. Unfortunately, Uno passed away just as the book was being completed (she was 17). So the book will always be bittersweet to me. The book is dedicated to Uno, and I think we have a sweet little photo of her somewhere in it.

(Psst! You can pre-order 
Hug? here:)
Barnes & Noble
Bookshop
Independent Bookstores

Would you like to dance? Mee-ow!

Q: Hug? is your first picture book as both author and illustrator. Many illustrators have the desire to make a similar leap to writing. Dish with us a bit about your process and approach to writing as an illustrator.

A: I'll try, but I don't really think of myself as a good writer! I can't seem to tell a story without pictures, so for now, the only things I've written are picture books and the odd comic script. Storytelling to me has a visual component, and since I can illustrate, I tend to lean in on that; Which means a lot of the time I have trouble writing longer pieces, because I get tired of writing descriptions of everything (why write an extensive description of a chair when I can just...draw it). However, it comes in useful, particularly for picture books, where there is a real need for word economy.

I tend to write out my first draft as quickly as I can, knowing that it will be trash. It is rare for me to write a first draft well over 1000 words, so even if it's all rubbish, it's no big deal. After the first draft, I do my first awful sketches. Mainly to try to tell the same story with pictures instead, and figure out the pacing. Sometimes, I also find out the story is visually rubbish at this stage—oh well! A picture book should have pictures after all, if the pictures can't tell the story, then maybe it has no business being a picture book (it could be a lovely short story, just not a PICTURE book).



After the awful sketches are done, I return to the text-only version. I normally do several drafts at this point, taking out as much description as I can (for I now know I can draw that pesky chair I spent 50 words describing). I take out as much from the words as I can, especially if they can be conveyed with the images. I might make notes on the awful sketches to remind myself about details I've removed in the text (e.g draw silly chair with red cushions and lion's feet for legs!).

The process is similar for comics, except that I tend to write it in a more script writing style (e.g Character 1: This is my line). I normally include a short description before every panel, to describe the scene or the character's state. Hug? follows this more closely than my normal picture book manuscript format. However, it is also kind of its own thing. I've included part of the original document that was shown for 

Hug? As you can see, it's not really an orthodox way of showing a picture book manuscript, but somehow it got the job done!

Which one would you like to read? How about all of them?!

Q: You have illustrated more than 12 children’s books! And your artwork is stunning—bright, fun and full of unique, distinct characters. Talk with us a bit about your illustration practice—daily habits, sketchbooks, process and inspiration.

A: Thanks! I have been very busy for the past couple of years, so I find myself doing some kind of work related art during the day, most days. When I'm not working, I like to relax with personal art. Usually, I like to draw or paint in a relatively inexpensive sketchbook (I like the cheap ones, I don't worry so much about 'ruining' the paper unlike in the expensive ones). However, earlier this year I got an iPad Pro, and I've been using that quite a bit in my non-work time. It's been handy in letting me explore some other kinds of artwork that are more grown-up in style and subject matter.

For book work, I tend to start by developing the characters, and then the roughs. I prefer working with pencil and paper at this point, unless I'm pressed for time. I normally use my computer for the sketch stage, since my sketches are fairly tight and are sized to the correct proportions for the final artwork. Color roughs are also done digitally; it's just faster and easier as I can change colors quickly to establish an optimal color scheme. Final art really depends on the book. Most of my projects are digital-only, and done in Photoshop. But some are a mix of traditional media and digital. The book I just finished was mostly painted in watercolor. I will scan art, then retouch and manipulate it in Photoshop before sending it to the client.

So light & lovely!

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

A: I enjoyed working on a series of posters for McDonalds some years ago. They were for the mid-Autumn festival, Lunar New Year and Diwali. The art was displayed in select outlets, and the Diwali art also appeared briefly on a huge screen on Times Square during a Diwali parade. It was nice art, for a nice cause and having something up on Times Square (however briefly!) was kinda cool.

At present, I am finishing up artwork for a very special Valentine's picture book. It's titled Love, Violet by Charlotte Sullivan Wild, and it is scheduled (at time of writing) for a Fall 2021 release from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I can't say too much about it other than it's a very lovely and special story, and I hope the art does it justice!

Summer adventure!

Q: Following the release of Hug?, you also have three new children’s books set to release in 2021! (Wowza!! Now THAT’s super star!) An author/illustrator’s job doesn’t end with publication, of course; this is when promotion kicks in! What advice would you give fellow author/illustrators on: 1) doing book events, 2) creating book promotional materials and 3) getting the best out of social media?

A: To be honest, this will be a new thing for me as well. Normally, I am not very involved with the promotion of the book as the illustrator.

From the book events I have done...book launches can be nice, but if you don't have lots of family, friends or fans, it's ok to not expect a large crowd. Talk to your local indie bookstore and tell them your expectations (for turnout) and work with them to create the best experience for everyone. Be nice and encourage people (especially locally) to buy your book from the indie bookstore. For events like festivals, if you're an illustrator or author/illustrator, consider adding an art activity to your book presentation (such as live drawing).

On promotional materials—I've printed bookmarks for some of my books, though in some cases the publisher has also given me bookmarks and posters to give away. It doesn't hurt to ask your publisher if they have any ready-made materials (so you don't need to spend your own money making these). If you want to make your own materials, a cheap and fun giveaway is a coloring sheet based off artwork from your book.

For social media —I really don't know if I'm the right person to give advice on this! I tend to use my Facebook page and Instagram to post up new work and announcements. My Twitter is a bit more active, but I try to limit my personal posts. I know some people maintain separate accounts to keep their work separate from their other interests. There are various reasons for this, but it's an option that some people do use.

O' Canada!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Probably one when I don't have to work (which is...not often) and the weather is good (I'm in Ontario—sometimes it feels like half the year is winter)!

Thanks so much, Charlene, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm!! We're looking forward to the release of Hug?—congratulations!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Glowing Review for Hello, New House

I'm absolutely thrilled to pieces to share that Kirkus has given my new picture book, HELLO, NEW HOUSE, a glowing review! You can read the full book review here! Hooray!!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Super Star Children's Book Review: Twinchantment

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 Charles, Laurie Young, Sarah Orgill—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 broad 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.

               

TWINCHANTMENT

By Elise Allen
Middle Grade (ages 8-12) • 336 pages
Published by Disney-Hyperion • 2019
ISBN 9781368008624


Twinchantment by Elise Allen is a delightful fantasy that is sure to engage young fantasy enthusiasts thirsty for magical realms. Allen creates a rich world filled with diverse characters and intriguing settings.

The “Magic Eradication Act” begins the book, making clear that magic will NOT be tolerated in the Kingdom of Kaloon. This includes polydactyly (extra fingers or toes), left-handedness and twin-hood, setting the stage for the story of the twins, Princesses Sara and Flissa, who are known to the kingdom as one person, Princess Flissara.

When Sara and Flissa’s mother, Queen Latonya, is cursed and only has 48 hours to live, the twins must travel into the terrifying land known as The Twists to help save her and the king. The plot continues at a rapid pace, keeping readers turning pages, eager for more.

An exciting and highly readable story full of crushes, horses, gossip, and rivalries, Twinchantment is a perfect choice for the preteen reader. This is definitely a welcome addition to the middle-grade fantasy market, particularly for its portrayal of people of color. Thankfully, it is the first in the series, and the second installment, UnTwisted, has already been released! 

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Bookshop

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Sarah Orgill