Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: My Papi Has A Motorcycle

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.





MY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLE
Written By Isabel Quintero • Illustrated by Zeke Peña
Picture Book (ages 4-8) • 32 pages
Published by Penguin Random House • 2019
ISBN 978-0-525-55341-0


When Daisy’s papi gets home from work, their most favorite thing to do together is zoom around their neighborhood on Papi’s motorcycle. They cruise by favorite shops, past Abuelito and Abuelita’s house and over to the construction site where Papi is working, all while taking in the joyously familiar sights, sounds and people of their city.

When Daisy and Papi experience an unfamiliar sight—a beloved shave ice shop has closed—there is a momentary sense of unease. Quintero quietly juxtaposes this moment next to Papi building new homes nearby. And there is a sense of moving forward that is caught up in the energy of Peña’s fluid line work that is at once playful and peaceful.

My Papi Has A Motorcycle is a celebration of the bond between a daughter and her daddy, all wrapped up in a love letter to the Southern California city of Corona, where author Isabel Quintero grew up. My Papi Has A Motorcycle revels in a strong sense of place that has been infused into every detail from citrus and cacti to distinctive stucco buildings to the dusky desert palette rich with pinks, oranges and yellows.

My Papi Has A Motorcycle is a delightful read—sweet, exhilarating and beautiful!

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Jane Smith

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Happy Holidays from Super Jane

"Let heaven and nature sing..." • © Jane Smith

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Super Star Interviews: Jessica Gibson

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 absolutely delighted to chatting it up with the fabulous Illustrator Jessica Gibson! I'm totally head-over-heels for her bright, fresh, gorgeous artwork! And huge bonus: she has a NEW non-fiction picture book out, complete with super fun sound chips! 
Jessica is from the Riverfront area of Detroit, Michigan, and has been drawing whimsical, expressive characters and concept art since the moment she first picked up a pencil. A love of animals, nature and picture books have always inspired her and has led to a career in illustration. Jessica has produced illustrations for a number of publishers and brands, such as HarperCollins, Scholastic, American Girl and Workman Publishing. You can see more of her artwork here! 

Now that's hoppin'!!!

Q: Your bright & beautiful NEW picture book, Welcome to Jazz, released this fall with Workman Publishing! And it’s a delight! Congratulations!! Give us the full scoop on your new book! (Psst! You can buy it here!)

A: Thank you so much! This title was a real treat to work on. While I worked on a variety of types of children’s book before—board books, nonfiction, books with die-cuts—Welcome To Jazz is my first book with sound! I used to love reading books like these growing up.

Welcome To Jazz is an interactive swing-along non-fiction story. In it, you’ll follow these three cats characters, (actual feline cats, because “jazz cats”. Get it?) who visit a club called The Ripe Tomato, where they watch a jazz band perform When The Saints Go Marching In. Throughout the book, these characters walk you through the various musical instruments being used, music terms and definitions, and some history about the origins of jazz music.

Of course, the exciting feature of this book is the sound chips included. It has up to 12 different buttons, each playing a different instrument sound. A real treat for kids and music enthusiasts. 


Those sure are some cool jazz cats!!! Adorbs!

Q: Illustrating non-fiction requires detailed research that translates directly into the artwork. Chat with us a bit about your approach to illustrating Welcome to Jazz and all it’s wonderful details—accurate instruments, period dress & bits of jazz history.

A: This book was quite a laborious project to work on due to the non-fiction aspect, but I was up for the task. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to work on a children's book about this topic. I grew up being exposed to and loving Jazz music my whole life. I practically listened to it during bedtime as a kid every night. Not kidding! I feel like it is not appreciated as I think it should be and is often misunderstood. It always hurts me when some people say they can’t stand Jazz. So I took on this project as an opportunity to give.

A lot of research was done for this project. The story is set in New Orleans, Louisiana, where Jazz music originates from. I had to look up things about the city that I needed to draw; landmarks and buildings like the Congo Square and Haiti, for example.

I had to also research typical clothing the band would wear when they’re performing. At the end, we stuck with a more modern, snazzy attire that you see on the characters now.

The biggest challenge came from illustrating the musical instruments accurately, as you can imagine that was really important, since this is a non-fiction educational book. It took a lot of research and scrutiny to sketch & draw the instruments just right. Especially the brass types like the trombone and tuba. So many twists and turns. But I managed to pull it off!

Fun fact: Did you know I played the trombone for 8 years?! No kidding!

Q: Your art style feels both fabulously vintage, yet delightfully modern. Dish with us a bit about your creative process—inspiration to sketches to color artwork.

A: Thank you! I think for the most part, a lot of my doodles come randomly for my personal work. I mean, I do take inspiration from observing real life, reading books, animations, and other artists I admired, too.

For children’s book projects, I plan more accordingly. First, I read the manuscript, followed by some rough, messy sketches of the characters. Some research for references on how to draw certain things may be required depending on the project. Next I start jotting down little thumbnail ideas of images for the book. I like doing this stage in a sketchbook. Thumbnails allow me to explore a number of different composition ideas quickly. They also help me make sure to leave room for type and the gutter. Once I have some concepts I happy with, I move on to final sketching. Once final sketches are approved, I start the coloring process. Sometimes I try to use very specific color palettes based on the theme and tone of a story. In Welcome To Jazz, for example, when people think of Jazz, I think we imagine these bold, vibrant colors and abstract shapes, and I really wanted to have elements like that in the illustrations.

How can anyone resist stickers? Especially cute DOG stickers?!

Q: Give us the scoop on your MOST favorite illustration project: one from your past and one from your present.

A: That’s a touch question, because there were a lot of great projects I've done.

I’ll say my favorite past project was with American Girl Magazine when I got to design these cute dog stickers for them. I grew up reading American Girl books and even owning a doll from them before, so this was like a dream client.

And my favorite present project has to be that I’m illustrating a children’s book project that's still in progress. The title is called Time To Roar, written by Olivia Cole, and it probably won’t release until another year from now. Maybe sooner. It's a powerful picture book that shows the importance of using your own strong voice to defend what you love. I can’t wait to share more about it!

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: I always try beginning my workday by starting my good self-care routine first. Drink water, have a healthy breakfast, and doing a quick 15-minute workout. Then I usually start with an assessment of what tasks are ahead for the week and planning what to do first. Every week can be different. One week I will be working on thumbnails for a picture book, the next I'm commissioned to illustrate a cover for a magazine.

I try to keep a good schedule for all these things, especially for the self-care ritual, but it can be tough as a freelance illustrator. Having good time management skills take some time to develop.

"Hey, Foxy! Can I listen, too?"

As for my main work space, I have a little office setup in a spare room, which consist of a desk, my work computer, a Wacom Cintiq Pro and a basket where I keep some sketchbooks and a few office/art supplies like ink pens & markers. I have a lounge chair and small TV in there, too, for break time. A bookcase where I keep a lot of inspiring Art-of-books. But the main attraction of my work space is the decor I set up. I try to make my area very serene and enchanting, so I have some small plants placed here & there and some string lights hanging on the walls. And on these string lights, I hang various photos and postcards I collect from traveling, small art prints from other artists, and a decorative chalkboard with “Creativity Takes Courage” written on it.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My ideal Sunday would start with a calm and relaxing breakfast in the morning, my go-to meal would be oatmeal with some fruit and nuts on top. Then I usually go out for a walk or a hike with friends at the River Walk, sometimes feeding geese that we meet along the way. Then it's usually back home where I lounge on the couch, either reading or watching a funny movie with my two cats snuggled up with me.


Thank you so much, Jessica, for chatting with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Welcome to Jazz is so gorgeous! Congratulations!!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving from Super Jane

Yes, lets!!! • © Jane Smith

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: Focused

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.



FOCUSED
Written by Alyson Gerber
Young Adult (ages 12 & up) • 304 pages
Scholastic Press • 2019
ISBN 978-1-33853-167-1

Seventh-grader Clea just can’t seem to get it together. She is failing subjects that she used to be good at, she keeps blurting out inappropriate comments, and her parents are threatening to make her quit the chess team. On top of that, her best friend Red is starting to hang out with Dylan, a boy Clea can’t stand. Life is tough. And now, Clea’s parents want to take her to see a doctor to get her diagnosed for ADHD! Everyone is going to think she is so dumb.

Focused offers a thought-provoking window into the mind of a middle schooler suffering with undiagnosed ADHD. Clea’s world is full of noises and colors and smells—all aptly described by Gerber. These distractions overwhelm Clea and cause her to struggle in school and with her personal relationships. No wonder she gets so distracted and falls behind!

Gerber carefully details how ADHD can create havoc for the one diagnosed and her family alike. The scenes at Dr. Gold’s office are particularly observant, exploring how Clea resents the diagnosis and how Clea’s parents are desperate for answers. After the diagnosis is made and a learning plan is implemented, more details about Clea’s reactions, physically and mentally, to her new medication are also thoughtfully observed. It is clear that while there is no quick fix for ADHD, a combination of approaches can make for great improvements.

Focused would fit well in a middle school classroom, and especially resonate with children who have (or who have friends or siblings with) ADHD. It’s also a powerful read for anyone who is trying to understand the emotions a child encounters when being diagnosed. Gerber creates a realistic seventh grade world, complete with best friends, school bullies, and a sweet little sister—a universal world that will ring true for most middle schoolers, with or without ADHD.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Sarah Orgill

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Turkey Trot 5K Fun Run

Ready, set, gooble til you wobble! • © Jane Smith

Super Star Interviews: Constance Lombardo

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 pumpkin pie pieces to be catching up with the hilarious and fun Author/Illustrator, Constance Lombardo, who has a brand new picture book releasing this month! (Congratulations!!) Constance began drawing when she was 10-years old, inspired in part by the Illustrators Annuals her dad brought home from the advertising agency where he worked and in part by her sister, whose drawings were getting a lot of attention! Constance is the author/illustrator of the middle grade series, Mr. Puffball, published by HarperCollins. You can see more of her artwork here! 

Ooo! How super cute!! 

Q: Your brand-new NEW picture book, Everybody Says Meow, releases this month with HarperCollins (Psst! You can buy it here!!). We want to hear everything single fabulous detail! Give us the full scoop!

A: Thanks, Jane! The idea for Everybody Says Meow began when I was feeding Myrtle, our older, very vocal cat, and G.G., our new kitten, would just sit and stare at me with his giant kitten eyes. I began saying to G.G., “C’mon, everybody says meow! Everybody says meow!” After awhile, I heard it as a picture book title. The story sprung into my mind fully-formed, which never happens to me! I made a dummy, my agent loved it, and, lucky me, Jill Davis at HarperCollins said, “Let’s do it!” (paraphrasing.) I worked with Jill on my MG Mr. Puffball series, and I adore her, so that was a happy day indeed. Art Director Chelsea Donaldson got on board, and together we rocked it IMHO.

Bonus points for now having a million drawings of cats, as I tried every traditional media in my studio to develop the main character. She is named Myrtle, in remembrance of our sweet, gentle cat who passed away. (G.G. turned out to be more of a lovable imp.)

Come here, Kitty! I'll pick you up & snuggle!

Q: You are also the Author/Illustrator of the hilarious illustrated middle grade series, Mr. Puffball. Tell us a bit about your process and approach to developing this series—the inspiration, the writing, the planning & development and the artwork.

A: Several years ago, after getting hundreds of rejection letters for dozens of picture books, I decided it was time for something completely different: a novelty book about what cats are really thinking. I did a bunch of cat drawings, those turned into cartoons, and one irrepressible character emerged. I decided to make a graphic novel about Mr. Puffball, and that caught the attention of a wonderful agent, Lori Nowicki of Painted Words.

After many conversations and some revising, we signed (yay!!) She soon connected me with the amazing HarperCollins editor, Jill Davis, who loved Mr. Puffball, but wanted an illustrated MG novel, rather than a graphic novel. Meaning much more text, and less panels/ speech bubbles—think Diary of a Wimpy Kid format. Perfect for me, because I love to write almost as much as I love to draw!

HarperCollins even offered me a three-book deal. Wow.

Each book has about 200 drawings. Fortunately, nothing’s more fun than drawing cartoon cats. And, since Mr. Puffball is a Hollywood cat, I reference things like the Hollywood sign, film reels, old movie posters. I use a generous paw-rtion of puns (The Sound of Music became The Sound of Meowsic,) and just dive into my own goofy humor/ love of Hollywood celebrities; i.e., Benedict Cumbercat.

The second book was more challenging, involving many false starts and total rewrites. Disheartening at times, but I found solace in other writers, who shared their own struggles and encouraged me to keep at it. I fortunately live in a town with many kidlit authors. (I’m looking at you, Asheville, NC!) and I have an amazing writing group, The Secret Gardeners.

By the time I finished the third novel, Mr. Puffball: Escape from Castaway Island, which explores reality TV, and where I add monkeys, alligators, and quick sand to the mix, I was very sad to say goodbye to my old friend, Mr. Puffball. 

Introducing the Amazing Mr. Puffball!

Q: Creating a series that you’ve both written and illustrated is children’s book publishing gold! What advice would you give fellow creatives about: 1) creating memorable characters, 2) developing a successful series and 3) pitching & selling your book projects.

A: Take the time you need to write, revise, consult with your writers group, etc., to create the best, most memorable characters possible. Ask yourself who your character really is, what they want, and what sets them apart from the other cats. I also believe in: GO BIG—so push every trait and situation to its extreme. When I wanted to create an ‘old Hollywood’ elderly cat character, I have him use an ear trumpet, which ridiculously overstates the idea of aging (employing a device first invented in the 13th century.) This especially applies to humor, and I think humor is something that can truly sell your character and your project.

As far as creating a successful series, I’m still trying to figure that one out. I wrote Mr. Puffball as a single book and was grateful to get a 3-book contract, but I really had to work hard, ask questions, work extensively with my generous editor to figure out how to put it together. I’m currently developing other series. One features a stick bug and a stink bug. My agent encourages me to include science-y facts, strong character traits, humor, action, and lots of heart. So maybe that’s some kind of recipe for a successful series!

For inspiration, I look to some of my favorite series, like Mr. Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Rylant, and illustrated by the incredible Arthur Howard, and Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel.

As far as pitching and selling, I always recommend that aspiring kidlit people join SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.) It’s a great way to connect with other writers and meet editors and art directors, who are interested in seeing your work (at the SCBWI conferences.) Find your voice. Write to your strengths. Write the book you want to read. Do your research. There are tons of great websites for aspiring authors. Make sure you’re pitching to agents or editors who want the kind of projects you’re pitching.

Most of all, everyone says persistence is the main thing, and I agree. It took me ten years from when I submitted my first PB to when I got my first contract. Worth the wait! 

Oy! Nothing like deadline drama!

Q: As an Author/Illustrator you create children’s books, like the Mr. Puffball series, that are silly and giggle-inspiring. Dish with us a bit about creating FUNNY books and who/what/where inspires your sense of humor.

A: I love David Sedaris, and he talks about how his humor relates to his childhood and family life. That’s one thing David Sedaris and I have in common! As one of five kids, we were constantly vying for attention and entertaining each other. I was especially inspired by my sister Rita, who always made me laugh. Part of it is also my competitive nature—I want to be as funny as she is! I love watching comedy movies (i.e., Bridesmaids) and stand-up comedy (i.e., Maria Bamford), because laughter is the best alternative to drowning my problems in chocolate. Since I’m way too wimpy to try stand-up, writing funny books will have to do.

I also seek out humorous books for inspiration, like I Yam A Donkey, by Cece Bell, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, and I’m a Shark by Bob Shea. All hysterical! 

Bright & fun! I wanna have a work playdate here! ;D

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

A: Honestly, every day is completely different. But...after breakfast, the crossword puzzle and a walk with Louie the beagle, I answer emails, see what’s happening on Facebook, then get to whatever manuscript is in the works. Lately, I’ve been writing more than drawing. I hope to soon have contracts for books that others illustrate, because I think that would be an interesting experience—there are so many illustrators I admire, and I can’t draw zombies.

Break for lunch, finish that puzzle, then back to writing (or drawing) until dinner. Sometimes I write in bed in the evening or do some sketching. That’s my ideal workday. Interruptions that get in the way include: 1) the cat telling me we’re out of cat treats, 2) my husband asking how to use the computer, 3) the kitchen demanding to be cleaned, 4) my stomach reminding me to have a snack, while I’m in the kitchen, 4) my tooth remindsing me to go to the dentist, 5) the mailman reminding me to pay bills, and so on. Time management is something I’m working on!

Re: workplace: I feel like I’m a neat person living in a sloppy person’s body. I have a desk in the front room with my laptop, photos, glitter, assorted pens, a non-working Himalayan salt lamp, and a mysteriously large pile of papers. Sometimes I write on the porch or meet a friend in a café for a writing date (a great way to interact with the other humans.) Though I do love working in my jammies.

My studio is in the back of the house looking out onto our yard. It’s crammed with every kind of pencil, marker and sketchpad known to me. I need a bigger space, but suspect that would fill with stuff, too. It feels like a lot of art could happen there if I can learn to ignore all the interrupters!

Constance & Louie!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Not having to cook. Walking my old beagle, Louie, who is the best, and thinks I’m the best, too. Watching a movie with my teen (who on my perfect Sunday wants to hang out with me) at the place in town that serves beer and pizza. Drawing for fun and not for profit. Carrot cake. Bonus points if I can get somebody to play Pictionary with me.

Thank you so much, Constance, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! And congratulations again on your silly & cute new picture book!!! Hooray!