Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hello 2018

Hello 2018 • © Super Jane Smith

Super Star Children's Book Review: Undefeated

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


By Steve Sheinkin
Nonfiction (ages 10-14) • 288 pages
Published by Roaring Brook Press • 2017
ISBN 1-596-43954-8

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

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

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

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

Buy this book:

Barnes and Noble

Independent Book Stores

Reviewed by: Joan Charles

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Hilli Kushnir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adorable!! I wonder whose birthday it is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Here are a few thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

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

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