Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: The Day You Begin

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.

(Please note that it is actually the third Wednesday of this month this time around! I'm afraid spring fever chaos got the better of us here at Bird Meets Worm this month, but nonetheless, we are so pleased to share this latest book review by the fabulous Joan Charles!)


Written By Jacqueline Woodson • Illustrated by Rafael López
Picture Book (ages 5-8) • 32 Pages
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books • 2018
ISBN 978-0-3992-4653-1

The first day of any new adventure is scary. When you’re a child, that first day can seem overwhelming—especially when your one desire is to fit in, to not to be different or stand out in any way.

Author Jacqueline Woodson pulls those old feelings from deep within her memory well. Through beautifully crafted and poetic prose, she touches upon some of those moments when a child feels alone and afraid, when "different" feels like a bad thing to be.

Her words dance and soar from page to page, borne on the colorful and hopeful illustrations of Rafael López. The pages are filled with movement, bright hues and subtle, recurring motifs that deepen and enrich the story.

The Day You Begin is both a celebration and an anthem. The book reminds us that we can approach each new day as the day we begin: the day we begin to see all the ways we are unique, and yet the same; the day we begin to have understanding and acceptance of one another. And that is a very good thing, indeed.

BONUS: for a special glimpse into Illustrator Rafael López’s process, visit his blog post here about the making of The Day You Begin.

Buy this book:

Barnes and Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Joan Charles

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Super Star Interviews: Daniel Wiseman

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 pleased as punch to be catching up with super star Children's Book Illustrator Daniel Wiseman! I'm a big fan of his bold & cheery graphic illustrations! Daniel is the illustrator of more than 10 picture books, including PLAY THIS BOOK, WHEN YOUR LION NEEDS A BATH and GOODBYE SPRING HELLO. He lives in St. Louis, MO (but soon to be Knoxville, TN!). He's a husband to a wonderful wife and a dad to two beautiful sons. Daniel spends his time drawing, hiking, running, cooking and listening to painfully sad music by the dark. You can see more of his artwork here!

Oops! Don't lose your juice, baby!

Q: You have TWO new baby books releasing this Spring! (That’s SO super star! Congratulations!) Give us the full scoop on these titles: how you came to be illustrating them, your working relationship with your publisher & your process for creating them.

A: I do! Thanks! The Baby Scientist series is the brainchild of author Laura Gehl (who happens to also have a PhD in neuroscience!). The series is focused on showing little ones that a career in science is fun and approachable by introducing them to a few different baby scientists, and telling stories about what they do.

The first two books to be released are BABY OCEANOGRAPHER and BABY ASTRONAUT (a botanist and paleontologist are on the way soon after). The editor, Jill Davis of HarperCollins, reached out to my fantastic agent, Teresa Kietlinski, asking if I’d be interested in illustrating the series and if I’d submit a sample. Being a fan of nature, biology, and Netflix documentaries, I jumped at the chance and put together a mock cover and character sample for BABY OCEANOGRAPHER. The samples ended up landing me the project, and I’ve been working on it over the past year.

I actually just finished the last round of revisions for BABY PALEONTOLOGIST yesterday, and the whole project is wrapped up now. I absolutely love working with Jill, and art director Chelsea Donaldson! They’ve really given me the freedom to explore and find places to add some humor and silliness to the books. They’re incredibly supportive of my goofy ideas, and also really good at keeping me in check when it comes to having to be scientifically accurate in certain areas. My inclination with any project is to inject humor and silliness into everything. These books are no different, but there’s a certain level of accuracy that needs to be met since they’re dealing with scientific careers. Finding that balance can, at times, be a little tricky. I did a fair amount of research while crafting the illustrations to make sure I wasn’t way off base with the design of things like submarines and the International Space Station.

Although, when you look at the books your probably can’t tell, because my art style isn’t exactly what you’d call realistic! I mean, at the end of the day I’ve made pictures of babies traveling through space, SCUBA, diving, and digging for fossils, so the opportunity for absurdity was always pretty much there! 

Hang on, crab! Let's go exploring!

Q: I absolutely love your bright, graphic art style and fabulously expressive characters! Dish with us a bit about your creative influences & inspirations: the who/what/where.

A: Thank you! As a kid I loved the comics in the Sunday paper. The Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes, and Bloom County were my favorites. Though I admit, I didn’t really understand Bloom County most of the time. I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up. That didn’t exactly pan out, but I got pretty close! When my art career began, I was a graphic designer. I made album covers, T-shirts, and MySpace pages for musicians. That’s where a bit of my graphic sensibility came from. With album covers you had this small amount of space to really grab someone’s attention. I really loved the challenge of creating something dynamic that would make a person want to pick up a CD of a band they’d never heard of, and give them a shot just because the art looked cool. That isn’t really a thing anymore, because CDs aren’t a thing anymore, so I feel lucky to have been able to do that. It really paved the way for everything I’ve done since. In many ways picture books are similar. You have a bit more space to work with, but you still have the challenge of grabbing someone’s attention with a cover on a shelf. Fortunately, the buyer of the book won’t be disappointed with bad, early 2000s emo metal when they open it, like many of the buyers of albums I did cover art for!

As far as influences and inspirations, I’m endlessly in awe of many of my peers in the kid lit community. There are so many fabulous illustrators and authors that inspire me, and that list seems to grow by the day. Some of my very favorites are Christian Robinson, Bob Shea, Zachariah Ohora, Jarvis, Ame Dyckman, Benji Davies, and Ed Vere. I also really love Richard Scarry and Quentin Blake. I’m pulled in by absurdity, bright colors, humor and composition.

I tend to also pull inspiration from life. I was born in 1980, and came of age in the 90s, so I also love that bold, graphic, “dawn of a new millennium” thing. Lastly, I love nature and the outdoors. More specifically being in the mountains. To spend the day wandering around in the forest is one of my favorite things to do. It grounds me, and resets my mind. Sometimes it’s the best cure for the inevitable creative block that happens with every project.

These cats are too cool! Let's skate!
Q: Chat with us a bit about your MOST favorite illustration project: one from the past and one from the present

A: Each project I’ve worked on has been great and challenging in different ways. Currently, one that I REALLY loved working on is a picture book I just now finished called RAD!, by Anne Bustard. It’s about a group of skateboarding cats. One of them is a little timid about skating and needing some prodding from his cat friends to give it a shot. There are several things I loved about it. The text is pretty sparse, leaving a lot of room for artistic interpretation. I felt I was really able to bring it to life in a way that is uniquely me. I mentioned earlier that I like the 90s aesthetic…well, I was really able to let it shine in this book. It’s filled with patterns, bright colors, graffiti, and skate tricks. I was completely immersed in the project, and felt really “in the zone” the whole time I was creating it. I’m very proud of it, and can’t wait for people to see it…in 2020, haha. 

Another project that will forever be unforgettable is the first book I ever worked on, WHEN YOUR LION NEEDS A BATH. I remember sitting down to do the cover, and having this feeling of a decade of dreams coming to fruition. I’d known I wanted to be a picture book illustrator for a while at that point, but until then it felt like this unattainable goal. When I told people that’s what I wanted to do, they’d say, “Yeah, that’s nice, but really who gets to do that for a job?”. I worked really hard building a portfolio, submitting to agents, and honing my craft. It felt like I finally had an answer for everyone: “I get to do that for a job!”. Things have only gotten better since then, but that moment, when it was time to really get down and do the work was fantastic. I was excited, nervous, confident, and scared all at the same time. Fast forward to now, and I can finally say I’m a full-time, children’s book illustrator! It’s truly the best job in the world :)

You got that right! Let's boogie!
Q: You’ve illustrated several book series from the Play/Pet picture books to the When (insert silly animal) Has to (insert self-care action) books to the Baby (insert profession) titles. What unique considerations are necessary when developing artwork for a series? Tell us a bit about your approach—initial concepts to sketches to final artwork.

A: One of the things I love about creating the book series that I’ve worked on, is that I get to draw a new main character for each book. Not all series are like that, obviously, but the ones I’ve drawn have been. I love creating characters, so any chance I have to make more of them is great! Plus, I have the opportunity to add multiple genders and ethnicities into a single series. I think children being able to see themselves in the books they read is important, so varying the main characters helps with that. Even with PLAY THIS BOOK and PET THIS BOOK, which initially didn’t have any characters, I worked to add a human element by including a host of kids playing the instruments and taking care of the pets. I like to think that it added a touch that made an already approachable series even more relatable.

Something I’ve found difficult about working on a series…especially the ones with more titles…is keeping a consistency in the artwork over a long period of time. I’m not one of those artists that sticks to a particular visual style. I like to vary things from book to book, and my aesthetics just seem to change over time. When I work on a book or two in series, and then I don’t get to the next books until much later I find it hard to retain the original charm and look of the initial illustrations. Sometimes that makes my process feel mechanical, like I’m trying to copy my former self. It breaks me out of feeling like an artist, and it can be hard to get back in the zone. This happens, too, when I’m juggling multiple projects. I’ve been blessed to illustrate quite a few books over my short career, so I won’t complain too much about it, but making that mind leap between projects can be a task!

When it comes to my technical process for creating the books, it varies a bit for each project. A lot of that is because I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me as an artist. They usually start pretty typically with really rough sketches. I’ve tried many methods from post-it note thumbnails to diving straight into color. What I’ve found I like the best is sketching digitally on a Wacom tablet. I like it because it’s fast and efficient. It’s easy to undo and iterate quickly. Lately I’ve been working through character designs before I even begin sketching thumbnails of spreads. I think I like doing that because I can figure out what their personalities are, and how they’d act in certain situations. That helps me when it comes to the compositions of the spreads. Then I’ll do some rough, dirty sketches to try and get the whole flow down. I’ll keep going over those, making changes here and there, until I end up with pretty detailed sketches. I spend the most time in this phase so that when it comes to final art, it’s pretty much just copying my sketches and adding color. So far all of my books have been done digitally, using Photoshop and a few brushes I’ve downloaded and tweaked to my liking. I love working digitally because it’s versatile and efficient, but someday I’d like to experiment with other traditional media. I really enjoy paper collage and colored pencils, but so far deadlines have kept me glued to my computer due to the process being so much faster. 

Trick-or-treat bunny squad! 
Q: What do you know now that when you first began your illustration career you wish you’d known about: illustration? self-promotion? working with an agent? the book publishing business?

A: Gosh…so much! One thing that I’m happy to have learned is that, even though, I’m the only one illustrating each book, it’s still a very collaborative process. In other jobs I’ve always been surrounded by creative people. One of my favorite things to do is bounce ideas back and forth with someone who is just as excited about a project as I am. I was nervous about illustrating because I thought it would just be me, sitting in the dark, alone with my thoughts…which could be good or bad. This is true to an extent, but I was pleased to find out just how helpful art directors and editors can be! Plus, they are super excited about books and are super supportive of my creative process. They’re always quick to jump on a call or look over a sketch and brainstorm ideas about anything. Maybe it’s my own lack of confidence, but I love having a safety net of people to either validate a good idea I have, or shoot down a really stupid one!

Another thing is that I was sort of aware that it would be helpful to be agency represented, but I didn’t know the extent of HOW helpful it would be. Teresa, my agent, is one of the best people I know. I basically owe my entire career to her. She’s supportive of my decisions, and will listen to my complaining at any hour of the day. I’m convinced she would do anything in her power to help me, and any of her other clients. Being part of the agency feels like a little kid lit family, and I’m so fortunate for that. Plus, I didn’t realize how much contract and legal work goes into each project before I even start on the drawing. She handles all of that, so I can focus on what I love to do. I’d be so lost without her.

Lastly, the book making process is loooooooong. I mean, I knew it would be a lot of work, but I didn’t know that it can take months (or even years) from start to finish. At first it was a bit frustrating. I was used to working on apps and software, where you make something fast and get it out there in front of people quickly. With books there’s so much to the process. There’s a lot of back and forth to get things just right. Plus, what you work on one year may not actually be released until 2 years later. It’s a lot of working, waiting for feedback, and working some more. Sometimes that’s hard on the creative process, but I’ve learned to embrace it and enjoy it. Having multiple projects going at once is good for that, too. It keeps me drawing and thinking, which I like. If I’m stagnant for too long I get antsy.

Adventure awaits, dino-hero-boy!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: I’d bounce out of bed at 8am after a refreshing night of sleep that didn’t include a child or two waking me up multiple times. I’d brush my teeth and take a magical pill that let me eat anything I want without absorbing the calories. Henry (my 5-year old) and I would make pancakes, French toast, fried bananas, and ice cream for Elizabeth (my wife), and Hugo (my 1-year old). Henry and I would eat some, too, of course. No one would cry, the kids would get along, and someone else would come and do the dishes. After that we’d load up the car and go to the mountains, because the weather is perfect. We’d wander around trails looking at the abundance of wildlife. Somehow Henry is not afraid of bugs on this Sunday. We’d marvel at nature’s majesty until noon. We’d hop in creeks, dance under waterfalls, and lay in the grass. Then we’d find a quaint, mountain lodge that serves the best food in the world. Henry and Hugo would be excited about sitting down for lunch. Henry wouldn’t even want his iPad. We’d eat tacos, burgers, fries, milkshakes, and maybe a piece of cake…and a Diet Coke. While we were having lunch, the weather would take a turn. All of the sudden it’s snowing. Luckily someone brought us our snowboards and skis…Oh, and there’s a ski slope right next to the lunch lodge. We’d strap on our gear and hit the slopes. On this particular Sunday Henry knows how to snowboard, and Hugo is a skiing wonder-baby. We’d spend the afternoon doing a few runs, until we stopped at the top of the mountain to watch the sunset. Then, a helicopter would come pick us up and take us back to our cabin. Did I mention we live in a cabin? We do. We’d walk in tired and hungry from our afternoon of winter sports. Is that a chef in the kitchen?! It’s not a chef, it’s the chef…Guy Fieri has prepared us a 5-course dinner that somehow both the kids just love! We polish it off, and sit down together to watch a Christmas movie. Probably Scrooged, or Elf. Everyone’s snuggled up on the couch, when I notice the kids have fallen asleep. I carry them to their room while Elizabeth pours a couple of glasses of wine. We’d then sit by the roaring fire and talk about something really intellectual like art or politics. We’d reflect on the day, and how I managed to pull off a double back flip on my snowboard. Then we’d retire to the most comfortable bed in the world for some dream-filled sleep.

*note: I realize that my day starts in what some would assume is Spring, and ends in possibly…Christmas? Don’t overthink it. It’s my Sunday, okay!

Thank you so much, Daniel, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congrats on your awesome new books! (And PS—your most perfect Sunday sounds like a new children's book all on its own!!)