Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Flowers for the Dead

© Jane Smith • Flowers for the Dead

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

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.


By Erika L. Sánchez
Young Adult • 340 pages
Alfred A. Knopf • 2017
ISBN 978-1-5247-0058-5

Life has not been easy for Julia, the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants living on Chicago’s poverty-stricken South Side. Julia dreams of moving to New York City and becoming a writer. Her family is torn apart when her sister, Olga, is hit by a semi-truck and killed. Her grieving mother can’t understand why Julia wants to be a writer and live on her own. Her father works hard, but says little at home. And Julia’s best friend, Lorena, tries to help, but even Lorena doesn’t seem to understand the life Julia wants. Tension runs high and Julia feels like she will never fit in.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter deftly navigates issues that will resonate with teenagers. Depression, racism, immigration, poverty, gender, and sexuality all play roles in the novel, intersecting one another and creating layers of complexity for Julia. It's no wonder she is struggling.

This is the perfect book for a high school classroom. While the reading level is accessible, the twists of the plot line will leave YA readers wanting more. In my own experience as a high school English teacher, I have witnessed two of my current students begin reading 
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and immediately want to email the author to tell her how much they love the book. Another student said it was the best book she’s ever read.

High praise for Erika S

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Sarah Orgill

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Super Star Interviews: J.R. Krause

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 catching up with the wickedly smart & talented, J.R. Krause! J.R. is an illustrator friend, who I was lucky to first meet through the SCBWI, back when I lived in Los Angeles. I'm a big fan of his awesome work and am pleased to say he has the distinction of being the first interviewee on Bird Meets Worm to be interviewed twice!! J.R. grew up in the woodsy town of Chelmsford, Massachusetts. After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, he moved to Los Angeles to work in animation and make children’s books. Since then he has worked on many television shows, including The Simpsons and Futurama, as well as having written and illustrated several picture books. You can see more of his artwork here!

Ooo!! Isn't it gorgeous?!

Q: Your gorgeous NEW picture book, Dragon Night, released earlier this year (congratulations!!) and we want to hear all about it! Give us the full scoop!

A: Thanks so much! Dragon Night is published by Putnam/ Penguin Random House. It’s about a boy named Georgie who is afraid of the night, and a dragon who is afraid of the knight. The two set off on a nighttime magical adventure, but when morning comes the dragon is still afraid of the knight. Georgie wants to help his dragon friend. With kindness and empathy—and a little creativity, Georgie tries to work some magic of his own.

J.R. inking the dragon by hand—nice!

Q: Dragon Night is your third picture book as an Author/Illustrator. Dish with us a bit about your process and approach to writing, illustrating and ultimately, bringing both together in harmony as a complete thought.

A: When starting a book, I typically keep my writing and illustrating separate. Even though I’m an illustrator at heart, I tend to write story ideas rather than sketch them. If it’s a good idea, I’ll quickly become consumed with the words. I find when I concentrate on writing, I remain more nimble and open minded. This initial writing stage can take anywhere from a week to several months. Once I commit to a basic manuscript, then I will start sketching.

Words and pictures are equally important in a picture book. My manuscript will change as I sketch visuals and create a dummy. From this point on, there’s lots back and forth; switching from illustrator to writer and vice versa. As you mention, everything needs to work in harmony as a complete thought. For me, finding the proper balance is a process of experimenting, exploring and editing. For each element that makes it into the final book, there is something that’s left out.

J.R.'s fun, zany animation art style in the Poco books!

Q: Your two previous picture books, Poco Loco and Happy Birthday, Poco Loco, both feature a graphic art style that is very much indicative of your background as an animator. However, Dragon Night has a very different look and feel. Tell us a bit about your development process for creating the artwork for Dragon Night.

A: My work in animation greatly influenced the Poco books. And yes, Dragon Night is a big departure from that! Dragon Night is a very earnest story. Despite several attempts, my zany animation style from the Poco books didn’t fit. Many artistic fails in various styles would follow. Eventually, I created an unrelated illustration based on an old linocut print. I realized this technique could work for 
Dragon Night. I made a sample illustration for Dragon Night in this new style. I’m thrilled that the art for Dragon Night has since garnered lots of praise. And the writing, too!

Love this limited palette—soothing blues with mysterious black and pops of warmth!

Q: The process of getting an original book proposal accepted and published can be long and challenging and often involves a lot of positive teamwork with one’s agent. Tell us a bit about how you and your agent, Jennifer Mattson of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, work together to get projects ready for both submission and publication.

A: I start by emailing a story idea or manuscript to Jennifer. She will make editorial notes and story suggestions. A side note; Jennifer was previously an editor at Dutton Children’s Books and has great editorial insight! I will revise the manuscript and send her the new version. We go back and forth until the manuscript feels solid. Then I will create sample artwork and a dummy for publishers to consider.

As you mention, developing an idea into a book can be a long and challenging process. Many of my manuscripts don’t become book proposals, and many book proposals don’t become books. Through it all, Jennifer is unwaveringly supportive, encouraging, honest and realistic. Our communication is primarily through email, but when an offer is made, we switch to lots of excited phone calls!

Sneak peek inside Dragon Night!!!

Q: To promote Dragon Night, you have been participating in all kinds of fabulous events—book festivals, book signings, school & library events! What advice would you give fellow author/illustrators about: 1) how to book these kinds of events, 2) major dos and don’ts and 3) how to get the most out of these events?

A: I love book events! To answer your questions specifically;

1) How to book these kinds of events—

If I’m scheduling an event I start with an email query. I include all pertinent information about myself and my book. I also include the dates I’d be available. I make sure everything is well organized and include links to book reviews, press and my website. Hopefully, I’ll hear back and we can work something out. Sometimes it’s the libraries and schools that initially contact me. Full disclosure, my publisher also schedules events for me.

2) Major do’s and don’ts—

DO keep everything relevant and appropriate to the audience and venue. If I’m speaking to a large group, I’ll request a projector and screen. If I’m reading to a small group, I’ll make my presentation more intimate. If it’s very young toddlers, I’ll sit on the floor to be less imposing. I mentally prepare myself to be 100% engaged and approachable. I’ll introduce myself to the all of the staff and everyone that arrives beforehand. I always try to be gracious and patient. Being relevant, appropriate, gracious and patient will help avoid any major DON’TS.

How fun does this look?! I want to go, too!

3) How to get the most out of these events—

I believe I’m there to give the most, and by doing so, I will get the most out of the event. I love being a creative person. I try to make my events fun and creative, with the aim of being creatively inspirational. I show photos of myself growing up and my first “art”. I explain who I was as a child and what my struggles were. I tell them how I wrote and illustrated a book. I don’t want bookmaking to seem like a magic trick. They get to see the behind-the-scenes stuff, and the messy and funny missteps I made along the way.

I also make the audience an equal participant. For Dragon Night, I’ll offer a dragon puppet to a child who wants to be my helper. I’ll also offer a dragon puppet to a child who seems less confident. Usually, they will want to help, too. I’ll offer a third dragon to a quiet child in the back. I’ll ask if they want to take care of it while I read, or come up and help. I can always use a third helper! I usually end my presentations with drawing on an easel. While drawing, I answer questions. If there are no questions, I’ll ask questions! I want to get to know my audience, too. I always try to keep everyone engaged. The more they participate, the better the event will be!

Q: Describe your most perfect summer vacation.

A: The most perfect summer vacation for me would be visiting my parents in Massachusetts. I live in California, so seeing them always feels extra special. They live in the same house where I grew up. I get to sleep in my childhood bedroom! The wooden desk my dad made for me sits by the window where we placed it 40 years ago. Much of the vacation is nostalgic. Now that my wife and I are parents, we have some new summertime rituals with our kids. Favorites include kayaking on the Concord River and eating at Kimball’s Ice Cream. We love uniquely New England flavors such as maple walnut and frozen pudding. Frozen pudding is rum ice cream with fruit. At Kimball’s, it’s a divine revelation!

Thank you so much, J.R., for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm!! Dragon Night is fabulous!