Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen

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. (PS You may have noticed that today is actually Tuesday! In deference to summer schedules at the Bird Meets Worm nest, we're posting a day early. Enjoy!)


Written By Debbi Michiko Florence • Illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic
Middle Grade Chapter Book (ages 6-9) • 107 pages
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux • 2017
ISBN 978-0-374-30834-6

Jasmine Toguchi is a spunky, Japanese-American girl, who is tired of her older sister, Sophie, always getting to do everything first. Just once, Jasmine wants to be the one who gets to go first! And not with just anything—with something big, something special. Maybe even with something that no one else has EVER done before!

When Jasmine’s family gathers at her home in Los Angeles to celebrate the New Year by making the traditional sweet, gooey rice dessert, mochi, Jasmine cleverly spots an opportunity to do just that! But it turns out to be harder than it looks, and Jasmine finds herself suddenly full of doubts.

Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen is a delightful middle grade novel—the first in a series of four—with a bright, young voice that vividly evokes the elementary school child, much like Ivy and Bean and Ramona Quimby. Universal themes of wanting to grow up, stand out, and find belonging within your own family are woven neatly into the story against the backdrop of Jasmine’s Japanese-American family, the multiple generations represented by her relatives and their beloved food traditions. Japanese words are also peppered throughout, giving authenticity and enjoyable character to the text.

The energetic artwork by Vukovic brings it altogether and readers will enjoy the expressive depictions of Jasmine’s many moods as she goes from annoyed little sister to clever schemer to—finally—mochi queen!

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble 

Independent Bookstores 

Reviewed by: Jane Smith

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Super Star Interviews: Courtney Dawson

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 chatting it up with the lovely Illustrator, Courtney Dawson, who just happens to be a fellow Tugeau2 artist! I'm a big fan of her gorgeous & playful artwork and I'm sure you will be, too! Courtney grew up in a sunny suburb of Southern California with a love for drawing, reading and most kinds of ice cream. She moved to San Francisco after high school, where as an undergraduate she majored in Women & Gender studies and discovered her passion for creating positive texts for children that are beautiful, inclusive and empowering. Courtney also received her MFA from Academy of Art University in Visual Development. She specializes in color styling, prop design and children's book illustration. She loves rainy days and painting to Sam Cooke. Courtney currently lives in Ventura with her partner and wild toddler. You can see more of her artwork here!

Looks like so much fun! Can I play, too?

Q: Your artwork is full of sophisticated color, movement and fantastic characters! Dish with us about your creative process—concept to sketches to finished art—and how it all comes together.

A: I feel like the concepts for my pieces are really random! I find myself trying to connect with my inner child a lot. As a kid, I know I didn’t see myself in the picture books I had or really any media I consumed. I keep that in mind a lot. So concepts often come from me trying to make work that I would have liked to see as a kid. That being said, sometimes my concepts for work are totally random and come to me when I’m in the shower!

I try not to spend too much time of sketching—I keep it really loose. I love color, so I often jump straight into laying down color and finding a pallet that I like. I love painting and that’s where I spend most my time with my work.

What a sweet friend! How do you say hello in parakeet?

Q: You have a background in animation. In what ways has this foundation served you in your work in children’s book publishing from both an artistic and a business perspective?

A: I actually got my MFA in visual development for animation. My main interest was in doing color styling. I definitely carry that tool with me into children’s literature. I learned how to use color as a tool for setting mood and telling story.

As far as business goes I think my background in animation showed me what I really didn’t want. I took one picture book class in school and I knew that’s where I wanted to be. I love animation, but my true passion was and is in illustration.

Let's meet at the cafe & talk art, illustration and love!

Q: You grew up in Southern California, went to college in San Francisco and now live in Los Angeles. How has California—in time, place & attitude—influenced and inspired you as an artist and visual storyteller?

A: I was in the Bay Area for the last 10 years and that is where I really became who I am and saw myself grow as an artist. I felt most inspired by the city and all the people in it. In San Francisco, I always felt inspired by the hustle and bustle of the city, the diversity of humans, the loud sounds of the city in motion and all the quiet spaces in between.

I’m in Ventura California now, and I feel like I’m still adapting to this new environment. It’s completely different. I’m learning the beauty of small towns and finding inspiration from the ocean. Also, weirdly, connecting to my roots—I grew up in Southern California and it never really felt like home for me. I’m learning to make it my home now!

Q: Give us the full scoop on your MOST favorite projects: one from your past & one from your present.

A: My first book I got to work on was for Capstone. I loved that project! It was my first time getting to work as a professional picture book maker, so that project is very special for me!

I recently did an illustration for cricket media. It was my first time doing any kind of editorial illustration and I loved that! It’s so fun making just a one-page illustration. You have to figure out how to tell a story and a mood all in one illustration. It’s challenging and really fun!

EveryBODY is beautiful!!!

Q: What would be your absolutely DREAM illustration project?

A: It’s very important for me to be making work that is inclusive and empowering. My dream project is to work on a book about body diversity. I would also love to make a book about fat positivity. I want to work on projects that makes children feel like they are magic!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: I love Sundays! A morning hike, a park picnic, followed by spending a rainy night in with my partner and our son, Rowen. The change in weather is key! Haha.

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