Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Super Star Children's Book Review: The Way to Rio Luna

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.

           

THE WAY TO RIO LUNA
By Zoraida Córdova
Middle Grade (ages 8-12) • 336 pages
Published by Scholastic • 2020
ISBN 978-1-3382-3954-6


What if you were sure magic was real, but no one else around you believed?

If you’re Danny Montevideo, you try to keep your belief to yourself. But as Danny is shunted from one foster family to the next, he finds it hard to keep his faith in magic alive. Especially once his sister Pili disappears and can no longer read to him from their favorite book of fairy tales, The Way to Rio Luna. Although everyone assumes Pili ran away, Danny knows that she would never leave him to face life alone. Something terrible has happened to her and it’s up to him to save her.

A fateful school field trip to the New York Public Library sends Danny on the greatest adventure of his life. There, he tumbles into a world where magic is real. He makes friends with Glory Papillon, a girl he meets at the library, and together they set out to find Pili—and the real Rio Luna.

The Way to Rio Luna is a fun and exciting introduction to a series that will have the reader looking forward to the next volume of this light-hearted fantasy adventure.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Bookshop

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Joan Charles

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Countdown to HELLO NEW HOUSE Book Release






































The countdown has begun! My NEW picture book, HELLO NEW HOUSE, releases one month from today & I couldn't be more excited! Look for fun interviews complete w/ freebie giveaways all month long!

Pre-order your copy today:




Super Star Interviews: Merrill Rainey

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 chatting it up with the 
cowboy-boot-wearing, award-winning illustrator, designer, and paper engineer Merrill Rainey! (Who just happens be an old illustration buddy with a fabulous set of NEW children's books releasing this month!!!) Merrill likes to experiment with tools and uses markers, cut paper or whatever is available to make beautiful things out of junk! You can enjoy more of his creations here!

Hello there, friend!

Q: Your brand NEW duo of Color Cut Create paper toy activity books are releasing this month with Odd Dot! (Congratulations! SO fun!) Give us the full scoop! We want to know every little detail!

A: Man, where to start...I couldn’t be more excited for this series to be coming out. It combines my love of paper engineering with my love of creating. It’s like a match made in heaven!

This project was a blast to create, from figuring out how to build volcanoes, to a horse drawn wagon and so many things in between. I even went as far as designing ground cover that you can intermix with each other to create your own terrain and landscapes. It is 176 pages of pure bliss!

Each book is designed with young people in mind. The books give their creators the opportunity to design, create, and learn the basics of paper engineering. So in other words you get to Color, Cut, and Create! It is paper engineering made easy! This book series is designed to promote creative success with minimal direction.

Did I mention yet that Odd Dot’s design team is made up of geniuses? They are so amazing that not only do the books look AWESOME, but they are also creatively engineered so that the pages can tear cleanly from the book spine, so there is no need for cutting or tearing up the pages (AWESOME!). They even took it a step further and printed each toy on an uncoated material that is basically indestructible. That way you don’t have to worry about your creations falling apart or tearing as you build and play with them (MIND BLOWING!). The books are such a nice package!

I can’t forget to give a shout-out to my editor Justin Krasner! What a rad individual to work with! He is such a positive force that no matter what type of day you are having, an email from him always puts a smile on your face.

(Psst! You can pre-order your own copy of the Color Cut Create books here:)

How totally fun are these NEW books?!

Q: The Color Cut Create books first began their journey when you self-published an earlier version titled Color-Cut-Create! Paper Toys. Dish with us about how the original version became the super star duo book set of today.

A: The concept for Color, Cut, Create! actually originated from a featured section that I currently create for Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill magazines called Color, Cut, Play! In each issue of the magazine you will find a center spread that includes themed paper toys and a play-set that you can color, cut, and build. I have engineered paper toys ranging from Santa’s sleigh with flying reindeer, to a deep-sea diving submarine, to a build your own leprechaun trap for St. Patrick’s Day, and many more!

Being able to create this section for the magazines gave me the opportunity to try out something that I see an important need for, which is the opportunity to get glue, crayons, and scissors in the hands of today’s youth and teach them how to successfully create.

From there, I took my idea a step further and self-published Color, Cut, Create! Paper Toys • Super hero edition. This particular activity book not only looks super cool, but it had an instructional twist to it. I took the concept behind Color, Cut, Play! and broke the creative process down to three basic steps or sections: Build, Design, and Create. Section 1 is ‘Build’. It teaches how to build paper toys using simple directions. Section 2 is ‘Design’. It gives the users an opportunity to design their own characters. And Section 3 is ‘Create’. It gives instructions on how I create my own paper toys and provides blank grid paper that anyone can use to build & design his or her own creations. Color, Cut, Create! Paper Toys was a success!

Then, as if it were fate, I met my editor Justin through an SCBWI event. I had inquired if Justin would be interested in seeing this project that I was working on and he agreed. So, Teresa (my agent at Bookmark Literary) and I submitted my idea and long story short, here we are about a week and a half away from publication date!

I wonder if a super villain lives in this volcano?!

Q: Paper engineering is a unique skill! Tell us a bit about your approach and process for designing paper toys and novelty products—initial concepts to prototypes to final products.

A: My process always begins with a plan, or a sketch. This is where I get all of the thoughts out of my head. During this time, I start to form a plan of what I’m going to do next.

All of my toys are built off of a box like shape. This shape gives me the stability I need to make my toys stand up successfully! To me that is KEY because nobody likes a toy that continually falls over.

Once I have a general idea of what I’m going to make, I start on a prototype. A prototype is a preliminary model that allows me to figure out and test the functionality of my toy before adding in all of the cool details. Prototypes give me the opportunity to experiment and explore how I am going to make a 3D object out of a single flat sheet of paper. Keep in mind that during this stage, I normally create many, many prototypes before I settle on what I think the best and final one will be.

From here, I start to give the toy some personality by adding in things like a head, arms, legs, etc. You know, those things that a toy needs to be able to come alive! And before I’m finished I always add a small heart!

To sum up my creative process, I tell everyone that a successful paper toy is built on Ingenuity, Stability, Creativity, and a little bit of heart!

Many times when I am creating my products, I will let my kids build and play with them to see how they react. It allows me to observe firsthand what is or isn’t working, and how I can make it better. I sometimes refer to my children as my S.M.E.’s. (Subject Matter Experts) :-)

From idea to finished project! Fabulous!

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: On a normal day, my workshop is bright, full of art tools, trinkets, paper, and toys. All of the things I need to create with and be inspired by.

But right now, my workshop is torn up! We recently found out that our basement sprung a leak, and since paper and water don’t play nicely together, we decided that we needed to waterproof our walls so that I can get back to engineering awesome paper creations!

With how nutty this year has been so far, I can honestly say that all routines have been tossed out the door, and the only ritual that I still have is sipping on a nice cup of coffee as I begin my work day.

I have started something new this past summer that I currently call ‘collage sketching’. Instead of sketching with just a pencil, I pack up a baggie of paper scraps, scissors, and glue. Then I find a location where I can sit and create for a while. I use this technique to challenge myself to see things as shapes, while keeping in mind the positive and negative space that forms around them. It’s amazing how dynamic a simple object can look by just infusing it with the space around it. This form of sketching has given me the freedom I was looking for to be able to loosen up in my sketchbooks, and not feel so tight, or intimidated when sketching with just a pencil or pen. Recently, it has helped me to be able to refuel and gain clarity on projects that I’m currently working on.

Ooo! Let's play!

Q: What was your most treasured picture book as a child? What is your most favorite picture book now? Why?

A: As a kid, I don’t know if I truly ever had just one book that I treasured over another. I do remember always picking out the Berenstain Bears Spooky Old Tree from my school library. I also remember my first Scholastic Book Club book that I received from my kindergarten teacher to get me to start reading. It was a book based on a 1986 cartoon I enjoyed at the time called Kissyfur.

Today, I also enjoy many books! Most recently two books that have really pushed me to be better at my own writing and art are You Matter by Christian Robinson and a board book called LINES by Sarvinder Naberhaus. Both the words and illustrations in each of these books have opened my mind on thinking more metaphorically with my work. The way both authors use their words in relationship to the illustrations is just beautiful. To me both books are great examples on how text and illustration should work together.

Q: Describe your most perfect summer vacation.

A: My perfect summer vacation (which is most of our summer vacations) includes the opportunity to travel and experience new things, try new food, and take in the sights and sounds of a new landscape. I love taking mini road trips that allow my family the opportunity to find the smallest town with the biggest everything in it. We love detours that take us to see historical sites, unique or fun things, and celebrities like Punxsutawney Phil. I love experiencing something for the first time. I love when hidden surprises occur and make that moment in time so worth it. Then, when I return home, I love sitting around a campfire where I can retell stories about our recent experiences. Perhaps I love all of this because in the industry of making books…story is key!

Thank you for having me on Bird meets Worm! It’s been a blast talking with you and your readers, cheers!

 It's our pleasure! Thank YOU, Merrill & congratulations on your amazing new books!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Super Star Children's Book Review: Parker Looks Up

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.


PARKER LOOKS UP

By Parker Curry & Jessica Curry • Illustrated by Brittany Jackson

Picture Book (ages 4-8) • 32 pages

Published by Aladdin • 2019

ISBN 978-1-5344-5186-5

 

Parker Looks Up begins with the Curry family’s real life outing to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Parker, her sister Ava and her friend, Gia, stroll from artwork to artwork, pointing out all the fun details—jeweled necklace, bushy mustache, brilliant feathers—against the backdrop of the museum’s grand architecture.

 

Parker’s day the museum culminates in the viral moment when she arrives at the portrait of Michelle Obama, painted by artist Amy Sherald, and look ups. Jackson’s bright and energetic artwork captures the awe, recognition and inspiration Parker feels as she looks up at the iconic portrait of the former First Lady. And the audience can’t help but be caught up, too!

 

The power of representation is evident and joyously celebrated as we see Parker imagining herself and all she can be and do in the image of Michelle Obama.

 

Buy this book:

 

Barnes & Noble

 

Bookshop

 

Independent Bookstores

 

Reviewed by: Jane Smith

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Super Star Interviews: Charlene Chua

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 catching up with the fabulous children's book author-illustrator Charlene Chua! I'm a long-time fan of her delightful characters and gorgeous artwork! Charlene has created illustrations for everything from advertisements, apps and toys to magazines and, of course, books. And in fact, we are talking today all about her numerous children's book titles releasing both this year and next!!! Exciting! Originally from Singapore, she now lives in Ontario, Canada. 
You can view more of her artwork and books here!

One hug = yay! Tons of hugs = not so sure!

Q: Your adorable NEW picture book, Hug?, releases next month with Kids Can Press (Congratulations!! Hooray!) and we want to hear ALL about it! Give us the full scoop!

A: Thanks! Hug? is a pretty special book for me, since it's the first book that I've both written and illustrated. It's not the first picture book that I've ever written (there are several that have just not gone anywhere), though it may be the one I wrote the fastest. I think the Hug? came about one day when I was talking to my husband. I cannot remember exactly what we were talking about, but it eventually led to 'what if a whole bunch of animals kept wanting more and more hugs, and at some point it was just too much?'.

Beyond the fun images though, Hug? is a reflection of how I feel sometimes. When I wrote it, I just wanted to put a humorous spin on the scenario. In reality, the feeling of being quietly overwhelmed and then having an outburst can be an upsetting thing for everyone involved. In my own experience, people get confused and defensive; they don't understand why I am 'suddenly' upset, or they think I am being overly sensitive or moody. I think the animals in the book are nicer; they are genuinely confused but seem to at least have an inkling that maybe they had something to do with the situation!

I did want to make it clear that there is no real 'bad guy' in the story (well, ok, maybe the Tiger is a bit naughty!). The animals in the story aren't mean, they just want something from the girl and it doesn't occur to them that they're making her more stressed. On her part, the girl doesn't voice her objections until things become unbearable. It's kind of reflective of how society works sometimes. Sometimes people are quite oblivious to the harm they cause. Sometimes people don't speak up until they can't bear things any longer. Things flare up and fall apart, or fall apart then flare up.

It has been interesting listening to how others receive the book, and how they interpret the themes within it. Mental health, emotions and the importance of boundaries are some of the themes that keep being associated with the story. I never really thought about writing the story to specifically deal with those issues; if anything, I tried to keep the story somewhat ambiguous. But I am glad that people seem to think it is both a fun story and one that may help with larger issues.

Lastly, the book is also special to me because of my cat, Uno. I had been meaning to do a book with her in it for years, and so I decided to base the cat in 
Hug? on her. Unfortunately, Uno passed away just as the book was being completed (she was 17). So the book will always be bittersweet to me. The book is dedicated to Uno, and I think we have a sweet little photo of her somewhere in it.

(Psst! You can pre-order 
Hug? here:)
Barnes & Noble
Bookshop
Independent Bookstores

Would you like to dance? Mee-ow!

Q: Hug? is your first picture book as both author and illustrator. Many illustrators have the desire to make a similar leap to writing. Dish with us a bit about your process and approach to writing as an illustrator.

A: I'll try, but I don't really think of myself as a good writer! I can't seem to tell a story without pictures, so for now, the only things I've written are picture books and the odd comic script. Storytelling to me has a visual component, and since I can illustrate, I tend to lean in on that; Which means a lot of the time I have trouble writing longer pieces, because I get tired of writing descriptions of everything (why write an extensive description of a chair when I can just...draw it). However, it comes in useful, particularly for picture books, where there is a real need for word economy.

I tend to write out my first draft as quickly as I can, knowing that it will be trash. It is rare for me to write a first draft well over 1000 words, so even if it's all rubbish, it's no big deal. After the first draft, I do my first awful sketches. Mainly to try to tell the same story with pictures instead, and figure out the pacing. Sometimes, I also find out the story is visually rubbish at this stage—oh well! A picture book should have pictures after all, if the pictures can't tell the story, then maybe it has no business being a picture book (it could be a lovely short story, just not a PICTURE book).



After the awful sketches are done, I return to the text-only version. I normally do several drafts at this point, taking out as much description as I can (for I now know I can draw that pesky chair I spent 50 words describing). I take out as much from the words as I can, especially if they can be conveyed with the images. I might make notes on the awful sketches to remind myself about details I've removed in the text (e.g draw silly chair with red cushions and lion's feet for legs!).

The process is similar for comics, except that I tend to write it in a more script writing style (e.g Character 1: This is my line). I normally include a short description before every panel, to describe the scene or the character's state. Hug? follows this more closely than my normal picture book manuscript format. However, it is also kind of its own thing. I've included part of the original document that was shown for 

Hug? As you can see, it's not really an orthodox way of showing a picture book manuscript, but somehow it got the job done!

Which one would you like to read? How about all of them?!

Q: You have illustrated more than 12 children’s books! And your artwork is stunning—bright, fun and full of unique, distinct characters. Talk with us a bit about your illustration practice—daily habits, sketchbooks, process and inspiration.

A: Thanks! I have been very busy for the past couple of years, so I find myself doing some kind of work related art during the day, most days. When I'm not working, I like to relax with personal art. Usually, I like to draw or paint in a relatively inexpensive sketchbook (I like the cheap ones, I don't worry so much about 'ruining' the paper unlike in the expensive ones). However, earlier this year I got an iPad Pro, and I've been using that quite a bit in my non-work time. It's been handy in letting me explore some other kinds of artwork that are more grown-up in style and subject matter.

For book work, I tend to start by developing the characters, and then the roughs. I prefer working with pencil and paper at this point, unless I'm pressed for time. I normally use my computer for the sketch stage, since my sketches are fairly tight and are sized to the correct proportions for the final artwork. Color roughs are also done digitally; it's just faster and easier as I can change colors quickly to establish an optimal color scheme. Final art really depends on the book. Most of my projects are digital-only, and done in Photoshop. But some are a mix of traditional media and digital. The book I just finished was mostly painted in watercolor. I will scan art, then retouch and manipulate it in Photoshop before sending it to the client.

So light & lovely!

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

A: I enjoyed working on a series of posters for McDonalds some years ago. They were for the mid-Autumn festival, Lunar New Year and Diwali. The art was displayed in select outlets, and the Diwali art also appeared briefly on a huge screen on Times Square during a Diwali parade. It was nice art, for a nice cause and having something up on Times Square (however briefly!) was kinda cool.

At present, I am finishing up artwork for a very special Valentine's picture book. It's titled Love, Violet by Charlotte Sullivan Wild, and it is scheduled (at time of writing) for a Fall 2021 release from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I can't say too much about it other than it's a very lovely and special story, and I hope the art does it justice!

Summer adventure!

Q: Following the release of Hug?, you also have three new children’s books set to release in 2021! (Wowza!! Now THAT’s super star!) An author/illustrator’s job doesn’t end with publication, of course; this is when promotion kicks in! What advice would you give fellow author/illustrators on: 1) doing book events, 2) creating book promotional materials and 3) getting the best out of social media?

A: To be honest, this will be a new thing for me as well. Normally, I am not very involved with the promotion of the book as the illustrator.

From the book events I have done...book launches can be nice, but if you don't have lots of family, friends or fans, it's ok to not expect a large crowd. Talk to your local indie bookstore and tell them your expectations (for turnout) and work with them to create the best experience for everyone. Be nice and encourage people (especially locally) to buy your book from the indie bookstore. For events like festivals, if you're an illustrator or author/illustrator, consider adding an art activity to your book presentation (such as live drawing).

On promotional materials—I've printed bookmarks for some of my books, though in some cases the publisher has also given me bookmarks and posters to give away. It doesn't hurt to ask your publisher if they have any ready-made materials (so you don't need to spend your own money making these). If you want to make your own materials, a cheap and fun giveaway is a coloring sheet based off artwork from your book.

For social media —I really don't know if I'm the right person to give advice on this! I tend to use my Facebook page and Instagram to post up new work and announcements. My Twitter is a bit more active, but I try to limit my personal posts. I know some people maintain separate accounts to keep their work separate from their other interests. There are various reasons for this, but it's an option that some people do use.

O' Canada!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Probably one when I don't have to work (which is...not often) and the weather is good (I'm in Ontario—sometimes it feels like half the year is winter)!

Thanks so much, Charlene, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm!! We're looking forward to the release of Hug?—congratulations!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Glowing Review for Hello, New House

I'm absolutely thrilled to pieces to share that Kirkus has given my new picture book, HELLO, NEW HOUSE, a glowing review! You can read the full book review here! Hooray!!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Super Star Children's Book Review: Twinchantment

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.

               

TWINCHANTMENT

By Elise Allen
Middle Grade (ages 8-12) • 336 pages
Published by Disney-Hyperion • 2019
ISBN 9781368008624


Twinchantment by Elise Allen is a delightful fantasy that is sure to engage young fantasy enthusiasts thirsty for magical realms. Allen creates a rich world filled with diverse characters and intriguing settings.

The “Magic Eradication Act” begins the book, making clear that magic will NOT be tolerated in the Kingdom of Kaloon. This includes polydactyly (extra fingers or toes), left-handedness and twin-hood, setting the stage for the story of the twins, Princesses Sara and Flissa, who are known to the kingdom as one person, Princess Flissara.

When Sara and Flissa’s mother, Queen Latonya, is cursed and only has 48 hours to live, the twins must travel into the terrifying land known as The Twists to help save her and the king. The plot continues at a rapid pace, keeping readers turning pages, eager for more.

An exciting and highly readable story full of crushes, horses, gossip, and rivalries, Twinchantment is a perfect choice for the preteen reader. This is definitely a welcome addition to the middle-grade fantasy market, particularly for its portrayal of people of color. Thankfully, it is the first in the series, and the second installment, UnTwisted, has already been released! 

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Bookshop

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Sarah Orgill

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Super Star Interviews: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

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 chatting it up with super star children's book author-illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi! Like so many other lucky duckies, I've had the pleasure of hearing Debbie speak at various SCBWI events and even have a lovely signed copy of her picture book, Sam & Eva, to prove it! I love her bright, playful style—it's irresistible! Debbie is also the author-illustrator of the picture book Where Are My Books? (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers). Her illustrations appear in books by Judy Blume and Michael Ian Black, among others. Her newest picture book, Gurple and Preen: A Broken Crayon Cosmic Adventurelaunches next month from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers on 
on August 25th. You can view more of Debbie's artwork and books here.

How totally fun!

Q: Your adorable NEW picture book for Simon & Schuster, Gurple and Preen, releases this August! (It’s so fun! Congratulations!) Give us the full scoop on Gurple and Preen: how you came to be illustrating it, your working relationship with your publisher & what you love best about your new book!

A: Thank you for the kind words about Gurple And Preen! I'm super-excited to be illustrating not only a story written by Linda Sue Park (I am a longtime fan) but also a story that Linda Sue wrote specifically for me to illustrate.

I've been posting "you never know what will come out of a broken crayon" found object art for years now, and I was thrilled when Linda Sue contacted me out of the blue to find out if one of my pieces (the one with a grey robot crawling out of a broken crayon) was available for sale as a print. Although I had none available, I created one and mailed it to her, refusing to take any payment.

A while later, we found ourselves sitting beside each other at the faculty dinner at SCBWI Northern Ohio regional conference. I had never had a real conversation with Linda Sue before, so was a wee bit star-struck! But we started chatting about my broken crayon art, and when she asked about the story I was working on, I confessed that I was finding it a challenge to write a story that I wanted to illustrate. I know that sounds odd, but I'm experienced enough in picture book illustration to have an idea about when my illustration style would be the right fit for the text, and also to only take on picture book illustration projects in which I'm super-excited about the story.

I was thrilled when Linda Sue agreed to try writing a story for me! Together, we pitched the idea to my editor at Simon & Schuster Children's, Justin Chanda, and he loved it, too—hurray! After we signed the contract, Linda Sue worked with Justin on polishing the manuscript, and then Laurent Linn and I worked on the art.

I am super-happy with how the book turned out. One of the things I'm most excited about: looking forward to seeing what Gurple and Preen might inspire in young creators. You never know what will come out of a broken crayon.

(Psst! Pre-order your copy of Gurple and Preen here:)
Barnes & Noble

Hello, Mr. Robot!

Q: Your sweet style is a delightful mix of expressive line and bright color. Dish with us a bit about your creative process—inspiration to sketches to color artwork—and how you incorporated new photographic elements into your latest book.

A: Thank you! It took a LOT of experimentation and preliminary sketches to nail down the photography as well as the illustration style. The photography was something I had to work out on my own. I've always enjoyed photography, but I did start ramping up my photography knowledge as well as gear as I began to play around more with found object art. I had also gotten some experience creating and importing real-life textures I created with traditional media when I was illustrating Sea Monkey & Bob written by Aaron Reynolds.

I also did many, many characters sketches and rough sketches, trying to figure out what would best service Linda Sue Park's story. It helped so much to have feedback along the way from Laurent and Justin. At some point when I thought I was nearly finished, we decided that the style wasn't working and I had to pretty much start again. I was somewhat disheartened at the time BUT I knew it was the right decision.

One of my challenges was that for my regular broken crayon art, there was a blank background. With Gurple & Preen, there were lots of things in the background, from outer space to the planet/asteroid to piles of crayons, which made it a challenge in terms of layout since I wanted readers to be able to clearly see what was coming out of the crayons.

Even though I may go through difficult stages, I have found that these creative challenges are good for me in so many ways. They mean I'm stepping out of my comfort zone, learning something new. I've reached the point in my career where, if I don't feel panicked and out of my depth at some point, then I know I'm not pushing myself hard enough.

Oh, no! What are Gurple & Preen going to do?!

Q: Over the course of your career, you’ve illustrated picture books (both those you’ve written & those written by others!), chapter books and book covers. Chat with us a bit about how creating artwork for each of these types of projects is both similar and different and what must uniquely be considered for each.

A: My experience is mainly with Simon & Schuster Children's, so I can't really speak for other publishers. Here are some of the differences I've found between illustrating picture books, chapter books and book covers:

Chapter Books: I've only illustrated the interiors for some of Judy Blume's chapter books, so I'm not sure how it would work with chapter books written by an author who is not as well known. What I did: read through the books over and over (I love that I got to read Judy Blume books for WORK) and then come up with sketches for some key scenes, sent them to S&S art director Lauren Rille. Lauren would then send me a mock-up of the text layout for each book, leaving spaces for where my illustrations would go. Another difference for chapter books: the illustrations are all black and white.

Book Covers: I'm not a book designer, so I leave it up to the art director to do the design. Laurent Linn always invites me to brainstorm some rough cover ideas, and I have fun with that. He looks at my ideas as well as coming up with his own, then he'll come up with a mock-up and ask me for more polished elements. With Gurple and Preen, for example, the mockup used bits and pieces from the interiors. Once I see the mockup, then I can see what he needs from me. With the Judy Blume covers, I was part of the brainstorming process but then worked with Lauren Rille, who did the awesome cover design revamps. Just like Laurent, she asked me to send her specific elements that she could play around with in the covers.

Picture Books:
Illustrating picture books are very different from illustrating chapter books and book covers. Much more challenging in many ways but also much more satisfying as an illustrator, at least for me. Chapter books could probably be enjoyed by readers to some extent without illustrations, but picture books need illustrations. I feel much more a part of the creative collaboration when illustrating picture books.

The behind-the-scenes-MAGIC!

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: My office is very full of stuff, especially these days when I'm doing a lot of live-streaming. Half of my small basement office is my desk area with shelves of books, computer monitors, lots of wires, traditional media supplies, my sewing machine, pencils and pens and lots and LOTS of crayons. The other half of my office has more shelves of books, stationery, camera gear, green screen gear, my found object photography table with large soft-box lights.

My routine tends to vary a lot, depending on what's going on, but these days I've settled into doing creative writing first thing in the morning (someday I hope to get my middle grade novels published). I try not to schedule any meetings or virtual events before 11am, though sometimes it's unavoidable.

I take a break late morning to catch up with admin, sometimes Zoom with my dad (who is in semi-lockdown at his senior home because of the pandemic), get some exercise and have lunch. In the afternoons I either do book work, admin, promo, virtual events, or sometimes all of the above. I try to avoid working in the evenings.

Since the pandemic began, I have found myself doing more and more virtual events, both work-related and personal. Like many others, I sometimes get screen fatigue! But so much has moved online now, including schools.

Realistically, I won't be able to really answer your "typical workday" question until after the pandemic is over.

Quail drama is the cutest drama!

Q: You are a self-marketing superstar! What are your best top 3 tips for fellow author-illustrators on how to promote their children’s books?

A: I don't consider myself a superstar, but thank you. I think it's more that I've been online for far longer than most people. I was using social media before the term existed. I've made a lot of mistakes along the way. Here are three things I've learned, in case it helps anyone else:

1) Rather than waiting until just before your book launches to promote, embrace the children's book community far in advance. Get to know others, share advice and info. Be generous. Be grateful. Don't think of it as a direct exchange of favors ("if I promote her book then she has to promote mine"). I think of it as sending good karma out into the world and trusting that it will come back to you in some form.

2) You need to find what works for you. You don't have to be on all social media platforms. I advise choosing one or two that you enjoy using, and focusing on those. Be authentic. If you're not, it's going to eventually catch up with you.

3) Don't get so caught up in promotion that you forget about the rest of your life. Take time to refill your well. Also, don't forget that you need to finish the work. All the great marketing and promo in the world won't help you if you don't finish creating your book.

What would you make with a broken crayon?

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Reading a good book all in one sitting. Tea and finger sandwiches with their crusts cut off. And at some point, cupcakes.

Oh, yes! Cupcakes for me, too, please! Thank you so much, Debbie, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm, and congratulations on Gurple and Preen! Hooray!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Mer-MAY

I know it's June, but I'm still swooning for Mer-MAY! Is there anything more summery than mermaids, the ocean and sunshine? Check out my island girl mermaids in the latest newsletter for the SCBWI Carolinas region and read the wonderful little feature about me and my book work here! Cheers!

© Jane Smith • www.superjane.com


Super Star Children's Book Review: Efrén Divided

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.



EFRÉN DIVIDED
By Ernesto Cisneros • Jacket art by Jay Bendt • Jacket Design by David DeWitt
Middle Grade (ages 8-12) • 272 pages
Published by Harper: An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers • 2020
ISBN 9780062881687

A beautiful, important book that is already making the long lists of 2020 Newbery contenders.

Efr
én’s hard-working parents can’t provide much in the way of material comforts in their tiny, studio apartment—but he and his younger twin siblings, Max and Mia, always have nutritious food, clean, pressed clothes, and abundant love. Efrén is an A-student and star athlete who has never been late to school. Up until now, his biggest problem was finding a quiet place to read.

But all that changes when his mother is caught up in an ICE raid and deported to Mexico. Now his father has to work two jobs to raise money to try and bring her back, and twelve-year-old Efrén becomes the main caretaker of his five-year-old siblings. In Ama’s absence, Efrén has to make sure they are all fed, dressed and get to and from school each day, all while dealing with the fear that his undocumented father may also become a target of ICE.

This is a heartbreaking and very timely story about what happens to a family when a parent is deported, and the new normal their American-born children must face. The writing is simple and direct, but the emotional punch is profound and lasting.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Bookshop

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Laurie Young

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Super Star Interviews: Denise Holmes

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 pink lemonade punch to be chatting it up with one of my most favorite people EVER—children's book illustrator Denise Holmes! I've had the pleasure of being friends & illustration buddies with Denise for many years and am excited to get to share her latest children's book! (Fun fact: Denise is one of only 2 artists to be interviewed twice on Bird Meets Worm!) She is an award-winning illustrator and designer with numerous children's books, greeting cards, wall art prints and more to her credit. You can view more of her artwork here!

This look like just what the doctor ordered!
                             
Q: Your NEW gorgeous and extremely timely children’s book, Mindfulness for Little Ones, released last month! (Congratulations!!! Very exciting!) Tell us everything little thing about it—how it came to be, your working relationship with the in-house creative team and what you love best about it!

A: Thank you so much for having me back on Bird Meets Worm, Jane! Mindfulness for Little Ones is the newest book that I have worked on and I’m excited to share a little bit more info about it! On December 18th, I received an email from my agents at the Bright Agency asking if I would be interested in a new project called, Mindfulness for Little Ones. The publisher requested 2 things - to have watercolor like textures throughout the book and to have the final illustrations done by Feb 19th (super fast turnaround)!!

So, I bought a bunch of watercolor brushes for Illustrator and Procreate and then scrapped them all because I didn’t like the way any of them looked! Then I tried to create my own watercolor texture and I failed miserably. After going back into Procreate and trying every single, I finally figured out a texture that I was happy with. And that is how I ended up doing my first book project in the Procreate App!

The team at Callisto Media was amazing and so kind! It was a really fast turnaround time, so it was go go go from the start. I had weekly deadlines with the book cover, chapter openers and interior spot illustrations. Even with the fast deadline and the nervousness about my “watercolor” textures, I am so excited how the book turned out.

(Psst! You can shop Mindfulness for Little Ones here:)
Independent Bookstores

Jelly belly bear buddy!
                                       
Q: Your newest teaching endeavor, Let’s Make Picture Books, recently launched. Yay! Dish with us all about it! And what do you enjoy most about teaching?

A: This has been one of the most rewarding teaching experiences I have done! My friend Steph Fizer Coleman and I are co-creators of a new picture book community that is all about helping people develop work for their children’s picture book portfolio. We take turns each month coming up with a workbook that is based off of a theme. For example May’s theme was Best Friends. We create a workbook that has 3 exercises and 4 assignments, that will help you to create a really great portfolio piece. Each month we also create a webinar, a podcast, bonus material and a final critique all based of the theme and needs of the people in the group. It’s really an open and friendly space to be in! We share everything that we know about the industry and help those that want to be picture book illustrators!

The one thing we wanted was to not create another on-line class. So, we went into this just wanting everyone to be part of a welcoming community to share and create work - and that is what it is!

My favorite part about the group is getting to know everyone and seeing their work progress throughout the month. Every piece has been so incredible and it’s great to see everyone really push themselves to create something spectacular.

Sounds fun! Are you going to check it out?!


Q: You are the illustrator of over 17 children’s books! Very super star!!! What are your top 3 tips for illustrators translating a text to pictures?

A: I was actually just thinking about this and I do have 3 tips:

1. Get comfortable drawing characters consistently.

2. Read and look at lots of picture books to see what other people are doing and how they illustrated the text.

3. Don’t worry so much about your technique, it’s more about your ability to tell a story with your illustrations.

Hearts! Rainbows! Oy! Penny for your thoughts!

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: Before the coronavirus, I was lucky to spend the weekdays from 9am-4pm in my studio working uninterrupted. These days, I wake up at 7am, eat breakfast, check email and get in a little workout. I get my daughter up around 8 for breakfast then she reads me a chapter from one of her chapter books. School starts at 9am for her and here is where I lucked out, my teacher husband is home and he teachers her a full day of school! While she is at “school", I get to work in my studio until lunch. After we go for a walk around the neighborhood. The afternoons usually consist of a little bit more school work. I usually pop over to the Let’s Make Picture Book membership group to make sure I have caught up on feedback for the day and then I get in an hour or so of work before I start dinner. Then evening routine is usually another neighborhood walk, exercise, and lots of reading. Once my kid goes to bed around 8, we watch TV for an hour or so and here is where I’m really exciting...I’m in bed by 10pm. I love it! I feel very lucky and grateful for everything!

Sleep, eat, walk, make art, repeat!

Q: Describe your most perfect summer vacation.

A: Three summers ago, my family and I took a summer trip to Montreal and we fell in love with the city. We are a city going vacation family and we love to just walk around with no destination in mind and eat lots of food. The afternoon requires a little nap and then some coffee. The evenings more walking and more eating! We love exploring unique neighborhoods in cities, going out to eat and looking for unique art and Montreal was the perfect place for that! I’d go back in a heartbeat!

Thanks so much for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm, Denise! Hang in there! #stayhomeandread