Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Super Star Interviews: Kelsey Buzzell

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 delighted to be catching up with the fabulous illustrator/designer Kelsey Buzzell! I'm a big fan and can't get enough of her unique characters and rich environments! 
Kelsey is from Oregon. She finds regular inspiration in the Pacific Northwest, where the forests, rocky beaches and high desert are home to all sorts of enchanting flora and fauna. She loves drawing quirky human and animal characters and enjoys making up back-stories for her illustrations. Kelsey works mainly digitally, but dabbles in hand media and incorporates handmade textures into a majority of her work. You can view more of her gorgeous artwork here.

How delightful! Let's play!

Q: Your darling NEW and very timely children’s book, Mindful Games for Kids, released earlier this year! (Congratulations!!! Very exciting!) Give us the full scoop—how it came to be, your process for illustrating it and what games are your most favorite!

A: Thank you! This book was a fun one and is full of exercises for children to help them explore their senses, thoughts and emotions. Each game has an illustration that goes along with the text (written by Kristina Marcelli-Sargent) to help explain the intent behind the exercise.

This was an interesting book to illustrate, because I actually didn’t see the full text for many of the pages, and relied on the art director to describe what I needed to illustrate. It is always fun to see the final outcome where the text and images are matched! Since the text wasn’t sequential the most important thing for illustrating this book was keeping the color scheme and character (human and animal) style consistent. The art director shared some of my work they specifically liked for this and so I tried to be consistent style-wise with that. They also wanted to use a range of brighter colors, which they provided as a swatch, so I tried to weave those throughout consistently. I work primarily digitally for book work and enjoy the ability to change out colors quickly as needed. My process involved laying out sketches for each page (many were spot illustrations, and some were a half page) and then adjusting as needed before I moved to color. I use color intuitively, so if something isn’t working, I change it!

I like games that have to do with sensory feelings. There is one called “Octopus Feelers” where you sit on the floor, close your eyes and pretend you are an octopus feeling around your environment. I tend to think games like this are great for centering, focusing on the present, and I love that imaginative play is involved!

Critter chitchat!!!

Q: You also have TWO new children’s books releasing in the new year: How to Talk to a Tiger and Everything Under the Sun! Yay! Dish with us about these upcoming releases and your experiences creating them.

A: Yes! I am so excited for both of these! How to Talk to Tiger is a non-fiction children’s book and is all about how animals communicate in the wild. Each spread is packed full of animals and I also got to explore a variety of settings from around the world! This was a really fun project as I illustrated creatures that I had never really drawn much before (tarantula, spider, shrimp, peacock, cockroach, eel)—there is a challenge in drawing something for the first or second time and creating a consistency that relates to your overall style.

The other thing I enjoyed about this book is that it challenged me to draw animals that were both characters—often with particular facial expressions or exaggerated positions to get the main ideas across—and animals who were more realistically rendered (so colors, types of feathers or markings and certain details were accurate). Blending both a realistic and character-based approach was a bit newer to me and gave me new pieces for my portfolio.

Everything Under the Sun is a fact-based book written by Molly Oldfield and is based on questions asked by children from around the world. This project is a collaborative one, as there were 12 illustrators working on the book. Some of my pieces for this are full double page spreads, some are a single page that faces a page with another artist’s work and some are spot illustrations that are on the page with several other artists. I love this “quilted” book format and have enjoyed seeing the mix of the artists’ work together on the pages and how that supports this book being a collection of questions and answers. Working on the pieces for this was really rewarding, as the art director really wanted us to explore the ideas presented in our own style—there was a lot of room for creativity on each page!

What mysteries await under the Autumn sky?!

Q: You have a unique background in both architecture and interior design. How have these adjacent creative pursuits influenced your illustration work?

A: I really enjoyed my education in design, and I think this has informed the way I work through problems and approach illustrative designs; I understand concept, idea generation, color schemes, perspective, space and light because of my education. I also think it taught me discipline and how to persevere—putting in the hours and hard work comes naturally and I know there is payoff at the end of that effort.

That being said, what I really love about illustration is that I get to break some of the rules I was taught existed while in architecture school and in my career as a designer; with illustration I can get messy and communicate the quirky aspects of life and create scenes that exist in an imaginary world. Buildings don’t have to be made with logically placed lines, or be right-side up and people and animals can be giants compared to the buildings (it all goes!). There is a freedom and playfulness in the world of illustration, and it opened up new possibilities for story-telling for me. I still work in design and teach part-time at the University of Oregon (in the Interior Architecture Department) and I enjoy being able to work with students and on projects in the community.

Hoot, hoot, hoot!

Q: Your artwork is a delightful blend of traditional and digital techniques. Tell a bit about your process for combining them in harmony.

A: Over the years I have moved to do more of my work digitally, but I also love the texture and feel that creating by hand provides. Traditional techniques can give illustrations some imperfections that make them more relatable and enjoyable, in my opinion. I love to draw on paper with pencils and I also love painting, but I work very slowly with these methods. Digital illustration has allowed me to play more with color and layering in a quick way, so I continued to develop that practice. I have worked to not lose too much in the switch to digital...I try to not let things get too “tight” and keep my process more similar to traditional work (building color in layers and “washes”).

This is a constant work in progress though, as it is easy to get zoned into drawing something “perfectly” when you can simply back-up/delete a mark you just made. I also make sure I use digital brushes that are closest to the traditional brushes/pencils I would typically use. I used to draw all of my sketches by hand (still do some times) and take a photo or scan them in to create the final, but lately, with deadlines and book work I have started sketching on my tablet as well. To further create more of a traditional feel in my work I use handmade textures and washes to help establish softness in my pieces. 

Clean, organized and fun! Perfect!

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: My day is kind of funky (inconsistent) and my answer to this would have been very different a couple years ago, before I had my son. Now I work during his naps and in the evening, usually after he is in bed. Luckily, I think this pairs fairly well with my creative moods—I like working in the evening and cozying up with some tea and a blanket. During the day, I try to take a walk most days which helps get my brain warmed up and free up my thoughts for creative work later on. I also am a major multi-tasker so a lot of times my workspace is the sofa or in bed with a podcast, music or movie on in the background (depends on what I am doing, of course). I also have a traditional desk set up for when I do traditional work or need to be on a computer, but I am on my tablet a lot and I enjoy being able to move around and create workspaces everywhere I go!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Good coffee and a croissant, a drive along the coast and a bit of tide-pooling, maybe pop in to a few estate sales, then homemade pizza and a board game!

Thank you so much, Kelsey, for stopping by Bird Meets Worm and chatting with us! Congratulations on all your exciting new books!!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Super Jane on the Picturebooking Podcast

I'm thrilled to share I'm chatting ALL about my new picture book, HELLO NEW HOUSE, with the fabulous Nick Patton on the Picturebooking podcast today! Listen to it here!
BONUS: Picturebooking is giving away a copy of ALL the books featured on the podcast in November, including HELLO NEW HOUSE! Enter to win here!






Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: Jade Braves the Dark

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 L. 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.







































JADE BRAVES THE DARK
Written by Valdene Mark • Illustrated by Sawyer Cloud
Picture Book (ages 4-8) • 34 pages
Published by Sugar Apple Books • 2020
ISBN-13 9781735124421


Jade Braves the Dark is an endearing picture book exploring a young girl’s fear of the dark. Jade’s mother tucks her in with a goodnight kiss, and as soon as she is alone, Jade feels the darkness creeping into her room. Jade tosses and turns, clutching her doll, but can’t fall asleep as she wonders about naughty fairies and monsters under her bed. Questions flood through her mind until she suddenly sees the brilliant, smiling moon shining through her room, illuminating her bed with sparkles and light. Comforted, the moonlight and darkness play together; Jade snuggles down and drifts off to sleep.

Jade’s fear of the dark is, of course, a very real fear for many young children. This book will provide a welcome place for parents to begin discussing these fears, and help little minds navigate their worries. Jade is a brave young girl and watching her overcome her fears will serve as inspiration for children.

Cloud’s luminous illustrations shine throughout, as does Mark’s delightful rhyming story. Jade Braves the Dark would be a wonderful addition to any children’s bookshelf, particularly for little ones who are wary of the dark.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Reviewed by: Sarah Orgill

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Super Star Interviews: Charise Mericle Harper

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 super funny, bestselling author-illustrator, Charise Mericle Harper! Her hilarious NEW graphic novel, So Embarrassing: Awkward Moments and How to Get Through Them, releases next week and we're so excited! Charise is a veteran talent in children's book publishing, having created numerous series, including Just Grace, Fashion Kitty and the Next Best Junior Chefs! She lives in Oregon. You can enjoy more of her work here.

Oh, geesh!!! We've definitely all been there! Ha!

Q: Your brand NEW graphic novel for kids, So Embarrassing: Awkward Moments and How to Get Through Them, releases in just one week with Workman Publishing! (Congratulations! That’s SO super star!) Give us the full scoop on this title: how you came to be writing & illustrating it, your working relationship with your publisher & which chapter is your most favorite.

A: Thank you! It is SO super to be here! Workman is a new publisher for me and they have been great. I knew it was going to be a good relationship, because my editor Chris Duffy, is someone I’ve known for years. I did comics for him when he was the comics editor at Nickelodeon Magazine, and then again when he was editing SpongeBob comics. I can honestly say—Chris is the nicest guy! It was so much fun to work on this book together. Now that the book is finished, I miss our weekly chats—fingers crossed we find a new big idea to work on together.

My favorite chapter? That’s hard. I have to sit with something for a while, before I can look at it without thinking of all the hours of drawing. I spent a lot of time in my studio (a revamped food truck) working on this one. I tried to make each chapter a little different—use a different storytelling method, change the characters up, change the art style etc. It was like building a jigsaw story puzzle, and then being lucky, and having all the right pieces at the end. My favorite character in the book might be the dog. If my dog could talk, it would be fun to have this kind of interaction with her—but she’s definitely more bossy than the dog in the book!

(Psst! You can pre-order your copy of So Embarrassing here today:)

So embarrassing! So funny!
                              
Q: Graphic novels are the culmination of a LOT of specific book skills coming together in harmony: writing, illustrating, hand-lettering and graphic design. Dish with us a bit about your process for developing So Embarrassing from initial ideas to sketches to finished product.

A: I’ve been reading graphic novels/comics since I was a kid. My dad is French and we had a big collection of Tintin and Asterix comics. They were drawn in a way that was easy to understand and had the added bonus of being funny! I learned to read French by practicing with those books. I’m sure they influenced me. Putting words and pictures together makes sense to me. My favorite part of elementary school was always drawing the picture to go with a story and that was how I started my career. I worked as an editorial illustrator, then had a weekly comic strip in a paper in Chicago, and finally my own published picture book. This was not fast, it took years and years. So that’s the skill process—lots of learning time. I did not go to school for art. I have a very dusty, unused marketing degree.

The technical side of making this book is pretty straightforward. I sketched everything on an iPad Pro with an apple pen. I use the program Procreate—love it! Once the sketches were approved, I switched to Photoshop and used my Cintiq to do the lettering, line work and coloring. My original sketches are always detailed, so all the thinking and deciding work happens in the beginning. When I’m doing the finishes, I can let me brain wander, so I listen to audio books and podcasts.

As to the topic of embarrassment, I have a lot of experience with this feeling. I’m an avid blusher (not by choice) and have felt the force of embarrassment more than a few times. I wanted to make a book that was informative and fun to read. This book is full of silly stories of embarrassment, but there are facts and helpful hints too. Embarrassment is not age-specific, the same things that embarrassed me as a kid, still embarrass me today. Bird poop on my head, falling in public, forgetting someone’s name—it’s all awful, but it happens to everyone and that’s what I wanted kids to know. In the moment, you might feel light the spotlight is pointed directly at you, but you are not alone! Embarrassment happens to everyone. And here’s a secret, people love to share their personal stories of embarrassment—it’s a great way to connect with others.

Embarrassment = Hazard of being human!
                                           
Q: Humor and big laughs play a leading role in many of your children’s book titles, including So Embarrassing. Tell us a bit about creating FUNNY books and who/what/where inspires your sense of humor.

A: I’m going to have to go with my parents for this one. My father was a hard man to live with, but he had a sweet spot - humor. From pretty early on, I noticed that a funny story could change the mood in a tense household. It was like a super power. What do you do if you find a super power? Use it as much as possible! I grew up practicing the art of storytelling. My dad’s favorite stories were always the ones involving personal embarrassment or inept criminals. I still have a sweet spot for them. My mother is from England, so we watched a lot of British comedies on TV. I guess if you mix all that together, you find the origins of my sense of humor.

I feel so lucky. My job is to draw and write things that make me smile and sometimes laugh out loud.

So embarrassing! So silly!
                           
Q: As an author-illustrator, you’ve created a wide variety of successful book series from Fashion Kitty to Just Grace! What advice would you give to fellow author-illustrators about how to approach developing a book series?

A: When I pack my luggage for school visits, I always add two jars of dried beans. One jar is four-fifths empty, the other is full to the top. At the school visit I hold up the full jar and say—this is how many books I have written. Then, I hold up the mostly empty jar and say—this is how many books I have published. Then I finish with this confession. My job is writing bad books. Look at all these beans. I’m really good at it, but sometimes I make a mistake, and I write a good book. Guess who loves mistakes?

Every author has a different process; mine is write, write, write, until I get something right. I don’t seem to have the ability to discern the difference between a good idea and a bad idea, until I get to the end of the idea. I wish it worked the other way around—I’d save a lot of time.

Neither Fashion Kitty or Just Grace started out as a series. I wrote one book and sent it out. It was my publishers who said—let’s make more. And that is definitely a nice thing to hear.

How fun is this?! Love it!

Q: I love your fabulously unique and fun embroidery artwork! Dish with us a bit about this creative outlet and how it relates to your children’s book work!

A: I’m impatient by nature. A big fiddler. I can’t just sit still and watch TV; I have to be doing something. That’s how the embroidery started. It was a way to make myself sit down and stay in one place. I find it extremely relaxing and satisfying. It’s nice to make a physical thing that I can see, touch and feel. I make all my books using technology, which I love, but it’s different than painting or drawing on paper.

I also like that there’s no reason to make the embroidery. It’s not an assignment or project. Once I finish a piece, I just stick it in the closet. The fun of the embroidery is the making part, not the looking part when it’s done. Plus, it takes the pressure off, knowing that I don’t have to hang it on the wall. Most of my embroidery pieces have words and pictures mixed together. I can’t seem to give up the words.

Nothing like a cool dip in the creek!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My fantasy Sunday would be to explore a new town that had an amazing flea market, go for a nature walk, and then eat outside at cozy and not fancy restaurant.

My most perfect current Sunday is to go for a hike, pick up some yummy dinner and bring it home. I live in Oregon (5 years now) and I still can’t believe how pretty it is. On my daily dog walk, I cross through my small town, pass a pond with ducks, herons and the occasional nutria (looks like and swims like a beaver, but has a rat type tail), and then end up on a rocky beach along the river. My corgi likes to go in the river. She only goes up to her belly, but I can tell, it’s her favorite part of the day—not including dinner.

I’d say, except for the new town and flea market, I’m pretty close to fantasy.

Thanks SO much for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm, Charise! And congratulations on your fabulous new book!!




Monday, November 2, 2020

Vote! Vote! Vote!

Whether you're voting in-person or via absentee ballot, let's rock the vote this year! © Jane Smith

 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Oh, Dear, the Universe Is Friendly

A little inspiration for you & me! • © Jane Smith

 

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: My Life As An Ice Cream Sandwich

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 L. 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.

                           

MY LIFE AS AN ICE CREAM SANDWICH
By Ibi Zoboi • Jacket Art by Frank Morrison • Jacket Design by Kristin Boyle
Middle Grade (ages 10-13) • 336 pages
Published by Puffin Books • 2020
ISBN 978-0-3991-8736-0

In 1984, twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet Freeman has an active imagination, an adventurer's spirit and a deep love for everything to do with space—including Star Trek, Star Wars, and her grandfather. Jeremiah Norfleet was one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA in the 1960's at the Marshall Space Flight Center and has helped raise his granddaughter with stories about the missions he's worked on. Together, they create their own science fictions, where she is E-Grace Starfleet, Space Cadet, and he is the wise Captain Fleet, aboard the Mothership Uhura, fighting the Sonic King on Planet Boombox.

But when trouble arises for her grandfather, Ebony-Grace is sent to a place that might as well be on another planet: New York City, which is the exact opposite of the small-town, Huntsville, Alabama home where she has grown up. Ebony-Grace hasn't seen her father or been to Harlem for a visit in five years. But when a week turns into a whole summer, Ebony-Grace has to find her way on this confusing planet, make friends with the neighborhood kids she sees nothing in common with, and try to understand the dark cloud hanging over her grandfather.

This is a perfect book. The writing is rich and full of all the sights and sounds of New York City, and Ebony-Grace is a character whom readers will instantly love and root for. Her wild imagination is brought to life in comic-book style illustrations that make you want to fight the Sonic King alongside her.

Buy this book:




Reviewed by: Laurie L. Young


Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Super Star Interviews: Jess Keating

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 pumpkin pie orange to be catching up with the fabulously talented, award-winning author, cartoonist AND zoologist Jess Keating!
 Her adorable NEW graphic novel series, Bunbun & Bonbon, launched this fall and it couldn't be more exciting! Jess has been featured in the New York Times, CBC, BuzzFeed, Parents Magazine and more. She is the creator of over a dozen fiction and non-fiction books, including Shark Lady, Eat Your Rocks and Croc! You can enjoy more of her work here.


                                
Q: Your NEW young graphic novel series, Bunbun & Bonbon, launched with Scholastic in September! (Congratulations! So exciting!) Give us the full scoop on this adorably sweet & funny project: how you came to be writing & illustrating it, your working relationship with your publisher & what you love best about it all!

A: Thank you so much! It's truly a dream to share Bunbun & Bonbon with readers. The character of Bunbun has been in my head since I was a little girl, so it feels extra special to work on these books. If there was one word to personify the characters of Bunbun & Bonbon, it would be 'joy.' They are two delightfully curious and kind-hearted friends who love to explore their world, make each other laugh and experience the sheer joy of being alive. Everyone needs an adventure buddy, and I wrote Bunbun & Bonbon for every kid who needs a friend and a smile.

Speaking of joy, the icing on the cake to this sweet series is working with the incredible team at Graphix Books! At every turn, I've been amazed by their talent, humor and brilliance. I hope we can make many more books together!

(Psst! You can order your own copy of Bunbun & Bonbon today here:)


Ooo!!! Isn't Bunbun is cutest?!

Q: You've previously worked on a wide variety of children's book projects—picture books, fiction & non-fiction as well as middle grade novels! (Wowza!) Dish with us a bit about how your new venture into young graphic novels has been both similar and different from your previous book work.

A: You got me! One of my favorite parts about being an author is challenging myself and exploring different ways of telling stories and sharing what matters to me. Fiction and non-fiction aren't usually housed in the same place in libraries, but to me, they're very similar: both are ways of asking and answering questions about what's important to us. They just have a different process to do so.

I've always loved graphic novels and comics, and a lifetime of loving the format has been built right into my bones. The work of writing is always a challenge, but being able to harness both visual and textual elements to tell a story feels very empowering to me! Every format translates into a different writing experience, but comics in particular feels rather like juggling several plates while balancing on a unicycle. There is a lot of information to convey, and it always takes me a moment to flip into "comics mode," if I've been writing prose earlier that day!

And so it begins...(exciting!)

Q: Your background as a zoologist has been a common thread through all your children's book work, both fiction and non-fiction alike! How has it influenced your latest series, Bunbun & Bonbon?

A: My background in science and zoology has influenced so much of who I've become creatively, and I always infuse a great deal of my views on nature and the world into my work. Bunbun & Bonbon really personify my joy and awe of the natural world—they're open, curious and filled with excitement over their next adventure together. If that isn't the perfect recipe for a scientist, I don't know what is!

Above all, I want this duo to represent the possibilities and sense of wonder that we all experience when we see something beautiful and meaningful. To me, that what science—and life—is all about.

I wish my candy would talk to me!!!

Q: Tell us a bit about your typical workday as a creative professional—routines, rituals & practical practices. Set the scene for us, too—what does your creative workspace look & feel like?

A: My typical workday changes based on my deadlines and other commitments, but usually I begin the day by working out and getting out into some fresh air, if possible. I'm a huge fan of fitness and have found that my creativity suffers (not to mention my back!) when I don't stay active. Once I'm feeling awake, I split my time between working on new projects, creating extra content for readers and fellow creatives, and fielding all of the extra little bits of author life that pop up. I truly love what I do, so I often have to pull myself away to maintain some small semblance of balance in my life. I love that feeling of slipping into the flow of making books.

My workspace is a combination of digital and traditional outlets, with lots of mementos from nature mixed in with sketchbooks, paints, pens and my trustly iPad. I like to be surrounded by reminders of the outside world, so I often collect shells, rocks, animal skulls and the like, which all find their way around my desk. These objects are also handy as standby show-and-tell moments for virtual school visits.

SO fun! What a perfectly adorable beginner's comic!

Q: You are passionate about helping others tap into their creativity! You live this passion through the books you create, the classes you teach and the virtual pep talks you give. What are your top 3 best most super star tips for staying creative during these strange times we are all living thru?

A: Sharing the ins and outs of creative living never gets old to me, and I'm fortunate to have so many talented people in my life to join in. My top three tips to tap into your creativity would be:

1) Don't wait for anyone to give you permission! Most people know when they're having an intuitive hunch to begin exploring something creative, but often, we talk ourselves out of it. If you feel a yearning to create anything, go for it and don't expect permission from anyone but yourself.

2) Embrace your weird! This goes double for your interest! In our online world, it's very easy to compare ourselves to others and wish that we were different from what we really are. But those differences truly are the key to finding your creative voice. All that stuff that makes you weird? Lean into it! Not only will it separate you from a crowd, but you'll also feel immense relief to not be forcing yourself into a box that doesn't work for you.

3) Be intentional and get it on paper. This works for literally every creative problem you could be having. If you need help finding time for creativity, write it down and ask out loud for help. If you're not sure what to do next, write it down and ask out loud for help. No matter what you're dealing with, being specific and deliberate is the key. This isn't magical thinking—this is getting your brain on board with your goals. It works! (For more on this process, readers can download my free creativity minibook online here!)

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My most perfect Sunday would be spent on a boat in Arctic waters with orca whales spyhopping beside me! I was fortunate enough to see these creatures on a trip to Iceland a couple years ago and it's stuck with me ever since. (Plus, can you tell I'm ready for cooler weather?!) I'd love to spend a day in nature like this with a sketchbook and hot cocoa beside me.

Thank you so much for having me, Jane! As always, people can reach out to me on Twitter @Jess_Keating or Instagram @JessKeatingBooks—I'd love to hear about your creative projects and goals! Take care, all!

My pleasure! Thank you, Jess, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congratulations on your fabulous new series, Bunbun & Bonbon! Hooray!


Thursday, October 1, 2020

Happy Book Birthday to Hello, New House

I'm thrilled to share that my NEW picture book, Hello, New House, releases today with publisher Albert Whitman & Company! It is now available EVERYWHERE books are sold!!! Hooray! Happy reading!

Shop Hello, New House here:



 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Character Study

Need a brain break from virtual school? Let's SKATEBOARD!!! • © Jane Smith

 

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!!