Friday, September 24, 2021

Miss Meow Blog Book Tour: Stop #2


My new picture book MISS MEOW releases next week & I couldn't be more excited!!! To celebrate, today is Stop #2 on the MISS MEOW blog book tour with author Michelle Nott, who is sharing a fabulous MISS MEOW book review & activity designed especially for kiddos! Check it out here now!

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Announcing the Miss Meow Blog Book Tour


Join me for the first stop on the Miss Meow Blog Book Tour over at Kid Lit Village and get the full scoop on my NEW picture book, Miss Meow, which releases with month with publisher West Margin Press! Meeeow!

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: Red Shoes

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.


RED SHOES
Written by Karen English • Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
Picture Book (ages 4-8) • 32 pages
Published by Scholastic Press • 2020
ISBN: 978-1-338-11460-7


When Malika is enchanted by a special pair of bright red shoes, her nana can’t resist making her a gift of them. Malika adores them so much, she wears them everywhere—at home, around the neighborhood, to a family wedding, Nana’s Christmas dinner, to school and her best friend’s birthday party, too.

But Malika is growing all the while she is having fun, and soon her special shoes are too small. It is time to pass them along to the local resale shop, where Amina’s Auntie discovers them and brings them back home to Africa for her. Like Malika before her, Amina adores her new red shoes and delights in wearing them.

Glenn’s softly graphic artwork is edged with gently curving lines. Her palette is warm and bright, and Malika and Amina are both brought to life with whimsical gestures and sweet expressions.

Red Shoes is a joyful story that captures the simple pleasure and delight of a new pair of shoes, and how this shared experience connects two little girls across the globe.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Bird Meets Worm Bookshop

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Jane Smith


Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Unicorn Character Study

Toddler unicorn character study • What do you think her name should be? • © Jane Smith

 

Super Star Interviews: Mark Fearing

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 talented, super funny author-illustrator Mark Fearing! If you can believe it, Mark and I first met nearly 20 years ago when we both were living in Los Angeles and were active with our local SCBWI. It's the absolute coolest to catch up now, because Mark has made more than 20+ awesome children's books since then. He is also an animator and art & creative director, having worked with Sony Online, Pearson Television and Walt Disney TV Animation over the course of his career. Mark currently lives and works in Oregon with his family, two dogs and waaay too many cats! You can view more of his super fun artwork here.

Doesn't this look hilarious?! Ha Ha!

Q: Your NEW picture book 
Castle Gesundheit is releasing this fall with Candlewick Press! (That’s SO super star! Congratulations! Can't wait to check it out!) Give us the full scoop: what is it all about, how did it come to be, and can we expect more of your signature style and humor?

A: Castle Gesundheit will be out and about in November, I believe. But like so many things these days, schedules shift and deadlines change. But that is the plan.

It's a slightly different style than my previous Candlewick book—The Frightful Ride of Michael McMichael. This one is line driven and not as painterly. I like to try new styles and often my ideas are matched to a style of art in my head. I am perhaps too undisciplined to always do the same art style every time. But I feel like the projects often demand slightly different approaches.

I wanted to do a book about a castle (I know, it seems weird, but that was what I was into at that moment), and over a few weeks this idea took form. It started with me writing down the title 'Castle Gesundheit' and then asking myself who lived there. Of course it had to be Baron Von Sneeze. Over another few months this story developed. It was helped along by our family recently being adopted by a homeless/feral cat and her kittens. We had some rescuing to do and my life became pretty inundated with cats. I am allergic to animal hair and dander, which has been troublesome my entire life since I grew up on a farm and we already have two german shepherds, but now I had cat hair in the mix, too. This was certainly part of the inspiration for the book as you'll see once you read it.

(Psst! You can pre-order your very own copy of Castle Gesundheit here today:)

Oh, geesh!! That's a LOT of cats!

Q: I thoroughly enjoy your dry wit and goofy humor that always comes across the page! Dish with us a bit about your creative influences & inspirations: the who/what/where.

A: I have a really wide set of work that influences me. I am most influenced by author-illustrators and fine artists. Wiliam Steig, Ronald Searle, John Agee, the Provensen's all make work that inspires me. I tend to like line art and whimsical styles that are not about rendering true to life imagery. I enjoy many of the Mad Magazine style cartoonists and follow many European comic artists. Fine artists like George Grosz, Otto Dix and Kadinsky have as much influence on me as my favorite cartoonists and illustrators.

Call me cat-lady-crazy, but this looks cozy!

Q: Your illustration work spans a variety of genres from picture books to graphic novels to animation. How do you switch back and forth between these genres, and how are they both similar and different for you as an artist?

A: Picture books are, for me, by far the most difficult genre/format. With GN's for older readers you have many more levers to pull to create a compelling experience for a reader. More complicated plots, multiple POV's, secondary characters ETC, ETC. Picture books work as part poem, part haiku, part short story, and I struggle in writing them. Rarely do I get a manuscript out through my agent that hasn't had 8 months to 2 or 3 years of work behind it. I am slow! Both formats require visual storytelling, but picture books ask the illustration to play an integral part in the narrative in most cases, while there is greater latitude in graphic novels as to how one uses illustrations. Both offer a wide gamut of visual possibilities.

In the current market I find more picture books I enjoy reading than graphic novels, which I am trying to figure out. Often graphic novels are overly talky (The size of those word balloons!) and too often the art doesn't add to the narrative/metaphors/world so much as simply demonstrate physical locations. With several recent GN's I have read I feel like the author would have been better served writing a novella than adding images. With the restricted word counts in picture books at least authors have to be concise.

Watch out! Vampire bat alert!

Q: Over the course of your career, you have illustrated more than 20+ children’s books, and doubtless have seen many highs and lows, as most creative professionals do. In what ways, do you practice resilience as an artist? How do you handle both success and rejection over time?

A: Rejection sucks. I just got a rejection today. I seem to handle it better at this point in my life than I used to, though I worry it's more like PTSD than an actual, healthy reaction to rejection. I go a bit numb, question why I am trying to do this job and wonder if it's too late for law school. Most likely if you are in this type of career ('the arts') you are a 'touchy-feely' artist type. Or at least you are slightly more sensitive/empathetic to the world and yet—we face constant rejection. So that's not a great recipe for a healthy attitude! You have to find a way through it and place rejections in perspective. You spend months, or years, on a project and you watch it get passed on. And there's no short cut. You can't put in less work, you can't not prepare things to submit...I work in TV animation from time to time and had a show in development for about a year and it got killed about a month ago. That hurts, too. But again, that's the most common outcome in these jobs. I'm not sure what the 'bating average' is for author/illustrators, but 30% is probably good. That means 70% of the time you are dealing some kind of rejection on your project.

For me 'success' is a complicated word. I am very aware of my good fortune in getting the opportunities I have had, but the projects I love the most have rarely gone forward. And some that have gone out into the world—fall flat. Ouch! So while I am thrilled when something I worked on moves forward it's always tempered with a backward glance of 'what could have been.' And that's on me. That is a less than desirable personality trait. So why continue? What makes it 'worth it' other than a lack of interest in doing anything else? For me it's the moments when I'm writing or drawing and something 'clicks' and works. It feels electric. Talking to readers who enjoy your work helps, and letters from students. Or when you get word that a publisher is going to acquire your project and when you get that first copy of a book. Those moments have to be enough to propel you forward.

Arg! That darn full moon!

Q: What do you know now that when you first began your illustration career you wish you’d known about: 1) children’s book illustration, 2) promotion, 3) working with an agent and, 4) the book publishing business?

A: I have a more general insight. I came to this profession late in life. I had worked for over 18 years in professional design/video game/advertising jobs, so I had an understanding AND fear of freelancing! Regular checks are a thing of my past. The misunderstanding I had about books and writing/illustration in general was that—if I was 'good enough' to do it professionally, it would come easier. It took me so much effort to get to work I liked (written and illustrated) that I doubted I had the skills to be a professional in this market. I also seemed to reinvent the wheel on every project I attempted. I felt like I was missing some secret that would make the endless noodling and revising of ideas a thing of the past for me and THAT would mean I was a 'Professional'. But, after meeting more illustrators and authors I realized—it is a lot of work for everybody. And there's no one way to do it. Every writer and illustrator I know works differently and you can't think it out. You have to put words on the page or lines on the paper. Which means you spend a lot of time 'getting it wrong'. I thought a 'real' writer or artist just sat down and KNEW what to do. (Honestly I still think that, but I have seldom seen anyone able to practice that.) But I do not have a perfectly clear notion of what I want to do until I start doing it, and that means there's a lot of stops-and-starts along the way. A lot of work no one sees along the way. A lot of time that goes into getting back to where you start again.

As for promotion, yikes! That's really changed in the past 20 years and I have no solid advice except —do good work—and get it in front of people. Finding an agent you get along with is important but agents can only do so much. It's up to you to create work they can sell. The book publishing business is changing quickly. There are fads and systemic shifts that influence ones' career. The only aspect of your career that you control completely is the 'quality' of the work you produce. Be professional, hit your deadlines, stay away from work you truly don't want to do and find a way to approach your work with eyes open to the difficulties and frustrations but also the enjoyment, fun and creative possibility in what we do.

Also, taking the word 'professional' seriously is important to me. For me it means I try and work on my books as consistently as when I went into an office every day. It is my full time job. It means I take deadlines seriously, that I listen carefully and considerately to those who take time to provide feedback on my work (even if I disagree) and I examine what I am trying to do with the opportunities I have.

Boo! Ugh...nice try!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: I try and walk every morning around sunrise and clear my head. It's far nicer to do when the weather is pleasant, so nice weather is the start of a 'perfect' Sunday. I make an effort to read everyday, in the summer on our front porch. I stay away from the news that depresses me and causes anxiety if I can. My daughter and I like to hike at the coast and my wife and I usually walk the dogs each day. And of course good black tea. Iced if it's hot, hot if it's cold. Those are all part of a 'perfect' Sunday.

Thank you SO much, Mark, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We think you rock and are looking forward to the release of Castle Gesundheit!

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Back-to-School Playground

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, fun-filled school year! • © Jane Smith

 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: Lala's Words

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.

                   

LALA'S WORDS
Written & Illustrated by Gracey Zhang
Picture Book (ages 4-8) • 32 pages
Published by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. • 2021
ISBN: 978-1-338-64823-2


Lala is a bright, compassionate little girl rendered in vivid, sunshine yellow. Her favorite way to spend the day is among the lush, green plants in her special neighborhood hideaway. Lala nurtures her plant friends with water, attention and words of love and encouragement. And even when a heatwave in the city keeps her home and away from her plant friends, Lala still manages to speak them across the cityscape.

Zhang’s limited palette of yellow and green pops off the expressive black and white ink drawings, brightly drawing the reader’s attention to Lala, her plant friends and the way the city is transformed by their lively presence.

Lala’s Words is an enchanting picture book about the power of the words we speak to each other, and how, when they are kind, loving and caring, they can inspire growth—even growth that we never before would have imagined possible!

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Bird Meets Worm Bookshop

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Jane Smith

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Super Star Interviews: Michelle Romo

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 cupcake sprinkle pink to be chatting it up with the rockstar illustrator Michelle Romo! I'm a huge fan girl for Michelle's quirky characters and happy designs! Michelle is an illustrator and product designer who has designed under the name Crowded Teeth for the past 15 years. Crowded Teeth has had ongoing success in creating children’s products with Crate&Kids, Petit Monkey and FAO Schwarz. Inspired by the need to make somebody’s favorite something, Michelle is on an endless pursuit of drawing blobs with faces, cats in sweaters and monsters who would really like to hug you. Michelle is based in Chicago, Illinois. You can view more of her fun artwork here.

How totally adorbs are these two?!

Q: Your two brand NEW, fabulously bright & bold die-cut board books, Good Night, Spencer and Spencer Loves You, just released this summer with Workman Publishing, launching a new series! Congratulations! Chat with us about these adorable new titles—including how they came to be & your process for creating them.

A: Thank you! Spencer has been an idea in my head for a while now. I originally came up with him back in 2014 when I was first thinking of book ideas. I wanted to make a book with a cat as the main character because I'm obsessed with kitties. Nothing happened with Spencer for a few years, and then in 2017 a shaped book idea came from my editor. I thought Spencer would be perfect for that! Here we are today with the first 2 books in the series launched, and 2 more in the works!!

(Psst! You can order your own copy of the adorable Spencer books here:)

Can I come to the dance party, too?!

Q: Your incredibly happy artwork—Good Night Spencer and Spencer Loves You included—is consistently characterized by 1) bold, graphic design, 2) humor and 3) quirky character design. Dish with us about each of these distinctive characteristics and how you develop them in your work.

A: I think the graphic look comes from me being a product and graphic designer for many years. Overall my illustration style has been influenced by 80's and 90's kawaii and anime cuteness (think Hello Kitty and Sailor Moon), and mid century modern design (everyone's fave: Mary Blair!). My work has always been really color driven so that's an important part of the process too. I think of my art as blobs that are a delivery system for a palette that makes you feel nice things.

The humor comes from me just being a total weirdo. I like to sneak funny details in - not that I'm trying to pull a fast one on anybody - but more that I like when I find little details and jokes in other people's work so I want people to have that experience with my work too.

Character design has been something I've loved doing for almost 20 years now. When I was a teenager and just starting to learn how to design I was really into Paul Frank and Sanrio. I wanted to make characters that people could connect with. I've always wanted to make someone's favorite something.

Spencer's stories are the purr-fect bedtime stories!

Q: Your artwork appears on a wide range of fabulous products from children’s books to toys to bedding & home d├ęcor products to fine art to clothing & accessories. How do you adapt to the varied challenges and unique demands of such a wide variety of client needs?

A: I've been a product designer for 18 years now and I've worked with a lot of licensed artwork. I started in juniors accessories and apparel, then moved over kids home decor and toys, and now I'm doing craft kits! I like to take varied freelance projects (illustration for magazines, product design for products I've never developed before) so that I can figure out how to apply art to new things.

For example—if I've been given a limitation by a client (price, size, etc.) it becomes my job to figure out the best and coolest way to construct the product with that limitation. That becomes a fun problem to solve! I think the practice of that in my day job has made me more adaptable with my own work. There's definitely a balance of not losing the integrity of what your artwork is and being adaptable though!

Sibling playdates are the best! Yay!

Q: Give us the scoop on your MOST favorite illustration project: one from the past and one from the present.

A: My most favorite present illustration project is Spencer! I just wrapped up the fourth book and the whole series has been super fun to work on. I actually cried when I saw the first physical samples. It's just a surreal thing to be working on something for so long and see it as a real thing.

A past fave was a spread I did for Kazoo Magazine. I got to do a fantastical "I spy" page for their magazine and it was super fun and turned out awesome.

The rockstar herself: Michelle!

Q: What is a typical workday in the studio like for you? Set the scene (workspace, materials, accessories) and describe your creative flow (rituals, inspiration, process).

A: Every day starts out as being a servant to my cats! I do whatever they need first and then I sit at my computer and get to work. I have a full time gig being a product designer for Kid Made Modern so during the week that's how I start my day. On my off days when I work on my own projects it still starts with tending to cats, and then it can be sketching in my sketchbook, working through an illustration, or researching what new product I want to make, or artist or brand I might want to collaborate with!

I used to work myself endlessly, but over the past few years I feel like I've slowed down. There are days that I think that's a good thing and days that I think it's a bad thing, but ultimately I think rest is good and I take naps as often as I can.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My most perfect Sunday involves watching good/bad movies with my fella, hanging out with my cats, and eating something delightful. I'm an easy going lady.

Thank you so much, Michelle, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We love Spencer—he's the cutest! Hooray!

Artwork excerpted from Good Night, Spencer and Spencer Loves You by Michelle Romo (Workman) © 2021.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Summer Surfing

Surfs up, little monster dude, even if you can only hang 6! Ha! • © Jane Smith 

 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Super Star Children's Book Review: Fry Bread

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.


FRY BREAD
Written by Kevin Noble Maillard • Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Picture Book (ages 3-8) • 48 pages
Published by Roaring Brook Press • 2019
ISBN: 978-1-6267-2746-5


Fry Bread is a sweet and compelling picture book. Maillard describes all aspects of the Native American comfort food, fry bread—the texture, the tastes, the smells. The colorful and vibrant pictures show the community that comes together when it is time to make fry bread. We see pictures of eager children waiting patiently, or even a little impatiently, for the fry bread to finish sizzling and snapping.

As the book continues, we see that fry bread is not just a tasty treat. Maillard connects fry bread to Native American culture itself. Fry bread IS Native American culture, with all its shapes and variety. There isn’t just one right, quintessential fry bread recipe, just as there is not one, single Native American tribe, but multitudes.

Going further, Maillard also connects fry bread to the never-ending struggles Native Americans have faced, and notes that fry bread was an “unknown food” and that “we made new recipes, from what we had…” In the extended author’s note, it mentions that fry bread is not a traditional Native American food, but rather a food made as a result of “government-caused deprivation” and was made from the powdered dry goods available in government rations. Fry bread represents the adaptability and resilience of Native American people in the face of unrelenting adversity.

With Fry Bread, Maillard and Martinez-Neal showcase the beauty, courage and complexity of Native American culture in modern-day American society.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Super Star Interviews: Bethan Woollvin

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 absolutely thrilled to pieces to be chatting it up with the fabulous author-illustrator Bethan Woollvin! I'm a total fan girl for her bright, modern artwork and smart storytelling. Since winning the Macmillan Prize for Illustration in 2014, Bethan has created a series of iconic twists on classic fairy tales with Little Red, Rapunzel and Hansel & Gretel as well as her brilliant original story I Can Catch a Monster. Her bold, graphic artwork and cheeky sense of humor are instantly recognizable. You can view more of her awesome books and artwork here.

                            
How totally fabulous! I'm rooting for these Viking gals!

Q: Your brand NEW picture book, Three Little Vikings, launches this month with PanMacmillan! Dish with us all about this exciting new project: how it began, how it developed & what you love best about it all!

A: The very first inklings of my new tale, Three Little Vikings, were scrawled down back in early 2020, along with some very crude sketches. The plan was to create another original tale centered around an era in history, just the same as my previous tale, I Can Catch a Monster, which is set in a medieval kingdom. Deciding upon the Viking age (mainly for the desire to create some awesome shield maiden characters!) I began researching the era and diving deeper into the history, traditions, beliefs and folklore.

Now, when we think about the Vikings, we also think about their cultural belief in Norse mythology. But that’s not what inspired this book. During my research, I discovered that many Vikings believed in, and feared, all kinds of mythical creatures! I found this absolutely fascinating, and I steadily began to develop my story to include a horrid forest dwelling creature. I had my setting, I had my evildoer, and now all I needed was my mighty shield maidens.

It took quite some time for me to develop the characters for my shield maidens, and they changed quite a lot throughout the process. Naturally, akin to all my protagonists, they were going to be feisty, brave and full of wit—exactly what the Viking village needed with a destructive creature on the loose! Soon enough, I had created Helga, Ebba and Wren, my heroic Viking trio.

                           

Love these bright colors & bold shapes!

But my heroic Viking trio are faced with a bit of a problem. They discover that something or someone is causing chaos in the village, and despite raising the alarm and telling the Chieftain, they simply cannot get their voices heard. Having your voice disregarded or overlooked is a familiar feeling amongst women and young girls, and this book gave me the perfect opportunity to explore this further, weaving in an important message throughout the book. My aim when creating this book, was to encourage young readers to challenge authority, question the world around them, and to stand up and do something—even if your voice isn’t being heard.

What I love most about this book, is the feeling of sisterhood between Helga, Ebba and Wren. I spent a lot of time developing their friendship throughout the book, and I found a lot of joy in illustrating the little moments they spend together—having sleepovers, playing by the lake and climbing trees. Helga, Ebba and Wren embrace each others strengths and differences, and even while combating a terrifying and destructive creature, they seem to be having great fun while they’re doing it!

(Psst! You can pre-order your very own copy of Three Little Vikings here today:)
PanMacmillan

                           
How can I get an invite to this super cute sleepover party?!

Q: I absolutely adore your gorgeous, bright graphic illustrations and the stylish printmaking vibes it achieves with shape and color! Give us the full scoop on your process—ideas to sketches & materials to finished color.

A: Thank you! My process often begins with writing and doodling in tandem for a while. I’m a visual storyteller at heart, and I often find it easier working on both at the same time opposed to say, writing all of the text and then creating the illustrations. Though I’ve got a few books under my belt now, it can still take many attempts to nail each spread and it rarely happens first time! At this stage in the process, I’m usually scrawling out parts of the story alongside messy thumbnails to find the best way to tell that segment of the story.

Once I have a relatively well-formed idea for each of my spreads, I usually choose a spread to do a color test with. This involves me flicking through my various color swatches and experimenting with different color palettes. For Three Little Vikings I chose to use a much broader color palette than usual, using red, yellow, teal and violet.

The next stage of my book-making process is the final artwork—the most exciting part! All of the artwork I create for my picture books is hand painted on large A2 cartridge paper. It’s painted in gouache paints, which are almost totally opaque, which is why my artwork has that flat, chalky look.

Lastly, the artwork has to be edited, readied for print. All of the physical artwork gets sent off to be scanned before I begin Photoshopping the illustrations. This can be quite a time consuming process, and editing the book can often take around half of the duration of making a book. After finishing the editing, we do a few last checks, for example—proofing some artwork from inside the book. If all the checks go well, then we finally get to press that big print button!

                                    
A classic through & through!

Q: You are the illustrator of 7 (now 8!) stunning picture books for children. Which one is your MOST favorite and why?

A: My MOST favorite book has to be Little Red, as it’s the first book I created, and marks the beginning of my career in children’s books. I think it holds a special place in my heart!

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 work day really varies depending on what projects I’m working on and the stages in which those projects are at. Part of being a freelance creative involves being adaptable to sometimes quite different aspects of your job. Sometimes I feel glued to my desk with endless admin (Ugh! Tax returns!), and other times I’ll spend a lot of time away from my desk for book events, literary festivals and workshops. There are days, weeks and months that I might not even pick up a pencil! This all might sound peculiar, but my job involves having a varied schedule and I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Working in this way keeps me sane, and stops any part of my job becoming monotonous.

My studio is situated in the centre of Sheffield, near some of my favorite coffee shops and restaurants (umm…not a coincidence!). Inside, my studio is flooded with lots of natural light, which is essential for all the drawing and painting I do. The building has lots of character as it was built in the 1900s, and was once a cutlery factory.

The majority of my space is taken up by books, some of them my own, and some being wonderful books I’ve collected over many years. I’m also surrounded by masses of art materials, stored in all the nooks and crannies. My computer sits on my desk, along with my drawing tablet, and stacks of notes and lists I’m avoiding.

                                        
The super star herself!! Lovely!

I share the studio with a bunch of creatives, including a seamstress, several photographers, a jewelry maker, a printmaker, and a needleworker. We all do completely different things, but that’s just how I like it! My studio is a place of comfort and inspiration for me. I like to work in my studio instead of at home, as I find it comforting that I can be as messy and as sprawling with my work as I like. It’s also a great place to bounce off my ideas with the other creatives, often coming up with better ideas as a result!

A normal working day for me starts relatively early. I like to get up and walk my two dogs, Podrick and Panko, around the local parks. Once they’re finished chasing squirrels, we walk to the studio together, often getting in before 9am. With my computer on, and a cup of tea in hand, I’ll sit down and work out what’s on my agenda for the day.

I often start by wrapping and posting any orders I’ve received from my online shop, and then move onto replying to a few emails. Once I’ve got a few small admin tasks out of the way, I can get onto the fun stuff!

Depending on what stage I’m at with a project, there’s a multitude of tasks I might be doing. I could be creating a mood board for a project, working on some rough sketches, or writing a new draft of text for a book. I might even be planning a book event, or designing a new print for my online shop, but if I’m really lucky, something that I’m working on might be ready for final artwork, and that means PAINTING!

After a morning filled with any of the above, I’ll stop for lunch with the other creatives and make sure to play fetch with the studio dogs. If it’s a Friday, we might treat ourselves to a coffee (and likely, cake) too! Soon after, I’ll get back to work.

I try to practice task-based working instead of time-based. This means that once I’ve got to a natural stopping point with my goal or task, I go home. Sometimes, I find that as a creative it’s really easy to let yourself run away with a project. Before I started task-based working, I’d often find myself totally sucked into a painting or storyboard, still whirring away at 10pm having worked for twelve hours straight. This isn’t good for you, and I’ve suffered burnout more times than I can count for this very reason. I try to have a better work-life balance these days!

                            
Adventure awaits! Won't you come along, too?!

Q: What advice would you give fellow illustrators about: 1) developing an art style, 2) using color and 3) visual storytelling?

A: A lot of illustrators can get hung up on finding their ‘style’, and over complicate the process. Instead, I think it’s better to just start making art, and find out what you enjoy making. Over time, you’ll gather your own influences that start naturally coming out in your artwork. Get making, get messy and don’t worry about it so much!

For a long time, I found color really overwhelming to work with, as there are quite literally unlimited combinations you could try. I would often use every color in my palette and my artwork never quite looked how I wanted it to. My biggest piece of advice for working with color is to select a color palette before you start creating your artwork. This really helps to unify the whole piece, and when used in a certain way, can make your artwork more bold and striking.

My advice for visual storytelling for children’s books, is to create both text and pictures that work together to elevate the story, instead of repeating the same information. When I’m creating books, I’m often trying to take full advantage of the text and illustrations. My text could say one thing, but I could illustrate extra details which give you a little more story, illustrate silent clues that aren’t mentioned in the text, or even convey the complete opposite of the text. This gives you as the creator, the perfect opportunity to add in pockets of humor, sub plots, and little secret pieces of information for your readers to pick up on. You might find that readers even engage with your story more, if there’s extra things to spot and hidden clues to figure out.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My perfect Sunday would begin with a spot of early morning gardening with a coffee (as I don’t do lie-ins!), followed by a long dog walk out in the peaks and a delicious Sunday dinner to finish.

Thank you so much, Bethan, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congratulations on Three Little Vikings! Hooray!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Sasquatch Father's Day

Happy Father's Day from daddy & baby sasquatch! • © Jane Smith

 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Super Star Children's Book Review: Lupe Wong Won't Dance

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.

                     

LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE
By Donna Barba Higuera
Jacket art by Mason London • Jacket Design by Maeve Norton
Middle Grade (ages 8-12) • 272 pages
Levine Querido • 2020
ISBN 978-1-64614-003-9

12-year-old Lupe Wong is an athlete, an activist and has her eye on a career as a professional baseball pitcher. A big part of that goal is getting to meet her idol, the first Asian-Latino pitcher in the major leagues, Fu Li Hernandez. Her uncle Hector works for the Mariners and has offered to introduce her if she gets straight A’s this quarter. Easy for Lupe—until her PE coach throws her a curve ball when she announces the curriculum for the class: square dancing.

No way. How can something that’s not even in the Olympics be considered a sport? Lupe will not accept this horror and puts her activism to good use, coming up with plan after plan—including a Change.org petition—to persuade the coach to go back to their usual volleyball or basketball classes.

All her efforts fail and Lupe is forced to come to terms with what she is willing to do for that very important A.

This is a very fun read, full of wit and heart and longing. The writing is sharp and smart, and Lupe is a great middle grade character. The situations and emotions feel real and you will root for Lupe, even as she tests the patience of everyone around her.

Buy this book: 




Reviewed by: Laurie L. Young

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

MerCat Pirate Adventure

It might be June, but in my heart it's still MerMay! Arg! Shiver me whiskers, Matey! • © Jane Smith

 

Super Star Interviews: Matt Schumacher

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 absolutely pleased as pink lemonade punch to be chatting it up with the fantastically talented illustrator Matt Schumacher! I'm a fan girl for his moody and mysterious artwork. Matt lives and works in Portland, Oregon. After studying art and design at the University of Oregon, he worked as a graphic designer and editorial illustrator before switching his focus to book illustration and fine art. He also enjoying creating zines and runs the small press, Dark Hour Books. When he's not drawing, Matt spends his time reading, watching YouTube videos and shooting 35mm film. You can view more of his awesome artwork here.

Ooo! I'm ready for a good story—how about you?!

Q: Your artwork is full of moody color, detailed interiors and whimsical characters! Dish with us about your creative process—ideas, development, materials, techniques—and how it all comes together.

A: A lot of my early art inspiration came from newspaper comics and black-and-white reprints of 1960’s super hero comic books. Those were all extremely high-contrast out of necessity, because they had to compensate for the crappy print quality of newsprint. But I tried to draw like that because I loved them so much, so using a lot of black was my starting point. I tend to think in high-contrast with regards to drawing, and it’s how I solve a lot of compositional problems. I started using ink with brushes and metal nibs from mimicking comics, too.

Nowadays my drawings are made largely like comics were. I start with a pencil drawing, then trace it with black ink. Then I erase the pencil lines and add washes of colored ink. Colored ink is a great medium for me. I don’t feel bad about potentially wasting any of it because it’s so affordable. And it’s very portable, the bottles pack nicely into a bag. I also work digitally, especially for client stuff with a lot of back and forth. When I do, I try to make it match my other stuff, and when I make something I like digitally I try to replicate it in ink later if I can.

Moody & mysterious—need I say more?! 

Q: The Pacific Northwest has a strong sense of presence in your artwork. How has Oregon—in time, place & attitude—influenced and inspired you as an artist and visual storyteller?

A: I bet it’s influenced me in ways I don’t even realize! But because a lot of my learning to draw has just been from looking at the stuff around me to copy it, I know the PNW has had a big effect on the stuff I draw. Everything here in Portland tends to be framed by trees and bushes, casting dark shadows, and that’s how I imagine the scenes I draw. The clouds and rain are fun to draw too, because they have an emotional association to them that I’ve acquired from growing up here.

Also Portland has a general “DIY” attitude, not just with artists. There’s this sense that you can take a shot at doing something yourself, and if it doesn’t turn out perfect then that’s okay because you were more-or-less playing around anyway. I like that because it gives me permission to do the same.

I wonder who lives here...and do they drive a motorcycle? (That's a uniquely tiny garage!!!)

Q: You have a gorgeous, on-going series of custom house portraits! Tell us a bit about how this series began & developed and which house you like the best.

A: A few years ago I realized that I didn’t really know how to draw houses. So I started taking photos of interesting ones when I was out walking on my lunch break. At that time I was working in a neighborhood with a lot of cool Victorian houses, with so many interesting features on all of them, stuff I would have never thought to draw. Then later I would draw from these reference photos. It turned out that I really like drawing houses. They have this narrative quality to them that interests me. And they imply a human presence without necessarily showing any people. As I started to draw houses more and more, people started asking me to draw theirs. Since then I’ve just kept doing it.

I don’t know if I really have a favorite that I’ve done. The thing about these is that I learn a little something from every one of them, so when I look at them I tend to think of those lessons. In this one with the peahen, I was happy with how the underpainting of pink and yellow worked. And in this blue and orange one from a couple years ago, I liked what was happening with those bushes. Things will sometimes go well in a surprising way and I try to recreate it in another drawing later.

Don't ya wonder who is up late upstairs?!

Q: You also run a small zine press and have several self-published original zines, which are on sale in your Etsy shop. How does this creative endeavor both stand alone and work in conjunction with your children’s book publishing efforts?

A: One thing I love about zines is that they’re pretty low-risk, and you can try stuff out and see how it works because the format isn’t overly serious. Zines are pretty cheap to make, so it’s really just a time investment. So in this very accessible way you get to see your work in a book that you can hold in your hand and flip through. That’s very thrilling for me. And when you see your stuff in that new context, it can help you notice where it’s falling short or where it’s surprising you in a good way.

Zines also have kind of an intimacy to them, where they feel like a peek into someone’s head in a way more traditionally published books don’t. I started the micro press because I know people who I think would make great zines, but for whatever reason they aren’t doing it themselves. I’m trying to use my experience from my personal zine-making to facilitate it for them. I also like designing books, and I wouldn’t get to do it as often if I just had my own to design. The micro press is just getting going, and I’m excited to see where it goes!

I think as a person doing creative work you need permission every so often to take yourself a little seriously. Or at least take your work seriously. Zines can be a good vehicle for that too.

Gotta love a hands-on venture! Flashing back to art school in the 90's...

Q: What would be your absolute DREAM illustration project?

A: A goal of mine is to have someone publish a story I wrote and illustrated. Basically I want to get something very idiosyncratic out there that really feels like it came from me. I don’t exactly know what that book would be, but at this moment I’m imagining a lot of dark and rainy landscapes. That’s really what I feel like drawing most of the time.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: I think my perfect Sunday would involve sleeping in after having gone out on Saturday night. I’d have breakfast and go on a long walk taking photos and stopping into shops. I’d probably buy a book while I was out and read it when I got home. Also I’d like it to be 60 degrees and sunny out, with a very light breeze.

Thank you SO much, Matt, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Super Star Children's Book Review: I Dream of Popo

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.
 

I DREAM OF POPO
Written by Livia Blackburne • Illustrated by Julia Kuo
Picture Book (ages 3-6) • 40 pages
Published by Roaring Brook Press • 2021
ISBN: 978-1-2502-4931-9


I Dream of Popo explores the special bond between a grandmother and grandchild. In simple, elegant language, Blackburne follows a little girl and her Popo as they share small adventures and everyday experiences.

Popo takes walks with her granddaughter, prepares special food for her and together they celebrate the new year in traditional Taiwanese style.

The day comes when the girl and her family must move to the United States. Her Popo is there to wave goodbye as she boards a huge plane to cross the ocean.

The little girl experiences many changes as she assimilates to life in America, makes new friends, and learns a new language. Although this is the story of a Taiwanese girl who moves to a new country where she faces the challenges of straddling two worlds and two cultures, it could be the story of anyone who moves away from family and friends to begin a new life in a new place.

Blackburn’s delicate and nuanced prose pairs perfectly with Kuo’s vibrant and richly detailed illustrations.

I was touched and sometimes moved to tears by this universal story of love, change, loss and growth. Although a new life may be written over the old, it never erases our original story—through love and memory we always remain connected to those we love.

The back matter, which includes both author’s and illustrator’s notes and a Mandarin-English glossary, adds depth and context to the story.

Buy this book:

Barnes and Noble

Bird Meets Worm Bookshop


Reviewed by: Joan Charles

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Super Star Interviews: Carrie O'Neill

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 absolutely delighted to be catching up with the bright and talented illustrator Carrie O'Neill! I'm a big fan of Carrie's gentle and heart-felt artwork and she has a gorgeous new picture that releases today! She 
writes and illustrates children's books in Olympia, Washington. Her clients include Little Bigfoot, Sleeping Bear Press, and Ladybug Magazine. She works in both digital and traditional media, incorporating handmade textures in gouache and ink into her illustrations. When not in her studio, she likes to drink coffee on the porch, and pick blueberries with her family. You can view more of her gorgeous artwork here.

Those who build together, love together!

Q: Your sweet new picture book, Our Shed, releases today with publisher Little Bigfoot! (That’s SO super star! Congratulations!) Give us the full scoop on this title: how you came to be illustrating it, your collaboration with your publisher & your experiences creating the artwork.

A: Thank you, Jane! I’m very excited about this book and thrilled it’s out in the world! I was first approached to illustrate this book by the publisher, Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books, at the end of October 2018. My editor, Christy Cox, and Art Director, Anna Goldstein asked me to first create a sample illustration based on the manuscript by Robert Broder. I knew this was my big chance and dropped everything to work on that illustration! Once I was hired, I went on to create rough thumbnails. Rob’s story about a father and daughter building a shed together had detailed how-to steps which was fun to research and draw. Since most of the story is set in the 1970’s, I collected period images of the kind of clothing, tools, and truck I thought the main characters might have had. My favorite part of the process was deciding what I wanted the daughter’s imaginary world to look like. You can see from the book that I’m a big fan of Harold and the Purple Crayon!

The publisher was easy to work with and I felt like I could bounce my ideas off them. I had a long lead time before the final art was due, which was wonderful as a first-time illustrator. The book was originally slated to be published in September 2020, but the publisher and marketing folks felt a spring release would provide a natural tie-in with Father’s Day promotions.

(Psst! You can order your own copy of Our Shed here today:)

Building is an art, a dance!

Q: I absolutely love your darling and gently expressive characters! Dish with us a bit about your creative process—from inspiration to sketches to finished artwork.

A: The initial sample illustration I created for the project became a road map for how I wanted the book to look. I knew I wanted to use layers of texture, rich colors, and full-bleed illustrations to counter the chalk line drawings representing the daughter’s imagination. I first started with detailed sketches. I tend to spend a lot of time on these and work out the composition as much as I can before I start painting. Once I started painting I stick pretty close to my sketches. Then I scan the painting and work on adding layers of handmade texture through Procreate on my iPad. I like the process of adding texture and depth digitally without sacrificing the details from the original painting.

Learning to use the tools of the trade with the best teacher: daddy!

Q: Chat with us a bit about your MOST favorite illustration project: one from the past and one from the present.

A: My most favorite project has been Our Shed. The characters in this book hold a special place in my heart. Not only is it my debut as a picture book illustrator, the manuscript was sent to me at a very tender moment, a few days after the death of my father. Working on this book gave me a chance to turn my grief into something beautiful. The father in the book is based on my dad and the girl is based on my own daughters. I dedicated the book to all of them.

Currently I’m in the sketch stages of illustrating a picture book through Sleeping Bear Press. As an illustrator, it’s a fun puzzle to take someone’s manuscript and figure out how to tell the story visually—adding your own vision to the story.

Q: What is a typical workday in the studio like for you? Set the scene (workspace, materials, accessories) and describe your creative flow (rituals, inspiration, process).

A: I’ve carved my workspace out of a small alcove in my bedroom. The pandemic has meant my husband and our two school-aged daughters are on top of one another in our small house. It’s not ideal, but we make it work! My workdays start with some sketching or journaling. Since September I’ve been taking a memoir writing class from the University of Washington through Zoom. It’s been life-changing and I’m trying to figure out how to integrate the writing I’ve done with my illustration work. The middle of the day is best for drawing and painting. In the afternoon, I usually take my oldest daughter to cross-country or track practice. I bring my iPad and edit while I wait for her in the car. After dinner, I stay up too late working on my iPad or sketching while watching TV. I’m pretty good about getting things done in the small chunks of time I have, but I need to work on my sleep habits!

Knights and dragons, oh, my!

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

A: The first thing I did when I decided to pursue a career as a children’s book illustrator was join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The organization was vital as I learned to navigate the industry, and the community of illustrators I’ve met through SCBWI has been so supportive. Over the years I’ve learned that it’s okay to pass up an opportunity if it doesn’t spark something joyful within myself, that book publishing is a slow business, and that it’s essential to give yourself time to explore and play with materials.

Laughing and loving through all the seasons!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: After sleeping in, I’d walk downtown with my family for brunch and coffee. We’d walk to the farmer’s market, visit our indie bookstore, and maybe buy a few art supplies at our local shop. Later, I’d work in the garden for a bit, then take a nap.


Thank you so much, Carrie, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congratulations on your beautiful new book!