Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: Little Libraries, Big Heroes

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.


By Miranda Paul • Illustrated by John Parra
Picture Book (ages 4-7) • 40 pages
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt • 2019
ISBN: 978-0-5448-0027-4

Little Libraries, Big Heroes is the extraordinary story of an ordinary man who started a movement in his own front yard that eventually spread throughout the world.

Author Miranda Paul and illustrator John Parra have concocted a colorful, inspiring biography of Todd Bol, the creator of the Little Free Library movement. More than anything, Todd’s story is a celebration of books, reading, community, and the power of one person to create change.

Starting small (with the first little library built by Todd), and growing slowly, the movement spread from Todd’s home state of Minnesota, across the Midwest, then to other nations outside the U.S., until finally, Little Free Libraries can be found in countries across the globe.

The stories behind the several of these libraries will delight and inspire kids to learn that, even through small acts, they can become everyday heroes in their own lives.

John Parra’s exuberant art brings to life the joy and diversity behind the Little Free Libraries—and the not-so-ordinary people who are spreading book love all over the world.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Family Portrait

A fun little portfolio piece I meant to share back in the fall! I thought its cheery vibes were just right seeing as how in my neck of the woods it is still more crisp breezes & falling leaves than ice & snow. Cheers! XO

Family Portrait • © Jane Smith


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Super Star Interviews: Tatjana Mai-Wyss

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 peppermint pieces to be chatting it up with fellow SCBWI Carolinas illustrator & designer Tatjana Mai-Wyss! I'm a huge fan of Tatjana's sweet characters and delightful style! Tatjana is known for her engaging and diverse characters, loving attention to detail, and joyful color palettes. She illustrates children's books as well as creates images for art licensing products. Her clients include Tundra Books, Random House, Sterling Publishing,  G.P. Putnam's Sons and more. You can view more of her gorgeous artwork here.

Ooo! This book looks perfect to cuddle up with!
Q: Your artwork is full of luminous color, soft shapes and friendly characters! Dish with us a bit about your creative process—concept to sketches to finished art—and how it all comes together.

A: Thank you! I love working on picture books. From reading the manuscript to visualizing the characters; where they live, how they dress, and imagining every little detail, it’s a pretty magical job. Overall, I think it's really important to have clear drawings as a sound foundation for an illustration. To capture the liveliness and spontaneity of a character, I work out their gestures first really loosely with a wash and a square brush. In the course of these early drawings, I really get to know the characters, how they move and exist in space. can refine those sketches afterwards and add as many details as I like. The rabbit from Bunny’s Book Club, for example, got his 3-dimensionality from my daughter's stuffed animal, and for porcupine I couldn’t stop thinking about one of those retro fiber optic lamps whose “quills” move slowly like a lava lamp.

I try to budget extra time in the early phase to allow for a lot of drawing and sketching to give an illustration "good bones”. To plan the whole layout of a book I start with thumbnail layout and gradually move to larger and larger sketches. There are of course many conversations with the editor/art director until the whole book arrives at the final drawing stage. Often this collaboration adds new ideas to the story and help me think of new ways to the sketches are later transferred onto watercolor paper for a clean start. Once I’m painting final artwork, I always do connected scenes at the same time to make sure the colors and “hand” match up in the end.

How darling! Love this crew of readers!

Q: Your fresh, bright illustrations have found a crossover between slow-moving children’s book publishing and fast-paced art licensing. Chat with us a bit about how you balance servicing these two different markets while staying true to yourself.

A: I discovered art licensing fairly recently through the greeting card world, although I’d love to expand to toys and other children’s products. It’s great for experimenting with new ideas and materials, and fun to find your art in a store. The community has been really kind and supportive, and I love meeting new people, even if it’s only virtually. I approach art licensing similarly to book Illustration, my favorite projects are about creating a character and telling a story, even if sometimes that's just a back story for myself. I'm learning to choose projects that feel like a good fit or a healthy stretch for me, and to avoid things that are just not in my range (nothing too opulent, edgy or scary for me, although I do appreciate those things). 

Q: You’ve illustrated numerous books for children, including the Bunny’s Book Club series! Give us the full scoop on your MOST favorite children’s book you’ve illustrated!

A: I will always have a soft spot for the first book I got to illustrate The Yawn Heard Round the World. There was a lot of room for imagination, and some brainteasing calculations about how much time the yawn would take to go around the world and whether it would be daylight or evening in the various places. 
In truth, I actually think Bunny’s Book Club is my favorite so far. I really got attached to the characters with their specific quirks (and their love of books!) Animals are really my favorite thing to draw. I love the collaborative angle of children’s picture books, where two creatives' ideas combine to make something bigger. I would say my favorite book is always the next one.

"Meow" is cat for "hello"!

Q: You grew up in Switzerland and now reside in South Carolina—two very different locales! How have each of these places influenced and inspired you as an artist?

A: I have lived in quite a few places in my life, and can’t wait to travel again. I think when people spend time in a different culture it helps them notice things more, really examine them, and often question some things others may take for granted. Growing up in Switzerland I got to live in a small town and explore my world on foot and by bicycle and train. Some of my best memories are of class hiking trips to the mountains and school wide ski camp. I’m also connected to old fashioned stories and legends and fairy tales and rustic folk art.

As an adult here in South Carolina, I walk my dog Coco and notice the changes in the seasons and all the small plant and wildlife. We have a botanical garden that has a collection of carnivorous plants I’m very fond of. All together I’m pretty detail-oriented.

Under-the-sea adventure together! Yay!
Q: What do you know now that when you first began your illustration career you wish you’d known about: illustration? self-promotion? the book publishing business?

A: The school I attended took a very realistic approach to illustration, with an emphasis on photo references and tight rendering. Since that’s something that felt very safe to me, it’s taken a long time to unlearn and be more adventurous. I would tell my younger self to draw more and worry less. I feel like the publishing industry is changing very quickly, and as I try to pivot and keep up, I learn new things about it every day. To answer your question, I wish I had known that I should really consider being an author illustrator from the start, so I would feel more at home with that idea, especially since my world has always revolved around books.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My perfect Sunday could be a composite of places I’ve lived: a morning run through the city with friends that finishes with coffee on a cafe terrace. Or a long walk in the mountains with a picnic. I love the ocean, so a walk on the beach would be perfect. A family stroll through the farmers market for vegetables and lunch ingredients. A visit to a museum or a flea market, cake and coffee with a friend. Drawing in my sketchbook and dinner with my family.

Thank you so much, Tatjana, for visiting with us here at Bird Meets Worm! It was such a pleasure!!