Thursday, March 25, 2021

Miss Meow Now Available for Pre-Order

I'm SO excited to share that my new picture book, MISS MEOW, is now available for pre-order!!! Hooray!! Enjoy the Miss Meow book trailer—it's the purr-fect bit of fun!

Easter Bunny's Workshop

Bunny & Chick are busy getting ready for Easter! Are you? © Jane Smith


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: A Different Pond

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 Thi Bui • Illustrated by Bao Phi
Picture Book (ages 6-8) • 32 pages
Published by Capstone Young Readers • 2017
ISBN 978-1-6237-0803-0

A Different Pond is a beautiful, yet haunting, testament to the Vietnamese refugee experience in America in the early 1980’s. The story, presented in graphic novel style, begins with a father waking his young boy very early in the morning to go fishing. The boy observes the darkness and quiet of the early morning as they drive to the pond, and then we realize the father needs to fish in order to provide food for his family. While the father is fishing, the boy builds a fire on his own, and his father freely shows his approval. The boy beams with pride. After catching two fish, the pair drive home, and present two fish to their family. The whole family happily eats the fish together later that evening, after the mother and father return from work.

While the story is seemingly simple, throughout there are many details that reveal the difficulties the family face in America. We see the bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and hear the bait shop owner asking why they are so early, to which the father reveals he has taken a second job to make ends meet. When they arrive at the pond, a “No Trespassing” sign is posted. Clearly, the American dream is a struggle for the family. While they are fishing, the father tells stories of the war and of his brother who one day “didn’t come home.” The family is still overcoming the trauma of war while having to acclimate to an entirely new culture. On the way home the boy wonders about “that other pond, in the country my dad comes from.” The father’s stories are told and shape the boy’s world view.

Bui and Phi have created a lyrical, evocative story that juxtaposes the tenderness between the boy and his father with the harsh realities surrounding them. A Different Pond is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit and the refugee experience.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble


Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Sarah Orgill

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Super Star Interviews: Vanja Kragulj

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 lovely illustrator Vanja Kragulj! I'm a huge fan of Vanja's bright and friendly graphic illustrations! And I've had the pleasure of meeting her in person awhile back on a trip to NYC—a delight! 
Vanja is a Canadian illustrator, and graphic designer who specializes in surface design and illustrations for the children’s industry. She lives in Calgary, Canada with her son Jun, husband Kenji and their miniature husky named Hero. She is originally from Former Yugoslavia. You can view more of her gorgeous artwork here.

Squirrel & Snake—what an adorable pair!
Q: You have a fabulous new book out with Scholastic Asia, Shape Hunt! (Hooray! Congratulations!) Give us the full scoop on 
Shape Hunt: what is it about, how you came to be illustrating it, your working relationship with your publisher & what page is your favorite!

A: Thanks Jane! Yes, I’m really excited to share my new board book with Scholastic Asia called Shape Hunt. Although, I’ve worked on several books since, this is my very first book that has actually been published so it’s very exciting for me. (Unfortunately, due to Covid I haven’t been able to see the printed copies as they are stuck in Malaysia at the moment!)

The story is centered around two characters: a snake and a squirrel who are going around the city spotting different shapes in the things they see around them. The book is intended for very young readers to teach them basic shapes. Initially, when I got the manuscript for this book I found the idea of a snake and a squirrel being friends really funny, because in North American culture I don’t think this combination would be very popular. I took it as a challenge for myself to make sure that the characters came across really cute and friendly together. This was my very first project with my agency—The Bright Agency—and I was very lucky, because the process was so smooth and I was basically allowed free rein on the illustrations, which I now know never happens, ha ha! For that reason, I think I’m relatively pleased with the illustrations. One of my favourite spreads is the one below, where Snake and Squirrel go into a candy store to purchase some chocolates that have different shapes in them. I love drawing animals in human clothing :)

Mmmm!!! Could there be chocolates in that heart box?!

Q: I absolutely love your bright, bold, graphic art style! Dish with us a bit about your illustration approach & process—initial concepts to sketches to final artwork.

A: Thank you, that’s so kind of you to say. I start almost every project with a mood board. This involves me scouring Pinterest and Google for inspiration images, colour palettes, and the overall feel that I want the illustration to have. I usually create the mood board in Illustrator then print it out so that I can have it with me as I draw the rough pencil sketch. I don’t particularly enjoy being on a screen so I love the part of the process that allows me to sit on my couch with a pencil and paper. I have a friend who is always trying to make me transition to the iPad for my sketching phase and I’m adamant about sticking to my pencil and eraser for as long as I can.

Then I take a photo of my sketch and bring it into Illustrator where I create the vector line-drawing of the illustration. It looks like a colouring book page. This is what I send to clients as the first “sketch.” I’m really picky about composition so my “sketch” really doesn’t change too much once it goes into colour. From this stage, depending on the client feedback, I might have to send in another line-drawing for approval and then I move to colour which basically becomes paint-by-number. However, colour is the most difficult part of my illustration and I can spend 2/3 of the time just colouring. It’s basically what makes or brakes an illustration for me so I’m very picky about it. I’m trying to learn to let go more to streamline my process. Lastly I add a bit of texture in the form of very tiny vector shapes, although I should really learn to use Illustrator brushes.

Ooo! Isn't this cover out-of-this-world?!

Q: As an illustrator who works primarily digitally, what advice would you give fellow creatives about: 1) what digital art programs to use, 2) what digital brushes to use, and 3) how to develop your own distinct style?

A: Well, I only use Illustrator because It’s really important to me to be able to scale the art and also create perfect geometric shapes. I do know many illustrators that have either adopted or completely switched to Procreate on the iPad, but I haven’t felt the need to as I equally use the mouse and my Wacom tablet to create my work. I am curious about Procreate and will look into exploring it in the near future. However, I have an allergy to Photoshop, ha ha! I am a “vector” illustrator, so Photoshop is not a good tool for me as it is based on pixel art.

I don’t actually use brushes in Illustrator other than one brush that comes with the program that I occasionally use for my line work. However, as mentioned above I do think I should spend some time exploring brushes as I think it would really streamline my process.

It’s funny you ask for my advice about style. I think I’m still trying to find my style, although I’m often told that I have such a distinct style which always comes as a surprise to me. I’ve been listening to a lot of illustration podcasts lately and almost every successful illustrator says that to find your style you need to look inward, not compare what others are doing. I really believe that. I think when I first started I compared a lot, (and I still do, believe me!) but I am learning to really trust myself and just do what I think looks “cool” and know that is probably my best work. Surprisingly, it’s those pieces in my portfolio that get me actual paid work. So, I’m going to keep doing that.

Hey, yourself, little crocodile cutie!
Q: You teach a variety of children’s art workshops. How have your experiences working with children influenced your approach to creating artwork for children’s books and products?

A: I’m so glad you asked this, because I have thought about this a lot over the last couple of years. Recently due to the pandemic, I’ve had to shut down my in-person workshops and I really felt devastated by that. I realized that when I create these illustration projects for the children, it’s the only time when I’m doing something completely free, by hand and with no “brief”. This time allows me to just be a child who loves drawing, which is how we all started before we got on the computer and started doing work for clients. I feel that this time of exploration is really important for me. I’m one of those people who always needs an “assignment” in order to sit down and do creative work, so my children’s classes are that assignment.

I also base every workshop on a children’s book, so I spend tons of time at the library looking for the best picture books. This obviously has a huge impact on my actual work because it’s a constant source of inspiration. But most of all, working with young children really, really inspires me, because they are so free and their art is so amazing! I get so excited about what they create and I always tell them that I could see their work in a children’s book today. It’s taking me years to be so free and naive with my art, so I find them inspiring.

California dreaming...

Q: What would be your most ultimate DREAM illustration job?

A: Oh my goodness, this is a really tough question to answer. I don’t think there is just one and they keep changing. I’ve actually been so lucky to be creating some of my dream work over the last year as a result of partnering up with my agency. I’m so thankful for that. However, here are a few more that are on the list: any book to do with food/fruits/veggies, a fabric collection or a collaboration with a fashion brand, a stationary line, children’s products and apparel, toys, product packaging…the list goes on.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My perfect Sunday would be going to the farmer’s market then for a coffee and pastry at a local cafe. Then maybe I would bake or spend some time doing a creative activity and finish it off with a movie night with my son and husband.

Thank you so much, Vanja, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congratulations on your gorgeous new book! Hooray!!