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.

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!