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.

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:)

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!