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.

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!