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by Wendi Silvano & Lee Harper

Thanks Tara, for hosting us on your blog! We are excited to have our 5th book in the TURKEY TROUBLE series releasing August 1st from Two Lions Press (TURKEY GOES TO SCHOOL).

We thought it might be interesting to chronicle a little bit about how this series has evolved and how an author and an illustrator each have equally important roles in creating a picture book.

Wendi:

The series started with TURKEY TROUBLE (2009). Lee Harper was chosen to be the illustrator. I had never heard of Lee, and (as is common in picture book publishing) had no contact with him regarding the book. The editor and art director worked directly with Lee. In fact, I never met Lee in person (or talked to him) until after TURKEY CLAUS (the 2nd book) was out, and, by chance, we ended up doing a joint book signing in Salt Lake City while Lee was visiting schools in the area.

We have met one other time for a joint signing in Pennsylvania (after the 3rd book, TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT, came out) when I was presenting at the SCBWI Conference in New Jersey. Now we are Facebook friends and occasionally communicate by email (but never so I can tell him how to illustrate the TURKEY books).

People often ask if it bothers me not to have input on the illustrations, but I LOVE what artists can add to my stories if they have the freedom to work their own magic. The very best picture books are those where the text and the illustrations masterfully combine and interact to form something completely unique and magical. What would the TURKEY books be without the delightful and hilarious illustrations that Lee provides?! As an author, I must trust that the illustrator will stay true to the story, while bringing his or her own brilliance to the work.

I always work hard to leave room for the illustrator to use his or her own creativity to add to the story. What are some ways I do that?

I leave things unsaid: I don’t add details that will be in the art—no descriptions! (Just look at this delightful illustration Lee did with no suggestions on my part!)

I allow the art to advance the plot. (All I say in the text is “Then, he found it…” and I let Lee show what that idea is in the illustrations).

I use words and phrases that create room for the art to take over. (“Until…”, “but then…”, “And just when everything was good…”, “There was just one little problem…”, etc.)

I use sparse text that leaves opportunities for the illustrator to interpret and expand the idea. (How the animals “went” was Lee’s choice).

Those are just a few of the ways I leave room for the art. I hope they give you a few ideas of how you might do the same.

Even now, as we work on our 6th Turkey book together (TURKEY-TINE… due out in December, 2022), I just sit back and watch Lee work his magic. It’s delightfully fun!

Lee:

Thank you, Wendi. Though my primary goal as an illustrator is to stay true to your story, I love that you write in a way that leaves lots of room for creativity in the illustrations. This approach is a key ingredient to the special sauce that makes our collaborations work so well. Leaving room for me to add a layer of my own also makes it more fun, which I think comes through in the results.

When I begin thinking about illustrating your words, I ask myself which elements of a particular scene are necessary to propel the story forward. And, in the same way you leave things unwritten and let me ‘show’ the story in the illustrations alone, I leave things unillustrated and let your words stand alone to ‘tell’ the story. Your words and my illustrations share the work.

As an example of how that works, I’ll use the page in our new book Turkey Goes to School that reads:

Pig pilfered a cart filled with food. Turkey pushed it right into the serving line and began to parcel out pizza.

There’s a lot of action in these two sentences. I could illustrate Pig pilfering a cart with food, or Turkey pushing it into the serving line. But I decided to let your words alone do the work of telling that part of this sequence, and concentrate my illustration on the moment Pig and Turkey are parceling out the pizza.

So, I drew the main elements first: Pig and Turkey parceling out pizza. Next, I drew the lunch lady to show what Turkey was attempting to impersonate. (This is a recurring visual joke that permeates the series, which might be one of my added layers.) Lastly, I drew the children in the lunch line and a hint of the cafeteria serving station to set the location.

In this case I didn’t add any extra silliness because I thought the humor was in how thoroughly Turkey believes he looks like the lunch lady.

Wendi:

Something that has been especially fun with the Turkey books is seeing how the characters have evolved over the series. And it’s crazy, but it has happened pretty organically. In the first two books, Turkey’s farm friends are just there mostly in the background, but by the third book they have a much larger role, helping Turkey figure out his disguises and what to do with each failure. Their personalities have blossomed and each has their own individualities. This has happened a good deal in the art. If you get a chance, look at the Turkey books in order and notice how each character has developed over time. I will let Lee tell you more about that evolution (as it was a good deal his doing).

Lee:

I agree that the development of Turkey’s farm friends has been a process that has occurred very organically, and it is a little crazy.

After I’ve drawn everything essential to the story, I always ask myself, ‘how can I pump this up and make this even funnier?’ That’s when the little quirks of character that aren’t written into the story usually reveal themselves. Over time, these little quirks of character build up, and the character becomes more real to me.  Soon I can hear their voices in my head. Maybe it’s more than a little crazy.

In the original TURKEY TROUBLE, Turkey has a lot of personality as an individual, but the sheep all behave as sheep, the pigs all behave as pigs. I was still getting to know everybody.

In TURKEY CLAUS, the farm animals weren’t featured until the last three pages, when Turkey returned to the farm from the North Pole. But unlike the first book, there is now only one representative from each different type of farm animal which I think is the beginning of the farm animals all developing distinct personalities.

The farm animals evolved further in TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT when they become more anthropomorphized.  This is the first time we see them sometimes walking around on two legs. I began doing this simply because it looked funny. (One of the fun things about the entire series is we’ve been allowed to play very loose and easy with the reality rules.) Sometimes I actually do laugh out loud when I’m working. That’s when I know a drawing’s a keeper.

In TURKEY’S EGGCELLENT EASTER the farm animals become active participants in helping Turkey design and construct his costumes. I think this might be an example of something not written into the story that I added, but I never really know for sure. Wendi and I might have been thinking the same thing.

In our latest collaboration, TURKEY GOES TO SCHOOL, the animals are even more in on the plot and at one point Pig (who in my imagination is now Turkey’s best friend) and Turkey team up to appear to be a child with a backpack.

In our forthcoming book TURKEY-TINE, I’m thinking about showing the various animal’s houses as a fun way to reveal more of the farm animal’s individual personalities and pump up the humor. Another example of things growing organically.

OUR BEST ADVICE:

Wendi:
If you’re an author, try to leave as much room as you can for the illustrator to help tell your story, and trust his or her talents.

Lee:
If you’re an illustrator, stay true to the story, but don’t be afraid to take off and run with it.

Thank you, Wendi and Lee!

Blog readers, Wendi and Lee are each donating a copy of TURKEY GOES TO SCHOOL. Lee is also donating a sketch, and Wendi is donating a picture book critique (chosen at random from anyone who subscribes to her website in this next week).

To enter the giveaways, comment once below.

Random winners will be chosen soon.

Good luck!


WENDI SILVANO has always loved children’s literature, and is now delighted to take part in creating books like those she loved as a child. She is the award-winning author of 9 picture books, a dozen early readers, numerous magazine stories and a variety of educational materials. Her picture books TURKEY TROUBLE and JUST ONE MORE both won the IRA’s Children’s Choice Award, while TURKEY CLAUS was named one of the ‘TEN BEST PICTURE BOOKS OF 2012’ by YABC. She is the mother of 5, a former teacher and the owner of a menagerie of assorted pets. Her next picture book (Turkey-Tine) is due out in late 2022 from Two Lions Press. She lives and writes in Grand Junction, Colorado, where she is the Western Slope Local Area Coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Region of SCBWI. She is represented by agent Marie Lamba of the Jennifer de Chiara Literary Agency. You can find her online at wendisilvano.com.  Subscribe to Wendi’s website (find the button on the bottom of any page of the site) and be entered to win a picture book critique by Wendi. Winner will be notified by email.)

Follow her on Twitter: @WendiSilvano and Facebook.


Lee received his formal art training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he was the recipient of the Louis S. Ware European Traveling Scholarship.

Lee’s picture books have achieved many honors, including the Michigan Reads Award, a Book Sense Hot Pick, Great Lake Book Award, The Gift of Literacy Oregon Book Choice, Amazon Charts Top 20, International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council Children’s Choice title, and YABC Top Ten Picture Book.

His books have also been nominated for state book awards in Vermont, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Nevada, Florida (Honor Book), South Carolina, North Carolina, Nebraska, Arizona, and Washington.

Artwork from several of his books is included in the permanent collection of The Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books.

Lee has four children and lives on a small farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his wife Krista, four sheep, eleven chickens, two dogs, two cats, two ducks, two pigs, and a family of barn swallows. (At last count) His favorite hobbies are bicycling, hiking, woodworking, and creating short films for his YouTube channel Stella’s Farm.

You can visit him online at Leeharperart.com.

You ever have that moment when you discover an illustrator YOU LOVE…?

At last year’s NJ-SCBWI conference, I listened to Nancy Brennan, Associate Art Direction at Viking, speak about how much difficulty they had finding just the right illustrator for a spin-off chapter book series. The ELLRAY JAKES character had run his course and they were hoping to develop EllRay’s little sister, Alfie, into a whole new property–ABSOLUTELY ALFIE.

They wanted illustrations to appeal to a young audience, but the art had to be a distinctly different look than EllRay. If Alfie was going to step out on her own, she deserved a whole new style.

One illustrator’s style caught their eye, but she was European and caucasian—not exactly someone who could bring life experience to a female African-American character. They wanted an illustrator who could identify with Alfie’s childhood.

And then they found Shearry Malone.

Not familiar with newcomer Shearry, I immediately looked her up. And WOW. I nearly screamed, “She’s a modern-day female Quentin Blake!” (Although she will probably prefer to be known as a modern-day Shearry Malone.)

 

ABSOLUTELY ALFIE makes her debut this summer and I hope to get you acquainted with her. In the meantime, let’s get acquainted with Shearry!

Shearry, when did you discover your passion for drawing?

I’ve been drawing since I was a kid and I always had a passion for it. I started by mimicking comic book art and later discovered that I really liked portraiture. I’ve always felt that there’s something really fun and challenging in trying to capture the essence of a person in a drawing. I never expected children’s art to be my foothold into the illustration world but life can be funny that way.

So if you never expected it–how exactly did you get into it?

It’s kind of an odd story. I answered an ad on Craigslist for a guy who was looking for an intern in his art studio. Turns out he was a local children’s book illustrator with 30 years experience in the field. I was supposed to help run his office, answer phone calls, learn the ins and outs of the business side of things, etc.

I did that for free for the first 3 months and then it became a paid office manager position. During that time, he was curious to see if I could do children’s art, so he gave me little assignments to do at home and we’d discuss them the next day. I’d add the images to a website we built together and he’d look them over on the weekends when I wasn’t in the office.

 

 

Long story short, I eventually showed that website to my sister, who happened to take a yoga class with a friend of hers who also happened to be in the book publishing business. She liked what she saw and passed the website over to a few agencies she was familiar with. That lead to a few offers for representation and eventually I decided on the CATugeau Artist Agency.

So, I feel like I fell into this line of work by complete happenstance. Children’s art still doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s always challenging. But I can’t help but think I’ve been given this opportunity for a reason and I intend to follow it through!

Wow, what a story. How did Viking find you? How were you approached for ABSOLUTELY ALFIE?

I received an email from my (very excited) agent Christy, the day after I signed with CATugeau saying that one of the art directors over at Viking was interested in working with me on a new series of chapter books. I didn’t even know what chapter books were! She happily explained and advised that I should strongly consider the opportunity. It didn’t take long. I said yes, and I’ve been working on ABSOLUTELY ALFIE ever since!

I should clarify that I don’t really know how Viking found me and so quickly—other than that maybe they happened to be looking around the CATugeau agency website? Right time. Right place?

Most definitely. Perfect timing. What else are you working on?

I’m basically focused on Book 3 of the ALFIE series right now. I’m hoping (fingers crossed) for a second round of books in this series and for more doors to open up for other illustration opportunities in the future. Having so little experience, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with projects and deadlines so I passed on a few other book offers after accepting the series with Viking. Time will tell, but nothing would make me happier than to do this kind of work full time for a living.

So what was your original intention with your art career? Do you see yourself moving in that direction, or sticking with kidlit?

Honestly I didn’t expect to have one. I jumped at that Craigslist ad because even with no pay, it’d still give me a chance to be in an artistic environment. My thinking was that I may not be creating the art but at least I’ll get to wear jeans and a t-shirt and be surrounded by it!

I always saw myself having a typical job, like most, and if I were lucky enough I’d carve out time to pick up paint brushes again. Believe me, no one is more surprised by how things have turned out than I am! I still love the smell oil paint and turpentine so it would be wonderful to get back to that in my spare time. It’s still a goal, but it’ll probably be awhile.

Has anyone ever told you that your art is reminiscent of Quentin Blake?

Yes. And I’m honored! I’m a fan of his work. Loose, quirky and timeless! I’ve got a quirky eye myself. It’s hard for me to recognize proper proportions for some reason, so a lot of times a leg will be longer or wider than another or a head is too big or too small for a body. I rely heavily on others to point it out to me because I just don’t notice it! I’m drawn to Blake’s work because he doesn’t seem to care much about those things at all either and it gives his work a certain looseness and a lot of life and personality that I truly admire.

What are your plans for the future?

For the immediate future I plan to finish the two remaining books in the Alfie series and keep an eye on how the first two do once they’re on the shelves. After that, I just hope some awesome person out there wants to give me more work! Artistically, things are still very much up in the air for me but that keeps things exciting.

In the meantime, I dabble in website design. I finally got around to finishing my own—shearrymalone.com. I’ll continue playing around with some of that until my next illustration opportunity arises!

Shearry, thanks for answering my questions and best wishes with ABSOLUTELY ALFIE and your somewhat accidental kidlit career!

Keep up with Shearry on Twitter  .

by Salina Yoon & Christopher Polentz

People often ask me if my characters come first, or the story. Which inspires the other? Each book is different, but it’s an interesting question, and fun to reflect on. In my case, envisioning a character helps me to tell his or her story with authenticity. But they are often not fully fleshed out until my story is complete. My husband, however, fleshes his characters out with extravagant detail before the story is ever conceived.

I’d like to introduce you to my husband, artist Christopher Polentz, an aspiring writer and illustrator. He paints portraits with stunning realism inspired by actual vintage photographs he finds at antique shops. These portraits inspire stories!

I never simply copy the photograph. Over the hours of painting we spend together, developing a tangible painting, a thought process is at work. Beyond this picture; who is this person? Who were their friends? What was their position in life? Jotting down notes, organizing thoughts in my head, a real person emerges from this simple inspiration found in an antique store for $3.00.

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My mental notes encourage more imagery, a background environment, she should appear emaciated-why? She’s wearing a necklace, what should be hanging from that necklace I ask myself. And so the conversation goes. And from this single photograph an imagined world of complexity evolves. None of which was planned, yet happened, spontaneously. Over the years I have found my paintings feeling incomplete in some way. My viewers had questions. A natural human curiosity wanted answers. I found myself retelling, and embellishing on my own original thoughts. And listening to my audience-they have some of the most compelling thoughts about my characters, and I take it-it’s great! Then, tying one character to another, it all slowly came together and made sense. They all belonged together, as they all came from me. I realized the need to put these stories, previously confined to my mind, on paper.

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My portrait has not inspired just one idea, but several, because they are all inner-connected like a family tree. I now have a story of pictures supported by the movie of my mind that is always different and ever changing-one photograph, object, or maybe a past experience all play a role. So this is what I do. I shop, hunt, and think, never knowing where or what that next thing is adding to another piece of my puzzle, a new chapter in MY Twilight Zone.

My finished portraits are not finished at all. It’s just the beginning. A character is born with a story to tell, and we, the creator, are the ones to tell it.

Try this.

Go to an antique or thrift store. Scan through photographs of real life people or things people have owned. There are games, tools, dishes, toys, jewelry, and all kinds of unexpected treasures! Each one has a story to tell, and only you can tell it because it’s from your own imagination. Let an object or photograph trigger a story. Don’t simply interpret it. Make it your own! Elaborate and invent. Even inanimate objects can come to life if you’re using your imagination. What is their story?

Have fun browsing and imagining. Find something ordinary and make it extraordinary!

Pictured: Portraits by Christopher Polentz that have inspired stories. Feel free to let them trigger stories of your own!

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chris1Christopher Polentz graduated with honors from Art Center College of Design in 1985 earning his BFA degree. After a long career as a freelance artist working with clients such as; Atlantic Records, MGM/UA Entertainment, Mattel Toys and Reebok, Chris returned to college earning his MA degree from Syracuse University in 2001. Chris now pursues gallery work and has exhibited with galleries including; CoproNason Gallery-Santa Monica, La Luz de Jesus Gallery-Culver City, Sparks Gallery- San Diego and Cannon Gallery-Carlsbad. He continues to teach, and likes to think of himself as more technician than artist, working traditionally in his preferred medium of graphite and acrylic. Chris has been teaching art for over thirty years, including twenty years at both Art Center College of Design and Palomar Community College.

You can learn more about Christopher Polentz and his art at christopherpolentz.com.

salinayoonmedSalina Yoon is an award winning author and illustrator of over 160 books for young children, including the popular Penguin picture book series and the new Duck Duck Porcupine beginning reader series. She was the featured author for the 2016 Kohl’s Cares Summer Campaign, and her awards include the 2015 Award for Excellence in a Picture Book for FOUND, by the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California, the 2015 International Literacy Association’s Children’s Choice Reading List for FOUND, and much more.

You can learn more about Salina Yoon and her books at salinayoon.com or follow Salina on Twitter at @salinayoon.

Chris and Salina have two boys, one more artistically inclined than the other (but they won’t name names) and they share one agent, Jamie Weiss Chilton, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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Christopher is giving away a print of one of his portraits (that you can use to inspire a new character).

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

wendyartwork

Let me introduce you to one of the hardest working illustrators in kidlit. I have known Wendy Martin for years, and during that time she has been drawing everything in sight and refining her style. Her diverse range spans from mandala coloring books to art nouveau maidens to the bright watercolors of her illustrative picture book debut, THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS. This charming bi-lingual tale features a determined group of students who discover the power of story.

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Wendy, were there any unique challenges to illustrating a bi-lingual picture book?

I received the manuscript in English only. According to the paperwork from the publisher, the text would be translated later. Piñata Books has a fairly standard format for their picture books. Both languages of text on one side of the spread with the English and Spanish separated by a vignette, but the art notes I received wanted art to run across the border. In most cases, when I’m doing my thumbnail sketches, I leave room for text while designing each spread. In this book’s case, I had to allow for a bit more than twice the space of the English copy, because Spanish usually has more words. 
It’s a good thing the text is very short, since my illustrations take up a lot of space.

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How have you gone about marketing and promoting this book as an illustrator rather than an author?

THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS is a wonderful book for classroom usage. But with the release date being May 30, schools have been closed for weeks already here in Missouri. I plan to use the summer months to create a contact list of school resource librarians about coming to area schools to talk about what an illustrator does and how a book is illustrated. I already do this kind of appearance via Skype school visits around the world. The author, Diane Gonzales Bertrand, is an accomplished speaker and teacher. She is promoting the book in Texas at book fairs and local children’s events. She says she is pretty uninvolved in the digital arena, so that’s where I’m focusing my marketing efforts for now. This blog tour is part of that.

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Why are picture books with diverse characters important?

I remember as a child always feeling like an outsider at story time, mainly because the characters in the books were never like me. It’s difficult to be a minority, whether it’s by culture or because of skin tone. The United States is a melting pot, where there are many, many cultures, skin tones, religions, lifestyles, what have you. No child should be made to feel as if their families, their cultures or their race are “less than” any other. If they don’t see kids like themselves, in books, doing the things that they do, in the way they do it, it is harmful to them, as well as to the children outside of that group of people. One of the reasons I was so excited to work with Piñata Books is precisely because their editorial focus is inclusive of many cultures. They do tend to lean toward the population breakdown of the Houston, Texas public school area, but since they are located there, that’s understandable.

I have kids of multiple ethnicities in my made up classroom. I loved giving each one of them a personality. I do that a lot. My characters all have backstory (in my head) as to who they are, and how they’ll act in all my books. They become “real” to me, for the length of the time it takes me to create the book. It’s always a little bit sad when I send them out into the world. Just like a mom sending any of her children off on their own.

storycirclerainThank you, Wendy, for sharing your new book–and for giving away a copy to one of our blog readers! 

Leave one comment below to be entered in the random drawing for THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS. A winner will be selected in approximately two weeks.

Good luck and happy reading!

ToryTwo years ago at NJ-SCBWI, someone mistook Tory Novikova for my daughter.

Eek! Am I that OLD? No, really, Tory is quite young, so let’s just say that if I were a teenage bride, it could be a possibility. I mean, look at those eyes and hair! Totally plausible.

While Tory’s definitely not my daughter, she does work with her mom, and that’s pretty cool.

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Torynova’s adorbable Mushroom Fairy Print leggings.

Her mom played a heavy role in inspiring the styles for Tory’s own fashion company, Torynova Couture.

“The woman had me drawing as soon as possible, so kudos to that child-rearing dedication. She’s a fashion designer, graduated from Moscow’s Textile Institute and had worked for the top fashion houses there and also made costumes for theater and ballet. Even my great grandparents worked on costume and stage production for the Bolshoi Theater, so one could say appreciation for the classics runs through my blood.”

With Tory’s talent and drive—she also illustrates for video game, comic and apparel companies—I knew picture books couldn’t be far behind for this Pratt Institute 2010 BFA. Flash forward to NOW and her book TUKE THE SPECIALIST TURTLE is swimming your way!

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Tory, how did you land the job illustrating TUKE?

I was approached really out of the blue (for me, anyway) by Jim Ritterhoff about illustrating this children’s book he had written and meant to publish through his company, Chowder Inc. Profits were to benefit CCMI, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute and the Central Reef Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to sustaining coral reefs in the Caribbean. He seemed really dedicated to the marine ecology of the reefs, being a diver himself. So I came on board and drew him Tuke.

Your illustrations for TUKE are so vibrant and fun. They really bring the ocean and Tuke’s personality to life. Could you give us a little background on your process for creating the art?

I think there is a natural juiciness to my color palette and aesthetic, no matter how far I try to run away from it. It must be a side effect from having my eyes stuck to the TV, growing up watching too many cartoons for it to be healthy. Thankfully, it came in very handy with Tuke because the story takes place in the Caribbean Reef. Though I’ve never seen it in person, I’ve researched enough about it to know that it’s riddled with colors beyond imagination. In fact, the very first spread I finished in full color was the entire reef, which comes in right after the introduction. The reaction I got from Jim, who is an avid diver and knows the reef so well, was pretty much like—YES! This totally works! So after that point, there were no doubts about color constraints. Though, I did get to play around with different depths of blues, which was lovely.

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As far as my process goes. The entire book, 60+ pages, was laid out in clean pencil sketches like a storyboard. And for me, clean is a relative term…since my lines are pretty gestural and loose (I really dislike the look of pencil lines that have been traced over lovely loose sketches). Anyway! After each page or spread was drawn, I went over it with an ink brush, picking up and adding textures that I could snap up and use later for the finish. Eventually these were all scanned and saved for later. Then came the flat vector shapes. I really enjoy drawing freehand in Illustrator – is that strange? There is a satisfying gravity about a solid mass that contorts to form the daintiest of details. The expressions of the animals were probably my most favorite parts to draw!

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And finally, the image is completed in Photoshop, all the bits are assembled, and the color is fully applied. It may be a little tedious of a process, but it lent itself a lot to the look of the book, and Tuke! And of course there were many moments of going back into inks, rescanning, and altering the finished pages by administering bits of texture for the final polish.

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So, what’s next for you, Tory?

Hmmm…what IS next?!?! Well for starters, I’m about as knee-deep into education and new media as I’ll ever be. In fact, I’m currently involved in the creation of an entire educational game world revolving around children’s books and characters due for release in 2014. So I’m definitely still deep in pursuit of creating for kids—video games, books, products, cartoons—you name it! But it’s always been a dream to illustrate picture books. So I’m very much looking forward to the next opportunity that comes my way! 🙂 Any takers?!

Well, I’ll bet there will be plenty of takers for our special TUKE giveaway! 

One lucky blog reader will win a custom sketch of Tuke made especially for them! You can even enter twice!

Comment or leave a question for Tory here on the blog for one entry, then Tweet or Instagram an image of the book with hashtag #TuketheSpecialistTurtle and tag @torynova for another entry. Contest ends September 21st and a winner will be announced shortly thereafter.

For more about Tory and her various projects, visit ToryNova.com.

kristivaliantby Kristi Valiant

PENGUIN CHA-CHA is my first book as both author and illustrator, so my process was very different than when I’ve illustrated manuscripts written by other authors.

penguinchachaUsually I receive a manuscript from a publisher, I read it over—that first read tickles the first glimpses of images into my head—and then I decide if that manuscript is one that I want to spend months illustrating.

Illustrating stories by other authors gives me a chance to illustrate ideas that I wouldn’t have had otherwise and brings variety to my work.

For example, in THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN, the author Janna Matthies wrote about a family growing a healthy vegetable garden as Mom recovered from cancer. It’s a powerful story of healing. Since I’ve never gone through something like that, I wouldn’t have thought to write that story, but Janna experienced a very similar cancer battle in her own life before writing this hope-filled story. As soon as I read that manuscript, I knew it would be an important book for many families. It was an honor to be able to illustrate it.

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Another part of illustrating someone else’s manuscript is to add my own voice to the book through the illustrations. I need to figure out what to add to the story they’re telling, and that may mean showing things in the illustrations that the author never thought of. (That’s why publishers like to keep the authors and illustrators away from each other.)

corasdogIn the picture book CORA COOKS PANCIT by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, Cora feels ignored at first by her family. To echo her feelings, I drew a little dog that follows Cora around wanting to play, so he brings her more and more toys on each page. Cora ignores him.

Just as Cora gets her happy ending, the dog gets his own happy ending when Cora finally plays with him. The dog wasn’t part of the text by the author. The dog is my own contribution to rounding out the story with the illustrations. Since parents are usually busy reading the words, they may not even notice the dog, but be assured that the kids who are hearing the story and studying the illustrations definitely notice that dog! Kids are master picture readers, so that’s always something I think about as I decide how to draw my half of the story in books written by someone else.

My process for PENGUIN CHA-CHA was different from the start because the illustration came first instead of the manuscript. Way back in 2007, I drew an illustration of penguins dancing. I used to be in a swing and Latin dance group and I liked penguins, so I decided to combine two things I liked to create a fun portfolio piece.

penguinchachaint

Around the same time I had tried my hand at writing my first picture book manuscripts about other subjects. I had a meeting with an editor and showed her my picture book manuscripts and also my portfolio. She remarked about how much more my face lit up when we got to the dancing penguin illustration than when I talked about my manuscripts!

penguinsdancing

So I realized I really needed to write about the things that make my face light up. Makes sense, right? So I wrote story after story about dancing penguins. It was much harder to write a wonderfully marketable picture book than I thought it would be! What remained constant were the dancing penguins, but the plots of the stories were all over the place. Those penguins danced for years as I figured out my story. I even licensed them out as wrapping paper at some point. I finally sorted out my story as it played as images in my head. I only wrote down the words that I felt were necessary and not shown in the illustrations. In the end, my editor at Random House asked me to add in a bit more text. I may be the only picture book author that’s happened to—usually they want to cut words!

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Writing my own books allows me the freedom to draw my favorite subject matter and favorite kinds of characters and things that make my face light up like dancing penguins. And the story usually starts with an image for me. Illustrating someone else’s manuscript brings more variety to my work and new experiences. So I love both!

Speaking of new experiences, I’m currently illustrating a picture book written by Danielle Steel called PRETTY MINNIE IN PARIS. For research, I visited Paris—what a lovely city to experience! The story combines Paris, a fashion runway show, a long-haired teacup Chihuahua, and a stylish little girl. Oh la la! Watch for PRETTY MINNIE in the fall of 2014.

penguinchachaprizeThanks, Kristi, for giving us a glimpse into your process! 

PENGUIN CHA-CHA releases today!  Happy Book Birthday, Kristi!

And lucky readers, Kristi is giving away a PENGUIN CHA-CHA prize pack! You’ll receive a signed book, magnet, bookmark and sticker! Just leave a comment below by September 5th to enter, and if you’d like to ask Kristi a question, you can do so there, too.

You can learn more about the book at PenguinChaCha.com and download a Storytime Activities Kit.

Also follow Kristi’s blog at KristiValiant.blogspot.com.

 

Ever heard of the picture book THE LOUDS MOVE IN? It’s one of my all-time favorites, with a cast of unique characters like Miss Shushermush, who eats quiet meals of leftover mashed potatoes. When the Loud family moves onto Earmuffle Avenue, the chaos begins and friendships are eventually [noisily] forged.

Ever since I read THE LOUDS I have been a huge fan of author Carolyn Crimi. So when I heard about her newest book PUGS IN A BUG, and then saw the illustrations by Stephanie Buscema, I nearly fell off my chair with an attack of acute cuteness. Punch-buggy green! Gotcha!

PUGS is a “catchy canine counting book” with a jaunty joy-ride rhyme and a groovin’ get-up-and-go beat. It’s so much fun to read aloud with its twists and turns in language—and in the road. Chugging along, the pugs meet up with a pooch parade, so there’s not only pugs in a bug, but bulldogs in a taxi and poodles on skateboards. This book proves that it’s not always about the destination but the journey. Beep, beep! Bow wow! I know you want to win it now!

So Carolyn and Stephanie are both here today to talk about the creation of PUGS…and yes, you can win it!

TL: Carolyn, are pugs your favorite kind of dog? Do you own a pug? Why PUGS?

CC: I actually love all kinds of dogs. I met a Newfoundland yesterday that I was ready to take home with me. Alas, she was a big dog and probably would not have fit in my car. But pugs are probably my favorite. They’re the comedians of the dog world. When I walk down the street with my pug Emerson people laugh. I kind of love that about him—he brings laughter with him wherever he goes.

Not that he cares about that. All he really cares about is food. If he had to choose between me and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken I’m afraid there would be no contest. KFC would win, paws down.

Not only do I own a pug, I also own a VW Bug. It’s even green, just like the one in the book. I came up with the entire idea for PUGS IN A BUG the very first time I took Emerson for a ride in my car. That was way back in 2001. I still have both the pug and the Bug. I highly recommend both!

I’ve attached a pic of Emerson for your amusement.

TL: Aww, I love Emerson! His tongue is hilarious.

So you had the idea for the book over 10 years ago. How long did it take you to write it?

CC: Boy, I wish I had a timeline for this book, but I don’t have a clear idea of when I wrote the first draft. I don’t think it was submitted until 2003. Of course the whole submission process takes forever and a day. I also probably revised it a bunch of times to no avail. Then I think it took a while to find the right illustrator.

In other words, same ole same ole.

My first drafts don’t usually take long at all. Maybe just a couple of days. It’s the many revisions I do that take years. Yup, years. I’ll put something away for a while if it doesn’t sell right away. I’ll take another look at it years later and will sometimes be able to see the changes that need to be made. Sometimes I can’t see how to change it. I have a lot of unsold manuscripts lurking in my computer just waiting for the day when I can fix them.

I often tell new writers that this is not a microwave career where you stick in a hastily written manuscript and a six figure income pops out thirty seconds later. It takes oodles of revisions and a lot of “thinking time” to polish a manuscript into submission-ready form.

TL: I remember you once said that an illustrator never does what you imagine—they do far better than you ever could have imagined. What did Stephanie do with PUGS that really surprised you?

CC: Lots of things!

She gave them all hats, which I love, especially since I have been known to, um, dress up my pug on occasion. This lends a distinct personality to each pug. Genius!

Something else that surprised me was that two sweet little birds appear on every spread. (TL: Can you find them below?) That’s the kind of thing kids love to follow in a book. Also, toward the end a rascally squirrel jumps onto the back of the Bug, unbeknownst to the pugs riding in it. So fun! Stephanie has added so many details like this. It’s the kind of book that has endless surprises in the illustrations. I’m still finding things in it that I hadn’t noticed before!

TL: Stephanie, what drew you to PUGS IN A BUG?

SB: When I got the manuscript for PUGS, I was thrilled with the subject matter (I love drawing and painting animals) and was immediately drawn to it! The story had so much room for play, color and lots of fun character designs. I’m a big fan of Carolyn’s work, so it was an honor to illustrate one of her books.

TL: What kind of tricks do you use to keep so many similar-looking characters diverse? Did you name the Pugs as you drew them?

SB: I didn’t name them, but I did add in little pug accessories so that the reader would know each pug was different (and so I could keep track, haha)!

TL: LOL! Yes, I love all the little details like the bow ties and hats, although I confess the girl with the flower in her fur is my favorite. Or maybe it’s the cool jazz dude. Or the one with the pink horn-rimmed glasses. Oh, I can’t choose!

What was your favorite spread to illustrate?

SB: I have to say, I enjoyed most of the spreads. I think my most favorite spreads to paint were the pages at the beginning of the book. It was really fun to push myself with the landscapes and scene changes. If I had to chose one? I think the spread with the 3 pugs driving into the city was my favorite to paint. The entire book was painted in gouache and cel-vinyl (animation) paints on watercolor paper.

TL: Do you do any Photoshop or computer work once your paintings are finished?

SB: Nope, I work 100% traditional. Sometimes we’ll have to clean up a little spot here or there, and of course in the proofing stage if something isn’t bright enough we’ll bump it up. But other then that, I don’t use Photoshop in the art stages at all.

TL: How do you hope readers will react to the illustrations?

SB: Like any job I do, I always hope the readers enjoy the visuals and pick up on the sense of joy I get out of painting a book.

TL: I think that is totally obvious with this book—the bright color and playfulness just jumps out and slaps a seatbelt on you. Sit down and enjoy the ride!

Carolyn, you  have published so many terrific books—WHERE’S MY MUMMY?, HENRY & THE BUCCANEER BUNNIES, DON’T NEED FRIENDS—and now PUGS is added to that list. Can you even pick a favorite?

CC: Well, I have to say based on the writing alone, I like my book DEAR TABBY the best. I love all my books, but I think DEAR TABBY is the funniest. And while I don’t believe in heavy-handed message books, if you read the last page you’ll know my philosophy of life. More importantly, I had a ton of fun writing it!

TL: And those are the best books–the ones that gave the author the most pleasure often give the audience the most fun. Your joy and enthusiasm shine through. 

Thanks, Carolyn and Stephanie! I know everyone will have a blast with PUGS…so let’s give them a chance to win it!

See the pugs on the cover above? Which is your favorite? And just what *is* that pugs name? Name that dog! (Which also happens to be another book illustrated by Stephanie.) I hope you come up with names as creative as Carolyn’s nicknames for Emerson: Sir Scratch and Sniff, Mr. Wiggle Butt, The Mayor and Circus Dog.

You get an extra entry for each share on social media—just mention it in the comments.

Comments close the end of April 30 and a random winner will be chosen shortly thereafter.

Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

Beep, beep! Bow wow!

Visit CarolynCrimi.com and StephanieBuscema.com to learn more about their books!

You probably know the talented illustrator Ryan Hipp—he’s the guy who designed the first PiBoIdMo logo. Well, now he’s got a cool sketch service to check out. You want something drawn? A robot eating a cupcake? A cupcake eating a robot? Or, even more awesomer—a cupcake robot? He’s your man! Check out his very cool site www.SketchRequest.com!

Ryan told me he’s a world-class procrastinator and we battled a little over who was better at putting off things. I think I won. I said I’d continue the argument tomorrow.

But I did ask Ryan to guest blog about his New Year’s resolutions and how to turn procrastination into pro-magination. Take it away, Ryan!

by Ryan Hipp

The New Year is upon us all, and along with all the diets and promises to give up vices, many of us set resolutions and battle with the evils of procrastination in our professional lives. This is no different in the business of children’s literature. Take it from me—someone that really knows the sinking, overwhelming feeling deep in the pit of the stomach—someone that often doesn’t even know where or how to begin.

People ask me all the time, “So when’s your next book out?”. Wow, its, the worst question to get. Lately I say, “Oh yeah, I’m totally working on this awesome thing that I totally can’t talk about because its like on the verge of blowing up big time and I don’t want to unveil it too soon and stuff, you know?” But in secret, I haven’t sat down to work on it in weeks in some cases.

For me, the irony is that the rigors of being a kidlit professional means I spend a ton of time trying to secure school visits or sending out mailings, and not doing the very thing that all of that work stems from—the writing and the drawing. I am often feeling underwater with all the business that goes along with making books, that I have trouble concentrating on…well…making books!

And then there’s just normal life getting in the way. We all can relate to that, excuse or no excuse.

But here’s an indefensible excuse—the other embarrassing reality is that when I do actually have time to be creative and productive, I still sometimes don’t . I’ll get easily swayed by a call from friends to go out to a movie, or whatever. I’ll have full intentions of turning a free 24 hour Saturday into a work day, then find a way to completely blow it on fun and frivolity.

I’ll say, “I can just do it on Sunday”. But do I? Nope.  Encore performance.

I find myself making every excuse in the world to keep away from my desk. Its as if I have a subconscious mental barrier that won’t allow me to begin writing or drawing if my office is cluttered or if I have other things on my mind. And then when I do sit down, sometimes it is a battle to stop goofing around watching cat videos on YouTube.

So here is what I have been doing to combat this of late:

Slow & Steady for the Win
Every little bit helps. 15 minutes a day for a week is still better than failing your intention to sit down for 2 hours on the weekend and then not doing it.

Get Out of the House to Get Work Done
A quiet coffee shop or restaurant away from distractions at home. (Tara: I spend at least one day a week at the library. Otherwise the fridge calls me too often.)

Turn off Phone/Computer
The battle for me is my computer is a tool for research and design—but also a distracting temptation. So I draw my thumbnails away from my desk, and I scribble my notes away from my computer. Then I bring that stuff back home when the momentum will keep me on-task.

Ask Someone Else to Keep Accountability
When you are your own boss, nobody will get on your case if you didn’t write today. So schedule someone to critique your work on a set schedule so you have regular benchmarks to shoot for.

But, when I do get an urge to goof around on YouTube, I cut myself some slack, and remind myself to watch the one thing that usually puts me in the right mood to get productive immediately afterwards. It’s an episode of the Babar animated series titled “To Duet or Not Duet” and it’s a wonderful lesson in procrastination and setting realistic goals. So the next time you are distracted or frazzled, I give you permission to take a break to watch it here:

So what are my resolutions for 2012? I am going to defeat another battle I have—submitting. I am TERRIBLE about sending my work out. But it is really the most important part. I am going to make a better effort at sending out my queries and samples—because all that diligence and hard work means nothing unless it gets discovered.

Be Good and Work Hard!

What are some of your tricks for getting the BIC—butt in chair?

Children’s book illustrator Kelly Light recently launched RIPPLE, a cooperative of illustrators making small sketches in exchange for a donation to a non-profit effort in the gulf.

“A small sketch, a small donation, each small act helps. Together we can cause a ripple in the oil-soaked waters of the gulf.”

Most sketches are just $50 each. You must be the first to email RIPPLE to claim a particular sketch, wait for confirmation that you are the first, then make a donation to a gulf non-profit and provide receipt proof within the hour. The schedule of illustrators is posted so you can be ready to pounce!

Illustrators to come include Dan Santat, Jarrett Krosoczka, Pascal Campion, and later today–Mo Willems.

So head on over to RIPPLE and buy an original piece of art!

Whoa, that’s a long title. But it’s accurate! I asked some of my favorite authors and illustrators to pick three stand-out picture books of 2009. It wasn’t an easy task. I know because I couldn’t decide myself! So I dumped the job on them, just like New Jersey got dumped with snow this weekend. Except they’re a lot warmer than I am, cuddled up with good books instead of buried beneath a foot of the white stuff.

Check out their amazing selections and add a new book to your holiday wish list!

Boni Ashburn

Author of Hush, Little Dragon and Over at the Castle

Rhyming Dust Bunnies
by Jan Thomas
Beach Lane Books
January 2009

A simple, hilarious introduction to rhyming that is not only adorable to look at, but also invites audience participation and is a perfect read-aloud. That’s right, perfect.

You Never Heard Of Sandy Koufax?!
by Jonah Winter and Andre Carrilho
Schwartz & Wade
February 2009

Striking illustrations coupled with a fantastic voice–this book makes you FEEL baseball. Jonah Winter is a picture-book biography genius–I had a hard time choosing between this one and Gertrude Is Gertrude Is Gertrude Is Gertrude (which has an equally excellent voice!).

Egg Drop
by Mini Grey
Knopf Books for Young Readers
July 2009

Excellent humor of the dark, dry and deadpan sort, coupled with Grey’s gorgeous art.

This was impossibly hard! Three is too just too few. My “honor books” would be A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis, Monkey With A Toolbelt And The Noisy Problem by Chris Monroe and Thunder Boomer! by Shutta Crum and Carol Thompson.

Jannie Ho

Illustrator of The Great Reindeer Rebellion and Light the Menorah

Around the World with Mouk
by Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books
November 2009

Last year when I was in France, all I could think about was getting my hands on this book (which was originally published in French), but only to find out later that Chronicle books were publishing it in the US this year. Marc Boutavant is one of my favorite illustrators; I’ve read his style described as “the modern day of Richard Scarry,” and I agree! With so many little details to look over, there is always something new to discover each time I open it.

Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood
by Ramona Badescu and Delphine Durand
Chronicle Books
March 2009

Another one from Chronicle! I can’t resist Delphine Durand’s illustrations–so many funny little details to look at. I own many of her books, and am obviously a fan…(even wrote her a fan email!) Even though this story is about a grumpy rabbit, one can’t help but smile when looking at her silly characters.

The Great Paper Caper
by Oliver Jeffers
HarperCollins Children’s Books
April 2009

I’m a great admirer of those who write AND illustrate their books. Oliver Jeffers’ illustrations are super cozy and serene, I want to live in that forest with the animals! Thumbs up to this quirky, winter mystery story.

Jacqui Robbins

Author of The New Girl…and Me

A Book
by Mordecai Gerstein
Roaring Brook Press
April 2009

Kirkus called it “Metafiction for the picture-book set.” A young girl who lives in the book with her family struggles to find her story, trying on different genres and marveling at the giant mushy faces (that’s us) looking in on her. It’s funny, it’s smart, and it is truly unique. Plus, we read it five hundred times in the first month we had it and I never tired of it.

Duck! Rabbit!
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
Chronicle
March 2009

I was smitten with this book from the start. The concept is simple: is it a duck or a rabbit? Two voices argue. Giggling ensues. As I blogged in July, we get extra giggling in our house because my preschool son does not have the cognitive ability to see it both ways and so he thinks the point of the book is that some poor dope thinks that bunny’s a duck.

Okay, I would be lying if I didn’t pick Two of a Kind, by, um, me (and Matt Phelan).
Atheneum
July 2009

I’d like to be cool enough to pretend I didn’t dance like a four year-old fairy girl whenever I turn to the page with my name on it. But I’m not. And I do. More than that, though, I still love the story and the way it makes kids nod in recognition.

Patricia Storms

Author/Illustrator of The Pirate and the Penguin

It’s really hard to pick just three books! Being a Canadian, you might wonder if my choices are Canuck books. Yup, they are…and they are all very unique and engaging.

The Perfect Snow
by Barbara Reid
Scholastic
October 2009

Barbara Reid is a treasured Canadian talent who once again creates a visual delight with her plasticine illustrations. Reid creates a delightful story about the joys of creating snowmen and snow forts in the perfect snow of a winter day.

The Imaginary Garden
by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher
Kids Can Press
March 2009

Andrew Larsen’s The Imaginary Garden is a beautiful story about the special bond between a grandchild and grandparent, and the power of the creative imagination. Luxbacher’s illustrations are magical and bursting with colour.

The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear
by David Bruins and Hilary Leung
Kids Can Press
September 2009

And finally, The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear is charming and fun story about friendship, and celebrating the differences in others. Hilary Leung’s illustrations are bright and utterly adorable!

Michael Sussman

Author of Otto Grows Down

Spoon
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Scott Magoon
Hyperion
April 2009

Modesty prevents me from mentioning Otto Grows Down (darn, I mentioned it!) But I also loved Spoon, which—like Otto—was illustrated by the supremely talented and charming Scott Magoon. I’m always amazed at Scott’s versatility, and once again he has employed the perfect style for this sweet and quirky story. I also admire Amy, since I’ve tried unsuccessfully for years to come up with a picture book about an inanimate object. Not an easy task, and she makes it look simple.

Starring Lorenzo, and Einstein Too
by Mark Karlin and Sandy Nichols
Dial
April 2009

Mark, who is the author/illustrator of many fine picture books, including Mendel’s Ladder and Music Over Manhattan, has produced an endearing story which celebrates the importance of family and the power of the imagination. The cool, retro illustrations are superb.

Finn Throws a Fit!
by David Eliot and Timothy Basil Ering
Candlewick
August 2009

Finally, I’m wild about David Eliot’s Finn Throws a Fit! This book is hilarious, and it’s a model for writers striving to tell a compelling story in the fewest words possible. Timothy Basil Ering’s artwork is astounding. I don’t know of a more creative illustrator working today.

So what were your favorite picture books of 2009?
Please leave a comment!

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COMING SOON:

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
January 2, 2022

TIME FLIES
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illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 2022

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