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I typically don’t like to upload JUST a winner announcement…I like to shove something else in there to ensure the post is entertaining and informative as well.

So, here.


OK, so that’s neither entertaining nor informative. But it is hilarious.

What do you think he was saying at that moment? (Guess in the comments.)

Personally, I think he was scatting.

Or casting a groovy employment spell upon the graduating masses.

Or perhaps asking for a sammich.

Performing “The Eensy-Weensy Spider”? (Deb Lund’s guess.)

Now that we’ve had a little fun, let’s get onto the winnahs.

The winnah of OWL BOY by Brian Schatell is:


The THREE winnahs of framed BE A FRIEND art from the incomparable Salina Yoon are:


Whooppeee-do-dooo-beeee! (Hmm, this may be what McConaughey was saying.)

Congratulations to the winners and please be on the lookout for an email from me!

Oh boy, it’s a new picture book by Brian Schatell, OWL BOY!

BrianSchatellphotoFor those of you who don’t know Brian, he co-chairs the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One conference…and has been doing so for YEARS. You will not find anyone more giving of his time and talents to help aspiring kidlit authors and illustrators reach the next level in their careers. What he pulls together—over 80 publishing mentors in a jam-packed day of learning, networking and professional growth—for YOUR benefit is mind-boggling!

(What’s that? You don’t know about RUCCL? Well then GO HERE. The 2015 application is live now!)

So when I saw Brian’s new book and its pure adorableness, I had to talk to him about it. He’s OWLWAYS got some fantastic pieces of wisdom.

Brian, when I first heard you talking about OWL BOY, you said it was autobiographical, “except for the owls.” What did you mean?


This is a book about an obsessed, hyper-focused child; the sort of kid who when he’s interested in something, he’s interested all the way! That’s the sort of child I was, and that’s the sort of person I am today, still. Owls were not my own particular childhood focus. But one of my daughter’s elementary school classmates was a boy who knew every owl fact you could ever want to know, as well as every NY Yankee baseball statistic, among other things. That boy was certainly an inspiration for the owl part, but as I told his parents, the book is really about me!

As an author-illustrator, which part comes first for you, the owl or the egg? Er, I mean, the story or the pictures?

Owl Boy character sketch

Well, the concept comes first, and stews around in my brain for some time. Often this concept will include certain visual elements—a key spread, a visual joke. Picture books are a visual storytelling medium, after all. I carry a note book with me and when I get an idea pertaining to a particular book concept, I jot down the idea, but it may be a sketch or it may be a snippet of text, or often both together. I stuff these notebook pages into a folder, and when they start to accumulate, they begin to coalesce into a coherent book with a beginning, middle and end. Years ago, I used to type up the manuscript, sans pictures, as a first step, and then move to thumbnails, and then a dummy. More recently, the first time I commit something to paper, I’m sketching words and pictures together from the get-go, using my earlier notebook pages as reference. For OWL BOY, there was never a separately typed manuscript until after contract, when my editor and I were finessing it. The initial version of OWL BOY was a collection of sketches done on index cards.

Your last book was a few years ago. What changes in picture books have you noted from then to now and did that influence OWL BOY in any way?

That’s a really interesting question!

First of all, a lot of illustrators are doing their art on computers these days. For other illustration work I do, for the children’s apparel industry, I work nearly exclusively in Adobe Illustrator/photoshop, yet for my books I stubbornly cling to pen and watercolor. Nevertheless, the digital age has wrought some changes in my process. Specific to OWL BOY there are pages where I combined separate elements in digital layers, as opposed to actual overlays as done in the old days, or as opposed to cutting out and pasting down elements. There’s a spread in the book—the owl extravaganza spread—where the background sky and foreground objects are two different paintings which I separately scanned and combined digitally. Makes life much easier! It’s not as if I’m against full digital illustration in my books, but to try to recreate my hand-painted look on a computer wouldn’t save me any time, not the way I work, not for OWL BOY. However, I have a couple of book ideas in mind that I do specifically see as appropriate for all-digital art.

OWL BOY bedroom sketch

Another change these days is that pretty much all picture books are simultaneously released as e-books. This did have a pretty big impact on OWL BOY. In the book I employ speech balloons for certain dialogue elements, and my intention was to hand-letter the text in these balloons, as opposed to using a font for the regular text. But as my editor told me, the age of hand-lettered type is over! Because in an ebook the text pops up in size when the cursor hits it, I was required to use set type for the speech balloons, which I was not happy about. It took us a while to arrive upon an available font that approximated my concept of hand lettering, but I’m happy now. But it was a big adjustment!

As for changes in the picture book genre these past few years, I’ll just say that I write the stories that I have to write. Trends do evolve, there are good books and bad, there are always “hot” books, but to my mind, the attributes of a successful picture book remain the same: genuine voice, strong characters, warmth, empathy and emotion, a plot with an organic beginning, middle and denouement, words and pictures that complement each other to create a whole that is more than the sum of the parts, among other things.

Good to know some things will never change!

Winding the clock back a bit further, how did you first get involved in picture books and why is RUCCL so important to you?

As someone who drew my entire life, I had no particular interest in picture books until college. While attending Parsons School of Design, I discovered a new comic strip in New York City’s weekly alternative paper, The Village Voice, by a guy named Mark Alan Stamaty. It was called “MacDoodle Street” and something about its humor and aesthetic and crammed-with-detail drawings spoke to me immediately, and began to influence my own illustration style.


A year or so later, I saw that Stamaty was teaching a class at Parsons: a children’s book illustration and writing class. As I said, I hadn’t previously had the slightest interest in children’s books, but I enrolled anyway just to meet this guy. He could have been teaching a class in taxidermy—I still would have signed up! But as it happened, he had done some interesting books and was a very good teacher. The big semester project involved writing and illustrating an original picture book dummy. There and in other college classes I began creating freestanding illustrations with the juvenile market in mind, though in retrospect I was not very sophisticated about it.

After graduation, I visited the Children’s Book Council, which compiled lists of publishers and their submission/portfolio requirements. Things were a bit simpler then. This was prior to the big wave of conglomeration in publishing, so there were dozens of major independent houses to submit to. As an illustrator, most publishers had a weekly portfolio appointment day—actual appointments, not drop off! One such appointment eventually resulted in an offer to illustrate a nonfiction picture book, this only a few months after graduation. Once I completed that, I dug out the old picture book dummy I had made in Mark Stamaty’s class and submitted it to the people I had been working with, and they actually took it!

Goff-coverThat book was Farmer Goff and His Turkey Sam, which ended up being named an SLJ Best Book when it came out. One might suppose it was all smooth sailing from that point, but of course that’s not how the industry works.

The next book I submitted to my editor was rejected. The one after that they took. There were long periods when I wasn’t working on anything at all, and times when I worked on one idea for years. I’m not the most prolific author, and sometimes I just waited for an illustration assignment to come along. OWL BOY, which just came out, was begun five years ago! I do feel fortunate that following my first book, I’ve always been able to submit ideas to people I already know.

twocrazypigsEarly in my career I was invited to teach a children’s book illustration and writing course at Parsons School of Design, more or less the same type of class I had taken with Mark Stamaty. Naturally I called him for advice. I ended up teaching this class for 12 years. One of the most gratifying aspects of teaching was the ability to help people make creative breakthroughs, to help them raise their work to the next level. Some of my students eventually published!

A few years after I started teaching, I was invited to be a mentor at the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. And some years after that I joined the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature, which organizes the conference.

firstnightofhanukkahMy feelings about the conference are similar to my feelings about teaching. Juvenile publishing is not the most glamorous nor remunerative branch of publishing —JK Rowling and her ilk aside—so most of us do it out of a true love for the genre. But it is a small industry, and can be difficult to break into, so many of those fortunate enough to be working in it are very grateful to be able to do so, and want to “pay it forward,” as the saying goes. At the Rutgers conference, as in teaching, I want people to get published! I want them to make creative breakthroughs, I want to connect them to professionals who might be able to help their careers. And at Rutgers, I and my colleagues on the Council have been able to do just that.

PupandPop4The One-on-One Plus Conference, as it is now called, is unique in that we have a faculty of over 80 editors, agents, art directors, well-published authors and illustrators, and that every aspiring author or illustrator who attends is guaranteed a forty-five minute one-on-one session with one of these professional mentors, to discuss the work that they have submitted. As I’ve personally benefited from mentors like Mark Alan Stamaty, and the editor who took on my first book, I’m only too happy to see others go on to success from this conference that I help organize.

A few years ago I found myself doing an author/illustrator presentation at an elementary school on the same day that Mark Stamaty was making an appearance. He actually sat in the audience during my presentation, all those years after I had taken his class, and speaking in front of him, I felt like the kid who had hit a home run in the big game in front of all his friends and relatives! I’m very lucky to be able to do picture books, but I owe my career to the generosity of mentors. Rutgers is a great mentoring conference, and that’s why it is so important to me.

Thank you, Brian, for the hundreds of hours you’ve put into RUCCL. I’m sure everyone who has ever attended is full of gratitude, too. Many kudos to you on OWL BOY.

And OH BOY, you can win OWL BOY from Holiday House!

Just leave a comment to be entered. One comment per person, please. A winner will be announced in two weeks.

Good luck! 

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