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It’s Halloween! A perfect day to introduce you to a book for year-round fun: THE ITTY BITTY WITCH by Trisha Speed Shaskan and Xindi Yan. I interviewed both creators for a sweet blog post today!

Trisha, what inspired you to write The Itty-Bitty Witch? How did the story evolve?

When I was a child, I lived in a neighborhood full of kids. We played ditch, Sardines, and baseball at the nearby park. Halloween was magical because the kids took over the streets at night, in costumes! Because of my love for Halloween, the first picture book I chose at a RIF event was Tilly Witch by Don Freeman, a story about a witch who feels happy instead of wicked on Halloween! Drat! That story inspired me to write and read witch stories as a child. As an adult, I thought: What if I wrote a story about a witch who is the smallest witch in her class? I was always one of the smallest and/or shortest children in my class. In the early drafts of The Itty-Bitty Witch, Betty Ann Batsworth (the itty-bitty witch) tries to take part in all the activities at school–spells, phys ed, and flying, but falls short. Literally! But the story needed focus, so I centered around one event: The Halloween Dash, a race on brooms. From there, the story took shape.

Trisha, this book isn’t just a Halloween story. What can readers gain from this book any time of the year?

As a child, I played nearly every sport from flag football to basketball. I was often the one girl athlete on a team of boys. Kids called me “short” and “Tommy” since I was seen as a tomboy. I didn’t like being labeled because it set me apart from other kids. Although my height and ability to play on any team was often an asset, I often didn’t see it that way. Betty is similarly given a nickname she doesn’t like (“Itty-Bitty”) but learns that being small can be a strength. Readers can learn the magic of believing in one’s self. Since Betty’s broom is shorter than the other witch’s brooms, she tries different methods to gain speed, but fails. Yet she never gives up. She uses critical thinking and demonstrates perseverance, both traits readers can fly away with!

Xindi, which aspects of Betty Ann’s personality did you want to showcase in your illustrations for The Itty-Bitty Witch? How did you accomplish that?

Betty Ann is a friendly, lovable, little witch. Her small stature is the focus of the story, so the character design process started there. Since she’s innocent and unreserved, I gave her expressive, bright eyes. I also believe she’s a confident girl, even though she experiences temporary defeat in the story. On the first day of school, she rocks her floppy hat, messy, carefree hairdo and a small broom, completely oblivious to others’ stares. Believing in herself is what pushes her to work harder and eventually win the race. The details of her outfit are different than her more “polished” classmates. I chose yellow for her top because it’s the contrasting color to the purple uniforms. Visually she pops out of any composition. Yellow also represents her warm, friendly personality and relentless energy. I was so inspired by the story, I did more than 20 variations on the initial character sketches of Betty Ann. The final design is based on bits and pieces from a lot of them.

How did you choose the illustration style of The Itty-Bitty Witch?

The style of the book was inspired by one personal piece I did of a little witch.

This is a Halloween story with witches and magic, so obviously dramatic lighting, colors and spooky elements are a must! And nighttime is the best setting to show these off.

While creating the scenes where Betty’s trying to fly faster on her broom, I was inspired by comic books and LeUyen Pham’s work. I alternated from full-spread illustrations to spot illustrations to create visual breaks and change the pacing of the story.

Thank you for taking a break from Trick-or-Treating to chat with me about THE ITTY-BITTY WITCH! 

I have a copy to give away!

Leave one comment below to enter. A random winner will be selected very soon.

GOOD LUCK!

by Trisha Speed Shaskan & Stephen Shaskan

Writing is often thought of as a solo process. Picture a beret-clad, tortured artist in a dimly-lit room typing on a laptop with a bottle of Absinthe on hand. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Every book is made by a team—the author and editor for starters. So why not collaborate with someone from the start of your story?

Since we first met while working at an elementary school, we’ve been collaborators. We became friends, eventually married (but that’s another story), and formed a rock band together. Stephen played guitar. Trisha played drums.

At school, we co-taught a class. We eventually co-taught classes where we encouraged students to collaborate on creating stories and comics. But it wasn’t until we had both published books—Stephen as an author/illustrator and Trisha as an author—that we began collaborating from the start of the story process.  After our agents submitted an early chapter book for us that was rejected, an editor asked if we were interested in submitting a new chapter book series idea. In the past, Trisha had written the story, then Stephen read it and illustrated it. This time, we decided to collaborate from the start. Since then, we’ve found the process is really beneficial; it helped us create our graphic novel series Q & RAY and our picture book PUNK SKUNKS. This process could help you too.

When choosing someone to collaborate with on brainstorming story ideas, choose someone you fully trust. Once you’ve chosen a person, there are ground rules.

First: Collaborators need to find equal value. Brainstorm mutual interests that could be the subject of a story—basket weaving, sky diving. This allows each collaborator to have the maximum amount of investment in the story. When we first brainstormed a list of ideas to work on collaboratively, “rock bands” was one of the first subjects we both agreed on. Stephen wasn’t so keen on tea parties.

Second: Maintain mutual respect with your collaborator(s). Allow ample space for everyone’s ideas. Remember to keep things positive. There aren’t bad ideas when brainstorming (except for bands that throw tea parties according to Stephen). Think of the brainstorming session as a large pot of soup. Your collaborative cook throws in rutabaga. You don’t like rutabaga, but this is the first time you’re trying this recipe. When the soup is done, you’ll be able to see if the rutabaga works or not. When we brainstormed which animals might play in a rock band, we tried moles, then badgers who looked much better as folk rockers than rockers when sketched, before choosing punk skunks for our story.

Third: Have a sense of humor. Don’t take anything too seriously. Try to laugh at yourself. Even if you seriously want the band to throw a tea party.

Once we’ve brainstormed a story idea together, we also brainstorm the conflict. For PUNK SKUNKS, the natural conflict was one skunk wanted to sing about one topic, while the other skunk disagreed. Together we brainstormed what the characters’ personalities might be and came up with a possible outline for the story. But when it was time to write, Trisha wrote the story on her own, then Stephen illustrated it on his own.

Our first collaborative story idea that became PUNK SKUNKS was rejected as a chapter book as was our second idea, Q & Ray. We loved the stories so we switched the formats. We sold (and have now published) PUNK SKUNKS as a picture book and Q & Ray as a 3-book graphic novel series for young readers. Plus, we learned the benefits of collaborating. There’s group investment in the story. We’ve combined our expertise. The process forced each of us to think outside ourselves and to maybe let go of the tea parties. We hope you try collaborating too.

Trisha Speed Shaskan has written over forty books for children, including the picture book PUNK SKUNKS and the Q & RAY graphic novel series, which are all illustrated by her husband Stephen Shaskan. Trisha is also the author of the upcoming picture book THE ITTY-BITTY WITCH illustrated by Xindi Yan releasing in July (Two Lions/Amazon). Trisha and Stephen, their cat Eartha, and dog Beatrix live in Minnesota. Visit Trisha online at: trishaspeedshaskan.com or on Facebook.

Stephen Shaskan is the author and illustrator of several picture books including: BIG CHOO, TOAD ON THE ROAD, MAX SPEED, THE THREE TRICERATOPS TUFF, and A DOG IS A DOG. He is also the illustrator of the picture book PUNK SKUNKS and the graphic novel series Q and Ray, both written by his wife Trisha Speed Shaskan. Stephen lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with Trisha, and their cat Eartha and dog Bea. Find him at stephenshaskan.com or on Facebook.

You can also follow Trisha and Stephen together on Facebook here.

  

Trisha and Stephen are giving away a signed copy of PUNK SKUNKS and a signed copy of Q & RAY CASE #1: THE MISSING MOLA LISA. There will be two winners of one book each.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

 

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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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COMING SOON:


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Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


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Disney*Hyperion
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THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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