YOGI Blog Tour: Interview with Barb Rosenstock

Hi Barb! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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Tell us a little bit about your new book, Yogi.

Originally, I only knew Yogi Berra through his Yogi-isms, like “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I thought he was a funny guy. I didn’t realize that even into adulthood he was bullied for his looks; picked on for his playing style. This is a book about a poor kid from an immigrant family who loved baseball, and who was so relentlessly himself, that baseball had no choice but to eventually love him back. It’s a story about resilience.

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Tell us a little bit about your writing process.

Ha! I wish there was one. I do not keep a list of “famous” people I want to write about. Instead, I run across something, in this case it was a memorial article about Yogi which included the taunts he had endured. Whenever I think, “I didn’t know that,” it might become my next book.

Have you always been into writing?

I was a big reader, but writing? Not at all. I mean I could construct a sentence, but never thought I was creative enough to write. My grandfather was a wonderful storyteller, and most of the stories he told were about people he had met. He had rhythms and page turns in his voice.  I’m just try to tell historical stories about people in that same way. Family stories about real people. I tell kids all the time that if they think writing is hard, they’re probably doing it right! It’s hard. It requires consistent practice. Like sports, dance, music, art, school or family life… anything worthwhile

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Exciting? Day to day it seems quiet, but there’s two different days that are the most exciting. The day when a story that I created comes back to me in sketches, and I can tell one of these great illustrators I get to partner with “gets it.” That they love the story as much as I do, that we are now a TEAM. The second is talking to students in schools. I love taking groups of kids, most of whom don’t think they “like history” and many of whom don’t “like” writing, on a journey about the story behind a book. And it’s exciting to wind up with a long line of kids sharing ideas and asking questions about both history and writing after my presentations.

What inspires your creativity?

Since off and on I don’t think I’m particularly creative, I’m not sure how to answer. I read a lot. I daydream a lot. I go to new places when I can. I garden and walk the dog and talk to the neighbors and students and teachers and people who are smarter than me. More and more I try not to judge too early. And also, I work at it. Sometimes I think people think it’s not work…but being “creative” is work, it’s fun work, but still. In fact I would say it’s less than 5% inspiration, maybe less than 1%. We like to talk about inspiration with creative work; we don’t like to talk about the mistakes and the frustration and the dead ends. Kids need to know that ALL of that is part of a creative life. When they’re frustrated it’s not in error, it’s because they’re really TRYING!

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

I am so motion sick that I have to watch movies from the back row, take Dramamine to ride in a car even short distances and can’t watch a train when stopped at train tracks. Kids ask me if I could have explored the way many of my characters have and the answer is, “No! I would be puking!”

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

I had a long career as a creative director for a bunch of graphic design firms and corporations, so I might still be doing that. I always wanted to be Secretary of State, but I’m not that diplomatic. I’d be a talkative librarian, or an inconsistent teacher…it’s a good thing I tried writing for kids, it fits perfectly.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

Christopher Silas Neal and I have a book coming out this fall called PRAIRIE BOY, about the early life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright (Calkins Creek.) Then, in 2020 I have two books about strong women: FIGHT OF THE CENTURY, with illustrator Sarah Green, about Alice Paul’s fight to win the vote (Calkins Creek) and LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL about the astonishing life of Abigail Adams (Little Brown) which is being illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

We now have so many terrific children’s writers sharing their talents in the picture book biography format. I’m so passionate about expanding the genre and exploring the role that biographies could play in the classroom beyond “biography month” or a biography project. They can be great intros to complex topics, help bring diverse points of view into classrooms, as well as perfectly scaled models for student writing. If any teachers want to reach out, I’d love to know the creative ways they use picture book biography in their classrooms. They can reach me at www.barbrosenstock.com or on Twitter @barbrosenstock

Thanks Dylan, nice to talk with you!

The book trailer for Yogi can be found here! 

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In the Middle of the Night Blog Tour Kickoff: Interview with Laura Purdie Salas and GIVEAWAY!

It’s time to celebrate IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT with a blog tour. Kicking things off here is an interview with Laura Purdie Salas.

Hi Laura Thanks for stopping by my blog!

I’m so happy to be here! Your picture book previews are responsible for my enormous TBR shelf, and your support of children’s authors and kidlit is amazing.

Tell us a little bit about your new book, In the Middle of the Night.

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These poems show the mischief your house gets up to while you’re sound asleep–from pencils hopping down the steps to a toilet feeling lonely to your stuffed animals having a talent show.

I feel a little bad revealing to kids that they are indeed missing out on a big party when they fall asleep! But I also found it comforting to write these poems. I grew up in a two-story house with a big, dark, noisy basement (unusual in Florida!). My house at night always felt menacing.

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Figure 1: It was scarier when I was a kid!

Even today, it feels a little odd to think of everything at home just…freezing, totally still, all night long while I sleep. Imagining all these lovely little dramas playing out at night makes me happy. I’m glad my dental floss doesn’t spend ALL its time just waiting for me to use it, you know?

Tell us a little bit about your writing process.

On my blog (www.laurasalas.com/blog) on Thursdays, I post a photo and anyone who wants writes a very short poem first draft and puts it in the comments. In 2012, someone posted a poem about chalk coming to life at night (I think). I connected that in my mind to a poem from my book BookSpeak! Poems About Books. In “Lights Out at the Bookstore,” the books are just waiting:

During the day,

we wait in straight rows.

We’re frozen, we’re still until night…

until closing.

But after closing time, look out! All the books in various sections of the bookstores are ready for fun!

So, I wrote down the idea in my Picture Book Ideas document and called it Nobody’s Looking.

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I brainstormed a list of 117 household things that might have poems. I wrote dozens of poems, got wonderful feedback from my then agent, Jenn Starkman, and my critique group, the Wordsmiths.

In 2013, Rebecca Davis at Wordsong acquired the manuscript! That was such a thrill, as many of my very favorite poets have published with Wordsong. In 2016, I did a major revision with much thoughtful input from Rebecca. It’s a stronger, more cohesive collection now, though I still miss a few poems I needed to cut, like the “Dirty Laundry Do-Si-Do!” And Angela Matteson agreed to illustrate the collection. From there, it’s just been a matter of ooh-ing and aah-ing over the charming art and working out copyediting issues and such.

Have you always been into writing?

Nope! In school, I always enjoyed writing assignments and got good grades on them, but it never occurred to me to write outside of school. I read voraciously, though. I was never without a book, even if I was climbing a tree or canoeing or playing midnight ghost. But I never made that connection between reading and writing somehow.

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Figure 2: Me in a tree–with a book, of course.

It wasn’t until a took a Creative Writing course in college that I realized, “Hey! I love this!” (I fell in love with both writing and my now-husband in that one course. Best college course ever.) I wrote for grown-ups for a number of years and taught 8th-grade English for two years before moving to Minnesota, having two daughters, and falling in love with children’s books.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Oooh, that’s tough. I think it’s the sizzle in my brain when I’m playing with an idea and working on the first draft, and the words are just flowing, and there’s still that possibility that it will come out perfectly—exactly the way I envision it. It never ever does, of course. But it still feels possible every time!

Meeting readers who love my books is the other most exciting part. Books were really my best friends as a kid, and they saved me, in many ways. So meeting actual flesh-and-blood readers who have escaped into books that I helped create—that’s an astonishing feeling.

What inspires your creativity?

My curiosity. I want to know how and why things work, and the answers are often amazing. Our world is miraculous! Many of my ideas come from some nifty fact I learn.

Also, I think we find what we look for, what we’re open to. If there’s an ugli fruit on the table, here’s how I imagine a group of different people responding.

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Me: I’d like to write a picture book about a kid who has the worst name in the universe.

Artist: Look at the way the light hits that! Where are my paints?

Chef: I wonder what an ugli fruit granita would taste like.

Knitter: I’d like to knit a scarf that color.

Scientist: Genetically, how similar is an ugli fruit to a tangerine?

Educator: What’s the life cycle of an ugli fruit, and what kind of writing project might it inspire?

Entrepreneur: Could ugli fruit be the next big diet trend?

Well, you get the idea. Whatever matters to you, everything you see somehow relates to it. Books matter to me intensely, and I see most things through the lens of, “How might this work into a book?”

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

I have no sense of direction and can get thoroughly lost in my own neighborhood, in a school doing an author visit, or even going to my critique group meeting (we’ve met in the same place for years).

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Figure 3: This is how I usually look. Add tears and steam coming out of my ears to see how I look when I’m lost.

Everybody’s good at things and bad at things. My bad things are directions and keeping plants alive!

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Figure 4: There are still flowers, so it can’t be a total failure.

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

Field biologist (studying wildlife) or psychologist. I considered loads of possible careers, but that’s one of my very favorite things about writing. I get to explore all sorts of cool topics, and it’s all part of my job! (Except I don’t have to take the really hard chemistry classes.)

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I’m so excited to have two other poetry picture books out this spring—it’s Poetry-Palooza! Snowman – Cold = Puddle: Spring Equations (Charlesbridge)

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and Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons (Millbrook).

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It’s been 8 years since my last poetry collection, so I am thrilled! I also have a rhyming nonfiction picture book this fall called Snack, Snooze, Skedaddle: How Animals Get Ready for Winter (Millbrook).

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I have several other picture books coming out in the next few years, both fiction and nonfiction, and I’m especially thankful that Angela Matteson is illustrating IF YOU WANT TO KNIT SOME MITTENS, which is due out in fall 2021 from Boyds Mills Press. Her art just charmed the pants off me!

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

There’s a book trailer and a boatload of awesome downloadable activity sheets for IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT at my website: https://laurasalas.com/middle/

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And I offer a free monthly e-letter for educators at https://tinyurl.com/zlxc3c9

Thanks, Dylan, for letting me share a bit more about my poetry collection. Sweet dreams, everyone!

TO WIN A COPY OF IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, comment on this post with the strangest dream you’ve ever had; or TWEET a link to THIS blog post with the hashtag #WideAwakePoems. A winner will be chosen on Sunday, 3/17 at midnight. (U.S. only).

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3/11               Mile High Reading

3/12               Reflections on the Teche

3/13               A Year of Reading

3/14               Check It Out

3/15               Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

3/17               Great Kid Books

3/18               Simply 7 Interview

3/19               My Juicy Little Universe

3/20               Live Your Poem

3/21               Reading to the Core

3/22               KidLit Frenzy

Beyond LiteracyLink

ANOTHER Book Release Celebration- Interview with Christian Robinson

It’s what we’ve all been waiting for! Christian Robinson’s debut as author/illustrator with ANOTHER!

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Tell us a little bit about your new book, Another. 

This wordless picture book asks the question, what if you could travel or go to another world where you met another you? What might you do?

Tell us a little bit about the process of writing/illustrating Another, your first author/illustrator debut!

Typically, I’m given a manuscript and I begin to visualize and imagine what someone else’s words could look like in pictures. When creating ANOTHER, it began as pictures in my brain. Since this is my first solo book, I had to find my own voice as a storyteller. I created a little mockup book that I filmed myself flipping through, so that I could show publishers how I hoped a reader might engage with this book. This was important, since ANOTHER encourages the viewer to play around with the orientation of the book itself.

What made you decide to make the book wordless? 

As a visual storyteller, the book came to me in pictures. As I began to sketch things out, I found myself trying to find the right words to describe what was already being suggested in the pictures. As I struggled with this task and kept hitting roadblocks, I began to ask myself if words added anything to this particular story. The answer was no.

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Have you always been into illustrating?

Yes. Always! Like most kids, I loved drawing and making up stories. I was raised my grandmother, and lived in a small one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles with my brother, aunt, and two cousins. Drawing and making pictures was a way for me to create a space for myself, a world where I could make anything happen on the page.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

There’s a moment where creativity seems to be flowing and I’m not worried about what people might think, or self-doubt, but am focused on enjoying the process of making stuff. That’s the most exciting part for me.

What inspires your creativity?

What doesn’t inspire my creativity? Seriously, everything from a song to a breeze, from hearing a phrase walking by a group of people, to a trip to the museum can spark an idea. I think what drives me to create is the desire to share, or communicate, to express something in me that needs to get out.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

I can recite the entire script of the Disney animated film The Lion King. I wore our VHS copy out as a child watching it repeatedly.

If you weren’t writing/illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

I would collect and sell antiques. I love beautiful objects, especially ones with history.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

After ANOTHER, I have two books that I worked on coming out in Fall 2019. The first is JUST IN CASE YOU WANT TO FLY, written by Julie Fogliano.

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I also was able to contribute (along with many other illustrators) to SUNNY DAY: A CELEBRATION OF SESAME STREET, a picture book based on the Sesame Street theme song written by Joe Raposo.

Celebrate You! Release Day Interview with Sherri Duskey Rinker and A.N. Kang!

Today is a book birthday for Celebrate You!, a collaboration between Sherri Duskey Rinker and A.N. Kang. Sherri and A.N. have joined me here to answer a few questions about the book, as well as their careers as author/illustrator.

Sherri’s answers are in BLUE. A.N.’s answers are in RED. 

Tell us a little bit about your new book, Celebrate You!  

Celebrate You! is meant to be a momento to honor an accomplishment — whether that accomplishment is monumental, like a graduation, or, perhaps, less noteworthy (but no less important), like, perhaps, passing a test, scoring a point or getting through a first recital.

But, it was important to me to not just honor the accomplishment itself. I also wanted to honor the SPIRIT of the child/recipient. One of my favorite lines in the book is, “Best of all, you’ve kept your heart in the right place!” I want to remind kids that, while everyone is celebrating them for this moment, the achievement itself is far less important than who they ARE (“You’re caring, you’re kind. You have wit. You have grace.”), how much they mean to those around them, and the potential they have in the world (“This is just the beginning, now go make your way. Go shine in the world. Make the most of each day.”).

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Why is Celebrate You! A timely title for 2019?

We live in an insanely busy and often distracted world. My hope is that Celebrate YOU! might provide someone with the idea or opportunity to take the time to HONOR a child in a special way. I think it’s a lovely way to say, “You’re a good person. You’re loved. You’re special. You will go on to do good things. And, you’re not alone; we’re behind you.” I can’t imagine more important messages for a child — or anyone — in today’s world.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process.

I’m obsessive — and then I’m not. I don’t force myself to stick to a rigid writing schedule; as a mom (i.e. housework, laundry, chauffeuring, meal prep, appointments, illnesses) who travels a TON, I think that I would be constantly disappointed in myself if I tried that. I’m more of a free spirit, anyway. For me, I think that time away is a positive thing: if I’m super-tangled, coming back fresh after a week or two tends to help me see things more clearly and find solutions (or make me more objective to know if I should just trash whole idea!).

But, when I’m IN, I’m all in. I just finished my first MG novel; I wrote every single day for weeks. When I would try to take a break, I could barely shut it off — my mind was always finding ideas or trying to troubleshoot or problem-solve or create connections.

Have you always been into writing?

When I was in third grade, I wanted to be a poet. I LOVED poetry, and I’m incredibly blessed that I had teachers that nurtured that — because, quite honestly, my home life was not great. So, school, books: those were my refuge.

I started college as a journalism major — I thought I’d like to fight injustice and right (write?!) wrongs.

I’d always been in love with art as well, though, and I finished college with a degree in graphic design/visual communications. I put words and pictures together for a living, interestingly. And, of course, now I work in an industry that does that better than any other.

Tell us a little bit about your illustration process.

I read the story many times before I did any illustrations. Sherri’s words were so warm and inspiring, creating illustrations that could match was challenging. I had to create my own visual interpretation. First thing I thought of was party, of course, the story was about celebration! Then, a penguin! He was already dressed up in tuxedo ready for a party anyway. I love drawing animals, so it was a lot of fun. All my drawings were done in charcoal and color pencils, then I scanned in a computer to add colors.

Have you always been into writing/illustrating?

Yes, I had never imagined doing anything else. I started my career doing giftware design, which was not technical but just pure illustrations. I really enjoyed doing it and I still do very much, besides illustrating children’s books.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

I really love school visits. I mean, it’s one of those things that, no matter how many times you’ve done it, it’s a great mystery as to how it will go. The energy is amazing. The questions ALWAYS keep me on my toes. I always laugh. Almost always, something makes me want to cry. I learn something every time. I’m a better person and a better writer when I leave.

On another front, I’ll admit that I get very starstruck by some people in our business. I’m a total fangirl! Meeting Lois Ehlert and Katherine Applegate and Kate DiCamillo — ohmigosh!!! I was a nut. I’m pretty sure that the restraining orders are still in effect. If I ever met Beverly Cleary or JK Rowling: I’d DIE, I tell you! It would just be the total, complete END!

I love doing concept sketches, I mean, the beginning of a project, when I have to brainstorm. I print out the manuscript on biggest papers I have available. I fill these pages with small sketches and ideas around the story, literally. That’s the most fun, exciting part.

What inspires your creativity?

For the most part, kids: I love thinking about what THEY think is cool, what THEY find interesting. I want to present their passions to them in a fun way, honoring what makes those things — trucks, trains, dinosaurs, Chistmastime, whatever — important and fascinating TO KIDS.

Of course, sometimes my own interests spark ideas — my love of Virginia Lee Burton, for instance. Or, my own shockingly-wild-but-wonderful experiences as a mom.

It can be anything. Nature, animals, movies, images I found on Pinterest, commercials I saw on TV.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

I used to tell everyone that I don’t really watch television — and that was true. But, for whatever reason, around this past holiday season, I started binge-watching The Incredible Dr. Pol on Nat Geo. And now, I’m completely addicted to and totally obsessed with this show about a veterinarian who treats everything from horses to hedgehogs. I can’t stop! There are 14 seasons; I need to catch up! My family thinks I’ve lost my mind. My boys will walk past and be majorly grossed out by some procedure Dr. Pol is doing and say, “Mom, why do you WATCH this stuff?” And, honestly: I. DON’T. KNOW!!!

But, if I do say so myself, I’ve gotten to be a pretty good arm-chair vet: I can diagnose a simple abscess in a dog or choke in a horse or bloat in a cow better than any suburban mom I know.

I collect antique children’s books. When I travel anywhere, I always make sure to stop by used book stores.

If you weren’t writing/illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

Do I have money in this scenario? If so, I want to travel around Europe — mostly to see gardens; I love gardens and gardening. (Oh! This creation! It’s so beautiful!) And, I’d read a lot more. Oh — and study French.

I would be working with animals, either rescuing or training them.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I want to keep writing what I do well and what kids seem to want — I love my truck family in the Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site series, and I’ll be creating stories and adventures for them as long as I’m blessed to be allowed to do that.

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But, I also want to try new things and explore as a writer. I have a young middle grade novel under contract, with a sequel. I’m REALLY excited to explore longer stories with lots of action, adventure and humor. It’s also been fun to delve deeply into characters — to think about what motivates them, etc.

I also have a book coming out with Candlewick called Joy Ride (just announced) that is more lyrical — a softer, deeper and more emotional story. I’m nervous because it’s such a different thing for me to put out into the world, but I’m also very excited to have the opportunity.

I have a new book coming out this summer titled My Big Bad Monster. It’s very personal book because I wrote the story as well. People talk about bullies in schools all the time but never about bullies in our own head. We can be very mean to ourselves. I know this very well because I live with one!  This book talks about how we are feeding our own monsters by listening, and how to deal with it or maybe NOT deal with it.

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I’m also working on new book series called Starla Jean and Opal Egg by Elana K. Arnold. It’s such a fun story, I am having a great time illustrating it. I don’t want to stick with same ‘”look,” so I try something different for every book I work on. You will see different characters and color pallets. I hope readers out there will enjoy it.

SPECIAL GIVEAWAY!!! 

HarperCollins is giving away THREE hardcover copies of CELEBRATE YOU! to celebrate the release of the book. (U.S. only). Want to be entered to win?

Either…

  1. COMMENT on this blog post with what YOU are celebrating today!
  2. TWEET the link to this blog post with the hashtag #CELEBRATE YOU

Three winners will be randomly chosen at 5:00 PM on Sunday, March 10th.

Interview with Shelley Johannes!

Today I’m quite honored to have Shelley Johannes joining me here for an interview!

Hello, Shelley! Thank you for joining me here!

Hi Dylan! Thank you so much for inviting me!

Tell us a little bit about Beatrice Zinker— and whats coming up!

Beatrice is the unstoppable third-grader at the center of the Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker chapter book series, and for me, she’s a personal reminder that being yourself has endless upsides.

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I spent a lot of my life trying to disguise the things that made me different. Several years ago I ran across the Joss Whedon quote, “Whatever makes you weird is probably your greatest asset.” As an experiment, I decided to flip my perspective and believe my weird things were my best things. The next day I pictured Beatrice for the first time.

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Making this series is a dream come true. I’m so grateful for the team I get to make it with, and for all the teachers, librarians and readers who’ve embraced Beatrice. Book #2, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito, came out September 18th and I can’t wait to share Beatrice’s next adventure, too!

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Tell us about your illustration process.

I work mostly by hand and I’m a huge fan of tracing paper. My first career was architecture, so I’ve been sketching on it for over twenty years. I used to worry that tracing paper wasn’t a finished material, or that it was cheating somehow, but it’s truly my favorite drawing surface. Ink moves freely across it. Marker puddles on it like watercolor. And the translucency allows me to layer my process sketches. Both the rough sketches and the final artwork for Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker were drawn on trace with felt-tip pen, as well as marker, colored pencil, and occasionally watercolor.

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Each book in the series features a different spot-color—orange for the first, and aqua for the second. I love how each color lead in its own direction and influenced the art. For the two-color printing process, the color and the line-work have to be created separately, then pieced together in Photoshop. It can be tedious, but I love that the process allows for experimentation and imperfection along the way.

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Making the art is a pleasure for many reasons, but mainly because I can’t draw Beatrice without smiling.

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Have you always been into writing and illustrating?

Reading, writing and drawing have always been my favorite things, but I had no idea those things would eventually manifest themselves into making children’s books. There were a million little steps along the way, and each bend of the journey is important and sentimental, and a piece of who I am. Which is also true about the winding process of making a book, and I’m very sentimental about that too.

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What inspires your creativity?

“Everything!” might be the truest answer. I started to make a list, but it was so long, it ended up seeming silly. Topping the endless list were things like risk and play and other people’s creativity.

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Also true: I often say all my good ideas were accidents, because it definitely feels that way. In reality, most good ideas show up after you show up.  When you put in the time and trust the process day after day, eventually the subconscious kicks in and surprises you. I adore Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s picture book Square because, for me, it perfectly captures that part of the creative process. There’s all this hard work and aspiration and feeling not worthy of the task—then, hopefully, on the other side, is this unexpected thing you made, seemingly, on accident. That surprise is one of my favorite highs.

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What is one thing that readers dont know about you, that only you could tell us?

I kept a diary throughout my childhood, mostly because I had a deep fear that I’d grow up and forget everything that seemed so clear to me as a kid. I hope young me would see Beatrice and consider Operation Diary a success.

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If you werent writing and illustrating books, what do you think youd be doing?

This is my favorite thing in the world, so if I wasn’t making books, I’d still want to be immersed in them. You’d probably find me working in a bookstore or begging my kids’ school to let me do book talks all day.

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What can readers expect from you in the future?

More adventures with Beatrice!!! I’m working on the third book right now and it’ll hit shelves in Fall 2019. Also—in Spring/Summer 2020, I have a picture book releasing! The rights report describes it like this: “The story centers around a brother and sister who brave the elements with a megawatt supply of invention, play, and vision.” Picture books are one of my favorite things in the world, and I feel especially lucky and giddy to work on this one.

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COVER REVEAL: Dasher by Matt Tavares

Today I’m most honored to host Matt Tavares in revealing the cover for his September ’19 title, DASHER! First, a few words with Matt….

Matt, tell us about Dasher.

Dasher is the story of a young doe who spends her days with her family under the hot sun in a traveling circus. At night, Mama tells stories about the North Pole, where Mama and Papa had been free to roam under the glow of the North Star. And when her family sleeps, Dasher lies awake, gazing at the star on the horizon, wishing for crisp, cold air and cool blankets of white snow. And one day, when the opportunity arises, she follows her star and embarks on a journey that changes Christmas forever.

Where did you get the idea for this story?

The idea for Dasher began with a question: How did Santa’s team of reindeer become Santa’s team of reindeer? It occurred to me that these animals are world-famous, but I had never heard a story that explained how they were chosen for this important job. I wanted to tell that story.

For a while, I was stumped. But then, one January day in 2017, during a 10-minute drive home from my daughter’s basketball game, the idea for Dasher appeared almost-fully formed (it doesn’t usually happen this way!). When I got home, I wrote it all down as fast as I could, and 3 days later the first draft of Dasher was done. I had never had a story come together so quickly before, and it hasn’t happened since!

What medium did you use to illustrate this story?

I used mostly watercolor and gouache, but also ink, graphite, charcoal pencil, some white pencil, and a bit of pastel here and there. So a little bit of everything, I guess! On Arches 300 lb hot press watercolor paper.

You write a lot of stories about Christmas and the holiday season. Does Christmas have a special significance to you?

There’s just something so magical about that time of year. I love how so many magical elements become a part of our every day life during the holiday season- Santa Claus! Elves! Flying reindeer! I remember so vividly laying awake late at night on Christmas Eve, listening for sleigh bells and reindeer hooves on the rooftop. I guess I keep trying to capture some of that feeling in a book. I also really love painting snow.

When can readers expect this book to hit shelves?

September 10, 2019!

And…. here it is! 

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Crab Cake Release Day- Interview with Andrea Tsurumi!

Hi Andrea! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Thanks so much for having me, Dylan!

Tell us a little bit about your new book, Crab Cake.

Crab Cake (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Feb 2019) is a story about altruism in the face of disaster.1_crabcake_openingspread_tsurumirgb.jpg

It starts off with an underwater community where aquatic animals go about their business, doing aquatic animal stuff. The narration swings from a documentary-voice to describing oddball Crab – who’s off baking cakes.

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Then a ship dumps a ton of trash onto their reef and everyone freezes in shock.

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Crab sees this and then … does what Crab always does, which is bake a cake.

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Everyone gathers, supports each other and takes action together. It’s like a defiant barnraising. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Under the sea, fish do what fish do: Seahorse hides, Pufferfish puffs up, Parrotfish crunches coral, and Crab . . . bakes cakes? And so life goes on, until one night when everything changes with a splash! In the face of total disaster, can Crab’s small, brave act help the community come together and carry on?”

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When I was little, I was urgently worried about big, ugly problems I wanted to change in the world at large and in my own community, but, especially as a little kid, it seemed so overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you continue? As an adult, I still struggle with this – I think everyone does. I wished I knew that change can happen collectively, incrementally, that it’s messy, it takes time and stubbornness and creativity, and that you don’t need permission to start or to try. And sometimes the smallest thing you can do is to take care of each other in the face of indifference or injustice. Communities all over do this all the time during disasters big and small and I want to honor that.

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Tell us a little bit about your illustration process.

I’m always drawing and cartooning in my sketchbooks. Crab Cake started in there, then I wrote it by thumbnailing many different drafts for months in conversation with my wonderful editor, Kate O’Sullivan.

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makingcc_thumbspass2.jpgOnce the story (and the rough pencils) were finalized, I gathered as much reference as I could – drawing from photos of marine life and screenshots from Blue Planet.

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Next, I made a digital palette, scanned watercolor, gouache, and textures to use in Photoshop, and tested color treatments. The text was roughly placed at this point – I knew where the bubbles would be and how much room to leave for them.

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I printed the pencils in light blue so I could “ink” the linework with dark mechanical pencil. Based on something fellow cartoonist Molly Brooks said about transparency, I used tracing paper so the seaweed would “float” on top of the art. The speech bubbles and handdrawn type were a separate layer.

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After that, I finished eveything in Photoshop: cleaning and separating out the linework, color flatting then coloring the spreads.

Generally, I like using different media depending on each project or if I’m messing around. Probably the tools I end up using most frequently are mechanical pencils, pens, and a water brush full of watercolor or a marker.

Have you always been into writing/illustrating?

Yes, I’ve been drawing and telling stories as far back as I remember. I’ve also been a reader who loved art and stories as long as I remember – comics, picture books, movies, tv, the news – I love it. It feels like I’ve been training to make books my entire life, building up skills incrementally over the years. It’s a long game, for sure.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

My favorite part is the doing of it. I love the part just after I’ve finally started, when I’m in the middle of the project playing around and solving problems. Just working is the best part. I’m a bit like a border collie: happiest on the job; a lump when not.

What inspires your creativity?

I’m fascinated by how people think and behave. That’s why a lot of my work is observational and character-based and why I’m so interested in history and humor. In practice, to second another author you interviewed, Corinna Luyken, my work comes out of sitting down to draw and cartoon. I have to sit down and getting my hand moving.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

I used to be a set painter and set designer in college. As a freshman English major, I signed up for it as an activity because I wanted to do something creative in the company of other people. I was also really freaked out because it was new and confusing, but I’ve since learned that anything that scares me that way usually makes me grow. Honestly, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done because it was fun, introduced me to a lot of wonderful friends, got me using power tools, and taught me so many vital things about storytelling, working with others, and enjoying yourself.

If you weren’t writing/illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

If I couldn’t do it professionally, I would be writing and illustrating for myself. It’s always been a big part of my life and I can’t imagine existing without it. But I that’s not your question. If it was an “anything is possible!’ situation: I’d be a film editor, a documentarian, a librarian, or a detective’s sidekick.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

This March, a picture book I illustrated, Not Your Nest! by Gideon Sterer, comes out from Penguin Random House. It’s a fun story of nest theft, revenge, and compromise about a little yellow bird who keeps losing her nests to jerky bigger animals.

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And in the fall, Kondo & Kezumi Visit Giant Island, the first in a chapter-book series by David Goodner, comes out from Disney-Hyperion. It’s about friends sustaining each other through risks and new adventures. It’s also about cheese and storms, and all kinds of ludicrous animals that were fun to invent.

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Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

You can see more of my work at:

Instagram: @atsurumi

Twitter: @andreatsurumi

Website: andreatsurumi.com