Today I am thrilled and honored that Lita Judge has stopped by my blog! My questions are in bold, and Lita’s answers are in blue.
Hello, Lita, thank you for joining me for an interview to talk about your latest works, and what’s ahead for you!
Tell us a little bit about Hoot and Peep.
Hoot and Peep is about brother and sister owlets who live on the rooftops of Paris. The older brother, Hoot, is eager to bestow his owly wisdom to his little sister, Peep. Peep though is a dreamer and is less interested into listening to her big brother’s wisdom than she is in singing about the beauty she finds around her. After many disagreements that parallel many younger/older sibling dynamics, Hoot finds his little sister has some owly wisdom of her own and learns to appreciate how she sees the world. The story is both a celebration of family and how, even though we often have very different personalities than our family members, the love that unites us is far more important than what divides us.
The scenery of the book plays a key role to the story and was inspired by a painting trip I took to Paris a couple of years ago. Paris has always been a wellspring of my art. I traveled there several times to paint, long before I wrote my first children’s book. On those trips I pored through museums, soaking up art and painted on location under bridges and busy street corners, out of windows, in gardens, and in museum halls. But I never quite felt those paintings captured my love affair with the place. On the last trip, I decided to sketch and draw aspects of Paris that excited my imagination. Instead of painting street scenes, I let my mind soar above the rooftops and churches. Instead of recording whatever light was available, I imagined Paris by moonlight or lamppost. The paintings that came from that trip were much more personal and I knew I wanted to acknowledge the gifts Paris has given me by setting a book there. The story of Hoot and Peep is a love song to a place that has taught and inspired me, as well as to my husband, Dave, who has always accompanied me and cheerfully carried my paints and canvases in one very loaded-down backpack, waiting patiently for hours as I try to capture the beauty of Paris. Dave is a little bit Hoot, and I am a little bit Peep, and together we live a wonderful life.
You had to do a little bit of traveling to get a sense of the setting for Hoot and Peep. Have you done that for any other books?
Yes, I often fall in love with story ideas that I know will take me to interesting places. I travelled extensively by foot, car and horseback through Yellowstone National Park for my book, Yellowstone Moran. Thomas Moran was a painter and explorer who played a key role in preserving many of our National parks. I carried his journals and followed in his footsteps, often painting in the exact spot he must have stood while painting his own paintings to create the illustrations for the book.
I am currently working on a picture book that is again set in France, this time in the countryside. It will be out next year, and it captures many of the paintings I did on a more recent trip to France. I’m also creating work inspired by painting trips to England and Italy for an illustrated novel I’m working on now.
Tell us a little bit about the illustrations you did for Quick, Little Monkey!
That was a delightful book, written by Sarah Thomson which I knew I wanted to illustrate the moment I read the manuscript. One of the things I look forward to most in illustrating a story is having lots of opportunity to use gesture and expression to bring out the emotional story of a character. The little monkey in this story has such a beautiful range of emotions she experiences, and marmosets have wonderful, almost human like faces. I really enjoyed bringing this little monkey to life through a broad sweep of facial expressions and body positions. I feel a little bit like a director when I create drawings like this for a character, physically pushing pencil lines around to make my actor look scared, or sad, or lonely or happy. It was fun challenge to explore the emotions this little monkey went through on the journey of this story.
I understand there’s special meaning for you behind Flight School. Is that your favorite book that you’ve done?
All of my books are very special is some way, but yes, this story is particularly close to my heart. In it, a little penguin has an over sized dream of learning how to fly and leaves his home and family to find a way to make that dream happen. It’s kind of autobiographical really. I was born on a tiny island in Alaska, and for much of my childhood, my family lived in remote places far out in the wilderness. Becoming an artist seemed like a pretty far-fetched dream because I was never exposed to art in school nor had I met an artist who was making a living by painting. Somehow though this big dream came true and my family’s livelihood comes from me drawing characters and writing stories. When the book was adapted into an off-Broadway musical, it just confirmed that dream even more because I got to watch the character born from my imagination suddenly singing and dancing on stage. I feel like that little penguin everyday I walk into my studio and sit down to create another story.
What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?
I have two things I’d love to share:
- I met my (now) husband/ (then) strange guy in the back of lab class, in college just before the end of my sophomore year and on the night we met we decided to ride our bicycles across America. We barely knew each other, but we made a pact that night so when classes ended a couple of weeks later, we hopped on our bikes and peddled 3300 miles, from the Pacific Coast to NY in 35 days. We knew we’d spend the rest of our lives together by the time we crossed the Idaho border.
- The characters in Hoot and Peep were inspired by an owl I grew up with. My grandparents were ornithologists, and as part of their research on birds, they had many hawks, owls and eagles in their home.
If you weren’t writing and illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?
I’d be a paleontologist. My degree is in geology and I worked on dinosaur digs for a few years. I loved it, but ultimately my love of art won out and I’m writing and illustrating. Part of me misses working on digs, discovering awesome fossils and piecing together clues of the past. But I kind of feel like I have the best of both worlds now because I can write about science and dinosaurs and all the things I found interesting in that life.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
I’m very excited about the projects coming up. First I have another story for my characters, Hoot and Peep. And I’m creating another nonfiction book about animals that will be a companion to my book, Born in the Wild. And then I have my first YA novel coming out! I’m so very excited about this one, it is an illustrated novel in verse and I am currently working on the final art pieces for that. It is such an exciting departure for me and I’m thrilled to be working on a novel during a time in publishing when there is so much exciting innovation going on in this genre. It has been a very long adventure for me to bring this big scale project to life, and it is nearly done. Stay tuned, I’ll be giving sneak peaks soon.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?
I’m incredibly grateful that I get to write and paint and share stories, and that readers have embraced them over the years and allowed me to do this! I wanted to share a little of the behind the scenes aspects to how I created my newest book, Hoot and Peep so my husband and I made a short video of my time in Paris when I painted on location and conceived this book.
(Link to video here http://www.litajudge.net/2016/01/11/hoot-and-peep-2/ )
My website: http://www.litajudge.net/
Thank you, Lita, for joining me here!
Stay tuned for more interviews!