Monthly Archives: February 2019

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.


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.


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! 


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.


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.


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?”


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.


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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

You can see more of my work at:

Instagram: @atsurumi

Twitter: @andreatsurumi