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.”).
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.
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.
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.
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?
- COMMENT on this blog post with what YOU are celebrating today!
- 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.