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Our vision for this blog is pretty simple: we're going to talk about the books we read. We read lots of different kinds of books: picture books for toddlers, memoirs, young adult fiction, graphic novels, Man Booker Prize-winning high-art metafiction, whatever.
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1. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week, Plus What I DidLast Week, Featuring Bénédicte Guettier,Patrick McDonnell, Daniel Salmieri, and Charlotte Voake

– From Meet the Dullards
(Click to enlarge spread)


– From The Skunk


“Unfortunately, an octopus is not a very suitable pet.
You should see the mess he makes in the bathroom!”
– From
Melissa’s Octopus and Other Unsuitable Pets
(Click to enlarge spread)


– From I am the Wolf … And Here I Come!


Today over at Kirkus, I write about the coolest picture book award you’ve never heard of, the Bull-Bransom Award from the National Museum of Wildlife Art. That link will be here soon.

* * *

Last week I wrote (here) about four new picture books — Sara Pennypacker’s Meet the Dullards, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (Balzer & Bray, March 2015); Mac Barnett’s The Skunk, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell (Roaring Brook, April 2015); Charlotte Voake’s Melissa’s Octopus and Other Unsuitable Pets (Candlewick, April 2015); and Bénédicte Guettier’s I am the Wolf … And Here I Come! (Gecko Press, January 2015). Today, I follow up with art from each book. (Note: Sorry about the lines in the art from Guettier. Those lines indicate the gutter of the book.)

Enjoy the art …


Art from Sara Pennypacker’s
Meet the Dullards,
illustrated by Daniel Salmieri:


“After they finished painting the room, Mr. and Mrs. Dullard tried not to look at the walls. But it was no use—they were completely mesmerized.
All day long, the Dullards watched the paint dry.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click to enlarge)


“That night, Mr. and Mrs. Dullard fell asleep right away,
secure in the knowledge that their children were perfect bores.”

(Click to enlarge)



Art from Charlotte Voake’s Melissa’s Octopus
and Other Unsuitable Pets


“Sometimes he’s upstairs …
and he ends up downstairs by mistake.”

(Click to enlarge)



Art from Mac Barnett’s The Skunk,
illustrated by Patrick McDonnell:


(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)


(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)



(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)



Art from Bénédicte Guettier’s I am the Wolf …
And Here I Come!



* * * * * * *

I AM THE WOLF … AND HERE I COME! First American Edition published in 2015 by Gecko Press USA. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

MEET THE DULLARDS. Copyright © 2015 by Sara Pennypacker. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Daniel Salmieri. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, New York.

MELISSA’S OCTOPUS AND OTHER UNSUITABLE PETS. Copyright © 2014 by Charlotte Voake. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

THE SKUNK. Copyright © 2015 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Patrick McDonnell. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Roaring Brook Press, New York.

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2. Miss Hazeltine’s Home forShy and Fearful Cats

“Crumb lapped up every word. One day he hoped to find the courage to thank her.
Still, he worried. Would he ever be brave?”


I’m following up my BookPage review of Alicia Potter’s Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats (Knopf, May 2015), illustrated by Birgitta Sif, with a bit of art from the book, as well as some early sketches from Birgitta. The review is here, and I thank her for sharing the images here today.

Enjoy …


Early sketches
(Click second image to enlarge)


“Soon more cats came to Miss Hazeltine’s home. And more. And more. So many arrived that on a Monday at five o’clock, when everyone but Crumb was fast asleep, Miss Hazeltine ran out of milk. ‘I’m off to fetch a bucketful,’ she told Crumb,
‘and will be back before dark.’ Crumb watched her go.”

– Sketch and final spread

(Click each to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

MISS HAZELTINE’S HOME FOR SHY AND FEARFUL CATS. Text copyright © 2015 by Alicia Potter. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Birgitta Sif. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Birgitta Sif.

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3. A Visit with Author-Illustrator William Bee

Where is Stanley going over there? COME BACK, STANLEY. Ah well. He has some mail to deliver, so he’s off.

British author-illustrator and commercial designer William Bee visits 7-Imp today to share some images from two of his 2015 picture books. (Bee visited 7-Imp back in the day for one of my favorite “breakfast” interviews.)

Migloo’s Day, released by Candlewick earlier this year (March), is a search-and-find adventure for young children. Migloo is a dog, and readers follow him throughout a day and busy, detailed spreads, as he explores his community. “There’s definitely a new ‘Busytown’ in town,” writes the Kirkus review. It’s definitely Richard Scarry-esque and a lot like Busytown on stimulants. It’s good stuff, rendered in Bee’s signature style.

Also, from Peachtree, Bee has his Stanley series for very young readers. Stanley (pictured above, ready to deliver that mail) is a hamster — and the star of this series, which explores occupations in sweet, but never cloying, stories that emphasize friendship and hard work.

Today, William shares some images from the books, including some process shots. I thank him for sharing.


Art from the Stanley books:


William: “[These are] early roughs. Goodness, some of these are ugly. I drew Stanley, as he became, and his friends with the computer mouse. I do not use a tablet. My earlier children’s books were all drawn on paper with a pen. … My team at Jonathan Cape are Sue Buswell, the boss; Andrea MacDonald, editor; and Helen Chapman, designer. Kids’ books are a team effort!
(Audrey Keri-Nagy and Maria Tunney worked on


William: “Shamus and Little Woo are meant to be shrew-like creatures. Once the hamster was working, I used him as a starting point. They got darker, and the child shrew had the extra bit of colour. A lot of young animals have markings
they lose as they get older.”


William: “We found that our original name ‘Harry’ had already been used for a hamster, so here are a few names we tried. [It’s] important to see what they look like.”


William: “In Stanley the Builder, we have a cement mixer. As you can see, it changed quite a bit. The last one (blue) is the actual artwork.”


William: “In each book, preceding the title page,
we have what we call the ‘tool pages.’ For the cafe, shop, and post books,
we do not actually have any tools, of course.”


William: “Stanley has a different job in each book. Garage mechanic, builder, chef, farmer, postie, shopkeeper. We are working on Stanley’s School,
followed (I think) by
Stanley’s Train.”


William: “Here is a finished cover — and the various rough ones.
Things develop quite quickly.”


(Released in 2014)


(Released in March 2015)


(Coming later this year)


Art from Migloo’s Day:


(Click to enlarge)


At the Market
(Click to enlarge)


At the Factory
(Click each to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


Taxi reference
(Click to enlarge)



Test spread lay-out
(Click to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

All images here are used by permission of William Bee.

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4. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #432: Featuring Elly MacKay

(Click to enlarge)


I love to see the paper-cut artwork of author-illustrator Elly MacKay, and I reviewed her newest book from Running Press, Butterfly Park, here at BookPage. It will be on shelves in June.

Today, I follow up the review with some art from the book and a few other images Elly sent along. I thank her for sharing.


“And then there was her house, plain and gray like all the others. But next to it was a gate unlike any other. The girl repeated the letters. Suddenly, she felt very lucky!”
(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click to enlarge)


In the town
(Click to enlarge)


Making the garden
(Click to enlarge)


Little cat
(Click to enlarge)


The surprise on the back of the dustjacket
(Click to enlarge)



BUTTERFLY PARK. Copyright © 2015 by Elly MacKay. Published by Running Press Kids, Philadelphia. All images here reproduced by permission of Elly MacKay.

* * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) The Danielsons are heading to Knoxville this weekend (though I’ll be back before Sunday) for their wonderful Children’s Festival of Reading. (I wrote about it here.) I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting others in person for the first time.

2) I’ll be moderating the picture book panel discussion, too, which I always enjoy doing.

3) I read Station Eleven while I traveled last weekend. (If you’ve read it, then you know how WEIRD it was for me to be reading it mostly in airports.) It’s good stuff.

4) And I got a new novel, since I realized that I miss reading grown-up books more often.

5) Nashville Kidlit Drink Night.

6) I had so much fun in Wyoming last weekend. I hope to write about that event soon. I got to meet lots of great folks, including Jerry Pinkney:

7) The story my 9-year-old is writing.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

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5. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week, Plus What I DidLast Week, Featuring Alexis Dormal and Olof Landström

– From Lena and Olof Landström’s Where Is Pim?


– From Dominique Roques’ Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion,
illustrated by Alexis Dormal


This morning over at Kirkus, I’ve got a round-up of new picture books. That will be here soon.

* * *

Last week, I wrote here about Lena and Olof Landström’s Where Is Pim? (Gecko Press, April 2015), originally released overseas a couple years ago, as well as Dominique Roques’ Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion!, illustrated by Alexis Dormal and coming to shelves in June from First Second.

I’ve got a bit of art from each book today. Enjoy.



* * *


(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)



* * * * * * *

ANNA BANANA AND THE CHOCOLATE EXPLOSION. First American Edition 2015. Text and illustrations © 2012 by Alexis Dormal and Dominique Roques. English translation copyright © 2015 by the publisher, First Second, New York. Spreads here reproduced by permission of the publisher.

WHERE IS PIM? First American Edition 2015 from Gecko Press. Text and illustrations © 2013 by Lena and Olof Landström. Spreads here reproduced by permission of the publisher.

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6. A Chat with Jeanne Birdsall

Because both Skye and Batty grew out of parts of my personality (as did Jane and Rosalind, though not so much), some of the tensions between the two sisters came from internal struggles of my own. … [W]riting about Batty’s struggles was hard. I had to spend a lot of time re-living scared and lonely parts of my childhood.”

* * *

Over at Kirkus today, I talk to author Jeanne Birdsall, pictured here, about the latest novel in the Penderwick series, The Penderwicks in Spring (Knopf, March 2014).

That link will be here soon.

Until tomorrow …

* * * * * * *

Photo of Jeanne taken by William Diehl and used by her permission.

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7. A Visit with Ovi Nedelcu

From the sketchbooks


You may have seen this recent Horn Book article by Betsy Bird on illustrators who come from an animation background. Today’s visiting illustrator, Ovi Nedelcu, is one of those, and he’s here today to share artwork and talk about his experiences.

Ovi, a character designer and story artist who lives in Portland, has been working in animation full-time for the past fifteen years for various studios, such as WB, Disney, Cartoon Network, and Sony — but mostly at LAIKA, working on both Coraline and The Boxtrolls. He’s not new to publication—his first published work was for DC comics back in 1998, and since then he’s published a comic book series and has illustrated a couple of picture books—but Just like Daddy (POW! Kids Books), out on shelves now, is his debut as an author-illustrator. It’s the story of one preschooler’s grand perceptions of his father’s day, juxtaposed with the everyday reality of his 9-to-5 job. It’s a warm story propelled by Ovi’s expressive cartoon art.

Ovi also talks about the book below, so let’s get right to it. I thank him for visiting.


On Just Like Daddy:


The book is basically about the relationship between a boy and his father. It’s a boy’s perception of what it’s like to be a grown-up — and the reality thereof. This is one book I really feel gives both the child and the adult something to enjoy and smile about while reading it. There is a take-away for both.

The idea came to me by just observing things my kids would mimic throughout the day. They would copy things I would do, like fold my legs, push-ups, put on my shoes, etc. My wife would point out how cute it was that they were trying to do things “just like daddy,” and that’s when it hit me as a good idea for a picture book.


(Click each to enlarge)


On How Animation Influences his Work:


It affects it in a couple of ways, I think.

One of them is speed. You have to get things done “yesterday,” so you don’t really have too much time to sit around and second-guess yourself too much. You have to go with your gut and just get the work done.

The second thing I learned in animation (from doing storyboards, particularly) is to not be too precious about my drawings initially. I draw probably thousands of storyboards on any given film, and you have to be willing to throw away something you just drew in order to draw a better idea. The whole point is to get the film up in storyboards as fast as you can so you can get it wrong as fast you can and change/fix it. If we spent all our time rendering our storyboards so that they look pretty but don’t really tell the best story in the animation reel (rough cut of the film in storyboards), then we just wasted all that time polishing storyboards we now have to throw out and re-draw.


(Click each to enlarge)


So, to apply that to book-making is great, because I can rough out a book in a day or less and then take a look at it and fix the story structure before I even worry about tones or useless details that will change as the story evolves and gets better. If you spend a lot of time on rendering your sketches or drawings, then you start to become attached to them and it will be harder to toss them out and start over to get a better idea and story across. Remember, story is king. Focus on the story, not the rendering. If the story doesn’t work, the rendering won’t make it better.

I try and focus on the visual story structure, character development, staging, compositions, pacing, and word play — and then add the details and rendering later. If it doesn’t work in a sketch, it won’t work in an illustration. It might look pretty, but there will always be something “wrong” with it. You can’t cover up a story with fancy words the same way you can’t cover up a bad illustration with fancy details.


Portfolio pieces


On Comics and Picture Books:


The biggest difference is the complexity and intensity of the story. With a comic book, you get to elaborate on stories and really build things with characters, plot lines, subplots, and story arcs, like you would in a film. With picture books, you basically have to focus on one main theme or story point/issue and try and resolve it by the end. It’s hard to tell complex stories in picture books, because you are only allowed so much room to do so. You have to keep the audience in mind as well, which are kids and then adults. That’s not to say stories can’t have multiple layers of meaning; it’s just you have to really stay focused on that one issue.



On Medium:


I like using traditional mediums, like pencil, pen, paint, and such. I use acrylic, watercolor, oils, gouache, pastel, and color pencils — but I mostly paint digital, due to time and schedule. I have created a library of digital brushes that reflect the look of traditional media. I also try and paint digitally the same way I would if I was using real brushes, meaning I try not to use too many layers or manipulate the digital painting with effects or filters. I try and respect the process and use the same techniques and steps as I would if I were painting it traditionally, because I never want to lose that hand-crafted look or process to my work. I want to be connected to it as much as possible.



I also sketch in my sketchbook all the time. I always try and have it with me. I like using just a rich ballpoint pen.


On Process:


The process of illustrating a book is really similar to storyboarding for a film. Once I’m done writing/outlining the book or if I’m illustrating a book someone else wrote, I start to do small thumbnails of the pages. I try and do them as simple (shapes and lines) as possible and not focus on details or rendering. I’m just laying down the basic composition and “feeling” of the illustration and trying to figure out what is the best way to capture the story point and the feeling of the piece. I ask myself questions like:

  • What’s the story point/theme?
  • What am I trying to communicate to the audience?
  • How do I want them to feel?
  • What is the feeling of the moment/illustration?
  • What are the characters thinking/feeling?
  • Why do they feel that way?
  • What do the characters want/desire?
  • What’s stopping them?
  • What’s the conflict/problem/antagonist?
  • What does the character learn?
  • How do they change/grow?


(Click to enlarge)

Just Like Daddy roughs


Those are the type of questions I ask that inform what I put down on paper.

I try and use compositions and body language/gesture/silhouette, etc. to communicate the story point visually.

Speaking of, I also do my thumbnails in my sketchbook or on paper. I try and stay away from the computer as long as possible.


(Click to enlarge)

After I have my pages roughed out, I enlarge them to print size on the computer and digitally I go back and do a second pass over them and clean things up a bit. This is essentially my under drawing and what I paint over once I finish cleaning it up a bit. I try not to clean the drawing up too much, because I want there to be a bit of play and back and forth between the drawing and the painting so that the process still feels organic and hand-crafted as much as possible. I want the under drawing to be “clear” but not “clean,” meaning I want the pose or gesture to clearly read and communicate the idea — but I don’t want the drawing to be cleaned up to the point where it’s stiff and lifeless.

Once I start painting, I like to block in my BG, MG, FG with my color scheme. Then I go back in and paint BG to FG using only a few brushes. I don’t do any black and white value studies, I just go right into color and try and do the values with the color. Once I have all the basic shapes and forms painted in, I go back in and do a final detail pass over the illustration and try and emphasize the focal points.


(Click each to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

JUST LIKE DADDY. Copyright © 2015 by Ovi Nedelcu. Published by POW! Kids Books, Brooklyn. All images here reproduced by permission of Ovi Nedelcu.

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8. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #431: Featuring JiHyeon Lee

(Click to enlarge)


I’ve got a review over at BookPage of JiHyeon Lee’s debut picture book, Pool, released by Chronicle this past week and originally published in South Korea in 2013.

Here’s the review if you want to read all about the book, and below is a bit more art.


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)



POOL. Copyright © 2013 by JiHyeon Lee. English translation copyright © 2015 by Chronicle Books LLC. All images here reproduced by permission of the publisher.

* * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) My stomach flu is gone.

2) I had a birthday this week, and people I love spoiled me.

3) People I love.

4) I’m actually in Wyoming as you read this for a children’s lit event. Maybe next week I can tell you about my trip. It’s my first time in Wyoming. You can maybe assume right now at this very moment that my view is spectacular.

5) Crises averted.

6) Reading a great novel (for grown-ups) I bummed from my husband. (Good timing, since I’m seeing airports this weekend.)

7) The countdown-to-end-of-school has begun.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #431: Featuring JiHyeon Lee, last added: 5/11/2015
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9. What I’m Doing at Kirkus and Chapter 16 This Week

Today over at Kirkus, I write about the welcome return of the characters in two new picture book imports. One of those characters is pictured above. That link will be here soon.

Also, over at Chapter 16, I’ve got a write-up about the wonderful Children’s Festival of Reading that Knoxville, Tennessee’s Knox County Public Library puts on every year. There’s a great line-up of authors and illustrators who will be there next Saturday. And I’ll be moderating a picture book panel, which I’m looking forward to. That write-up is here.

Until Sunday …

2 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus and Chapter 16 This Week, last added: 5/9/2015
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10. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #430: Featuring Frank Viva (sorta)

Dear kickers, I’m battling an ugly stomach bug this weekend, and since it’s best to be horizontal, I’ve got a short post today. I was going to feature the work of another illustrator, but I’ll have to do that later this week, since it was a much longer post.

I reviewed Frank Viva’s Outstanding in the Rain (Little, Brown, April 2015) over at BookPage (that is here), and I had planned on securing some of the beautiful spreads from the book to show you all. But again … you know, dastardly bug.

Instead, to keep things short so that I can lie back down, I’ll point you to these recent and quite wonderful posts at other places, posts all about the book — and with lots of art.

* Post at 32 Pages
* Post at Brain Pickings
* Write-up at the New York Times

Please do tell me: What are YOUR kicks this week?

7 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #430: Featuring Frank Viva (sorta), last added: 5/4/2015
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11. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Iacopo Bruno, Jamey Christoph, Kris Di Giacomo, & Christoph Niemann

“But Gordon’s most famous shot will be American Gothic. In the newspaper, the photo exposed to the nation the unfairness of segregation. Standing before the flag of freedom, cleaning lady Ella Watson holds the tools of her trade
and the hopes of her grandchildren.”
– From
Gordon Parks:
How the Photographer Captured Black and White America
(Click to enlarge spread)


“The people, however, didn’t like to be told what to eat.”
– From
The Potato King
(Click to enlarge spread)


“… Ben had a different idea.”
– From
(Click to see spread in its entirety)


– From Enormous Smallness


Today over at Kirkus, I wax devotedly about reading aloud to children. Yet again. (I’m pretty sure I just used “wax” all incorrectly, but I’m just gonna leave it on account of not having had any coffee yet.) That link will be here soon.

Since last week (here) I wrote about a small handful of titles (mostly nonfiction), I’ve got art from each book today. They are: Matthew Burgess’ Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings (Enchanted Lion, April 2015), illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo; Carole Boston Weatherford’s Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America (Albert Whitman, February 2015), illustrated by Jamey Christoph; Mara Rockliff’s Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France (Candlewick, March 2015), illustrated by Iacopo Bruno; and Christoph Niemann’s The Potato King (Owlkids, April 2015), originally published as Der Kartoffelkönig in 2013.

Enjoy the art …


Art from Mara Rockliff’s Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno:


“The day Ben Franklin first set foot in Paris, France, he found the city all abuzz. Everyone was talking about something new …”
(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click to see spread in its entirety)



Art from Carole Boston Weatherford’s Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America, illustrated by
Jamey Christoph:


“When young Gordon crosses the prairie on horseback,
nothing seems beyond reach. But his white teacher tells her all-black class,
You’ll all wind up porters and waiters.
What did she know?”

(Click to enlarge spread)


“Twenty-five years old and all but broke when a magazine spread about migrant farm workers inspires him to buy a used camera.
That $7.50 is the best money he will ever spend.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


“Boiling mad, Parks vows to lay bare racism with his lens. He shares his vision with his boss, who points him toward his subject. Talk to her. She knows struggle. She is Ella Watson, a cleaning lady in the building where Parks works. She supports five children on just over one thousand dollars a year.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


“Over his long career, Gordon’s photos will run in Vogue and Life magazines — their first black photographer. He will write novels, make movies, compose music and poetry, and be hailed a Renaissance man.”
(Click to enlarge spread)



Art from Christoph Niemann’s The Potato King:


“He ordered his soldiers to march to the village …”
(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click to enlarge spread)


” … baiting the locals to steal the crop for their own gardens.”
(Click to enlarge spread)



Art from Matthew Burgess’ Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings,
illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo:


“Inside an enormous city in a house on a very small street,
there once lived a poet I would like you to meet.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


“As Estlin grew, he drew many pictures from the circus of his imagination.
But even more than drawing elephants, trees, and birds, Estlin LOVED WORDS. …”

(Click to enlarge spread)




” … His poems were his way of saying YES.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


“… E. E. lived at 4 Patchin Place for almost forty years. When asked why, he would reply: ‘because here’s friendly, unscientific, private, human. …'”
(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

ENORMOUS SMALLNESS: A STORY OF E. E. CUMMINGS. Text copyright © 2015 by Matthew Burgess. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Kris Di Giacomo. All images here reproduced by permission of the publisher, Enchanted Lion Books, New York.

GORDON PARKS: HOW THE PHOTOGRAPHER CAPTURED BLACK AND WHITE AMERICA. Text copyright © 2015 by Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Jamey Christoph. All images here reproduced by permission of the publisher, Albert Whitman and Company, Chicago.

MESMERIZED. Text copyright © 2015 by Mara Rockliff. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Iacopo Bruno. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

THE POTATO KING. Text and illustrations © 2013 by Christoph Niemann. Published in North America in 2015 by Owlkids Books Inc. All images here reproduced by permission of Owlkids.

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12. Author Tracey Baptiste on The Jumbies

The stories about jumbies were part of regular conversations when I was growing up. People talked about La Diablesse and douen and all the other, as if they’re walking down the road or lived at your neighbor’s house. They were very much alive to me, even though I knew they were probably just stories. And I also read and listened to fairy tales, which were just as scary, but they were also in books that were so beautifully illustrated, and I felt like all the kids who grew up hearing jumbie stories got cheated. Where were our fairy tale books? Where were our beautiful illustrations? I figured I’d have to make those books myself.”

* * *

Over at Kirkus today, I’ve got a middle-grade novel on the mind. I talk to author Tracey Baptiste, pictured here, about her newest novel, The Jumbies (Algonquin, April 2014), a book unlike any other you’ll read this year.

That link will be here soon.

Until tomorrow …

* * * * * * *

Photo of Tracey taken by Latifah Abdur Photography and used by her permission.

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13. Of Sentient Cakesand Hairy Hands with Rowboat Watkins

Author/illustrator Rowboat Watkins and I had a long conversation about his picture book, Rude Cakes, coming to shelves in June from Chronicle Books — and I’m posting the conversation today. The book is the surreal story of cheeky, impudent cakes (words I never thought I’d string together)—throw in some cyclopses with some unexpected behavior traits—and it’s funny and entertaining. There are some spreads from it in our chat below. (Pictured above is a sketchbook image.)

Rowboat and I also talk below about picture books and elbow room; Sendak (Rowboat was a Sendak Fellow several years back); giant paper legs growing up hallways; resolute poodles; four-horsepower Super Rosengarts, both metaphorical and very real; the severities of plain white walls; and much more. This is essentially a conversation for the die-hardiest of die-hard picture book fans—I can’t promise the absence of a digression or two—and I enjoyed every second of it. Later in our chat, Rowboat writes:

Anything that betrays its own messy history of becoming itself makes my eyes widen.

… which I’d pretty much like to tattoo on my forehead.

Let’s get to it, and I thank him for visiting.

* * *

Jules: Hi there, Rowboat! I’m glad you’re visiting 7-Imp. I like your new book.

I bet authors hate to be asked about “inspiration,” so I’d like to ask what inspired this story without using the word “inspired” or “inspiration.” Oops. Too late.

But no really, can you talk about when this notion of sentient cakes came to you? Was it during the Sendak Fellowship, by chance, which I’d also love to ask about. Eventually. Or maybe I just did.

Clearly, I’m not very organized.



Rowboat: Hey, Jules.

Am glad you like the book. It’s weird seeing it as a real alive book. Exciting. But weird. And a little bit scary. But mostly exciting. I think. I could be lying. 50/50, as my daughter likes to say.

As to the inspiration, I’m going to ignore what I believe is your insinuation that cakes aren’t really sentient. Water under the bridge.

I’ve been drawing sentient cakes for over a decade.

And giant hairy hands looming in from the sides and top of my sketchbooks for almost as long.

Why? I don’t know. Sometimes it’s better not to ask too many questions.

Anyway, at some point in an extended trough I’d been sliding into for who-knows-how-long, I finally hit the bottom. Conk. Like in a cartoon. Conk. Honestly. My brain literally made the sound conk. I kid you not. And I just knew I couldn’t sink any lower. Which was weird, because I’m pretty much always sure there is somewhere lower to sink. But for whatever reason, I thought, “Well, I don’t like any of my ideas (because they all suck), and it sure would be fun to draw a book with a giant hairy hand looming in from the top of the page. Who wouldn’t love that? I would.”


(Click to enlarge)


And then I thought about a dream I’d cut out of a recently-failed dummy about a tiny poodle who wanted to be tough — but wasn’t. As part of the poodle’s wan regimen for making himself tough, he tries dreaming about tough things — such as, flowers with mustaches; hammers; piles of rocks; and rude cakes who kicked each other on purpose and never said sorry. And I thought, “Well, the poodle story is going nowhere fast, but who wouldn’t want to read about rude cakes who kicked each other on purpose? I would. Maybe there’s a way I can have a giant hairy hand loom in from the top of a page and have it grab a rude cake, who at some point earlier in the story had rudely kicked another cake?”


(Click each to enlarge)


Genius! I was like the guy (or lady) who invented the peanut butter cup. Combine two individually delicious things (a giant hairy looming hand and a remorseless kicking cake) to make something even more delicious. Great job, brain. Way to go. Idiot.

When one is at the bottom of a deep dark hole of one’s own doing, options are limited. I had nothing to lose, since I couldn’t write a worse story than the ones I’d already been writing. So I just made myself start typing. And then the book kind of wrote itself in, like, a day. And a half. All at once. Which had never happened before and will undoubtedly never happen again and was more than a little bit scary. I was so nervous after I’d finished writing it I thought I would spontaneously combust. It was the same feeling you have when you find out the girl you’ve secretly had a crush on for months (or years) actually likes you, too. Totally thrilling. Equally terrifying. So I kept it a secret for a few days before emailing it to two friends to ask their opinion.


Some of the first thumbnails for Rude Cakes


Does that answer your question at all?

It occurs to me I should say one more thing specific to your question about inspiration, Jules, which is this: In my first two or three passes on the story, there were multiple rude cakes and they were all eaten by polite cyclops-children, who wiped their mouths with napkins and held out their hairy little pinkies when they drank from their glasses and thanked their parents for giving them such delicious little cakes to eat. It was totally ham-handed and kind of dumb, but that’s what the story was, so I was going with it. Because at least I was going to get to draw giant hairy looming hands and rude sentient cakes.

It was only when I started making rough thumbnails of cakes being daintily shoved into appreciative adolescent cyclops-maws that I suddenly realized the cakes looked a lot like hats. What? It was like a literal cartoon lightbulb went off in my head — only I don’t remember what sound it made.

It had never occurred to me that cyclopses might want to do anything with little rude cakes other than eat them, but now I had this whole unexpected sartorial direction — and that was the AHA moment I had been blindly throwing out grappling hooks for. If I hadn’t simply started writing and drawing the book in all of its ham-handedness, I would have never discovered the twist.


Rowboat: “It feels like the seeds for whatever ideas that start vaguely forming themselves in my head always start vaguely [with my sketchbooks]. With doodling mindlessly on the subway, or while waiting for my daughter at dance class, or at after school, or wherever. They are the closest thing I have to inspiration.”
(Click each to enlarge)


And here are a few pix of my room at the Sendak Fellowship. I didn’t mean to ignore your question about the Fellowship, Jules. Honest. I could bore you to death with all I have to day about my time there. But I didn’t want to overstay my welcome before I’d allowed you to ask more than one question.


(Click each to enlarge)


Jules: Hear hear for sketching AND for ham-handedness. (Should your next book be about monsters with hams for hands? Hmm.)

I love seeing these early images. Did you name your early cyclopses? What is the plural for cyclops anyway? I see there’s a Pearl up there, and I’m wondering who she is.

I knew you weren’t ignoring my Sendak question. I have a bad habit of asking more than one question at once and figured you were taking them one at a time. Looks like you got to draw/paint on the walls there? Or are those taped?

I’d have so many questions about the Fellowship that it’d be annoying. I guess it’d be neat to know what it was like. Is it true Fellows were able to spend their days alone, thinking, creating, etc. — and then whenever you needed advice from the great man himself, you could ask for it? Is there anything he told you that changed the way you make stories? You are welcome to tell me to shove off or ignore that question, if you’d rather not share. I’d respect that, especially since I know you developed a friendship with Maurice, and that’s a private thing.


Another sketchbook drawing
(Click to enlarge)


Rowboat: Pearl is my daughter. And she uses the words literal and literally more than anyone in Christendom. About things which are debatably debatable — or at best figuratively true. And no, she didn’t learn this from me. When I talk about literal brain conks and literal cartoon lightbulbs, these aren’t mere metaphors, Jules. They seem to have really happened. Then again, why would you trust anything said by someone whose brain goes conk?

The cyclopses never had names. Sorry. They were originally nameless, giant, hairy, one-eyed monsters — grown-ups and kids. Until I remembered there was already a perfectly good name for giant, one-eyed monsters and that I didn’t need to call them hairy if I drew them hairy. And then I realized it would be simpler if I didn’t worry about what age the cyclopses were. When in doubt, simplify. I always forget this.

The first person to read the story was my friend Ali Bahrampour. Ali is a copy chief by day, but he’s also one of the smartest people and picture book-makers I know (and funniest and nicest and darkest). And he’s been selfishly squirreling away everything he’s written and drawn since he published his singular gem, Otto: The Story of a Mirror back in 2003. Which is just plain wrong, but it’s his selfish life and far be it from me to begrudge him his secret, selfish squirrelings.



In the version Ali read, I used cyclops as a plural of itself. Because I liked the sound. Cyclops. Like fish. Or moose. But Ali flagged this and (apologetically) noted that the plural of cyclops is cyclopes. As in “sigh-kloh-pees.” What?!?! Cyclopes? The whole book was ruined. Who the hell ever heard of sigh-kloh-pees? Not me. It sounded contagious. Who would even know how to pronounce it? I don’t remember what sound my brain made at the time, but it was not good.

To make a long story short (and you were the one who opened up this giant hairy one-eyed can of worms in the first place, Jules), the copyeditors at Chronicle were nice enough to let me use cyclopses instead cyclopes. Because “cyclopses” is at least a debatably debatable usage, whereas cyclopes is quite literally depressing.

As to the walls of my room in the Nuthouse (it’s what we called the fellows’ house, because its thin roof was under constant attack from acorns), I didn’t remember anyone telling me I couldn’t draw on the walls. Which were so oppressively blank and looked exactly like the horrible case of writer’s block which had settled in my head. Only with fresher paint. I had no clue what to work on. And I was afraid to talk to Maurice, because he was MAURICE-frigging-SENDAK. And I was afraid of talking to the other fellows, because they each seemed so legitimate and accomplished. And I was ashamed that I had no idea what to do with my month living next door to all of them, as they briskly buffed and honed their brilliant dummies. The only dummy in my room was me. Bad joke. What do you expect? My brain goes conk.


Nuthouse switchplate


Anyway, desperate times call for desperate measures. So I went to Staples (I didn’t know any other art stores near Ridgefield, Connecticut) and bought a bunch of construction paper and double-stick tape. And I started covering my walls. At first I drew only on the paper. Because I’m a goody-two-shoes coward by nature and I didn’t want to get in trouble. But then I started drawing off the paper a little. And then I accidentally started drawing smally in the hallway. And maybe I kind of drew in the stairwell leading up to the kitchen? And in the kitchen? And in the pantry? And coat closet? Just one leafy tree. Because this wasn’t my house. But at this point I was talking to and cooking with and getting lost in the woods with the other fellows, even if I was still mortally afraid of Maurice. And because Lynn and Dona, who ran the fellowship, didn’t seem to mind that acorns were falling from the electrical outlets. Or that bandits were claiming the lightswitches. Or that a faint hairy hand was reaching for the original Chris Van Allsburg, which hung in the breakfast nook.


More Nuthouse switchplates


When I had my first one on one talk with Maurice, maybe a week or so into the fellowship, he nervously said, “Why don’t you like me?” And I told him I was terrified and that, as is always the case when I’m afraid of talking to someone new, my mind becomes an empty room. This was a few years before my brain started conking, so I didn’t mention that. Then he told me he liked my feet. The one’s I had taped on the wall. And he said he would like to live in a room like this. And I told him he owned the house and that it was his room anyway. And then he sat down and asked me about my daughter.

Were you allowed to draw on the walls of your room when you were a kid, Jules? And do you let your daughters draw on the walls in theirs?

Jules: I love that Staples story. And the Maurice part. For some reason, I got teary-eyed. Maybe because, though I generally don’t get really starry-eyed over authors and illustrators (as in, I know they’re just people too, right?), I would have given anything to have met Sendak in person. I know he was a mere mortal, like the rest of us, but he had such respect for children that I feel like … I dunno … it really is the end of an era with him gone.

CYCLOPES? WHO KNEW? Whoa. Well, I’ve learned something new this week.

No, I never drew on my walls, though I guess in high school I painted song lyrics around my door frame. My girls don’t draw on the walls, though my husband and I talk about one day letting them turn over the kitchen table and paint on the bottom of it.

New subject: Did I already tell you that I read Rude Cakes at a story time, and it even made the fussy toddlers get quiet? I’m reading at another story time tomorrow at an elementary school, and I’m bringin’ this again.

Have you shared this, by chance, with children other than your daughter?

Also, is there anything we can do to get Ali to share more of his books?


Another sketchbook drawing
(Click to enlarge)


Rowboat: I don’t know what can done about Ali. Sergio (Ruzzier) was a Sendak Fellow the same year Ali was there, and he’s been trying to get Ali to send out his dummies for years. Without success. You know how charming Sergio is, so you can imagine how cagey Ali must be to resist. Maybe you should invite Ali to talk sometime? And ask him to share some of his work? Maybe this would poke a hole in the dam? And get him on someone’s radar. If nothing else, I’m sure you’d love talking to Ali.

Can I ask what lyrics you painted around your door frame? I was never allowed to put anything up on the walls, growing up. Not even a postage stamp. Lucky for my childhood door frames, I’m terrible at remembering lyrics. I’ve been listening to the same forty or so albums for the past however-many-decades, and I still couldn’t do more than hum gibberish if I had to sing something a cappella on the spot. Which will never happen. Trust me.

The same is true for books. I have only the gauziest of impressions of what any of my life-long favorites are about. I’d blame this on the brain surgery I had after a bad exchange with a truck while riding my bike, but the truth is my memory was dicey before then. The upside of all of this being I could be stuck on a desert island with three books and three records and I would never get bored. Because there would always be so much to discover. Maybe even two books and one record?

One of the things I discovered after going to the fellowship was how much I liked having giant paper legs growing up the walls. I would have never pegged myself for this kind of person before, but there you have it. I am apparently that kind of person. And I liked it so much that I finally had to put one up in the hall of the building where I live. I would have put it up in my apartment (I really would have), but all of our walls are crammed with stuff. So it had to be the hallway or nothing. And … it looked GREAT!!! What a thrill that there was finally a giant paper leg in the hall.


(Click to enlarge)


The problem was, there was only one. For weeks I tried to pretend this was okay. But after a while, it became too much. So while everyone was off at work and school one day, I put up another one. Because my neighbors never said anything about the first leg. And I couldn’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to walk by twice as many six-foot-tall paper legs springing from the baseboards, while tromping off to work or coming home with heavy bags of groceries. I mean, come on.

A master plan started simmering in my head to paper the whole length of the stairwell with a chorus line of giant legs kicking up to the second and third floor landings and on to the roof. This kind of thing can simmer in my head, because it is totally unencumbered by song lyrics or historical facts or anything it ever encountered on the printed page. So the glass is half full.



But one day, a couple days after the second leg gloriously appeared, my favorite neighbors left a message on my voicemail asking me to call them. And I learned the very sad lesson that some people apparently prefer to haul heavy bags of groceries against a wan backdrop of dull white paint. How could this be? These are smart capable people. Job-having, child-rearing, book-reading, vote-casting citizens. Plain white walls are just so … I don’t even know what they are, but they sure are sadder without legs.

My neighbors were so contrite and polite about the whole thing, and I felt horrible for putting them in the position of having to sheepishly explain why life is lived better while tromping off to work against a legless wall of nothing. If only I could have remembered all the lyrics to The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, this kind of thing might never have happened. Suffice it to say, there will never be a chorus line of giant legs kicking their papery way up to the roof. And my neighbors, whom I love, will never have to worry about anything else springing from the baseboards in our common stairwell. Really.

The only thing more disturbing than suddenly needing to grow giant legs in one’s hallway is suddenly deciding to blog about wanting to put up giant legs in one’s hallway. On a secret blog that no one reads. Which is here. And here. The entries are from a few years ago, but the shame of it all still smells fresh. Now you know my deepest, darkest secrets, Jules.



You asked me earlier if there was anything I learned from Maurice that changed the way I made books. I learned so much from him, and he had so much to say about everything that it would be impossible to choose. And the structure of the Fellowship was less about some traditional student/teacher model than about becoming a part of a community of like-minded nutjobs. About fellowship. Fruity as that may sound, that’s really what I think it was about. Because making books can be so lonely and dispiriting and disorienting. And even someone as accomplished as Maurice still needs friends in whose adoring faces he can see glimmers of his own goodness.

That I have become the kind of rainbow-twirling person who can say this kind of thing is hard to swallow. But there you go. I like giant legs and sometimes twirl rainbows. It is so easy to lose your way when you are stuck inside your own head all the time and you don’t know how to do anything but hum. Know what I mean?

I am curious to hear how story time went, Jules. I’ve not read the book to anyone other than my daughter. I didn’t even read it to her. She can read it herself. And she watched me working on it for months. Since my desk is right next to the kitchen and you can’t get anywhere in the apartment without walking by my desk. I have given the book to a couple friends, and I know they have read it to their kids and I’ve heard that they supposedly laughed and liked the book. But what else are someone’s friends going to say? I even gave a copy to my leg-hating neighbors, but their daughter is maybe a little too young for the book, since she just turned two.

My secret hope is that one day her parents will walk into her room and they will spy something strange growing from the baseboards. I have no idea what that something will be. Or how far in the future it will be. But I say this and wish this lovingly. Because hope springs eternal. And you will never be able to convince me that anything is truly done better against a wan backdrop of dull white paint. Except brain surgery. Or starting over.


Another sketchbook drawing
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: I share your disdain for plain white walls. Well, there are some people who decorate the rooms they inhabit with a lovely sort of asceticism I can only strive toward, and that in and of itself can be a great thing. But I always end up hanging up lots of stuff. You could ask my husband and daughters any time about the number of nail holes I’ve put into our walls, and they will laugh. I visited the Biltmore recently, where they hang pictures from cords that hang from the ceiling and go down the wall, so as not to put holes in the walls, but I can’t very well do that either.

Let’s see … the song lyrics were the chorus of a song that started out with “let me pull down on your high ideals / to sweet earth, honest and wide.” They were by Sam Phillips, who at that time went by her real name, Leslie. (This was 1987/1988, and the song sounds very dated now.) I started listening to her back in high school. When she sung under her given name, Leslie, she was singing what is called contemporary Christian music. And I was a Christian back then. Or tried really hard to be one and tried really hard to understand all that. Right around the time I started having big questions about religion, she stopped singing contemporary Christian music. I don’t know if she underwent some kind of religious conversion herself (and that’s not any of my business), but she got really tired of the pressures of that market and just walked away. Her music changed a lot, too, in even better ways, but I digress. That particular song was, I think, her goodbye to all of that. And it spoke to me. And it’s like we went along paths in life that I saw as similar ones, though again, I don’t know what she, personally, believes now. All I know is she is still making fabulous music—she’s in her 50s now—and I’ve followed her all these years. So talented that it’s criminal.

“Strange things are happening every day.” Those are the opening lines to one of her best songs. (Bonus: A stroh violin!)

She also has a song called “Lever Pulled Down”:

I’m a lever pulled down / I’m a flipped switch. / I’m a lever pulled down / and I don’t know why it’s so. / I’m a lever pulled down / and I’d give my life for the lightning in our dreams.

AHHHHHH. It’s like a lost Whitman piece, and the song itself is this delightfully scrappy country kind of thing.

Anyway, how’d I get onto the topic of religion? The Dalai Lama once said, “my religion is compassion.” That works for me now.

I still remember, speaking of Sendak and speaking of faith (because that’s what he was discussing when he made this comment), a chat with Roger Sutton he once did where he said … well, he said this. I just went and looked it up, because I posted it at 7-Imp the day I heard about his death:

[D]eath is a comfort because that’s what saves you. Suffering, cancer, some horrible disease, I’m terrified of pain. Death will just take you away from that. So what’s to be afraid of? It’s a cessation of pain. What more could you ask? It’s like the good nurse. … I think the most graceful thing offered us is sleep without dreams. That is so sensible.

Sleep without dreams. I like that too.

I meant to say earlier, when we were talking about the loss of the great man, that when I read about his death (on Twitter, of all places), I cried with a grief that surprised me, because again, I’d never met him in person. But I guess it’s perfectly normal for people to respond to their favorite artists (or musicians, etc.) in this way.

And how’d I get on such a heavy topic? OH FOR THE LOVE OF PANTS, as my 11-year-old says. I think we need a moment from Rude Cakes:


“Rude cakes never say please …”
(Click to enlarge spread)


I feel like I should extend my sympathy to you for this bike wreck with a truck that has happened in your past. OUCH. Did you know that happened with Ludwig Bemelmans, too? Here’s the scoop. He collided with a four-horsepower Super Rosengart, as he writes, while bicycling one day, and in the hospital he was inspired to write Madeline (though evidently his inspiration came from other sources too). But your bike adventure sounds much worse.

And, yes, I read your story to kindergartners. They loved it. I asked them to guess what was on the bottom of the cover. Anyone IN THE KNOW knows it’s a cyclops. Duh. Someone said a donut. I think someone said a spaceship. They laughed outloud at the spread where the “GIANT CYCLOPSESE” are revealed — also at the spread where the rude cake begs, “PLEASE!” I told them the “cyclopes” story. I thought they’d roar with laughter at the pronunciation of that word, but they did not. But I’m still glad you got away with “cyclopses,” because I’d probably stare at “cyclopes” and wouldn’t be sure how to read it.

p.s. If Sergio can’t convince Ali, I’m not sure I can. But I can always try.


” … and they never say thank you …”
(Click to enlarge spread)


I guess I should ask you what you’re working on next. But I’m also curious to know: What inspires you? Generally. In life. Other than giant legs in the hallway. (For the record, you could paint some in my hallway any time.)

Rowboat: Sweet Jesus, Jules. (Can I say that?) Who wouldn’t want to collide with a four-horsepower Super Rosengart? While vacationing on the île d’Yeu. With a sack of lobsters slung jauntily over their shoulder. And then write Madeline. Seriously. I have total collision envy. If only my truck moment were half that delectable. Or classy. Or inspiring. All mine did was knock the smell out of me for a year. And the hearing out of half my ears forever. Lamely impersonating roadkill on the corner of 6th Avenue and 9th Street. Without any whiff of inspiration.

Speaking of inspiration and roadkill, I’m currently floored by the breezy profundity of Bárður Oskarsson’s The Flat Rabbit. Wow. Right? Clearly Oskarsson ran into some kind of Super Rosengart of his own.



Jules: Yes, I wrote about that book here at Kirkus (with art here at 7-Imp). I am still thinking about that book, even after all this time. It’s even part of an essay on international picture books I just wrote for this.

Rowboat: As to how I’ve gone through life having never heard of Sam Phillips before, I stand duly shamed. Is it possible I heard you talk about her on Number Five Bus? And ignored your pompoms on her behalf? Did I make that up? I remember loving your interview with the nifty Steads (I hope they resume their bus chats, by the way), but maybe I’m confusing your story with Anna Karenina? Or some other something I ran into and loved and then forgot as its outlines blurred ever further out of focus? Anyway, I may have snubbed your rumored exhortations once, but there’s only so much foolishness and regret I can visit upon myself.

I just listened to some of Sam Phillips’ songs online, and if she is not the very essence of a sack of shoulder-slung lobsters slamming into a Four-Horsepower Super Rosengart, then I don’t know if running into Super Rosengarts means anything anymore. I say that after having listened to only a handful of her songs. WIth one working ear. And a brain as empty as the Dalai Lama’s Man Cave. I have no idea what that means. My brain sometimes goes conk, remember. All I meant to say is I think I get why Sam Phillips continues to floor you. If there were one album of hers you’d recommend for starters, it would be…?



Jules: Yes, I talked about Sam in the chat I had with Phil and Erin last year. I’m always talking about Sam’s music. I might very well annoy people, and I’m really off the subject of picture books, aren’t I? As for which album to recommend first … It’s so hard to pick. I always say Fan Dance if people ask me this, though she described it in later years as something like “an album where I had a conversation with myself.” (I paraphrase.) May not be her most accessible album, that is, but it’s my favorite. Then, go backwards in time and listen to Martinis & Bikinis.

Rowboat: For reasons that elude me, at this very moment, all I can think about is The Cars. The band. Whom I haven’t listened to or thought about in eons. And that commercial for Head-On, where the voiceover keeps saying “Apply directly to the forehead” over and over again.

Why? Why? Why? I loved The Cars. And the Talking Heads.

Jules: Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” … Oh for the love of all things pantsy, it’s one of the world’s best songs. The lyrics SLAY ME.

Rowboat: And The Pretenders. The Pretenders never stop sounding fresh to me. And full of nail holes.

That’s exactly the kind of thing that inspires me, Jules. A room full of nail holes. I say that as someone who hails from a long line of devout spacklers. Militant spacklers. “Hurry! Hide all evidence of our uncertainty. For Heaven’s Sake, use a daub or Colgate if you must, but get those ungodly voids filled in before someone sees!”

Anything that betrays its own messy history of becoming itself makes my eyes widen. It’s what’s so exciting about John Burningham.


– From John Burningham’s Cannonball Simp


– From John Burningham’s Oi! Get Off Our Train


Or Esphyr Slobodkina.


– From Margaret Wise Brown’s
The Little Fireman, illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina


Or Bill Traylor.


Untitled figures chasing a bird, Bill Traylor (c. 1939-42)


Untitled figures and construction, Bill Traylor (c. 1939-42)


Or Milton Avery.


Milton Avery, Bathers Coney Island (1934) in the Portland Art Museum’s collection


Milton Avery, Autumn (1944)


Or the quilters of Gee’s Bend.



Or Kitty Crowther.


– From The Little Man and God by Kitty Crowther


– From Mother Medusa by Kitty Crowther


All their work feels like tomorrow everything could be hung a little more to the left. Or the right. Like, if I didn’t keep checking in, the sofa might run away. It’s totally different than walking into a room where you know everything hanging there now will always tastefully hang exactly as it does. Because the room is stunning and perfect and it is already the fullest expression of itself, and as such it doesn’t need me to visit again, because the armchairs will never go AWOL.

I think this is why Maurice’s illustrations for [Wilhelm Grimm’s] Dear Mili or Outside Over There (both unimpeachable stunners) do less for me than his spots for [Ruth Krauss’] A Hole is to Dig, which take my breath away every time. Part of this predilection is undoubtedly sublimated envy; I will never have Maurice’s drawing chops. But part of it also has to do with there being too many exquisitely upholstered pillows in the room. And my being afraid to sit down anywhere. All that exquisiteness starts to close in on itself. It’s why people’s dummies sometimes look more alive and inviting than the final art.


– From Dear Mili


– From Outside Over There


A picture book is such an intimate space to begin with. One in which I want to feel like I can kick off my shoes and make mental crumbs between the pillows, or leave a ring on the side table. Which is a complete joke, because I’m the unrepentant Crumb Stasi of my own home. Of my own life. Constantly torn between a native allegiance to walls without nail holes, and a secret desire to draw acorns falling from the lightswitch plates. It’s a battle that is lost and won on both sides of the frontline every minute of every day. With no clear victor in sight.



For the love of pants, I didn’t mean to go all Paths of Glory on you like that, Jules. But it’s something I think about all the time. The ongoing struggle between the necessity of hard work, and an equally imperative need for pointless tangents of fun. Purposeless joy. Apply directly to the forehead. It’s the people who make their own virtuosity look effortless and fun who most inspire me. Because there’s something so generous about creating the hope or illusion in the mind of the viewer that, if they only tried, they could do it too.

Speaking of pants and pointless tangents, the book I’m currently working on is about an elephant who doesn’t want to wear them. It’s called Pete without Pants. He’s supposed to come streaking past you sometime is 2016. There is also a mermaid lurking in the corals. And some marshmallows and gorillas.


(Click each to enlarge)


One of the last Talmudic imperatives Maurice shared with me before he died was, “You need to become a better spy.” At the time, I understood it to mean something about how to sneak my secret agendas past the Crumb Stasi of the marketplace. How to create the illusion of compliance without capitulation. But I have come to realize his advice has just as much to do with sneaking my timid slant for mischief past the repressive ministry of my own brain. I’m almost a 100% sure that’s how any of us will find “the lightning in our dreams.” And I’m reasonably certain it sounds something like kids laughing.

Am so glad to hear your kindergarteners liked the book, Jules. And that they’re still too young to hear anything funny in the real pronunciation of cyclopes. Here’s hoping we have occasion to ride our Rosengarts into each other again sometime soon. I’ll bring the lobster if you promise to arrange for airfare to the Île d’Yeu.


Jules: Deal.

p.s. Militant Spacklers. Band name. I call it. (My girls and I have a list of band names—most of them come from books we read together—and I’m adding that to it.)

I enjoyed this conversation. Immensely. Thank you, Rowboat.



* * * * * * *

All images are used by permission of Rowboat Watkins.

9 Comments on Of Sentient Cakesand Hairy Hands with Rowboat Watkins, last added: 5/2/2015
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14. On Mistakes, Art-Studio Dopamine, andServing the Story with Illustrator Tom Lichtenheld


Illustrator Tom Lichtenheld visits 7-Imp this morning to share the backstory of the illustrations for Beth Ferry’s Stick and Stone, released earlier this month by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It’s the story of two friends who stand up and look out for each other, and it’s been met with positive reviews, Booklist writing that the two characters “are a delight to know” and that the “irresistible cadence of the text should make this a repeat favorite.” (This is an especially good story-time read, I might add, for the youngest of listeners.)

I thank Tom for sharing the story of the illustrations. It’s certainly a good read for those of you who, like me, like to hear about picture-book process.

Let’s get right to it. I now hand the site over to Tom. …


* * *


My story of working on this book is mostly about making mistakes and starting over.

I was immediately attracted to the manuscript because of its concise language, dynamic arc, and wide-open opportunities for visualizing the story.

This is the first drawing I did of Stick and Stone, right after I read the manuscript. Admittedly, Stick looks like a carrot and Stone resembles a potato, but I was mostly concerned with capturing their personalities.



Then I did a tighter sketch, thinking about how they’d behave within the story. Although the story has lots of action, I wanted to anthropomorphize the characters as little as possible. Stick can have little arms and legs, naturally. And Pinecone gets them because … heck, he can’t even roll, but giving Stone appendages would have been cheating.


(Click to enlarge)


Then the mistakes began.


Mistake No. 1: Applying Too Much Logic


I began by trying to visually explain how Stick and Stone first met. This front endpaper shows a bird stretching to reach a berry in a tree.


(Click to enlarge)


Then, on the title page, the branch snaps and falls to the ground. Thus, we have Stick…


(Click to enlarge)


… who falls onto Stone.


(Click to enlarge)


Now we have our characters — and a relationship.

But the visual story I added was answering questions that no one would ask. It was also too busy, and it didn’t establish the right level of suspension of disbelief.


Mistake No. 2: Illustrating the Story –
But Ignoring the Voice


I went through the story and did what I often do — added side jokes and visual gags. For instance, these are from the part of the story where Stick and Stone explore the world together, building a friendship along the way. “They wander, explore.”


(Click to enlarge)


These are fun little vignettes, but they’re more about the places than the friendship that’s forming between travelling companions, so conceptually they don’t completely serve the story.

Then there’s the episode where Stick gets lost and Stone goes out searching for him, day and night. These were my first sketches.


I thought Stone might organize a search party.


(Click to enlarge)


Then I had the idea of bringing his search to the city …



… just so I could do these two gags:


(Click to enlarge)


Again, these are funny — but not in harmony with the spare, poetic voice of the text, which is one of the things that initially attracted me to the project.


Mistake No. 3: Overdesigning


My background as an art director prompts me to play with composition and styles as I’m working on illustrations. This was one of my first design exercises.

(Click each to enlarge)


Can you tell I’d just visited the Hamilton Type museum?


Starting Over …


It didn’t take long for me to realize that the ornamental typography and all the superfluous gags were overwhelming the images and the story, so I started over, simplifying both the illustrations and the design to be more reflective of the text.


(Click to enlarge)


I switched to a simple font to go along with the new, minimal feel.


(Click to enlarge)


The manuscript didn’t specify a setting, so I was free to come up with an appropriate place for the interaction to start. A playground seemed logical, because it’s a fun, active place where kids have to work out a lot of relationship dynamics on their own.


(Click to enlarge)


Even in this simpler version, I still found opportunities to play with the type.


(Click to enlarge)


Now their travels are helping build the relationship. On the left, Stone is making a trail for Stick. On the right, they’re facing a scary situation together.


(Click to enlarge)


The dolphins are an inside gag — a reference to the old Houghton Mifflin logo.


(Click to enlarge)

I always try to use endpapers to add a facet to the story. In this case, I used them to show the origins of our pals Stick and Stone.


(Click to enlarge)


The Illustration Process


I wanted the illustrations to have some texture, so I worked on Mi-Teintes paper, which comes in a variety of earthy colors and is heavy enough to handle a variety of media.


(Click to enlarge)


This is the entire book printed out and tacked to a large piece of foamcore in my studio. This helps me keep track of everything: paper colors, design, editorial notes, etc. Notice the variety of cover designs at the bottom, none of which were used. At the last minute, I changed my mind and came up with an entirely new cover, which the publisher graciously agreed to.


(Click to enlarge)


For the final art, I used Pan Pastels, watercolor dyes, and colored pencils. The paper cut-outs at the top of the frame are masks I make when using Pan Pastels.


(Click to enlarge)


The black and white base art is done in pencil (at about 50%), then scanned, cleaned up and placed into an InDesign file. I have a large format printer that takes heavy paper and uses non-water-soluble inks, so I print the pencil art onto colored paper and start applying color.


(Click to enlarge)


I know I could use Photoshop to do a lot of this, and I certainly do for a number of things. But in general I’ve discovered that working on paper with real tools is more stimulating. Photoshop is predictable and endlessly fixable, so there’s very little risk. And I’ve read that risk is one of the things that produces dopamine in the brain, so I will always have a studio full of unpredictable, drug-inducing art supplies.

I did each illustration a number of times, until I got something I liked. Here they are organized into piles on a large table.


(Click to enlarge)


That’s my part of the story behind Stick and Stone. I’m grateful to the author, Beth Ferry, the editor, Kate O’Sullivan, the art director, Scott Magoon (yes, that Scott Magoon), and everyone else who made it happen. They’re all the best! Which reminds me … one more from the cutting room floor …





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* * * * * * *

STICK AND STONE. Text copyright © 2015 by Beth Ferry. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Tom Lichtenheld. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. All images here reproduced by permission of Tom Lichtenheld.

10 Comments on On Mistakes, Art-Studio Dopamine, andServing the Story with Illustrator Tom Lichtenheld, last added: 4/28/2015
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15. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #429: Featuring Charles Santoso

– From Sean Ferrell’s I Don’t Like Koala
(Click to see spread in its entirety)


– From Jessica Young’s Spy Guy
(Click to enlarge)


I’ve got a review over at BookPage of Sean Ferrell’s I Don’t Like Koala (Atheneum, April 2015), illustrated by Charles Santoso. That is here, and I’ve got some art from the book here today at 7-Imp.

To boot, I’ve got some illustrations from another Santoso-illustrated book, Jessica Young’s Spy Guy, coming to bookshelves in May from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the story of a very loud, very bumbly spy and his “Chief” (a.k.a. his dad). Looks like the Spy Guy illustrations were created digitally, and the Koala illustrations were colored digitally — but originally created in pencil. There’s a definite difference in the two; there’s more texture, for one thing, in the Koala illustrations, and the Spy Guy illustrations channel more of a traditional cartoon vibe, which is fitting for this light and fun slapstick story.

Santoso, who lives in Australia, is an animation-studio concept artist/art director by day and illustrator by night! Here’s a bit more art from both books. Enjoy. …


Art from Sean Ferrell’s I Don’t Like Koala:


(Click to see spread in its entirety)


(Click to enlarge)



Art from Jessica Young’s Spy Guy:


“So Spy Guy went to Headquarters to see the Chief. ‘Chief!’ he said. ‘Tell me the secret to spying!’ ‘Spy Guy,’ said the Chief, ‘that you must discover for yourself.
But if you seek to sneak, try not to speak.'”

(Click to enlarge)


“Spy Guy put on his brand-new shoes. He didn’t make a sound as he crept through town. But … everyone saw him coming.”
(Click to enlarge)




I DON’T LIKE KOALA. Text copyright © 2015 by Sean Ferrell. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Charles Santoso. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York.

SPY GUY: THE NOT-SO-SECRET AGENT. Text copyright © 2015 by Jessica Young. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Charles Santoso. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.

* * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

I’m typing this while listening to President Obama’s remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, and it’s funny stuff. (The Anger Translator made me laugh outloud.) My kicks 1-7 will be that — and, selfishly, I want to hear the rest of it, so I’m off! But tell me …

What are YOUR kicks this week?

7 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #429: Featuring Charles Santoso, last added: 4/28/2015
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16. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Jan De Kinder

(Click to enlarge spread)

Today over at Kirkus, I have a round-up of new nonfiction (mostly) picture books. That will be here soon.

* * *

Last week, I wrote here about a Belgian import, Jan De Kinder’s Red (Eerdmans, March 2015). Today, I’m following up with some art from the book.


“It’s like magic. A snap of the fingers, and his cheeks start glowing. Tommy’s face is as red as a fire truck. ‘Leave me alone!’ Tommy says again. Paul laughs.
Every time Paul laughs, Tommy gets a little quieter.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


“And quieter. And Paul gets louder. Much louder.”
(Click to enlarge spread)



“I’m scared of Paul. His tongue is as sharp as a knife. And his fist is as hard as a brick. He’s twice as strong as me. There’s no way I can stand up to him on my own.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


* * * * * * *

RED. Text and illustrations © 2013 Jan De Kinder. First published in the United States in 2015 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. English language translation © 2015 Laura Watkinson. Spread reproduced by permission of the publisher.

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17. A Raschka Moment



Last week, I chatted over at Kirkus with Paul B. Janeczko about The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects (Candlewick, March 2015), illustrated by Chris Raschka. So today I am following up with two spreads from the book.



(Click to see spread in its entirety)


(Click to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

THE DEATH OF A HAT. Compilation copyright © 2015 by Paul B. Janeczko. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Chris Raschka. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. “The Dismantled Ship” by Walt Whitman. “Street Lanterns” by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. “From Mercutio’s Queen Mab Speech” by William Shakespeare.

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18. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Marie-Louise Gay

“I shake my ideas around and turn them upside down and look at them flying out the window like a flock of birds. Suddenly, I know who lives in the forest … a giant,
a shy young giant with birds nesting in his hair. His story starts here …”


If you saw last year’s Any Questions?, written and illustrated by Canadian Marie-Louise Gay, who has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the Hans Christian Andersen Award, you may recognize the above illustration. It’s from the book, and it’s Marie-Louise herself, hard at work in her studio. (Some of my favorite illustrator interviews have been the ones where artists send illustrated “author photos,” but I digress.)

Any Questions?—a finalist for Canada’s 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Illustration, as well as a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year—was released last August by Groundwood Books, and it was then that I contacted Marie-Louise about an interview. I’ve admired her work over the years, and then along comes this excellent book, an exploration of what it means to be creative, as well as imagined conversations with children about writing and creating art — ones based on real conversations she’s had at school visits over the years. Kirkus called the book “a perfect summer’s day bound in 32 pages,” and Booklist praised the book’s “empowering” message — “that creativity is messy and fun!” Hear hear.

Yes, that was last year. Sometimes I get busy. But better late than never. But she’s also just released (this month, in fact) the adventure novel The Traveling Circus, written with her partner, David Homel, and also published by Groundwood. So, I meant to post this interview so late. Yes, I MEANT TO DO THAT. (Ahem.)

When I asked Marie-Louise about her published books thus far in her career, a question I ask everyone, she sent me a comprehensive bibliography, which I’m not including at the bottom of this post, only because it refuses to format properly for me. But trust me when I say it’s a long list; her first illustrated book was in 1976, as those of you who have followed her career closely know well. She’s spent decades capturing, with her warm watercolor illustrations, the wonders of childhood and nature. There is a spontaneity and energy to her work that really shines.

We’re having her preferred breakfast today — an orange, granola, yogurt, and a strong coffee. “Strong” coffee? An illustrator after my own heart. Let’s get right to it, and I thank her for visiting and sharing art. …

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Marie-Louise: Author/Illustrator.


From Any Questions?:
“But what if my story started on old yellowish paper? …”


From Any Questions?:
“Believe it or not, there are times when I don’t have any ideas at all.
My mind is a blank. …”


From Any Questions?:
“So I have to use my imagination. Try out new ideas. …”


From Any Questions?:
“But sometimes that doesn’t work either.
So I go back to my drawing table. …”


Jules: Can you list your books-to-date? (If there are too many books to list here, please list your five most recent illustrated titles or the ones that are most prominent in your mind, for whatever reason.)

Marie-Louise: [See the “Books” link at Marie-Louise’s site.]


From Any Questions?:
“One cold, gray autumn day, when the trees had just started losing their leaves, revealing their well-kept secrets—hidden birds’ nests, lost kites and the dreams of those who had slept in their cool, leafy summer shadows—
the giant heard something. …”


From Any Questions?:
“I wonder if this green is slimy enough? …”


From Any Questions?:
“‘Who are you?’ asked the giant.
‘I’m a beast,’ whispered the beast. ‘A horrible, dreadful beast. …'”



Jules: What is your usual medium?

Marie-Louise: Watercolor is my preferred medium, but I use it in conjunction with pencil, colored pencils (Caran d’Ache Supracolor), pastels, acrylic, gouache, collage, and ink.


Jewish Public Library banner


Poster for the LA Times Festival of Books


Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Marie-Louise: I have illustrated both board books and picture books, as well as early reader books and chapter books. I can’t say that there is such a big difference between illustrating early reader books and chapter books. The difference would not be illustrating for one age group or another but, in the case of the picture book, where the visual vocabulary (the art) is much richer than the the text. It enables the child who cannot yet read, or has difficulty in reading, to understand the story through it’s visual clues, body language and facial expressions of the characters, the details, etc. My goal when I write and illustrate a picture book is to be spare with words and eloquent in my art.


Petits Bonheurs poster


Poster for a Kaleidoscope conference


Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Marie-Louise I live in Montréal, province of Québec, Canada.

Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Marie-Louise: I started drawing when I was sixteen years old, doodling on my textbooks, sketching on paper napkins or on any available and relatively flat surface. I opted for art school. After studying graphic design, animation, drawing, and photography, I started doing various cartoon strips for local magazines and newspapers while I was still in school. I branched out towards editorial illustration for magazines in Canada and the U.S.: Saturday Night, Mother Jones, Psychology Today, etc.

I was approached a few years later by a publisher and author of children’s books who asked me to illustrate one of his picture-book manuscripts — then a second one and a third. The experience was exhilarating. I fell in love with exploring a story in pictures, creating a visual vocabulary, creating characters that evolved in a landscape that I had invented. It didn’t take too long before I was tempted to try my hand at writing my own stories.



Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Marie-Louise: www.marielouisegay.com.

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Marie-Louise: I don’t do as many school visits as I used to, but I still enjoy doing them. My preference goes to smaller groups, one or two classes, because I find that interactive presentations are much more fun and inspiring. I start by describing what an author/illustrator’s life is like (normal except for the fact that I have no boss, no office hours, and I spend the day alone in my studio, doodling and writing and daydreaming). I talk about the creative process. I show them sketches, storyboards, colored sketches, and original drawings. I read them a story or two. I sometimes do a drawing, using the kid’s suggestions, or write an interactive story with them. Other times we improvise a play with characters that I have just created in front of them and to whom they give life. I answer as many questions as I can.


– From a Houndsley and Catina book (Candlewick Press)


Jules: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Marie-Louise: I taught illustration for ten years at the Université du Québec in Montréal, but that was twenty years ago. At the time, I felt that all the research I did to build my classes was very inspiring and enriched my work greatly.

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Marie-Louise: I have just finished illustrating a picture book for Candlewick, Press called Tiger and Badger by Emily Jenkins. It will be published in February 2016.

I am also exploring, sketching, and writing a book of short illustrated cartoon stories. I’m in the middle of the ninth draft of a puppet play. I am revising a new chapter book in the Travels with my Family series (co-written with my partner, David Homel). The Traveling Circus published just this month.

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with six questions over breakfast. I thank Marie-Louise again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?


Sketches from Caramba (Groundwood, 2013)



: When I am asked to illustrate someone else’s story, the process starts immediately as I read the manuscript for the first time. If I don’t instantly see images in my mind as I read it, it is usually a sign that this particular story is not for me. At the second reading, I am already doing thumbnail sketches of key parts of the story or of the main character, in pencil right on the paper manuscript. Then, once everything is settled—contract, advance, due date, etc.—the first thing I do is a quite detailed storyboard of the book on the layout provided by the art director, and then I start looking for ways of escaping the imposed layout, letting my sketching guide me, trying out different points of view — but always within the confines of the story, of course.

It is quite a different process when I write and illustrate my own story. I feel more at liberty to improvise, to try new paths, to let my illustration change the story, and vice versa. It is a process of osmosis, much more organic then when I am illustrating an another author’s story.


Illustrations from and cover of Caramba


2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.


: A small light-filled studio on the second floor of our tiny, century-old red brick house. The large windows look over scruffy urban gardens, shadowed by large maple trees, and an alleyway where dozens of children play, laugh, scream, climb trees, skateboard, play tag or hide and seek. In the summer I am hidden in a sea of green leaves, and in the winter, a storm of snowflakes. I am surrounded by books, notebooks, art books, design books, children’s books, old magazines and encyclopedias or animal books and my art materials — jars of paintbrushes or colored pencils, bottles of ink, tubes of watercolor paints or acrylics, scraps of paper. An immense wooden chest of drawers that was used to store priests’ vestments in a sacristy now holds hundreds of sheets of paper of every size, shape, texture and color, as well as my artwork. My computer is in another room to keep distractions to a minimum. The walls are covered in sketches and artwork, and taped or pinned on the wall nearest to my drawing table is the project I am working on: storyboards, sketches, or final artwork.


Illustrations from and cover of Caramba and Henry (Groundwood, 2011)


3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?


: I grew up speaking French at home and did most of my primary schooling in English, so I read both in English and French. Babar, Curious George, Martine à la Plage, Grimms’ fairytales, as well as Hans Christian Andersen, Tintin, Nancy Drew, C. S. Lewis. I was fascinated by the detailed illustrations in the Babar stories or in the Tintin books.

But the real turning point was in my early teens when I immersed myself in the worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin or John Wyndham, and at the same time I was mesmerized by the surrealistic, achingly funny, intellectual, and visual musings of the french bédéistes (in English, this could translate as perhaps cartoonists or precursors of the graphic novel?): F’Murr with his Génie des alpages; Claire Bretécher and her Cellulite; Mandryka with his Concombre Masqué; Gotlib; Jean-Michel Folon.

My sources of inspiration expanded as I attended different art schools in Montréal and San Francisco. I poured over Saul Steinberg’s and Ralph Steadman’s drawings. I discovered the quirky, wonderful world of Edward Gorey, the inventiveness of André François, the bold designs of Tomi Ungerer, the weird illustrations of Ian Pollock. I was influenced by painters who “illustrated,” who told a story: Fernando Botero, Edward Hopper, David Hockney. And as it became clear to me that writing and illustrating books for children were my main interest and passion, I was absorbing the perfect twinning of art and story in the humourous and lively illustrations of Tony Ross and Quentin Blake; the painstakingly detailed drawings by Chris Van Allsburg; the gentle, emotional, funny books illustrated by André Dahan, William Steig, and Rosemary Wells. I especially admired the eastern Europeans — Helme Heine, Wolf Erlbruch, Lisbeth Zwerger, Henrik Drescher, Klaus Ensikat, and Květa Pacovská.

In Canada, I poured over Ken Nutt’s enchantingly detailed Zoom illustrations; I was inspired by Michèle Lemieux’s colours and light and masterful drawing technique; and Pierre Pratt’s quirky vision of the world. I was enthralled by the lovely energy and vivacity of Katy MacDonald Denton’s children and animal characters.

This list is far from exhaustive, and the more I think about it, the more images float to my mind. All these artists’ works have become part of my visual memory and vocabulary. This is where I have found find part of my inspiration.


Illustrations from and cover of Roslyn Rutabaga and
the Biggest Hole on Earth!
(Groundwood, 2010)


4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Marie-Louise: Edward Gorey, Shaun Tan, and Lisbeth Zwerger. But I would prefer seeing them individually and in their respective studios. (Edward Gorey might be difficult to meet!)


Illustrations from and cover of
Stella, Queen of the Snow (Groundwood, 2010)


5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Marie-Louise: I only listen to music or the radio when I am applying colors or collage on an illustration: I want my mind to work instinctively when I paint. I want my choices and juxtaposition of colors to emerge from my subconscious. So while my mind is following a certain beat, a rhythm, a train of thought, a poetic turn of phrase, surprising colors, or odd combinations, lovely and spontaneous mistakes subtly make their way into my illustrations. I might listen to Salif Keita, Cat Power, Miles Davis, Glenn Gould, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Joan Osborne, Leonard Cohen, Lucinda Williams, Manu Chao, and more. But I need total silence when I am writing, storyboarding, or exploring a story’s twists and turns.


Illustrations and cover art from
Stella, Star of the Sea (Groundwood, 2010)


6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Marie-Louise: That I am constantly anthropomorphizing birds, cats, trees, sheep, objects etc. — creating conversations between them, giving them thoughts and emotions, and imagining their lives and adventures.


Illustrations and cover art from
When Stella Was Very, Very Small (Groundwood, 2011)


* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Marie-Louise: “Serpetine.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Marie-Louise: “Compulsory.”

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Marie-Louise: A vast, luminous landscape of mountains. Or a starry, moonlit sky over the ocean.

Jules: What turns you off?

Marie-Louise: Crass commercialism.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Marie-Louise: The beat of a bird’s wings flying overhead in an early morning sky.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Marie-Louise: Loud racing car engines.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Marie-Louise: Actor, architect, explorer, sculptor, ceramist.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Marie-Louise: Politician.

All images are used by permission of Marie-Louise Gay.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, copyright © 2009 Matt Phelan.

2 Comments on Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Marie-Louise Gay, last added: 4/23/2015
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19. Sketches & Art from Rafael López and Renée Kurilla

“… time for a big, floppy / green-leaf umbrella …”
– From Margarita Engle’s
illustrated by Renée Kurilla


“At carnivals, she listened / to the rattling beat / of towering / dancers / on stilts.”
– From Margarita Engle’s
Drum Dream Girl,
illustrated by Rafael López

(Click to enlarge)


Last week over at Kirkus, I talked here with Margarita Engle and Rafael López about Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 2015). Today, I’m following up with some early sketches and final art from Rafael.

And since Margarita also saw the release last month of Orangutanka: A Story in Poems (Henry Holt), illustrated by Renée Kurilla, I’ve got some sketches and art from Renée as well. Tanka is an ancient Japanese poetry, consisting of five lines, and in this entertaining picture book, Margarita tells the story of an orangutan who refuses to nap. A great choice for National Poetry Month (this month) and an excellent writing prompt for children, Kirkus calls it a “playful and instructive introduction to a little-known form of verse,” and School Library Journal describes it as a “sprightly introduction to orangutans through nimble wordplay.” Renée’s spirited illustrations, rendered via pencil and ink and colored digitally, are alive with movement and color.

Enjoy the art!


Art & sketches from Drum Dream Girl:


Early cover sketches
(Click each to enlarge)


“On an island of music / in a city of drumbeats /
the drum dream girl / dreamed …”

(Click to enlarge)


Early sketch
(Click to enlarge)


“But everyone / on the island of music / in the city of drumbeats /
believed that only boys / should play drums …”

(Click to enlarge)


” … so the drum dream girl / had to keep dreaming / quiet/
secret / drumbeat / dreams.”

(Click each to enlarge)


Early sketch
(Click to enlarge)


“When she walked under / wind-wavy palm trees / in a flower-bright park / she heard the whir of parrot wings / the clack of woodpecker beaks / the dancing tap /
of her own footsteps / and the comforting pat / of her own heartbeat.”

(Click to enlarge)


“At home, her fingertips / rolled out their own /
dreamy drum rhythm / on tables and chairs …”

(Click to enlarge)


“… the brave drum dream girl / dared to play / tall conga drums /
bongó drums / and big, round, silvery / moon-bright timbales.”
(Click to enlarge)


“… but their father said only boys / should play drums.”
(Click to enlarge)


“So the drum dream girl / had to keep dreaming / and drumming / alone …”
(Click to enlarge)


Early sketch
(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)



Art & sketches from Orangutanka:


Title page art
(Click each to enlarge)


“papa / is too massive / for treetops—
his great weight makes/ low branches waltz slowly”

(Click each to enlarge)


(Click each to enlarge)


“riding happily / on mama’s soft, furry back / curious baby /
watches the dazzling fruit feast / and discovers butterflies”

(Click each to enlarge)



“safe in a treetop / with brave, gentle old grandma /
sister has a chance / to glance down at the children /
who dance like orangutans!”

(Click each to enlarge)


(Click each to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

DRUM DREAM GIRL. Copyright © 2015 by Margarita Engle. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Rafael López. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. Images here reproduced by permission of Rafael López.

ORANGUTANKA. Copyright © 2015 by Margarita Engle. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Renée Kurilla. Published by Henry Holt and Company, New York. Images here reproduced by permission of Renée Kurilla.

4 Comments on Sketches & Art from Rafael López and Renée Kurilla, last added: 4/10/2015
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20. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week,Featuring Marianne Dubuc and Gillian Tyler

– Spread from Michael Rosen’s The Bus Is for Us!,
illustrated by Gillian Tyler

(Click to enlarge)


“This is the first time I’m taking the bus by myself.”
– Spread from Marianne Dubuc’s
The Bus Ride
(Click to enlarge)


This morning over at Kirkus, I write about Eve Bunting’s Yard Sale, illustrated by Lauren Castillo. That will be here soon.

* * *

Since I wrote here last week about Michael Rosen’s The Bus Is for Us! (Candlewick, April 2014), illustrated by Gillian Tyler, as well as Marianne Dubuc’s The Bus Ride (Kids Can Press, March 2015), I’ve got art from each book today.



Art from The Bus Is for Us!:


(Click to enlarge)



Art from The Bus Ride:


“‘Oh! What pretty flowers! Thank you very much, Miss.'”
(Click to enlarge)


“Luckily, Mom packed two cookies.”
(Click to enlarge)


“Yikes! I can’t see a thing!”
(Click to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

THE BUS IS FOR US. Text copyright © 2015 by Michael Rosen. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Gillian Tyler. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

BUS RIDE. Copyright © 2014 by Marianne Dubuc. English translation © 2015 by Kids Can Press, Tonawanda, NY. Spreads reproduced by permission of the publisher.

1 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week,Featuring Marianne Dubuc and Gillian Tyler, last added: 4/13/2015
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21. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #427: Featuring Barney Saltzberg

(Click to enlarge)


I’ve got a review over at BookPage of Barney Saltzberg’s Inside This Book (are three books), released by Abrams Appleseed this month. That is over here if you’d like to read about the book, and here at 7-Imp today I share a bit of art from the book.

(Click to enlarge)


INSIDE THIS BOOK (ARE THREE BOOKS). Copyright © 2015 by Barney Saltzberg. All images here reproduced by permission of the publisher, Abrams Appleseed, New York.

* * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) I traveled again this week, this time for work. And the best kick of all is that, since I was in her neck of the woods, I got to meet up with the kicker you all know and love so well, Moira Swiatkowski. I’m so glad she was willing to travel to Boston to meet me.

2) In fact, we ended up meeting up at Boston’s Kidlit Drink Night, where I got to meet a lot of nice people — and I got to see one of the editors at Candlewick who worked on Wild Things!

3) It was lovely to see my co-workers in Concord, Mass. We all work virtually from our respective homes, so to see all of them in person once a year is always fun.

4) It was even better to come home to my family.

5) Though it was cold and sleeting in Boston, it’s most definitely Spring in Tennessee.

6) NPR has a First Listen for both Villagers’ new CD, as well as Lowland Hum’s.

7) Have I mentioned how brilliant Laura Marling’s new CD is? (I may very well have. If I’m being redundant, sorry! Big fan here.) One of her best (and most accessible) yet.



What are YOUR kicks this week?

7 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #427: Featuring Barney Saltzberg, last added: 4/12/2015
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22. Bob Shea and Ballet Cat Before Breakfast

Pictured above is a sketch of the stars of Bob Shea’s new early reader series, Ballet Cat. That’s Ballet Cat herself and her best friend, Sparkle Pony.

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret (Disney-Hyperion) hits shelves early next month. Shea, one of the funniest authors in the field today, captures well the dynamics of play when one friend is a bit more domineering than the other. (I relate all too well. When I was little, it was Daring Donna across the street, who’d try to get me to leap from the playground swing and grab on to the pole on the other side of the swingset.) All’s well that ends well with these two best friends, but things are tenuous for a while there while Sparkle Pony admits that he isn’t fond of ballet, the one thing that Ballet Cat enjoys the most. The text is minimal; the illustrations, uncluttered; the humor, distinctive; and the comic timing, spot-on. Shea captures expressive body language in both characters with simple and bold lines, and he plays with font size to add humor and meaning.

Bob is here today to share some images from the original Ballet Cat pitch (it’s remarkable, as you can see below, how much the story was pared down for what readers hold in their hands), some early sketches, and some final art. We also talk a bit below about the very funny Dinosaur Vs. Mommy (also Disney-Hyperion), which was released last month.

I thank him for visiting.


Jules: Please tell me this is going to be a series. It’s going to be a series, right?

I just read the back cover, which says, indeed, it’ll be a series, so now my question is: When will the next one be out?


Final art
(Click each spread to enlarge)


Bob: It is going to be a series. My publisher mentioned something about at least twenty titles.

Or was it two to start and we’ll see how it goes?

Yes, two.


From the first pitch of Ballet Cat
(Click each to enlarge)


The second book is out next February. Leap, Butter Bear, Leap! is about a reluctant Ballerina Bear who refuses to do the super-high leaps that make ballet so much fun. After a lot of stalling, Ballet Cat finds the real problem and sorts it out with the power of ballet.

It’s been a big hit at school visits.

Jules: Isn’t this your first early reader series (officially)? You did illustrate one by Charise Mericle Harper, yes? Any challenges in going from picture books to the controlled vocabulary of “early readers”?

Bob: I did illustrate a series called Wedgieman for Charise Mericle Harper, but this is my first solo outing.

You know, you really get a lot more latitude with the language in picture books, but it’s a different animal. I don’t think of it as a picture book with more pages. It’s a moment these characters are sharing. The focus is on the characters, their personalities, and the way the interaction plays out. So the whole 48-page book can take place over the course of a ten-minute conversation. There’s more of an opportunity to let a joke play out and make the best use of the timings and beats of the story.

As far as the simpler language goes, that’s not really a problem. Not for me anyway. I write something kid-friendly like, “My goodness, Ballet Cat. Those resplendent pearls give you an air of gravitas! Let’s use calculus to determine the speed and change of your leaps at various intervals! What a conundrum!” said Differential Dog.

My editor, Steph Lurie, will make a suggestion like, “My goodness, Ballet Cat. Your pearls are very nice. I wonder how high you leap?” said Math Dog.

So that helps.

More from the first pitch of Ballet Cat
(Click each to enlarge)


Jules: I love how Goat appears in Dinosaur Vs. Mommy. How’s Goat doin’? Is he still ridding the world of crime with acts of cloven justice? Will we see him and maybe even Unicorn in future books? Can we humans get some Goat PJs, too?

Bob: Goat is doing well, thanks.

I’m working on some more Goat and Unicorn stories now. I’d love to exploit the popularity of the first book and crank out a second-rate sequel in a bald-faced cash grab, but the aforementioned editor, Steph Lurie, has this idea stuck in her head about making something “good.”

I don’t think she understands how bad I want—no, NEED—a new camera.

The popularity of Unicorn Thinks he’s Pretty Great really took me by surprise. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I handed in the final art and thought, “Well, that career tangent was fun, back to graphic design.” I underestimated how many people have a unicorn in their lives and could relate to the story.

There are no plans for Goat PJs at this time.

Jules: This may be my favorite Dinosaur Vs. book yet. Do you have a bunch of Dinosaur Vs. rejected book ideas, by chance?

Also, this is not a question, but I make everyone I meet in children’s lit watch this, because it makes me laugh so hard:



Bob: Thanks, Julie. You’re my favorite person yet.

I do have a bunch of rejected ideas — and piles and piles of ideas from kids. The one that stands out is Dinosaur vs. Milking a Franchise, which amounts to not much more than forty pages of me signing checks to my mortgage company and saving for my son’s college education. It got pretty far into the acquisition process, but ultimately they went with Dinosaur vs. Mommy.

It’s difficult for authors when publishers insist on making things that people might actually like and not phony-baloney things that have no value beyond my personal amusement.



Jules: What’s next for you?

Bob: Currently, I’m working on a book for Hyperion, called The Scariest Book Ever, which teaches kids about hyperbole and disappointment.

I’m also working on an early graphic novel and a chapter book. Neither book is sold. I’m just mentioning it to jinx myself and never actually finish.

I’m trying to find excuses to work with some of my kid-lit chums, like Zach Ohora and Drew Daywalt. We’ll probably get something going after they get back from vacation or wherever they went. They haven’t returned my calls, emails, DMs, texts, and hand-written letters on personalized stationary, since I mentioned the word collaboration.

* * *

Thanks again to Bob for visiting. I hope his friends return his calls.

Here are some early sketches from Ballet Cat.


* * * * * * *

BALLET CAT: THE TOTALLY SECRET SECRET. Copyright © 2015 by Bob Shea. Published by Disney-Hyperion, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Bob Shea.

4 Comments on Bob Shea and Ballet Cat Before Breakfast, last added: 4/14/2015
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23. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Lauren Castillo

“I run to my dad. I’m really bawling. ‘I’m not for sale, am I? You wouldn’t sell me, would you?’ My dad drops the garden chair he’s holding. ‘Not for a million, trillion dollars,’ he says. ‘Not ever, ever, ever.’ He wipes my nose.
Suddenly my mom’s there and we are all hugging at once.”
– Sketch, line art, and final art from Eve Bunting’s
Yard Sale,
illustrated by Lauren Castillo

(Click each to enlarge)


This morning over at Kirkus, I write about a Belgian import, Jan De Kinder’s Red (Eerdmans, March 2015). That is here.

* * *

Since I wrote last week (here) about Eve Bunting’s Yard Sale (Candlewick, April 2015), illustrated by Lauren Castillo, I’ve got some art from the book, as well as some of Lauren’s early sketches and line art for some of the spreads.


From the sketchbooks



Early version of opening spread
(Click to enlarge)


Sketch, line art, and final art: “Today there are a lot of people walking around our front yard, picking up things, asking the price, though Mom and Dad
already put prices on them.”

(Click each to enlarge)


Sketch and line art
(Click each to enlarge)


Sketch, line art, and final art: “I suddenly see a man loading my bike into the back of his truck. I rush over to him and grab one of the wheels. I’m really angry. ‘You can’t take this,’ I say, pulling on it. “It’s mine.’ ‘Oh!’ The man looks surprised, but he sets the bike on the grass. ‘I’m sorry. I just bought it. Was it not meant to be for sale?'”
(Click each to enlarge)


Sketch and line art
(Click each to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

YARD SALE. Text copyright © 2015 by Eve Bunting. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Lauren Castillo. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. Sketches and line art reproduced by permission of Lauren Castillo.

4 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Lauren Castillo, last added: 4/18/2015
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24. 50 Objects and 50 Books with Paul B. Janeczko

Whenever I think about a new anthology project, I always look for two things. First of all, I want the project to be original. I never want an anthology to be seen as ‘just another Janeczko collection.’ Secondly, I always want my readers to reach a little when they read the poems in my collections.”

* * *

Today over at Kirkus I talk to poet Paul B. Janeczko, whose newest collaboration with illustrator Chris Raschka, The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, marks his 50th book.

That link is here.

Until tomorrow …


Photo of Janeczko used by permission of Candlewick Press.

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25. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #428: FeaturingBeatrice Alemagna and Sergio García Sánchez

– From Nadja Spiegelman’s and Sergio García Sánchez’s
Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure


– From Beatrice Alemagna’s Little Big Boubo
(Click to enlarge)


I’m kickin’ it all international today with Italian author-illustrator Beatrice Alemagna, born in Bologna, and Sergio García Sánchez, who is a cartoonist from Spain.

If I had a dime for every time an illustrator here at 7-Imp has named Beatrice Alemagna as an inspiration, well … I’d be in Italy now. Yep. Why not? Italy sounds good right about now.

Last year she wrote and illustrated Little Big Boubo—on shelves here in the States this month, thanks to Tate Publishing—and I’ve got some spreads from it today. This book had me at its first lines:

Hello! My first name is Boubo.

My last name is Boubo too.

Boubo is proud of his growing independence and launches his best campaign in this story to convince readers that he’s a big boy. “I only wear my nappies one day a week,” he says, “like grown-ups.” With a small trim size, this story about a proud toddler is just right for toddler hands, perhaps those who have graduated from board books.

Know how he knows he’s big? His mother tucks him in nightly, saying “Sleep well, my BIGGEST love.” That’s how this story of child development also becomes a tribute to maternal love.

Also below, I’ve got some spreads from Nadja Spiegelman’s and Sergio García Sánchez’s

Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure (TOON Books/A Toon Graphic, April 2015), which is so fun to read — and not just because we Danielsons returned fairly recently from our own NYC adventure. (The book’s opening endpapers depict a subway map, something to which we became very accustomed just a couple weeks ago.)

This is the story of a boy named Pablo, new to a NYC school and reluctant to make friends, since his family moves so often. His class heads out on a subway adventure and, along the way, learns about the history of the subway system. Pablo is paired with a girl named Alicia, who is trying her best to befriend him, despite the walls around him. The two of them eventually get on the wrong train but find their way back to their teacher and class. Sánchez’s spreads, colored by Lola Moral, are bursting with energy and life, and it’s a testament to his artistic sensibilities that he keeps these busy spreads from getting confusing for the reader. The book even closes with informational matter about the history of the subway system. Fascinating.

Below are some spreads from that too. Enjoy the art. …


Art from Little Big Boubo:


(Click each image to enlarge)


Art from Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure:


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


LITTLE BIG BOUBO. Copyright © 2014 by Beatrice Alemagna. All images here reproduced by permission of the publisher, Tate Publishing/Abrams, New York.

LOST IN NYC: A SUBWAY ADVENTURE. Copyright © 2015 by Nadja Spiegelman, Sergio García Sánchez, and TOON Books. All images here reproduced by permission of the publisher.

* * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) Very busy week. My first kick is just Getting Everything Done. (This also means that, if you’ve emailed me about something blog-related, boy howdy and howdy boy … sorry for the delay. One day, I’ll get caught up.)

2) A brand-new coffee maker that is oh-so, oh-so good at what it does.

3) My girls and I went to hear author Matthew Baker speak at Parnassus Books this weekend. We’re enjoying his debut children’s novel (pictured below) so far, and it was good to hear him talk about the writing of it.



4) I’ll be teaching my picture book grad course again this summer, and my kick is that I sat down to go through my lecture notes and slides and the syllabus, etc. in order to get ready to update them for this year — and I think I actually got my bearings. (I last taught it two years ago.) Lots more work ahead of me, but I’m ready to go, I think.

5) Whenever I think of summer (as I just did above), I get excited about the extra time I’ll have with my daughters.

6) Tonight, I’ll have dinner with a good friend. And that’s always good.

7) Opportunities.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

9 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #428: FeaturingBeatrice Alemagna and Sergio García Sánchez, last added: 4/22/2015
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