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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 Did Last Week,Featuring Luc Melanson,Christopher Silas Neal, and Stephanie Yue

“… I said we should have a funeral. Rosario just smiled.
He didn’t seem very sad, but I know he loved that tree.”
– From Charis Wahl’s
Rosario’s Fig Tree,
illustrated by Luc Melanson (Groundwood, March 2015)


S n a p! Someone else is faster!
Down in the dirt, a smooth, shining garter snake crunches on supper.”
– From Kate Messner’s
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt,
illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
(Chronicle, March 2015)

(Click to enlarge spread)


“Every morning in summer, one … two … three! He pops out of his hole.
Such a little mouse. Off he goes into the wide world.”
– From Alice Schertle’s
Such a Little Mouse,
illustrated by Stephanie Yue (Orchard Books, March 2015)
(Click to enlarge spread)


This morning over at Kirkus, I write about two new picture books I really like, one out on shelves in mid-March and one, not till the Fall, though it was released overseas many years ago. That link will be here soon.

* * *

Last week, I wrote here about the three picture books above. I have art (and covers) from each book below.



Art from Such a Little Mouse:


“He tunnels under piles of leaves. Rustle, rustle, rustle, go the leaves.
He feels the autumn wind tickle his whiskers.
‘Winter is coming,’ whispers the wind.”

(Click to enlarge)


“He makes a loaf of acorn bread. He makes seed-and-watercress soup.”
(Click to enlarge)



Art from Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt:


“Up in the garden, I stand and plan—
my hands full of seeds and my head full of dreams.”

(Click to enlarge)


“Up in the garden, we pick cukes and zucchini, harvesting into the dark. Bats swoop through the sunflowers, and I pluck June bugs from the basil until it’s time for bed.”
(Click to enlarge)


“Down in the dirt, skunks work the night shift.
They snuffle and dig, and gobble cutworms while I sleep.”

(Click to enlarge)



Art from Rosario’s Fig Tree:


“Rosario lives next door. He’s a magician. He doesn’t pull rabbits out of hats or find pennies behind your ears. He’s a garden magician. Here’s how I know.”
(Click to enlarge)


“Last spring he did a strange thing. One day he brought a big pot out of the house.
It had a tree in it as tall as he is. ‘It’s a fig tree,’ he said. ‘At home
we have fig trees everywhere. Here it’s too cold for figs. But we’ll see.’
He took the tree out of the pot and planted it in a hole.”

(Click to enlarge)


“‘Now we bury it,’ he said, and bent the tree over, lower and lower, until it lay in the hole. ‘Good-bye, tree.’ He put leaves all around it and plastic over the top. Then he shoveled in soil until you couldn’t see that there had ever been a tree there. …”


“All winter I thought about the tree. It had snow all over it,
and the cold wind swooshed around the garden.
Did dead things feel lonely?”

(Click to enlarge)


“Then he started digging where the grave was. What was he doing? Did he forget about the tree? I tried to stop him, but his friends just patted me on the head. ‘Don’t worry, little one,m’ they said. ‘It’s okay.’ Off came the soil and the plastic and the dead leaves. But the tree lay still and dead.”
(Click to enlarge)




* * * * * * *

ROSARIO’S FIG TREE. Text copyright © 2015 by Charis Wahl. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Luc Melanson. Published in Canada and the USA in 2015 by Groundwood Books. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

SUCH A LITTLE MOUSE. Text copyright © 2015 by Alice Schertle. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Stephanie Yue. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., New York.

UP IN THE GARDEN AND DOWN IN THE DIRT. Text copyright © 2015 by Kate Messner. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Christopher Silas Neal. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

0 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week,Featuring Luc Melanson,Christopher Silas Neal, and Stephanie Yue as of 2/27/2015 1:26:00 AM
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2. A Moment with Emily Gravett’s Art — and Sketchbook

Last week, I talked over at Kirkus with poet and author A. F. Harrold about his children’s novel, The Imaginary, released overseas last year but coming to American shelves in early March from Bloomsbury. That conversation is here. Today, I’m following up with some of Emily Gravett’s art from the book, as well as some peeks into her sketchbook for this one. (That’s an early sketch pictured above.)

I thank her for sharing. Enjoy the art.


Some of Emily’s Early Sketches:


(Click above image to see sketchbook page in full)


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


Some Final Art from the Book:


“A flash of lightning hit the study and, through the wooden legs of the chair, she saw, illuminated in the split-second snap of the light,
a pair of thin, pale human legs in the middle of the room.”

(Click to enlarge)


“In the middle of the library, where the bookcases gave way to tables and chairs, ‘people’ were gathered. Rudger used the word ‘people’ loosely as he looked at them, and left the word ‘real’ out of his thoughts entirely.”
(Click to enlarge)


“In the the mirror she met John’s eye, and she winked.”
(Click to enlarge)


“Rudger stood at the foot of her bed and looked at her. She looked peaceful.”
(Click to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

THE IMAGINARY. Text copyright © 2014 by A. F. Harrold. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Emily Gravett. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury, New York. Sketches reproduced by permission of Emily Gravett and Bloomsbury.

6 Comments on A Moment with Emily Gravett’s Art — and Sketchbook, last added: 2/28/2015
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3. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Ethan Long

Author-illustrator Ethan Long likes a good breakfast, such as Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream and lots of bacon. But overall, he tells me, “these days, since I am a 46 year old man and I can get chubby pretty easily, I make it a point to consume a bowl of oatmeal with walnuts and raisins and a glass of orange juice every morning.”

I’m going to say we splurge this morning during our breakfast interview and have some of those Belgian waffles. One must always splurge.

Plus coffee. Gotta have coffee.

As you can see, if you scroll down to the bibliography at the very end of this post, Ethan is a prolific children’s book author and illustrator. He received the 2013 Geisel Award for Up, Tall and High, released by Putnam. This is an interview I intended to post at the end of last year, but things got busy. Better late than never. At least now, we can hear about which new books are on the horizon for Ethan in 2015.

Without further ado …

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Ethan: I am an Author/Illustrator, trained as an illustrator and self-taught as an author. That answer seems too short, but my goal is always to stay as succinct as possible with my writing.

Illustration from Up, Tall and High (Putnam, 2012)

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.)

Ethan: [See Ethan’s complete bibliography at bottom of post.]

One of Ethan’s mixed-media sculptures

Jules: What is your usual medium?

Ethan: Everything I do ends up digital in the end, but I try to stay flexible on how I want the story/art to look in print. I may have vintage postcards on my mind, or classic cartoons, or wet ink splatters.

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?

Ethan: The difference? The difference is in the amount of sarcasm and anger I show. Chapter books can show characters being angry with each other, or annoyed, or jealous, but for board books, happiness and safety is key.

Illustration from Me and My Big Mouse (Two Lions, 2014)

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Ethan My wife, Heather, and I live in Orlando, Florida. We’ve got three kids and do a lot of stompin’ the grounds. Orlando is the home of the Valencia orange, a beautiful downtown area (which is close to where we live), and some red-shorted mouse character who Must-Not-Be-Named.

The family — and the cat

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

Ethan: I snail-mailed illustration promo cards for nine years until I got my first book in the year 2000. Was that brief enough?

A Chamelia illustration
(Click to enlarge)

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

Ethan: http://www.ethanlong.com. It’s the only website you will ever need to visit.

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

Ethan: They are wonderful, and inspiring, and exhausting. The kids are usually great. The adults are amazing and supportive. The traveling takes me away from the family and the studio, but I spend too much time at home anyway, so it’s a good thing, always.

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

Ethan: I teach here and there, and it never fails: When I’m helping a student work something out, it dawns on me that I should be taking that advice myself. Also, it’s nice when you’re lucky enough to get a student whose eyes light up at something you’ve said or done. There’s usually one of them in every class.

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

Ethan: I have a few books coming out by the end of the summer: HI!, a board book published with Abrams/Appleseed; In, Over and On the Farm, the follow-up to the Theodor Seuss Geisel-winning Up, Tall and High; and a Halloween book with Bloomsbury called Fright Club. I am also developing some animated projects, based on my books, with productions companies. We recently pitched some original properties, and my partner will be taking them to Kidscreen at the end of February. Always something going on.

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Ethan 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?


: For the writing, the ideas come in all shapes and sizes, but overall, for it to be a good idea my wife has to say “that’s cute.” I try to just go with the flow. The harder I try to make something work, the worse it gets. When I just sit down and spit something out and put on some music and just sit and play with it and see where it takes me, those are the best things.

Sketches and a final illustration from a Clara and Clem book

But for the craft of writing and illustrating, there is the rough draft or sketches, the revised draft or sketches, and the final draft or sketches. Then the real work comes of making things fit into dimensions and layouts. Consistency is key with illustration. If a character is wearing a green shirt on one page, he should be wearing that same shirt on the next page. And his finger count should match throughout. Always.

A Max and Milo sketch

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


: I work in a very small space and try to keep everything contained. Despite my ability to juggle enormous amounts of projects, I actually work on one thing at a time. I work until it looks good, then send it out for review, then while I am waiting for that to come back, I pick up and work on something else. It all happens on my small desk on my laptop. I have tried many set-ups over the years, but the smaller the better for me. Less to maintain and clean.

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


: I was heavily influenced by TV and comics as a kid. Books were still apart of my life, but more when I was really young. Curious George, Harold and the Purple Crayon, anything by Dr. Seuss — except Yertle the Turtle. Not a fan of Yertle.

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.)

Ethan: I would love to chat with Mo Willems about the craft of writing and how he handles his big-time, off-the-charts fame, but his agent keeps me away from him.

If I weren’t married, I’d go for beers with Gary Baseman, then head out to pick up chicks.

As for the red wine, I’d pick Eric Carle, because he seems to have led a full life, and I would want to hear his stories.

Illustration from Soup for One (Running Press Kids, 2012)

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?

Ethan: I listen to everything. But I do have a playlist called “Ethan’s Bumpin’ Grinds,” which has all my favorite rap and hip-hop, including Destiny’s Child, Dr. Dre, Snoop, Beastie Boys, and a song by Blackstreet, called “No Diggity.”

Yes, I listen to music all the time. I have a playlist called “Rock out Jams,” “Jazzy Beats,” and “Calmer Favorites,” depending on my mood. I also listen to a lot of alternative, because there’s always something new. My three new favorite bands are Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, and Milky Chance.

Stick Dog illustrations

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

Ethan: I used to write a column called “College Nark” for my local paper, The College Park Community Paper. We live in College Park, Orlando, and my column tattled on people who ran stop signs, left dog poo in people’s yards, and drove too fast, as well as many, many other things.

7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Ethan: I wish more interviewers would ask to arm wrestle. Especially the females, because then I could win easier. BOOM! Yeah, I said it, females.



* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Ethan: It’s a swear word that starts with the letter “f.” Sorry, kids.

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Ethan: Sucks, as in that “sucks.” Especially when my kids say it.

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

Ethan: A day off, but I take too few of them.

My wife’s smile.

Jules: What turns you off?

Ethan: Law-breakers.

Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Ethan: Same as my favorite word. But I’ll throw around the “c” word now and again, believe it or not.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Ethan: A cat’s purr.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Ethan: A dog licking itself.

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

Ethan: Disc jockey.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Ethan: Daycare manager.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Ethan: “You did good.”


Ethan’s bibliography:

As author/illustrator:


  • Me and My Big Mouse, 2014, Amazon/2 Lions
  • Clara and Clem Under the Sea, 2014, Penguin
  • Scribbles and Ink: Out of the Box, 2014, Blue Apple
  • The Wing Wing Bros. Geometry Palooza, 2014, Holiday House
  • Max and Milo The Mixed-Up Message!, 2013, Simon & Schuster
  • Scribbles and Ink: The Contest, 2013, Blue Apple
  • Clara and Clem In Outer Space, 2013, Penguin
  • The Wing Wing Bros. Carnival De Math, 2013, Holiday House
  • Chamelia & the New Kid in Class, 2013, Little Brown
  • Scribbles and Ink: Doodles for Two!, 2012, Blue Apple
  • Max and Milo Go To Sleep!, 2013, Simon & Schuster
  • The Wing Wing Bros. Math Spectacular, 2013, Holiday House
  • Scribbles and Ink, 2012, Blue Apple
  • Clara and Clem Take a Ride, 2012, Penguin
  • Pig Has a Plan, 2013, Holiday House
  • Soup For One, 2012, Running Press
  • It’s Pooltime!, 2012, Blue Apple
  • Up, Tall and High, 2012, G.P. Putnam
  • Chamelia, 2011, Little Brown
  • The Book That Zack Wrote, 2011, Blue Apple
  • The Croakey Pokey, 2011, Holiday House
  • My Dad, My Hero, 2011, Sourcebooks
  • Rick & Rack and the Great Outdoors, 2010, Blue Apple
  • One Drowsy Dragon, 2010, Scholastic/Orchard
  • Bird and Birdie in: One Fine Day, 2010, Tenspeed Press


  • Tickle the Duck!, 2005, Little Brown
  • Stop Kissing Me!, 2007, Little Brown
  • Duck’s Not Afraid of the Dark!, 2009, Little Brown
  • Too Many Kisses!, 2009, Little Brown
  • Have You Been Naughty or Nice?, 2009, Little Brown

As illustrator:


  • You & Me: We’re Opposites (illustration only), 2009, Blue Apple Books
  • Muddy as a Duck Puddle (illustration only), 2011, Holiday House
  • Fritz Danced the Fandango (illustration only), 2009, Scholastic
  • One Little Chicken (illustration only), 2007, Holiday House
  • Greedy Apostrophe: A Cautionary Tale (illustration only), 2009, Holiday House
  • Tortuga in Trouble (illustration only), 2009, Holiday House
  • Trollerella (illustration only), 2006, Holiday House
  • The Zombie Nite Café (illustration only), 2007, Holiday House
  • Count on Culebra (illustration only), 2010, Holiday House
  • Halloween Skyride (illustration only), 2006, Holiday House
  • Fiesta Fiasco (illustration only), 2010, Holiday House
  • Oh Yeah! (illustration only), 2003, Holiday House
  • Stinky Smelly Feet (illustration only), 2004, Dutton Children’s Books
  • Mañana Iguana (illustration only), 2003, Holiday House
  • The Day My Runny Nose Ran Away (illustration only), 2002, Dutton Children’s Books


  • The Luckiest St. Patrick’s Day Ever! (illustration only), 2008, Scholastic Book Clubs
  • The Best Thanksgiving Ever! (illustration only), 2007, Scholastic Book Clubs
  • The Spookiest Halloween Ever! (illustration only), 2009, Scholastic Book Clubs
  • Bunny Race! (illustration only), 2010, Scholastic Book Clubs


  • The Confe$$ion$ & $ecret$ of Howard J. Fingerhut (illustration only), 2002, Holiday House
  • Snarf Attack, Underfoodle and the Secret of Life: The Riot Brothers Tell All (illustration only), 2007, Holiday House
  • Drooling and Dangerous: The Riot Brothers Return (illustration only), 2008, Holiday House
  • Stinky and Successful: The Riot Brothers Never Stop (illustration only), 2009, Holiday House
  • Take the Mummy and Run! The Riot Brothers Are on a Roll! (illustration only), 2010, Holiday House
  • Super Schnoz (illustration only), 2013, Albert Whitman
  • Stick Dog (illustration only), 2012, Harper Collins
  • Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog (illustration only), 2013, Harper Collins
  • Stick Dog Chases a Pizza (illustration only), 2014, Harper Collins


    Wuv Bunnies From Outers Pace
(illustration only), 2008, Holiday House


  • Countdown to Summer (illustration only), 2009, Little Brown
  • My Hippo Has the Hiccups (illustration only), 2009, Sourcebooks
  • The Tighty Whitey Spider (illustration only), 2010, Sourcebooks


  • Galaxy’s Greatest Giggles (illustration only), 2008, Sterling
  • Nuttiest Knock Knocks Ever (illustration only), 2008, Sterling
  • No Boredom Allowed! Paper Games and Puzzles (illustration only), 2009, Sterling
  • No Boredom Allowed! Nutty Challenges and Zany Dares (illustration only), 2008, Sterling
  • Funny Mummy (illustration only), 2010, Sterling
  • The Summer Camp Survival Guide (illustration only), 2010, Sterling


All images are used by permission of Ethan Long.

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

2 Comments on Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Ethan Long, last added: 2/26/2015
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4. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #420: Featuring Zachariah OHora

I’ve got a review over at BookPage of Ame Dyckman’s Wolfie the Bunny, illustrated by Zachariah OHora and released this month by Little, Brown. That review is here, and today—with thanks to OHora—I’ve got some dummy samples, alternate covers and endpages, character studies, and final art to share with you.

Let’s get right to it …


First Character Studies


Dummy samples
(click each one to enlarge)


Alternate Covers and Endpages

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Endpaper ideas


Some Final Spreads

(Click to enlarge)

“The Bunny family came home to find a bundle outside their door.”
(Click to enlarge)

“They peeked. They gasped. It was a baby wolf! …”
(Click to enlarge)

“Wolfie slept through the night. Dot did not.”
(Click to enlarge)

“Wolfie and Dot went to the Carrot Patch.”
(Click to enlarge)

“… ‘I’M A HUNGRY BUNNY,’ said Dot. …”
(Click to enlarge)



WOLFIE THE BUNNY. Text copyright © 2015 by Ame Dyckman. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Zachariah OHora. Published by Little, Brown and Company, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Zachariah OHora.

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 girls had the entire week off because of ice, and so we got to read a lot more than normal.

2) I love this:

3) Ice quakes aren’t fun, but the kick is that at least I know what that sound is now. Oof.

4) When my friend sees my book on the new nonfiction shelf at her library and snaps a pic for me:

5) Bill Murray’s “Jaws” theme song on SNL 40 last week.

6) My daughters’ friends make me laugh.

7) Not long now till House of Cards, season three.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #420: Featuring Zachariah OHora, last added: 2/22/2015
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5. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week,Featuring Intelaq Mohammed Ali,Emma Chichester Clark, Omer Hoffmann,Briony Stewart, and Duncan Tonatiuh

“‘That’s that,’ said Mama. ‘We’ll just have to cure Sadie ourselves. But how?'”
– From Orna Landau’s
illustrated by Omer Hoffmann

(Click to enlarge spread)


“I was a very studious person who accepted challenges and explored subjects deeply. … In Gorgan, near the Caspian Sea, I met a friend
who opened a school where I taught logic and astronomy. …”
– From Fatima Sharafeddine’s
The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina,
illustrated by Intelaq Mohammed Ali
(Click to enlarge spread and see full text)


“I go outside and find you …”
– From Briony Stewart’s
Here in the Garden

(Click to enlarge spread)


“Ahí los esperan las cebollas / y los ajos. / The onion / and garlic are waiting …”
– From Jorge Argueta’s
Salsa: Un Poema Para Cocinar / A Cooking Poem, illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

(Click to enlarge spread and read poem)


From Emma Chichester Clark’s Bears Don’t Read!


That’s a very long post title, but I have a lot of art today.

Last week, I wrote here at Kirkus about some new picture book imports, so I’m following up today here at 7-Imp with some art from each book (some art above and some more below).

* * *

Today over at Kirkus, I have three new picture books that are oh-so lovely, and that link will be here soon.

Enjoy the rest of the art below.


Art from Emma Chichester Clark’s
Bears Don’t Read! (Kane Miller, March 2015)


(Click to see spread in its entirety)


“But when he arrived everyone was running! Some were even screaming!
‘WAIT!’ cried George. …”
(Click to enlarge and read full text)


“George moved into the summerhouse at the end of Clementine’s garden and each day, after school, Clementine showed him everything she’d learned. It wasn’t long before George knew all the letters of the alphabet.”
(Click to enlarge)



Art from Orna Landau’s Leopardpox!,
illustrated by Omer Hoffmann
(Clarion, February 2015)


“‘A LEOPARD!’ cried Mama. Sadie had LEOPARDPOX! The little leopard cub jumped off the bed and scampered around the room.”
(Click to enlarge)


“… The other parents complained.
‘Who brings a leopard to a pediatrician?’ they shouted.
Mama was insulted. ‘This isn’t a leopard! It’s my girl.’ …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)



Art from Fatima Sharafeddine’s
The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina,
illustrated by Intelaq Mohammed Ali
(Groundwood, March 2015)


“They call be Ibn Sina, or sometimes Avicenna, but my full name is Abou Ali al-Hussein ibn Abdullah ibn al-Hassan ibn Ali ibn Sina.
I was born in 980, over a thousand years ago …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)


“Today they say that I was one of the most brilliant thinkers and eloquent writers of my time. … In the science of nature, for instance, I discovered that
light travels faster than sound. …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)



Art from Briony Stewart’s Here in the Garden
(Kane Miller, March 2015)


“We’d slip under the shade of a tree with cold drinks and popsicles
as the sky burned every shade of blue. “
(Click to enlarge)



Art from Jorge Argueta’s Salsa:
Un Poema Para Cocinar / A Cooking Poem
illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
(Groundwood, March 2015)


“Me dice mi mamá / que el molcajete / era como la licuadora / para nuestros antepasados. / My mother tells me / molcajetes were / our ancestors’ / blenders. …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)


“Ya tengo listos cuatro tomatoes.
I am ready with four tomatoes. …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)


“Mi mamá viene a calentar las tortillas, / y viene bailando salsa.
My mother warms up tortillas, / and she’s dancing salsa. …”
(Click to enlarge and see full text)



* * * * * * *

THE AMAZING DISCOVERIES OF IBN SINA. Text copyright © 2013 by Fatima Sharafeddine. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Intelaq Mohammed Ali. First published in English in Canada and the USA in 2015 by Groundwood Books. Illustrations reproduced by their permission.

BEARS DON’T READ! Text and illustrations copyright © Emma Chichester Clark 2014. First American Edition 2015 Kane Miller. Illustrations reproduced by their permission.

HERE IN THE GARDEN. Copyright © 2014 Briony Stewart. First American Edition 2015 Kane Miller. Illustrations reproduced by their permission.

LEOPARDPOX! Text copyright © 2012 by Orna Landau. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Omer Hoffmann. Translated from the Hebrew by Annette Appel. Published in English in the United States by Clarion Books, 2014. Illustrations reproduced by their permission.

SALSA: UN POEMA PARA COCINAR / A COOKING POEM. Text copyright © 2015 by Jorge Argueta. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Duncan Tonatiuh. English translation copyright © 2015 by Elisa Amado. Published in the Canada and the USA in 2015 by Groundwood Books. Illustrations reproduced by their permission.

1 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week,Featuring Intelaq Mohammed Ali,Emma Chichester Clark, Omer Hoffmann,Briony Stewart, and Duncan Tonatiuh, last added: 2/21/2015
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6. A Conversation with A. F. Harrold

I think poetry and writing for children have something in common, which I think of as ‘get on with it.’

Children’s stories that are full of waffle and verbiage are boring. We want the story to kick off as quickly as we can and to tell us only what we need and to roll downhill like a snowball until the end.

And poetry is similar: It’s all about cutting and cutting until all you have left are the handful of words that do the job.”

* * *

Over at Kirkus today, I talk to British author and poet A. F. Harrold, pictured here, about his children’s novel, The Imaginary, illustrated by Emily Gravett and originally released in the UK last year. It will come to American bookshelves in early March.

That link will be here soon.

Next week, I’ll have some art from the book, as well as some of Emily’s early sketches.

Until tomorrow …

* * * * * * *

Photo of A. F. taken by Naomi Woddis and used by his permission.

1 Comments on A Conversation with A. F. Harrold, last added: 2/19/2015
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7. The Real World at a 45-Degree Angle

See that post title? It’s a phrase that illustrator Nicholas Gannon once used when he visited 7-Imp back in 2011. (I’m fond of the phrase.) Back then, Nicholas was an unpublished author-illustrator, but now he’ll see the publication this year (later in the Fall) of his first illustrated children’s novel, The Doldrums (HarperCollins). I find this exciting.

Today, in honor of this news, I’m sharing a few peeks inside the book. Be sure to visit that 2011 post, if you’re so inclined, to see even more art from Nicholas. In fact, you can read there the genesis of this book; it all started with The Doldrums Press.

Congrats to Nicholas!

(Click to enlarge)

* * * * * * *

THE DOLDRUMS. Copyright © 2015 by Nicholas Gannon. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, HarperCollins, New York.

10 Comments on The Real World at a 45-Degree Angle, last added: 2/20/2015
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8. A Visit with Illustrator Ana Juan

I’m happy to have here at 7-Imp this morning some new artwork from Spanish illustrator Ana Juan, one of my favorites. Ana is the illustrator of Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, as well as picture books and, here in the States, many New Yorker covers. The fourth book in the Fairyland series, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, will be on shelves in early March. Pictured here today are the illustrations from the book. (Under each illustration is the name of the chapter from which it comes.) Just above is the illustration from one of the book’s final chapters, “The Spinster and the King of Fairyland.”

I also asked Ana about these books and her work, including her January New Yorker cover in response to the Charlie Hebdo shooting. Here she is below, in her own words.

I thank her for visiting.

[There’s more Fairyland art in this 2011 7-Imp post, as well as a Q&A with Valente.]


On Illustrating the Fairyland Books …

First of all, I am one of the luckiest readers who gets to read and enjoy the manuscripts long before publication. The unlimited richness of the language of Cat Valente makes reading this fantasy series mysterious and very personal. I love the sane and politically incorrect touch in her stories.

Sometimes, it is not easy to build the characters in my mind, because I have no reference. But this is a challenge that makes working on this series different than other fantasy books. The Boy Who Lost Fairyland is the fourth book, so I have worked with some of the characters’ faces, but there are continuously characters coming into the pages of the story. Every chapter is a surprise.


“Entrance, on a Panther”


“How to Send a Troll by Post”


“Troll to Boy, Boy to Troll”


On Knowing Which Moments to Illustrate …

I have no method. Simply, at the same time than I am reading the text, images come to my mind. I can choose images that will give a global idea of the story.


“The Wombat Prince of Chicago”


“The Adventures of Inspector Balloon”




On her Favorite Medium …

My favorite medium is one of the oldest in the world: coal pencil on paper. Nothing can be more sublime than to tell a lot with just one line.

I don’t like too much to work in color — I can express better in black and white. Drawing and sculpting are my fields, the places where I feel safe and well.


“The Monster on Top of the Bed”


“Please Be Wild and Wonderful”


“The Emerald Thermodynamical Hyper-Jungle Law”


On her January 19, 2015, New Yorker Cover, “Solidarité” …



In a really short time and inside a brainstorm, I thought of Paris and its icons — and about the basic drawing tool: a pencil. The pencil became the symbol of press freedom. Not as easy as adding a pencil to the Eiffel Tower …

The cover idea of “Solidarité” is fairly simple, and I’m pretty sure that another artist had the same idea. How does one image differ from the others? The voice and the language the author uses to convey his emotions.

This is not a conventional war, and every creator has a commitment to himself and to society. We have to work against intolerance with the weapons we have.


“The Painted Forest”


“An Audience with the King”


“The Crunching of the Crab”


On Picture Books in Spain …

Spain is a small market. On one hand, our lists are smaller and on the other hand, the illustrator is freer, having the chance to take risks and experiment with new things.


“Unhappy Feet”


“The Changeling Room”


“The Laundry Moose”


On What She’s Doing Now …

Since I wrote and illustrated my latest book for children, The Pet Shop Revolution, I haven’t worked on any children’s books.



Nowadays, I am only illustrating books for an older audience. In fact, the Fairyland series is my youngest audience and work.


“The Cranberry Bog”


“Jumping Bean Life by Wombat and Matchstick”


“Someone Comes to Town”


“The Boy Who Was Lost, The Girl Who Was Found”



* * * * * * *

THE BOY WHO LOST FAIRYLAND. Text copyright © 2015 by Catherynne M. Valente. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Ana Juan. Published by Feiwel and Friends, New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

6 Comments on A Visit with Illustrator Ana Juan, last added: 2/17/2015
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9. Special Delivery: A Visit with Matthew Cordell &Philip Stead and Even a Moment with Neal Porter

There is an abundance of adventure and humor and energy and style seepin’ right out of Philip C. Stead’s Special Delivery, illustrated by Matthew Cordell, which is coming to shelves in early March from Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press. It’s the story of a girl named Sadie, who really wants to mail an elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine. It turns out that entirely too many stamps are required, so inventive Sadie brainstorms other ways to surprise her Great-Aunt. These involve a harrowing plane ride, an alligator and a trip down the river, bandits, lots of beans, and much more.

It’s such an entertaining book on many levels, and it’s clear that both Phil and Matt—as if there were ever any doubt—know child audiences well.

Phil and Matt visit today—and their editor, Neal Porter, even briefly pops in—for an informal chat about the book. As in, it’s one long email conversation that I am posting here for fellow picture book fans. I ask about the book; we talk about our love for John Burningham’s artwork and books (not to mention Sebastian Meschenmoser); Phil looks at another instance of an attempt at elephant-mailing; Matt shows us some stamps and talks pigeons; Phil and Matt look ahead at what’s next for them this year; and much more.

Scattered throughout this post are five new drawings of stamps from Matt. These are homages to some of Phil’s favorite animal stamps, and each has a Special Delivery spin. These original drawings will be raffled off, and all proceeds will go to charity. (The charity is yet-to-be-decided, but it will be related to literacy.) Information on this raffle will go out via Phil around publication date, but you can see the drawings in today’s post. Right after each drawing is the image of the actual stamp it honors.

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

* * *

Jules: I do story times at the wonderful Parnassus Books in Nashville whenever I can. The thing I miss the most about school librarianship is reading picture books to big groups of children — and, especially, to see how they respond to books. This is probably breaking all kinds of rules—and might even make authors and especially illustrators twitchy—but I sometimes bring F&Gs.

I brought the F&G of Special Delivery to this morning’s story time (since the hardback is not out yet). Now, I had a bigger group than normal — a good number of children of all ages really ready to hear stories, as well as really responsive parents. (I’m always grateful for those adults who respond to picture books, too.)

“‘Hey, Sadie.’ ‘Hey, Jim. I’d like to mail this elephant, please, to my Great-Aunt Josephine—who lives almost completely alone and could really use the company.”
(Click to enlarge spread)

And I mean to tell yoooouuuuu: They loved this book. There were so many laughs that I found myself wishing it was being recorded so I could play it back for you. There were even laughs where I didn’t expect there would be laughs. And everyone especially loved, not surprisingly, the “chugga chugga chugga BEANS BEANS BEANS” moment. [For readers: This is a phrase repeated in the book during a particularly festive spread, mid-way in the story.] I even had all the children sort of chant it with me.

Know the “Hey, Sadie!” that appears before even the title page spread? That got a huge, happy laugh. I mean, right off the bat they loved it.

This was so lovely for me to see. It validated my own experience first reading the book. I think this story is a breath of fresh air in many ways.

I guess my first question is: Have you all shared it with a bunch of children yet, by chance? Whoever wants to answer first … go for it.

(Click to enlarge spread)

Phil: Hey, Gang. I’ll go first. No, I have not yet shared Special Delivery with a group of kids. But I’m excited to do so eventually. I’ve discovered that I learn a lot about my books through the experience of reading to a group. I never test my stories on kids prior to publication, so it’s always a bit of a mystery as to how they’ll go over. Inevitably, there are moments that seemed minor or insignificant during the making of the book that end up being big at reading time. The first time I read Amos McGee to a group of kids, I was floored by how many moments were getting big laughs. The page turn that reveals Amos playing chess with the elephant is, apparently, hilarious in ways I never intended. It’s sounds cloying to say that a book is not complete until it finds an audience. But, well, it’s true.

Hey, not to steer this thing off topic right from the get-go, but have you guys seen this book yet?

(Click to enlarge)

Sebastian Meschenmoser’s last book published in the States, Waiting for Winter, is on my 10 Best-of-All-Time list, so I was really excited to see that this one was coming out. It got some negative reviews pre-publication, but they were the kind of negative reviews that only made me want to buy the book more, i.e. don’t let your kids read this book or they will have bad dreams and generally view the world as a scary, unpredictable place. Given my belief that children’s books ought to acknowledge (at least in some small way) that the world is a scary, unpredictable place, I had high hopes for this particular book. And, boy, does it deliver. Sidenote: This book is one of only three books that I can remember in recent memory that made me laugh out loud in the middle of a book store.

Jules: Well, since you mentioned this, I quickly snagged a review copy, and you’re right: It’s great. I always like to see Sebastian’s books. I identify all too closely with Squirrel. The book, especially the prison spreads, had me and my girls laughing so hard when we first read it. I requested some art from the publisher:

“They had to get rid of the moon!”
(Click to enlarge)

“They had to get rid of the moon!
The best thing would be to send it back to the sky where it belonged.”

(Click to enlarge)

“Now that the moon was back in the sky,
Mr. Squirrel thought it would soon be its old self again.”

(Click to enlarge)

Also, yes, that’s what I meant about story time — that I knew I loved your book and it made me laugh outloud, but I was surprised by laughs in places I didn’t even expect. It’s like the group of parents and children there just hugged it with their active responses. That’s always a good kind of story time to have.

Matt: Great. Right off the bat I’m showing my ignorance. Haven’t heard of the book or the artist. But I’m loving the anti-reviews, so now I’ve gotta hunt this down pronto. It’s almost hard to believe that this book could ruffle such feathers, based on its cover design. Intrigued.

Jules, thanks much for sharing Special Delivery pre-pub with what sounds like a crowd with impeccable taste! It sends a little tingle down my spine to hear it was getting such a raucous response, because it is a very raucous ride of a read. I’ve only shared it thus far with my daughter, who really enjoys it, but the glass-half-empty in me always thinks my girl’s just being nice because it’s her old man’s book. But we have done our daughter-daddy chants of “chugga chugga chugga! beans beans beans!” around the house. I’m looking forward to riling up shouting chants of that at my school visits this spring.

Also, I love that the opening page did what it was supposed to do. At first glance, the design of it—with that big, loud lettering—might make it appear to function as a title page. But the point of it’s actually more like that loud snare drum crack that kicks off “Like A Rolling Stone.” (Title page actually comes two page turns in.)

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: I love that you just compared part of your book to a song. When I wrote last year about Brian Floca’s Locomotive, I wrote that legend has it that Tom Jones passed out in the studio when hitting the final, dramatic note of “Thunderball” for the 1965 James Bond film of the same name. And I wrote that I sort of imagine Floca similarly falling to the ground after having finished the artwork for that book (because he worked on it so long and hard). Point being, I think I should make it a 7-Imp tradition to work song references into every post. Thoughts?

No, seriously. Can you all talk a bit about whose idea this was? Phil, had you written a story for which you were searching for an illustrator? Or did you write it with Matt in mind?

(Click to enlarge spread)

Phil: I tend to get mixed up when trying to recall the details of my own past, but the basic facts are these: Matt and I decided we’d like to do a book together. We seem to have a lot in common—for example, a mutual love and respect for the work of artists like William Steig, John Burningham, and Quentin Blake—and a mutual woe-is-me-I-think-I’ll-just-quit-life-and-live-on-an-island mentality that exists in close partnership with an otherwise boundless enthusiasm for life and art and bookmaking. So we knew we were simpatico, but we didn’t yet have a project we could work on together. Several months passed, and then one morning I had an old friend over for coffee. She began telling me about a dream she’d had the night before. In the dream she’d brought an elephant to the post office. Once she got there she realized she’d never be able to afford the postage. Within the next few hours, my friend’s dream had become the first draft to Special Delivery. Some stories take months, even years to figure out (I’m looking at you, A Home for Bird), but others change very little from the first moment of inspiration on. Special Delivery was in the latter category. Almost nothing changed from day one till now. Once I had a finished manuscript, I could’ve just emailed the story over to Matt, but that hardly would’ve been keeping with the spirit of the book. So instead I packaged it up and walked it right over to the post office. And that’s that. Care to add anything, Matt?

Oh, wait, before Matt edits my history, I should mention one last thing. My favorite Maurice Sendak illustration actually comes from one of his lesser known books, Lullabies and Night Songs. On page 60, there is a single image of an elephant covered in postage stamps. The image tugs at two of my heart strings at the same time — my love for elephants and my love for stamps. I’d had that image in the back of my mind for years and years prior to the making of Special Delivery. My friend’s dream just sort of jostled something loose, creatively.

(Click each to enlarge)

Matt: I love your description of our commonalities. Very true. Such a fine combination of horribly bleak and triumphantly upbeat, don’t you think?

Yep, your hazy memory of it all matches my own hazy memory of it all. I loved the idea of working with you and with Neal too, and then out of the blue I got a manilla envelope in the mail with the Special Delivery manuscript. I remember reading over it and not expecting at all the thing I was reading over. An elephant delivery, a plane crash, train robbers, and ice cream. This was like my picture book dream come true. You presented it like, “if you don’t like it, we’ll find something else to do together.” But there was no way in hell I was gonna let this go. Thankfully, Neal saw the same beautiful madness the two of us saw and signed, sealed, delivered.

When I first read the Special Delivery manuscript, I remember feeling it was kind of unusual for a Phil Stead. Like a little more off-the-rails or something. I think your collaborations with Erin and also, like, A Home for Bird and Ruby naturally came to mind. More earnest stuff. Although, maybe it was your art and Erin’s art that brought the earnest and sincere vibe to those projects.

But then later I thought, maybe because I was reading this story (the first I’d read of yours without illustrations) and immediately infusing my own mental imagery (which, let’s face it, is often loose, often nutty) into your words, that’s what was making it more off-the-rails. Weeeiird. Was I right then or am I wrong now?

Phil: I think you’re a little bit right and a little bit wrong. Knowing I was writing for you and not for Erin or myself definitely informed my thinking. When I write for Erin, a natural gentleness comes forward. When I write for myself, the manuscripts tend to be more moody and unsettled. I don’t know, something about your line quality was asking for a much quicker pace and a lot more imagery than I’d normally be comfortable with. Still, I think a close read shows that Special Delivery is still a Phil Stead book (apologies for speaking in the third-person; I know that’s gross). The sentence structures are still quite formal, and the character are always, ALWAYS polite. Sadie may be crashing an airplane or hijacking a train, but she always says please and thank you.

“Goodbye, Alligator, and thank you. Someday I’ll mail you a real letter
and inside will be a giant stick of bubble gum.”

(Click to enlarge spread)

I remember there was one page, in particular, that I had to fight to keep in this book. This was one of the few disagreements that arose during the copyediting stage of the book. The page I’m thinking of comes near the end. It’s the scene where Sadie finally arrives at Aunt Josephine’s. I really wanted to keep that page wordless and just let your art silently show the tender moment of happiness shared between those two characters. Maybe because the book was so raucous up till that point, I was getting some pushback about that decision. It was suggested that that page be much more exclamatory. But to me that’s the page that shows the sincerity of Sadie’s whole adventure. And like you said, sincerity has become a bit of a hallmark of my other books.

(Click to enlarge)

By the way, it’s interesting that you used the word “earnest” as well. I just used that word to describe why I can’t stand Fleetwood Mac. So now, of course, I’m questioning my entire raison d’être. Maybe I’ll just quit life and go live on an island.

Matt: Fleetwood Mac? But I always thought you an Eagles man!

Now I’m remembering some of these discussions. Man, talk about a hazy memory. I love that subtlety of consistent politeness in your books. And I do remember that crossroads of the wordless page vs. the exclamation. It’s all coming back to me now (to the tune of Celine Dion).

Jules: I think there’s good-earnest and then earnest that is like someone is trying to shove sugar down your throat. Neither one of you would ever go for the latter. If so, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

One quick question before we see if editor Neal Porter wants to join the conversation. (Because why not?) Several things about this book made me think of John Burningham Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present, which I love so fiercely – any time of year.


And I am especially fond of his work in general. I know Matt owns this, but Phil, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, because it is ALL ABOUT his long and wonderful career and heaven bless Candlewick for publishing it:

For someone who does a lot of interviews, I think I’m horrible at asking questions sometimes. I don’t really have a question here, except I guess I wonder if you know that book, Phil (Harvey Slumfenburger). I already know Matt knows and loves it. There are elements of the text of Special Delivery that remind me of it – but in a fresh and wonderful way, not a way that makes me think you were trying to mimic. In fact, I think of Special Delivery as a worthy successor to Harvey. That’s saying a lot, only because I’m a huge fan of Burningham’s work and don’t think many people can touch it.

Phil: Nope, I’ve never seen Harvey before. But I’ll go ahead and take it as a big compliment that you found any similarities at all between it and Special Delivery. Every now and then I discover an unintentional similarity between one of my books and a book from someone I really admire. Take Mr. Squirrel and the Moon, for example (the book I mentioned earlier). When I picked it up I was shocked to see that it had an almost identical beginning to A Home for Bird. For a few minutes, I was really patting myself on the back about that. But then I saw that Meschenmoser’s book was first published in Europe in 2006, four years before A Home for Bird. So, once again, I am the copycat. At least I copy the best!

A few weeks ago I was working on some early ideas for a potential third book featuring Sadie from Special Delivery (there will be a second book featuring Sadie, called The Only Fish In The Sea, out in 2017). I realized midway through the second draft that the running gag in the story is very similar to the running gag in Quentin Blake’s Mrs. Armitage, Queen of the Road. I suppose these things happen.

As long as we’re talking Burningham, I’d like to add his new book, The Way To the Zoo, to the discussion. That book is truly beautiful and deeply strange. I love it.

Jules: Ooh, ooh. I posted about that book here last summer. I like it too. There’s art from the book at that link.

And a second Sadie book? Most excellent news.

Matt, did you think of Harvey Slumfenburger as you worked on this?

Matt: I am very excited about that second Sadie book! I’m sort of equal parts excited and terrified. I want to be able to bring back just what we did for Special Delivery and have it live up to Sadie #1 and, furthermore, kick it up some notches. And right now, it’s just a gigantic piece of white paper locking eyes with me. If white paper had eyes.

In regards to Harvey Slumfenburger, that is one of my all-time favorite Burninghams. I don’t always gravitate to extremely seasonal/holiday picture books, but occasionally one does strike a chord and this one does just that. It’s interesting, I love JB for both his text and his art, but I’m mostly thinking about his art. But now that you mention it, Slumfenburger and Special Delivery do have a bit of that constant-motion spirit and hijinks in common! I love the comparison. One thing I thought I’d point out, since we’re on the topic, is how this one spread in Slumfenburger has been quite influential to me on a few books in recent past, Special Delivery included.

(Click to enlarge)

When I first saw this spread, I was blown away by several things. The amount of stuff going on, the wordlessness of it, the whole show-time-through-sequential-image comic strip-esque-ness of it. It’s kind of like a comic strip, but leave it to Burningham to totally jack up the traditional grid. It’s more like the suck-it-grid grid.

I was not not familiar with this device, but when I saw it here—in a picture book—I was sort of like… “YES. THIS.” One such instance I found a place for it was in Another Brother. I love looking at this spread during school visits and pointing out all the weird stuff.

(Click to enlarge)

Then, as we were working on Special Delivery, there’s this insane moment in the manuscript where Sadie and the elephant board a cargo train, and they are promptly hijacked by a band of monkey train robbers. This sounds insane and it’s because it is and … good grief, I love this book. Initially, I took a single page and did sort of a mini-Slumfenburger approach with it in the first sketch dummy. Somebody (Phil or Neal or both) suggested to let this mad moment breathe. Breathe heavily. So we turned the volume up on it, full-spread.

(Click each to enlarge)

So I guess what I’m saying here is that Burningham is never too far from my thoughts. … I think that sounds way creepier than I meant it to sound.

Jules: Ooh, this is interesting. Yes, I love that spread in Harvey. And Another Brother (which I still think was one of 2012’s best picture books).

The primary thing that made me think of Harvey was the repetition of:

I’m delivering this elephant to my Great-Aunt Josephine—who lives almost completely alone and could really use the company.

In Harvey, Santa says each time he meets someone (as if they’re actually going to wonder who he is):

Excuse me. My name is Santa Claus. I still have one present left in my sack, which is for Harvey Slumfenburger, the little boy who lives in a hut at the top of the Roly Poly Mountain, which is far far away. And it will soon be Christmas Day.

I love how he says those exact words with each new encounter (and I think children find comfort in that repetition), and Sadie does the same.

And, I should add, what gets me every time about Harvey is that Santa is wrecked on Christmas Eve after he gives all those toys out, yet he still starts to walk in the cold to Roly Poly Mountain. He doesn’t break his promises, especially not for Harvey Slumfenburger, whose parents can’t afford to buy him presents.

He’s just … well, this will sound hokey, but he’s just extremely thoughtful, which comes back to what Phil was saying earlier about sincerity. I love that Sadie is thinking of her grandmother. And she’s super dedicated to getting that gift there already.

(I also love the ending of Harvey — that deliciously mysterious “I wonder what it was.” AFTER ALL THAT EFFORT. Oh, the lovely wonder of it all, Burningham letting the child reader imagine the possibilities.)

Matt: Yes! All those things! I forgot. I forgot how JB repeats that crazy long phrasing OVER and over and over. Now I see what you mean with the repeat phrasing in Special Delivery. And the extreme dedication, no matter what obstacle literally slams itself into the hero of both stories. A fine comparison.

Lastly, the Slumfenburger text is pretty long, if memory serves, and I’m usually reading it as a bedtime reader when all parental parties are brutally tired, so I feel ol’ Santa’s pain from page one. I love the ending too. So perfect.

Jules: Let’s pull editor Neal Porter into this discussion.

Hi, Neal. So, I’m wondering: The first time you read this story, did it include Matt’s illustrations already?

(Click to enlarge)

Neal: Hi, Jules. Embarrassing to admit, but my memories of the genesis of the project are a little hazy. As Phil has reminded me, I first saw his text for Special Delivery in the summer of 2012 when I was visiting him and Erin in Ann Arbor. He broached the possibility of having Matt Cordell, whose work he very much admired and with whom he had struck up a friendship, illustrate it. I knew Matt’s work from a couple of books our sister imprint, Feiwel and Friends, had published, and was all in. The text, all dialogue, had no “stage directions” but it just seemed like a lot of loopy fun, and I knew we could make it work. There were no illustrations. I asked Matt to do a couple of samples and a character sketch of Sadie, and we were off to the races, once we juggled Matt’s schedule a bit to come up with a delivery date that made sense.

The most memorable part of our collaboration occurred on an extremely hot piece of concrete in the vast expanse surrounding McCormick Place in Chicago during ALA. Phil had scouted the location the day before and said there were nice wrought iron chairs and a view of the lake. When we arrived, the chairs had disappeared but there was an awful lot of bird poop. We had our meeting there anyway, perched on a retaining wall, sweating profusely. Astonishingly enough, we had a very productive session, and from then on it was mostly a question of watching Phil and Matt go to town.

Guys, tell me if I’ve gotten this all wrong.

Matt: I can indeed confirm all of this to be true! Our pigeon poop stoop will forever go down in picture book dummy discussion history. At least in my mind. Actually, I ultimately included pigeons in the book because of that day. Plus, pigeons are kind of like the gross, punk rock, urban warriors of the bird world. Seemed like the right choice here. Take a peek at the title page spread and one or two other places in the book to find our poop-happy friends. (However, all pigeon occurrences in Special Delivery are poop-free, if you don’t mind.)

(Click to enlarge)

Here are the original character studies, plus one piece in color that sealed the deal and got us up and running:

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Thanks, Neal. It hadn’t even occurred to me til now that, indeed, the entire book is in dialogue.

And, Matt: It’s really neat to see these original character studies.

Neal, now that I have your attention (and even one though one day we should just do a long 7-Imp interview), I want to ask: What’s your super secret Neal Porter trick for getting what you want out of your authors and illustrators? I guess if it’s a secret, you won’t tell. But I really look forward to books from your imprint—as in, Neal Porter/Roaring Brook picture books are usually some of my favorites, and it’s not often I feel let down—and so I’m wondering what you look for and how you get it.

Or is that waaaaay too complicated to even answer? Are you shooting daggers in my general direction now?

Neal: Well, that is a very difficult question, Jules, and at the moment I’m shooting a few butter knives, if not daggers, in your direction.

If there is a “trick,” it’s to try to be sensitive to the needs of authors and artists I work with. Phil designs the books he writes and/or illustrates, so I get very tight layouts very early in the process. Usually, it’s a question of fine-tuning. We did have a mild dust up over one sentence—four words—that came towards the end of the original draft of Special Delivery. He didn’t think they were necessary, as he thought the picture told the story. I thought we needed them to make the action clear. He won, and he was right.

Working with Laura Seeger is very different — it’s more like playing, or improvisational theater. The words “what if?”—also the title of one of her books—are invoked constantly. Another phrase that comes up is “it needs something.” Sometimes I have no idea what, and sometimes I have an inkling. But it’s more fun to let her work out the solution, which is often not what I had in mind at all. In all cases, I’d like to think that my edits are unobtrusive — I’m a firm believer in the Hippocratic oath, “do no harm.”

Jules: This is sort of what I expected you to say. I got the sense—probably from various interviews with illustrators I’ve done over the years—that you accomplish a lot with few words. Rather, that you have a way of getting illustrators to see what you want them to see without explicitly pointing it out to them, by letting them come to the realizations on their own.

I don’t know if that makes sense. It’s still early. Still on my first cup of coffee.

Thanks for answering my question. One day, let’s do a long 7-Imp interview.

Neal: Make sense to me, but I’m on my first cup of coffee, too. Happy to do a long interview. Just say the word.

Phil: And if I may chine in, please: I will confirm that Neal, on his better days, has a Yoda-like quality to his craft. I will also confirm what Neal only hinted at. That is, that I am difficult to work with, stubborn, and ill-tempered.

Neal: True, but only in the nicest possible way.

Matt: Neal, I know we’ve only done two books together, but what extremely positive slot do you categorize me in?

Neal: Extremely talented sweetheart.

Matt: Aw, man! See, this is why we all love Neal Porter!

Jules: Matt and Phil, I have only an F&G of Special Delivery, but tell me about the dustjacket and the cover, which I hear are speshul. Also, isn’t there fun with the bar code on the back cover? I also can’t see this on my F&G, but I think Matt told me about it.

Matt: Speaking for myself, this book was a little like weird magic happening from start to finish. Everything came out so organically and free. It sort of felt like we grabbed a puzzle off the shelf, shook up the box, dumped it out, and it assembled itself by the time it hit the floor. And … wow, look at that crazy picture we just made! I mean. Maybe I’m reaching with the metaphor. But the making of this book traveled along–chugga chugga chugga’d along–with so much free-form fun.

The jacket and case cover are two good examples of this. The case cover idea was the first to materialize. I had this thought to design illustrated endsheets, and in my first dummy I quickly roughed out one page of what would be a massive two-page spread of postage stamps.

(Click to enlarge)

Because I was exceeding a budget-conscious page count by doing this, someone at the table (Neal or Phil) suggested we go with traditional endsheets (not illustrated/4-color) and use this stamps-abound design for some hidden-under-the-dustjacket fun. And much, much later … viola!

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The next thing to come—uncharacteristically, very early on in the sketches—was the cover solution. Phil and Neal and I had just been on the phone, discussing the first-round sketch dummy for a couple of hours. It was a tremendously energetic brainstorm session. When I hung up the phone, for whatever reason, that super-famous, famously misprinted U.S. postage stamp—the “Inverted Jenny”—immediately came to mind.

In Special Delivery, we have stamps and we have bi-plane flight, which is—shall we say—less than ideal. What a perfect homage! I quickly roughed up this cover sketch, emailed it out to the guys, and just like that, our cover was solved.

(First cover sketch)

And last—but not least—came the jacket back. I was closing in on the finishing the art for the book, and we still did not have an image for the back of the jacket. Neal was asking. I’d been putting it off, I guess, trying to finish the book. When I sat with it seriously, minutes later I had an idea. Every book sold in stores has that pesky eyesore of a bar code on the back. You do the best you can with it. Sometimes the bar code eats you and, well … sometimes you eat the bar code. This image is a throwback to a happening within the book. And just like that … jacket back solved.

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Thanks, Matt. The “free-form fun” fully comes across in the final product.

One more question about the book: Who came up with the “chugga chugga chugga beans beans beans”? Did you add that when illustrating that spread, Matt? Or was it part of the text?

Phil: The inclusion of the “chugga chugga chugga beans beans beans” refrain is maybe the greatest example of this puzzle seemingly coming together all on its own. That line did not appear in the manuscript. All that existed was the implication of some manic bean-eating. Matt added that text all on his own (without even asking, mind you). But I love him for that, because all along I was telling him: Do whatever you need to do to make this work. Even change the text if you have to.

The only other artist I’ve worked with is my wife, Erin. When we’re working on a book, both the text and the art are in constant flux. Each informs the other as the work progresses. I wanted to keep that back-and-forth alive for this, my first book made outside of our home studio. “Chugga chugga chugga beans beans beans” has become the unintentional slogan that’s followed this book around. Several months ago I was in Cincinnati and a total stranger came up to me, threw his arms in the air and hollered “Chugga, chugga, chugga, beans, beans, beans!” That was when I first realized we may have stumbled into some weird magic.

And as for the cover art, I have nothing to add other than that I love it, and that once again it was all Matt’s genius, not my own. Sometimes I think the job of a picture book writer is similar to the job of the guy who throws the pitches at a home run derby. Just lob ‘em in and watch ‘em leave the park.

Jules: Okay, last question: I’m curious to know what is on your plates for this year. Matt, I’d love to hear about Wish. Anything else you’re doing?

Phil, you and Erin have Lenny & Lucy, releasing in the Fall, yes? I haven’t seen it. I just had to go look that up. (There’s evidently a song with the same name.) Can you talk about that a bit? Anything else you’re working on now?

Matt: Before we move on, let me just get the last word in. And I’m about to get ooey gooey weird here, but so be it. Getting Phil’s okay on the art was a big deal for me, still is. This was the first time I had ever illustrated a book for another illustrator (not to mention one whose work and decisions I highly respect), and I must admit I was pretty worried about it, going in. After that first dummy went in and all signs pointed to “yes,” and I was real glad about that. It was ripping and roaring and BEANS-BEANS-BEANS from there on out.

Okay, let’s move on.

Phil: As for other 2015 projects, I feel like I have a dozen things all happening at once. The book I’m actively working on is a story called Samson in the Snow. It’s about a woolly mammoth who goes looking for a friend in a snow storm. The art for this one is done in oil pastel — a new medium for me.

(Click to enlarge)

In addition to Samson, Matt and I are working on another book featuring Sadie from Special Delivery. Book two is called The Only Fish in the Sea. In this one, Sadie and her friend, Sherman, must rescue a discarded goldfish. (Sherman is the unnamed character that yells “Hey Sadie!” at the beginning of Special Delivery.)

I’m also working on a super-top-secret writing project that I would love to tell you all about, but, well … it’s super-top-secret. At least for now. I will say this: It involves a collaboration with a long dead American literary icon. And it keeps me up at night.

Hmmm, what else? I have a finished novel sitting on my shelf that no one’s read. Not even Erin. Maybe I should dust that off?

Later this year, Erin and I have Lenny & Lucy coming out. This is Erin’s first book in a couple years, so I’m pretty excited about it. The book is a bit darker than her other books, both literally (it’s mostly black and white) and emotionally. I’m not aware of any song called “Lenny & Lucy.” Hopefully, there are no lawsuits coming our way.

(Click each to enlarge)

Finally, I’m looking at proofs right now for a book that will be out next year, called Ideas Are All Around. It’s a difficult book to describe. It’s part personal essay, part fiction. It’s an odd little book. It’s long (56 pages), and it’s illustrated using a variety of techniques from monotype printing to collage to Polaroid photography. Ideas will be out next spring. I’m equal parts excited and nervous for it’s arrival.

(Click each to enlarge)

How about you, Matt? What’s piling up on your desk?

Matt: Look at all this great, new Steadstuff! Looking forward to seeing these materialize into books soon. I may have to hound you later to find out about this dead American literary icon secrecy.

So, on the VERY SAME DAY Special Delivery is released, I have my next author-illustrator picture book, Wish, being released too. Ask me about it some time, but long story short, it was kind of an avoidable, then unavoidable, pub-day collision.

Wish is my answer to a “New Baby!” book. The inspiration here is a long story, but I’ll try to keep it not so long. When Julie (my lovely wife, who is also named Julie) and I finally took the plunge and said “we’re ready to try for a baby,” we had no idea there’d be such a tumultuous road ahead of us. There was waiting (LOTS of waiting … years), heartbreak, and too much loss on that road. So by the time our firstborn was actually born, it was a drop-to-your-knees, life-changing, heart-swelling moment of moments. I think all parents must have that moment when a child is born that they’ve just brought into the world. And for us, we felt that — and we reflected, too, on the many broken battles that laid in our past. And in the midst of all that time, we also met so many couples that went through similar hardships. We didn’t know it at first, but now Julie and I know how common it all is. So I wanted to tell our story—a book about what it sometimes takes to wish a child into this world—and let it be a story that other parents could share and read to their children that they fought so hard to will into existence. I’m really excited about this book, and I really, really hope that it finds its audience.

“At first, there is us. There is only us.
But even then, even before we can know to know it …”

“Ready for you. We wish you were here.”
(Click to enlarge)

“… but you never come. And everything stops.”

“You are here. You are …”
(Click to enlarge)

The case for Wish
(Click to enlarge)

In July, I have another picture book coming out with the most excellent Audrey Vernick, via Clarion. The book is called First Grade Dropout. I probably shouldn’t say too much since it’s, like, five months away, but it was so fun to illustrate, because it’s about a kid who, of course, is already ready to drop out of school in the first grade.

And in the Fall, I’ve got my next book out that I did with Neal. A super clever picture book by Marsha Diane Arnold, called Lost. Found. There’s only two words in the whole book, and you can guess what those two words are, I think.

I’m currently, just now, starting final art for The Knowing Book, a beautiful picture book with Boyds Mill Press by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. I’m also working on my next author/illustrator picture book, called Little Jupiter, with Feiwel and Friends. I’ll soon be starting sketches for a picture book called Bob Not Bob by dynamic duo authors Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon. And, of course, I’m thrilled about our Special Delivery sequel, which is next in line. There’s some other great stuff that carries me all the way on through 2018, but I’ll shut up and cap it off with that. I’m lucky to be so busy with such good stuff!

Jules: I think I have a very early copy of First Grade Dropout in my stack of F&Gs.

I also have a copy of Wish, and I love the moment when the baby elephant arrives, à la Moses parting the Red Sea. It made me laugh outloud, and it is so joyful.

“… becomes a roar.
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It’s wonderful to see sneak-peeks of your future titles. Thank you both for sharing and for talking to me about Special Delivery, which is—in the words of StingRay—specialness forever.

Thank you both for your time!

Chugga chugga.

* * * * * * *

SPECIAL DELIVERY. Text copyright © 2015 by Philip C. Stead. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Matthew Cordell. Published by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Matthew Cordell and Philip C. Stead.

10 Comments on Special Delivery: A Visit with Matthew Cordell &Philip Stead and Even a Moment with Neal Porter, last added: 2/17/2015
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10. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #419: FeaturingMiriam Busch and Larry Day

Good morning, all.

My Valentine to you today is going to be this post, because I’ve got two visitors this morning, and I not only like the book they made together, but I also really enjoyed their conversation and art today.

I’m (partly) looking back a bit — at 2014, that is. Author Miriam Busch and illustrator Larry Day, who has been illustrating picture books since 2001, are here to talk about Lion, Lion, a picture book that was released last September from Balzer + Bray.

Better late than never. It’s a wonderful book, and I’m pleased they stopped by to visit today.

The book tells the story of a conversation between a young boy and a lion, and Kirkus called it “sly, dark humor for little ones—at its best.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books called out its “Sendakian flair” and described it as an “excellent way to introduce younger listeners to the deliberate subversion of expectations.”

But we’re also looking ahead today in that, at the end of this post, we’ll look at what is on Miriam’s and Larry’s plates now — what projects are currently taking up their time.

I thank them for visiting.

Let’s get right to it …

Miriam: Hi, Jules! Miriam here. I’m going to talk a little, and then Larry will chime in. Larry and I created Lion, Lion together.

Here’s a short history.

In 2008, Larry asked me to write a story about Rusty:

Honestly, I was a little lost. I asked Larry who he thought he was (Rusty, not Larry — I didn’t say, “just who do you think you are?”), and Larry gave some vague answers about how Rusty was a king and how there should be lions. This did not help.

(Click to enlarge)

Here’s how some of our notes went. Often, we met for breakfast in a diner and then talked out our story ideas. Larry wrote this out (after pots of coffee, no doubt):


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Eventually, we came up with this convoluted story about this bratty kid, who thinks he should be hunting lions, because that’s what kings do (don’t ask me — I’m even embarrassed to be telling you this) and then eventually uses a slingshot to save his new lion friends from a real hunter.

Right. No idea why there weren’t fistfights among editors over who got to publish that one.

After several rejections, we shelved Rusty.

(Don’t tell Larry, but I never liked this kid. Self-important with a slingshot? BUT: I loved Larry’s lions. I loved all of his animals, but I kept coming back to the lions in my head.)

So, several months after we shelved Rusty, we met for breakfast at a diner. The conversation turned to those lions, especially the one Larry had named Philbert. I had spent time in Africa and wondered about setting a story there — maybe with a different kid (one who was clever-but-matter-of-fact instead of self-important)?

We borrowed the first three lines from Rusty, and by the end of breakfast, we had hammered out script ideas on a napkin. Larry sketched, I sketched, we talked it through, and I wrote it down.

I was thinking a lot about double meanings and characters who speak at cross-purposes — and inlaid the script with this double-meaning. Within a week, Larry had a dummy ready to go.

(Click to enlarge)

We submitted it. Alessandra Balzer (Balzer + Bray) asked if we were willing to make the setting urban. (WHAT?? This entire new story came about because of the foundation of the setting!) But we agreed to try it, and I think the difference is both subtle and profound.

One of Larry’s initial urban drawings:



The final art:


(Click to enlarge)

In our first Lion Lion, there is no delineation between the boy’s reality and his fantasy (if that’s how you want to look at it). What happens now is that the boy steps from his stoop into his imagination (or does he?) and at the end, he returns to his stoop with his friends.

Because the setting changed, the animals changed too.


(Click to enlarge)


In the initial manuscript, the boy is tongue-in-cheek offering his friends to the hungry lion. The animals are all in on the gag, but Alessandra thought to make the story a bit less sinister by having the boy offer actual foods. Still, the speaking-at-cross-purposes remains: the lion reacts to the animals eating the foods.


(Click to enlarge)


Final art:


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I can’t count how many different types of birds we went through!

Throughout this entire process of setting changes and character changes and simplifying the story, Larry drew and re-drew, and I wrote and re-wrote. Larry listened to every text revision, and I participated in the page-turn and image decisions.

As we go along, we write down what we think needs a spread, what needs single-page illustrations, and what might need vignettes (like the lion sneezing). Once we figure out rough visuals, we read through again and again for redundancies or holes. In most cases, Larry sketches to nail down character, and we talk back and forth about it — I might think a character’s head is too big, her hair needs more messing up, etc. Larry then sketches sequential thumbnails (or, as in the case with our current project, he sketches a rough dummy).

Here’s a progression from a thumbnail with notes to final art.


(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)


Lion, Lion was our PhD program for learning how to work together. We have collaborated on several more projects, and whether we’ve begun with an image or with a full manuscript, the process now goes something like this: I read the story to Larry. Together, we work through page turns/possible breaks on the manuscript. It’s not until we have a dummy that we can really read for pacing and pauses and more text changes.

Larry’s always so willing to re-sketch from another viewpoint, to try and try and try to get the emotion just right, and he doesn’t take any comment personally. I’m sure some of this ease in willingness to re-work art comes from his long-time work as a storyboard artist.


Other artists and writers ask how we can work together. We breathe story. The work is always about the story. Our collaboration leads us together to stories we wouldn’t know how to create separately.



* * *


Larry: Larry here! Hi, Jules. Here are a few other picture books I’ve illustrated:

From Voices from The Oregon Trail, written by Kay Winters (Dial, 2014):


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From Nanook & Pryce: Gone Fishing, written by Ned Crowley (Harper Collins, 2009):


(Click to enlarge slightly)



From Civil War Drummer Boy, written by Verla Kay (Putnam, 2012):


(Click to enlarge)



The book’s trailer:



[Ed. Note: I don’t normally get super excited about book trailers, but dang, that’s a great one.]

From Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words, written by Dennis Fradin (Walker Books, 2008):


(Click to enlarge)



From Pearl Harbor, written by Steven Krensky (Simon and Schuster, 2001):


(Click to enlarge)



I studied painting with Gerald Merfeld, who lives near Westcliffe, Colorado. Gerald was an apprentice with Dean Cornwell. I not only learned how to paint from Gerald but gained a wealth of knowledge and appreciation of illustration. He introduced me to the art of Ernest Shepard, Harvey Dunn, Charles Dana Gibson, John Singer Sargent, Morton Roberts, Frank Brangwyn, and many others.



This is a sketch in a silver ore mill in Westcliffe, Colorado:



Here are a few other random drawings:



[Right now] I am finishing the final art for a third book with Suzy (Suzanne Tripp Jurmain). This is the title page for Nice Work, Franklin! (Dial, 2016):


(Click to enlarge)


* * *

Thanks again to Miriam and Larry for visiting today. Miriam, it turns out, is currently at work on several picture books, a middle grade novel, and a graphic novel. In addition to collaborating with Miriam on several more projects and Nice Work, Franklin!, Larry is also illustrating Voices From the Underground Railroad by Kay Winters (coming from Dial soon).


LION, LION. Text copyright © 2014 by Miriam Busch. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Larry Day. Published by Balzer + Bray, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Larry Day.

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’ve already said this, but I really enjoyed talking to Miriam and Larry.

2) The name “Miriam.” My oldest is a Miriam, but she goes by her middle name. Sniff.

3) This CD has arrived, and it’s really good:

Oops. Guess you can’t tell from the cover what it is. It’s Horse Comanche from Chadwick Stokes.

4) Sharing music with friends.

5) Story times.

6) Good grub with good friends.

7) It’s a good time right about now to be a long-time Saturday Night Live geek.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #419: FeaturingMiriam Busch and Larry Day, last added: 2/15/2015
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11. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Jean Jullien

(Click to enlarge)


This morning over at Kirkus, I write about a small handful of new picture book imports, since I was inspired by the just-released 2015 Outstanding International Books List from USBBY. That Kirkus write-up will be here soon.

* * *

Up above is a spread from Sean Taylor’s Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise (Candlewick, February 2015), illustrated by Jean Jullien, which I wrote about here last week.

(The trailer is good stuff too. You can visit Minh Lê’s site to see it.)

Until Sunday …



* * * * * * *

HOOT OWL, MASTER OF DISGUISE. Text copyright © 2014 by Sean Taylor. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jean Jullien. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

0 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Jean Jullien as of 2/13/2015 12:29:00 PM
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12. The Art of Carson Ellis

“Or home is an apartment.”
(Click to enlarge)


Last week, I talked over at Kirkus with Carson Ellis about the first picture book she’s both written and illustrated, Home (Candlewick, February 2015).

Today I’m following up with some sketches and art from the book. I thank Carson for sharing. And I highly recommend reading this Q&A over at the wonderful Picturebook Makers too, which has even more art.

Here’s my 2011 breakfast interview with her.

Enjoy the art.


Early Thumbnail and Sketches:


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Some Final Art:


“Or shoes.”
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“And some folks live on the road.”
(Click to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

HOME. Copyright © 2015 by Carson Ellis. Spreads reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. Sketches shared by permission of Carson Ellis.

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13. Calling Illustrators …

I’m doing something totally different today, something I’ve never really done at 7-Imp before.

The Art Director for the children’s magazine Ranger Rick, Jr. emailed me last year (it’s taken a while to post this!), asking how she can search at my site for newer talent, for illustrators just starting out and looking for work. As you’ll read below, they’re always in need of illustrators (whether new or seasoned), despite the fact that their magazine is a photo-driven one.

For different reasons, I thought she and I could do a Q&A — for those illustrators who might be interested in such work or curious about this type of work in general.

Her name is Cynthia Olson, and our short Q&A is below. (Personally, I enjoyed chatting with her, since she’s a big picture book fan. We had a lot of conversations about our favorite 2014 picture books, a conversation that took place over months just before the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced.)

Jules: Hi, Cindy! Can you talk a bit about what you do as Art Director for Ranger Rick Jr.?

Cynthia: I am always glad that I read the “Design Matters” issue of the Horn Book magazine, where Jon Scieszka talks about working with Lane Smith and Molly Leach. It has a lot of simple language about design, and it helps me explain my job to people (like my parents) by simply saying, “Designers make pictures and words fit together in books and look nice.” And that’s basically what I do for Ranger Rick Jr.

Ranger Rick Jr. is the National Wildlife Federation’s magazine for young children. Our goal is to inspire kids to learn and care about wildlife. So most of the time, I am telling a story with pictures — pictures of really cool animals. My responsibility is to make sure the information flows in an understandable way, while also making it really fun to look at.

I admire the National Wildlife Federation, because they are very committed to finding excellent photography, often of animal behavior that has not been published before. Our photo editor spends incredible amounts of time finding the newest and best pictures of everything from sharks to kangaroos to blue-footed boobies.

Since this is an illustration blog, it’s a little odd for me to be interviewed, because our magazine is very photo-driven. But illustration does play a big role as well. There are two main reasons that illustration is critical to our magazine. One is that some animal facts and behaviors are so much easier to understand when they are illustrated. For example, we have an illustrated feature every month that shows three facts about an animal — we use this feature to clearly show things that you would never be able to discern in a photograph.

The other main reason that we use illustration is for good, goofy fun. We always have games that reinforce the learning from the feature stories, but the illustrations are usually a little silly, very colorful, and not at all realistic. These illustrated sections break up the photo features.

So, along with “making the pictures and words fit together,” my job is to make sure the magazine flows as a cohesive unit with photos, text, and illustration.

Jules: I love that Scieszka article too. It’s a classic.

That makes complete sense, your need for illustration in a photo-driven magazine.

So, I know that you all are interested in adding to the pool of talented illustrators you hire for this kind of work. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

Cynthia: Just as we do with photographers, we are always looking for fresh illustrations that can help readers look at things in a new way. Or make them laugh. Or just give them a new style of art to enjoy.

It’s my job to keep things fresh and mix things up. Of course, it’s also a personal interest. I love picture books. I love the surprise of how illustrators present things. Since this is a young audience, we aren’t super literal with our illustrations, which means that we have a lot of leeway to use different styles of artists.

I’m hoping to connect with more people whom I might not know or might not have thought to contact. And I want look for connections between what we are doing and what illustrators are doing. For example, if I were doing something on flamingos and Molly Idle were available, that would be just amazing. So, if somebody is doing beautiful tigers or cranes or koala bears (and so on), I would love to see them.

Jules: One of the reasons I want to do this post is because I wonder if illustrators, particularly novice ones, know about opportunities like this — from magazines like this. What do interested illustrators need to do to get more information about this?

Cynthia: I’ll give a bit more detail here.

The National Wildlife Federation has two magazines that hire children’s illustrators (Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr.) There are usually four to six assignments commissioned each month. The work is almost always based on a real wildlife subject and, depending on the feature, it may be humorous or realistic. Our rates are competitive, but we do need all rights to a commissioned illustration.

I think it’s a good opportunity, because the illustrations are generally quite fun, and we are able to give the artist a fairly loose description to work from.

I am happy to receive art samples by mail or email. Artists can contact me directly:

Cindy Olson, Art Director
Ranger Rick, Jr.
National Wildlife Federation
11100 Wildlife Center Drive
Reston, VA 20190

Jules: Anything else you want to add?

Also, I know you are a big picture book fan. This is (sort of) off-topic, but I’m curious to know: What are your 2014 favorites? [Ed. Note: Again, this conversation happened right before the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced.]

Cynthia: I feel incredibly lucky to be working in a place where inspirational things are happening all the time. And, by that, I do mean that the work of the National Wildlife Federation is inspiring and that I am honored to be part of it. But I also mean something larger. At NWF I am tapped into a network of people who love wildlife and science — and who are creative and passionate and even a little crazy. People share footage from their favorite animal cams, show incredible time-lapse videos of mushrooms growing, and bring your attention to a new species of snail named after Joe Stummer. (I have included the link because it is so cool).

I come across something almost every day that reminds me how fascinating, rich, funny, weird and beautiful the world is. And I want to try to bring that feeling to the magazine.

So, on to my favorite picture books for the year — a heady topic as the Caldecott approaches.

My family has fallen head-over-heels for Christian Robinson this year. My husband and I are dazzled by Josephine, and my nine-year-old daughter, Freya, wants to adopt all the puppies in Gaston.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole is one of my favorite read-aloud books ever. Mac Barnett is so delightfully weird, and I am a huge fan of Jon Klassen. They get extra points for the “Twilight Zone” ending.

The Right Word is a marvel, a wonder, a surprise, and a darned great book.

And Bad Bye, Good Bye makes me want to take a road trip.

Jules: Award-winners, many of those. This we know, now that the awards are over.

Thanks, Cindy. Happy picture book-reading in 2015!

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14. The Fantastic Quentin Blake

You know what makes me happy to see? A new book by Quentin Blake. Today’s post is a quick one, but it’s to share art from a new Blake title, which will be on shelves here in the U.S. next month from Tate Publishing. (The book was first published in London last year, and here in the States, Abrams distributes Tate’s books.)

The Five of Us is about five friends — Angie, Ollie, Simona, Mario, and Eric. “They were all fantastic,” Blake writes. Angie had amazing eyesight; Ollie, hearing. Simona and Mario were super strong. “Eric was just as amazing, but you will find out how later on,” Blake adds.

The five friends set out one day in a big yellow bus, which someone named Big Eddie is driving. While each child continues to do amazing things with their eyes and ears and muscles all day long, Eric merely says: “Erm … erm.” I take it this is a stutter of sorts — or perhaps he merely isn’t sure what to say. Each time the spotlight turns to Eric, it’s “erm … erm” every time.

But when disaster strikes, he finds his voice in more ways than one — and, with the help of his friends, saves the day. On one level, it’s a simple story about five fantastic friends, but it also strikes me as a story about the subtle and quiet power of the introvert in the group.

And I always love to see Blake’s art. Let’s take a look at some more illustrations from the book.

“On the day of the outing they all set off in the yellow bus.
Big Eddie was driving.”

(Click to enlarge spread)




* * * * * * *

THE FIVE OF US. Copyright © 2014 by Quentin Blake. Published by Tate Publishing, London. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

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15. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #418: Featuring Keith Graves


Today, I want to introduce you to The Amazing Bubbles and his assistant, Oop. They’re the stars of this very funny picture book from Keith Graves. Second Banana (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook) will be on shelves this week.

Bubbles there is the star of the circus, and Oop is very much not. Oop is always there for his friend, though — to clean up his messes and to help with the act. When Oop asks one day if he can be the star of the circus, too, Bubbles just laughs:

Obviously, I am the Top Banana. The Big Banana. Numero Uno Banana. You are Second Banana.

Second Bananas are pool filler-uppers, the pumper-uppers, music holder-uppers, and fuse lighter-uppers.

But Oop is only too happy to help one day when Bubbles gets a boo-boo. Things don’t go so well. He crashes the car. He breaks the piano. That’s only skimming the surface. But Bubbles has got his back after all, and it turns out the audience loves it.

The humor here is slapstick, and it’s a lot of fun. Graves gives both Bubbles and Oop tremendous character, and his over-the-top cartoon illustrations entertain. He uses comic book elements in spots, and it’s all very fitting for the action-packed story this is. Oop is so endearing—and his naivete and enthusiasm so real—that readers really root for him.

Here’s a bit more art. Enjoy!


(Click first image to see spread in its entirety)


“Oop was discouraged. She had a snack. Snacks always made Oop feel better.”
(Click to enlarge)



“Oop flew so high she thought she would never come down. Finally she began to zoom toward the ground. She couldn’t look. Far below, a pair of skinny arms reached up for her. ‘Don’t worry, Oop. I will catch you!’ called Bubbles. He did. KER-SPLAT!”
(Click to enlarge)



SECOND BANANA. Copyright © 2015 by Keith Graves. Published by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of Keith Graves.

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 * * *

Because my girls were away the first half of this weekend, visiting their grandmother, I’m going to forego seven separate kicks this week, because a) I’m glad they’re home and b) we are reading about three novels at once and c) we have a very promising NEW novel to start and d) they’re ready to read with me.

But please do tell: What are YOUR kicks this week?

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16. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Michael Hall

“He was red.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


This morning over at Kirkus, I write about Sean Taylor’s Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise, illustrated by Jean Jullien, a book that makes me laugh. That link will be here soon.

* * *

Since last week (here), I wrote about Michael Hall’s Red: A Crayon’s Story, I’ve got some art from it today.


“But he wasn’t very good at it.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


“Everyone seemed to have something to say. …”
(Click to enlarge)


“… he just couldn’t get the hang of it.”
(Click to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

RED: A CRAYON’S STORY. Copyright © 2015 by Michael Hall. Published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of Michael Hall and HarperCollins.

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17. Carson Ellis on Home

The more I worked on this book, the closer I felt to it. It’s about homes: the ways they’re different and the ways they’re the same; the questions we ask about the residents of an evocative home and the stories we’re prompted to invent. It’s also, because I’m in the book myself, about being an artist and celebrating the things that artists are attracted to and inspired by — all the worlds that we can’t stop thinking about, reading about, conjuring up, visiting, and inhabiting.”

* * *

This morning over at Kirkus, I talk to author-illustrator Carson Ellis about her newest picture book, Home, out on shelves this month.

That link will be here soon.

(Also, given that the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced this week, I just had to ask her about how Mac Barnett’s and Jon Klassen’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, now a 2015 Caldecott Honor book, is dedicated to her.)

* * * * * * *

Photo of Carson taken by Autumn de Wilde and used by her permission.

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18. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jeff Mack


Author-illustrator Jeff Mack has been a busy guy the past couple of years. He has illustrated a handful of picture books and chapter books; in 2008 he published the first picture book he both wrote and illustrated; and he’s even written and illustrated his own graphic novel/fiction hybrid, the cartoon-illustrated Clueless McGee series, all about an enterprising fifth-grade private eye.

Jeff is visiting this morning to talk about his work, share lots of art, and talk about what’s on his plate this year. For breakfast, he’s opting for French toast with cream cheese, jelly, and fake maple syrup. It’s the breakfast of champions, he tells me, which he sometimes also has for dinner. I’m all for that, as long as we have some coffee too.

Let’s get the basics while we set the table for seven questions over breakfast. I thank Jeff for visiting.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Jeff: I’m both.

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.)

Jeff: Books I wrote and illustrated:

Books I illustrated:

Jules: What is your usual medium?

Jeff: I illustrated my earliest books, like Hurry! Hurry! and Rub-a-Dub Sub, with acrylic paint on watercolor paper.

I would make lots of sketches first and then tape the paintings to the wall while I worked on them.

(Click to enlarge)

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When I started to illustrate my comic-style stories, like Hippo and Rabbit and Frog and Flys, I “auditioned” several different types of media for the job: acrylic paint, cut paper, pastel, etc. I knew they had to have a different appearance than my other books. The stories were meant to be read quickly, like old Sunday comic strips, so the pictures couldn’t have too much detail in them.

(Click to enlarge)


In the end, I decided to draw the outlines with pen and ink on paper.



Then I scanned pieces of cardboard and changed their colors with my computer.



Using Photoshop, I cut the shapes of the characters out of the cardboard and put them together like a collage.



Finally, I combined them with scans of the line drawings to make the final images.



Working this way gave me the opportunity to draw several different versions of the characters and use the ones I liked the best without having to re-do the entire picture.


(Click to enlarge)

When I created books like Good News Bad News and Ah Ha!, I wanted multi-colored outlines instead of just black. So I skipped the pen and ink, scanned my sketches, and drew in color directly on top of them with a drawing tablet and my computer.

(Click to enlarge)

I also started to use the computer to develop my sketches and plan out the various values.

I always try to choose a medium that compliments or adds to the book’s theme. My favorite medium is collage. It’s a medium that offers lots of surprises and interesting accidents. I love writing stories that call for a collage style.

For example, The Things I Can Do is about a five-year-old kid who makes his own picture book. In fact, it’s the book that you are reading.

So, I made pictures the way a kid might, with anything I could find: crayons, shoelaces, popsicle sticks, a two-by-four, you name it.

This book had infinite possibilities, so I had to set up some rules for myself. For instance, I wanted it to look messy …



… but not too messy.



For all of the “kid’s drawings,” I drew with crayon, using my non-drawing hand. But anytime I included something that looked like a “store-bought” item, such as all the various stickers throughout the book, I had to switch styles.



The book looks sloppy, but it actually took a ton of careful planning. It was a fun challenge. I even got bubble gum stuck in my scanner when I was making this book.



I illustrated my latest book, Look!, in a similar way, using a combination of pencil, watercolor, and old book covers.


(Click to enlarge)


First I painted the characters by hand.



Then I scanned some old book covers.



Then I used the computer to put them together like I did with The Things I Can Do Can Do.


(Click to enlarge)


I created the type with crayons and also with letters that I cut out of magazines (like a ransom note).



(Click to enlarge)


On one level, this book is about a boy and a gorilla. But on another, it’s about a battle between old and new technology. So I used both to illustrate it.

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?

Jeff: Yes, I have illustrated my own picture books, early readers, and chapter books. The differences have more to do with the individual books and less to do with the age groups. I try to illustrate each one in a style that contributes to the book’s concept.

For instance, my Clueless McGee chapter books are collections of letters, written and illustrated by a bumbling ten-year-old private eye. Even though he claims to be a great artist, his illustrations are clunky, black-and-white pencil drawings that show you he’s not exactly a genius. Hopefully, his clumsy drawings tell readers as much about his personality as his words do.

(Click to enlarge)

Meanwhile, my picture book, Hush Little Polar Bear, is a lullaby, so I made lush, softly-textured paintings to suggest a peaceful dream-like mood.


And Good News Bad News is a slapstick adventure, so I used a cartoonish style to exaggerate the silliness and keep any violence from looking too realistic.

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Jeff: I live in Western Massachusetts, near the city of Northampton. I love it here. The colleges bring in lots of cultural events, and the mountains provide hiking trails for wandering and daydreaming.

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

Jeff: My first skilled job was to copy 19th-century oil portraits for a museum in upstate New York.


I learned some traditional painting techniques doing this, and I applied them to my early illustration style.



I also painted murals in homes and restaurants around the region while I worked on my own book in the evenings.


(Click to enlarge)


Eventually, I rented an apartment in NYC, where I went door-to-door to publishers with my fully-illustrated book dummy. My paintings received lots of positive attention.


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I was hired to illustrate other authors’ books, including James Howe’s Bunnicula and Friends

… and Eve Bunting’s Hurry Hurry.

Eve’s minimalist text was especially helpful in teaching me to tell a story effectively with pictures.

(Click to enlarge)


After a few years, in 2008, I published my first book, Hush Little Polar Bear, with Neal Porter at Roaring Brook.


(Click to enlarge)


It was recently reissued as a board book.



In 2010, I published a pair of graphic novel-style early readers called Hippo and Rabbit with Scholastic.



By then, I had written so many different types of books for various ages that I had to reach out to more editors. So I hired my agent, Rubin Pfeffer, who has helped me place my work with a range of publishers ever since. These days, I average two or three published books per year.

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

Jeff: www.jeffmack.com.

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

Jeff: Yes, I do. I offer multimedia presentations, covering the A to Zs about how I make my books.

I show examples of my earliest elementary school artwork and how I progressed into a working author/illustrator.



I emphasize how artists must be patient with themselves as they practice, persist, and maintain a positive attitude throughout the entire creative process. All of my programs are interactive. I include lots of videos and demonstrations.



The video that shows me creating a painting from start to finish tends to be a hit with both students and their teachers. And my favorite part is doing live drawing demos.

The kids offer me suggestions as I draw. They get the chance to collaborate and let their imaginations run wild. Meanwhile, they also work on their own drawings. Working together like this, we always come up with something hilarious and unique by the end.


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

Jeff: Years ago, I taught painting to kids during summer and after-school art camps. I would encourage them to take chances and explore different ways to use their materials. Then I’d go home and ask myself, “Am I taking enough chances with my own work?”

Through teaching, I realized the kind of artist I wanted to be: one who experiments and finds new and interesting ways to make images and tell stories. Sometimes that means playing with materials and voice, like in The Things I Can Do.



Sometimes it means taking chances with language, such as telling a story with only three words as in Good News Bad News.


(Click to enlarge)


Or with only two letters like I did with Ah Ha!



And sometimes it’s both, as in Look!


(Click to enlarge)


I still teach a few writing and illustration workshops each year. Creating art with kids is fun for me, so I make time for it!

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

Jeff: I have two picture books planned for release in 2015 and three for 2016. One of them is called Who Wants a Hug?



It’s written almost entirely in dialogue between a bear and a very smelly skunk. Bear loves to hug. Skunk, not so much. Skunk has a whole briefcase full of stinky tricks that he hopes will stop Bear from hugging every single forest animal. They have a troubled relationship, to say the least. They eventually find a way to work things out — but not the way you might expect. It’s not your typical Valentine’s Day book.


(Click to enlarge)


The other one for 2015 is Look! That’s the story about the boy, the gorilla, the TV, and the books that uses just two words. Kirkus just called it “an energetic invitation to the joys of books.”

Then, for 2016, I’ve created a second book with Bear and Skunk, called Who Needs A Bath? Guess which one needs the bath?

And right now, I’m working on the illustrations for a book by Leslie Staub about an alien named Dewey, who goes to kindergarten.


(Click each to enlarge)


I also spent some time this Fall painting a dozen new animal portraits based on the Chinese Zodiac. Many of them are combinations of plein air paintings that I made around Western MA and then combined with figments from my imagination. Every now and then, it’s nice to go low-tech and work outside with just my paints, brushes, and canvases.


(Click the last one to enlarge)


And lastly, I have a few new titles in the works with both Chronicle and Philomel, due to be released in 2016 and 2017. Each one is unlike anything I’ve tried before. So stay tuned!

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Jeff 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?


: When I work, I make lists and outlines to help me stay focused. So I’ll do that here too.

(Click to enlarge)


1. Ideas

Many of my ideas spring from real-life conversations or things I see happen. I may substitute different characters and situations, but the heart of the story is often based on personal experience.

For example, I was having lunch with some kids, and one of them was eating clam chowder. Twenty minutes later, he was still chewing. His teacher thought he had gum in his mouth and told him to spit it out. He insisted it wasn’t gum, but the teacher was adamant. Finally, he opened his mouth to prove it. He was right. It wasn’t gum. It was just a very chewy clam. We all found the misunderstanding funny, so it became the basis for a calamitous scene in Clueless McGee Gets Famous!



2. Sketches

Other ideas for stories come from random sketches or doodles. I constantly scribble down notes and character studies when I’m in hotels, restaurants, trains, airplanes, etc. When I get home, I usually toss them into one pile or another and forget about them.


(Click to enlarge)


Later, if I feel stuck on a project, I sift through my papers and randomly pull out a sketch. Sometimes the sketch helps me solve the problem by steering me in a new direction.

Having a messy room can be a little like the I Ching or Oblique Strategies; pick something up at random and see where the new idea takes you. It can be an excellent way to get unstuck.



3. Dummies

Usually, when I write a picture book I make a list of the plot points first. Then I divide a sheet of paper into 32 squares (3 vertical lines, 7 horizontal), one for each page in the book. I fill in the sections with the plot points.

Then I make tiny thumbnail sketches for each section.



At a certain point, I have to see how it looks when I turn the pages so I cut out the squares …



tape them together …



and fold them into a tiny book dummy.



The story almost never works the first time. With a physical dummy, I can swap sections around, take pages out, replace them with new pages, and so on.



In this way, I write and illustrate simultaneously. It’s a very visual process for me. Once the dummy looks right to me, I send my work to one of my editors to find out if they agree. They often make helpful suggestions that I try out as I continue to revise the story.

I write my chapter books in a very similar way, planning out each spread carefully. Except they have about 250 pages instead of 32!

4. Editing (Picture Books)

Much of my writing process involves getting rid of sections that don’t add enough overall value to the story. They may be some of my favorite parts, but if the whole book works better without them, I take them out.



For example, in an early draft of Good News Bad News, I included several pages where the mouse and rabbit follow a trail of crumbs into a cave as they search for their stolen picnic basket.


(Click each to enlarge)


I really liked this sequence. It added to the characters’ personalities, and it had some jokes that I thought were funny.

But it also slowed the pace of the story by adding an unnecessary plot about the bear being a thief.

At first, it was hard to imagine the story without it. But when I finally took this scene out, I discovered that I didn’t actually miss it. Overall, the book was more entertaining because it kept the focus on the central theme: the chain reaction of positive and negative events. Now, the bear was just the bad news part of the cave.

For me, editing takes the most time, and it’s the most difficult part. But it’s also the part where most of the discovery happens.


(Click second image to enlarge)


Plot aside, I still felt unsettled reading my early drafts of Good News Bad News. But why?

Then it dawned on me: most of my text simply repeated what I already showed in the pictures.


(Click to enlarge)


So I decided to edit out every redundant word. When I did, the only words left were “good news” and “bad news”. But those were the only words that were necessary. They added meaning to the pictures and allowed the pictures themselves to tell the story. To me, it suddenly became a much more interesting book.



I tried to do the same thing for Ah Ha!, but it didn’t work the same way.



I ended up getting rid of all the words.



The book is too action-packed to be quiet and wordless. I wanted kids to have something to say outloud so they could express their emotions as they read. So I replaced the words with expressions made from the letters “a” and “h.” The pictures show the action, and the words let the readers know how the characters are feeling.


(Click to enlarge)


It’s a nice way to teach inflection. Even though different words may be spelled the same way, kids figure out how to read them differently based on what they see in the pictures.


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Meanwhile, Look! uses just two words, “look” and “out” …



… but their meanings change when read together or separately.


(Click to enlarge)


My earliest versions of this book were wordless …


(Click to enlarge)


but I decided it was funnier and more interesting to involve a word game.


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My favorite picture books are ones where words and pictures work together to create powerful emotions in surprising ways. So editing this book actually meant adding words rather than removing them.



As for chapter books …

When I write my Clueless McGee books, I start each one with a general outline. Next, I outline each chapter. Then I outline each individual scene. I make a list of the important changes that occur in each scene. And lastly, I write the individual jokes that make those changes happen. Since these are mysteries, it’s important that I plan out all of the clues and red herrings in advance.



In book #3, this moment sets PJ up to discover a critical clue about his missing father, lose valuable screen time, annoy his mom, and accidentally trash the library’s entire music collection all at the same time.

Creating outlines helps me manage a longer format, one cartoon at a time. The process is less overwhelming and much more enjoyable for me.



Clueless McGee actually began as a letter I wrote to a publisher in the voice of a nine-year-old boy. My original idea was to make a hand-written notebook with tiny scribbled drawings in the margins.

But I had so much fun making the drawings that they started to take over entire pages by the second draft.


(Click to enlarge)


Each book ends with an eight-page comic, written and illustrated by the main character. I made the first one, because otherwise I would have had eight blank pages at the end of the book.


(Click to enlarge)


After that, it turned out to be one of my favorite parts of making the books. I’m dying to write an entire book of just Clueless McGee’s comics.

5. Final Art

My illustration process varies from book to book, depending on the methods and materials I’m using. These days, if I work with paint on paper, I create one spread at a time, often lying or sitting on the floor. I hang them on the walls around me so that I can be sure the details stay consistent from page to page. Then at the end, I go back and re-work everything.


(Click to enlarge)


Sometimes when it suits the story, I illustrate using a Wacom Cintiq. It’s like a computer monitor that I can draw on with an electronic pen.



Instead of printing and hanging up each image, I make a digital storyboard out of tiny finished images.


(Click to enlarge)


Most of my recent work combines digital and traditional materials, so I’m often hopping back and forth between my computer and my paints.

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


: My studio is usually a complete mess with papers and prints piled everywhere. I’ve found that don’t prefer a fancy studio — just a room where I can freely make a mess. Every now and then, I’m forced to clean up in order to make room for more projects.



I also find that I get a lot of writing done at coffee shops and restaurants. I wrote and illustrated three Clueless McGee books sitting in a bakery, drinking lots of coffee.


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


: When I was a kid, these were my favorite books:

Big Max. It’s about a detective who travels by flying umbrella.



Be Nice to Spiders. I’m still afraid of spiders.



Dr. Seuss’ On Beyond Zebra. It’s a list of some bizarre animals whose names start with the letters that come after z. A few ’70s collections of Peanuts comics. And the Ed Emberley drawing books, because they showed me step-by-step how to create complex scenes using simple shapes. That gave me confidence to draw my own pictures. I now show kids a similar process during my school visits.


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.)

Jeff: Most of my favorite kids’ authors have passed away, and many of them seem like they were genuinely nice people, who would have been fun to talk with. William Steig and Arnold Lobel are heroes to me. As for living authors, I haven’t met Jon Agee, Calef Brown, or Maira Kalman yet. I love their clever ideas and their senses of humor. I also love Michael Sowa’s illustrations. And I’m a big fan of Sue Townsend’s Secret Diary of Adrian Mole books. Her first book was a huge inspiration to me. I would have loved to meet her too, but I just found out she passed away in April.

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?

Jeff: Lately, I’ve been listening to Karen Mantler and Bill Callahan. Karen sings about things like the flu, her cat, and her stove. Bill sings about his angst. I’m also fascinated by the incredible range of John Zorn’s music, everything from classical to jazz to surf-rock to metal. I love almost everything on the Daptone neo-soul label. And pretty much anything by the late pianist, Horace Silver, puts me in a good mood.



That said, I usually only listen to music when I walk my dog. I actually spend most of my day working in silence. Sometimes I forget to put music on, but more often I turn it off, because I can’t concentrate otherwise. When I was in college, I thought my teachers were crazy when they told me they loved to paint for hours in silence. But now … I guess I’m crazy too.

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

Jeff: I’m terrible at picking out my wardrobe. I find it a totally boring chore. If I could, I’d wear the same clothes every day. I dream of buying a mechanic’s jumper that I could hop into each morning without a second thought. Maybe I’d shave my head while I was at it. But I’m afraid someone would call the police if they saw me walking around like that. So I make an effort to look respectable in public.


7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Jeff: Yes. Here’s the question:

Why, as someone with adult interests, adult tastes, adult responsibilities, and an adult perspective of the world, would you want to spend so much time thinking and working so hard to make books that appeal mainly to children?

Only, I’m not sure what the answer is. Writing and illustrating are often difficult and even painful for me sometimes. But I’ve always loved obsessing over projects.



When I was a kid, I drove myself and everyone around me crazy trying to build pinball machines out of cardboard boxes.



Then, in second grade, I won a Halloween short story contest by making my own elaborate monster comic book.

Today, I feel like I’m still making stuff for the same second-grade audience. I get a burst of joy when a story or picture turns out better than I had hoped. The feeling doesn’t last long, but the hope for new discoveries keeps me going. Plus, I really like kids. They’re sincere. The real deal. Sometimes they send me encouraging letters. Those help a lot.



* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Jeff: “Frank” is a good one. It’s a name, a silly-looking food, and, frankly, it’s a darn good way to say what you mean.

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Jeff: “Classic.” When it’s used to describe anything less than 50 years old. As in: “It’s a new classic!” For example, I love monster movies, but I have a hard time calling any of them made after 1968 a “classic.”

Second least favorite word: “Artisan.”

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

Jeff: Traveling. Trying new things.


And pet portraits.


Jules: What turns you off?

Jeff: Ads.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Jeff: It’s a little groaning sound that my dog, McGee, makes when he’s thinking too hard.


Or any of the sounds that animals make when they’re having fun.


Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Jeff: The sound of someone eating oatmeal in the dark.

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

Jeff: I’d like to write music and learn to play more musical instruments, so I could collaborate with other musicians.

I’d also like to write plays.

And sometimes I think I would like to be a vet. But only if I don’t have to treat spiders.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Jeff: How about volcanic sulfur-mining? Anything done in a mine, really. I’m not very tough. Check out a fascinating documentary called Workingman’s Death for a scary look at many of the world’s most dangerous jobs. Children’s book author is not in the movie.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Jeff: “Woof!”


All images are used by permission of Jeff Mack.

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


8 Comments on Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jeff Mack, last added: 2/5/2015
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19. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #416: Featuring Peter Carnavas


Today’s picture book is an import. Peter Carnavas’ Jessica’s Box was initially published in Australia back in 2008, but Kane Miller will bring it to U.S. shelves in March.

When we first meet Jessica, her mind is racing. It’s “too busy for sleep. Her thoughts were already with tomorrow.” And that’s because tomorrow will be her first day of school, and she’s eager to make new friends. When she shows up, she brings with her a big cardboard box. By lunchtime, though her box is neglected at first, curious children gather ’round, and Jessica reaches into her box to pull out a stuffed toy bear. The reaction Jessica wants isn’t exactly the one she’s met with: Some students laugh at her, and others ignore her. The next day, Jessica brings cupcakes. Needless to say, the treats are met with enthusiasm, but they’re consumed and forgotten. “Not even a thank you?” Jessica wonders.

Jessica keeps trying, yet she reaches the point of mild despair: “She just wanted to disappear.” So, she puts the box on her head one day. And a boy approaches and befriends her; he thinks she’s playing hide-and-seek. Later at home, when she tells her family she’s finally made a friend, her Grandpa says, “You must have had something very special in your box today.” Jessica smiles and responds, “I did.” (I read this at a bookstore story time yesterday—the story really seemed to get everyone’s attention—and found myself asking the children, “what was in her box?” “Her head,” one child said, which made me laugh.)

I love this sweet, but never saccharine, tale. Jessica’s family at home is warm and loving, yet they never coddle or overprotect her, letting her come to realizations about friendship on her own. In one particularly lovely spread, it was “Dad’s turn to talk to Jessica that night,” and the next illustration shows them outside together (Jessica on his shoulders), just looking into the sky: “They didn’t say very much.” Sometimes silence is best.

And, as you can see from the illustrations (which are somewhat reminiscent to me of the artwork of Ole Könnecke), rendered with a sunny, warm palette, Jessica is in a wheelchair. Yet the story isn’t some huge “issue” story about her having to overcome her disability or some such. Her lack of friends has nothing to do, in fact, with that, and never once does her wheelchair come up in conversation. I suppose one could argue that is why she’s nervous about school, but many children do, indeed, get apprehensive about the first day, wheelchair or not.

This one’s a gentle story, quiet and wise. It’s a keeper.

JESSICA’S BOX. First American Edition 2015. Text and illustrations © 2008 Peter Carnavas. Published by Kane Miller, Tulsa, OK. Illustration 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) I forced this song I heard this week on all my music-lovin’ friends, because I immediately fell in love with it (and only listened to it about seven HUNDRED times).

2) New music from Laura Marling:

3) I don’t normally re-watch TV shows, but we re-watched season two of House of Cards, because season three will be here soon. And it’s so good. And on my second watch, I saw all new things to appreciate about the direction of and writing and acting in this show.

4) This panel discussion this past week went well, and it was wonderful to talk about this topic with Sharon Draper.

5) Thoughtful gifts from thoughtful friends.

6) A story time yesterday with very responsive children and their parents — and some great, brand-new picture books, including Jessica’s Box, which everyone seemed to really like.

7) The ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced a week from tomorrow!

What are YOUR kicks this week?

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #416: Featuring Peter Carnavas, last added: 1/26/2015
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20. A Visit with Don Tate …


Author-illustrator Don Tate, who visited 7-Imp for breakfast back in 2011, is back today to talk about his upcoming picture books. As it turns out, I had an opportunity to do one of those so-called cover reveals for his book Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton of Chapel Hill, which will be on shelves from Peachtree in the Fall. (Yes, FALL! I know. Seems so far away.) And then it turned into an opportunity to ask him about the book (I read an early PDF version) and to show some spreads from it, and I’m all for that. Even better. To boot, Don is even sharing some images from another forthcoming book, written by Chris Barton, called The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans), which I believe will be on shelves in April. So you’ll see that below too.

Poet is the story of George Moses Horton, the first African American poet to be published in the South. Horton’s story is a remarkable one, and Don talks a bit below about why. Let’s get right to it, especially so that we can see more of his art.

I thank him for visiting.

Jules: Can you talk a bit about your research for this one?

Don: I had so much fun researching Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton. It was like putting together a puzzle. The first piece of the puzzle began with a simple “budget line,” as they say in the newspaper business: George Moses Horton was an enslaved poet in North Carolina, who became the first African American to be published in the South. Many poems protested slavery. In order to complete the puzzle, I did a lot of research.

“George loved words. …”
(Click to enlarge)

I began by reading Horton’s own autobiography. It’s a very short but detailed account of his life that was published as a prefix in his second book, The Poetical Works of George M. Horton. The book was published in 1845. The archaic language was tough to understand.

Here’s a sample (which is in the public domain):

…Nevertheless did I persevere with an indefatigable resolution, at the risk of success. But ah! the oppositions with which I contended are too tedious to relate, but not too formidable to surmount; and I verily believe that those obstacles had an auspicious tendency to waft me, as on pacific gales, above the storms of envy and the calumniating scourge of emulation, from which literary imagination often sinks beneath its dignity, and instruction languishes at the shrine of vanity. I reached the threatening heights of literature, and braved in a manner the clouds of disgust which reared in thunders under my feet. …


“Then George found an old spelling book. It was tattered and some pages were missing, but it was enough to get him started. …”
(Click to enlarge)

“… George was now a full-time writer, but he was still not a free man.”
(Click to enlarge)

So first I had some deciphering to do. One of my best resources came from a researcher at the University of North Carolina’s Wilson’s Special Collections Library. I can’t emphasize how much researchers there helped me to tell this story. I’d ask a question, and they’d return an abundance of information and sources — about Horton’s life; the clothes people wore; images of the old campus; literacy in slave communities. I had way more information than needed, but it gave me the confidence to tell an accurate story. I also consulted with the Chapel Hill Historical Society and the North Carolina Museum of History, and I studied the poetry from his three books: The Poetical Works, The Hope of Liberty, and Naked Genius.

(Click to enlarge)

“Now it was too dangerous for George to write poems that protested slavery.
But he didn’t stop writing altogether. …”

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Did you learn anything that surprised you?

Don: Yes. As mentioned in my Author’s Note, George Horton’s life and the things he accomplished as an enslaved man totally surprised me. Horton was likely the best paid poet of his Southern contemporaries, black or white. He made enough money from his poetry to pay his master for his time, which allowed him to live at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a full-time writer. He published two books while enslaved and delivered two commencement speeches to graduates. All of this happened a time when African-American literacy was discouraged, devalued, even outlawed. George’s life was full of surprises.

Don: “This was a sample image used to sell the dummy. I sketched the entire book roughly — but painted this one piece. In the end, I decided to go with a less polished-looking style. I felt the loose watercolor and line worked better.”
(Click to enlarge)

There was another thing that surprised me. Slavery was a peculiar institution, to say the least. But I was surprised to learn that many slave owners in North Carolina viewed their slaves as family members. Is that strange or what? Slaves were considered the property of their masters. They performed day-long, back-breaking work for no pay. Their diet was typically poor and their clothing inadequate. They could be whipped or even killed by their masters for any reason and with no recourse. Some way to treat a family member, huh?

Don: “Originally to be our title page image. But I realized much later that this image would not have been accurate. While George did work alongside his mother, singing songs in a tobacco field, he would have been a toddler. I scrapped this image.”
(Click to enlarge)

Don: “This was another title page sketch. Again, the tobacco field was not accurate.”
(Click to enlarge)

Jules: I like in your closing Author’s Note that you talk about why you wanted to do this book — that you once were adamant about focusing on “contemporary stories relevant to young readers today,” especially given that “whenever the topic of black history came up, it was always in relation to slavery, about how black people were once the property of white people ….” Yet you were moved to tell this story anyway. Can you talk a bit here about why?

Don: As a young child, I was often embarrassed when the topic of slavery came up at school. There were many reasons for that, but mainly it seemed that when it came to the history of African Americans, slavery was the only thing ever mentioned. White kids sometimes made jokes about slavery. Black kids insulted each other by saying mean things like: “You look like Kunta Kente,” who was a character from the movie Roots. If someone got called Kunta, a fight was on! That’s sad when you consider what Kunta Kente went through in his lifetime. He was actually a hero.

Don: “This was the original opening illustration for the book. However, I questioned the race of the church congregation. Would George have worshipped with an all-black congregation? Or would he have worshiped together with the whites, but separate? Both scenarios could have been possible; we just don’t know. One of my sources, a curator at the Historic Hope Plantation in North Carolina. advised going with the all-black congregation. North Carolina had one of the largest free black populations in the colonies. It was more likely that he was inspired at church services
while hearing a free black preacher read the Bible.”

(Click to enlarge)

Because of those negative childhood memories, when I first got into the publishing industry, I promised myself that I would not illustrate stories about slavery, that I’d focus on telling other stories of my people. So what changed all of that? It was a journey.

I’m a dad and husband. I’m a provider. First and foremost, it’s my job to earn a living for my family. If I was going to become a published author, I figured that writing stories about apples didn’t make sense if oranges were in higher demand. Know what I mean? So for my first book, I wrote a story about a former slave who became a famed folk artist. I could have written a story about a contemporary African American child who . . . I don’t know, enjoys skateboarding and playing basketball. Which one do you think would have sold quicker?

Don: “This was one of my favorite images from my original book dummy. It portrays a couple reading one of George Horton’s love poems. We decided to nix this one,
opting to show George reciting a poem while a student wrote it out.”

(Click to enlarge)

But here’s the thing: When I wrote that first book, It Jes’ Happened [art here at 7-Imp], and I studied the narratives of other enslaved African American people, I fell in love with their stories of resilience. Slavery, civil rights, “issue” books? Why not? My people have overcome mountainous obstacles. These are stories that everyone can appreciate and relate to — not only African American children. Inspired, I decided that I wanted to focus my career on telling these important stories.

Hope’s Gift (Penguin, 2012), written by Kelly Starling Lyons, was another in that journey for me. It’s the fictionalized story of an enslaved family. The book celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Next up is a story that I illustrated, written by Chris Barton. It is called The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans). It tells the story of a young man who in ten years went from teenage field hand to United States Congressman. The story is set during slavery and ends during Reconstruction, the era following the Civil War.

This book also presented many challenges. Reconstruction, which promised bright opportunities, was often a dangerous and deadly time for African Americans, who were basically reenslaved under new laws. Chris Barton dealt with the challenging subject matter honestly, and so did I. Some of the images in the book, like a KKK church-burning and others will generate a lot of discussion. Here are a few images from The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.

(Click to enlarge)

“… Fellow former slaves reveled in the promises of freedom –
family, faith, free labor, land, education.
John Roy wanted to be part of that.”

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

“… Back home, white terrorists burned black schools and black churches.
They armed themselves on Election Day to keep blacks away.
They even committed murder.”

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: What’s next for you?

Don: A lot! Currently I’m illustrating a second book for Chris Barton called Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Stream of Ideas (Charlesbridge, 2016). It’s the story of the creator of the Super Soaker squirt gun. I’m also creating thumbnail sketches for a book written by Michael Mahin called . . . get ready for it: Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band (Penguin, TBD). Whew! I thought I’d never be able to remember that name. But guess what? I can’t forget it! Next up is another book that I wrote that I’m not ready to talk about. It will be published by Charlesbridge and is out to my editor. I expect revision notes soon. I’m very excited about that project.

* * * * * * *

All images here are used by permission of Don Tate, and the illustrations from Poet are used by permission of Peachtree.

6 Comments on A Visit with Don Tate …, last added: 1/27/2015
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21. Harry & Winnie: Friends Forever and even longer …

“In 1919, just before Harry returned to Winniepeg, he made another hard decision.
He decided that Winnie would stay at the London Zoo permanently.
Harry was sad, but he knew Winnie would be happiest in the home she knew best.”

This week over at BookPage, I’ve got an interview with author Sally M. Walker. Her newest picture book is Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (Henry Holt, January 2015), illustrated by newcomer Jonathan D. Voss. It’s a fascinating story and one I didn’t know.

Our Q&A is over here at BookPage, and below I have some art (and backmatter images) from the book.

“When Harry Colebourn looked out of the train window,
he couldn’t believe what he saw ….”

“… The cub climbed into Harry’s lap and licked his chin.
‘She’s for sale,’ said the man holding her leash. …”

“Harry could care for a bear; he was a veterinarian.
‘How much?’ Harry asked. …”

“Sometimes Harry went places where Winnie couldn’t. The other soldiers cub-sat.
They photographed Winnie. They took her for walks.”

“But no matter where Winnie went during the day,
she slept under Harry’s cot every night.”

“… For seven weeks, Winnie watched soldiers practice marching. …”

“Harry visited Winnie whenever he could, but the war lasted four years.
During that time, the zookeepers took good care of his bear. …”

“One day, when Winnie was nearly eleven years old, a little boy visited her.
‘Oh, Bear!’ cried the boy, whose name was Christopher Robin.
He hugged Winnie and fed her milk.”

“… The zookeepers treated her kindly, friendly visitors scratched her back,
and gentle children spoon-fed her milk. …”

Front and back endpapers
(Click each to enlarge)

* * * * * * *

WINNIE. Copyright © 2015 by Sally M. Walker. Illustrations © 2015 by Jonathan D. Voss. Published by Henry Holt and Company, New York. All images here are reproduced by permission of the publisher.

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22. Seeing Carin Berger’sBox of Art Supplies Makes Me Happy

In-progress image and final spread: “‘I wish it was spring right now,’
Maurice told Mama. ‘Waiting is hard,’ she said. ‘Right now it is time to sleep.'”

(Click each to enlarge)

Last week, I chatted over at Kirkus (here) with author-illustrator Carin Berger about her new picture book, Finding Spring (Greenwillow, January 2015). Today, as always, I’m following up with some in-progress images from Carin, as well as a few spreads from the book. Those are below.

BUT she also visited 7-Imp over a year ago, while working on this book, to talk about it in detail waaaay before its publication. If you like Finding Spring and like Carin’s art and her books, I highly encourage you to check it out, if you haven’t seen it already. Lucky for us all, it is an art-filled post. It is here.

And I thank Carin for sending the additional images below. Enjoy.

Two more in-progress images
(Click each to enlarge)

“Back in the den, Maurice snuggled happily against Mama.
He slept and slept and slept.”

(Click to enlarge)

“And at last, there it was. Maurice had finally found S P R I N G!”
(Click to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

FINDING SPRING. Copyright © 2015 by Carin Berger. Published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, New York. All images here are reproduced by permission of Carin Berger.

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23. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week,Featuring Edwin Fotheringham,Juana Medina, and Stephen Savage

– From Doreen Cronin’s Smick!, illustrated by Juana Medina


“Monkey screeched and turned to Duck,
‘Buddy, ol’ pal, are we in luck!'”
– Spread (without text) from Jennifer Hamburg’s
Monkey and Duck Quack Up!,
illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

(Click to enlarge)


– From Stephen Savage’s Supertruck

(Click to enlarge)

Today over at Kirkus, I write about the newest picture book from Michael Hall, called Red: A Crayon’s Story (Greenwillow Books, February 2015). That link will be here soon.

* * *

Last week I wrote about three new picture books, geared at very young children — Jennifer Hamburg’s Monkey and Duck Quack Up!, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic, February 2015); Doreen Cronin’s Smick!, illustrated by Juana Medina (Viking, February 2015); and Stephen Savage’s Supertruck (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, January 2015).

I’ve got art and preliminary images from these books below.



Spreads from Doreen Cronin’s Smick!,
illustrated by Juana Medina
(click each to enlarge):






Early Roughs from
Stephen Savage’s Supertruck:


Eight images above: Failed covers


Final Art from Supertruck:


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)



Older iterations of the title pages in
Jennifer Hamburg’s
Monkey and Duck Quack Up!,
illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
(click each to enlarge):



Progression of a Spread
from Monkey and Duck Quack Up!
(click each to enlarge):


Edwin: The only spread…that was changed fairly dramatically is Monkey on the boat doing activities. This began as a boat elevation cut-away that turned into spots of individual activities. There are four iterations: 1) cut-away view; 2) activities in color blocks (notice water slide and pool in right panels); 3) activities in color blocks, version two (pool becomes food buffet); and 4) final art with activities in bouncy bubbles (water slide becomes disco). In the final version, other characters (in silhouette) were added to make the cruise less like a ghost ship.



Final Art (Without Text) and Cover from
Monkey and Duck Quack Up!:


“Up onstage, when it was time,
they wowed the crowd with one great rhyme …”

(Click to enlarge spread)



* * * * * * *

Illustrations from Monkey and Duck Quack Up! by Jennifer Hamburg. Illustrations © 2015 by Edwin Fotheringham. Used with permission from Scholastic Press.

SMICK! Copyright © 2015 by Doreen Cronin. Illustrations © 2015 by Juana Medina. Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group, New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of Juana Medina and the publisher.

SUPERTRUCK. Copyright © 2015 by Stephen Savage. Published by Neal Porter Books, Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images reproduced by permission of Stephen Savage, pictured below.

(Click to enlarge)

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24. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #417: FeaturingUp-and-Coming Illustrator, Molly Walsh

It’s the first Sunday of the month, which means I invite a student illustrator or recent grad to visit 7-Imp, and today I’ve got the latter. Molly Walsh graduated in 2013 from RISD, and she’s here today to share art and tell us a bit about herself.

Without further ado …

Molly: Hello! My name is Molly Walsh, and I am an illustrator living on Cape Cod. I graduated in 2013 with a degree in Illustration from Rhode Island School of Design.



I work by day as a designer at a gift company in Cape Cod and, by night, as a freelance illustrator. I love creating art for decoration, but my first love is telling stories, large or small, through my illustration. Inspiration for my illustrations could come from something as small as a little detail from a friend’s story to something as large as trying to sum up an entire concept or emotion in one image. My love of nature and goofy characters also have a way of creeping into the images I make.



I started working in my current style toward the end of my time at RISD. I had been making 3D sculptures as a way to compensate for my lack of confidence in my drawing skills. Sculpting somehow gave me a better understanding of shapes and lighting, and I began drawing and painting again to save time. (Funny how that works!)



One of my professors, Fred Lynch, was of great help to me settling into a style that suited my voice as an illustrator. I do most of my work in watercolor and gouache, though my surface design job has taught me a great deal about digital media, which I’ve started incorporating into my work.



My current sketchbook is full of doodles and sloppily-written ideas for future projects, both somewhat formed idea for series and comics, as well as notes about “great ideas” I’ve written myself while half asleep. (The other day I found the words “Gastronaut — astronaut with gas” written on one page.) Looking forward, I hope to find more opportunities to tell both my own stories, as well as the stories and ideas of others through freelance work for books and magazines. Illustration is a wonderful, exciting thing, and I hope to use this power for good!



All artwork here is reproduced by permission of Molly Walsh.

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 love the characters in Molly’s work. Also I love: “Illustration is a wonderful, exciting thing, and I hope to use this power for good!” (P.S. The last illustration up there is from Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day,” which is something like the third or fourth illustration I’ve shared at 7-Imp from that story, which used to HAUNT me as a child. I’m starting a 7-Imp trend.)

2) Yesterday, we saw a stage adaptation at the Nashville Children’s Theatre of Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie stories. It was fun. Here’s a bit of what it was like:

3) I talked to a big group of second-graders at a school in Nashville this week about favorite 2014 picture books and Caldecott contenders, and it was a thing of beauty to hear their strong opinions. Those lucky kids have some great teachers and librarians.

4) Oh, and the Twitter chat this week with Metro Nashville School librarians was fun too.

5) Author-illustrator Lori Nichols is going to come have breakfast at 7-Imp when life slows down and sent this preview of us in the meantime:

6) It’s neat to see friends’ photos on Facebook from ALA Midwinter.

7) Speaking of kick #2, my New Year’s resolution (though I don’t usually do resolutions) was to see more live theatre, so hey, I’m not doing too badly.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #417: FeaturingUp-and-Coming Illustrator, Molly Walsh, last added: 2/2/2015
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25. The Niblings: Bigger and Better

For those of you who follow The Niblings over at either Facebook or Twitter, here’s a quick announcement about two new inclusions into our Niblings sphere:

To fill the much-needed YA slot, Mitali Perkins (pictured at the open of this post) joins us. A distinguished author, responsible for such books as Rickshaw Girl, Bamboo People, Secret Keeper, and this April’s Tiger Boy, Mitali has maintained her blog, Mitali’s Fire Escape, since 2005, where she discusses books between cultures. You may also find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Minh Lê also joins us. We’ve been impressed by and big fans of his work for years now. Not only has he been blogging for Book Riot, the Huffington Post, and Bottom Shelf Books, but he recently sold his debut picture book, Let Me Finish!, to Disney-Hyperion. You can also find him on Twitter.

For those of you not familiar with The Niblings: We are a blog consortium, created almost two years ago this month, over at Facbeook and Twitter. It represents Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Yours Truly), A Fuse #8 Production (Betsy Bird), Nine Kinds of Pie (Philip Nel), and 100 Scope Notes (Travis Jonker). Our Facebook page and Twitter presence are our spaces for sharing in one spot links from our blogs and other writings, as well as for sharing other interesting links/news related to the field of children’s literature. We hope that it’s a sort of one-stop resource center for information on children’s literature. (Here’s more information.)

* * * * * * *

Photo of Mitali Perkins used by her permission.

Photo of Minh Lê taken by Danielle Lurie and used by his permission.

The Niblings art was created by Megan Montague Cash and is © 2013 Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, Travis Jonker, and Philip Nel.

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