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Thursday
Oct032019

A Peek Into The Process: Author Caroline Fernandez and Illustrator Shannon O'Toole share how STOP READING THIS BOOK was created

STOP READING THIS BOOK is written by Caroline Fernandez and llustrated by Shannon O'Toole, coming out from Common Deer Press on October 7, 2019. If you're in the Toronto area, you're invited to the book launch at Indigo Yonge Eglinton on Sat. Oct. 5th from 1-2 pm; see details here.

Caroline Fernandez is a kidlit author, parenting blogger, and social media enthusiast. Caroline has been nominated in the Forest of Reading (Silver Birch) previously. You can find Caroline online at Parentclub.ca, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

Shannon O’Toole is a Toronto based illustrator, painter and elementary school teacher. Her playful illustration work is inspired by the unique and humorous characters in her life. Aside from illustrating books for children, Shannon has exhibited her artwork in galleries across Ontario. When she is not drawing, Shannon can be found curled up with her dog, Edgar watching old movies. Find her online at www.shannonotooleart.com and on Instagram at @shannonotooleart.

Synopsis: Stop Reading This Book is a story of a book judging a reader by their 'cover.' In turning pages, the reader becomes the hero of their own story overcoming the challenges the book puts up to roadblock reading. It introduces young readers to book elements like protagonists, antagonists, conflict, and resolution and showcases themes of child empowerment, judgment and misjudgment, marginalization and inclusivity, and persistence.

Q for Caroline: What inspired you to write this book?

Caroline: I know if you tell a child to NOT do something...they'll really WANT to do it. So a book telling a child NOT to read it...well, would you stop reading?!...

Q for Caroline. What was your journey to publication? How did you find your publisher?

Caroline: I had pitched this manuscript as unsolicited to a bunch of Canadian publishers. One publisher was seriously interested and held it on their preferred list for almost a year. Finally, they said they had to pass. The next week, at yoga class -- my yoga instructor took me aside and asked if a publisher friend of hers could send me some books for review on my blog. The publisher sent me the books...I sent a "thank you for the books and by the way I have this manuscript" email. That was a Tuesday. On the Thursday they let me know they liked the manuscript. On Friday I had a contract in my inbox!

Q for Shannon: How did you become the illustrator of STOP READING THIS BOOK?

Shannon: I was previously working with the publishing team at Common Deer Press on a series of middle grade books called The Math Kids. They connected me with Caroline Fernandez, and felt that my art style and her picture book would be a perfect match! I loved her book the minute I read it, and couldn’t wait to start.

Q for Shannon: What was your illustration process?

Shannon: I usually begin with loose sketches, where I start to visualize the main characters. I try out different body shapes, colours and expressions to capture their unique personality. This book was interesting, because the main character WAS the book itself. So my first challenge was: how do I capture a specific personality in a character without a body, clothes or much else other than its head? I did several watercolour sketches to get a sense of what sort of face the book would have, and what colour would suit its personality. It turns out it looked more grumpy without a nose!

Once I was happy with my sketches, I submitted them to the team at Common Deer Press, as well as Caroline for feedback. I think we all were drawn to the red cover, as it was so expressive and captured its grumpy face so perfectly! The next step in my process was to try out different materials to see which fits the feeling of the book the most.

One of the fun things about this book is that the story is interactive and the reader becomes part of the story. How I approached this was to have the characters engage with both the reader as well as the other characters on the page. This process involved a series of thumbnails in black and white, and some in colour. I then shared them with the team for feedback before I moved on to final images.

I painted with Golden Acrylics on primed illustration board, which I later scanned, and then digitally adjusted in Photoshop so that they were bright and the edges were clean.

Q for Shannon: How did you start illustrating children's books?

Shannon: I went to university for fine art, and pursued figurative painting. I was always interested in illustrating children's books, however, I didn’t know where to begin. Fortunately, I made a friend who was writing and self publishing books. He was looking for an illustrator, so I asked if he would allow me to create some images for him. We ended up making a picture book together, which was an amazing experience and a great opportunity for me to learn the process firsthand! I was completely hooked, and felt passionate about creating artwork for children.

So, I did my homework, and started to collect picture books. I began to collect books by illustrators who inspired me, and tried to learn how they told stories in different ways. I went to an SCBWI conference and a CANSCAIP conference. I furiously took notes and asked questions on how to submit to publishers.

I realized the importance of building my personal brand, as until that point, I was painting for an adult market and galleries. I made the decision to shift my focus towards creating children’s illustrations,which meant I had to create a new portfolio and new marketing materials. After building my new portfolio, I finally mustered up the courage to submit to publishers.

Several months passed before I received an opportunity to illustrate a Young Adult novel cover for Second Story Press. Through that opportunity, I met the amazing team at Common Deer Press, and here we are!

Q for Shannon: What advice do you have for aspiring children's book illustrators?

Shannon: You pursue children’s book illustration because you love it. That should always be at the front of your mind. We are going to get rejections and we will always have people who don’t appreciate your style of work. Ultimately, you need to make an illustration that inspires YOU, makes YOU smile, or excites YOU!

There will be an audience who will appreciate your authentic work. Explore and experiment with new materials. Every opportunity is a chance to build your portfolio, research, make connections and figure out your style. You need to continue putting yourself out there and keep DRAWING!

Q for Caroline: What advice do you have for young writers?

Caroline: My manuscript was held in consideration for over a year with one publisher and then accepted by another publisher the next week. You never know which query will hit on the right time, right publisher, right theme.

Research publishing houses and know what types of books they publish. Educate yourself on the industry. Join groups like CANSCAIP and SCBWI where you can network and learn about kidlit.

Use your Google skills to teach yourself about query letters, manuscript formats, submission guidelines, etc...

Next up for Caroline and Shannon: THE ADVENTURES OF GRANDMASAURUS will launch from Common Deer Press in May 2020.

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive. Also see Advice For Young Writers and Illustrators, a compilation of tips generously offered by children's book creators I've interviewed over the years.

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