To my American friends out there: Happy Thanksgiving!
If you're doing NaNoWriMo this year, don't forget to check out my friend Errol Elumir's NaNoToons.
Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates books for young people. She is represented by Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd.
Debbie's blog post: Why Picture Books Are Important
Just launched: NAKED!
Out in bookstores now:
I'M BORED. Written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. A New York Times Notable Children's Book and Junior Library Guild selection. Teacher's Guide (K-5) now available.
Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Writer's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, Writing & Illustrating a Picture Book For Simon & Schuster BFYR post series and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives, and comics for writers (including Will Write For Chocolate).
I tweet about the craft and business of writing and illustrating at @inkyelbows. If you're interested in my art or other projects, please do visit DebbieOhi.com. Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi
To my American friends out there: Happy Thanksgiving!
If you're doing NaNoWriMo this year, don't forget to check out my friend Errol Elumir's NaNoToons.
Jeff and I got back from BoardGameGeek last night. After being away for a week, we had a pile of snailmail to go through. Mine was Very Nice Snailmail and included:
(1) Check from Penguin Books for the use of one of my writing comics. I love checks. :-)
(2) Note from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers that I'M BORED has gone into a third printing, WAHOO!!! Considering that the book just came out late last year, I'm pretty happy.
For those who haven't been following my work up to now, I'M BORED is a picture book written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by yours truly. More info on the Simon & Schuster website plus I have tons of bonus material, activities, print-ready goodies available on the I'M BORED Bonus Page including some Thanksgiving-themed greeting cards and activity sheets.
(3) Advance signing check (did I mention I love checks? :-)) for SEA-MONKEY AND BOB, a picture book written by Aaron Reynolds, to be illustrated by MEEEEE, coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in Fall 2015. I just recently created a Facebook page for SEA-MONKEY AND BOB, by the way, and would soooo appreciate any Likes. :-)
I first met Molly Idle at the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference, when she won the overall portfolio competition and I remember being so impressed by her art. Molly worked for DreamWorks Feature Animation Studios for five years before leaving to devote all her time to children's book illustration. Molly's FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO recently made the semi-finals in the Goodreads Best Picture Book Of 2013!
Her recent picture books include TEA REX (Viking Press) and FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO (Chronicle Books); you can see covers and samples from all of Molly's book projects on her site. This interview focuses on TEA REX.
TEA REX by Molly Idle
Published by Viking Juvenile/Penguin / For ages 3-8
Q: What was your publication process? Also: If you have an agent, how did you get your agent?
Having lighted upon the idea for a tea party with a T-Rex, I proceeded to make a lot of truly terrible starts for manuscripts in my head, and on paper, before I hit upon the right way to tell the story.
All my early attempts, talked too much. I would set up a joke, tell the joke, and then explain the joke I just told... It was the picture book equivalent of someone winking and nudging you in the ribs after telling you a joke... "Get it? Get it?" These drafts all seemed to say. It just wasn’t working... So, I decided to set aside writing for a bit and just start sketching the story out to see if I could make it work visually.
I had three sketches finished when, as a result of winning the SCBWI portfolio competition, I had the chance to meet with Denise Cronin at Viking Children's Books. Denise looked through my portfolio, and then asked if I had anything else to show her. I pulled out the three TEA REX sketches, and pitched the story. She said she would love to see the dummy when it was finished and asked if I had an agent.
The conversation went like this...
Denise: Do you have an agent?
Denise: Do you want an agent?
Denise: Well, I can't imagine you'd have any trouble finding one.
Me: You'd be surprised...
I proceeded to prattle on about the research I’d done looking into various agencies and the collection of polite rejection letters I'd accumulated.
Denise waved her hand as if shooing away a gnat, and said, "You've been talking to all the wrong people. I know a half dozen agents who would be a good fit for you and are looking for new clients." And by the time I got home from our meeting, there was an email in my inbox from Denise with a list of al their names. Is she an angel or what?!
I looked over the list and decided to contact Lori Nowicki, at Painted Words.
When I told Lori that Denise had expressed interest in TEA REX, she asked if I would send her the manuscript that afternoon. The manuscript, if you’ll recall, that I had yet to write.
So, I immediately sat down at the computer, and hammered out a step by step- outline of what happens at a tea party. No jokes, no asides, it was a "Just the facts ma'am" outline that I intended to use as a springboard. But, as I read over this straight-faced outline, while looking at my sketches, I finally saw how the text and pictures could work together as a comedy duo… like Laurel and Hardy! The text set up the joke, and the illustration delivered the punch line. The finished draft took about two hours to polish up (well, two hours, plus two years of drafting terrible versions)... and I sent it off.
Lori read it, signed me on, and we agreed that as Denise was the one who brought us all together- Viking should be the first house we submitted the book to. And that's how we came to strike a deal with the fabulous folks at Viking Children's Books.
Q: What was your writing/illustration process for TEA REX? How did it differ from that of FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO?
It took a long time for me to find the right voice for REX, but almost no time at all for FLORA… I think that’s because I am so much more at ease when I’m at my drawing board than I am at the keyboard of my computer.
When I submitted TEA REX to Lori, she asked, as Denise had asked, if I had anything else to show her. All I had was a single sketch of a flamingo and little girl imitating his stance. I said I was thinking of working up a wordless picture book about the development of a friendship- told through dance... I was calling it: FLAMINGO DANCING. She encouraged me to dummy it up, and once I had, it found a home with the amazing team at Chronicle Books and became FLORA and the FLAMINGO.
Both books were scheduled for publication in spring 2013, so I worked on them simultaneously. Though the books differed in storytelling style and subject matter, both comedy and dance require a great sense of rhythm and timing. So, much of the revision work that occurred after the creation of the initial dummies, involved finding the right pacing.
I started by revising REX, then, once I sent those sketches off for comments, I started working on revising FLORA. By the time I sent off Flora sketches, I’d have notes back on REX, and back and forth and back and forth...
Each book went through four rounds of revisions before I started in on final art. That may sound like a lot, and I’ll tell you there were times when I felt like it was a lot too... Working up the finished sketches is the most time consuming, the most challenging and most important part of of the bookmaking process for me. It’s the time in which I figure everything out.
Because I work in traditionally, with colored pencils, I absolutely HAVE to know what each illustration is going to look like before I start. I can’t paint over an area it if I decide to change something later, as I could if I worked in acrylics or oils... I can’t add or delete a layer in Photoshop, as I could if I worked digitally. I chose to impose these limits on myself and my work because I enjoy working the way I do. There is just something about colored pencils... I enjoy their color, their consistency, the level of concentration using them requires...
In short, my choice of medium is dictated by the way I like to work.
I feel that enjoying the creative process- no matter the medium- is as important as the finished art.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring children's book writer/illustrators?
Learn to increase your pain tolerance.
I know this sounds weird- especially given what I’ve just said about enjoying the creative process- but stick with me for a minute...
Studies on the nature of creativity have shown that people who consistently come up with more inventive and creative ideas are not necessarily innately gifted, nor are they necessarily more intelligent than other people. They are however capable of tolerating a certain level of mental discomfort.
It works something like this:
When our brains are presented with a problem- any problem- we feel slightly anxious. When we solve a problem, our brains release endorphins that make us feel good. So, we have a problem to solve, we often run with the first answer we come up with because it feels good (literally) to find a solution!
But people who are willing to see that first solution, and then set it aside- delaying that endorphin high- while they continue to search for another answer, and another, and another… until they have compared all possible solutions and then chose the best option- and run with it- consistently come up with much more interesting, creative solutions.
John Cleese, (of Monty Python fame), talks about this research, and much more on the nature of creativity, in this lecture which I totally recommend watching.
Q: What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?
There is a lot going on in my studio right now- much of it is hidden behind a big black curtain with a sign that says- “Top Secret- NO Peeking!” Which is really really hard for me... because I am so dang excited about the projects I have coming out!! I want to stop random strangers on the street and say- OMG I am working on the coolest thing EVER- let me tell you about it...
Luckily, there are some things I CAN share, that I am equally over the moon about!
CAMP REX, is coming out in April 2014! I had so much fun getting to spend more time with these characters- so much so, that I am working on the third book in the Rex series as I type... well not AS I’m typing THIS... but, you know what I mean.
And, I just wrapped up artwork for FLORA and the PENGUIN- coming out next winter. I’m really excited about the new way readers will be able interact with the characters using the flaps in the book!
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
November 2013 is Picture Book Month, when schools, libraries, booksellers and book lovers around the world come together to celebrate the print picture book. I strongly encourage you to check out PictureBookMonth.com, where members of the children's lit community have been posting essays each day about why they believe picture books are important.
The following lists some of the reasons I believe that picture books are important. I've also included the covers of just a few of the many wonderful picture books that have come out in 2013 so far. Click on any cover to find out more info.
Picture books are important because of how readers interact with them, especially the read-aloud experience. No matter how many awards it may have won or how beautiful the prose or illustrations, an unread picture book collecting dust on a shelf is just paper and cardboard. The magic begins when a child or grown-up reader opens up the book.
Some parents try to rush their children out of picture books into chapter books because they believe that reading text-heavy books will help young people prepare for standardized testing, not realizing that picture books can be a valuable resource and enjoyed by older children, even up through high school.
With the above mind, here's why I think picture books are important:
Picture books introduce children to the concept of reading, even if they can't read yet. In a Boston.com interview, Bob Staake said that when he was a kid, he used to flip through grown-up magazines and fixate on whatever graphic element caught his attention (e.g. a photo, an illustration, an ad). "That was reading to me. That is the way kids start to read, and parents don’t respect it enough. The idea that looking at things is not as important as reading the written word, that’s BS."
Picture books encourage conversations between young and older readers. While some children enjoy reading picture books on their own, it's often the case that an adult or older sibling reads to a younger child. Reading a picture book aloud prompts conversations about what's happening in the story, what the characters are feeling, meanings of words, how what's happening might relate to the child.
Picture books help bridge the gap between generations, strengthening bonds and forming connections as an older reader (whether parent, grandparent, older sibling, teacher, librarian, etc.) reads aloud to a child.
Picture books strengthen visual thinking skills. Picture books help children connect what they observe with how they reason, linking concepts with words.
Picture books introduce children to a love of art in a way that just taking a child to an art gallery can't achieve. The illustrations aren't mere decoration to the text. They enhance the story and emotions. The context encourages a child to go back to different pictures over and over, noticing new things, reading characters' emotions and interactions, possible secondary subplots that are told only in the pictures.
Picture books teach children how to be better listeners. In a read-aloud experience, children learn that paying attention makes reading the book much more fun. As Emma Walton Hamilton points out, this helps prepare children to become better listeners in later life.
Picture books help children develop critical thinking skills. Karen Lotz of Candlewick Press points out in a New York Times piece: "To some degree, picture books force an analog way of thinking. From picture to picture, as the reader interacts with the book, their imagination is filling in the missing themes." Picture books stimulate a state of mind in children that words alone can't achieve, says J. Richard Gentry in Psychology Today.
Picture books give young readers a sense of control and help build self-confidence. In a world where there seem to be so many things that they aren't allowed to do and where adults have final say, a picture book offers an opportunity for a child to feel part of the story and control the pacing of the story. They can pause over certain pages, go back to revisit another part of the story. They can read slowly or quickly.
Picture books introduce complex concepts in a safe environment. Some even recommend using picture books for older children (middle school and high school), to set the stage for introducing broader topics of study like art or history, or for illustrating an abstract concept. "With picture books, each student in the class can access new information at his/her individual level of readiness," says Keith Schoch in Basic Literacy Through Picture Books.
Picture books help children discover themselves and the world. No matter what the topic or issue or emotion, there is likely a picture book that addresses it.
Picture books help build vocabulary. Children will often be introduced to words in picture books that they would not find in simpler early readers. Even when an adult isn't around to help, defining unknown words becomes easier because the pictures provide clues to the reader.
Picture books plant the seed for writing skills. "It is the joyous power of picture books that turns young listeners into readers and readers into writers," says Charles Ghigna.
Picture books help show children that reading is important. Especially in a world where everything moves so quickly and adults are always rushing around and busy, the fact that a grown-up will take the time to read a book aloud to a child sends a positive message about reading as well as about the relationship.
Picture books encourage joy in reading. Reading picture books is FUN, whether by yourself or with a grown-up or child. When being read to, a child can tell that the adult is enjoying himself/herself, and that helps reinforce the message that READING IS FUN.
Picture books offer comfort. They're non-threatening, they're fun to read. Children (and grown-ups!) go back to reread familiar picture books. For me, rereading a favorite childhood picture book is like visiting an old friend. Or coming home.
If any of the above has helped convince you of the importance of picture books, I encourage you to do one or more of the following:
(1) Go to the library and read through some picture books. Find your favorites, discover new favorites.
(2) Read a picture book aloud to a young person. If you don't have children, then visit a friend or family member who does. :-)
(3) Tweet or blog about a picture book that you like. It could be a newer book that you've just discovered, or tell us about one of your favorite picture books from childhood.
(4) Go to your local children's bookstore and buy a picture book. This not only helps support the bookstore but also the people who helped create it.
(5) Feel free to share the image below. No need to link back to my blog (but you're free to, of course!) but please do keep my copyright info intact.
Now go forth and read a picture book!
Source material, related resources and other helpful links:
Parents - Empower Children As Thinkers With Picture Books! - by J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D.
Bob Staake: Illustrator and looker (subscription needed)
Creating Reluctant Readers and Picture Books - by Heather Newman
How Picture Books Play A Role In A Child's Development - by Lori Calabrese
Introduction to Show Me A Story: Why Picture Books Matter - by David Wiesner
Not Too Old For Picture Books - Heart Of The Matter
Basic Literacy Through Picture Books (video) - by Keith Schoch
Critical Literacy: Using Picture Books To Read The World - by Alexis Birner (M.Ed) and Lindsay Bromley (M.Ed)
Picture Books Are Not Just For Children: 10 Reasons Why - by Rick Walton
How Picture Books Can Help Children Read Better - Studydog.com
Updated Will Write For Chocolate.
My life has gotten progressively busier over the past few years, and I'm finding it more necessarily to actually schedule in pleasure reading time. Sounds stuffy and formal, I know! But if I don't do that, my reading time gets cut way down.
By "pleasure reading," I mean reading just for the joy of it. Not because the books are written by people I know (even though it's likely I'll love those books, too) or books I've promised to review or books to improve my craft or business. I mean stories that I'm reading JUST FOR FUN.
And I'm thinking it's time for another of my own Secret Dates very soon. Happily, my husband understand. :-)
I met Patricia Storms through her Booklust blog and then the National Cartoonists Society, and have enjoyed watching her children's book career blossom. She has illustrated 20 books, three of which she is author as well as illustrator. Patricia says she was twelve when her first cartoon was published in a Toronto newspaper. She got paid five whole dollars for that cartoon, and has been inspired to write and draw ever since.
About NEVER LET YOU GO:
"I have described NEVER LET YOU GO as ‘The push and pull of parenthood’. Amazon’s description is quite nice, too: “Tender but never cloying, Never Let You Go gives a great, warm hug, followed by an encouraging pat as it sets up young readers to take their first big steps on the path to growing up. This story is destined to be a favourite read-aloud for parents and children alike, as the simple but powerful message of enduring love and support is one little readers will take to heart.”"
Q. What was your writing/illustration process for NEVER LET YOU GO?
I wish I could say my creative process was smooth and organized. It is not. So often things just kind of ‘happen’ for me. The idea for this book came to me about 3 years ago. I was feeling really down in the dumps at the time, to be honest. And I had a massive migraine. I tried to take a nap to relax, and I was in this odd dream/awake space and that is when this image of a penguin parent and her child popped into my head.
I had just recently read the novel ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro, so I guess that title was sifting in my head. I kept seeing this image of the child going back & forth to the parent, with the refrain ‘Never Let You Go’ playing over and over. After that the rest of the words starting flowing in as well. It really was one of those rare times when the book came almost fully formed like a gift from the stars. I was so tired I didn’t even have the strength to write down the story, so I called out to my husband (who was in the computer room across from the bedroom) to write down my idea before I forgot it.
When I felt better, I worked on creating a tight storyboard on large newsprint, and then I scanned the storyboard sketches and using Photoshop, I put the text in where I thought it would flow best. And then I promptly...let it sit on my desktop for a year.
The story was so different from anything I have ever worked on before, that I simply could not believe that anyone would like it. One of the reasons I was so uncertain about the story was because it was so personal and, well – ‘straight from the heart’.
Over the years my cartoon/illustration work has been cynical, angry, snarky, cheeky and silly, but I’ve generally avoided the heartfelt stuff. It’s not that I’m not capable of doing that work, but I was burned big-time when I was a young naïve teenage artist, and I’m still not sure if I’ve ever gotten over those experiences.
Creating this book was a very cathartic experience for me, I must say. Let’s just say the story is a lot about working out childhood issues. I suspect this is the case for many artists and writers in this business.
Q. What was your publication process?
Once again, my process is not, I think the ‘the norm’. But perhaps there is no ‘norm’?
The only reason that any editor ever saw this manuscript is because someone approached me. An editor at Scholastic had been looking at my old blog ‘BookLust’ (which now no longer exists) and was intrigued my some of my artwork.
Since we were getting along in our emails, I figured, what the heck, and asked if I could send her this manuscript I had sitting on my desktop. There aren’t very many words in the story (112), so it didn’t take long for her to read it. Basically, she wrote to me that she was very excited about the story and that’s when the whole process began.
After that it was a matter of getting the rest of the editorial team excited about the idea, and after that, well...it was a matter of convincing the next various levels to get excited about the idea, too. I had only sent black & white sketches to my editor, so at this stage I did some basic colour work in order to give the folks at Scholastic an idea of how I envisioned the story to be, with both words & colour.
It was almost exactly a year later before Scholastic finally offered me a contract. I don’t have an agent at this time, so I hired a literary consultant to negotiate my contract, and then the real work began. Because I had sent such a tight manuscript, there really wasn’t a lot of editing of words or layout that needed to be done. The major work was really getting the colours just right.
I had a lot of help from my art director as well as my editor. I was terrified most of the time, but it was a very supportive, nurturing environment. It was particularly scary because I was trying out some new styles. Usually I just hand-draw my art, ink it and then colour it in Photoshop. But this time I wanted to create a more warm and organic look, so I outlined the penguins with charcoal pencil (something I’d NEVER done before!) and I experimented with new brushes in Photoshop, and even added Japanese paper in the background for a wee bit of collage effect.
It was quite a growth experience for me, both artistically and personally.
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children's book writer/illustrators?
Don’t be like me! Ha. What I mean is: be more proactive, get your work out there, don’t wait a YEAR before sending something out. I still struggle with this issue – a great deal of my success is because others have found me, not because of me ‘getting my stuff out there’.
I find it SO easy to just talk myself into the blues and thus not send work out because I figure, who the heck is going to like it? It’s a terrible battle I have in my brain. I would also recommend seeking out people who are also interested in writing and/or illustrating for children, be that writer’s groups in person or online, as well as organizations such as CANSCAIP or SCBWI.
I would also add something that I think is pretty important, and it’s an issue that I still grapple with, too – try not to be too obsessed with what is selling in ‘the market’. There is SO much information out there right now, it’s pretty overwhelming.
Be aware of what appears to be selling, but I think what will serve aspiring writers & illustrators best is the strength & confidence to discover one’s own voice, and to develop one’s own unique path & stories. Ultimately there is no ‘set way’ to be published.
It’s really about discovering who you are, and what stories you want to tell. I’m still working this out for myself.
Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?
I’m working on a couple of picture book stories that are very close to my heart – one about a super cute monster and another about a girl & a rhino. I hope they eventually see the light of day. These stories also have a lot of heart and emotion. I think it’s where I’d like to go, if the universe will allow it. Plus I have a lot of picture book ideas which my husband keeps nagging me to develop.
It’s the same old problem for me – I keep thinking they are silly and dumb and no one will like them. I’ve really got to get over it. Regarding upcoming events, well – I’m hosting a launch of my new book, NEVER LET YOU GO at A Different Drummer Bookstore in Burlington on Sunday November 10th at 2:00pm. There will be homemade cupcakes at that event!
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
Since Amazon announced its acquisition of Goodreads back in April, those of us who have been using Goodreads have been waiting in semi-dread for the inevitable sweeping changes that would end destroying a once-thriving book community. Except they haven't happened. So far, Amazon appears to be wisely playing it cautious when it comes to messing with what is already a Good Thing (knock wood).
Anyway, voting is now open in the 5th annual Goodreads Choice Awards! You have three chances to vote, and the Opening Round lasts until November 9th. Semifinals take place Nov.11-16 and Finals are Nov.18-25.
Here are the nominees in categories for children's and YA:
Have to admit I'm baffled by the "& Children's" in the second category. So picture books don't count as children's books? Hm.
Hovering your mouse over any of the covers will pop up the "Want To Read" option, so browsing the nominee lists are a great way to help you decide what to read next.
Speaking of more writing challenges, there's also Robert Lee Brewer's November "Poem A Day" Chapbook Challenge, which is lots of fun. Guidelines here.
For those of you who don't know, every year there are thousands of people who participate in National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo. The Goal: to write 50,000 words during the month of November. NaNoWriMo has grown over the years, and now includes a special section just for young writers.
I participated for a number of years and have had a lot of fun with it. Some experienced writers sneered about the event in the beginning, saying that it was only for amateurs, that a book written in 30 days is going to be garbage, etc. Now more professional writers are participating, some to jumpstart current or new projects. I checked the official NaNoWriMo site just now, and over 190,000 people have registered for this year's NaNo-extravaganza so far.
I completed one novel at an early NaNoWriMo which I ended up revising heavily before sending out through my agent. Although I had quite a few editors say they liked my writing, it never found a publisher and I ended up pulling it out of circulation.
This year I'm not participating because timing isn't right. NaNoWriMo's great for hammering out a first draft of a novel, but right now I'm immersed in writing and illustrating picture books. I do plan to participate again someday, though.
If you have problems motivating yourself to write and have no interest in socializing with other writers, then I'd advise against participating in NaNoWriMo. If you expect NaNoWriMo to be some kind of shortcut for you and have misguided plans to send out your novel right after NaNoWriMo without taking the time to revise, DON'T do NaNoWriMo. Let your mss cool off for a while, then do NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) in March.
If you're the type to get depressed and disillusioned if you don't make the 50,000 wordcount goal by the end of the month, then try my 250, 500 and 1000 words/day challenge instead.
However, if you're looking for a fun motivational writing event and enjoy commiserating with other writer-types online or in person, I heartily encourage you to give NaNoWriMo a try. If you'd like to participate but need to bend the rules (e.g. you've already started your novel, you're writing nonfiction or a bunch of picture book mss instead of one novel, etc.), you can still participate as a NaNoRebel.
If you plan to turn this into something you'd like to submit to agents or editors in the future, I also STRONGLY recommend doing some outlining ahead of time. Even just a one page summary to give yourself a rough idea of the story, especially the ending. This will save you much angst later, trust me.
Another piece of advice: Have some fun! On social media like Twitter, you can easily find others talking about NaNoWriMo by searching for the #NaNoWriMo hashtag. Many are blogging about NaNoWrimo. Some, like my MiGWriters critique partner Christy Farley, are vlogging about their NaNoWriMo experience.
My friend Errol Elumir has a been huuuuuuge supporter of NaNoWriMo for many years, so you should definitely follow some of the projects he's involved with, such as:
(1) NANOTOONS - Daily comics about NaNoWriMo!
(2) If you missed NaNoMusical last year, you can watch it now! All six video episodes are on the NaNoMusical website. I was an extra, and you can see me dancing with my iPad in the first episode here:
(3) If you're on Facebook, check out WrimoSongs. You can listen to NaNoWriMo-themed songs throughout the month plus have the option of purchasing some if you like them (proceeds go to NaNoWriMo).
Debs & Errol - Errol's band website, where he posts daily comics related to whatever is on his mind (nowadays, that's mostly NaNoWriMo). Debs = Deborah Isaac, not me. :-)
Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November. Every day in November, there is a new post from a picture book champion explaining why he/she thinks picture books are important. Founded by Dianne de Las Casas, Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Tara Lazar and Wendy Martin. Logo by Joyce Wan. You can register here.
Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) focuses on writing picture books. The challenge: to come up with a picture book idea every day during November. Get daily inspiration through the guest blog posts by authors, illustrators and picture book professionals on Tara Lazar's blog. Founded by Tara Lazar. Logo by Joyce Wan. You can register here.
I've registered for both. Although I already have picture book projects lined up, I'm always thinking about new book ideas and PiBoIdMo is a good way to get extra-inspired. For Picture Book Month, I'm going to be reading a new or older picture book every day and will also post about why I believe picture books are important.
YAY FOR PICTURE BOOKS!
I won't be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, though I'll be cheering on everyone who is. For those of you doing NaNo, do check out my friend Errol Elumir's NaNoToons, being posted daily. I had to opt out of co-authoring NaNoToons this year because of scheduling, but I'm looking forward to seeing what Errol posts. :-)
I'll bet some of you hadn't heard about the time-honored tradition of All Hallow's Read, whose origins some scholars have traced back as far as this Neil Gaiman post. Basic idea: In the week of Halloween, give someone a scary book.
Here are just a few deliciously scary books for young people that I've mentioned in my blog in the past year:
DOLL BONES, a middle grade novel written by Holly Black and illustrated by my friend Eliza Wheeler, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Read my interview with Eliza here.
THE MONSTORE, a picture book written by Tara Lazar and illustrated by James Burks, published by Aladdin. Read my interview with Tara and James here. (Pssst: Don't worry -- this picture book isn't REALLY scary, so it's safe for even the most timid young readers. :-))
GOBLIN SECRETS and GHOULISH SONG are middle grade books written by William Alexander, published by Margaret K. McElderry Books. Goblin Secrets won the National Book Award For Young People's Literature and its companion novel, GHOULISH SONG, came out earlier this year. Read my interview with William Alexander here.
Speaking of Halloween, feel free to download/print some new Halloween-themed activity sheets I recently uploaded to the I'M BORED Bonus Page.
Although I primarily illustrate using digital methods (Photoshop CS6 with a 7.5" x 11" Intuos Wacom tablet), I'm starting to experiment more with non-digital media on the side. Partly because I like to always be learning something new, to try different techniques, but also because I'm often inspired to try new digital techniques after observing non-digital process.
To illustrators: whether you use digital or non-digital techniques, don't turn your nose up at The Other Side. In my experience, you can always learn something from how other creative types work.
In 2011, for example, I was super-inspired by the Illustrator Intensives at the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. That year, a bunch of experienced children's book illustrators demonstrated their techniques in a hands-on demonstration; you can see my reports about the sessions on KidLitArtists.com.
Kudos to the SCBWI Illustration Board and artists involved for providing this amazing opportunity for illustrators to observe. There were two rooms set up so that while the attendees were in one room, the next artist could be setting up, PLUS cameras set up so we could see a close-up overhead view on a screen as each artist worked. There were a wide variety of techniques and styles from renowned children's book illustrators like Paul O. Zelinsky, Marla Frazee, Richard Jesse Watson, Kadir Nelson, Denise Fleming, David Small and Jerry Pinkney.
I learned from everyone, though I was especially inspired by Richard Jesse Watson's demo because his approach felt closest to mine. I loooved how he used different techniques to add texture to his color, his frenzied creative energy. After seeing his workshop, I started experimenting with how to add more texture to my digital illustrations, including learning how to create my own custom-made digital brushes in Photoshop. I ended up using a lot more interesting textures in illustrations for NAKED!, a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black that comes out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers next year:
Anyway, I recently came across some fascinating watercolor tutorials by Tiffanny Varga. I love the way she how lets different hues of the colors mingle instead of mixing them completely. I'm so going to try this with my real-life watercolor experiments as well as figuring out how to do this effectively with digital watercolor.
Thanks to Children's Illustrators On Fire for the video links!
Had a great time celebrating Canadian children's books at last night's TD Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards gala! This was my second time attending the event, and it was just as fabulous as last year's. Lots of great conversation with kidlit-types before the ceremony began, lots of yummy food and drinks, cheering on the finalists/winners, inspiring speeches. And then champagne and decadent desserts!
I opted to leave my regular camera at home and just use my iPhone 5s to take pics this time. I was pretty happy with how most of them turned out (much better than the flash photos my old iPhone took), though I had to warn people about the double flash...one small pre-flash then the main flash along with the photo being taken. The first flash helps the phone camera determine color temperature.
Anyway, you can see my photos on Flickr and on Facebook. So great to see some of my Torkidlit friends again, plus I enjoyed some new kidlit-types as well. My children's book author-illustrator sister (Ruth Ohi) was there, too:
I also ran into some of the Simon & Schuster Canada team:
Speaking of which, I'm looking forward to attending a mega-celebration bash tonight to celebrate Simon & Schuster Canada's new publishing program!
TD Canadian Children's Literature Award: ONE YEAR IN COAL HARBOUR by Polly Horvath (Groundwood Books)
Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award: MR. ZINGER'S HAT written by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Dusan Petricic (Tundra Books)
Norma Fleck Award For Canadian Children's Non-Fiction: KIDS OF KABUL: LIVING BRAVELY THROUGH A NEVER-ENDING WAR by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books)
Geoffrey Bilson Award For Historical Fiction For Young People: THE LYNCHING OF LOUIE SAM by Elizabeth Stewart (Annick Press)
John Spray Mystery Award: THE LYNCHING OF LOUIE SAM by Elizabeth Stewart (Annick Press)
Monica Hughes Award For Science Fiction and Mystery: SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman (Doubleday Canada)
There was also a special TD Canadian Children's Literature Fan Choice Award given to Polly Horvath for her novel, ONE YEAR IN COAL HARBOUR. And Loris Lesynski (author) and Michael Martchenko (illustrator) gave a short speech about their Annick Press picture book, BOY SOUP, being shared with first grade students across Canada as part of the TD Grade One Book Giveaway. That's 500,000 copies!!
Thanks to TD and the Canadian Children's Book Centre for a fine event, and congrats to all the finalists and winners. You can browse the list of all the finalists at the Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards on the CCBC website as well as more detailed info about the awards, jurors, etc. in this CCBC press release.
I've always been a fan of online communities, and used to be all over the virtual world of Second Life. I rented a virtual cottage, bought virtual land, built a virtual community for writers where I had an educational center that included resources for aspiring children's book writers:
With the SCBWI's blessing, I even created a virtual book with some of their basic info for newbies, and users could actually page through the book and read the contents. Keep in mind that this was BEFORE digital readers became popular.
I also created and sold virtual writing supplies and tools for people's virtual offices. This was way fun because it was sort of like programming (I used to be a programmer/analyst way back) mixed with sculpture and a lots of creativity. You basically took geometric objects and then combined and manipulated them, adding your own textures and scripts.
I made writer-themed jewelry, a portable writing desk and easel, writergeek clothing, a customizable book, laptop whose screen would display a different partly-typed manuscript each time you touched it, and so on. Some I gave away for free, some I sold through the Second Life Marketplace.
Above: One of the rooms in my Inkygirl Haven For Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, where I hosted chats, helped promote other people's children's books (touching any of the book covers above in-world would take the user to the book's website as well as give out a notecard with info). Here's a shot of Inkygirl Haven from the outside:
I later built a river that ran beneath the building, with several small waterfalls and a secret underground cavern. I also set up sounds as well so that, depending on where your avatar was standing, you could hear the water, birds in the trees, etc.
The challenge, I found, was convincing children's book types outside of Second Life to learn how to use the interface well enough to be able to participate in-world. There's a steep learning curve that was a real barrier. I also found that as fun and full of creative potential as Second Life was, I very rarely ran into other kidlit/YA types in-world unless there were scheduled events.
And although there were (early on, anyway) many libraries and educational institutions who had set up buildings and sometimes entire campuses in Second Life, I never seemed to run into anyone when I visited. I always felt like I was wandering through a ghost town. Cool to look at and check out some of the exhibits, but after a while I got tired of never running into anyone.
Plus the lag was getting really, really bad. Sometimes I'd arrive in-world but not be able to do ANYTHING (I couldn't fully rez) because of the lag.
Milkwood Writers' Colony (the group now has a website called Virtual Writers, Inc.) still hosts regular events, and I drop by from time to time; SL lag varies but seems to be improving. It's a lot of fun -- sort of like dropping by your favorite coffee shop for a short writing session with friends. Check out the Virtual Writers list of interactive social events for the upcoming schedule.
I used to write during these sessions but these days I'm more likely to be illustrating in real-life while the others write. Check out the easel I created above, complete with paint stains, brushes and a rag. I didn't write the script but bought it from the SL Marketplace -- when I "wear" the easel, my avatar immediately starts going through the motions of painting. I update my virtual painting on whim.
I've also since created an artists' toolbelt and used it for some shameless promo for I'M BORED. Here's a close-up of a virtual book I had clipped to my belt along with a sketchbook and brushes:
But that brings to me to this afternoon, when I dropped by a Book Island booth I'm renting short-term to help promote my book projects. Just for fun, I browsed the list of upcoming Arts & Culture events on Second Life, and was delighted to find that the Senchai Library on Imagination Island was going to be doing a live voice reading from DOLL BONES by Holly Black, illustrated by my friend Eliza Wheeler!
How cool and bizarre. Here I was, in a virtual world reading about an actual voice reading in a virtual library from a real-life book that was illustrated by someone I knew (!!).
I won't be able to attend the reading (the librarians at Seanchai are very kind and let my avatar paint quietly on my easel in the corner while they do their readings) because I'll be going to a Simon & Schuster event in Toronto, but I love the idea! If you're planning to attend, by the way, note that all times listed on SL are always PST.
Anyway, you can find out more about Eliza's illustrations in DOLL BONES and her own picture book book, MISS MAPLE'S SEEDS, in the interview she did on my blog a while back.
Loved Eliza's creepy illustrations in DOLL BONES, by the way, and Holly Black's story is fantastic. Highly recommended.
But I digress...
I ended up leaving Second Life in favor of Twitter and Facebook because that's where the children's/YA writer community were hanging out, including my agent. I still love the creative potential of Second Life but now that I actually have book contracts (*gasp*), I'm having to pare down my social media time. I've also been shutting down most of my many blogs, including my Second Life blog:
I've started to gradually get vacation-type photos of my avatar reading I'M BORED in various places in Second Life. Like in Paris!
Is it worth it for writers and illustrators to check out Second Life? At this point, I'd say only if you can't help yourself, and if you have time to spare. It's not yet clear if Second Life has a longterm future, though the CEO claims they're still working on improvements.
If you're on Second Life, feel free to add me ("Inkygirl Omizu") as a friend...but be warned that I'm rarely in-world and when I am, I'm usually only online very briefly. Though who knows? Maybe we'll run into each other at a Milkwood Writer Dash or at one of the Book Island chats someday.
Last week on Twitter and Facebook, I asked how many books people were reading right now. I specified books that you were at least partway through and planned to keep reading within the next month. What I hadn't taken into account: the number of editors out there -- several of you said you didn't answer the survey because you were in the midst of reading a LOT of manuscripts. :-)
I was relieved to find out how many others have multiple books on the go. I have at least one print book in pretty much every room in our house, plus I also read books on my iPhone, my Kindle and my iPad.
Most of you have at least 2 books on the go, with 3% having more than 20 (!!!). The majority are in the midst of reading 3-10 books.
@janhoffman29 says that all the book she's reading (5) are about improving her writing, illustrating or teaching methods stronger, or for her understanding of the app generation.
@edenza says she's actively into 3-4 and has at least 3 on "standby," which is her usual.
@nobilis says he's reading 5 and adds: "It's really too many. Reading books by @planetx, @riznphnx, @teemonster and @philippajane, @cmpriest and LeGuin."
Several of you also posted comments on Facebook but I didn't include them here because I wasn't sure if you minded me sharing them. Always comment via my survey form if you don't mind your feedback being shared; you can remain anonymous or you can include your name/Twitter id/website.
You can also see other current and past surveys in the Inkygirl Survey Archives.
Title: AFRICA IS MY HOME: A CHILD OF THE AMISTAD
Author: Monica Edinger / Illustrator: Robert Byrd
Publisher: Candlewick Press, October 2013
Recommended age range: 10 and up
How I wished a book like AFRICA IS MY HOME: A CHILD OF THE AMISTAD existed back when I was a student. Although I got good marks in history, it was only because I excelled at memorizing. And with a few exceptions, that's all history really was to me back in school: memorizing dates and dry facts. It was only years later that I began re-discovering history, mainly through creative nonfiction and videos/movies that inspired me to find out more about a particular period of history.
Monica Edinger's AFRICA IS MY HOME: A CHILD OF THE AMISTAD is a fascinating and moving account of the Amistad Africans from the viewpoint of the children on the ship. Based on the true story of a young girl who is taken from her home in Africa when she is only 9 years old and sold to slave traders, the first-person narrative is gorgeously illustrated by Robert Byrd and also enhanced with reproductions of archival images and documents. I also found the Author's Note interesting, including Edinger's note about why she decided to switch away from telling the story as straight nonfiction.
Anyway, now I want to find out more about the Amistad and that period of history.
Side note: I loved the typeface in which the bulk of text was set. Combined with the exquisite illustrations and thick off-white paper, it makes for a beautiful and satisfying tactile reading experience.