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Entries in five questions (10)


today + five questions with julie morstad

What will today bring?  In her latest book TODAY, in her natural and effortless way, Julie Morstad shows us the beauty of the quotidian, its moments of whimsy and its potential to surprise us with something extraordinary.  But how?  She helps us revel in the possibilities of today.  What should we wear?  What should we eat for breakfast?  Porridge or pizza?  Where should we go?  For a walk in the woods or to the museum?  How will we get there?  By bike or dancing our way there?  She reminds us that each day is remarkable in its own right.

Julie's work resonates with children and adults alike.  Hers are the stories full of wonder that you read to your kids at bedtime and are the same ones that you want to sit down with on your own and linger over, during those last quiet moments of the long day, well after your kids have drifted off to sleep.

Julie graciously stopped by to chat for a bit and answer five questions for us.


How do you come up with ideas for the books that you author and illustrate?

A lot of ideas come from my kids and the other kids I know.  The way they see things.  I also get inspired by everyday things like leaves on the ground, or the moon … random thoughts, art and textiles.


Which illustrators or artists have most influenced your work? 

How can i choose?  Hmm....Alice and Martin Provensen, Gyo Fujikawa, Kenojuak Ashevak, Maurice Sendak, Remy Charlip, Roger Duvoisin, Miroslav Sasek, Ingrid Vang Nyman, Tove Jansson, Evaline Ness, Sonia Delaunay, Saul Steinberg, Paul Klee, Tomi Ungerer, my kids’ drawings.


What drew you to illustrating picture books?

I have alway loved picture books as a medium.  I had a son quite young and we spent a lot of time at the library.  I learned a lot about illustrators by hunting through the library sale tables…treasure!!


What’s a day in the life like for you?

1. Get the kids to school 

2. Get down to work!  I work from home so I have to try hard to stay focused in my house!


Any new projects that you're working on that you can tell us about?

I’m working on a new book with Kyo Maclear (we made Julia, Child together).  It's a picture book bio about Elsa Schiaparelli, the great 20th century fashion designer.  It's super fun.


Thank you, Julie, for stopping by!  You can see Julie’s beautiful work on her site and keep up with her latest on Instagram.


five questions with vikki vansickle


Vikki VanSickle stops by today to answer five questions about the writing process for If I Had a Gryphon, what brought her to children’s publishing and more.  If I Had a Gryphon was published earlier this year and was illustrated by Cale Atkinson.


What was the writing process like for If I Had a Gryphon and how long did it take from idea to publication?

The spark came while I was working at The Flying Dragon Bookshop in Toronto in 2009. I sat in on a lot of storytimes and fell (more) in love with picture books. I really wanted to write one, but I was a bit stuck when it came to ideas. I had written a few middle grade novels, but picture books were new and daunting. At the time, Harry Potter was king and I noticed a lot of younger children wanted storybooks that were Harry Potter-esque, but most of what I could find (Dragonology, Mythology, How to Train Your Dragon) were for older readers or only featured the standard beasts (dragons, unicorns, monsters). These things were all percolating in my head and I decided to write an introduction to magical and mythological creatures for the very young. 

The first draft was essentially a list poem, with a little girl listing magical pet options and how she would look after them in order to convince her father. It was very sweet and fun to write, but it didn't have a great sense of urgency. As I thought about it I realized how challenging it would be to look after some of the creatures. With some advice from a dear writing friend and my agent, I re-ordered the list from low-maintenance to high maintenance to increase the tension from a content perspective.  In terms of structure, I re-wrote it so the dedicated-creature stanzas got shorter and shorter until the last section, in which there's  a new creature every line. This crescendos nicely and gives a sense of chaos. The book is a more fun and has a lot more drive now. 

A number of publishers considered the manuscript, but it wasn't contracted until 2013. Some editors liked the story, but did not like the rhyme. I tried to rewrite it in prose but it didn't feel right to me, it lost some of its magic. Tundra Books had no problem with the rhyme, which was as sign that Gryphon had found the right home. I was thrilled when Cale Atkinson agreed to illustrate. Some of the creatures are historically quite scary, but in his capable hands they were fun, gregarious, and downright cuddly! It is such a privilege to have an artist interpret your words and I could not be more thrilled with the final product. 



What brought you to the world of children’s publishing?

Reading has been the most transformative force in my life. Working in children's publishing, I get to be part of creating the books that will have an impact on another generation.  I've been lucky enough to try many avenues in the wonderful world of children's books. I've worked in a public library as the children's summer programmer, managed an independent children's book store, reviewed kids' books for Canadian literary periodicals, and eventually landed in publishing, all the while writing up a storm. I have loved all of these jobs and have learned valuable things in each one. 



What kinds of books were you drawn to as a child?

I read anything and everything, but I especially liked books featuring cats. A Rose for Pinkerton and Catwings were two favourites. We also had an anthology of poetry that I read over and over again. I loved how a single poem on a single page could contain a whole world. I was mystified that so few words could inspire such big, expansive images in my head. Eventually I became a total mystery nut. I blame it on the fantastic Miss Nelson is Missing, which was the first mystery story I ever read. As I got older I graduated to Nancy Drew. I still love a good mystery! 



What other career avenues do you think you would have pursued if you didn’t work in publishing?

I had intended to be a playwright before I got (happily) sidetracked by children's literature. I also considered teaching or librarianship, as they combined working with books and children, two of my favourite things. Lately I've been fascinated by political speechwriting. I love how mere words can shape ideas and create change. I think it's safe to say that whatever industry I ended up in, there was bound to be a book or writing-related component! 

We loved chatting with you, Vikki, and many thanks for stopping by.  Be sure to check out Vikki’s blog and keep up with her latest on Instagram and Twitter.



five questions with andrea beaty


Author Andrea Beaty stops by to answer five questions about her literary brood of wunderkinds, how she became a writer and more.  Her newest collaboration with illustrator David Roberts, ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST, is out now.

How and why did you decide to become a writer?

While I've always loved books and writing, I never thought about writing professionally until I was about 30. I studied biology and computer science in college and worked for a few years in the software industry. Once I had kids and got to read books with them, I started getting ideas for stories, wrote them and (20 years later) here I am!  Life is always an unexpected journey!


What inspired the stories of Iggy, Rosie and now brilliant little Ada?

Iggy was inspired by my son who loved building things when he was a little kid. Rosie and Ada grew out of David Roberts' amazing illustrations. I spent a lot of time staring at his art to find clues about the kids' personalities. Rosie hides behind her bangs so i asked "Why?" and the story grew from there. Ada is the girl standing to one side and thinking while the other kids are gathering shoestrings to build Iggy's bridge. 


What were some of your favorite books as a kid? 

GO DOG, GO! and HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS were my favorite picture books. For novels, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden were my faves. I think there are some great books from my childhood which still survive today, but by and large, the quality of picture books now is so much better than when I was growing up.


Typically how long is the writing process for one of your books from idea to publication?

The answer to that question is "I have no clue!"  It varies so much from book to book. I've written books in an hour (DOCTOR TED) and taken 10 years to write others (HUSH BABY GHOSTLING). My first picture book took 5 years to reach readers AFTER I sold it. Others have been published in 18 months. 


What have been some of your biggest challenges in the writing process, for any of your books?

Always, my biggest challenge is carving out time to write. I tend to let other things grab my attention and then I get off track. It's a good problem to have, but one I need to work on. 



Thank you, Andrea, for stopping by to chat with us.  You can read about Andrea’s work on her site and keep up with her latest news on Twitter.



Images courtesy of Andrea Beaty, David Roberts and Abrams Books.


five questions with marc martin


The ever thoughtful Marc Martin stops by to chat with us about his work and influences in this week’s Five Questions.  His stunning books include Silent Observer, A River, Max, The Curious Explorer’s Illustrated Guide to Exotic Animals A to Z, A Forest and the forthcoming Lots.


What was your childhood like and did you have any creative endeavors as a kid?

I had a really happy childhood, but I’m an only child, which meant I had to find creative ways of playing and using my imagination without other kids around. I played with Lego a lot, and it enabled me to create worlds in which to exist and dream. I also rode my bicycle quite a bit - I spent many afternoons after school riding around the neighbourhood and exploring my surroundings.


Whoor whathave been the major influences on your work?

This is always changing for me. I used to be influenced by a lot of illustrators and designers, but now I’m probably more interested in fine art than anything else. If I had to name some early inspiration, I’d say all of Miroslav Sasek’s This is series were very influential, as was Jennie Baker’s Where the forest meets the sea. Studying graphic design also gave me an appreciation for modernist art and design, so Ray and Charles Eames, Bruno Munari, Saul Bass and Charley Harper are some of my favourites.


What inspired A River and A Silent Observer?

Silent Observer came about at a time when I was still doing a lot of graphic design work and I needed a creative outlet for other ideas I’d been playing around with. Silent Observer still feels like more of an outline for a story rather than a finished book, but at the time I just needed to make something and get it out in the world.

A River was very different in terms of planning and execution. It was an idea I’d had for a long time, but I think the initial inspiration came from a desire to tell a story about connectedness to landscape and the power of imagination. I also wanted to develop my illustration away from the computer, so A River was a good vehicle challenge myself technically.



Can you tell us how you became an illustrator?

Essentially I became an illustrator because I was growing frustrated as a graphic designer. Being a designer can be challenging if you’re trying to do creative work and constantly being reigned in by a client. With my illustration, I feel like I’ve got more creative control, especially with my books. My ultimate goal is to make work that I like, and let the people who understand that work come to me – if they understand what I do, then they’re more likely to trust my creative decisions.


How do you think your work has changed over the years?

My style and confidence as an illustrator has definitely evolved. I used to do a lot more ‘vector’ work (that’s illustrating with a computer and programs like Adobe Illustrator), but now I’m a lot more comfortable working with paints and pencil.

I think I used to hide behind the computer a bit. I was afraid to make mistakes, and a computer easily gets rid of imperfections, so it was a tempting medium to use. But I also think it limited the kind of illustration I was making – it’s difficult for people to really connect with computer based work, because they can’t see the process behind it, and it often has a cold, clean-edged look to it all. Ultimately I wanted the kind of illustrations I made (and the stories I told with them) to feel more human, so I consciously started stepping away from the computer and doing things by hand. I still use the computer for some things, but it’s a tool amongst many, and not a driver of my illustrative style anymore.


Thanks for stopping by, Marc.  We are very much looking forward to your next book, Lots (due out on October 3rd).  You can find Marc sharing his gorgeous work on his site, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr.

Image courtesy of Marc Martin.


five questions with mac barnett

The inimitable Mac Barnett stopped by to answer five questions for us this week.  Pictured is his first book that started it all, Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem: “the story of a boy and the pet whale that ruins his life.”  If you haven’t read it yet, run out and find a copy right now.  We have yet to send out our request for our own blue whale.

Can you tell us about your educational background and how you became a writer?

I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. In college, I figured out what kind of writer I wanted to be. On my summers off, I was a camp counselor, and it was there that I “wrote” my first stories for children—composed on the spot, for four year olds, usually in hot weather. Tough crowd. 


Were you creative as a kid and what were some of your favorite books growing up?

I went to school far from my house, so I didn’t have many friends in the neighborhood. And it was just me and my mom at home, which meant she was a very busy woman. So I spent a lot of time in my room, either reading books or making up stories. I loved Arnold Lobel, James Marshall, Margaret Wise Brown, Ellen Raskin, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl. Still do.


What were some of the more memorable jobs that you’ve had in the past?

I ran a nonprofit called 826LA, a writing center fronted by a convenience store for time travelers. We sell time travel supplies, and all proceeds fund our educational programming, which is free for kids. Since time travel supplies don’t exist, we had to create most of them—writing copy, designing labels, and assembling them in house. 


What's a typical day like for you?  Does it involve man-eating bathtubs or enormous blue whales?

Most of being a writer is sitting around the house, not writing. I read, I snack, and once a day I leave the house to let my dog run around a forest just up the hill.


What do you like—or love—about where you live?

I live in Berkeley, California. I grew up in the East Bay, and I feel very much like a Californian, although I have no idea what I mean by that. 


Thanks, Mac, for stopping by to chat with us.  Read about Mac's new trilogy with Jon Klassen due out in 2017 from Candlewick Press and be sure to visit his site to keep up on his latest news and upcoming books.