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Entries in five questions (10)


five questions with isabel roxas and minh lê

We are fortunate to have both author Minh Lê and illustrator Isabel Roxas stop by for this week's Five Questions to talk about their latest book, LET ME FINISH!  I hope you enjoy getting to know the people behind the book and the story behind the story as much as I have.

Also, thanks to Isabel, one reader will win a copy of LET ME FINISH! along with a few other surprises.  Head over to @averyandaugustine on Instagram to enter the giveaway.


First, five questions with Isabel Roxas.

As a kid, when did you realize you were a creative type?

I didn’t think about it much as a child. I just did what I found enjoyable—playing in the park, drawing, conjuring worlds with my cousins, and reading—and avoided the things I disliked: piano practice, math tutorials and homework. I loved (and continue to love) learning things, so I took all sorts of after-school lessons from Philippine dance to classical guitar. Somehow only the drawing stuck, and now most of my dancing only happens in the dark. 


How did you become an illustrator?

It was a confluence of things—There was a new bookstore in town called “Young Minds,” and they specialized in children’s books. I started collecting picture books in my freshman year of college, and started a weekly pilgrimage to the store. One day, I saw a group of artists painting a flying dragon mural in the store. I was very impressed by their handiwork and asked how I might do what they were doing. It turns out that they were part of a newly-formed children’s book guild called Ang Illustrator ng Kabataan (Ang INK) or Illustrators for Children. 

They were mostly folks who worked in advertising, artists and art professors, and they let me sit-in their meetings, listening and absorbing. They were all very kind and generous with their knowledge. After attending meetings for about a year or so, I got my first assignment from the Junior Inquirer (The children’s supplement of The Philippine Daily Inquirer) and I never thought to do anything else.


What was it like collaborating with Minh on Let Me Finish?

It was great! Minh is a hilarious, generous and thoughtful writer. He is mindful of what an illustrator can bring to the table—it was a pleasure to work with a manuscript that directed action precisely, but left so much room for my own wild imagining. He was also supportive. It is unusual for authors and illustrators to meet before the book is out, but somehow we did meet while the book was in progress, so we shot secret encouragement emails to each other (shhh...don’t tell our editor).


What are some things you love about where you live now, New York, and where you grew up, the Philippines?

Here in NY I love the individuality of people, and their directness. Not a lot of hemming and hawing—just the truth (most of the time). I also like how people are so driven. It is competitive here, but I also find that there is a camaraderie in the pursuit of one’s passion, and it can wring the best out of us.

As for the Philippines, I love the ingenuity of people and the “make it work” ethos. I also love the abundance and diversity of traditional crafts—some regions are known for the mat weaving, while others are great at pottery and still others specialize in textile weaving. It is basically a nation of artisans. Oh and the food of course! My mother likes to say that “Happiness is a ripe mango” and I couldn’t agree more.


Do you have any new books or projects in the works? 

I have a few pieces in an exhibition curated by Leonard Marcus called The Picture Book Re-Imagined: The Children's Book Legacy of Pratt Institute and the Bank Street College of Education. It just opened and runs through Sept. 15, 2016 at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery.

I am writing my own stories (more about those at a later date), while also working on a book for Adarna House in the Philippines all about street vendors and the things they do all day. 


Now over to five questions with Minh Lê.

Congratulations on your your debut children’s book (which is amazing, by the way).  Can you tell us a little bit about how you decided to start writing picture books?

Thanks so much, I'm so glad you enjoyed the book... and thanks for having me in for a chat!  

I've been a fan of picture books my entire life, but it wasn't until I was a senior in college that I started to seriously think about publishing a children's book. But life has a way of taking you in different directions and I headed down a very rewarding career in education and policy. But I never let go of that idea of writing a children's book. 

Along the way, I starting writing about picture books and for the past ten years I've had the chance to review picture book on my blog, for the Huffington Post, and recently for the New York Times. But it wasn't until a few years ago that I finally decided (with a helpful kick in the pants from my wonderful wife) to pick one of the ideas I had bouncing around in my head and actually send it out into the world. 


What inspired the story in Let Me Finish?

I think at the time I was brainstorming, people were freaking out about spoilers for either Downton Abbey or Breaking Bad, but I was also inspired by the fervor around each Harry Potter release and how people would camp out to get through a book before anyone could spoil the ending. I loved seeing the tension between love for something (books, TV shows, etc.) and how it's a double edged sword when that love makes you want to share with other people. 

This is nothing new, but it feels particularly prevalent these days with how given how we engage on social media. So I thought that tension would make a good starting point for a book. Whether or not children fully grasp the concept of spoilers, I thought the dynamic would make for a good read aloud, and I loved the idea of writing a book where reading was the commodity.


What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing the book?

Part of the reason I didn't get around to sending out any manuscripts into the world was that I grew up drawing and painting so I always had it in my head that I would do the writing and illustrating for a book. But I never put the time and effort into my art to get me anywhere close to the realm of an actual professional illustrator. So every idea I had would die on the vine when I tried unsuccessfully to put that idea down on paper.

Realizing that my end goal was to create a book, not necessarily to illustrate a book was the breakthrough moment for me (again, credit goes to my wife for helping me come to this realization. Seriously, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere without her.) So realizing that I could write the text for a picture book and partner with an illustrator was a revelation. And then to get to work with someone as fantastic as Isabel Roxas is an absolute dream. 

I could go on and on about Isabel (she's like family now), but I'll just say this about the collaborative process. People often ask me what it's like to have someone else illustrate my book. And I tell them that they're looking at it wrong: It's not that an illustrator is illustrating MY book, but more that my text is creating space for an illustrator to work their magic and bring OUR story to life. As someone who loves picture books and values the interplay between text and image, I personally think that's the only way for a picture book collaboration to truly work.


Who are some of the writers who have influenced you the most?

Hoo boy... with the full understanding that I will revisit this list and want to add to it as soon as I submit it to you, here's a start: Crockett Johnson, Vera Williams, Helen Oyeyemi, David Foster Wallace, Astrid Lindgren, Mac Barnett, Orhan Pamuk, Eiji Yoshikawa, Beverly Cleary, Gene Luen Yang, Evaline Ness, Thomas Wolfe...


What are you reading at the moment?

Funny that you ask. I was just asked to compile my summer reading list for School Library Journal (I always love those lists so was super-psyched to be invited to join in the fun this year), so here's what's on my list at the moment:

I'm on a fiction kick right now, so when I come up for air from my sea of picture books, I'm reading What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (who I consider a storytelling wizard) and Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (robots!). 

I've also been making a point to read more middle grade/YA, so I've started Melissa Sweet's charming Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White and have my sights set on The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, and Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung.

And because I'm always scrambling to fill the many gaps in my reading background, some older titles on my list are: Thomas Wolfe's Of Time and the River (his follow up to Look Homeward Angel, which is one of my all-time favorites), Cane by Jean Toomer, and Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (maybe then I won’t have to hang my head in shame whenever I’m in kidlit circles).


Thank you, Isabel and Minh, for giving us such wonderful insights into your backgrounds, the collaborative process and what inspires both of you.


five questions with ben clanton

Ben Clanton stopped by to talk mail and narwhals in this week’s Five Questions.  The scores of clever details in his latest book IT CAME IN THE MAIL make it a joy to reread, with new treasures to stumble upon each time.  I hope you enjoy getting to know the person behind the book and the story behind the story as much as I have.


How did the idea for It Came in the Mail come about?

It Came in the Mail is in many ways a sort of love letter to mail itself (yep, pretty meta, especially as Liam writes a letter to his mailbox in the book). Like most love letters it came about one day while I was daydreaming about my amore (hope my wife forgives me for this analogy). I adore getting mail and sending it, but more than anything I love that moment just before opening the mailbox when anything could be in there. Thoughts about that magical moment were banging about my brain while I was doodling in my sketchbook and somehow all those intangible 'what ifs' became a drawing of a dragon poking its head out of a mailbox. Right away I knew there was a story involving that dragon and mailbox that I had to tell. 



There are so many meaningful details in It Came in the Mail.  Can you tell us the story behind some of them?

I love it when books have little special details that can be discovered in rereads and It Came in the Mail really lent itself well to putting lots of little easter eggs in. For instance, on some of the items Liam receives in the mail there are postage stamps and I wanted to have some fun with those stamps. I ended up using drawings kid readers had sent me in the mail and some drawings from my childhood for the images in the stamps. The illustrations on the stamps also generally fit with what the stamp is on so a dino drawing stamp on the triceratops skull and a king stamp on the crown. It is hard to make out too much detail on the stamps and I doubt many people will notice them or at least get the significance, but they are one of the parts of the book I am particularly fond of. Also, I included some shout-outs to friends and family. At one point the huge rubber duck has a label on it that says 'for Sutter' and it so happens that my brother-in-law is named Sutter and he collects rubber ducks. There is also a dancing blueberry on that same page which Liam's friend Jamel says Amelia would love and I have a dear friend named Amelia who I think would appreciate a dancing blueberry. You might also notice that the name Liam spells a different word when spelled backwards. Had to go with that name for him as soon as I happened upon that. Oh, and some characters from other books of mine make cameos such as the bird from Something Extraordinary and naturally I had to have a couple mustaches make it in, which I have done with most of my books ever since Mo's Mustache. Other little details . . . there is a mini visual story about a hat stealing crab in the book which is a shout-out to Jon Klassen's 'hat books', the crown and some overarching design elements are a nod to Where the Wild Things Are which is a favorite of mine, and I included a real stamp of Benjamin Franklin in one of the illustrations because he was the very first Postmaster General for the United States. AND related to the Benjamin Franklin stamp is the illustration of the mailbox on the tile page on which the number 726 appears for Liam's address which July 26th is the day the U.S. Post Office was created. Weirdly I just bought my very first house a couple months ago and the number of the address happens to be 762, which has rather messed me up when telling people my new address as I seem to always want to say 726 instead of 762. There are oodles of other little things but I will stop myself there. Oh, except I did want to mention that there are a couple Charlie Brown references in the book, which I was pretty sure was mandatory when doing a mail-themed book.



Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book, Narwhal, Unicorn of the Sea?

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea (coming October 4th!) is the first of an early graphic novel series about Narwhal the narwhal and Jelly the jellyfish. The two make for unlikely friends, especially as they each think the other is imaginary and while Narwhal is very happy-go-lucky, Jelly is no-nonsense.  I call the book an early graphic novel but the format is really hard to pin down. It is a bit like a picture book but with panels and multiple comic-like stories and twice as long. Things you will find in the first Narwhal and Jelly book . . . waffles (oodles of waffles!), a giant robot, the 'best book ever' which happens not to have any words or pictures, and loads of podtastic silliness. I'm currently diving into final art for the second Narwhal and Jelly book called Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt.



What are you reading at the moment?

I listen to loads of books while illustrating. Recently I've been binge listening to books by Brandon Sanderson and Orson Scott Card, but currently I'm trying out a book by B. V. Larson called Battle Cruiser. And because I need something lighthearted to break things up I've been listening to Roald Dahl books too. I'm also reading some books about being a dad as I'm as of two months now a new father. And as for picture books I've been rereading a lot of Bill Peet.


If you weren't writing/illustrating children's books, what do you think you would be doing?

I love playing basketball so I would totally go for being a professional basketball player, but in actuality I doubt that was ever in the cards for me. Most likely I would be doing something creative or kid-related or likely the two together . . . teacher? Librarian? I also have a huge passion for all things aquatic and think being a marine biologist would be pretty great. So maybe I would be teaching kids and octopi how to play basketball? 


Thanks for stopping by, Ben.  We’re looking forward to Narwhal and Jelly’s adventures in October!  Follow Ben on InstagramTwitter and his blog Squiggles & Scribbles to keep up to date on his latest doodles, illustrations and projects.


five questions with eric and terry fan

This is the third installment in our new series, Five Questions.  Today we're interviewing Eric and Terry Fan, brothers and illustrators of The Night Gardener.  I hope you all enjoy getting to know the people behind the book and the "story behind the story" as much as I have.  

What inspired The Night Gardener?

About eight years ago when I was primarily doing t-shirt design, I did a design called Lonely Planet that featured a topiary owl:

Terry liked the image and we decided to do a collaboration together based on it called "The Night Gardener."

It was a stand-alone image, but even at the time we thought there might be a story around that image, but we really didn't give it a lot of thought until many years later when our agent, Kirsten Hall, saw our work online and asked if we wanted representation. She had just started her new agency Catbird Productions, which represented artists in the children's book field. She asked us if we had any story ideas for a book, and the drawing we had done of the man shaping a tree into an owl came to mind.

When we started thinking of the story to build around that image, our dad became the primary inspiration for the character of the Night Gardener himself. Our dad is a philosophy professor, but is also a parrot-breeder, a skilled potter, a bee keeper, and most of all has a special love of nature and trees. He retired back to Taiwan fifteen years ago, but growing up in Toronto our house was always filled with plants, trees, and various bonsai. I think he missed the lush greenery of Taiwan in Toronto, and compensated by turning our house into something of a jungle. There was even a parrot flying free, and a hummingbird named Woodstock that he had rescued, along with a tame chickadee named head-a-hopper who was true to his name since he would fly from one person’s head to another.

Previous to this, Terry had done the cover and chapter illustrations for a book called Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (Simon & Schuster). Lizzy Bromley was the art director for Rooftoppers, so when Kirsten pitched The Night Gardener, she decided to approach Lizzy and also editor Christian Trimmer. Luckily for us they loved it and the rest is history. 


What was it like collaborating with your brother on the art in The Night Gardener?

The question we probably get asked more than any other is "how do you two work together?" For us it seemed quite natural since we've worked collaboratively on many projects since we were kids. Our first collaboration was actually a picture book we made when we were very young called Many Years Ago. It was a book about dinosaurs, naturally. Terry and I did the drawings and our mom did the text and put the book together for us. We also decorated our bedroom walls with drawings of fish and whales to turn it into an undersea world, and we spent hours creating imaginary worlds that we drew maps for and planned down to the last detail. So working on The Night Gardener was part of that continuum. As far as the actual process of the book, sometimes we worked on the same drawing together, and other times we'd complete separate elements independently. Our illustrations are done partly in a digital environment, so that gave us the flexibility to marry different elements of a drawing into a composite whole, using Photoshop. 


Can you tell us a bit about your new book The Darkest Dark and how you came up with the art for the story? 

The story is about Chris Hadfield, and how he overcame his fear of the dark, and what inspired him to become an astronaut. The story comes from his childhood, based on actual events (seeing the moon landing in 1969 while at his cottage on Stag Island) so we wanted to get the environment right and have a certain level of verisimilitude. Luckily the Hadfields were incredibly generous and invited us up to their family cottage on Stag Island, which has changed very little over the years. It was a great source of inspiration and reference. We saw his childhood bedroom, the neighbour's cottage where he actually watched the moon landing, even little details like the dinner bell his parents used to call the family to the dinner table. Chris also took us flying one day in a four-seat Cirrus, and I got to pilot the plane for ten minutes, much to Terry's horror. 

After gathering all the pertinent reference, and talking to Chris about his childhood, it was then a process of integrating the autobiographical details with the imaginative elements of the story, and finding a way to visualize a boy's fear of the dark in a tangible way.


Any new books or projects in the works?

Right now we're working on a wonderful book called The Antlered Ship, by Dashka Slater. It's being published in the Fall of 2017 by Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. After that we have our next book with Simon & Schuster that we wrote ourselves called Ocean Meets Sky.


Thank you, Eric and Terry, for stopping by to chat with us.  We're looking forward to The Darkest Dark!


five questions with julie falatko

This is the second installment in our new series, Five Questions.  Today we’re interviewing Julie Fatlatko, author of Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!).  I hope you all enjoy getting to know the person behind the book and the "story behind the story" as much as I have.  


How did Snappsy come to be?

In 2012 I had immersed myself in children’s literature. I got huge stacks of picture books from the library every week, and was writing as much as I could. I wrote a lot of bad stories, then a lot of not-great stories, and then some pretty-okay stories It was in the middle of all that, thinking about all the books I’d read, and about how I mostly liked picture books that are funny and smart, that the idea for Snappsy came to me.


What does your background include besides being a writer?

I was an English major in college and got my masters in library science in 2010. And I’ve always loved reading and writing. (I guess the not-so-secret secret here is that it’s possible that writing children’s books is the only job I’m actually qualified to do.)


What books are you reading to your children at the moment?  (Or, what are their current favorite books?)

I have four children, so you’re going to get a varied list here.

Ramona, who’s 6, is loving A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman, illustrated by Corey R. Tabor, Where’s the Party? by Ruth Chan, Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli, and Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson.

Zuzu, age 8, is nose-deep in The Harry Potter Character Vault and The Harry Potter Artifact Vault, and also Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manual Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (we’re all reading that, actually). She also loves the Zebrafish graphic novels from FableVision.

Eli, age 10, just read Hoot and Flush by Carl Hiaasen, and loves anything related to World War II (he especially liked The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose). He also loves the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series, and any book that starts with “graphic” and ends with “novel.” 

Henry, who’s 12, is reading the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, and loves non-fiction science encyclopedias like the DK/Smithsonian Natural History or History of the World in 1,000 Objects.


What is the best piece of advice anyone’s ever given you?

The best advice I’ve gotten is to take the word “aspiring” out of my description of myself as an author. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. An aspiring author is someone who thinks sitting at the coffee shop with a laptop sounds like something that might happen someday ten years from now. To take yourself seriously as a writer, do it, right now, today. 


Any hidden talents we should know about? 😉

I’m pretty open about everything, so I’m not sure any of my “talents” are hidden. One thing I’m good at, which maybe is unusual, is public speaking. I love being on stage in front of a microphone (or just talking really loud). You know how public speaking is regularly listed as people’s number one fear? I’ve tried, but I really don’t get it. If anything, I fear not public speaking (like, I don’t know, a situation where everyone else gets to talk to a crowd, and I’m left out). I have fears of clowns, old dirty pennies that are weirdly damp, milk in sippy cups, and a strange rustling in tall grass. But I love public speaking. Is that a hidden talent? Maybe for a writer who spends the majority of her days sitting at a desk?


So great getting to know you, Julie.  And thanks for making us laugh!


five questions with deborah marcero

I’m starting a new series called Five Questions in which I’ll be interviewing a different author or illustrator every week.  The first interview of the series is with the lovely and very thoughtful Deborah Marcero, author/illustrator of Ursa’s Light.  I hope you all enjoy getting to know the person behind the book and the "story behind the story" as much as I have.


What five words do you think best describe your work?

Graphic, Modern, Emotive, Whimsical, Quiet


What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading “The River” by Alessandro Sanna, “Cloth Lullaby, The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois” by  Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, and “Komodo!” by Peter Sis.


What were some of your favorite books as a kid?

My favorite stories were the ones that my dad would tell us before bedtime.  He would make up these wonderful stories on the spot; I still vividly remember the characters he painted in my imagination.  I also remember loving "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" and "Curious George".  I grew into an avid reader, and in Elementary School my favorites were "Where The Red Fern Grows", "The Hundred Dresses" and "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry".  Those books still live inside my heart today. 


I read that you were a lead literacy teacher in the Chicago public schools.  What were some of the most important lessons you learned as a teacher?

I learned so many lessons as a teacher in CPS.  I learned kids have a difficult time learning and engaging when they don’t feel safe.  And they so often didn’t feel safe.

I learned that teaching fiction writing was probably my favorite unit. When we would write stories together as a class, everyone lit up. There was such joy and enthusiasm for the whole process. What astonished me even more was that the next year, they would say, “Ms. M. remember when we wrote that story together about Jerome?”  And they would retell it to me, down to every last detail.

I learned that a good story has the power to teach and connect all of us. 

Finally, when I led the Young Authors enrichment after-school program, I built a curriculum to lead students through the process of writing and illustrating their own stories.  In creating and teaching this curriculum to students, I realized that writing and illustrating books was what I wanted to do. I could feel the work in me, like a sleeping dragon that wanted to wake up and set fire to the world.


If you could live in any city in the world for a year, where would it be?

I absolutely love to travel, explore and discover new places.  I am also a photographer and outdoor enthusiast, so I am drawn to places where I can enjoy a vibrant city pulse AND take advantage of the landscapes around it (ideally: water and mountains). I love to hike, kayak, swim, ski and simply walk in nature. “Walden” was one of my favorite texts in college, if that says anything. Connecting to the natural world connects me to myself – this simple deliberate act inspires, recharges and slows down time all at once.

Based on these initial criteria, right now I’d have to say it’s a tie between Vancouver, Canada and Queenstown, New Zealand.  Guess I’ll just have to go for two years. 


It has been wonderful getting to know you, Deborah, and it's been inspiring to hear about your impactful work as a teacher.  We are big Ursa fans and can't wait for Rosie and Crayon!

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