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Monday, April 30, 2012

Where In the World Is Blue??

I am very excited to announce Blue & Egg's new travel blog, "Where in the World is Blue?"!!

Want to find out where Blue & Egg will go next?  Well, that's up to you!  Print out the Blue & Egg Paper Dolls (see the links below), cut them out, and then take a photo of Blue and/or Egg in a favorite or new place anywhere in the world.  Email your photo to me at and check back to see when your photo has posted!

I can't wait to see where Blue goes next!

To check out Blue & Egg's new blog:

To print out your very own Blue & Egg Paper Dolls:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When Blue Met Egg: From Start to Finish

I have been meaning to do this post for a while now. There is so much that goes into making a picture book that readers never actually see. Sometimes illustrations are swapped out, text is edited, layouts are redesigned, and so forth. Picture books go through many different hands, rounds of edits, and revisions before they are the nicely packaged book you hold in your hands at the bookstore. Recently I was at a dinner where someone said to me how easy it must be to write and illustrate picture books. I mean they are for kids, how hard can it be? This is my response to that idiot:

IDEA. That's where it all starts, right? We as writers and illustrators are observers of the world around us, using experiences from life as our inspiration. I have never written a picture book that didn't directly relate to me in some way or another. Recently I responded to questionaire that my editor asked me to fill out about working on When Blue Met Egg for the Penguin website. The first question was about my inspiration for Blue:

"Between my junior and senior year of college I moved to New York City for the summer working as an intern at an art gallery. Although I grew up in the Bay Area, I had never been to a city that felt as big as New York. I was so small compared to all the skyscrapers that surrounded me. I lived on the Upper Westside so I spent a lot of time near Central Park. I think the combination of the setting and the way I felt that summer led me to write When Blue Met Egg. I loved the idea of a small character navigating a large city confidently. By the time I left New York I was so proud of the fact that I knew my way around and wasn’t afraid to explore new places. That is how I wanted Blue to be – brave, confident, and always willing to make new friends."

MANUSCRIPT. It took me about four years to write the final draft of Blue. The first versions were awful. I mean scary bad. Those will go with me to the grave. When my agent, Mary Kole, took me on as a client I told her about this story I was working on about a bird in Central Park. She loved the idea of it, but I knew it was no where near being ready to show her. I mean I wanted her to keep me as a client not go running for the hills! So we sold Pelly and Mr. Harrison Visit the Moon, and Blue stayed buried deep in the files of my computer. After Pelly came out Mary started nudging me again. "What about that Central Park story?"

So I took another crack at it, and finally after a few more drafts we were ready to go out on submission with it. Enter fabulous editor, Nancy Conescu from Dial Books for Young Readers. Nancy believed in Blue just as much as Mary and I did. I actually didn't really have much of a dummy when Nancy saw the manuscript, but she had seen my illustration work and was willing to make an offer after only seeing the story and a couple drawings. Needless to say I was ecstatic! I don't think there are words for the way you feel when you sell your first book to one of the big six publishing houses. The whole experience was amazing.

CHARACTER STUDY. Usually I work on character sketches and send them out along with the dummy on submission. However, as I mentioned above Blue received interest before I had finished a lot of preliminary drawings. Character studies are essential. My best work comes when I know my characters inside and out. If I have taken the time to draw them in various situations, with different facial expressions, then I will be able to draw them effortlessly when I sit down to do the sketches and finishes. Pencil line tells you everything about the artist's familiarity with their character. If you see hesitation in the line, then usually it's because they rushed the work. Lines should be fluid and natural in a well drawn character. A great example of this is Suzy Lee's work. Look at a copy of Wave and you will see exactly what I am talking about.

These are the dummies I created for Pelly and Mr. Harrison Visit the Moon and A Garden For Pig.

DUMMY. Can I just say that I love how much this term makes children giggle when I mention it during school visits, especially among second graders. Hilarious. A "Dummy" is a sketched version of the book with the text laid out on each page that an author/illustrator sends to the publisher to give them a sense of what they want the book to look like. Of course the dummy will more than likely change quite a bit before going to print, but it's the starting point for any picture book.

Dummies are like guidebooks for illustrators. For me the initial dummy is actually the hardest part of the entire process. Anytime I start with a blank page, it's always intimidating. There are so many things involved with getting the dummy right that it can be overwhelming. I'm constantly worrying about pacing, page turn, layout, book design, and so on and so on. The list seems endless. A dummy represents all the possibilities of what the book can be. I try to take it one spread a time, however the book must work together as whole, obviously. So there is a lot of drawing and then taking a step back to make sure it fits with the rest of the drawings. I physically build my book dummies, usually scaled at half the trim size of the book, so that I can flip through them, read them aloud, and fix any pacing issues.

EDITORIAL LETTER. Editorial letters are generally not fun to go through. Most writers I know, especially novelists, fear them. They are letters you get from your editor/art director/book designer/copy editor that point out all the flaws in the drawings and/or text. Usually they are extremely detailed and specific. That being said, just because they aren't fun to read or have to make changes because of, they are usually in the best interest of the book. Every editorial letter I have ever received made the book a million times better. My personal favorite is the copy editor's comments. Here are a few favorites I received with regards to Blue:

"Due to inflation, the view finder would cost .50 rather than .25." I mean who notices that!

"The torch is in the wrong hand on the Statue of Liberty."

"The harbor would have more boats in it during this time of year."

I think of a copy editor's job as a real-life Where's Waldo?. It amazes me what they find.

REVISIONS. I can't say this word enough. Revisions are the bulk of creating a picture book. The initial revisions in a picture book are after receiving the editorial letter. Because I am an author/illustrator mine always include both text and art notes.

SKETCHES. I draw all of my final sketches to scale on tracing paper. The tracing paper helps me significantly when I go from the sketches to the cut paper finishes. Here is one of the original sketches from Blue that never made it into the book:

During sketch revisions, my editor suggested using a location in Central Park (specifically the carousel) instead of the Natural History Museum (shown above) for pacing reasons. Now let me preface this by saying that every artist has their thing that is just impossible to draw so they avoid it at all costs. Mine was horses. So you can imagine my reaction when my editor asked me to draw a whole carousel full of them. Here is the original carousel sketch that I did:

Remember what I said about revisions?

After lots of sketching, I realized she was right and it made the book better. I couldn’t be happier with the way that spread turned out. Also, after drawing horses repeatedly for this spread, I’m proud to say I’m no longer intimidated by drawing the anatomy of a horse.

COLOR STUDIES. Because I work in mixed media and cut paper I spend a lot of time collecting vintage, found, and antique paper. For Blue, I used old school test sheets from the 1950s, crossword puzzles, maps of New York from the 1930s, and vintage graph paper. I have quite a bit of it exploding from bins in my studio. After I find all the paper I want to use in a book I create a color swatch:

This is essentially a guide book for me so that I can keep track of all the types of paper I have used for each part of the book.  Here is a bit of the evolution of Blue:

There is a lot of layering in cut paper so it can be hard to know what I used for a particular object if I don't have a record of it. I have learned this the hard way. Let me tell you, ripping up spreads is NOT fun. Okay, maybe a bit therapeutic depending on how I feel about the way the spread is looking, but frustrating nonetheless. So instead of gluing all the paper down before approval by the art director and/or editor, I tape it all down, scan it, and wait for the verdict. It looks a bit like this during this stage (notice the white tape everywhere):

FINISHES. Yay! We made it! Going to finishes is a funny thing, because at first it feels like crossing a finish line after all the sketching and color studies, but really it's just the beginning of a lot of work. I turn into this totally neurotic person and obsess over each spread, wanting everything to be perfect. Needless to say I'm a bit stressed when I'm working on the finishes. Here is the gatefold spread of the Brooklyn Bridge before and after adding the snow:

In case you were wondering, no, I did not cut all those tiny white dots out of paper. Toothbrushes can be used for other than brushing your teeth. This is by far the hardest spread I did for the book. But it is also my favorite. The bridge itself is one single piece of paper that I cut using an e-xacto knife. Let's just say I had quite a few cuts on my fingers afterwards.

TEXT LAYOUT. This is one of my favorite parts, which is funny because I don't even do it. I LOVE typography. So the font is very important to me. Luckily, I have an amazing book designer, Mina Chung, who I work with at Dial. She is responsible for the fabulous text layout and font choice in Blue. Here's a before and after:

Once all the finishes have been approved. The artwork is mailed to the publisher. It is rather scary entrusting USPS, Fed-Ex, or UPS with this. I'm sure these people are very good at their job, but sending original artwork always makes me really nervous. I've heard horror stories. I'm usually antsy until I know the artwork has arrived.

F&G. Which stands for "folded and gathered." This is what the book looks like before it is bound. It is pretty spectacular when the F&G finally arrives. At this point any color corrections needed have been made to the color proofs.

And then all the hard work turns into a picture book. It is truly amazing to open a box of author copies. Not to mention walking into a bookstore and seeing it on a shelf for the first time which is completely magical. Seriously. I can't even properly describe it.

 So, now that I have written probably the longest blog post ever, still think it's easy?

 No, I didn't think so.

Wondering about the cover for Blue?  Check back next week for a post on making the cover from start to finish.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Mouse in My House: A True Life Story, Not a Children's Book Title

There is a mouse in my house. Now please let me preface this by saying that my house is not gross, the type-A in me keeps it rather tidy. I wash the dishes, sweep the floor, and keep my kitchen counters clean. Yet a mouse has moved in.

It appeared a couple days ago while we were making dinner, running right out from under the refrigerator into the bathroom next to the kitchen. Suddenly my enchiladas had lost their appeal. I hopped up on the counter where I proceeded to freak out and tell my boyfriend, Frank, what to do in order to catch the mouse. Because obviously the "screaming freak out" version of myself gives logical directions on how to properly catch a mouse. Frank proceeded to find a mouse trap down in our basement (from the looks of the rust on it, it's probably 100 years old) and put some peanut butter on it to try and lure in the mouse. And may I mention that it was really good peanut butter. None of that Jiffy or Skippy crap, but The Peanut Butter & Co. Maple Peanut Butter (it's heaven in a jar if you haven't tried it). We thought if he was going to walk into a trap the least we could do was give him the good peanut butter.

So we put it in the bathroom, stuffed a towel beneath the door, and waited. A couple hours went by. Not even a peep. Now I know this sounds awful. Trust me I didn't want to hear the sound of the trap either. The mouse, for those two seconds I saw him, was in fact rather cute and little with giant pink ears. But he is a mouse! I don't care if Cinderella hangs out with them on a regular basis singing songs, they are filthy! Who knows where this mouse has been?!

And that's when it hit me. Why is it in all the stories we read or movies we see (animated ones of course) are mice these cute and cuddly creatures that no one seems to freak out about when they see them scurrying across the floor? I'm sorry, but you can't tell me that Cinderella, were she not an animated Disney character, as a woman would like having mice crawl on her. No way! There is some serious misrepresentation going on out there.

Later that night we actually walked to the side of the house and peeked in the window to see if the mouse was still there. We probably looked like burglars. There I am sitting on Frank's shoulder's cupping my hands to the window in fear of something no bigger than a quarter. I won't get into the ridiculousness of being afraid of something this small. I already feel silly enough as it is. But somehow the mouse had gotten out. Being tiny has its advantages.

This all happened two days ago. Yesterday, no mouse, who by the way, we have started calling Mr. Mouse. I was stupid enough to think he left, moving on to bigger better kitchens full of crumbs. I was even walking around barefoot again. Life was good.

And then I got home tonight, and who was trying to get into my tasty caramelized onion and blue cheese focaccia? Mr. Mouse!! So there I am, up on the counter again. Frank, broom in hand, swatting the floor. And yet he had done it again. Completely disappeared. Nowhere to be found.

Some way or another I WILL find you Mr. Mouse...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Review: Outside Your Window A First Book of Nature

If you haven't seen Outside Your Window A First Book of Nature go check it out immediately! This is my favorite picture book of the year so far. With poetry written by Nicola Davies and illustrations by Mark Hearld, this book is absolutely stunning. The book is broken up into the four seasons with the artwork reflecting the change in color each season brings. Davies' poems are playful and delightful, each one so observant of the world, as if you are reading through the eyes of a child. Below is one of my favorites:

Tide Pooling

Along the beach are pools the sea has left behind,
caught between the rocks or scooped in sand.

There are wide pools, where the weeds wave like a forest
and small fish swim like flocks of birds.

There are deep pools, with dark ravines and canyons
where the fiercest crabs can hide and snap their claws.

There are pools all filled with sunlight
and the sudden sparkle of backward-swimming shrimp.

Each pool is a little world all of its own,
and you can be the first person to discover it.

Reading this took me back to when I was little, searching the beach for pools of life during low tide. I love the description of tide pools being little worlds that you can discover. That is exactly how I saw them as a child. This is just one of the many wonderful poems in this book.

But before I read all the beautiful poetry, I was attracted to the art. The illustrations are GORGEOUS! I can't even begin to tell you how much I love them. I want to take every spread in this book and hang them on my walls! Here are a couple to give you just a taste...

Hearld creates his illustrations using mixed media, collage, as well as various printmaking techniques. His brush strokes on top of the collage and print work are delicate and whimsical. I felt like I was looking at a visual description of The Secret Garden. Wonderful creatures surrounded by a world full of color. I love that Hearld describes himself as somewhat of a magpie, collecting bits and pieces of material to use for his illustrations. As a cut paper/mixed media artist, I thought, that is the perfect description of what I do too!

I hope this post has inspired you to check out this wonderful book, it is a must have for any picture book lover.

Click here to view a video on how Mark Hearld creates his artwork

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What's on my bookshelf...

Although I have been super busy, drawing up a million polar bears, finishing sketches for THE GREAT POLAR ESCAPE, I have also been reading a ton. It's my way to unwind at the end of the day after being in my own head so much working on characters and what not. And lately I have been reading so many fabulous things. I love when that happens! Especially since I am one of those readers who once I decide to begin a book I will make myself read all of it even if I don't like it, because you just never know. Sometimes endings change everything. I have had a few stingers like that in the past.

I also keep a book of books, meaning I write down every book I've read, the author, date I read it, and whether or not it's a children's or adult book in a composition book. I started doing this in the summer of 2008 for two reason, one, when I was working at bookstores it was a great way to keep track of all the galleys I had read, and two, I had a lot of friends ask me how many books I actually read each year. So I got curious. And started keeping count. Currently I have read 379 since July 2008. The owner of the book shop I worked at in Boston has been doing this since she was 12!

So because of all the fabulous books I have had the pleasure of reading lately, I thought I would share a few. Some new, some old...but all wonderful!

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

As if I really need to say how amazing this book is, I mean not only did it win a Newbery Honor this year but it won the National Book Award. This story is told entirely in verse in the voice of a hilarious and stubborn little girl named Ha who lives in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The book begins with Ha and her family celebrating the new year, which turns out to be life changing. The war becomes so close that Ha's family must flee the country and head for America, praying a sponsor will choose them, eventually ending up in Alabama. The juxtaposition of Ha's life in Vietnam verses Alabama is eye opening. I generally love any book that presents the untold perspective. In other words, most books I come across about the Vietnam War are about people in the states dealing with family members fighting abroad, but this was a truly unique book, simply for the fact that it was told from the perspective of a child who is ripped from her homeland (a wondrous and magical place filled with papayas, which Ha constantly misses) to a completely foreign place, where she is taunted at school for her dark arm hair, accent, and other various characteristics that make her stand out. I loved Ha the moment I met her and her story is one that everyone should read. Readers will find the story more powerful upon finding out that most of it is based off the author's experiences as a child.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Oh John Green, how you break my heart every time. I really should know better at this point. I mean I have read all his other books, and he always makes me cry. But this one was on another level. This story will make you sob, A LOT. When purchasing this book I recommend buying a box of tissues simultaneously. In fact bookstores should just offer the two as a package deal. When I read the jacket I knew the main character, Hazel, had almost died from cancer and when the book begins, is in remission. Like I said, I should have known better. But I bought it and waited for the right time to read it, because John Green books are like a good wine, you have to be ready for them, or they will kick your ass, and even then you might not be prepared. I immediately loved the main characters, I mean who doesn't love the names Hazel and Augustus. The entire book I was reading about this girl who has been sick most of her teenage life and all I'm thinking is "great, I'm becoming attached to a character that is going to die." AND THEN BAMM! John Green throws my preconceived notions out the door leaving me devastated. Now I know that all I have done is tell you how much this book will make you cry, but if you don't read it you are missing out. It is so wonderfully written and lovely. I literally hugged it after I finished it, which is my barometer for a good book. This is an absolute must read.

Real Live Boyfriends, a Ruby Oliver Book by E. Lockhart

I absolutely love E. Lockhart and all that she writes, the woman can do no wrong in my book. Not only did she write The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, one of my favorite books of all time, but she is the author of the Ruby Oliver books. Ruby Oliver is on my list of all time favorite book characters. I just love how neurotic, fragile, hilarious, and sweet she is. This is the fourth book in the Ruby Oliver series and it is just as funny as the rest. Although you should read the other three books first, if only to be familiar with the characters and Ruby's past high school drama, book four is a must read. We meet up with Ruby for her senior year at Tate Academy, mostly friendless, in love, possibly out of a job, and working on controlling her panic attacks. Once again readers are humored with Ruby's insane inner monologues throughout various situations and her continual list making. For a fun read, pick up this book.

Me and the Pumpkin Queen by Marlane Kennedy

It's funny how things happen sometimes. Serendipitous really. This book has been recommended to me a handful of times since it was published, by friends who know some of my favorite middle grade books. "You have to read this book, you will absolutely love the main character, she is so funny and endearing." "You loved Each Little Bird That Sings, you would totally love Me and the Pumpkin Queen." It has been on my "To Read" list for a while, I just hadn't gotten to it yet. And then about two weeks ago I went to an SCBWI event and happen to be sitting right across from Marlane Kennedy herself. What are the odds? Well other than that we both live in Ohio, but still, it was pretty crazy. And let me tell you Marlane is absolutely wonderful. I had such a great time chatting with her about kidlit and publishing. At the end of the event she signed a copy of her book for me to take home and read. I went home and read it immediately. And it was wonderful, everything friends had told me. The characters were so alive and vivid in my head. And Mildred, the main character, has become one of my favorites. We meet Mildred who her father affectionately calls "the girl", growing up in Circleville, Ohio, which has a huge pumpkin festival every year. And this year, Mildred is going to grow a pumpkin of her own. As someone who has no green thumb whatsoever I found my self rooting for Mildred the whole way, hoping her pumpkin would be big enough to win. I loved loved this book, so please go out and support Marlane and her wonderful book.

And in the coming weeks I hope to be reading...

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (thank you Dial for my galley!)
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler
Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt

Happy Reading!!