Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates books for young people. Her first picture book that she is writing and illustrating, WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, debuts from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in Summer 2015.
Debbie’s illustrations appear in NAKED! (2014) and I’M BORED (2012), both picture books written by Michael Ian Black and published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. I’M BORED was selected by The New York Times for its list of Notable Children’s Books.
For what age audience do you write and illustrate?
I write and illustrate books for pre-K up through middle grade. My current focus is on fiction, but I also have some nonfiction ideas. So many books I want to write and draw, and not enough time!
Henry: Ridpath Ohi’s corollary to Murphy’s Law: illustrations will expand to fill the time available.
Tell us about your latest books.
NAKED! is a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me. It’s a story about a little boy who doesn’t want to put his clothes on after his bath, and starts running around the house in the buff. I laughed out loud when my editor sent me Michael’s story…so much fun! I also enjoyed illustrating I’m Bored, Michael’s previous picture book.
Also just out: Judy Blume classics reissued by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, with my illustrations on the covers of the middle grade editions: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Deenie, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, Blubber, Iggie’s House, Starring Sally J. Freeman As Herself and It’s Not The End Of The World. I also did the interior illustrations as well as cover illustrations for Freckle Juice, The One In The Middle Is The Green Kangaroo, and The Pain And The Great One.
My most recent book projects, though, are WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? and SEA-MONKEY AND BOB. WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? is the first picture book I’ll be both writing and illustrating, and comes out from Simon & Schuster in Summer 2015. SEA-MONKEY AND BOB is written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by yours truly, and comes out from the same publisher in Fall 2015.
What do you hope readers will get from reading NAKED?
I’m hoping that NAKED! will make for some fun read-aloud experiences, especially at bedtime. The focus isn’t so much on his nudity but on the little boy’s innocent delight in his freedom au naturel, how much FUN he’s having as he’s racing around the house, and the chase-to-cuddle interactions between him and his Mom.
Henry: You know some parents are going to be dealing with streaking kids, and you’ll have to answer to them.
What aspect of illustrating picture books do you find most challenging?
It varies from book to book. In NAKED!, it was drawing the boy sans clothes throughout most of the book but also keeping the illustrations appropriate for a young audience. No private boy bits! I admit to panicking a bit at first but then decided to throw myself into enjoying the challenge. It ended up being way more fun than I had expected.
Henry: No private boy bits. ‘Nuff said.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a children’s book illustrator?
How much work goes into creating a picture book, and how collaborative that work can be. So many people think it’s easy to write and illustrate a picture book. Now that I’ve done both, I can dismiss both those myths. To clarify: it’s easy to write and illustrate a picture book. Writing and illustrating a GOOD picture book, however, is entirely a different animal. I feel very lucky to have such great editor (Justin Chanda) and art directors (Laurent Linn, Lauren Rille) on these recent projects; I love the creative collaboration and learn so much.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been an illustrator?
Having Judy Blume tweet me! (see https://twitter.com/judyblume/status/434101492858224640)
Henry: A true fangirl moment for you.
What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?
Draw something for fun every day. Doodle, experiment, push yourself to try new subjects and new media. Don’t get obsessed with technical perfection.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
Here’s one of my favorites from Judy Blume: “Determination and hard work are as important as talent. Don’t let anyone discourage you!”
Henry: Nice. I also like: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you illustrate?
If I’m at an early stage in the creative process, I prefer silence. If I’m doing something more repetitive (like finessing line work, etc.), I’ll have an audiobook or Italian progrock playing, or DVDs playing on the other monitor for the audio soundtrack.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Flying. Who hasn’t always wanted to fly?
Henry: No one, that’s who.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing and illustrating?
Reading, playing board games, writing and making music.
Where can readers find your work?
You can find out more about me and my work at DebbieOhi.com and on Twitter at @inkyelbows.
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner