Toni Yuly recently quit her job of over 30 years as a librarian with the King County Library System, to work full-time as an author/illustrator. She was born in Seattle, WA and has a BFA in painting from the University of Washington where she studied with the great American painter, Jacob Lawrence. She spent a year in Japan as an exchange student where she ate a lot of ramen in addition to falling in love with Asian, artistic sensibilities. Toni is represented by Lori Kilkelly of RODEEN LITERARY MANAGEMENT.
For what age audience do you write?
0-5 year olds are my sweet spot audience. I am an author/illustrator and love writing and illustrating picture books but would also love to write for older children and even adults one day…
Henry: Interesting that you started with zero. I write, but do not illustrate – at least not well. Only children still in the womb don’t object to my illustrations.
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is, CAT NAP. It is the third book in a set of three companion books for the very young. (The first is, EARLY BIRD and the second, NIGHT OWL.) CAT NAP is the funniest of the three and is about a cat who wants to nap, a kitten who wants to play, and a mouse who follows them around. I also really love the colors in this book.
Henry: Dog gone! I like the idea of idioms as picture book titles!
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
A smile and some giggles, and I hope it will pique readers overall curiosity as well. A nap after reading would be an awesome bonus as well!
What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
The creative process of writing can be quite challenging to me. It requires a lot of time sitting with pain. I can work out visual challenges more easily it seems. It is the writing challenges that usually take a lot of time for me.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer or illustrator?
Sitting with pain is ok and probably a good thing, creatively speaking. I have learned that if I can just learn to accept that creating is difficult and sometimes painful it helps me also remember that by doing the work and experiencing the pain, it almost always does get good results. I have also learned to bounce back from difficulties!
Henry: We authors certainly have to be tenacious and thick-skinned. But the vast riches and wild adulation of the crowd makes it all worthwhile. 🙂
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer/illustrator?
Sharing my books with kids and seeing their reactions. Interacting with kids while reading my books blows my mind! It always feels magical to me when a small child “gets” and even loves my books. Also, sharing my books with my friends and family who have supported me for such a long time has been wonderful.
Henry: I agree. Seeing a kid excited about reading is the sweet spot!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?
Get to work!! And also, Never give up! And… it is never too late! I would also tell anyone that it helps to start small. Just make a card or create a character and have fun…Most of all…keep playing!
Henry: Right. You can’t get published if you stop writing and submitting. My creative writing began at age 50. I suspect the life experience of writing when older is actually beneficial.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
I love quotes and there are SO many great ones…The wonderful author/illustrator, Nikki McClure told me when I was first starting out… “Keep working it until it works.” I wrote that down and hung it over my computer and it helped me keep going.
The painter Georges Braque… “There is only one valuable thing in art…the thing you cannot explain.”
And I love Leonard Cohen…especially his song, Anthem…”The birds they sang, at the break of day…start again, I heard them say…”
Henry: “The early bird gets the worm. But the second mouse gets the cheese.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?
On good days I start with some Qigong and meditation, but on bad days I go straight to my dark chocolate! Most days I tend to snack a lot and always have a pot of tea brewing close by…
Henry: No one would argue with chocolate as a lifestyle choice. Whenever I read “Qigong”, I immediately think of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn. Does Qigong involve lightsabers?
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would love to have the superpower to heal the human heart and replace hate with love in all people’s hearts. The world could use more heart healing superpowers!
Henry: That’s both a heartwarming and slightly terrifying superpower. Well played.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be, and why?
Ruth Kraus – A Hole is To Dig, I’ll Be you and You Be Me, The Carrot Seed. Need I say more?
Joseph Campbell – Brilliant, deep thinker. Maybe he could explain the secrets of the universe to me.
Mother Goose – Wait, is she a real person? I love fun rhyme.
Henry: Hey doblin, doblin. The gnome and the goblin.
The centaur ran through the lawn.
The minotaur laughed to see such sport,
And the imp ran away with the faun.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Hello Kitty and Miffy. Because they are adorable creatures and everyone loves them.
Henry: True, but I’m more of a fantasy/sci-fi guy. Let’s compromise
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Walk, listen to music, talk with friends and work in the garden.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
I don’t plan on having a tombstone… but if I did, it would possibly be a quote from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem…
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Where can readers find your work?
Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Toni. This article can also be read on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.