Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

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Interview with graphic novel/picture book author/illustrator Ben Hatke

Ben Hatke is an author and artist of graphic novels and picture books. His notable works include the ZITA THE SPACEGIRL TRILOGY, the Eisner award-winning LITTLE ROBOT, and the picture book JULIA’S HOUSE FOR LOST CREATURES.


For what age audience do you write, and in what genre?

My comics are mostly classed as “middle grade” but I really try to write for everybody. I also make picture books which are even more for everybody. As to genre, I tend toward fantasy and science fiction. I tend to add swords and robots and goblins to just about everything I touch.

Henry: You complete me. Fantasy makes everything better. And cowbells.

Tell us about your latest book.

MIGHTY JACK is a two-book, modern-day, graphic novel retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk story.

Henry: Fun! I’m a big fan (and writer) of fractured fairy tales.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

A sense of wonder.

Henry: Wonder at the world you created, or wonder at what goes in inside your head?

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?

It’s all challenging, and really, the challenges are the best part. Except for drawing cars. That’s just terrible no matter how you look at it.

Henry: Conversely, I can only draw cars. Ha! Let’s collaborate on a fantasy picture book: DON’T LET THE DRAGON DRIVE THE BUS.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an author/illustrator?

You never know who will be touched by your books, or how. It’s incredibly humbling to see both kids and adults connecting to some crazy story you made up.

Henry: Right! Which is why it is so important to weave a positive theme in one’s story.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been an author/illustrator?

There have been many. In 2014, I was invited by my French publisher to the big comic festival in Angoulême. It was such an amazing week that I cried at the end.

Henry: Oo la la! Not only do they host the Angoulême International Comics Festival, but “the commune has been awarded four flowers by the National Council of Towns and Villages in Bloom in the Competition of cities and villages in Bloom.”


What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?

Make things and share things all the time. Creativity is a habit, and the more you do it the better your work will become.

Henry: For example, Ben posts sketches on Facebook.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

You know, I honestly can’t think of anything…

Henry: Uh huh. Really? A guy who teaches his daughter to shoot flaming arrows has no strange work rituals?

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

The ability to know with certainty, once a day, when and where something terrible was going to happen. Everything else can be planned for.

Henry: Coupled with the power to NOT BE THERE.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

C.S. Lewis: because I feel like he’s my fairy godfather, my Serious Black.
Neil Gaiman: because very early on I modeled many of my career goals after his career, and boy do I have questions for him.
Jane Austin: because she has hilarious insight into human nature that make me think she’d be lots of fun at dinner, and because my street cred would be through the roof.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Rothfuss, because we got to be friends while arguing in front of a full room at Comic-Con last year.
Extra Honorable Mention: Cory Doctorow, because he’s fun and I think my wife would get a huge kick out of arguing with him.

Henry: By the way, I was in that room at Comic-Con (as was Laini Taylor) when you and Patrick spoke. I watched the bromance bloom in person. You guys were great.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

That …whew, that can change from day to day. Goblins, though. I think Goblins are my steady. I love those filthy little guys.

Henry: Didn’t see that coming AT ALL from the author/illustrator of NOBODY LIKES A GOBLIN… I loved the wink at Dungeons & Dragons.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

It’s really hard for me to distinguish my hobbies from my work. Even when I’m hiking, I tend to bring a sketchbook. The closest thing I had to a pure hobby was skipping rocks. I also really have a deep love of archery. Gosh I love arrows.

Henry: Especially exploding arrows! How do you feel about trebuchets?

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I guess if I live a life of legend, my tombstone could say “Yes, THAT Ben Hatke.”
Oh! Or how about “Here lies Ben Hatke: shit got real there at the end, didn’t it?”

Henry: Also consider, Ben Hatke: Teller of Tall Tales and Drawer of Dark Domains. You’re welcome.

Where can readers find your work?

At the library! (and online at BenHatke.com, Instagram @heybenhatke, Twitter @benhatke)

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Ben!

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Interview with graphic novel author/illustrator James Burks

James Burks is funny, smart, and enjoys running, biking and swimming. When he’s not doing that he’s writing and illustrating books for people young and old. He’s the author of many great books including GABBY AND GATOR, the BIRD AND SQUIRREL graphic novel series, and the upcoming book PIGS AND A BLANKET. I had the pleasure of meeting James at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.


For what age audience do you write?

I tend to write stories that I find funny and entertaining. I let the publisher worry about age of the audience. I like to think of my books as for all ages, as anyone can read them and hopefully enjoy them. As far as the genre goes I guess it would be fantasy. Mainly because my stories tend to feature talking animals.

Henry: I’m a big fan of talking animals. I think all kids wish their pets could speak.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is the third installment of my BIRD AND SQUIRREL graphic novel series for Scholastic/Graphix called Bird and Squirrel on the Edge. Bird and Squirrel are almost home when they stop to chase off wolves hunting a baby bear and in the process Bird gets a knock on the noggin and a case of amnesia. So Squirrel has to set aside his fears and keep both Bird and the bear cub safe as they journey on foot over the Great Mountains with a pack of hungry wolves in hot pursuit.

Henry: That is one brave bird and squirrel!

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

Ultimately, I want my readers to have fun, to enjoy the stories and to laugh along with the crazy antics of Bird and Squirrel.

Henry: And to learn not to mess with wolf packs.

What aspect of writing/illustrating do you find most challenging?

The writing is probably the most challenging aspect for me. I’ve been drawing since I was little, so that tends to come easier. I didn’t start writing until I came up with the idea for my first book GABBY AND GATOR. Even then, I was pretty much writing with pictures. I would just draw out the story as it came to me. This wasn’t the most efficient way to work, and I ended up doing a lot of drawing that never made it into the book. Now I tend to outline my stories first. That way I can figure out the story structure and make sure everything is working before I do any drawing.

Henry: It’s interesting that many author/illustrators start as illustrators. I don’t know many authors who subsequently added illustration to their resume.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?

I think it’s that there has to be a certain amount of compromise if you want to have your books published. There are going to be lots of notes along the way. You don’t necessarily have to agree with them but you have to look at what the publisher thinks isn’t working and figure out your own way of addressing it. That being said, sometimes it’s okay to say no too.  You just better have a good reason and be able to explain why you think it should stay in the story.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer/illustrator?

The best thing about being a writer/illustrator is that it has allowed me to work from home and set my own schedule. I get to spend more time with my family. I get to spend time running, biking, and swimming instead of dealing with a daily commute. It has also allowed me to connect with a lot of very creative people all around the world.

Henry: Note to aspiring illustrators: this only works once your level of success makes it financial feasible. Don’t quit your day job before that.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors and illustrators?

Don’t wait till you think your work is prefect before putting it out there into the world for people to see. It’ll never be perfect. Just keep doing it. Not everyone is going to like it. Not everything you do is going to be great. But the more you do it the better you’re going to get.

Henry: So true. Even successful authors and illustrators get rejected. It’s like preparing a meal. Just because the meal is well-prepared doesn’t mean it will suit everyone’s tastes.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” —Walt Disney

Henry: “Why, oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?” – Cypher

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write or illustrate?

When I’m writing I like to go to Starbucks and sit outside with a cup of coffee and my laptop. Getting away from my home studio and out in the real world helps mix things up. Sometimes that’s all it takes to kickstart the creative juices. Large quantities of coffee helps too.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

To be able to clean my house and take care of errands in seconds.

Henry: In lieu of superpowers, you could benefit from having minions.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Hmmm…It would have to be Tim Burton, Steve Martin, and Bill Murray. Tim Burton because his work has always inspired me. Steve Martin because he’s super talented and very funny. Bill Murray isn’t an author but I love how he doesn’t seem to take life too seriously.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing/illustrating?

When I’m not writing/illustrating I’m either running, biking or swimming long distances in preparation for some kind of endurance race like a triathlon or a marathon.

Henry: I wonder if there’s a way to combine endurance training with errands…

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

James had no regrets and lived life to the fullest.

Where can readers find your work?

Readers can find my work at JAMESBURKS.COM. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram : @jamesburksart Thanks for the interview!

Henry: Thanks for visiting with us, James. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

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Interview with NY Times Bestselling ‘Feral’ series author Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of the ‘Tantalize’ series and ‘Feral’ series. Her award-winning books for younger children include ‘Jingle Dancer’, ‘Indian Shoes’, and ‘Rain Is Not My Indian Name’.

Her website at http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column.


For what age audience do you write?

I write for ages 4-7 (picture books), 7 to 9 (chapter books), 10-14 (tween novels) and 12-up (YA novels) as well as YA short stories and narrative nonfiction. My stories include realistic fiction and fantasy.

Henry: I’m always doubly amazed by authors who can write both picture books and YA. Those are horses of a different color.

Your book ‘Jingle Dancer’ was chosen for the 2013 One Book, One San Diego for Kids program. Please tell us about that.

Young readers across San Diego are encouraged to read and discuss (in school and beyond) ‘Jingle Dancer’, contemporary American Indians, and those Native Americans whose nations are based in San Diego County.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

First that Native people have a past, present and future. That we are active in our traditional cultures and the larger world and that our traditions are thriving.

You also have written young adult graphic novels. Please tell us about that.

Tantalize: Kieren’s Story and Eternal; Zachary’s Story are adaptations of the first two prose novels from the Tantalize series. They feature new scenes and new points of view as well as Ming Doyle’s amazing art work.

Henry: You are my hero!

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

I find getting the first draft down to be the biggest challenge. Every word, every punctuation mark, every plot point is a decision. It’s much more fun to play with something that already exists.

Henry: So true.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

Children and teens take in stories to the deepest imaginable level. What we put on the page can change the people they’ll become and the course of their lives.

Henry: With great power comes great responsibility.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

For me, it’s been a treat to interact with authors who were publishing when I was a young reader. Judy Blume once gave me a pep talk at a writing conference. I had a short story featured in the same anthology as Beverly Cleary. Magic.

Henry: I’ve had similar experiences. It’s been inspiring to meet amazing authors like Richard Peck, David Brin, Dan Gutman, Orson Scott Card, Dan Yaccarino, and Brandon Sanderson.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read, read, read, read, and then try to write at least three minutes a day. The words add up.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

I write on a treadmill desk, walking and typing, with Olivia Newton John “Xanadu” album playing quietly in the background.

Henry: Xanadu!? Now you’re scaring me… 🙂

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Author Buried in Plot
(We all knew it would happen eventually.)

Henry: I see what you did there.

Where can readers find your work?

Bookstores, libraries, e-tailers. If it’s not on the shelf, just ask for an order to be put in.

This interview is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.