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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


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Interview with author/illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton

Vanessa Brantley Newton was born during the Civil Rights movement, and attended school in Newark, NJ. Being part of a diverse, tight-knit community during such turbulent times, Vanessa learned the importance of acceptance and empowerment in shaping a young person’s life. When she read SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats, it was the first time she saw herself in a children’s book. It was a defining moment in her life, and has made her into the artist she is today. As an illustrator, she includes children of all ethnic backgrounds in her stories and artwork. She wants all children to see their unique experiences reflected in the books they read, so they can feel the same sense of empowerment and recognition she experienced as a young reader.

For what age audience do you write?

I create for ages 3-8 for picture books and then 8-12 for middle grade.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is happily called, GRANDMA’S PURSE, written and illustrated by me. It’s been a while. The book is with Random House Publishing and due out in Jan 2018. All about a little girl who finds goodies in her grandmothers purse.

Henry: Grandmas are also known for hiding tissues in their sleeves.

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

Simply the love and relationship of grandchild and grandparent, and that we can find out a lot about a person from what they carry with them.

Henry: So true!

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

It’s always been the sketching for me. Layout out a book is so very frustrating to me. Each time feels like the first, and I approach each book like it’s the first one. Yeah I know I’ve done it a couple of times, LOL!! I really don’t know why, but it’s a little difficult to wrap my head around it. I think that I over-think it too much, and the need to please OTHERS can really rattle me a bit.

As far as writing is concerned, I am dyslexic and it makes it really difficult to come to an empty page and fill it with words. I don’t spell very well and my vocab is very simple, if you will. Not a really deep one, LOL! I have my own way of expressing myself, and as a dyslexic person I have to do it in a way that makes sense to me first. I love to write poems and sing. Music helps me to tell my stories. I also learn through rhyme. Once I get something, it sticks and I am able to use it however I need. This is how most children with dyslexia learn. I really don’t consider myself a writer, but more of a storyteller.

Henry: And a hugger!

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

That we have to power to tell children stories that can uplift, scare, inspire, provoke empathy, cause them to see their beautiful selves, and to be creative — and that is a pretty power, but even more powerful, NEVER EVER LET ANYONE SPEAK FOR YOU!

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

Just recently, a book that was pulled by Scholastic called, A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON. Honestly, one of the most painful experiences of my career in children’s books. No one ever wants to be censored or have their book pulled, but this is what happened, and while it was painful, there was so much that I learned from the experience. I found my own voice and my own stories. We often like to give our characters adversity, but we will have none of it in our own very real lives. The fact is, we love adversity and hard times and frustrations put on to our characters. It’s the stuff that good books are made of. But in order to give your character that kind of magic that makes your readers care and feel about the character, you have to sometimes experience your own trials and tribulations as well. How did you come through the very hard stuff? The whole debacle made me turn in and go really deep. While very painful, much like baring a child. Nobody likes the labor pains, but holding the child makes it worth the while, and that is what this book did for me. I doubt that people would have even heard of Vanessa Brantley-Newton if this didn’t take place. Truly what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger for the journey ahead. It’s time to get busy telling children of color and children period, a different type of story. Stories that give them life.

Henry: You persisted!

What advice would you offer aspiring authors and illustrators?

Hone your talent. Really be willing to stretch yourself and put yourself in a real teachable environment. Learn all that you can from watching other illustrators and reading other authors works – people that have made it. What do you love about their creative flow? Compile that information in a notebook or sketch book. Try adding it to your work. I never had the chance to meet Erza Jack Keats, but I was student of his wonderful work. I put it in front of me and tried to copy as much as I could without copying LOL! I studied his line and how he laid out his books. Still studying him today along with Mary Blair and Fiep Westendorp and a host of others. DO YOU! You bring something special to the creative table that nobody else brings! Stop comparing your beautiful self to other people! They can’t do what you do, and you can’t do what they do. We are looking to see what you are going to share with the world.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Thoughts become things, so get busy thinking right thoughts and watch what happens.”

Henry: Nice. I like the related: “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 work?

I don’t know if this is a really strange ritual, but seriously music and comedy in my office and lots of dancing heightens the frequency and creative flow. Every single day. Live, Love, Laugh!

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

Oh this is one of my favorite questions ever!!!!! Okay I would like the power of Manifestation. The ability to make it so! To think about something and see it manifest before my eyes.

Henry: I’m gonna’ manifest myself some pizza and beer right now.

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

Langston Hughes because he makes me feel. Maya Angelo because she allows me to see me. Ezra Jack Keats because he’d cause me to do both.

Henry: But, I come in a close fourth, right? 🙂

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Venus because she was love and beauty.

Henry: Congratulations. You are the first author to answer that question with a goddess.

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

Sing Jazz and cook and laugh, laugh, laugh!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Here lies a woman who loved God and loved people and they all felt it.

Henry: Anyone who meets you feels it! 🙂

Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

Vanessabrantleynewton.com

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us. I had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa. She’s a hugger!

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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Benson Shum

Benson Shum enjoys creating and telling stories through animation and illustration. He has worked in the animation industry for seventeen years with various studios including, Sony Pictures Imageworks, DHX Media, Rainmaker, Atomic Cartoons, Bardel Entertainment and Sesame Workshop. Benson is also an Animator at the Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios, where he was a part of such films as Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana. His inspiration comes from his love of children’s book illustrations, and observation of the little things in life. I met Benson at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

For what age audience do you write?
I like to write picture books for young readers.  No specific genres. If I find something inspiring, I’ll try to write something about that!

Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is HOLLY’S DAY AT THE POOL with Disney-Hyperion.  It’s about a little Hippo called Holly, and how she overcomes her fear of the water.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope the readers take away that we all can be brave even when we are scared.  We can find the courage within.

Henry: Ah, my LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH has the same theme.

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
What I find most challenging when writing or illustrating is when I can’t quite find the story-telling pose for the character, or find the right words to describe a situation. But when you do find it, it’s really satisfying.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?
That’s a hard one. The most powerful lesson I’ve learned from this book is actually after the book was done and seeing how the kids reacted.  Whether through your illustrations or words, to see how a child reacts or attaches themselves to the characters you create is pretty amazing.

Henry: Yup, that’s the money shot.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?
I would say try to create a story with one drawing. If you can, then you are half way there.  A drawing can say a thousand words.

Henry: I’m only an author. Thanks for nothing, Benson! 🙂

Do you have any favorite quotes?
I heard this quote from my teacher a long time again.  He said KISS – Keep it simple stupid.  I try to apply to my work whether when I’m animating at Disney or writing and illustrating.  I think it’s a great idea! Haha. Simplicity is key.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
If I could have one superpower, it would be to fly!  so I can travel the world! Haha

Henry: Free airfare, and very green!

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I would love to sit down with JK Rowling, Quentin Blake and Mary Blair.  I probably wouldn’t say anything, as I’ll be super nervous, haha, but would love to hear their story and process.

Henry: Wow, some unusual choices. Wikipedia helpfully offers:

“Sir Quentin Saxby Blake, CBE, FCSD, FRSL, RDI is an English cartoonist, illustrator and children’s writer. He may be known best for illustrating books written by Roald Dahl. For his lasting contribution as a children’s illustrator he won the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2002, the highest recognition available to creators of children’s books. From 1999 to 2001 he was the inaugural British Children’s Laureate. He is a patron of the Association of Illustrators.

Mary Blair, born Mary Robinson, was an American artist who was prominent in producing art and animation for The Walt Disney Company, drawing concept art for such films as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Song of the South and Cinderella. Blair also created character designs for enduring attractions such as Disneyland’s It’s a Small World, the fiesta scene in El Rio del Tiempo in the Mexico pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, and an enormous mosaic inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Several of her illustrated children’s books from the 1950s remain in print, such as I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss. Blair was inducted into the prestigious group of Disney Legends in 1991.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Mermaids would be one my favorite creatures.  The idea of a person and a fish, is pretty incredible.  There is a whole other world in the ocean that we don’t know about and I find that fascinating!

Henry: Mermaids aren’t real!? Thanks for nothing, Benson! 🙂

What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I like to paint, sketch, hang out with friends and watch mindless TV!

Where can readers find your work?
At my website, http://www.bensonshum.com, or on Instagram/Twitter: @bshum79

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Benson.


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Interview with NY Times bestselling picture book author Jean Reagan

Jean Reagan is an award-winning picture book author from Salt Lake City, Utah.  Her “HOW TO” series which started with HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA and HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDMA (illustrated by Lee Wildish), regularly makes the NYT Bestseller and the Indie Bestseller lists.

Jean’s first book, ALWAYS MY BROTHER (illustrated by Phyllis Pollema-Cahill), a story about sibling loss, was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award.

Each summer she and her husband serve as wilderness volunteer rangers in Grand Teton National Park, living without electricity or running water. If you ever visit the Tetons, stop by her cabin for a cup of tea!

Henry: but apparently you must bring your own water…

For what age audience do you write?

I write picture books for ages 2 to 8. Many picture book authors aspire to write for older kids or to illustrate their own books. Not me! I absolutely lack those talents.

Henry: I can barely draw stick figures. As I’m still honing my writing, the thought of climbing the learning curve on illustrating is just too daunting for me. As Dirty Harry says, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Tell us about your latest book.

In HOW TO RAISE A MOM, two siblings share tips and tricks on raising a happy, healthy mom. The tongue-and-cheek role reversal offers a humorous take on daily routines.

HOW TO GET A TEACHER READY is out in early July. In the same instructional style, a class of students takes the readers through a fun and busy school year.

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

Lots of giggles. Also—especially in this digital age where everyone is plugged in—I hope to create opportunities for real connections between kids and their adults. So, between all the wild and crazy fun, I sprinkle tender moments.

Our son passed away eleven years ago, and I make a point of including a little bit of him in everything I write. Tapping his tenderness helps keep my silliness grounded.

Henry: So sorry for your loss. It’s wonderful that he gets to be in your writing.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

I love brainstorming. I love revising. Everything between is challenging. And sadly, critique buddies and editors are primarily helpful with brainstorming and revising. I struggle alone with the remaining 95%. In fact, with each book I hit a stage where I yell, “It’s hopeless! Impossible!” I call this my I-might-as-well-do-dishes-because-at-least-I-know-how-to-do-dishes phase.

Henry: Um, isn’t WRITING what’s between brainstorming and revising? 🙂 Still, the dishes ain’t gonna’ wash themselves.

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

Questions and comments from kids blow me away.

At one book launch, the first question was, “Have you ever ridden an elephant?” Of course, my book had NOTHING to do with elephants, but I loved it! There’s no other profession where after a presentation you’re asked cool questions like that.

Or another time at a school I brainstormed with kids for ideas for my MOM book. When I solicited suggestions to cheer up a tired or sick mom, a second-grader who had a full-time aide blurted out, “I’d tell her how amazing the world is!” Wow!

Henry: I HAVE ridden an elephant, but I’ve never been asked that question, darnit!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

I’ll skip the practical advice like: join SCBWI, start a critique group, enter writing contests, submit to magazines, and Read! Read! Read!

My advice?

Channel your inner worrywart. What weaknesses do you hide from others? What vulnerabilities did you feel as a kid? What fears did you have? Your answers will lead to stories that foster courage, gentleness, and kindness. Add a dose of humor to keep things light. If you’ve never been a worrywart, I have no advice. Sorry.

Give yourself a time limit. After I’d received 200 rejections and I was ready to quit, my husband suggested, “Give it two more years.” This “deadline” motivated me in two ways: 1. “Yay! I don’t have to keep chasing this crazy dream forever! I only have to endure the pain for two years!” And, 2. “Whoa! I only have two years. I better crank up my efforts and grab every opportunity!” P.S. I sold my first manuscript before the deadline. Phew.

Henry: Indeed, writing is not for the indefatigable nor the thin-skinned.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

When I felt deeply discouraged as I opened three rejection letters, all addressed to “Dear Author,” my son said to me, “But, Mom. They’re calling you author.” This quote kept me motivated, especially after he died.

Henry: You’re my first interviewee to quote their child. Way to find the silver lining!

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

I stay in my pajamas because it keeps me working instead of running errands or playing in my garden.

Another ritual is I read CALVIN AND HOBBES when my enthusiasm for a project wanes. I totally count that as work time.

Henry: I’d also treat your CALVIN AND HOBBES purchases as tax deductible research.

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

My summer gig keeps me hiking and canoeing every day for three months. I rarely write at all during that time. The rest of the year I try to squeeze in hikes when I can.

Henry: It’s a rare author who can write and canoe simultaneously. Plus the laptop gets soaked.

Where can readers find your work?

My books are available wherever books are sold. Personally I support Indie bookstores!

If you’d like to learn more about me, my books, or my summer job as a volunteer park ranger, visit http://www.jeanreagan.com. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, as JeanReaganBooks. Or stop by the Leigh Lake patrol cabin in Grand Teton National Park. (BTW, I’m not on Wikipedia, but our cabin is!)

Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Jean at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Thank you for spending time with us Jean.


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Good Times at WonderCon 2017

My sons and I had a great time attending WonderCon yesterday.


We had beautiful SoCal weather.


Comic conventions always boast entertaining food trucks.


A well-designed Gen. Grievous costume from Star Wars.


With author/illustrator Will Terry at his booth.


With NY Times bestseller and Caldecott honoree, John Rocco.


I moderated a rock star KidLit author/illustrator panel with Joe Cepeda, Stacia Deutsch, Eliza Wheeler, John Rocco and Marla Frazee.


Signing books after the panel, next to Caldecott honorees John Rocco and Marla Frazee (looking like the cat that ate the canary)


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Interview with NY Times bestselling children’s book illustrator Tim Bowers

Tim Bowers is a children’s book illustrator. His first picture book was published in 1986. Since then, he has illustrated over 45 other titles. A couple of the titles have landed on the New York Times best seller list. His art is usually filled with animals and humor…and people, when needed. Tim currently lives in Granville, Ohio with his beautiful wife. They have four talented grown children and are proud grandparents.

bowerstim

For what age audience do you illustrate?

I illustrate for all ages, but mostly for children. I hear from many parents who have enjoyed my books as much as their kids. That’s especially true for my title, MEMOIRS OF A GOLDFISH by Devin Scillian. A very funny story.

Henry: Sounds like quite a fish tale…

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is FOOTLOOSE by Kenny Loggins. Kenny re-wrote his 80’s hit song, Footloose, into a kid’s version, which includes a zoo keeper (who, I’m told, looks a lot like Captain Kangaroo), dancing animals and a couple of curious kids.

What do you hope readers will get from that book?

When your life is a total zoo…DANCE!

Seriously, it’s a fun story about two kids who sneak into the zoo just before closing. The zoo keeper and animals have a great dance party under a full moon. The party continues until sunrise.  Kids can read the story, follow the illustrations and listen to the song (a CD is included in the book). So, I hope kids will put on their dancin’ shoes and have fun!

Henry: Fun! And now you’re only one degree away from Kevin Bacon.

“Now I gotta cut loose
Footloose, kick off the Sunday shoes
Please, Louise, pull me off of my knees
Jack, get back, come on before we crack
Lose your blues, everybody cut footloose”

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging?

A children’s book is a long project: from character development, sketches and book dummy to the final art. It takes focus and endurance to keep the process moving forward. There are times during the painting of the final art that seem to move at a snail’s pace. My mind seems to wander during those times. I’ll think of new book projects, other art techniques to explore, people I’d like to meet, a good name for a pet elephant, how would I even get a pet elephant?, would I rather have an elephant or a monkey?… and guitars, wish I could practice more, wish I could buy another guitar.

Then, I snap out of it and get back to the final artwork. Come to think of it, I’ve had this problem since childhood. Focus, focus, focus.

Henry: Would You Rather Have a Monkey or an Elephant sounds like a great picture book idea. Thanks!

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

Art is a powerful tool used to tell a story, deliver a message or share an idea. I want to use my talent to help deliver positive messages and good ideas and stories to viewers and readers. That’s why I like to illustrate children’s books.

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

There are a lot of them. I’ve been to hundreds of elementary schools to share my experiences and talk to students about making art for picture books. I love talking to kids and sharing my art with them. I wouldn’t have had that type of a connection without being an illustrator.

I’ve also worked with some celebrities because of my illustrations. I illustrated DREAM BIG, LITTLE PIG! by Kristi Yamaguchi. Without the illustration connection, I probably would not have worked with Kristi because I’m a lousy skater. I’ve also illustrated books by Neil Sedaka (DINOSAUR PET) and Kenny Loggins (FOOTLOOSE). I’m not in their social circles, and I need a lot more practice on my guitar so being an illustrator got me those “gigs”.

I guess the “powerful lesson” would be that being an illustrator has allowed me to connect with people through stories, from children learning to read to well-known people with stories to share.

Henry: I’d pay good money to watch you play guitar while ice skating. Triple axle!

What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book illustrators?

Surround yourself with books. Study the great picture book art of the past, explore current art trends, and use the best of both to create your own personal voice.

Work on your craft. Draw. Learn the elements of visual story telling/sequential art. Draw more. Strive to create art that connects emotionally to the reader. In most books, the words and art must unify to tell a clear story. Practice working with text, using your art to compliment the written word. Then, draw some more.

Much can be learned by connecting with groups like The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org).

So, three things that I would suggest: One- work to improve your art skills, Two- learn about the business/process of creating children’s books, and Three- make connections (network) with people in the biz: editors, authors, designers and others who are pursuing your same goals.

Henry: Four – get an elephant. Or a monkey.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I have a huge file of quotes. Here are a few of my favorites for today:

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
– Groucho Marx

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”
– Miles Davis

“I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. This makes planning the day difficult.”
– E.B. White

“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.”
– Charles M. Schulz

Henry:

“Every dog has his day, unless he loses his tail, then he has a weak-end.”
– June Carter Cash

“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

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

Hmmm, let’s see. I usually listen to music, have a cup of coffee by my side and try to keep focused on the task at hand (see earlier answer about staying focused). I find it extremely hard to work if my paintbrush isn’t just right for the job…if it’s lost the sharp point, too big, too stiff. The wrong brush can drive me crazy. Brushes wear out after a while, so I have a container filled with hundreds of those retired brushes. I often work better at night. Between 11pm and 3am seems to be an easier time to focus. I can’t think of anything else that might apply…Hey, did I tell you that my Grandpa had a monkey?  Would you rather have a monkey or an elephant?  Oh, sorry… where were we?

Henry: Life’s too short to use the wrong brush.

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

The power to heal at will. I could eliminate the pain of people suffering from abuse, burns, cancer and accidents… as a starter. It breaks my heart to see kids who suffer in life. Having wings would also be cool but then what? You fly around. That would be nice but I think that healing would be my superpower. But, having two powers, flying around AND healing, would be even better. I’d like to negotiate for two superpowers, if that’s ok.

Henry: Ah, the old “wish for more wishes” ploy. Healing is a lovely wish.

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

The Apostle Paul…because he was there.
Kate DiCamillo…because her work is full of heart and humor. One of my very favorite story tellers.
Cynthia Rylant… because her work is full of heart and humor. Another one of my very favorite story tellers.
There are so many amazingly talented authors (I’ve worked with a lot of them), so I’d have to have a few more dinners.

Henry: Trying to break the rules again? I sense a trend. 🙂

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’d have to go with dragons. I’ve illustrated a great dragon book, NOT YOUR TYPICAL DRAGON by Dan Bar-El. Mermaids would come in a close second place…who doesn’t like mermaids? I’ve illustrated one book with a mermaid, Sometimes I wonder if POODLES LIKE NOODLES by Laura Numeroff.  I created some “Mer-mutts” (dog mermaids) in THE ADVENTURES OF UNDERWATER DOG by Jan Wahl, but that probably doesn’t count.

Henry: The blog judges rule that Mer-mutts is an acceptable response.

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

I play the guitar. I do more listening to great players than playing but I’m always thinking about guitars. I also have a beautiful ukulele and mandolin (my grandpa, who had a monkey, was also a mandolin player). They get less playing time than my guitars. I also like to fish. I only had time to fish a couple of times, this summer. That’s why I didn’t have you over for a big fish fry, Henry. I really like to golf, but I’ve only done that several times. My kids bought me a new set of clubs for father’s day, so I need to golf more often.

This question is leading me to believe that maybe I work too much. I have a lot of interests but don’t seem to have much time outside of my work schedule. I think I need more balance in that area. Thanks for bringing it up, Henry.

Henry: You’re welcome, Tim. You should definitely have more fish fries. I’ll even bring the fish!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I’m not sure but here’s another quote that might apply:

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Henry:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”
– Henry David Thoreau

Where can readers find your work?

In children’s books at your local library or bookstore. On line, you can visit my website: http://www.timbowers.com/ and my blog: timbowersart.blogspot.com.

Henry: Thanks for joining us, Tim!


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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.

hatkeben

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.”

hatke-angouleme

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 NY Times bestselling picture book author Sherri Duskey Rinker

Sherri Duskey Rinker is a mom who loves to garden, cook and collect old oil paintings. She lives in a crazy house, filled with unmatched socks, kids, total chaos, endless noise and a dog who barks whenever she picks up the phone. She is also a #1 New York Times bestselling children’s picture book author.

rinkersherri

Tell us about your latest book.

On Valentine’s Day, the long-awaited sequel to GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, CONSTRUCTION SITE debuts, titled MIGHTY, MIGHTY, CONSTRUCTION SITE.

Henry: Will there be rhyme? Will there be heavy equipment!?

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

First, I hope that fans of GGCS will enjoy and appreciate this second offering; I’m so afraid of letting anyone down! Next, the theme of the book deals with friendship, teamwork and cooperation, and I hope the spirit of that comes through — joyfully.

Henry: Breathe! You’ll be fine. 🙂

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

For me, it’s finding the TIME and the QUIET to write in the mix of a busy life — taking care of my kids and our home, promoting books, traveling for school visits, etc. Oh, and editing. I hate editing.

Henry: And yet, revision is key to getting the most story out of 500 or so words. I thought you were going to say creating good rhyme, BTW.

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

The stories we put out there can become treasured memories for kids and their families. That’s pretty big. And amazing.

Henry: So true. And those stories can shape lives. I still remember borrowing (over and over again) WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE from my elementary school library. WTWTA was a gateway drug to LORD OF THE RINGS. And LOTR eventually lead me to become a writer.

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

I’ve had the opportunity to “talk shop” with authors and illustrators that I greatly admire. That’s been pretty awesome. And, school visits: I love school visits and talking about books with kids. When I mention a book that I love and a bunch of faces light up… wow: such a connection!

Henry: I love answering young reader questions at school events. You never know what they’ll ask. “What’s your favorite color?” “How old are you?”

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read everything in your genre. Stalk bookstores. Read reviews. Read the trades.

Henry: Read like no one’s watching. But write like everyone is.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” — Albert Einstein
(I think this resonates with me because I’ve always felt a little intellectually inadequate — my recollection of history, geography and factoids is limited. I don’t watch much television, so I’m always out-of-the-loop on pop culture conversations. My ability to recall classic literature and romantic poetry is faulty. I fail miserably at Jeopardy. But, perhaps, imagination makes up for that, just a little? Einstein boosts my confidence — a bit, anyway.)

Henry: “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

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

I prefer to be showered and dressed — I’m not sure that’s strange, but I hear of authors writing in their pajamas, and that just doesn’t feel like “work mode” for me. Also, I like beverages —Sorry, Henry — Nothing too odd; I’m kinda boring.

Henry: There’s nothing strange at all about writing in ballroom attire… *backs slowly away*

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

Does singing count as a superpower? Ok, then — FLYING. Totally.

Henry: Magical singing that produces an extraordinary result most certainly would be a superpower! See “Treesinger” in THE WHEEL OF TIME or Tolkien’s AINULINDALË, the tale of the song the angels used to create the world.

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

JK Rowling, Kate DiCamillo and Beverly Cleary — just to bask in their greatness and hear them discuss their work, processes and inspirations with each other.

Henry: I think everyone knows who JK Rowling is. Wikipedia helpfully adds:
“Katrina “Kate” DiCamillo is an American writer of children’s fiction for all reading levels, usually featuring animals. She is one of six people to win two Newbery Medals, recognizing her novels THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX (2003) and FLORA AND ULYSSES (2013). Her best-known books for young children are Mercy Watson series illustrated by Chris Van Dusen.

Beverly Cleary is an American writer of children’s and young adult fiction. One of America’s most successful living authors, 91 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide since her first book was published in 1950. Some of her best known characters are Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy, Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse.

She won the 1981 National Book Award for RAMONA AND HER MOTHER and the 1984 Newbery Medal for DEAR MR. HENSHAW. For her lifetime contributions to American literature, Cleary received the National Medal of Arts, recognition as a Library of Congress Living Legend, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the Association for Library Service to Children.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I adore Despereaux! — such a dramatic, emotional, unlikely hero with so much surprising inner strength.

Henry: Don’t get me started on fantasy animal heroes! Here are four heroic mice: Desperaux Tilling (from THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX by Kate DiCamillo), Reepicheep (from PRINCE CASPIAN by C.S. Lewis), Martin the Warrior (from REDWALL by Brian Jaques), and Celanawe (from MOUSE GUARD by David Petersen)

miceheroes

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

Read a book, work in the garden, bake a nice bread, shop for old oil paintings or antique gesso frames (but, admittedly, I’m running out of wall space). Oh — I’ll confess: I love naps. Especially on Sunday after church, or on dreary days. I. LOVE. NAPS.

Henry: Not enough wall space? “Honey, we need a bigger house!”

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Thanks for stopping by! Now… go read to a child: It makes all the difference.

Where can readers find your work?

Wherever books are sold. 🙂

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Sherri!