How this nonfiction PB “Jes’ Happened”

Children’s book illustrator Don Tate never thought of himself as a writer, despite his many children’s author, publishing and librarian friends — a small army’s worth — and being surrounded by journalists all day in his work as a graphics reporter for the Austin American Statesman

author-illustrator Don Tate at BookPeople

Don Tate at the book launch party for his “It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw”  at BookPeople in Austin, Texas Saturday, June 9, 2012

He’s illustrated more than 40 educational books and 11 children’s trade books by other writers. His aunt Eleanora Tate is a successful children’s book writer.

But he wasn’t one. Not until Saturday.

That’s when Don threw a book launch party for himself —  actually his first-ever bookstore signing event — to celebrate the release of It  Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw.

It’s a picture book bio about an impoverished folk artist whose pictures, drawn on scratch cardboard and paper in the 1930s and 1940s now hang in top museums and fetch tens of thousands of dollars from serious collectors.

The book has already received rave and starred reviews in The Horn Book, Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly.

You can imagine the scene: Family, friends and fans (including author and or illustrator pals from the dynamic Austin SCBWI chapter) swarming the second floor of Austin’s renown indie-book store, BookPeople. A kids’ art-making station littered with markers and paper hosted by Don’s illustrator friends. Easels propped up by the podium for a creative sketching showdown by audience members. A refreshments table piled with baked treats. A funny banner unfurled by members of Don’s author group, the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels.

In the two videos — excerpts from a longer video interview Don gave for students of Mark Mitchell’s Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! children’s book illustration course, Don talks about his experience of coming up with the words for It Jes Happened.

The real story of Traylor who began making his drawings when he was 85 and living homeless on the streets in Montgomery is a jaw dropper.

If Traylor drew and painted earlier in his life, which is plausible, there’s no record of it. Though many of his pictures, certainly are mental snapshots from his memories of childhood as an Alabama slave before the Civil War.

“Traylor is recognized as one of the finest American artists of the 20th century,” says the website of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which holds one of the largest public collection of Traylor’s drawings.

“His works are notable for their flat, simply defined shapes and vibrant compositions in which memories and observations relating to African American life are merged.”

“Using a stick for a straightedge, he created geometric silhouettes of human and animal figures which he then filled in with pencil, colored pencil, or poster paint,” says an article on him in Wikipedia. “Much speculation surrounds the identification of mysteriously shaped objects,  usually referred to as “constructions,” and the complex scenes he called ‘Exciting Events,’ which depict groups of people.”

Nearly as fascinating as Traylor’s journey is this PB biography’s long path to publication. Don told Saturday’s standing room only audience how the subject was first suggested to him by an author friend Dianna Aston. She’d decided the idea fit Don better than her–  and sent him the newspaper clipping that had first caught her eye.

Don kept the clipping beside his drawing table — where he would see it every day as he worked on more pressing illustration assignments.

He wanted to let the  message of the life of this prolific, unschooled  black artist sink into him slowly.

He wrote a draft and entered it into the NewVoices contest sponsored by New York publisher Lee & Low Books.The annual award (that includes a cash prize of $1,000 and a standard publisher’s contract) goes to a picture book manuscript by a writer of color.

Don won the New Voices Honor (runner-up) award – with a $500 cash prize — and an offer to publish if he was willing to revise.

Illustrator R. Gregory Christie

R. Gregory Christie, illustrator for “It Jes’ Happened”

The revision process went on for four years — most of this time waiting to hear from editors on Don’s several versions.

Talented illustrator R. Gregory Christie whose electrifying artwork has appeared in The New Yorker magazine as well as several children’s books, was tapped — by Don himself as it turns out – to create the pictures.

Don talks about this in the videos. Christie interprets the scenes as Traylor himself might have, but with brighter (more expensive?) colors. It’s a tour de force of the best kind of children’s book art, integrating the subject with the pictures.

Don’s own illustrations, meanwhile have appeared recently in Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite by Anna Harwell Celenza (Charlesbridge Publishing) and She Loved Baseball — the Effa Manley Storby Audrey Vernick (HarperCollins).

You might enjoy these other interviews with Don

School Library Journal ad

The display ad that publisher Lee & Low ran in the School Library Journal for Tate’s and Christie’s book

 * * * * *
Lee & Low is now accepting entries for the 13th annual New Voices AwardThe deadline is September 30.
* * * * *
Don and Tamara Diggs-Tate

Author illustrator Don Tate enjoys the rousing introduction by his wife, graphic artist Tamera Diggs-Tate to his book launch presentation for “It Jes’ Happened” Saturday, June 9 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas

Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell is the writer of this post and the creator of the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! online course.
* * * * *

It’s easy to include How To Be a Children’s Book Illustrator on your radar screen. Just like our Facebook page.

The animated “finger paintings” of Aleksandr Petrov 

"The Mermaid" by animator Aleksandr Petrov

Still from the animated short “The Mermaid” by Aleksandr Petrov, based on a story by Pushkin.

Read about this amazing Russian animator and how he paints on glass to create  illustrations that move and breathe.   See his work, too, in the unusual new video series starting over at the Illustration Course blog.

Make Your Marks!

Looking to improve your pictures? The “Marks and Splashes” lessons can help you. See about them here and discover a secret to better drawing in some great free videos.
* * * * *

Build your interactive children’s book – win an iPad2!

Illustrators can now jump with both feet into digital publishing with the help of some free software and a contest launched by InteractBooks.com

“What better way to showcase all that our InteractBuilder e-book software can do on the iPad and iPhone than holding a contest to find the very best interactive book it can make?” asks the Interact Books website .

“And who better than you to produce this book by using your developer talent and our app software for the Mac and PC?”

InteractBooks

A Youtube video doesn’t do the reading experience justice, but an actual iPad encounter with The Tortoise and the Hairpiece by Don Winn, illustrated by Toby Heflin and distributed on the Apple iTunes store demonstrates how the touch screen interactions and subtle animations of an interactive book (let’s call it an i-book) make for a whole new storytelling language.

An InteractBook, an interactive alphabet picture book on an iPhone

I-books or interactive e-books aren’t quite the same as the e-books now making headlines for trouncing paperbacks in sales at Amazon.com.

They’re a new animal, maybe a new art form nd it may be months or even years before anyone knows where this fusion of tactile interactivity and literacy is going, commercially or aesthetically speaking.

Developers and a few publishers are delving into the format, but no leader for an interactive book-building engine or platform has emerged — yet.

In the meantime Austin, Texas based-InteractBooks wants to push the innovation timeline up a little by launching the first ever contest for an interactive children’s book. Entries must be built with their free InteractBuilder software.

  • First place prize – 16gb white or black WIFI iPad2, or $500.  lnteractBooks will  also publish your title and give you a three year membership in the InteractBuilder community (a $300 value)
  • 2nd Place wins a 32gb iPodTouch or $200* and a two-year membership to the InteractBuilder community.
  • 3rd Place yields a $100 Best Buy Gift Card and a one-year membership to the InteractBuilder community.

All runners up and anyone entering the contest with an InteractBuilder-approved book will have a free year’s membership in the InteractBooks builders community.

The deadline is September 18 and the winner will be announced  October 1, which doesn’t give you much time.

InteractBooks logo

That’s why the InteractBook folks are encouraging illustrators and authors to mull over the books they’ve already done, published or unpublished, with pictures and text ready to go — and see how they might adapt their story to this new media.

“Do you have a picture book already in print that lends itself to interactivity? What about an illustrated story that’s just prime for animated graphics and coloring, tapping, and swiping on a tablet? Have you always wanted to make an e-book?” the website asks.

Read the contest details here.

Yes, I’m one of the judges for the contest.  So I can tell you ahead of time what we’ll be evaluating your submission on:

1) A theme that’s enhanced for readers through interactivity

2) A well-written script that is different from the norm

3) Visuals and illustrations in keeping with InteractBooks’ high-quality standards

4) The ability to leverage the technology of smartphone devices and tablets

5) Effective use of music and sound effects (yes, the books can include sound, voice and video, too!)

6) Voice narration of text recommended but not required

7) An easy to read script by a child and/or parent

Remember, education and entertainment are the basic ingredients. Try to have your picture elements’ interactive behaviors fit in with your story, or better yet, help move the story forward.  If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of building your own book from Photoshop files, team up with a programmer or someone who’s already  working with the InteractBuilder software. Read more details on the contest press release.

And good luck! I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Lisa’s dragon takes flight

You remember Lisa Falkenstern, the illustrator who needed help coming up with a name for her new picture book.  She sought our suggestions and reactions to some of the picture book title ideas that she and her editor at Marshall Cavendish were batting around?

Well it’s out! And, yes, it has a title.  Lisa’s celebrating with a book launch party this Saturday at Clinton Book Shop, 12 East Main St., Clinton, New Jersey.  Reserve your book for signing by the author-illustrator by calling 908-735-8811.

Lisa thanks everyone who participated in our June 1, 2010 poll to vote for and suggest titles  for her book.

Tchaikovsky and Duke Ellington meet Don Tate

There’s a wonderful post with pictures in the Vermont College Journal of Fine Arts, Hunger Mountain by Austin, Texas children’s book author-illustrator Don Tate. In it, he shows us how he came to grips with an assignment to illustrate Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite by Anna Harwell Celenza (Charlesbridge Publishing.)

Spread by illustrator Don Tate

Spread by illustrator Don Tate for the upcoming "Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite" by Anna Harwell Celenza (Charlesbridge)

Don writes that the nonfiction picture book due to be published later in the year tells how composers Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, “collaborated to reinvent a holiday tradition, by remaking Tchaikovsky’s famous Nutcracker Suite into a jazz album.”

“I’d studied jazz album covers of the 1960s, artists like Jim Flora, David Stone Martin, Cliff Roberts. They employed very loose, whimsical ink-line techniques, overlaying solid colors or washes. I wanted to achieve that same look without getting  too cartoony in style,” Tate says.

After a rocky start and facing a punishingly tight deadline, Don pulled out a tour de force of brilliant ink line art with bright watercolor wash.

The post is generously illustrated with Don’s photos of his work-in-progress in his work space.  You’ll see it here.

How do you draw a “werearmadillo” ?

Here’s a great Newsarama.com interview with best-selling YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith and illustrator Ming Doyle on their graphic novel debut Tantalize: Kieran’s story  (Candlewick) that’s due in stores August 23rd.

Smith, who has written successful children’s picture books as well as YA novels nutshells her script for us:

“When the beloved chef at a vampire-themed Italian restaurant is murdered, the crime scene suggests that killer was a werewolf. Unfortunately for our hero Kieren Morales—a teenage human-Wolf hybrid, he happens to be the person who discovers the body and calls the police. That makes Kieren a prime suspect,”  Smith says.

“But in an underworld where vampires can take wolf form and other shifters (the werecat, werebear, werevulture…) stroll Austin’s streets, who’s to say the killer was a Wolf at all? While Kieren tries to solve the murder, his best friend Quincie is courted by a new, too-charming chef who baits the young Wolfman at every turn.”

Wiener Wolf  book release (and dog costume party)

It was Saturday, July 2, 11:30 a.m.  (Hot dogs were served for lunch.)                  

Jeff Crosby reading from his picture book "Wiener Wolf" at BookPeople

Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby reads from his picture book Wiener Wolf  (Hyperion.)

  Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby reads from "Wiener Wolf"

Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby reads from "Wiener Wolf"

Shelley Ann Jackson

Author-illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson as “Granny”, an important character in her husband’s book.  (Yes, they’re a dachshund family. )

Jeff's wife Shelley Ann Jackson

See the resemblance?

A record turnout for the "Wiener Wolf" launch at BookPeople in Austin, Texas. Hot dogs were served by the Austin restaurant Frank's.

Illustrator friends and Austin SCBWI'ers Erik Kuntz of SquareBearStudio.com and Martin Thomas of Spill.com show off their colleague's new picture book

Hear Jeff and Shelly talk about their art-making process here.

Keep up with the summer bumper crop of new picture books by Austin, Texas illustrators and authors.

Late last year I interviewed InteractBooks founders Ezra Weinstein and Richard Johnson as they were launching their company.  You can see  parts of the video interview here. 

Listen to the NPR interview with Erin and Phillip Stead, illustrator and author of the 2011 Caldecott Medal picture book, A Sick Day for Amos.

Read the team blog wrap of highlights and see work by the conference portfolio winners from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 40th Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles, which ended Monday.

Patrice Barton and Shutta Crum team up for Mine! 

Illustrator Patrice Barton’s artwork for Mine!  has been accepted into the Society of Illustrators Original Art Exhibit, 2011. 

Patty was recently interviewed for Mark Mitchell's online, self-paced course on children's book illustration, Make Your Splashes - Make Your Marks!  You'll see an excerpt from the video discussion next time on the blog.

Study buddies help

Now you can enroll in Mark’s course and bring a study buddy with you.

The new study team option (a near “2 for 1″ deal) will come in handy as the course enters a new, expanded tech phase on illustrating for interactive e-books for smart phones and iPads.  You can check that out here.   

To learn a  “magic secret” for improving your drawing quickly, go here.

Book producer Margie Blumberg adds something new to the tried and true

Children’s book illustrators would do well to make note of the pathfinders as the tectonic plates of publishing, communication and commerce are shifting under our feet — as we speak.

Content providers are rushing to the market, knowing that this day and age are like the Oklahoma Land Rush. In a matter of months, the virtual “land grab” will be over — the first round of it anyway.  The dust will have settled and the publishing landscape will be changed. Those trade books with a foothold in the new media will have an edge.

One of these pathfinders is Washington D.C.  author, publisher and patent holder Margie Blumberg, who is making her children’s books available as not only hardcovers but as iTune downloads for iPhones and iPads. Her two picture books,  Breezy Bunnies and Sunny Bunnies, featuring the art of English illustrator June Goulding.

She blogs about grammar and has an e-book available for all ages on the subject, and she’s exploring other formats as well for all her books.

Margie Blumberg, Publisher

Margie knew she wanted to write at an early age.  But like many writers, she took a detour on the way to her dream (in her case, law school and legal internships at the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Science in the Public Interest).

Undeterred in her heart’s goal, she self-published what she describes as an “autobiographical recipe calendar.” It featured delightful comic strip illustrations by illustrator John Thompson chronicling the  trauma Margie says she faced as a young adult when her doctors ruled out chocolate for her for the rest of her life!

So she was already thinking outside the box,  or “the book,”  embedding her personal yarn and favorite dessert recipes (sans chocolate)  in a desktop calendar!

With co-author Colleen Aagesen, Margie went on to write Shakespeare for Kids: His Life and Times - a biography with 21 activities for kids for the Chicago Review Press’s For Kids series.

But the frosting on the cake (not chocolate, we hope) in preparing her for life as a contender in the new publishing/media was the award of a patent in 2008 for an electronic memory pad. She tells us more about that in the interview.

Margie graciously answered our questions about her books, her apps and collaborating with U.K. illustrator June Goulding on her first digital project.  Breezy Bunnies, a book for the i-Pad, and Sunny Bunnies, a hardcover trade book  are both available through  iTunes as downloads and apps for iPhones. Two other books in the series are in the works.

So let’s meet our New Publishing pathfinder.

Hi Margie! You’ve created a publishing company at a time when the industry is going through a remarkable transition and you’re also reaching out to a broad market range “From illustrated books for preschoolers to nonfiction books for adults” as you state. Why did you set up this challenge for yourself and what do you see as the challenges and opportunities in a marketplace that seems about to redefine itself?

Margie: Our goal is to create books of distinction that satisfy the universal need to connect to the world through art and words.

I founded MB Publishing, LLC, a few months before the publication of Avram’s Gift in May 2003. Technology then was not what it is today. Now, with the advent of Kindle, iPad, etc., the industry is redefining itself.  Assuming books made of paper survive [as I write this, my order from Amazon.com has just arrived], I hope the elimination of book returns will be part of this defining moment. In terms of our economy, I think apps could not have come along at a better time. For the price of one hardcover book, a family can download about five to eight picture book apps. That’s great for families on a budget (that’s most of us in America) and it’s wonderful for publishers, too.

Breezy Bunnies Spread

Spread from "Breezy Bunnies:  illustrated by June Goulding

Do you see your market as trade, mass market or education or all three and more? How are you engaging these markets?

I am a trade publisher. One of my biggest challenges is to get the word out about my company’s books—whether in paper or app form. That’s every publisher’s challenge, actually. That’s why there are so many social media experts, SEO experts, and PR experts. Blogs like yours are wonderful also for discussing issues, of course, and to bring attention to work and ideas that might otherwise be hidden from view.

I have engaged Susan Raab of Raab Associates to get the word out about my company and the books that I produce. She has done a marvelous job in reaching out to the media. I have also engaged an SEO expert to help people find my site, which includes information about each book, look-inside features, and downloadable coloring pages. I’d love to hear from Web site mavens and readers alike as to what else my site could offer to make it more engaging and worthwhile.

How can your illustrator help you in this process?

June Goulding has a blog (http://junegoulding.blogspot.com/) with which she keeps in contact with fellow illustrators worldwide. They are a very friendly and supportive online community, and June is able to share news about her work whenever she wants. In general, I think illustrators can help publishers by doing book signings, reaching out to children at local schools and libraries to show their work and inspire future artists and writers, and keeping in touch around the world through their blogs and via groups on LinkedIn or SCBWI, for example.

Sunny Bunnies

Sunny Bunnies, a conventional picture book by Margie Blumberg, illustrated by June Goulding

How did you find June and can you describe the process of working with her on both the traditional and i-Pad books?

After searching through hundreds of portfolios online and scouring children’s book departments, I found June’s portfolio on a site that featured 100 other illustrators. I fell in love with her style immediately
and e-mailed her about my interest in working with her on my “bunny books” project. Naturally, she asked for details (and she was thrilled because bunnies are her favorite to draw) and after a few back-and-forths, we talked. You should know that she is a modern-day Beatrix Potter, taking in hurt or stray animals, such as hens and birds and hedgehogs, and bottle-feeding them back to health. In her compassionate and capable hands, Carrot Cake Park is a beautiful and reassuring place for children.

June and I have a nice routine. As soon as I have “finalized” the text, I e-mail it to her to live with for a week or so. Then she plots out the book in thumbnail form. When I receive her thumbnails, I call her at home in Bristol, England, to listen to how she envisions the illustrations in the
layout, page by page and spread by spread. It never ceases to amaze me how two people—once perfect strangers, separated by an ocean and a language (British English is often quite different from American English, we have learned)—are able to see so completely eye to eye, book after book. By the way, this same simpatico feeling happened when Laurie and I worked together on Avram’s Gift.

It’s during this thumbnails phase that we can spot big problems—perhaps we have too many full-bleed double-page spreads in a row,  for example. If we can move around verses, or turn some spreads into spot illustrations, we do that. It is now that the rhythm and pace of the story and important page turns are set before we move on.

Next come the pencils. Any problems in the text—if they haven’t been caught already—are glaring now. I go off to my little corner and try to figure out a better verse or a better segue or perhaps a better word. I’ll often ask June for ideas, as she’s living with the text as much as I am by this point. I like brainstorming this way, and June doesn’t seem to mind (I think). [June Goulding: “I don't mind. I like to bounce ideas around.”] Often it comes down to just a few different words, but sometimes I’ll have to create a whole new verse. If it’s a problem with the illustration, on the other hand—for example, which direction the hayride is going in (this was an issue in our fall 2011 *Busy Bunnies*), we talk it out. June has asked me to draw out my solutions, but it’s usually much better when June draws out thumbnail sketches of possibilities based upon our conversations. The obvious solution usually presents itself this way—and June doesn’t have to be subjected to my dreadful sketches.

The thing about the word *problem *is that I actually *like *to work out these issues. It doesn’t always feel like work because I’m enjoying the process so much. I remember how I loved my favorite books growing up; if any of our bunny books become a child’s favorite or part of a happy remembrance of childhood, then, well, I’ll be thrilled.

iPad book Breezy Bunnies scheduled for hardcover publication this summer

Breezy Bunnies, written by Margie Blumberg and illustrated by June Goulding

Once pencils are done, June decides upon a palette. She sends me illustrations of the two main characters, each wearing the outfits we talked about but in several different color combinations. I must sound like a broken record by now, but we inevitably pick the same two color combinations for “the kids.” Once the palette is set, June begins to paint. She uses watercolors, ink, and colored pencils. June’s art is a gift, and every time she e-mails me new finished  illustrations, I feel as though I’m being showered with presents.

By the way, if we ever discover a problem in the illustration after the art has been scanned, June fixes it in Photoshop.

How do you, as a publisher and author, foresee illustrators working on these new digital children’s books that will soon be zipping at near-light-speeds into the consumer market ?

Because of the way PicPocket creates the apps, I don’t see too many differences yet. Illustrators will always be focused on creativity. Whether they work with watercolor, oil, pencils, pen and ink, or digital software, creativity will always be the key.

The one area that needs extra attention right now concerns the sound aspect of the app. Now that parents and children can touch something on the screen—a duck, for instance—and a sound is heard, artists and writers will be thinking more and more about new opportunities for adding sound elements to the app. Lynette Maatke, the co-founder of PicPocket Books in Silver Spring, Maryland, has a wonderful ear for sounds. After we go through the book, discussing which sounds will be important and fun, she goes to work locating the MP3 sounds.

Other book app developers and illustrators are doing more with animation. And I’ve seen others creating apps utilizing different camera angles—close-ups, wide shots, etc—and orchestrations. How fun! A book app can be as close to the real book-reading experience as possible or it can be like a cartoon or it can be something in between.

But no matter how sophisticated the software or the end product, it all comes down to the story and the illustrations: Whether static or animated, if the words and the art work beautifully together, well, that’s everything really.

From a spread illustrated June Goulding

Double spread page illustrated by June Goulding for Margie Blumberg's "Sunny Bunnies"

How is conceiving, writing,  illustrating, then publishing an electronic children’s book for a mobile digital device different from those same tasks in the creation and publication of a traditional illustrated children’s book?

At this point, I’m not creating books specifically for a digital device. The
new scanning technology allows each reader to manually move across the page at his or her own pace, so creating an app with pages instead of spreads is not something that I feel we have to limit ourselves to. I suppose I’m lucky that I got into apps at just the right time for these bunny books, which have lots of spreads.

Sunny Bunnies came out in hardcover first. Then it became an app, after Breezy Bunnies Breezy Bunnies which isn’t in print yet, was designed in the exact same way as Sunny Bunnies. My plan is that once all four books are out as apps, we’ll bring them out in a boxed set of four small hardcover books. Of course, by that time, technology may have evolved to the point where children’s books can be carried around in a flexible device that allows readers to interact with the story in a landscape format. Once the technology for children’s books can mimic the hardcover’s or paperback’s look and feel, then I think we will be in a new era. Apple should create a washable device called iPictureBook—or perhaps something fun like iPB&J (PB & J = Peanut Butter and Jelly), the idea being that even kids with sticky fingers can enjoy their books.

Right now, PicPocket Books, the publisher to whom I’m licensing the bunny books, simply needs jpegs of the art (including cover and endpapers) and the title and copyright pages; my text is sent separately in a Word document. Therefore, June, Andrew Smith (my graphic designer), and I don’t have to worry about choosing a charming but readable font anymore. For my part, the publisher asked me to find the narrator for the books. I held taped phone auditions with young actresses through Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland. Once Lynette and I decided on the perfect narrator, we all gathered at the studio to record the first two books. I was able to help with readings of lines and we all got to see how a recording studio works. The engineer was fantastic. He noticed everything and was patient with us as we redid lines wherever necessary.

You mentioned that your graphic designer was Andrew Smith. What happens to the role of designer in such books? Do they now become multi-media designers?

I work with graphic designers on my hardcover and softcover books. And my full-color e-book on grammar, too, required a cover designer and an interior designer. As for the apps of the picture books, our full-bleed art makes a design for the frames unnecessary. However, a designer is a must for the covers and the title page. I work with Andrew Smith at PageWave Graphics on the bunny books.

Avram's Gift by Margie Blumberg, illustrated by Laurie McGaw

Avram's Gift by Margie Blumberg, illustrated by Laurie McGaw

Whenever the conversion does change the layout—on Kindle, for example—you need to work with a converter—or learn how to do it by yourself. I hired Joshua Tallent to convert my chapter book, Avram’s Gift, into a book for Kindle.

What is the royalty or fee arrangement for illustrators who work on MB titles? Or if that is too specific a question, what is the compensation model for illustrators of e-books and multi-media children’s products generally?

This is an area that is in flux right now and is being discussed by publishers, authors, and illustrators. I’ve heard of percentages ranging from 24% to 50% (for authors and illustrators to split 50-50). There’s much debate and terms are being redefined, but for my company, with regard to the picture books, as I am also the author, I give a 50% royalty to June for her illustrations.

In your FAQS about illustrator submissions, it sounds like you would be receptive to illustrators who work in traditional mediums, such as watercolor?

Absolutely. I love the use of traditional media. If I owned an art gallery, I would fill it with children’s book art and animation cels. So instead, I buy books.

How do you work with Emma Walton Hamilton as your editor in the production of your books? What is that like?

In a word, it’s a joy. I initially contacted Emma via e-mail, and we communicated by e-mail throughout the editorial process. We have since spoken on the phone and we did meet for lunch when she was in town (Washington, DC), but the bulk of our work together has been conducted electronically. Some may think that this sounds cold or distant, but you don’t know Emma. Her warmth and integrity—and her enthusiasm for books—shine through every word of her thorough critiques and her editorial work. Her e-mails sparkle with encouragement. When we finally got to meet in person, she was even more fabulous than I had imagined!

Art by June Goulding

Art by U.K. illustrator June Goulding for Margie Blumberg's "Sunny Bunnies"

You are now one of the pioneers in this world of electronic children’s books. What made you decide to bravely charge into this world of new
publishing technology on your own instead of waiting for capital intensive
giants like the major trade publishers, like Random House or even the newly formed Ruckus Media Group to develop the technologies, strategies and markets for this new book and interesting them in your traditional books?

I know it’s the dream of most writers to simply write and not be bothered with the details of printing books or developing apps or working with artists and designers. But my inclination is to write, work with artists,  and produce. It’s a lot of work—but fun, too!—to be responsible for the whole book. When I bake, I don’t want to make just the batter—I want to bake the cake and ice it, too. I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in working with my graphic designers and with June Goulding and Laurie McGaw. And I had a really great time researching photos and art for my grammar book, as well. As for the apps, I know I could have waited, but waiting is not my strong suit. And the experience of being involved in the first wave of this new technology is not to be missed.

Also, in July, PicPocket Books was chosen as a Huggies MomInspired™ Grant Award recipient by Kimberley Clark Corporation. They will be using the support that comes with the grant to implement additional features to the platform, increase marketing efforts, and add new titles. The award includes individual consulting with one of the nation’s top PR firms for help with branding and marketing. So while PicPocket may not be a giant, it’s certainly on its way!

And now for the technology part of our interview, Margie: How did you come to invent a memory pad and get a patent on it? Does this tie into the production of electronic books?

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” It’s so true. I was trying to remember how often a medical event was happening each night, and when I couldn’t recall the number in the mornings, I decided to invent something that would help me (and others) record events. I shared the idea with a nurse who works in a retirement community, and she told me that the memory pad would certainly make her patients’ lives easier—and hers as well. The patent process was long (about 4 years), and now that it’s done, I’ve begun talking with app developers to create a memory pad app. At the time that I thought of this invention, apps were not yet in our vocabulary.

The app for the memory pad is not related to the e-books. Much as I wish I could, I can’t turn to PicPocket Books and ask them to develop this app.

From "Sunny Bunnies" by Margie blumberg, illustrated by June Goulding

From "Sunny Bunnies" by Margie Blumberg, illustrated by June Goulding

What new projects are you working on with MB Publishing? What other
kinds of books and “thinking outside the book” projects would
you be interested in publishing?

I have recently signed a contract with a new writer to publish her middle-grade novel. June is working on the pencils for Busy Bunnies (for fall 2011), and then we will finish the 4-book seasonal section of our Carrot Cake Park series the following year with Snowy Bunnies.  At some point, we’d love to send the bunnies on adventures abroad. In addition, Laurie McGaw and I are just in the talking stages but we are seriously considering writing a play about our friendship of 10 years and counting. Although we’ve met only once (for 90 minutes on my birthday in Philadelphia over dinner)—she lives in Canada and I live in Maryland—we’ve become the best of friends, talking sometimes every day (e-mail is not lively enough for us).  We’ve helped each other celebrate in happy times and cry through a few horribly painful and sad times. Ours is a friendship that also thrives because we can discuss breakfast, art, men  and kids and always find the funny as well as the poignant. I hope we can do the play. Also, there is a cookbook on MB Publishing’s horizon. I won’t be the author, but I will definitely be one of the tasters.

I would love to work with June and a software designer/developer to create a game based on the sights, sounds, and characters in Carrot Cake Park. I’m also interested in mysteries and reference books, and I would enjoy publishing more chapter books.

It is fair to say, then,  as I said in the introduction, that you’ve been drawn to publishing since your teens, or at least since your 20s when you did your desktop calendar Is There Life After Chocolate? with cartoons and recipes?

Yes, it is. By my teens, I knew I wanted to write books when I grew up. And in my twenties, when I had to give up chocolate, I had one of those light-bulb moments: I had just stopped eating chocolate when I wondered to myself, “Is there life after chocolate?” I was obviously feeling very sorry for myself (at the time, I worked in an office where chocolate-covered donuts were always available). Immediately, I thought that that question would make a cute title for a recipe calendar. I got to work writing the cartoons and eventually started working with a cartoonist (John Thompson) who brought it all to life. I’m now gathering the cartoons to make them available on Zazzle.com. I think they will look great on mugs and mouse pads and other such essentials of life!

Thank you Margie for a wonderful interview!  Read more about Margie and her publishing company, MB Publishing.

Ramp up your command of American-English by checking in with Margie’s blog, The Scoop on Good Grammar.

* * * * *

"Moon Bear" by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Ed Young

"Moon Bear" by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Ed Young, published by Henry Holt and Co.

Moon Bear

Any new children’s picture book with illustrations by Caldecott Medal winning collage artist Ed Young is an occasion, and Moon Bear,  written by Brenda Z. Guiberson is no exception.

Moon Bear tells of  a  ursine breed  that hides in the mountains and valleys of southern China and Vietnam. This picture book beautifully produced by Henry Holt and Co. features some of the best page spreads ever created by Young.  With poetic language  and riddle-like questions, Guiberson delivers interesting nonfiction account of a female Moon Bear’s daily travels and travails, most of them involving her hunt for the next meal.

This  endangered species of Asian black bear is distinguished by a white marking on the chest.  Every bear appears to be wearing a white bandanna kerchief — or a bib in a fancy Italian restaurant.

Moon Bears eat bamboo shoots, ants and berries, in lieu of the spaghetti and meat sauce they would undoubtedly also eat if they could find it in the forest. They build their nests in trees. And they seem to possess a special genius for staying out of sight. They’re as elusive as the Abominable Snowmen. And yet they’re captured in considerable numbers in Southern China and kept in confining cages. The book tells us this much in an epilogue — without going into more explanation.

Young’s page designs bring us up close to our subject bear so that we have a real sense of her movement, her presence and spirit.  Made of scraps of colored paper, magazine photos and found objects (such as bamboo leaves), the imagery is kinetic, fresh and bright with contrast.
Guiberson’s language and Young’s pictures fuse nicely to introduce us to a mysterious animal.

Read our 2008 interview with Ed Young. He talks about how he lost all of his original collage illustrations for the picture book Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein –  just before turning them in, and what it felt like to start over with them, with a short deadline looming.

"Moon Bear" double page spread collage illustration by Ed Young

"Moon Bear" double page spread collage illustration by Ed Young

Children’s and YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith gives an in incredibly generous and instructive interview to Julie Danielson at the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog about the six year gestation of her newly published  picture book Holler Loudly,  illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton).  The  interview includes some wonderful pagespreads from the book — original outline drawings and finished illustrations. You might also want to check out Barry Gott’s sketchedby book tumblr page .

* * * * *

Children’s and YA author Greg Leitich Smith, meanwhile has posted on the recent bumper crop of children’s and YA  books by Austin, Texas authors and illustrators.  Illustrators Patrice Barton (Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale, Layla, Queen of Hearts) , Don Tate (She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story), Laura Logan (Nonna Tell Me A Story) and Keith Graves (Chicken Big).  He cites 22 new children’s and YA books just out by Austin area authors and illustrators, most of them in the Austin SCBWI chapter. Read Greg’s post here.

* * * * *

Sweet Baby Moon by Karen Henry Clark with illustrations by Patrice Barton

"Sweet Baby Moon" by Karen Henry Clark, illustrated by Patrice Barton

Really nice guest post by my friend, illustrator Patrice Barton on Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s blog, Cynsations about the difference between picture book and chapter book illustrations. She also talks about her own illustration process. Read the post here. Her latest release is the gorgeous Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale by Karen Henry Clark (Knopf.)

* * * * *

Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton)

A trifecta children’s book launch party at Austin’s BookPeople on November 14 for Austin, Texas SCBWI authors Bethany Hegedus (Trouble with a Capital “T- (Delacorte,, for ages 9-up),  Brian Yansky (Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences - Candlewick, for ages 12 and up)  and Cynthia Leitich Smith (Holler Loudly – illustrated by Barry Gotts - Dutton, for ages 4 and up ) drew a big crowd, including much or most of the Austin SCBWI membership. (We’re our own biggest fans.)

* * * * *
Bruce Foster, the Houston-based paper engineer profiled in a recent How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator post has attracted media attention in a  USA Today review for Charles Dickens‘ A Christmas Carol: A Pop-Up Book, illustrated by Chuck Fischer, and a Dallas Morning News feature for, among other accomplishments, his engineering of the official Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter, a Pop-Up Book, illustrated by Andrew Williamson.
* * * * *

December 15 is the  cut-off date for early registration for the Austin SCBWI 2011 Regional Conference – February 18-19 - featuring Caldecott Medal-winning David Diaz and National Book Award YA Novelist Kimberly Willis Holt. Read more about the event and register for it here.

Trifecta Book Launch Party featuring Austin SCBWI authors

The cleverly stocked refreshment table at the Trifecta Book Launch Party at BookPeople featuring Austin SCBWI authors Brian Yansky, Bethany Hegedus and Cynthia Leitich Smith and many other authors, including Anne Bustard (serving chili at the table) and Jennifer Ziegler ( in black leather jacket.) Writers Sean Petrie and Jan Baumer stand behind Anne.

Austin SCBWI Trifecta book release party

An eager audience of parents, children, teachers and lots of Austin SCBWI members are ready for authors Brian Yansky, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Bethany Hegedus at BookPeople.

* * * * *

Children’s author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts the Children’s Book Illustration and Illustration Course blogs.

Learn a big secret for dramatically improving your drawing here.

* * * * *