The Way to Bea

When you open a book and then find yourself ignoring the world, and before you know it you have finished the book, you know you’ve experienced something special. That’s how it was from the moment we met Bea and we thank Little Brown School & Library for sending us an advance copy of the book.

In the The Way To Bea by Kat Yeh, the main character, Bea is a girl in middle school, navigating everything that is hard about life..family, friends, school, and trying to figure out who she really is. Bea has a hard time adjusting to middle school, as she’s had a falling out with her best friend over the summer. When starting school she becomes quiet and reserved as she adjusts to the changes that come with middle school, as well as the big changes that are happening at home. Bea finds comfort in writing notes and poems with invisible ink, and hides them in what she thinks is a secret spot in the woods. Her secret pen-pal, combined with new friends Bea has made, help her truly understand herself and what it means to be true friends.

Kat paints a wonderful picture and shows readers how our talents and creativity can be outlets when dealing with life’s troubles. For example, Bea is a talented poet and Bea’s mom is also a well respected artist. Kat’s characters are memorable, her story is engaging and we hope you will take the time to read, meet and fall in love with Bea!

Kat was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book & 3 questions about herself!

3 ?s about The Way To Bea

What are three words you use to describe your book?

Poetic

Adventurous

Hopeful

Tell us more about the inspiration for the characters. Were they based on anyone from your own life?

The Way to Bea is about Beatrix Lee, a twelve year old girl who loses her friend group at the start of 7th grade. Something similar happened to me in 9th grade. My best friends and I began to grow apart. We started hanging out with different crowds and just didn’t have the same kind of time together that we’d always had before.

When I started writing this book, I thought a lot about how different that experience would have been if i had been 12 and in 7th grade (like Bea) instead of 14 and in 9th grade. And what if…instead of a gradual growing apart, there had been a dramatic incident that forced the breaking up of the friendship. What would that have been like? While Bea’s story isn’t quite mine, she is very much like me. Thinking about poems, drawing and scribbling and making up stories and day-dreaming all the time.

When my daughter read the book, she thought that Bea’s parents were very much like me and my real life husband, Peter — she laughed and thought it was hilarious how lovey-dovey they were. So I guess that’s a good thing 🙂 Though when I was writing, I pictured Bea’s father as a combination of my brother in law, who is a very fun and goofy guy and Gene Yuen Lang, who is a wonderful author and graphic novelist (just like Bea’s dad!). I did add some physical elements to some characters based on friends. But mostly, the other characters came out of my imagination with just little hints of people I know.

What was the the original pitch that led to this book? How did it evolve over the drafts?

I was nervous when I pitched this book. I had loved writing my first novel, The Truth About Twinkie Pie. The story and the characters came so naturally to me. And i just didn’t know how to begin this next book. So, I started with the idea that If I had an emotional connection to the story, I would fall back into that wonderful place where the words just flowed. I thought back to my 9th grade year and the changing of friend groups. But I knew I needed something more. Here is the pitch that I sent my editor.

“For 13 year old Dandy, the start of her freshman year in high school feels like she’s on a ride she has no control over. Everything around her is changing and shifting faster than she can handle: her best friends start hanging with a different crowd and she just can’t figure out who she is and how she fits in anywhere — for now, all she wants is to just blend in and disappear. But nothing about Dandy blends into a crowd. She’s different. From being a year younger than everyone in her grade — to the way she looks — to her famous and infamous family — to her talent in the arts which she considers squashing to prevent drawing even more attention to herself. And if that wasn’t enough, in her confusing search for a place to fit in, she finds the person she is spending the most time with is new student David – a boy with Asperger’s who is obsessed with drawing mazes. When Dandy starts leaving torn pieces of paper with her feelings written on them tucked into secret places around campus, she is surprised when she starts receiving responses. LITTLE GIRL IN THE MIDDLE is a story about navigating the painful twists and turns of changing friendships, figuring out how to accept the things that make you You, and then finding the bravery to let the world see.”

As you can see, the initial pitch a little different from the final book. I actually knew nothing of the plot when I wrote this. I liked the idea of hiding pieces of paper with messages on them and receiving answers, but I didn’t know who was sending the messages to her yet. And I remember that I just kinda threw in that David was “obsessed with drawing mazes.” I always liked mazes and thought that would be an interesting thing to write about. Plus I just felt like I needed more detail in this proposal. I wanted to sound like i knew what I was talking about! I had no idea that mazes and labyrinths would become a central theme to the book.

As I worked with my editor, we decided to make Dandy younger and I set her at 12 and in 7th grade. I also changed her name several times! She was Dandy for a long time. Then Tomie. I played with a few other names and then realized that she was definitely a Bea. A Bea trying to figure out how to Be. And that led me to realizing that David was actually Will. Someone who was making small changes – and determined to be a better friend. I liked the future promise of the word Will (I will, you will, he will) and it just had to be his name. After their friendship started shaping for me, I knew that this story would be about life as a maze. And being brave enough to work your way through.

3 ?s about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

I’d love to be an artist. I haven’t had a lot of time to paint and draw since I’ve started writing novels and picture books and I really miss that part of my life. I have a beautiful studio that I’ve never set up because we moved into this house just as I started writing my first novel. My easel and flat files and all my art supplies are all just lying there, waiting for me to have time again.

When I think about art and the creation of art, I feel the same way I do when I think about writing. It’s all about finding deep truths, expressing them, and (hopefully) connecting. Both writing and art are such very personal things. I hope to always create in a very honest way because I truly believe this is how you find your people. And how they find you.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

There are so many books that could fit into this answer. I think I’ll say WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams. I read it in 6th grade and it was my first really BIG novel. I remember thinking about how fat the paperback was and how tiny the type was. It looked like a grown-up book with a serious cover. But the second I started reading, I was transported.

WATERSHIP DOWN is the story of rabbits in search of a new home when their warren is destroyed by humans. I still love and reread this book often. The rabbits have their own language and history. They have legends and stories. They love and take care of each other and argue and fight. And through their story and adventure, they show us that strength is not just about size. That bravery shows up in the smallest of us. And that you can be little and different and strange and still be someone who can make a true difference for the ones you care about. Oh, I love this book. And now I want to go and read it again.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Right now, it’s a fruit drawer overflowing with Ruby Red Grapefruit – though, that will be changing soon. Which tells you that I become obsessed — completely and utterly obsessed—with whatever is seasonal and delicious. And then I eat and eat and eat it until the next seasonal thing pops up. I can’t wait for Spring veggies. Baby artichokes and spring peas and asparagus.. The funny thing is that 99% of the time, it’s fruit and veggies that I become excited about EXCEPT for one thing that comes into season late Fall. Mallomars. This always cracks me up. Mallomars are seasonal, because their delicate chocolate coating would melt in the summer 🙂 so it’s always exciting when the first boxes show up in the Fall.

Thanks for chatting with Storymamas! We loved you answers! 

To learn more about Kat and her work. Please visit Kat’s website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Interview with Olga Author Elise Gravel

Happy book birthday to the talented artist and author, Elise Gravel.  Elise has written many of our favorites, from The Cranky Ballerina to The Disgusting Critters series.  Her latest is the second book about Olga and her peculiar pet, Meh.  When we meet up with Olga again in Olga:  We’re Out of Here, she is determined to leave planet Earth in hopes of finding Meh’s hometown.  While planning her excursion, Meh begins acting peculiar, and it’s Olga’s job to find out what’s happening to her dear pet.  We won’t ruin the ending, but you will be pleasantly surprised.  We were so excited to hear that there is a third book about Olga and Meh, and we can’t wait to read it.

As with all of her books, Olga is filled with adorable pictures and a clever story.  If you haven’t had a chance to read any, they range in both topic and length.  We have yet to read one of her books that we don’t love.  What’s even better, you can visit her website and download/print free posters she’s created!  Many thanks to Elise Gravel for sending us an ARC to read.

Three Questions about Olga:  We’re Out of Here

What are three words you would use to describe your book?  

Funny, curious, and weird.

Did you originally plan for Olga to be a series?  Are there more books to come?

Yes, it was always meant to be a series! I am now working on #3.

Which came first, the doodles for Olga and Meh, or the story?

It all came from a drawing of Olga and Meh, and then I decided to create a world for them.

Three Questions About Elise Gravel

If you weren’t a writer/illustrator, what would you want to be and why?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be either a rockstar or a teacher. Rockstar: because I love music and I thought it sounded awesome to play music for a living, and teacher: because I think teachers are among the most important people in our society.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

All of Roald Dahl’s books. As a kid, I was thrilled by the kid-heroes who were fighting really evil guys. Also, the books were funny!

What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

There is a LOT of cheese in my fridge. What does it say about me, though? I’m not sure… Maybe that my ancestors are French?

The Storymamas review board books, picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels. The majority of the books we review on our site and social media are purchased from a bookstore or checked out from the library. However, at times when we receive Advanced Readers Copies of books from authors, illustrators, publishers, or publicists we will note that in our review of a book. We are not and have not been compensated for our reviews. For every review, all opinions are our own regardless of how we received the book.

Building Confidence From A Scribble! Book Review & Author Interview


I’m Not Just A Scribble… was generously gifted to the Storymamas to read & review. We love how books find a way to remind readers how important it is to appreciate people for the being unique and for reinforcing how important it is to include people.

This story takes us on the journey of a young scribble, who is happy and confident, but then starts to meet other things who are not nice, and confused about who he is, being a messy bunch of lines. The scribble becomes sad. But then becomes mad and stands up for himself! “The fact that I’m different doesn’t make me so bad.” He makes others see that he’d be a fun friend no matter what he looks like. The other objects agree that they weren’t very nice and believe playing is more enjoyable with lots of friends.

Diane Alber’s book would make a great addition to primary classrooms.  She took the time to answer some of our questions below.

3 Questions about I’m Not Just A Scribble

What are three words you’d use to describe your book?

Mindfulness, Creative, Kindness

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

My son actually inspired the character for this book, he’s still new to drawing and most of his drawings would be scribbles that he wasn’t too excited about. Then one day he got the idea to put two googly eyes on his drawing and his eyes just lit up. And that’s how scribble the character was created He started to make all his little scribbles into little creatures and he was so happy! It not only made him want to draw more but gave him confidence with his drawings.Then after I had a character I needed to come up with a storyline, and it just so happened that my son had just started school and his first encounter with a “not so nice kid” As we talked through it I realized that this would be a great story line for a book. Not only could children relate with the character but it could teach them empathy and kindness in the process.

Which part was easier for you, the words (story) or the pictures?

Illustrations definitely, I’m an artist first, and rhyming is very difficult. But I just love reading rhyming books so I knew I had to create one that rhymed.

3 Questions about Diane Alber

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

This is a tough question because i’m not a writer first 🙂 I’m an artist. I graduated college with a degree in fine arts specializing in painting.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

We’re All Wonders, the message was amazing and the illustrations we unbelievable.  

What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

It’s hard to point out one item because pretty much all of it is for my children, but it’s hard to miss how much milk we have, usually 4-5 cartons at a time.  I like to be prepared and I can’t stand to run out of milk!  

 

My Colorful Chameleon – An Interview with Leonie Roberts

We were each generously given copies of My Colorful Chameleon by Leonie Roberts to review and enjoy with our children.  And I have to say, the books are definitely being enjoyed!  There are so many elements of the book that are appealing to younger children, especially the rhyming that is found throughout.  In addition, on almost every page, the young girl’s chameleon is hiding, which adds to the mother’s frustration, but makes for a fun search at each turn.  Throughout the book, there are also opportunities for conversations about more rich vocabulary words.  In the story, the girl and her mother take the chameleon to the veterinarian, and the doctor discusses why her pet changes colors, which is a great jumping off point to talk about the word camouflage.  But be careful, this book just might have your children asking for a pet chameleon!

We had the opportunity to interview Leonie Roberts to learn more about her and My Colorful Chameleon.       

Three Questions About My Colorful Chameleon

What are three words you would use to describe your book?

Cute, funny and colorful!

Did you initially set out to create a book that rhymes?  Or did you initially draft it differently?

I didn’t deliberately set out to write this in rhyme but the story seemed to lend itself to rhyme and so even the early drafts were rhyming. Since then I have been writing both in rhyme and prose.

We love how well the illustrations match your words.  Did you have a lot of say in the illustrations?  What was your collaboration like with Mike Byrne?

The illustrations were completely down to Mike. He had free rein on how to interpret the text and I was delighted with the results.

Three Questions About Leonie Roberts

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be and why?

I am actually still a primary school teacher and I love working with young children because they never fail to brighten up my day. Children are so clever and funny and there aren’t many more rewarding jobs out there.

If I wasn’t a writer and I could be anything I would probably be a singer. I’ve always loved singing even before I dreamt of becoming a writer.

What is one book that you have read that has stuck with you?

As a child the book that stuck with me was, “Pongwiffy” by Kate Umansky. I can’t remember what happened in it I can just recall how much I enjoyed it.

As an adult, “The Hunger Games” trilogy stuck with me, so much so that it is the only trilogy I have read twice.

What is one thing in your refrigerator that tells us about you.

A creme caramel because I love my sweet treats.

 

The Storymamas review board books, picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. The majority of the books we review on our site and social media are purchased from a bookstore or checked out from the library. However, at times when we receive Advanced Readers Copies of books from authors, illustrators, publishers, or publicists we will note that in our review of a book. We are not and have not been compensated for our reviews. For every review, all opinions are our own regardless of how we received the book.

Just Try It Wyatt – Author Interview & Review


One of my favorite parts of Storymamas is interviewing authors and illustrators. It is always fascinating to hear the evolution of the book and the inspirations for creating the characters or story. I also love to hear more about their lives. Since we are three people, it is often hard to meet in person due to being in various locations, so many interviews have taken place using video technology or email exchanges. When a local author in my hometown outside of Detroit reached out to me and wanted to meet me and talk about her book, I jumped at the chance. Kelsey and I met at a coffee shop and talked all about literacy and our passions for what we do. Kelsey Fox is the author of the book Just Try It Wyatt.

Just Try It Wyatt is a book about a fox named Wyatt who is stubborn and doesn’t want to try anything new. When all the things he knows and likes aren’t available, Wyatt becomes annoyed and sad. Will his frustrated lead him to try something out of his comfort zone? And if he does, will he like it?
What is great about the story is it is relatable to everyone who reads it- kids, parents, teachers; we’ve all either been Wyatt or known someone like Wyatt. Kelsey has done a wonderful job of creating an engaging story around this difficult concept. I think the way Wyatt acts and feels throughout the book will help strike conversation around this idea of not being afraid to try something new. Preschool and primary classroom teachers can benefit from using this book as a resource in their classroom. Parents of young children can also get a lot out of it with their kids. I’ve started to refer to Wyatt when I’m encouraging my 3 year old son to try new foods.

Another great addition to the book is the true facts about the red fox in the back of the book. Many times I’ve had kids ask questions about animals in books and I have not known what to tell them at that moment, and we’ve had to find another resource to figure it out. Kelsey was thoughtful and has added information to the back of her book.

Something else that is so special about the book is Kelsey. I know I can’t meet ever author out there (although we would love to), but hearing her talk about how this book is a labor of love for her, the countless hours she’s put into writing, rewriting, editing, and finding how to publish, is inspiring. I loved listening and learning about how much she has learned in the business and how much she still wants to find out. She shared with me that she needed to redo most of the book, illustrations, books size, paper weight, just so that stores would even consider putting it on their shelves. It was wonderful to meet her and hear her talk about her book. And so I hope you will take a chance with a book you might not have heard of before and Just Try It!

Kelsey was kind enough to answer our Storymamas questions. Three questions about the book and three about the her.

3 ?s about Just Try It Wyatt

What three words would you use to describe your book?
Educate. Entertain. Inform.

What was your inspiration for creating the book?
As a teacher, I understand that we want stories to correlate with a greater lesson we’re trying to teach our students. I sometimes found it hard to find the perfect book to teach to, so I wrote my own. My plan is to create an entire series that teachers can use the first few weeks of school about good character and being a part of a classroom family!

Can you tell our readers about your choice to self publish and what are some of your big take-aways after going through the process?
Deciding to self-publish was such a hard choice to make. There are pros and cons for both self and traditional publishing paths. Self-publishing allowed me to have more control and creativity throughout the whole writing process. I also am able to have my book out to the public practically years before if I would have went to a large publishing house. My biggest take away is that self-publishing is very hard work! You’re your own editor, formatter, publicist marketing manager and everything in between! You need to be a go-getter and dedicated. Even after meeting with two publishers, I choose to self-publish and have been 100% happy with my choice!

3 ?s about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?
If I was not a writer, I would like to be a farmer. I like animals and gardening. I have a small urban farm now where I grow all my family’s vegetables in the summer, can them in the fall and raise chickens year long. It would be great to live in the country and have lots of land.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?
When I was growing up I love the Little House on the Prairie books! My mom introduced me to them and I was hooked! Reading about someone who went through so much, but lived to tell the tale amazed me. I think that may be why I enjoy memoirs so much today.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?
I always have coffee in my fridge! It’s a staple in my diet. As a mom, teacher, wife, and writer, I am always on the go and need that pick me up to help me with my busy lifestyle. I would like to think that means I am a go-getter and am up for any challenge!

To learn more about Kelsey, please follow Wyatt on Facebook and Twitter!

The 11:11 Wish…An Interview With Kim Tomsic

We’ve all had those moments, when we’ve made a whimsical wish knowing that it won’t come true, but are secretly hope that it does anyway.  But what if on one of those days, the wish…does come true?  Kim Tomsic was kind enough to send us an advanced copy of The 11:11 Wish, and answer questions in our interview below.

In the book,Megan is having trouble fitting in as a new student in middle school from day one after she is “zapped” by a classmate as she arrives in the office.  A new student hazing of sorts, Megan needs to plan something exciting by the end of the day.  Feeling lost, the memory of a rhyme her grandmother once recited while wishing on a cat clock comes back to her as she notices the same type of clock in her classroom.  One wish leads to another and before she knows it, Megan is in way over her head!

The 11:11 Wish tells the timeless struggles of going through middle school, while taking on a modern, fanciful feel.  Middle grade readers will definitely be able to relate to the characters and picture themselves in the novel.  Read below to hear from Kim Tomsic.

3 Questions about The 11:11 Wish

Is Megan’s character based at all off of your middle school experience?  My father was in the military, so I spent much of my life as the new girl, which felt fine when I was younger, but not so fine when I moved from Texas to a new school in Arizona. Somewhat like Megan’s experience of moving two weeks after the start of her seventh-grade school year, my move happened three weeks after my freshman year of high school. Yep, school had already begun which made for one tough experience! Everyone already had their friend groups, and I spent my time worrying that I’d be sitting alone at lunch. I’m not sure why that felt like it would be the worst thing in the world, but the thought of everyone seeing me sit by myself felt humiliating. The funny thing is, now I can’t remember who I ate with during those first few months or why the idea of people seeing me eat alone mattered. I have no problem sitting by myself now, but that experience serves me today as a reminder to reach out to someone in case they feel awkward or alone.

The problems that Megan faced have been problems kids have faced in middle school for years and years.  What research did you need to do to make her experience authentic and realistic in current times?

My research came from having a front row seat to the inside skinny with my kids—I was a good listener when I carpooled my children and their friends to school, to soccer, to dance, to the mall, to lunch, to anywhere! Furthermore, I was an active volunteer at their school. My main character Megan has a “wenis” incident in the story; well, a “wenis” is something my son came home from school laughing about. He thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. Megan’s worry that she might be dressed like a forest ranger—I swear I heard those very words from my daughter’s own lips.  Many of the funny moments in the story contain a kernel of real life.   

What was the inspiration for your book?  Do you personally own a cat clock?

When I grew up, my family had cats but never a cat clock. Oh, how I loved those clocks, especially the ticking-tocking eyes and moving tail, so fun and whimsical! The notion of saving my money and purchasing a cat clock didn’t even occur to me, because it felt untouchable, like an item too magical to own.

As an adult, my niece and my daughter loved to announce that it was time to wish whenever the clock (any clock) ticked to 11:11. That’s when the idea struck me—I needed to write a book about wishing at 11:11, and naturally the magic had to be leveled by the magical cat clock of my memories.

You’ll be happy to know that after I turned in my final edits for The 11:11 Wish, I made a special celebration purchase: One authentic black and white Kitty-Cat Clock!

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

I love this question and the possibilities that spring to mind. I think my answer changes every week. This week’s answer:  if I weren’t a writer, I’d study to become an illustrator!  I love to sketch and draw, and though I only have minimal skills, it’s satisfying to take out my colored pencils and watch a shape take life. I find it fascinating when I go to a conference and listen to an illustrator give a presentation about the artistic choices he or she made to produce magic in their art. Professional illustrators are true wizards and I’m awed by their craft.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

I recently read an advance copy of a book releasing in June, 2018 called The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast by Samantha M. Clark. I found the book similar to Hatchet meets The Wizard of Oz. I can’t stop thinking about how it all comes together in the end.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Hmmmm, probably my tangerine LaCroix—I don’t mind being bubbly!

 

Kim’s upcoming events…

THE 11:11 WISH Book Launch BOULDER!
 DATE:

Thursday, 22 February 2018

 TIME:

6:30 pm

 VENUE:

Boulder Bookstore, Pearl Street, Boulder, CO

Book Launch party! Please join me!
1107 Pearl Street, Boulder CO
The 11:11 Wish book launch party DENVER!
 DATE:

Saturday, 3 March 2018

 TIME:

1:30 pm

 VENUE:

BookBar Denver, 4280 Tennyson Street, Denver, CO

Please join me at BookBar for my Denver launch party of The 11:11 Wish!

When: March 3, 2018

Time: 1:30pm

Where: BookBar Denver, 4280 Tennyson Street, Denver CO

Tattered Cover Writing Workshop for Kids, So You Want to be a Writer! 11 Magical Tips to Make Your Writing Come Alive!
 DATE:

Saturday, 24 March 2018

 TIME:

1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

 VENUE:

Tattered Cover Bookstore, 2526 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80206

Writing workshop for kids, ages 8-18 years old: So You Want to be a Writer! 11 Magical Tips to Make Your Writing Come Alive
nErDcampKS
 DATE:

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

 VENUE:

nErDcampKS

nErDcampKS 2018 Hesston, Kansas

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Storymamas review board books, picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. The majority of the books we review on our site and social media are purchased from a bookstore or checked out from the library. However, at times when we receive Advanced Readers Copies of books from authors, illustrators, publishers, or publicists we will note that in our review of a book. We are not and have not been compensated for our reviews. For every review, all opinions are our own regardless of how we received the book.

Be Kind – A Must Read For All & Illustrator Interview

We don’t even know what to say except Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and Illustrated by Jen Hill should live in every classroom, every home, and every library! What a special book Pat & Jen have created. In a time where there is so much going on, reminding us that “being kind can be easy” but it also says it can be hard and sometimes scary. This book is a great reminder of how we can begin and continue to spread kindness from all different places.

When Tanisha gets grape juice spilled on her, all the kids laugh, except one, our main character. She is a wonderful person who shows empathy toward Tanisha and tries to cheer her up. When her attempt fails, she thinks of what it really means to be kind. Is it the little things, the big things, will small acts of kindness add up to something great? This book tackles these complex questions and helps us see that kindness can be both big and small. 

Pat and Jen have created something beautiful together, as the words and pictures work in perfect harmony. The character who has gotten the spill on her, is covered in purple. The hues of purple woven into the story tell even more of the mood and layers the characters are feeling. And something that struck me is the plain purple endpapers. It made me stop and think and gather my thoughts. Lots of books these days have designs or even the story on the endpapers, this is just purple, and the color helped me stop and reflect before and after the book.

Thank you for creating this book, we look forward to sharing it with our kids and students.

Jen Hill was kind enough to answer 3 questions about her art and three questions about herself.

3?s about your art

What is your go to medium for creating illustrations and why?

I use combinations of Gouache, Photoshop, pencil + paper, and recently have begun experimenting with Adobe Sketch on my iPad. Painting in gouache will always be my favorite, but I use it less and less as digital rendering allows for easier revisions. The medium I choose for the final art depends on the piece. For middle-grade I work in a black and white pen-and-ink style. For picture books I’ll use gouache or photoshop or a combination of both.

Because you illustrate for a variety of authors with varying stories, how do you create art to look different while still adding your signature look?

Color and application of medium is probably the best answer here. Every story has a distinct voice, and I choose my approach accordingly. A “loud” story will have heavier pictures; for a “quiet” story I’ll use a softer touch and more muted palette. For a wry story I’ll give the characters a bit of an edge. I always begin the same way: I print the manuscript so I can doodle along the margins as I read. After a few readings I’ll have a proper feel for the tone and mood. From here it’s matter of instinct. Imagery typically pops into my mind and I attempt to create what I see using the medium which best fits the picture in my head. The end result may resemble what was in my imagination., but sometimes it differs wildly. That’s okay, because I trust the process.

In your email you described this as  “perhaps the most meaningful collaboration I’ve been a part of.” Can you tell us more about that.

When I read the manuscript for BE KIND I was moved by the message of thoughtfulness and empathy. I admire Pat’s skill in creating a deeply felt experience with minimal words. There is no moralizing in this book; the reader is instead invited to ponder a variety of scenarios relating to kindness and compassion. It’s a direct appeal to one’s best self, powerful in its subtlety. The opportunity to make art is even more of a privilege when the message promotes kindness and celebrates humanity.

3?s about you

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you want to be and why?

Oh, so many things. I always knew I would be an illustrator and never considered a different career, but I have had a few side gigs along the way. I’m an armchair psychologist, a hairdresser, and a secret singer-songwriter.  If I had the means I’d be a career college student. There’s so much to learn. History is full of fascinating stories.  

What is one artist that you would outfit your home with if you had all the money in the world?

Saul Steinberg or Georges Braque.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Seltzer. I am an addict.

To learn more about Jen Hill, please visit her website or follow her on twitter and Instagram.

What Do You Do With a Chance? An Interview With Author Kobi Yamada

You know you’ve found an amazing picture book when it makes you truly think and reflect on the world around you.  Author Kobi Yamada’s first book in the series, What Do You Do With an Idea? spoke to the reader metaphorically, encouraging those ideas we might not think good enough to be set free into the world of possible.  We were further impressed with the second title, What Do You Do With a Problem. It proved to be an inspirational read aloud, providing a bright outlook on how to approach problems, and the meaningful experiences that might unfold.  So when we were contacted by Compendium to review the third and final book, What Do You Do With a Chance, we couldn’t wait to read it.

The book follows the same character, who this time is presented with a chance.  We’ve all been there, internally debating if we should take a chance we are presented with, the dialogue going through our heads of the endless possibilities and outcomes that lie within this one decision.  The reader is able to relate to the character’s thoughts of all eyes looking at him and the seeming pressure from those around us when we step outside of our comfort zone.  And sometimes those pressures become too much, and opportunities get pushed aside.  It’s only when we courageously dig down deep that the chance of something wonderful can truly exist.  We can all relate to this theory of thought, and What Do You Do With a Chance? will inspire those young and old to always seize the opportunities given to us…they might just change our lives.

We had the chance to interview Kobi Yamada about himself and his books.

Three Questions About What Do You Do With a Chance?

What was your inspiration for your What Do You Do… series?

It all started with an idea.  I think in many ways, I didn’t write What Do You Do With An Idea? as much as the story chose me.  I’ve always felt deeply honored that the inspiration for the book woke me up one morning and wanted me to share it with the world.

Tell us about your collaboration with Mae Besom.  The pictures fit so perfectly with your words.  Did you have a lot of input on the illustrations?  

When I was writing the book, in my mind, I always pictured Mae illustrating it.  I had descriptions and notes for each page, but then when I reached out to her agent, I discovered that Mae lived in China and didn’t speak English.  I was concerned because in order for the book to work, the illustrator needed to understand its deeper meaning.  What I discovered through the interpreter was that Mae not only understood what I was trying to do, but was moved and inspired by it.  She embraced the concept of bringing the book from black and white to color as the idea influences its surroundings and added so many wonderful visual elements.  It was ridiculously fun to collaborate in such a magical way.

Why did you decide to stop the series at three books?  I know there is a lot of love and admiration for your series, so we’d like to know your thoughts behind just making the three.  (After reading it to my students, they suggested What Do You Do With a Question…even they want more!)

I didn’t set out to write a series.  It just happened with the concept for the second book.  And when I wrote that second book, I purposefully had the bones of the book match the structure of the first one.  Naturally, this carried over to book number three. I felt it was time for me to create a picture book in a brand new way and so my next book is something completely different and I am really excited by the challenge of it.

3 Questions About Kobi Yamada

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

Actually, I don’t really think of myself as a writer.  I am grateful and honored to author books but my day job is running Compendium and I couldn’t be happier or feel more fortunate.  I am surrounded by talented, caring, big-hearted people trying to make a positive difference in the world.  Who could ask for more?

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  I was a young person when I first read it, and to an optimist like me, when I read his words such as, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”  Well, they have a way of sticking with you.  

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Kombucha.  Healthy, bubbly, tasty, with a bit of kick…that’s good for your gut.  I think that says a lot about why I like it.  

 

A big thank you to Kobi Yamada for answering our questions and sharing his thoughts.  Be sure to check out Compedium for a wide variety of inspiration books and gifts, including an adorable Idea plush!

*Can’t wait to read What Do You Do With a Chance? Enter on Instagram or twitter @storymamas to win a copy!

 

 

 

 

All opinions and reviews are our own.

One Smart Cookie…

Smart Cookie by one of our favorite middle grade authors, Elly Swartz, is yet another fantastic story of emotion, love, friendship and family. We don’t know how Elly does it but once again, just like in her book Finding Perfect, she made us fall in love. We fell in love with the story, the characters, her words, just everything. Elly has this amazing way of making sure that as the reader you experience and step into the lives of her characters. You get so engrossed and involved in their lives you feel you know them personally and become invested in their successes, hardships and their stories. Smart Cookie is all about Frankie finding her perfect family. Since her moms passing it’s just been her dad, her gram and her living at a B & B. She misses her mom tremendously and she wants to feel like a family again but doesn’t think that’s possible without finding a new mom. Throughout the story she realizes what a family really means.

We had another opportunity to interview Elly Swartz about Smart Cookie, as well as ask her some questions about herself.

3 ?s about Smart Cookie

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Family. Heart. Spunk. (And, if I can sneak in a fourth, Secrets.)

We love that you have multiple stories weaved together with multiple layers to the main character. Where did you come up with your ideas for Smart Cookie?  

Frankie’s story is all about family. For me, family is at the heart of everything I do and everything I am. I grew up with a very close family. But when I was thirty, my mom died. She was 55. Her loss opened a great big hole in my heart. And after 22 years, I’ve realized some holes aren’t meant to be filled. Not in the same way. And that is ultimately what Frankie learns. Family isn’t about having all the same pieces in place, it’s about having people in your life who love you unconditionally. And that circle is so much bigger than those with whom you shared a bedroom, a childhood, a name.

Frankie’s friend Elliot’s ghost hunting was sparked by my youngest son and one of his childhood friends. When they were eleven (now 22), they went ghost hunting, and, as the story goes, they found a ghost!

Frankie’s snow globe collection was inspired by my oldest son. He collected snow globes when he was little. When I was writing this story, I found the box marked ‘snow globes’ and shared them with Frankie. She loved them!

And Frankie’s pets, Lucy and Winston, came to the page right from my home. Lucy, my beagle, is all spunk and love. Just like Frankie. And, Winston, was inspired by my youngest son’s African Pygmy Hedgehog named Hippie.

So while it wasn’t the plan going in, seems there’s a lot of my life tucked into these pages.

Do you have any “Frankies” in your life?  Is she based off of anyone you know?

Frankie is a blend of many people in my life. I think she’s equal parts spunk and heart. I love her courage, wit, strength, and strong sense of caring for those she loves the most. Gratefully, there are many strong girls and women in my life who share these qualities.

3 ?s about You

What is your “go-to” kidlit book to give as a gift and why?

I have a few. I love Happy Dreamer by Peter Reynolds, I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. And, I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt and Cyd Moore. New to this list are Love by Matt de la Pena and Loren Long and Be Kind Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill (out 2/6). All of these books are filled with heart. Not sure there could be a better gift to give.

If you could have a dinner party with three people (dead or alive), who would you invite and why?

My three guests would be my mom, Judy Blume, and Michelle Obama. Three incredible, strong women.

My mom has been gone for twenty-two years. There is not a day that passes that I don’t wish to have one moment with her. To tell her I love her. To say thank you. To listen.  

Judy Blume, well, she’s one of my writer heroes. I want to know how it felt when Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? came out. What she’s reading. The advice she’d give. And, what she learned along the way.

Michelle Obama, she truly embraces the strength and intelligence, kindness and empathy, and sense of family that I so admire. I’d love to hear what’s important to her now, what matters most, and what is in her TBR pile. Then we could go to the gym together and work-out.

Honestly, three amazing women who I would love to learn from and be inspired by over a glass of wine and dinner. 

What has been your most memorable “author” moment since Finding Perfect has been released?

There have been many wonderful author moments, but the one that resonates most, was a letter from a student who I’d connected with. This letter began, “I just wanted you to know that you changed my life.” Honestly, that moment melted my heart and has stayed with me. To know the words I wrote, the story I told, made a difference is truly everything.  

And a few extras…

Smart Cookie Activity and Curriculum Guide

http://ellyswartz.com/smart-cookie-book

Links to order Smart Cookie:

http://amzn.to/2v0pWU9

http://bit.ly/2uRCWL1

http://bit.ly/2vT5YXJ

Once again, thank you so much Elly for answering our questions and sharing such powerful stories with the world! To learn more about Elly, check out her website or follow her Instagram and  twitter.

Keep an eye out for her third book, Give and Take in 2019!

Elly Swartz loves writing for kids, Twizzlers, and anything with her family. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG 2016) is about twelve-year-old Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. In her second book, SMART COOKIE (Scholastic, 2018), you meet the spunky and big-hearted Frankie. Frankie’s all about family with a dash of mischief and mystery! And then in 2019, say hello to Maggie in GIVE AND TAKE (FSG). Elly lives in Massachusetts with her family and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly, you can find her at ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz or on Instagram @ellyswartzbooks.

Take a trip to the Amazon Rainforest: Let’s Celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Bom Dia! Good Day! We want to join in celebrating multicultural day by sharing a wonderful travel series!

Thank you to Janelle, a Medallion Level Sponsor for sending us the book, Mystery of the Troubled Toucan by Lisa Travis, illustrated by Adam Turner to review and enjoy. Thank you also to Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom for raising awareness for multicultural books and for celebrating diversity! All opinions are our own.

The book Mystery of the Troubled Toucan is an adventure travel series for ages 6-9 called A Pack-n-Go Girls Adventure, this book takes place in Brazil and is the first in the series. It is about two girls, Sofia and Júlia, who develop a friendship when Sofia comes from Florida with her dad to visit the Amazon Rainforest. Along with the new experiences the rainforest brings she meets a new friend, Júlia.

It’s a mystery that involves a danger signaling toucan, pink dolphins, poachers and two girls who want to save the animals of the rainforest. Not only is it a story about the beautiful country of Brazil but Lisa does a wonderful job of embedding a tricky family situation for Sofia. Her parents are going through a divorce and she is constantly worried throughout the story about what her family will look like when she returns home. Meanwhile Júlia doesn’t seem to worry about too much and often says, “nao se preocupe”, don’t worry when Sofia starts to get upset or worried about something. The friendship the girls build throughout the story is heartwarming. We especially enjoyed the ending of the book when Sofia is on her way home and sees from the airplane the area where two bodies of water meet and she realizes that this is just like her family will be, “separate but not together”.

Lisa writes with such imagery you feel you’re in the rainforest as the girls experience various animals, plants, food and even the Portuguese language. Reading the story made us want to read more about Brazil and get on an airplane to experience it all ourselves! As a bonus feature at the end of the book there is a place with various lists of interesting facts about Brazil like: the history, government, a map, food, weather, Portuguese/English word translations and a travel journal for those that end up going to the country.

Check out the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website for more information about the wonderful event and their mission to spread the diverse book love!