There is a sweet new book out called BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! by debut children's book creator Melissa Guion. If you're a new parent, or a new sibling, this is the book for you! Per the flap copy: "What happens when alone time disappears - when babies arrive and what was quiet becomes chaos?" PENGUINS - that's what! Fun, chaotic, troublesome, cuddly PENGUINS!
     Today, I ask Melissa some questions about her new book.

Q. As a debut children's book creator - I know my readers are interested in your path to publication. Do you mind sharing?
A. Of course! One thing readers might find interesting is that I didn't pursue this career until my mid-thirties. I had a few previous careers, including one in finance which began accidentally when I moved to NYC and took a mailroom job at a hedge fund. I thought it was temporary, but I got swept up the ladder and ended up in a pretty serious role. My time in that world taught me a lot, but it got to the point where it was literally painful to go to work, I was so clearly in the wrong place.
      When I decided to pursue children's books, which was in 2003 or so, I was really starting over from scratch. I have an English degree but I hoped to illustrate as well as write, so one of the first things I did was sign up for some art classes to get a bit of technique under my belt. I really went about the whole thing in first gear: creeping along, drawing when I wanted to, working an unrelated part-time job and doing life stuff like renovating a house and starting a family. In 2006, I met Steve Malk, of Writers House. A former colleague of Steve's kept offering to introduce us and I kept putting him off, because I had only a smattering of personal work to show. Thank goodness my friend introduced us anyway, because Steve loved my work and gave me tons of valuable advice and encouragement. I wish I could say that lit a fire under me, but it only kicked me into second gear.
      By 2008, I had enough finished artwork to assemble a portfolio, and Steve lined up a round of editor meetings that proved to be totally fruitless. In retrospect, not getting a book then was really valuable. It toughened me up, the experience of sharing creative work face to face, and not hearing "yes." I also learned a lesson about staying with an interaction that isn't going your way. I had a meeting with Anne Schwartz and Lee Wade where it was quickly clear I was not going to get considered, let alone hired, but I lingered sort of despite myself. We ended up having a great conversation about other illustrators, including James Marshall, one of my heroes. Anne dug out some of his original art to show me. I shared a few out of print books I liked, which they'd never seen. The meeting was a lot of fun, it probably lasted an hour, and I'd have missed the best part if I'd left when I saw there was no job in it.

      In the fall of the following year, 2009, Steve and I did a postcard mailing featuring some of my artwork that led very quickly to a meeting with Michael Green, the president of Philomel Books (Penguin). Michael offered me a single picture book deal on the spot. (I think I signed the actual contract with Penguin in 2010, because the agencies and the publishers were mired in negotiations about electronic rights throughout that fall and winter.) That resulted in my recently published picture book, BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! In 2012, just before my first book came out, I signed a multiple-book contract with Penguin, and a deal for a BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! board book.

Q. How did this particular story come to you, and is it more for the parents or for the brand new brothers and sisters in a family?
A. I always had penguins in my portfolio but they were just playful characters without a story. Michael, my editor, really wanted to do something with them, and it was he who supplied the premise of the solitary penguin and the magic hat that produces little penguins. Together, we grew it into what it is now, which is nice since it's a book about the benefits of togetherness. Of course, the idea resonated with me as a new mother.

      I certainly hope the book speaks to parents. A lot of my experience with my three year old went directly into the book. I hadn't particularly thought of it as being for (or not for) siblings, but funnily enough, I just got a message from a woman whose 2- and 5-year-old like to read the book together. The 2-year-old enjoys looking at the little penguins, and the older one relates to needing time alone. So it's field-tested for sibling use as well.

Q. The artwork in BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! is delicate and charming. What is your method?
A. The art is just a soft graphite pencil and watercolor on 140lb Fabriano cold press paper. I used a bit of white gouache to make the grey of the baby penguins.
      As far as my working method, I made preparatory sketches and color tests on a cheap paper. I spent a lot of time getting the forms right because I knew the art would be spare. I worked mostly from my imagination; I didn't need much in the way of photo research, though I did look at some pictures of icebergs.
      Then I drew and painted the final art directly onto my good paper, without tracing. I lost some precision in my compositions that way, but it gave me the loose line quality I wanted.

Q. Your simple drawings have so much joy and character - I'm sure you must apply this skill to other critters as well. What others tug at your heart?
A. I like to draw birds. Birds really make me laugh. I also have a book in a drawer about a fish, and a lot of drawings of mean rabbits. My daughter has two guinea pigs and I've thought of turning them into characters. I mean, they're already characters, I'd just be committing them to paper.

Q. Are you doing anything special to help promote your new book? Please share! And what are you working on to follow such a stupendous debut?
A. I'd never heard of a "blog tour" until this summer, if you can believe it. I put one together for myself and it was really helpful in terms of getting to know, and be known by, the kids book community.
      I'm also doing a bookplate promotion with four other authors (including Dashka Slater, who I think you just interviewed). We designed bookplates for our latest books; buyers can request them, then we personalize them, sign them, and mail them out. Several media outlets picked up on the promotion, and the response has been good. I have to say I really enjoyed ganging up with other book creators on that project, because book promotion is not my idea of fun. (Is it anybody's?) It's much nicer to do with friends.
      As far as what I'm doing next: the board book version of BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! comes out next fall, which thankfully requires no work on my part. I'm working hard on a second penguin book for Spring 2014, and I have a third book under contract for Spring 2015. I'm not sure what that one will be yet. I have a few ideas.

Thanks for sharing Melissa!

      One lucky commenter will win a free copy of BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE. Must live in the continental US to win. Review copy provided by the publisher.
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Lori T said...

Thank's for sharing. This sounds like such a cute book. I would love to give a copy to my nephew.

Anna said...

I love, love the sweetness of the story. Letting the kids know that mommies, too, need to take a breather. Thanks for the interview!

Christina Rodriguez said...

Oh goodness does this look CUTE! And who in their right mind doesn't like penguins?!

Ashley Newell said...

I love penguins! I have 2 boys and just had a baby girl, we read to them every night so this would be a great addition to our collection.

Sandy said...

We're expecting baby #3 this May and this would be great to share with my two older boys (ages 3 years and 18 months). :)

Domestic Diva said...

I'd give this to my animal loving kids.

apple blossom said...

have a heart for children's lit. and I'd share it with my nieces and nephews thanks

Unknown said...

This would be for my nephew! :)

Joanna said...

SWEET! These antarctic animals are some of my favorites. Loved the interview.

Anonymous said...

would love to win this for my son! He loves when I read to him and we could really use some new books :)

AKahaney said...

Mom to a penguin nut here. He would lose his mind over this one.

Geo Librarian said...

This sounds like a great book for my nephew and his new little brother.

deanna said...

This book looks adorable and I would share it with my two youngest grandkids. They love books!!

Jan Scholl said...

I have a new granson and will share this with him. I watch him every Friday and we have book time and music time!

Melissa said...

Thanks to everyone who read the interview!