When you work in kidslit, you get to know a lot of people on the same path - some who are published, some who still dreaming of the day, some who are well-published, and some who are celebrating their first publication after years of struggle. I LOVE celebrating my friends who I've watched work so hard finally be rewarded. Although really, we're the lucky ones to receive the gift of their wonderful books!
      Such is the case with Jessica Young's MY BLUE IS HAPPY (illustrated by Catia Chien - Candlewick Press). Jessica is a volunteer with the Mid-South SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and an art teacher too. I got to hear her read her new book at the Southern Festival of Books last October in Nashville, Tennessee and I'm just so happy for her, I had to have her on...

Q. Jessica, what has been your path to publication?
A. I started experimenting with writing in 2004, after having my first child and reading picture books for the first time since I was a kid. I’d never taken a writing course, and I had no idea how the publishing process worked. For several years, I submitted pieces off and on, targeting publishers I thought would be a good fit. Thankfully, an author pointed me towards the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. At my first workshop in 2007, an agent critiqued several manuscripts, and she and I kept in touch as I worked on revisions. Although she wasn’t looking for new picture book clients at the time, her encouragement was enough to keep me going until I found my wonderful agent, Kelly Sonnack.
     I continued to revise after signing with Kelly, and we submitted My Blue to two editors who had seen previous versions of the story and given me comments. One of them wound up passing on it. The other offered some suggestions, and I started revising accordingly. I also got a critique at the Midsouth SCBWI conference. The critiquer, amazing Candlewick editor Kaylan Adair, gave constructive comments that resonated with me, but I didn’t think I’d be able to execute them. I sat in the hotel lobby after the conference was over and started pushing and pulling the text. About a month later we submitted it to her, and I was thrilled to accept an offer from Candlewick. Then I started revising again.
      Looking back, I counted eighty-nine revisions of My Blue. I’m so grateful for the help of my tireless critique partners and other readers who gave great feedback on the story, and my fantastic agent and editor who took a chance on it and guided its evolution, as well as Catia Chien, the wonderful illustrator who brought the text to life with her evocative, colorful images.

Q. As an artist myself, I understand how personal color can be. You're also an art teacher, how does color inspire you and this story?
A. I’ve always paid attention to colors. The roots of my ideas about subjectivity and asserting one’s individual perspective probably go back to when I was a kid, and so do my vivid memories of color – from foods, to fabrics, to the hues of the different landscapes I grew up in. More recently, I was thinking about paintings from Picasso’s Blue Period (after seeing them at an exhibit) and listening to blues music, contrasting them with my own blue associations. Those ideas sparked the title, and the rest of the story followed.

Q. Do you find yourself wearing certain colors or surrounding yourself with certain colors to influence your mood? (Or do you find your mood influenced when you see certain colors?)
A. While I’ve never tried to influence my own mood with color (though maybe I should!), there are definitely things I wear because of their color – my favorite jeans, like in the book, and a russet-colored corduroy jacket and hunter green cords. I love mossy greens, rusty red-oranges, and blues, but there are lots of other colors I appreciate. I’m drawn to certain combinations of color and texture as well. For instance, I might appreciate the bright red-orange of crepe-paper-y poppy petals, but that hue might be too loud for me in another form. I tend to gravitate towards saturated, rich color palettes like those you’d find in illuminated manuscripts or stained glass.

Q. I love the line, " gray is as cozy as a curled-up kitten | And the sound of soft rain on the roof." I feel the same way!
A. Thanks, and yes – yay for gray! As much as I’m drawn to saturated, intense colors, I also love more subtle neutrals like the grays, browns, rusts and pale green-golds in fall fields or feathers or birds’ nests. I especially like them when they’re paired with more vibrant hues.

Q. Do you have a favorite color? (Dare I ask!)
A. It’s so hard to pick just one, but I really do love blue.

Q. Have you been using MY BLUE IS HAPPY in any of your art lessons? Do you have suggestions for teachers on how they could use the book in their classrooms?
A. I’ve used it with all of my classes from preschool though eighth grade. At first I wasn’t sure how much the younger ones could absorb literary devices like alliteration and similes, but when I broke down the similes and had students construct them one step at a time, even the youngest were able to identify a color, generate a list of color associations, then come up with other adjectives to describe those things. Then they made their own color similes and illustrated them. We also talked about antonyms and adjectives. In the older grades, there are so many angles to take: color and art (ie – Fauvism, Impressionism, symbolic uses of color, etc.); individual differences and subjectivity; cultural significance of color; literary devices; the science behind color perception. I have a lot of Common-Core-linked teacher resources and activity pages on my website that I hope will be useful for teachers and librarians:

Q. How have you celebrated the release of your first picture book? (Did you have a party?)
A. My book launch was at our incredible neighborhood indie bookstore, Parnassus Books. We had bluegrass music and blue foods and color-based activities. I was so happy to celebrate the birthday of MY BLUE with family and friends, old and new. Reading the book for the first time with my kids was a real celebration, too.

Q. Are you writing more for us? (I hope so!)
A. Yes! Right now I’m working on a chapter book series – FINLEY FLOWERS, about a creative, crafty girl with a million ideas that sometimes get her into trouble. The first two will be published in Spring 2015 by Capstone Kids, and the next two in Fall 2015. My second picture book, SPY GUY, will be published by Harcourt in Spring 2015, and I’m really excited about Charles Santoso’s illustrations. I have a bunch of other picture books I’m working on as well, and a YA that’s a long-term project!

Thanks for stopping by!
Thanks so much for having me! I hope I can see you in person soon!

Candlewick is kindly giving away a free copy of MY BLUE IS HAPPY to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below.
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MY BLUE IS HAPPY. Text copyright © 2013 by Jessica Young. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Catia Chien. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.


danielle @ this picture book life said...

I'm a big fan of this book and look forward to more of your work! Love all the art class ideas for this one too, Jessica, especially for the youngest kids!

Jessica Young said...

Thanks so much, Danielle!

LadyD Piano said...

Bluegrass music with blue food sounds like a very down home event! Being Greek, I'm partial to blue hues and I love the cover art on this one. The book sounds very creative and colorful. Great interview, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Delightful! This looks like a fun way to celebrate colors, which I'm doing a lot of lately with my 5-year-old granddaughter. She asks a hundred times a week, "Poppi, what's your favorite color?" They are really artsy at that age.
Great interview.

Geo Librarian said...

Looks like an adorable book. I'd love to share it with my nephews.