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31 May 2014

REVOLUTION by Deborah Wiles - Guest Post and Giveaway!

I'm proud to call Deborah Wiles a friend and thrilled that her second book in the '60s trilogy is finally out. It's already getting amazing press and reviews. This one isn't to be missed! Debbie stopped by to talk to us about it...

The summer I turned eleven, I went to Mississippi with my family, to visit the relatives and spend time soaking up that particular, beloved landscape and those particular, beloved people who adored me and couldn't wait for my return each summer: a grandmother, a great-grandmother; maiden aunts and widows; cousins, aunts, uncles; and the folks who lived in Jasper County and knew me as "T.P.'s daughter."

There wasn't much to do in a town of a few hundred people. You could watch the socks spin at the "washerteria." You could take a picnic to the cemetery. I spent countless hours plunking on the old piano in the unlocked Methodist church. But the most fun we had all summer was roller skating and swimming at a place out in the countryside called Pine View. There was a lake there for fishing, a restaurant with blue plate specials, and a magnificent, cavernous roller skating rink next to a 200-foot, Olympic sized swimming pool. Or so it seemed to me at the time.

In 1964, the pool, the roller skating rink, and the cafe closed. They never reopened. So did the Cool Dip in Bay Springs, the county seat, along with the movie theater there, the library, and many other places I looked forward to haunting all summer. No one could explain to me why.

It would be years before I understood that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 declared that all public places would be open to all American citizens, regardless of color, and that many white-owned businesses, especially in the South, had just shut their doors. All I knew when I was eleven was that I could no longer swim in the town pool or go roller skating or to the movies, and I wanted to know why.

This story haunted me for 35 years, until I wrote my first book, Freedom Summer (2001, Simon & Schuster). Now, with book two of the '60s trilogy, I have revisited the summer of 1964 with Revolution. In Revolution, 12-year-old Sunny Fairchild, who lives in Greenwood, Mississippi, wants to do the things I did in my Mississippi summers, but finds she can't, when the new law is passed and businesses close, and when invaders -- one thousand college students, most of them white -- come to Mississippi from the North and West to register black voters in a state that has disenfranchised its African-American citizens. It was an exhilarating and dangerous summer.

I knew so little about Freedom Summer, even though I'd written a picture book with that title. It took four years of research which included trips to Greenwood, interviews with citizens there, and voluminous reading and searching, to try to tell Sunny's story with as much honesty and courage as I could. I wanted to tell the outside story of our civil rights history for book two of the '60s trilogy, while creating characters who young readers could identify with today.

So Sunny wants a mother, loves the Beatles (yeah-yeah-yeah!), is devoted to her friends and her father and uncles, and doesn't want change to come to her town. Raymond, a boy who lives across the tracks in Baptist Town, wants to do everything Sunny can do. He can't swim in the town pool. He can't go to the movies at the Leflore Theater. He can't play baseball, like Sunny's step-brother can, because he is black, and these pursuits are reserved for the white citizens of Greenwood.

As I worked, I created Pinterest boards to house my research and a playlist for Revolution. www.pinterest.com/debbiewiles. I gathered newspaper clippings and song lyrics, photographs and advertisements, pamphlets and propaganda, to use in the seven scrapbook sections that make up important pieces of this documentary novel. I wrote four "opinionated biographies" -- Bob Moses (the architect of Freedom Summer), LBJ, Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, and Wednesday's Women, Dorothy Height and Polly Cowan.

I write like this because I want to show the outer trajectory of a time and place, juxtaposed against an inner story of characters who are struggling within that history. I want young readers to know that they are living in just the same way, making choices that create their individual history as well as the history of their families, their schools, their friends, their world. I want them to know that their choices matter, and so do they. Our stories are our common threads, whether it's 1964 or 2014.

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Revolution marks that anniversary as well, as does my first book, Freedom Summer, which is being reissued on June 2 in an anniversary edition with a new cover and forward. I wonder if I am done being haunted by the summer I turned eleven in Mississippi. I wonder if I will continue to write about it. And I wonder what stories young readers are living today that they will eventually write about for future readers to be captivated by.

It's all about the stories, isn't it? We are stories. Every moment we live is a part of that story. That's what I try to capture when I write.

Thank you, e., for this opportunity to think out loud and share what Revolution means to me.

Wowsa - thanks for sharing Debbie!

GIVEAWAY! Scholastic is kindly giving away a free copy of REVOLUTION to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US/Canada to win. Enter below!

30 May 2014

ABOWS on KXYL Radio out of Texas

This morning I was interview on the Brian and Leland morning show on KXYL out of Brownwood, Texas. Do you live in Texas? Did you happen to hear it? I'd love to know!

ABOWS on Writers in Focus!

I was recently interviewed by James Taylor of the Fulton County Library, for his tv show Writers in Focus. It was right in the middle of my "Southern Appalachian Book Tour" and such a treat to be able to discuss A BIRD ON WATER STREET in depth. James asked great questions, and the whole experience was so much fun. I hope you'll have a listen:

If the embedded video doesn't work for you, click the image below to go to the video on YouTube:

Friday Linky List, May 30, 2014

At HuffPost: Diversity in Children's Books: Moving From Outcry to Real, Market-Driven Solutions

At "From the Mixed-Up Files": Summer Writing: tips for a successful season by Sarah Aronson

Caldecott winner Eric Rohmann is interviewed at the new "Number Five Bus Presents..." blog by Erin and Philip Stead. Eric will be teaching in our Hollins University MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating this summer!

The Writing Process - Author Blog Tour with Mike Curato

At Writers' Rumpus - What's in a Cover?

At Shelf Awareness: Children's Picture Books: Swinging Toward Nonfiction

From PW and Flavorwire: 8 Literary Homes You Can Buy Right Now - including Beverly Cleary's 1910 Bungalow. Can you imagine? Groovy.

At The New York Times - a good summary of "the war" between Amazon and Hachette: As Publishers Fight Amazon, Books Vanish

From PW via USA Today: 13 of Maya Angelou's best quotes - for instance, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Kirkus Reviews Founds $150,000 Kirkus Book Prizes at Shelf Awareness - awesome!

At PW: How To Write YA by Seth Fishman

At HuffPost: Jane Yolen, America's Hans Christian Anderson, on Rejection, Reading Out Loud & the Keys to Writing Great Books for Kids. I love this quote: "it's harder to sell a great book to a publisher than a good one" - by Jane's late husband.

29 May 2014

PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH - illustrated by Chris Van Dusen - Interview and Giveaway


PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen - now this is non-fiction at its best! It's well known that President Taft was one of our... largest Presidents. The lesser known story is that he actually did, might have, probably got stuck in the tub. But the way the story is relayed gives the reader a clear understanding of the chain of government command and some interesting ideas on getting things (or persons) unstuck.
I'm thrilled to have the amazingly talented Chris Van Dusen here today...

Q. Chris! What was your reaction when you first read this manuscript!?
A.
My first thought was "This is fun! This is wacky!" Besides, Mac and I had wanted to do a book together for a while and this story came at exactly the right time for me. But then I realized it would be kind of a challenge to illustrate this story because it takes place in one location - a bathroom. Luckily Mac added enough colorful detail in the text that I was able to work into the pictures. It ended up being a "BLAST!"

Q. The melee had just quieted down over THE NAKED COWBOY by Amy Timberlake (illustrated by Adam Rex), another picture book about a well, a naked man. Then here comes PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH! It must have been challenging?
A.
I love that book! It was my friend Adam's first children's book and he did an amazing job. I remember I commended him on his use of creative coverage. It was a bit of a challenge illustrating TAFT. A naked obese man is not your typical children's picture book character, to say the least. After TAFT came out, both Mac and I had a favorite review which described the book as having "more naked adult flesh than you find in most children's picture books". Isn't that great? We chose that as our official snippet.

Q. Were the conversations about how to hide the... essentials entertaining?
A.
Mac left that to me. I don't recall us having a specific conversation about how to protect Taft's modesty, but my mantra became "more bubbles...more bubbles."

Q. I adore your style - how do you work?
A.
Thanks! I paint all my illustrations in gouache, which is a water-based paint. It's like an opaque watercolor, but you can use it in a lot of different ways- splatter, watery wash, or thick- it's great. And it reproduces really well, so the colors I paint are almost exactly the colors you see in the printed book. I don't use any computers, it's all paint, and each spread illustration takes me two to three weeks to paint. A complete book can take up to ten months to illustrate.

Q. Most folks will know you from Kate DiCamillo's MERCY WATSON series. Have those been a blast to do?
A.
Oh my gosh, yes! Those were a complete blast to illustrate! Kate trusted me to come up with the look of the characters, which gave me a great amount of freedom. I used her characters's names as clues. For example, Lorenzo sounded Italian to me, so I painted him with thick, dark hair. And since he's a firefighter, I added a big, strong chin. It was a great collaboration.

Q. Truly, you get some mighty fun projects to illustrate! What was your path to publication?
A.
I've been very lucky with the great projects that have come my way. My first book came hard though. It was a story I wrote called "Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee". I took me forever to pull that thing together! Before that, I was working mainly as an editorial illustrator, primarily for kids' magazines. I remember at the time a lot of my peers were turning to children's books, illustrators like Lane Smith, and I started thinking more about trying to write a book. Nine years later (yeah, that's how long it took!) my first MAGEE book was published. It's still in print, by the way. Since then I've worked almost exclusively on books and I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.

Q. Any advice for those trying to break into the biz themselves?
A.
I wouldn't want to try to break into the market today! I think publishers are becoming far more selective on the titles they publish. They have to! It's a huge monetary commitment to publish a book. The one piece of advice I have for a first time author/illustrator is- don't give up. If you believe in your story and you've done the absolute best you can do, keep at it. In publishing, persistence pays off.

Thanks Chris - we look forward to more!

GIVEAWAY!
Candlewick has kindly agreed to send a free copy of PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH to one of my lucky participants. Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below.

28 May 2014

What I learned from my "Southern Appalachian Book Tour"

The kick-off events for A BIRD ON WATER STREET were a wonderful three-week-long whirlwind of awesomeness! Thanks to all my kind hosts and friends and strangers who came out to celebrate with me!!! The tour was amazing, and the marketing team at Little Pickle Press really outdid themselves to make sure I had the materials and press attention I needed. (Thank you Rana DiOrio, Heather Lennon, and Smith Publicity!) Wow, am I lucky to be a pickle!!!
     So, I've been launching picture books for almost fourteen years now, but I quickly learned that launching a novel is a completely different animal - it really stretched my marketing chops! I like to think I learned a few things from the set-up, planning, and events themselves - practical tips I think other budding writers might want to know. So, I'm going to share some of the behind-the-scenes stuff with you...
     For instance, a book tour is surprisingly exhausting. Fellow writers had warned me of this, so I made sure to exercise, sleep decent hours, and eat as close to my regular diet as I could through the whole thing. I did have a small bug the weekend before it all began (don't worry - I wasn't contagious), so dove into the excitement with a little less stamina than I would usually have, but I stayed calm, took my vitamins, and got through it fine. Actually, the bug might have helped me from getting too wound up (something I'm prone to do). Anybody out there experience the same thing?

      Even with the amazing marketing support, I still did a ton of work myself. I basically planned seven parties across three states. Add to that speaking at a conference, a festival, doing a television appearance, blog hops (for which I wrote several essays and answered questions for numerous interviews), and radio interviews too. I worked with several different venues and organizers, arranged book sales to far flung Appalachian locales (where there are no bookstores) with FoxTale Book Shoppe, and even worked with a grant committee to get books to kids. *Whew!*

     And then there were the events themselves. No bunny slippers, foot rest, or cup o' tea allowed (bottled water kept it simple). What people don't tell you about book tours or speaking engagements is that when you are speaking publicly, you are ON. Not 100%, not 200%, more like 300% ON. And while I'm good at being ON for a few hours - for a school, a party, or a weekend gig, three weeks of ON is a lot!

But you have to do it. You have to BE THERE. Because you care, and the best way to get your point across is to make sure everybody in the audience can feel your passion for the subject. You have to represent it completely - there are no excuses.

     I was reminded that rain or small crowds don't have to be a bad thing. First, layers of clothing are your friend. And I'll take a small group of invested listeners over a ho-hum crowd any day! Because, when people care what you have to say and participate, it refills your coffers too! A wonderful audience is a truly awesome thing. And you thought musicians, comedians, etc... just said it to be nice - it's true!
     I remembered to stay flexible. There is no such thing as two identical events. They are all different. (I love that!) So, I was thrilled when the awesome Lisa Jacobi (lead singer of PLAYING ON THE PLANET, who played at my kick-off party), showed up at other events and graciously agreed to play "Muddy Road to Ducktown" on her fiddle - a 100-year-old song about miners getting copper out of the basin via ox-driven carts along the Ocoee River. (Without trees, it was very muddy!) What a treat to share the area's history through words, images, and song! I wish she could be at every event!

     Do try to keep things around you and the events as calm as possible. I'm a Gemini, which means I need down time to balance my ON time - otherwise I wear out. Be aware that some well-intentioned folks can add to your stress rather than help. Recognize that and try to limit exposure. Some things will probably go wrong. Recognize your power, or lack of power to do anything about it, and that if blood isn't involved, it's probably not the end of the world. Try not to dwell.

     Try to plan some days afterwards to recover. I didn't do that one so well as I hosted our SCBWI Southern Breeze Children's Book Illustrators' Gallery Show the Friday after all the hubbub (there was no flexibility in the date). It was a blast, and it went amazingly well, but wow, was I in need of some serious down-time... which I finally got.
     It all came to a close in time for the holiday weekend (I wrote this on Memorial Day), and that turned out to be a very good thing. I've let myself relax, only checked my email a little bit, took some time to garden and get filthy cleaning the back porch - things I usually have no time for but which need doing (and which I love doing). Hubbie and I have barbecued on the grill every night, and I didn't say 'no' to the ice-cream.
     Yes, I gained a few pounds through it all - unavoidable when eating out so often... and celebrating, for goodness sake! But I made sure I fed the core me, and I think that's the real secret to a successful book tour. Stay true to yourself and have fun!

     Now that it's mostly over, I'm thrilled by the response to all my events and excited to see how A BIRD ON WATER STREET does on its own. (Three awards so far!) I'm caught up and ready to dive back into work tomorrow... I'm just not thinking about that tonight.

27 May 2014

Coloring Page Tuesday - Mystery Reader

     Sometimes you just want to read a good mystery - something that takes your breath away. I just finished THE NIGHT GARDENER by Jonathan Auxier and it did just that! The book deserves all the praise it's getting... I had to read to the end diligently to find out what happened! And I'll be anxiously awaiting the movie (it's so cinematic, I'm sure it will be snatched up soon).
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!)
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
AWARDS
**A SIBA OKRA Pick!**
**A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!**
**The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**

26 May 2014

2014 SCBWI Southern Breeze Gallery Show Wrap-Up!

It couldn't have gone better! That's the bottom line. This year our show was on the Decatur Arts Alliance map for opening night ArtWalk and the Decatur Arts Festival, and wow, did it show! We had a steady crowd of folks milling through the entire time.

I love the way this show works - each piece of framed artwork is accompanied by the book from which it came. So kids and adults read the books and look up to see the actual artwork hanging above.


But of course, it's really about the kids. THIS is what the show is all about:




Here's this year's gang of illustrators and folks who made it happen. From the left is Laura Freeman, Prescott Hill, Joe Davich (Georgia Center for the Book), Amy Schimler, Mark Braught, Lee Mayer - wife to Bill Mayer, Yours Truly, and Zach Steele (also of the GCB). And my hubbie, Stan, is behind the camera:

Illustrators who weren't able to join us were Jill Dubin, R. Gregory Christie, Susan Nees, Mike Lowery, Sarah Frances Hardy, and Lori Nichols. Although their work was greatly enjoyed, we missed partying with our buds. Because we had fun!



Especially when we headed out for our annual post gallery show meltdown (this year at Colbeh)...

The show will run for two weeks at the Decatur Library in Decatur, Georgia. I hope you get a chance to see it in person!

25 May 2014

The Thickety

Okay - this is a cool book trailer! Makes me want to read THE THICKETY by J.A. White
CLICK HERE to see the trailer if the embedded video gives you any trouble.

24 May 2014

Katie Davis' DANCING WITH THE DEVIL - Guest Post and Giveaway

You know I love supporting my talented friends. It's especially cool when one branches out into new genres like Katie Davis has. You probably know her picture books (like LITTLE CHICKEN'S BIG DAY) and mid-grade novel (THE CURSE OF ADDY McMAHON), you may even be familiar with her book on marketing: HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR CHILDREN'S BOOK. Well, she's broken through another barrier into YA with DANCING WITH THE DEVIL. Katie dropped by to tell us about it...

Katie, this story is such a departure from the other fiction you’ve written. Can you talk about what got this idea rolling for you?
      I was at Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith’s house, listening to authors Laura Ruby and Franny Billingsley talking about writing. The whole thing came to me in such a memorable moment I feel like I have a physical photo of it.
      I don’t think this book is that big of a departure for me, but maybe it just feels that way because I’ve been working on it for so long. It took me nine years to write, edit, rewrite, edit, rewrite, and rewrite, and so on. Plus, I do think that every person has so many different facets that it shouldn’t be a surprise when someone shows a different side. I’m not just someone who writes funny picture books, I’m also someone who’s written so-called “dramedy” middle grade novels and marketing guides for adults, so why not YA?

This book was so scary. Were you scared while you were writing it?
      Definitely. I didn’t even know that was possible. I was scared for a lot of reasons. Scared for my characters, and scared for the real kids who don’t have someone like Barb in their lives. In fact, I was so scared, I didn’t even know Lily was in danger. I was stuck, and the book just wasn’t moving, and Mac wasn’t a sympathetic enough character. She keeps the world at arm’s length because she can’t risk getting hurt. But I was also keeping the reader at arm’s length because of that.
      So one day I was talking with another writer about this problem. She asked me about Lily’s abuse. I looked at her in shock. “What do you mean, Lily’s abuse? No, not Lily!” I love little Lily. Lily is in the present. Mac was in the past. I now had to deal with this in the present. That is when the book really started rolling. I’d been working on it four years by that point.

You use a lot of imagery, but your writing is deceptively straightforward. What was that like in the writing process for you?
      Similies are a bear for me! You know that scene with the washer/dryer, where Mac is retrieving her dress? I wrote and rewrote that a million times, it seems. I have a terror of being trite. But similies and metaphors don’t come easily to me (and I get them confused, so whatever you do, please don’t quiz me).
      In terms of its being straightforward, I felt this book called for spare writing because Mackenzie is spare. She has cut out everything she can in order to survive. Her feelings, her memories, her emotions. She’s trying to control her world; she’s turned herself into a survival machine. So I thought: the fewer words, the better.

Why did this book take you nine years to write? Also, can you talk a bit about the tension in the story and how you ramped it up, or was that there from the get-go?
      When the story first hit me over the head, Mac didn’t like Lily. The relationship they have now didn’t exist in the early stage of the book. I ended up researching and learning that kids who are being abused often protect younger siblings. That changed the entire story and gave it much more depth and heart.
      I think the tension is created in a few ways. First of all, her abuse is made clear instantly, so the reader wonders right from the start what could top something that dramatic? Then, when she has to give up the one thing she’s been saving up for all those years, the one thing she’s wanted more than anything, to go back into the belly of the beast, you’re afraid for her. But as she’s on that journey, you’re also afraid for her not to go, and you want her to hurry. So all those conflicting feelings add up and create tension. You want her to hurry up and go back to the place you don’t want her to go at all.
      I love Mackenzie. I hope you love her, too.

Thanks for stopping by, Katie!

GIVEAWAY!
Katie is generously giving away one free, signed and dedicated copy of DANCING WITH THE DEVIL to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US/Canada to win. Enter below.

23 May 2014

2014 SCBWI Southern Breeze Children's Book Illustrators' Show!


Our annual SCBWI Southern Breeze Gallery Show will open this Friday, May 23rd, at 7:00pm at the Decatur Library (215 Sycamore St., Decatur, GA, 30030) as part of the Decatur ArtWalk - opening night for the Decatur Arts Festival, which lasts through the weekend. Galleries throughout Decatur stay open late to kick off the festivities and attendance is vigorous

Our show will be in the main lobby of the library for two weeks (through June 7th), which is a big hit with patrons. This year’s show will feature works by Yours Truly, Mark Braught, Jill Dubin, R. Gregory Christie, Prescott Hill, Susan Nees, Amy Schimler, Laura Freeman, Bill Mayer, Mike Lowery, Sarah Frances Hardy, and Lori Nichols. Each framed piece of art is accompanied by its currently available for purchase picture book - a great introduction to art for kids! Many illustrators will be on hand to sign your books if you bring them with you on opening night. (It’s a party!) All are welcome and I hope you can join us!

Blog hop to From The Mixed Up Files - Interview by Hillary Homzie

This is the last stop for the A BIRD ON WATER STREET blog tour - I swear. I was thrilled this one came through as I'm a long-time follower of From The Mixed Up Files - a blog dedicated to talking about mid-grade books. Author and fellow Hollins University Professor Hillary Homzie asked me some great questions, which I hope you'll find interesting. Here's a peek:
"In A BIRD ON WATER STREET, controversial things occur off-screen, in Jack’s periphery, as things often do in life. Just as no man is an island, no story stands alone. Story arcs from other characters’ experiences intersect Jack’s. But by keeping the point of view limited to him, I was able to present them in a more innocent way."
So, this being the last stop on the blog tour, I hope you'll hop on over to read the entire post!

Friday Linky List - May 23, 2014

From The Atlantic: A Mississippi School Striving for Excellence (sub-title: Not all schools are failing)

Via PW at The Atlantic: Why Libraries Matter (video documentary). SO important!!!

Via PW at Flavorwire: 10 Sung and Stylish Ways to Cozy Up With a Good Book - fun!

From SLJ: How Cross-Racial Scenes in Picture Books Build Acceptance

From Tor.com - Announcing the 2014 Spectrum Fantastic Art Award Winners - wow!

From The Mixed Up Files: Diversity Baby Needs YOU

At The Horn Book: "The Elephant Was in the Room" by Roger Sutton

From PW: When Holden Met Katniss: The 40 Best YA Novels

Also from PW via The Public Domain Review: In the Image of God: John Comenius and the First Children’s Picture Book

From HuffPost via PW: "8 Life Lessons Every Adult Can Learn From Famous Author Commencement Speeches"

Irene Latham is hosting a fantastic giveaway on her website - either meet her at the Birmingham Zoo on June 25th or July 20th - OR send her a photo of you with a zoo animal and you could win a classroom set of 25 paperback copies of DON'T FEED THE BOY!!

22 May 2014

PLEASE, LOUISE illustrated by Shadra Strickland

My friend Shadra Strickland has illustrated a lovely book about the love for a library called PLEASE, LOUISE written by the award-winning Toni Morrison. Shadra stopped by to talk about her latest work...

Q. Shadra! Congratulations on PLEASE, LOUISE! That had to be an amazing moment when you were asked to illustrate a book by Toni Morrison, yes?
A.
Thanks so much Liz.
      Having my agent tell me that Toni Morrison wanted me to illustrate her book was surreal. Yes, it was a wonderful moment when I was offered Please, Louise. I really could relate to the message behind the story and felt that I could add something artistically to Ms. Morrison's text. I can't say that it wasn't the most nerve wrecking project I have taken on before, because it was! I was nervous almost every step of the way, but once I got into the art and heard how happy Ms. Morrison was with the work, I was able to push through.

Q. The book is written in rhyme with so much symbolism. Did it require a lot of abstract thought on your part as you approached your illustrations?
A.
It did! All of my other books have been longer stories at 40 and 48 pages where the text did a lot of the heavy lifting. This was the first time I was responsible for building a concrete story from a more symbolic text. After reading the manuscript, it struck me to really play up the changing mood throughout Louise's journey and to figure out a way to illustrate something as abstract as imagined fear. I think I was pretty successful, but as with most of us, there are a couple of visual ideas that I wish I had pushed even more.

Q. I'm sure you're familiar with the prevalent #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign in the kidlitosphere right now. Both you and Toni are African American, and Louise is of Asian descent. What are your thoughts on diversity in children's books today?
A.
I think that the campaign is valid and I am happy that people are letting their voices be heard, but at the end of the day, real change comes with real action. I feel that there needs to be more diversity reflected in kidlit, but more importantly, the books that do reflect diversity need to be supported by everyone, not just the people who's stories are depicted in them. As a maker of books, my job is to try and reflect a diverse world in the projects I take on. As an educator, I talk about these types of issues with my students in hopes that they will be a part of the change that we need to see in kidlit.
      Louise is a bit racially ambiguous, though I did have my very good friend, Taeeun Yoo (www.taeeunyoo.com) and myself in mind when I created her character. The character's ethnicity has zero to do with the story that is being told and I am still shocked when I read a review that makes a pointed statement about it. It's a story about a girl who banishes her fears through books and knowledge and that is story that can be told through many different types of characters.

Q. You illustrated BIRD (written by Zetta Elliott), which won several awards including the Coretta Scott King Award and the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award. What was that like, watching that book soar, and how has it impacted the books you've created since then?
A.
Bird was a very special book for me. Prior to that, I had been submitting my work for a long time with no luck in getting a major book deal. To have been offered such a powerful story where I was able to take artistic liberties that I hadn't in my past work, and then have the book do so well with reviewers and readers was just an amazing experience and great validation for me.
      Every book since then has been much different in tone and language, but I still try to bring some element of play into all of the books that I work on, and of course, I do try to outdo myself each time. I want to look over my body of work twenty years from now and see consistent growth.

Q. You were in Georgia when we met, but you're now teaching illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. How is that and what do you tell your students about breaking into illustrating children's books?
A.
Yes, when we first met, I had moved back home to Georgia after a six year stint in New York. MICA is a great fit for me. I have always liked telling people what to do (in a very helpful way, of course), so it makes perfect sense to be in the classroom. There is so much talent at MICA and I get really excited when I meet students who fall in love with storytelling and making picture books. I tell my students that if I can do it, so can they, but they must work really hard, read tons of picture books, keep making work and sending samples out, and be patient with themselves. I also encourage them to live inclusive lives so that they can reflect that point of view in the work they make.

Q. What are you working on now?
A.
I am finishing up a new book with Lee and Low called Sunday Shopping, written by Sally Derby. After that I begin work on a book with Delores Jordan (MJ's mom), and then I will get to illustrate my first authored book, which has always been my ultimate goal. Living the dream! ;-)

Q. Thanks so much for stopping by Shadra! We miss you here in the Southern SCBWI region!
A.
Thank you for having me! And CONGRATS to you on all of your deserved success with A Bird on Water Street!
You can find Shadra at:
     shadrastrickland.com
     facebook.com/shadrasart
     twitter.com/shadrasart
     craftsy.com (The Art of the Picturebook)

GIVEAWAY
Shadra is graciously giving away a free, signed copy of PLEASE, LOUISE to one of my lucky participants. Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below.

21 May 2014

One more blog hop for ABOWS to Janet Fox's "Through the Wardrobe"

I've got one last minute addition to the A BIRD ON WATER STREET blog tour. Today's stop is at Janet Fox's, Through the Wardrobe. I talk about "Why I Write For Teens." Here's a peek:
"Young teens aren’t yet set in their ways. They don’t know if they are generally good or bad, if they tend to make smart decisions or not. It's all new territory and the pendulum could swing either way...
    Young teens aren’t yet set in their ways. They don’t know if they are generally good or bad, if they tend to make smart decisions or not. It's all new territory and the pendulum could swing either way."
     And one of the commenters at Janet's blog will win a FREE, signed and dedicated copy of A BIRD ON WATER STREET! So, I hope you'll hop on over to read the entire post and enter to win!

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