Heidi Stemple and Robin Clover's COUNTING BIRDS

2018 is the YEAR OF THE BIRD! Hence, the plethera of new bird books including Heidi Stemple's new COUNTING BIRDS illustrated by Clover Robin. I just adore this book and the gorgeous illustrations. Happily, Heidi and Clover are here to talk about it...
Heidi E.Y. Stemple and Clover Robin
Counting Birds
Published by Quarto

      Counting Birds begins “Frank Chapman loved birds,” but it might as well say “Heidi Stemple loves birds.” Because I do.
      I was raised by a bird watcher. I began participating in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count with my father. We would get up at midnight and head out into the cold dark night to count owls. We did it for science, but, also I did it because it was something I could do with my Dad. One year I got the car stuck in a snow bank chasing a fox. One year, we broke the record of the most owls counted in our area. I believe that number was 34. My dad is gone now and I have a crew who owls with me. We call ourselves the OMG and we consist of KidLit writers, a professor, two photographers, and two teachers. OMG stands for Owl Moon Gang because, even before you knew me or my work, you may have known my story. I’m the little girl in the book Owl Moon which was written by my mother, author Jane Yolen.
In our best year, the OMG called down 67 owls. That year, we stood in a snow-covered field listening to duetting screech owls and a great horned hooting in the distance while the sky erupted in shooting stars. It was magical.
Counting Owls in Hatfield
(First Published in Compass Roads)
If we cared about cold,
we could feel it in our bones.
But, the count is on.
I push play
and a screech owl calls loudly
from the speaker hung around my neck.
We stand silently
in the middle of a snow-packed field
by the bend in the big river
where I used to swim across to Hadley.
We listen.
We listen.
We tilt our ears towards a sound
that might be owl,
but might be just a rustle of wind,
a scratch of dried leaf on bark.
A ghostly whinny finds its way
through the dark tangled wood.
I call to the screech owl
like my dad taught me
before we had recordings.
Back and forth we converse, the owl and I.
And suddenly, it’s as if
we are there alone—
not for science, but as old friends.
The sky explodes
in a thousand shooting stars.
Silently, I thank my father for this perfect moment.
Still, there are more owls to count.
We jump in the car and move on.
      I toyed with the idea of writing the story of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count for years. But, I didn’t know how to tell it. I tried a bunch of different ways until I realized this was Frank Chapman’s story, not mine. Mine has been told already! So, I sat down for three days in a small cabin in the woods (thank you Highlights Foundation) and wrote that first draft.
About a million revisions later, Quarto thought it would make a fine book, so they bought it. It was the editor, the amazing Josalyn Moran, who chose Clover Robin (yes, that is her real name, I asked) to illustrate. I’ve never met Clover, but, I got to ask her some questions via email.
Heidi: When Quarto sent me the link for your Etsy page, I think I actually danced around my kitchen with excitement. (I might have cried a little.) With a nonfiction book, I worried that it would be less quirky, wonderful art. So, I was thrilled that Quarto chose you. Is this your first nonfiction book?
Clover: Ahh, lovely to hear, thank you! I have illustrated a few educational books for younger children all about nature, which I loved, but nothing that was told as a story or with as much detail. This was a departure from my usual projects so a bit of a challenge. I loved weaving the story together visually with your words and learning so much about Counting Birds in the process!
Heidi: What is your process like?
Clover: Pretty lengthy! I think I’m a crafter first and foremost, with a passion for illustration, so I’m very keen to keep that aesthetic when I’m working on various projects. I start by sketching out roughs for the scenes and then gather collage material for the spreads, this can be scraps from papers and magazines, old envelopes etc... and LOTS of hand painted papers. Then I start snipping all the elements. With a book like this I have to be able to make significant changes to aspects and compositions of the spreads so snip everything individually and then compose in photoshop, this involves a lot of scanning! I’m cautious to keep any digital modifications to an absolute minimum as I think the joy from my work comes from the unique cutouts and unexpected shapes, plus I am much happier when I’m working freely then sitting at a computer.
Heidi: Your birds are magnificent. You told me "if it's nature, I'm in!" My connection to nature (and the Bird Count) is pretty clearly laid out in the backmatter of the book. What is yours?
Clover: I think it comes from a childhood of living very close to the seaside and countryside. My dad is extremely fond of the outdoors and I think that is a passion that has resonated with all of my siblings and I. There is nothing that makes me feel more relaxed or clear headed then a long walk away from the hustle and bustle of the city, with no mobile signal and the promise of a picturesque picnic or pub lunch at the end of it.
Heidi: Do you have other books you would like me to mention? Actually, I am really just asking this so I can buy all your books. I'm already stalking your Etsy shop for holiday gifts (and not all for myself).
Clover: Ha! You’re lovely. I have just written a book called Cut Paper Pictures, which is a sort of ‘how to collage’ book, filled with tons of inspiration about creating your own artworks (link below). This has just been published and a massive labour of love. I’ve got some other lovely nature-y inspired pop up books coming out with Little Tiger books in October, and another couple out early next year too!

Cut Paper Pictures by Clover Robin

Other bird-related books by Heidi E.Y. Stemple:
You Nest Here With Me
Fly With Me

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