Kate Hosford: Thank you. I didn’t know that animals had such different sleep habits either. Almost every fact I learned was new. Animals sleep while holding hands, while upside down, while standing on one leg, while flying…and that is only the beginning!
I came to this book in a roundabout way. After reading the wonderful book The Soul of An Octopus by Sy Montgomery, I decided I would try to write a poetry collection about this highly intelligent creature. I even contacted Sy who kindly agreed to meet me and introduce me to her namesake, Sy the Octopus, at the Boston Aquarium. Despite Sy Montgomery’s generosity and my enthusiasm, I was not able to write poems about the octopus that really worked. However, somewhere along the way, I learned that octopuses change colors when they sleep and may be able to dream. When I learned that otters sleep while holding hands, and songbirds dream of singing, I knew that I had to set the octopus aside (at least temporarily), and write about sleeping animals. The songbird and otter spreads in the book became two of my favorite illustrations.
Jennifer M. Potter: My process for A Songbird Dreams of Singing involved a mix of traditional and digital illustration, and a lot of photo research. I compiled a bunch of references for each animal and sketched them in a bunch of different positions to try and get at the essence of their forms ZebraFinchStudies.jpg" vspace="10"> I went to the San Francisco Zoo, where I was able to sketch some of the species in person, and for the rest I did online research. For the final art, I made a bunch of textures and washes with watercolor on paper. Then I scanned them in and used the images to build a library of unique assets which I used to color everything.
Kate Hosford: I originally started writing picture books as a way to get more work as an illustrator. However, I quickly discovered that I was much better at painting pictures with words. By the time I sold a book, I was thrilled to leave the illustrations to experts like Jennifer. From the time I started writing to the publication of my first book was ten years. It is called Big Bouffant, and led to many wild hair parties.
Kate Hosford: One of the poems in the book is based on the true story of a snail that curators brought to the British Museum from Egypt in 1850. The curators assumed that the snail was dead and glued it to a piece of cardboard for their exhibition. After four years, someone noticed a bit of slime next to shell and realized that the snail was still alive! When they bathed it in warm water, the snail woke up from its four-year nap and became famous for its napping abilities.
While researching this snail, I wrote to Jon Ablett, a curator at the Natural History Museum in London where the shell now resides. Later when we visited London, Jon kindly offered to give my husband and I a tour of the research archives beneath the museum, which were enormous and fascinating. I got to see the shell of the famous snail, add my book to the world’s biggest mollusk library, and even see an octopus that Darwin had collected!
Jennifer M. Potter: I think many different things can make an illustration magical. I can get just as lost in an image with patient, fastidious rendering as I can in one that is so loose and wonky, the whole thing will fall apart if you remove one line. Sometimes it's storytelling that makes a piece magical, sometimes it's texture. Or mood. Or detail. We all have different things we're trying to strengthen and explore, but ultimately it's about passion and progress. When that shows up on the page, it can't help but be magical.
Jennifer M. Potter: I'm personally very active on Instagram, and my wonderful agent, Lilla Rogers, regularly promotes my work on a variety of platforms. I'm not the most consistent with posting, especially when I'm busy with multiple projects that I can't share. But the kidlit illustration community is so supportive, and we're very good at broadcasting each other's successes.
Kate's writing studio
Kate Hosford: My favorite part is coming up with new ideas. I keep a list of them and circle back from time to time to see if I still find them interesting. I also have over forty unpublished stories which I revisit occasionally and see if I want to pursue them. My other favorite part of the process is when the final artwork arrives, and suddenly the book is more than the sum of its parts. It is a magical experience when a book takes on a life of its own.
Kate Hosford: Sleep is simply a lens that allows us to appreciate how unique animals are. My hope is that the more children are able to learn about animals and their particular sleep habits, the more they will be in awe of these animals and want to protect them.
I also want children to understand how inherently poetic science is. As I learned more about animal sleep some of the facts were so mysterious and beautifully strange that I could barely believe I had gone my entire life without knowing them. I think Jen really captures the magic of animal sleep in her illustrations which are scientifically accurate, but also dreamy and mysterious.
One aspect of the book that I love is the poem order. We decided to order the poems from the largest animals to the smallest (sperm whale to fire ant), so that there is a gentle decrescendo throughout the book. I hope that some readers will recognize how the poems are ordered, or at least respond to it subconsciously and become sleepy by the end.
Kate Hosford: I definitely want to write some more poetry collections on animals, including the octopus. I would like to write some books that show what is happening behind the scenes at different performances—like the opera, or the ballet. I’m interested in how tools of artists are made, like instruments and pointe shoes, and am also fascinated by the dynamics between musicians in chamber groups and in orchestras. I’ve tried to write many stories about musicians and hope to get it right eventually!
Jennifer M. Potter: I'm wrapping up work on two exciting new books. The first is Claude: The True Story of a White Alligator, a sweet story about being different by Emma Bland Smith (August 2020, Little Bigfoot), and the second is Voices of Justice: Poems about People Working for a Better World, an inspiring and moving book by George Ella Lyon, out in (October 2020, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers). In my spare time I'm in written and visual development for a middle grade graphic novel series which would definitely be a dream project.