2021 was another year of ZOOMS (thank you, #Teachers & #Librarians) –and another year of NO in-store events, or story times & book signings, NO school visits or in-person conferences… Hooray for events that have started popping up, at long last!
This post brings together all the books we celebrated 2021 with Book Birthday Interviews. ICYMthem, check out these fascinating behind-the-scenes stories and writing/Illustrating tips shared by the #kidlit creators who joined us this year.
*Please note that many of the wonderful titles herein fit into multiple categories. Feel free to mix and match, and click the links to learn more!
I am so excited to dive into these questions with illustrator Jami Gigot. She is not only a fun and fabulous illustrator, but works as a lead texture painter and digital artist on feature films.
Welcome to the blog, Jami.
Illustrator pals –and Librarians, ballet lovers, and young readers everywhere!
–This is for YOU:
Q 1. How did you approach the illustrations in MY DADDY CAN FLY? Did you play classical music? Did you do any research during the process? Do you have a background in dance?
Jami Gigot: Thanks for having me as a guest today, Erin.
The research for MY DADDY CAN FLY was so much fun! I was given a few incredible photos of Thomas Forster dancing as inspiration. Thomas is a ballet dancer and co-wrote this story with Shari Siadat. I also looked at a lot of videos online of both children and adult ballet dancers. Often I would watch the videos in slow motion so I could analyze the motion bit by bit and sketch out poses. I found it incredibly interesting to study ballet this way and I have so much admiration for the commitment, strength and grace of the dancers. They are amazing!
And yes, I often had classical music from various ballets on in the background setting the mood for my illustration. Near the end of the project, I got some inside help from some of the wonderful team at ABT, The American Ballet Theater, who helped ensure my poses on the end papers and inside spreads were correct and true to form.
In terms of a background in dance, I took ballet and jazz dance classes as a child but now I dance mostly at home grooving to some rock n’ roll or Motown, or on the occasional night out.
Rock on! ; )
Q 2. Do you have a preferred medium? What did you use for MY DADDY CAN FLY and STARBOY?
Jami Gigot: In school, I studied film and 3d animation, and while I did do some life drawing and classical drawn animation, I am mostly self taught when it comes to illustration. Over the years of working in film I moved from animation towards digital texture painting, so working digitally is what I feel most comfortable with and I often use a stylus to sketch and paint directly on the monitor.
That being said, I really love working with traditional art mediums, so usually my work is a mix of traditional pencil sketches and paint that is scanned in and assembled in photoshop along with my digital work. MY DADDY CAN FLY was mostly digitally painted and I used washes of paint that I scanned to overlay on top for added texture.
“Gigot’s gorgeous mixed-media illustrations bring the story to life… Regardless of children’s knowledge of Bowie, the message of an outsider who finds his way will resonate and delight.”
―School Library Journal, Starred Review
For STARBOY: Inspired by the life andworks of David Bowie (written and illustrated by Jami Gigot , Henry Holt and Co.) one of the challenges was how to visually represent the music (or what I refer to as “star chatter”) throughout the book. I knew right away that I wanted to use bold pinks, purples, and some swirls and painted stars, so I painted those with watercolor and gouache. I also made several galaxy paintings (a few with my kids too!) and used those throughout the book to give more life and texture to the illustrations. If you would like to try making galaxy paintings yourself, please check out this video I made for Bibliovideo!
Q 3. Author Thomas Forster talks about some of his favorite books in this article. What are some of your favorites?
Jami Gigot: For picture books, some of my favorites are I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen, THE FOG by Kyo Maclear and Kenard Pak, and SWATCH by Julia Denos. For novels, I like reading all sorts of genres, but a couple of books I read recently that I really enjoyed are KLARA AND THE SUN by Kazuo Ishiguro and THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig.
“Gigot demonstrates that resourcefulness and love go a long way even if time and money are short.”
Q 4. It seems like all of your books thus far –including Mae and the Moon, Seb and the Sun, and Imagination Vacation–share a common theme of creative exploration. Has this been a common theme in your own life too?
Jami Gigot: That’s a great question! Absolutely. I enjoy pushing myself creatively because its stretches a part of my brain that seems to love the exercise. I love trying new art techniques, or trying to revise a story in a new and interesting way. Creative exploration can be challenging, but I try not to be too hard on myself and enjoy the process of creating even if the end result isn’t what I expect. Part of the fun is seeing where a project ends up! And if I’m really not happy with something, I am okay with scrapping it and trying again. I also like spending time doing creative things that aren’t just book related. Currently I am knitting a hat and taking a pottery class.
Q 5. How has your experience working as a digital artist on such feature films as Avatar, Charlieand the Chocolate Factory, and Ant-Man and theWasp –influenced your process or your illustration work?
Jami Gigot: I can hardly believe it, but I’ve been working in film for nearly 20 years and have worked on more than 30 motion pictures. I see picture books as very similar to film in that they are both a sequence of images that are edited together to tell a story. And I am grateful that my experience in film has given me a certain intuition when it comes to composition, layout, design and pacing which translates very well to children’s books.
Q 6. What inspired you to make the leap from film animation to children’s book illustration?
I actually still do both! I have a day job working as a lead texture painter. What that means more specifically is when they shoot film in front of a green screen, I work with a team to digitally create the objects, characters, vehicles, environments or whatever might be filling that space. While I love working on films and being part of a creative team, I haven’t been involved with the writing or original idea of the films I have worked on, and I’ve always had a little voice in the back of my head wanting to write and create my own stories.
When my kids were little I started reading a ton of picture books and really fell in love with them. I wrote and illustrated a little book inspired by my daughter which eventually became my first picture book, MAE AND THE MOON. I loved the process so much and found picture books to be the perfect medium to combine my love of art and story. I have been working on them ever since.
Just Starting Out?
Q 7. Any tips for would-be children’s author/illustrators just starting out?
Jami Gigot: If you are passionate about creating and enjoy the process of making picture books, just stick with it and keep going! It’s important to keep practicing and commit some time to your craft. I have a lot of pretty ugly drawings and drafts, but it’s important to recognize that that’s an important part of the process to get you where you want to go. I would also recommend finding a small critique group of fellow writers and/or illustrators that you can share with and get honest feedback from. Most importantly, write from your heart and tell the story that only you can.
Q 8. What do you most love about being a children’s author/illustrator?
Jami Gigot: It makes me incredibly happy when children get excited about reading and making art, and my hope is to create books that give a child a laugh, or a moment of thoughtfulness, a creative push, an important truth, or a reflection of themselves. Also, this industry is so lovely and full of inspiring and creative people that support each other and that is a wonderful thing!
Many thanks again to Jami Gigot for joining us today.
Whether you’re celebrating Book Character Day or getting ready to Trick or Treat (or need an easy, comfortable BOOKcentric costume for your classroom, dear Teachers) here are 12+ #kidlit costume ideas from some awesome middle grade and picture books to inspire you.
PS I’m including Twitter handles with each book so you can connect with the authors & illustrators. Feel free to read ~ buy ~ check out ~ request ~ and share these terrific books too!
Move over, Nancy Drew–How fun & easy would it be to dress up as Beatrice Bly, super spy (in-training)? Beatrice Bly must rely on her sleuthing skills when the class hamster goes missing. I’m betting most of these items might already be in your child’s (or your) room. (I was going to say closet, but let’s be real here.) And who doesn’t like to dress as a spy? Tag @SueFliess on Twitter if you do!
For those who like to dress-up as “real” people, author/artist Edward Goreyis as creepily quirky and fun as it gets. (It is said Gorey’s art inspired Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Muahaha!) I can see kids–or grown-ups–borrowing the mismatched costume pieces they need for this from Grandpa. (Extra points if you own them yourself!) Bristol’s interior illustrations will give you more ideas as well. Twitter Tag: @LoriMortensen
YES! Geeger‘s costume can be repurposed from those carboard boxes you were going to recycle. (You WERE going to recycle them, right?) . You may have noticed that Lost and Found is also about a lost class pet, but I chose Lerner’s second book in this early chapter book series because the cover gives you a good view of Geeger. Extra points if you carry a hamster around with you too… Twitter tag: @Jarrett_Lerner
How easy would it be to dress-up as Amelia Earhart? (Probably a LOT easier than it was to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean–right?) Amelia Earhart’s life–and this chapter book bio by Stacia Deutsch–is full of adventure and mystery. More illustrations inside by Pearl Law will give you added inspiration. Twitter: @staciadeutsch
I’m not saying that dressing up as Rosie the Dragon would be easy–but go for it if you are inspired. I was looking at Charlie‘s outfit–including the CAPE– from this interior spread illustrated by Nate Wragg:
Of course, if you have a pet dragon to carry around, I’m betting Rosie would be happy too.
I LOVE all the books in this chapter book series about Azaleah and her amazing life in Washington D.C., but how easy would it be to borrow an apron (Go ask Grandma!) and FUN to put your hair in those cute puffs like Azaleah Lane? Extra points for carrying a bowl and wooden spoon. Even MORE points for reading the books! Twitter: @nikki2smith
Backpack? (check) Blue jeans? (check) Plaid shirt? (You know you can find one!) Look how easy it would be to dress-up as the young paleontologist, Jack Horner. You know–the one who grew up to work on (and inspire a character from) Jurassic Park? And did you know he overcame some learning issues to follow his dreams? Twitter: @sophiagholz
Even if you don’t have a cyclist in the family, how cool would it be to dress up as Italian hero, Gino Bartali, who not only won the Tour de France, but secretly worked with the Italian Resistance in WII to help save the lives of hundreds of Jewish men, women, and children? Extra points for riding your bike that day… (and reading this fascinating picture book biography–of course!) Megan’s Twitter: @meganhoytwrites
Be sure to add the daisy in your hair, and a box of colored markers, when you dress-up as Isabel, the star of this wonderful bilingual picture book. And what if you could learn to speak in both Spanish and English–like Isabel? Plus, isn’t her outfit cute???? Alexandra’s Twitter: @apalessandri
Wouldn’t it be fun to pair a tutu + sneakers + crown like Jasmine Toguchi does on the cover of book 1 in this cool chapter book series? (Fun facts: I had big sister issues, and LOVED climbing trees like Jasmine when I was a kid.) Extra points if you learn how to make mochi, a YUMMY sticky rice dessert! Twitter: @DebbiMichiko
Katherine Johnson was a mathematicianwho worked for NASA during the space race (and was depicted in the film Hidden Figures.) Look how easy it would be to dress-up as young Katherine! Extra points for carrying a picture of the historic Apollo 13 moon landing–or maybe a slide rule. <—( Look it up!)
I’ve added this wonderful picture book here because it’s all about repurposing and upcycling things from your room (or closet!) to create fun costumes for Halloween, or dress-up any time of year. It’s FULL of #DIY ideas you can pull together easily with a little imagination and a LOT of fun. Plus–did you know you’ll be helping EARTH as well?
Speaking of which, if you want to read about other kids who are finding ways to help our planet, check out this FREE READ-ALOUD on Harper Collins’ YouTube channel: DEAR EARTH…From Your Friends in Room 5 ( Erin Dealey | Illus. Luisa Uribe | Harper Collins), or–read the book. : )
Last but not least:
Authors & Illustrators LOVE it
when you dress up as characters from our books.
Be sure to take a picture if you do, and share it with them.
“An artful telling of the birth of an alphabet.”―Kirkus Reviews
AND–how cool is it that Oct. 9th was Hangeul Day, the celebration of the Korean Alphabet!
Around here, we celebrate with questions:
1. When and how did you first learn about King Sejong?
Carol Kim: Both my parents moved to the U.S. in the 1950s (separately, they did not know each other in Korea). My mother had made return trips to visit her family, but my father never did. Not once in almost 60 years! So after my mother died, he decided to take my family and my oldest brother’s family on a trip to Korea in 2013.
Carol Kim: While preparing for our trip, my father mentioned that he only had a 3rd grade proficiency level in reading and writing in Korean. I was very surprised by this–and that’s when he explained the history of Hangeul to me. One of the fascinating parts of Hangeul is that although King Sejong invented it in 1443, it did not become the official alphabet of Korea until 1946! By this point, my father was a young adult, and had lived his entire life under the Japanese occupation. So he did not go to school reading or writing in Korean.
I was quite dumbfounded that I had never heard the story behind Hangeul before. It was so clear to me that it needed to be shared with the world–and that it would make a great children’s book!
2. What discoveries did you make while researching/writing this amazing story?
Carol Kim: There were so many interesting facts and stories that I uncovered while learning about King Sejong and how he invented Hangeul. He was such an extraordinary figure, both as a leader and for his many contributions to the world. He made improvements in the areas of music, agriculture, medicine, legal matters, printing, astronomy–the list is remarkable!
Forward-thinking and Compassionate Leader
I also learned what a forward-thinking and compassionate leader King Sejong was. He created Hangeul to make it possible for anyone to learn to read and write. But there are also stories of how he ordered food to be distributed during times of drought, ordered decrees that treated people more fairly and humanely, and how he was always trying to improve the lives of his people.
3. What surprises did your illustrator, Cindy Kang, bring to your story?
Carol Kim: I am so grateful that Albert Whitman found Cindy Kang, and that she agreed to illustrate this book! Cindy is from Korea and it was so comforting to me knowing she had both an understanding of Korean culture and access to materials to illustrate the story accurately. She was so accurate in fact, that she included minor details I knew nothing about! For example, in the illustration showing the coronation of King Sejong, Cindy had him holding an object in his hand–like a small staff. My editor wrote to me and asked me to verify its accuracy–but I had no clue what it was! I had to dig pretty deep to confirm that it was something King Sejong would have held during the ceremony, but eventually I was able to do so. I was pretty impressed that Cindy had known to include it!
4. Are there any qualities in King Sejong that you see in yourself—or you wish you had?
Carol Kim: One of King Sejong’s most notable traits was his compassionate outlook toward all of his subjects. He was the most powerful person in his kingdom, and yet he so often was thinking of the needs of others. I think we could all benefit from trying to be more like him in this way!
But I also loved how King Sejong did not concern himself with asserting his power over trivial matters. There’s a story I love that illustrates this so well. A group of palace staff had gone boar hunting, and one of them was riding the king’s horse. After shooting a wild boar full of arrows, the animal charged the men, and ended up killing King Sejong’s horse.
The king’s men went to King Sejong and informed him of what had happened. They reported that the staff had been neglectful, and should be punished.
King Sejong’s response was one of common sense. “It happened quite unexpectedly. How could they have known that a large boar would run into this particular horse? Do not speak of this again.”
I just love that!
5. What’s on your desk? Your TO DO list? Your reading table? Your street? Your mind?
Carol Kim: Right now I am trying my best to get the word out about KING SEJONG INVENTS AN ALPHABET. I’ve been a guest on several blogs, I did a Zoom interview for the School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog event, and some events on Instagram. I feel there is so much more I could be doing, but I am quite overwhelmed!
I have also been busy finishing up a few manuscripts I wrote for the educational market. They were all such great projects, and I learned a lot! I wrote about environmental issues, natural disasters, unsolved mysteries, space, and technology. I feel like I’m back in school (and loving it, by the way!).
Next I hope to turn my attention to my own unfinished manuscripts. They have been quite neglected for several months–and it is clearly their turn to get my attention!
6. What (or who) inspired you to begin writing for children?
Carol Kim: I am like so many other children’s authors in that I loved books as a child, and throughout my life. I used to write stories starting from when I was barely old enough to write! But the one book that stands out in my mind is Watership Down by Richard Adams. There was something about the characters–a group of rabbits–that really inspired me.
That feeling of being inspired, or awed, or having my world expanded was what I loved about reading. And I wanted to be able to give that to kids as well–taking something wonderful that I had gained and then passing it on. It took me a long time to find the courage to actually try to write stories, but I finally did it–and it has been the most amazing experience of my life.
Tips for Author Presentations–from an introvert:
7. As a self-proclaimed introvert, do you have any tips for like-minded illustrators or authors—on putting yourself out there–during presentations or videos—or even on social media?
Carol Kim: Boy, do I have tips! I am one of those people who would practically start hyperventilating before having to speak before an audience–or even a small group of people! Today I am comfortable giving talks, being active on social media, and even posting videos on TikTok (that last bit still feels completely unreal).
My first suggestion is to start small. I personally find online presentations less intimidating than ones in real life. If that’s true, start there. Even just attending online events, and turning on your camera is a step forward. Next, try to ask questions–push yourself to participate. When live events are possible, then attend them. And again, be an active participant. Talk to people, introduce yourself, ask questions.
Also, try to start with a setting where you feel you are among friends. My first events were with my local chapter of SCBWI. Even knowing one or two friends were in the audience helped me.
Finally, keep pushing yourself to do a little more. Post a video on Instagram or TikTok. They are super short, and Instagram stories aren’t even permanent! You do have to get out of your comfort zone–so just take it a step at a time. But I guarantee that the more you do it, the more comfortable you will become.
8. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Carol Kim: Since this is a book for kids, I hope they take a moment to realize what a gift it is to be able to have access to books and reading. It is something we take for granted (which is also great in many ways). But just imagining, even briefly, a world where reading was not available to you or your family, can remind us all to appreciate how wonderful it is that books can be a big part of our lives.
Attention Children’s Authors–or those who would like to be:
GUESS WHAT???? In addition to writing books, Carol Kim LOVES to help others who are interested in exploring more about being a children’s book author. Check out her blog, MakeaLivinginKidlit.com –full of information and tips about becoming a children’s author as well as trying to make a career out of this wonderful work we do.
There areposts for both the aspiring author as well as those navigating how to promote and market their books. (And check out her wonderful tips on TikTok too!!!!)
Thank you, Carol, for joining us on the blog today.
To learn more about Carol Kim and her books, check out her website: CarolKimBooks.com
Today on the blog, we get to celebrate the recent release of HELLO, TREE, a beautiful picture book about hope and renewal, written by Ana Crespo, and Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (Little Brown Books for Young Readers).
Welcome Ana and Dow!
Ana & Dow: Thank you so much for inviting us to share about HELLO, TREE!
“This quietly powerful tale of ecological awareness will prompt reflection about readers’ own roles in coexisting with and protecting nature. The simple, evocative text captures the placid, ever faithful voice of the tree and pairs well with the detailed illustrations….Both an appreciation of nature and an ultimately hopeful reminder about our symbiotic relationship with it.” —KIRKUS
Questions, Questions, Questions!
Q 1. What was one of themost surprising discoveries you made in creating this book?
Ana Crespo: The most surprising discovery happened even before the Black Forest Fire (the inspiration for this book), when I attended a Ranger Talk at the Rocky Mountain National Park and learned about the role fire plays in a forest’s life cycle and how a fire changes a forest but doesn’t kill it.
After the Black Forest Fire happened and I started researching for this book, what surprised me the most were the details—how certain beetles are attracted by the heat, moving to fire affected areas to mate and lay their eggs, and how woodpeckers will follow the beetles, and how bluebirds will later make their nests in the holes the woodpeckers made, and how everything is connected. Essentially, I was surprised by nature’s incredible resilience.
Dow Phumiruk: There were many discoveries. I didn’t immediately realize that I would end up illustrating not just the life cycle of the forest, but also that of the girl who grew up and left like the bluebirds. Ana’s text really touched my heart! Also, because Ana’s story involves a tree as a main character, I had to find a way to help readers identify it – out of all the trees in the forest. So, I finally decided to have the girl character play dress up with the tree early on and leave behind a ribbon on one tree branch afterwards. Remnants of this ribbon remain on the tree throughout the book.
Q2. What’s on your desk? Your TO DO list? Your reading table? Your street? Your mind?
Ana Crespo: There’s a lot on my desk right now; in fact, you can hardly see the desk. And since I became an agent, my to-do list has been overflowing too. Still, I try to find time to read some non-work-related books. Right now, I am reading Ann Cleeves’s Cold Earth, the seventh book in the Shetland series. My mind is on everything that is currently on my to-do list.
Dow Phumiruk: My desk is quite a mess at the moment, too! There are pens, pencils, pads of paper with my doodles, books, printed dummies with notes for revision on them, and more surrounding my basic tools for digital illustration. I can’t seem to keep it neat lately!
My TO DO list for art includes finishing up final art for A LIFE OF SERVICE: THE STORY OF TAMMY DUCKWORTH, by Newberry Honor winner Christina Soontornvat, for Candlewick, and starting another dummy for my latest contracted project (not yet announced). Other TO DO items are preparing for two book-related events, attending two in-person, smaller scale weddings, and getting ready for Halloween (Should I make a life-sized Hugsby costume, a character from one of my books?). My street is pretty quiet. Like Ana, my mind is full of my TO DO list!
Q3. What does it mean to you—in the #kidlit world, or personally–to have teamed up together on this project? *And are you cooking up more collaborations?
Ana Crespo: I love that this is an “all-Colorado” book, inspired by an event that happened in Colorado and written and illustrated by Colorado residents. I saw Dow’s work for the first time in 2015, during a local writers and illustrators conference, and I fell in love with her art. So, since then, I dreamed of collaborating with Dow one day. Working with her on Hello, Tree is a dream come true. I would love to share another book with Dow, but there’s nothing on the horizon right now.
Dow Phumiruk: Thank you so much, Ana. I feel like the lucky one! It is such an honor for me when I am specifically chosen by the author for projects. I would love to work with Ana again! Glad to put that statement out in the world for all to read!
Book Launch Tips
Q 4. Your book launch at The Bookbar Denver was terrific! Not only was it 1 part virtual, and 2 parts in-person (both indoors—thanks to the rain, and outdoors), you had original songs and group participation. Any tips for those with upcoming book releases?
Ana Crespo: I will leave this question for Dow to answer, but I will share that it helps if the person you are collaborating with is extra-talented. The songs she wrote are amazing! And, yes, we were so happy we had audience participation. Colorado kids are, unfortunately, very aware of forest fires. So, they all had experienced it in a way or another.
Dow Phumiruk: Thank you so much, Erin and Ana. However you choose to launch your book, making sure you include audience participation is a must. Young children want to move, dance, sing, and answer questions. I love writing interactive, short kid songs just for them. Ana had a wonderful idea of bringing coasters made of slices of tree trunk to share. These were wonderful tactile elements for the children to enjoy! It’s another way for kids to join in – and they even learn while they are at it!
Q 5. Tells us about your upcoming projects.
Ana Crespo: I have two upcoming projects, although just one has been announced. Next year, Lia & Luís: Puzzled! will launch. It’s a sequel to Lia & Luís: Who Has More? Both books are part of the Charlesbridge Storytelling Math series, which is a wonderful and important project mixing math, diversity, and the power of storytelling. There’s also a bilingual Spanish/English edition of Lia & Luís: Who Has More? coming out in April! I’ll share the other project when it is announced.
Dow Phumiruk: That’s great news, Ana! I have a book called HER NAME WAS MARY KATHARINE by Ella Schwartz that will be out in January 2021. It’s from Christy Ottaviano Books and is about the only woman whose name appears on the Declaration of Independence – at the bottom, as the printer of the document for circulation. How did history leave her out? We want everyone to read about her! Then I am finishing up the book about Tammy Duckworth as mentioned above. I also am working on LAST FLIGHT, by Kristen Giang, for Levine Querido. I am so very excited for that one, as Kristen’s story recounting her escape from Vietnam before Saigon fell to communist rule is harrowing, dramatic, and so beautifully written. And I am honored to work with Arthur Levine at his young imprint. My other work-in-progress is called BETTER TOGETHER, by Latin Emmy Award winning singer/songwriter Ben Gundersheimer. This one is for Nancy Paulsen Books, and I’ve been wanting to work with her and her team for a long while now. This book about joining together to make the world a better place is a delightful project!
Colorado friends: Don’t miss Ana Crespo and Dow Phumiruk and HELLO, TREE at The Wandering Jellyfish, on Saturday, October 16th, at 11:00am, in Niwot, CO, for another in-person event. They will read, sing, and sign books. What fun!
There is also another very cool event coming up for this dynamic duo, though they can’t talk about it yet. More soon!
Q6. One last question, for Ana: Since Oct. 12th is Children’s Day in Brazil, what advice would you give to children who would like to write books someday?
Ana Crespo: Read! I think reading is essential for those who want to become a writer. And, of course, write! Write anything—keep a diary, write short stories, write long stories, write letters, blogs… Have fun writing!
Huge thanks to Ana & Dow
for answering our questions today on the blog.
To learn more about their books, you can find them here: