Category Archives: Interviews

Stop the Presses…and START HERE!

This may be the first book cover that actually teaches how to letterspell "A B C"  in American Sign Language!

This may be the first book cover that actually teaches how to letterspell “A B C” in American Sign Language! (click to enlarge)

Let’s start with unveiling the cover itself. It features a lenticular!

And it’s going on press this month! I’m so excited!

Why? Because it all began as a list of words on a spread sheet almost five years ago.

The dictionary began as a Word doc, which grew into an Excel spreadsheet. (right-click to enlarge)

Gallaudet University Press lined up a team of illustrators for their upcoming definitive American Sign Language reference (think Merriam-Webster, but for signing), aimed at the pre-school through grade 3 level. It had to be usable for hearing families as well as the deaf and hearing-impaired.

Page 1 from the Dictionary

Page 1 from the Dictionary (click on any image to enlarge)

One of the illustrators already on board was Debbie Tilley. When agent Richard Salzman discovered it was (a) Gallaudet first foray into children’s books and general trade; and (b) they expected Debbie to produce the layouts too, he recommended they contact me to pull it all together for them. It was a dream project for all of us!

Dictionary_p-105_Page_011   Dictionary_p-105_Page_008 Dictionary_p-105_Page_007

 392 pages of full color! It looks like a graphic comic, with over 1,000 word entries, fully illustrated. Plus it includes a DVD featuring a rainbow of children signing. There’s also a special feature on forming sentences.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll guide you on the process. It will be like a diary on the making of a children’s reference classic. . .

Spread from pages 238-239

Spread from pages 238-239 (click to enlarge)

You will witness exclusive behind-the-scenes book making. Stay tuned. That’s why I’ve been away for so long. Been dictionary-ing…

You can pre-order the Dictionary through these links:
Barnes & Noble
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From UCSD Extension: An Interview with Joy Chu *

*  NOTE: The above is from an interview that was featured in UCSD Extension’s Blog last fall, just before I began teaching the on-line version of my class, “Illustrating Books for Children”/Winter 2013 Quarter. Special thanks to UCSD Extension for allowing me to re-blog this feature. — JC

Illustrating Books for Children / Art 40011 Instructor:  Joy Chu June 26-August 21 Wednesdays, 6:30pm-9:30pm  Register before June 25!

Illustrating Books for Children / Art 40011
Instructor:  Joy Chu
/ June 26-August 21
Wednesdays, 6:30pm-9:30pm

Register before June 25!


UC San Diego Extension

“Sure, it’s simple, writing for kids…just as simple as bringing them up.” — Ursula K. LeGuin

We recently had a chat with art director, graphic designer, and UC San Diego Extension instructor Joy Chu about her taste in children’s literature and for some advice on entering the field. Joy teaches children’s book illustration online and onsite for us. Here’s what she has to say about working in the business:

1) What’s your favorite children’s book and why?

Tough one. I keep discovering new favorites. A few have remained timeless:

Because it carries themes on multiple levels that both young ones and adults can relate to. It has pitch perfect text. His “monsters” are friendly, and cuddly, while the main character, Max, is the real monster, and he too is tamed by the end of the book. Totally minimal. But every word, every…

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The Next Big Thing

Kathleen Krull is here!

the-next-big-thing-300x234We’re jumping feet first into the summer with a visit from one of the best story-tellers on our planet!

It’s fun to be nosy about Kathy Krull’s latest activities…especially when she responds to Blog Hop questions. Read on. Insert a comment. Better yet, add your 2 cents to the Boston Tea Party discussion at, and Kathy will send you a copy of her latest book on this very subject. And do check out the splendid creators Kathy has blog-tagged at the end. —J.C.]

Photo courtesy of Lili Gonzalez /Yellow Book Road

1.  What is the title of your work-in-progress?

KK:  It’s not in-progress, but piping hot off the press: What Was the Boston Tea Party

2.  Where did the idea come from?
KK:  Without being an expert on the Boston Tea Party, I still had a sense that the current Tea Party movement, which began in 2009, a month after President Barack Obama took office, was not always accurate in its depiction of American history.  So I wanted to know the real story of the event and present it to young readers.

3.  What genre does your book come under?
KK:  Nonfiction chapter book, illustrated with line drawings and 16 pages of photos.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?
KK:  150 of Hollywood’s buffest and cutest and youngest–more than a third of the participants that night were under 21.


5. One sentence synopsis for your book?
KK:  What happened on the night of December 16, 1773, placed within a context of what led up to it and what resulted–how it led to the birth of a whole new country.

6. Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
Published by Grosset & Dunlap, a division of Penguin.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
KK:  At the same time I was thinking Tea Party thoughts, my editor at Penguin, Jane O’Connor, was starting up this new series WHAT WAS, a spin-off of WHO WAS.  The deadline was tight, a matter of months, during which I was drinking tea from morning till night.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Is it conceited to say I hope I’m trying in my way to follow in the footsteps of Jean Fritz?

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book? 
KK:  American history is endlessly fascinating, and I love getting the chance to portray it as accurately and meaningfully as possible, fighting the good fight against cluelessness.


10.What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
KK:  It’s controversial!  Anyone who enters the fray will get sent a free copy of the book.

And now, I am tagging two upstanding children’s book folks: Helen Foster James , co-author of Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America and several other popular books, and Carlyn Beccia, illustrator for one of my newest, Louisa May’s Battle and other beautiful books.

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From On-Line to HANDS-ON: Let’s Draw Stories!

Register NOW for Joy Chu's hands-on workshop, Illustrating Books for Children, Wednesday evenings 6:30-9:30pm, 6/28-8/21/13,, ART 40011. Immerse yourself!

Exercise your art chops!

Summer Solstice! What could be better after a full day’s work (or sunning & surfing — hey, we’re in San Diego!), or sight-seeing around San Diego, than hunkering down, and drawing pictures with other passionate story-tellers?

We’ll do hands-on drawing-and-sharing, in class, in person, at the beautiful UCSD Extension campus in La Jolla, CA. Examine the latest picture books, plus a few timeless classics. And address aspects of the current children’s book market.

Join us!

Class:        Children’s Book Illustration – ART-40011
Instructor:  Joy Chu
Dates:       June 26 – August 21  (9 meetings)
Day:           Wednesdays
Time:         6:30pm – 9:30pm
Location:  Extension, Room 128

Required books: 

Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books (paperback) :: Uri Shulevitz   ISBN: 9780823059355

Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals (paperback)
:: Ed Emberley   ISBN: 9780316789790


Don’t delay, sign up today!
Purchase textbooks @ UCSD Bookstore,
or at  Register now.
Ask about ART 40011

Fee:  $250 / $275 after 6/10/13

When you write, and someone else draws…

It’s a unique opportunity when an illustrator can also write stories that other artists can render. This happened to Don Tate when he wrote It Jes’ Happened, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

Check out this excellent discussion between Anne Rockwell and Don Tate, at Anne’s site.

“…While I could have illustrated the story, my illustration styles weren’t the perfect match for the text. My editor wanted the art to be edgy, gritty. I wanted to go with an illustrator who had broader name recognition than myself. Greg Christie became one of our top choices.”—Don Tate


Original art by Bill Traylor

Remember this if you encounter a book editor who loves your story, but suggests that another illustrator provide the art. Don’t insist on all (doing both story and pictures) or nothing.

If a publisher is seriously interested in acquiring one component, make sure to ask why. Decisions like these are made for the good of the project.

Art from

From “It Jes’ Happened” by Greg Christie right-click to enlarge

Editors want your book to sell as many copies as possible. One practical consideration is name recognition. Newcomers tend to forget that buyers invariably prefer to request a familiar name or brand, even in bookstores or libraries. Or just the books with the medals on their jackets. Publishers also need to see how your name fares out there initially, in the mutual interest of nurturing a new career for the long term.

Hot Tip

Use Post-Its for your thumbnail storyboards


Check out Christian Robinson‘s method, and get a behind-the-scenes peek into his upcoming book Rain, written by Linda Ashman here.

More about my upcoming UCSD Extension Class!

Since I’ve been receiving numerous emails with questions about my upcoming online class at UCSD Extension (January 7-March 9, 2013), I thought it would be good to combine them here.

Q:  Can you give a little more info on how the class is structured?

Our goal will be to zero in on the book dummy itself, in terms of telling a story with utmost clarity.

We will explore the most effective ways of communicating story through images.

I must stress that this will not be a drawing class per se — in the sense that there will be no time to apply any drawing details, nor tight rendering.

In my experience, students (and many pros) have a tendency to focus lovingly on completing details and minutiae prematurely (before fully plotting the entire story), creating exquisite but static compositions at the expense of the whole. The story itself becomes incomplete.

By keeping our drawings simple, we will avoid becoming a stuck car tire, spinning mud.

From “Dies Kind Und Der Katze” by Bachér & Berner

Nailing key points like character creation; pacing, creating drama; graphic shapes and their importance; rhythm; making judicious use of white space. These are just some of the issues we will address.

Early study for Lydia, the protagonist in Matthew Cordell’s “hello! hello!”

We will be identifying art media (so many possibilities) used in today’s picture books, both traditional and digital. See a style you like? Ask about it!

And there will be plenty of sketching!

From “Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug” by Newgarden & Cash

The book dummy is the most important stage in the creation of picture books. Analogous to drawing architectural floor plans before building the house itself, this is the stage where all creative decisions on the picture book are made.

With your completed floor plan (the book dummy), you can move on to experimenting with the art media of your choice upon completion of this class.

This is why all drawings for our class must be done simply. We will complete three book dummies in nine weeks. In other words, stick figures are totally smart & OK!

All students are required to have an active library card. Everyone must borrow, read and share picture book selections, based upon a given theme for that week. Nowadays, any library book can be reserved online for later pick-up.

“Dancing figure” (above) © Christophe Niemann
“Librarian” (below) © Debbie Tilley

In addition, everyone will be required to have a  photo-sharing account, like Flickr , Picasa, or Photobucket to store images. This is where rough sketches would be uploaded. Students link images to display direct onto the class blog or discussion boards. This is to insure we do not over-tax UCSD Extension’s servers, as images take up far more memory than text.

All class participants will have access to:

(1) A Discussion Board, where everyone shares thoughts about the weekly theme, as well as technical tips (Example. Best ways to create low-resolution scans and PDFs; recommended links).

(2) A Group Blog, provided for this class only via UCSD’s Blackboard software. Students will be divided into critique groups. Each group will have its own Group Blog, to ensure ongoing feedback and support on works-in-progress.

(3) Class availability, 24/7. You can work on assignments anytime. Just remember that new lessons will be posted every  Monday morning!

Q:  Can you give a little more info on how the class is structured?

Every Monday, there will be a new Announcement summarizing the lesson plan plus assignments for the week. Assignments must be completed and uploaded every Sunday @ 11:59 pm. Each new class week begins on a Monday.

Q:  Will we get to share our work with other students?

Definitely! In fact, this is a must, and a major feature of this class! There will be critiques, discussions, and opportunities for feedback  throughout the course. Rules and guidelines for procedure and protocol will be distributed.

Q: Will you be giving feedback?

Yes!  I will be reading everyone’s comments —- with an eye towards encouraging everyone’s mutual support. And I will jump in as appropriate.

I will also list specific times when I will be online live to address immediate concerns.

Most importantly, students must have high speed internet to participate. To test your equipment, go here. To preview and sample our class’s online tools free, go here.

Questions? Post them below (‘Leave a reply’)! I look forward to meeting you, and building our Creative Online Community. Feel the buzz? Register here.

Think you can’t express anything with stick figures? You’d be wrong! Click here and enjoy!



Course title:  Illustrating Books for Children (ART 40011)
Dates: January 7th – March 9th, 2013 (nine weeks)
Fees: $275  (early bird special: $250 if enrolled by 10 Dec 2012)
To register: 858-964-1051;


Delicious Illustrations: A Chat with Jessie Hartland

Dear Reader:  ♥ August 15, 2012 is Julia Child’s 100th Birthday ! ♥ 

More eye-catchers!

Another title that exerted a strong visual pull on me at the ALA Convention Floor last July was a fun-packed book called Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child, published by  Schwartz & Wade (a division of Random House).  It was written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland.

What was the je ne sais quoi for moi?

There’s the combination of ebullient art, alongside wickedly funny text: She is a hearty partier and still a prankster. She is famous for painting a toilet seat in her dormitory red Simply irresistible.

Then I discover that author Jessie Hartland was the creator of another book that tugged at my heartstrings previously at ALA Mid-Winter 2011, How the Sphinx Got to the Museum (published by Blue Apple Books).

Besides having illustrated eight picture books, Jesse is a commercial artist whose work appears on ceramics…

and fabric…

and in advertisements.

Why did both the Julia and Sphinx books jump out at me? I think it’s because both books underscore the act of process.

It’s as if Jessie wholeheartedly takes us along for the ride, while she researches her subjects. We get blow-by-blow commentary, at a fast clip.

A preliminary rough sketch

Playfully rendered, and partnered by lively hand-written text, each page feels like notes shared by your BFF, who happens to render doodles into color. Mais oui! 

[A tangental note for my students:  Much of the fun in creating picture books is derived from uncovering all the back story of your subjects. We gather all the juicy parts; the nasty bits; the settings; the unexpected gems. It’s the resource of inspiration. —JC]


For Julia’s story, Jessie combined her own love of cooking with travels to Paris. I had to find out more.

Joy Chu:  Tell us about the genesis of the Julia Child book. Whose idea was it?

Jessie Hartland:  It was my idea. I love to read biographies and I wanted to do a series of “graphic biographies” for children, my own way.

I pitched Julia Child as the first in the set.


This was about 5-6 years ago, before Nora Ephron’s film, Julie & Julia.  The response I got was “…no one cares about Julia Child anymore.”

[However] the film revived interest in Julia, and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to do the book.

JC:  Did you do many preliminary character sketches of Julia herself?

JH:  I looked at lots and lots of photographs of Julia and watched all the DVDs I could find, then started sketching — from my head. I did a lot of doodling in cafes, and other odd places.

JC:   Was there much back-and-forth on the progressive dummy? How many versions — including the ones you did for yourself?

JH:  Yes—of course. Lots of back-and-forth. Many scenes needed to be clarified for the wee ones.

Preliminary rough: Julia and Paul Child’s early years in Paris. . .

. . . and its color version.

Some images I had as full-page got shrunk to a small panel.

Some tiny panels got blown up to full-pagers.

My two editors, Anne (Schwartz) and Lee (Wade), were wonderful to work with, the whole way. They would prod me with, “tell us more about…”

Same text content, with full-page treatment in lieu of small panels.

JC:   Favorite medium? And do you work same size, or up-size?

JH:  I tend to work up-size, just a bit. I paint in gouache, which is opaque watercolor.

JC:  Did you provide your own scans? Back and forth on color corrections?

JH:  They [the publisher] did the scanning. I don’t remember much in the way of color correction. However, there was lots to fix and clarify, what with all the hand-written text, made more complicated by the bits of French sprinkled in.

JC:  Are you a foodie yourself?

Jessie Hartland channels Julia. [photo by Isabelle Dervaux]

JH:  Yes, I love to cook. I grew up watching “The French Chef” on TV. My mother did not like to cook and it was fun to watch someone cooking who enjoyed it. At home we ate frozen vegetables, canned fruit and dreadful things made with soup mixes and such. As a teenager I got an after school job in my town’s only fancy-foods shop where I had my first croissants, baklava and French cheese.

Jessie Hartland’s book dedication inscription in Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child

While in art school I worked weekends and summers as a restaurant cook. Nowadays our family eats a lot of seafood caught by my 20 year old son, Sam: tuna, sea bass, bluefish, porgies, mahi-mahi and cherrystone clams. I grow tomatoes, cucumbers and raspberries and have a thriving herb garden.

JC:  How did you get started, in brief — from school to the field?

JH:  I went to the Boston Museum School, a very fine arts-oriented school, not commercial. It is affiliated with Tufts, where I took excellent academic classes.

After graduating, I worked briefly at a high-tech start-up, then moved to NYC and worked freelance doing production work for independent animators.

During lunch, I took my portfolio around and began getting illustration jobs and was able to quit the animation work.

As an illustrator, I found the assignments I most enjoyed were those asking for some writing and coming up with ideas.

When I was designing and installing windows—at night—for the Barneys department stores, I got the idea for my children’s book, “Night Shift.”

I had a fabulous gig for a couple of years, travel-writing and drawing a regular column for Travel and Leisure/ Family.

You could say moving on to writing and illustrating children’s books was a natural transition, but I think it’s really what I wanted to do all along.

JC:  Biggest influences?

JH:  Saul Steinberg, Robert Crumb, Roger Duvoisin, and old Graphis Annuals from the 50s. I grew up reading and loving Babar, Madeline and especially the collaborative books of Margaret Bloy Graham and Gene Zion (Harry the Dirty Dog). My mother made fabulous felt puppets and adapted the stories of Maurice Sendak and poems of Ogden Nash for puppet plays, and I put on the shows for my school.

JC:  What are you working on now?

JH:  Another biography, this one of Steve Jobs. It will be targeted to older kids, though—and in black and white. A smaller format, and with many more pages. More focus on the writing and drawings—and I’m up for the challenge! He’s another fascinating character: rebellious, intuitive, ingenious…

I also have 4-5 other ideas in various stages of development. . . And I just found out for sure that there will be a third in the “Museum” series of booksHow the Meteorite Got to the Museum — about the Peekskill meteorite.

JC:  How delicious! Do keep us posted. And until then, bon appetít, Jessie!

[Inspiration can sprout from anywhere“… thanks to my mom, Dottie Hill Hartland, for fabricating for Xmas 1965 the brilliant French café dollhouse (complete with tiny food and menus in French!), which got me started on France, cooking, and Julia Child.” Jessie Hartland, from her Acknowledgments note on the copyright page]


Ready, Steady, DRAW!

There’s still a few spaces left for my upcoming workshop. Here’s the link for information and registration.

Questions? Post them below, or email me.

Books, Apps, and Us: A Chat with Michel Kripalani

Today, we are checking in with Oceanhouse Media (OM) to see what they’ve been up to since our last visit, in August.  Prior to that, we first met with its founder Michel Kripalani in February 2011.  OM keeps evolving with each encounter. Their title list has expanded, in concert with the size of their offices.

Joy Chu:  Would you share some stories about your latest projects? Your partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises continues happily! His 108th birthday was just this month (March 2).

Michel Kripalani:  We have some very exciting titles coming soon. In the Dr. Seuss line, we’re about to come out with The Shape of Me and Other Stuff  (release date March 21) . . .

…and Horton Hatches the Egg (release date April 4). We’re super excited for both of those.

Recently, we’ve launched the Dr. Seuss Beginner Book Collection #1, which has done really well. It seems that people are gravitating towards this idea of having multiple books in one app.

We’re going to follow that up with a Collection #2  (release date March 21);  and also a Mercer Mayer Little Critter collection. Finally, The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library series has been very well received, with the first two apps that came out; and we have a number of new titles in production as well. The team is incredibly busy and we have a lot of great omBooks (Oceanhouse Media digital books) coming in the next three months.

JC:  Tell us about the books you do with the Smithsonian, of Triceratops Gets Lost; It’s Tyrannosaurus Rex! and Penguin’s Family. What age group is this geared towards?

MK:  The Smithsonian titles are great. We work with Soundprints, out of Connecticut, who is the publisher of the books. The books originally came in print form, with audio CDs attached.

Now, we’ve taken those materials and combined them into apps, making them more interactive. There’s some really great omBooks out there as you’ve already listed — Triceratops Gets Lost, It’s Tyrannosaurus Rex!, Polar Bear Horizon, Woolly Mammoth In Trouble and Penguin’s Family. Children from 3 to 7 years old really seem to enjoy these educational apps.

JC:  These titles are nonfiction-oriented — as opposed to the classic Seuss titles. Are your steps different when doing these books?  Will the emphasis be more on sidebar material, in addition to terminology?

MK:  The steps are not really that different. We always take the original source material and adapt it to interactive form as best we can.

For Dr. Seuss, it happens to be fiction and storytelling and in the case of Smithsonian there tends to be more scientific content. Our process is very similar. In terms of sidebar material, we use everything that’s provided to us.

It just so happens that the Smithsonian line, and also The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library line, have a lot of this additional information that we’re able to embed in the apps.

Sidebar from "Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur? All About Dinosaurs"

Sidebar material from "Polar Bear Horizon"

JC:  I’m excited you will be producing an omBook featuring one of my all-time favorite artists, Byron Barton!

MK:  We’re extremely excited as well. The books are fantastic to begin with, and we’ve added a real fun level of interactivity that we think will be very exciting for toddlers.

The first release is Planes, launching on March 14. Additional omBooks based on Barton’s transportation books will be released in the next several months through our partnership with HarperCollins Children’s Books.

JC:  You have another addition to your stable since our last meeting: omBooks affiliated with Kidwick Books.

MK:  Kidwick Books are a perfect example of how picture books with great storytelling can be transformed into engaging, interactive apps.

The award-winning Leo the Lightning Bug as well as Ellison the Elephant and A Frog Thing are a wonderful addition to our omBook collection, with stories that encourage patience, perseverance, and confidence in young children.

JC:  You now appear to have a mix between the author/artists you deal directly with [examples: Mercer Meyer; Alona Frankel’s Potty series; Dr Seuss Enterprises; Kidwick Books]; and other projects in tandem with major publishing houses [examples: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Official Character Arts, LLC./Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer].

Now that Oceanhouse has hit the ground running, will you continue producing omBooks as direct partners, special third party licensee arrangements, or both? In what percentage of each?

MK:  For us it’s very straight-forward. We do the deal with whoever holds the rights.

If the author and illustrator hold the digital rights to their material, then we’re happy to do a direct deal with them. If the rights reside with the publisher, we’re equally happy to work with the publisher. It really makes no difference to us, and it’s a little bit hard for me to predict which way the rights will be held in the future.

JC:  What do you look for when you take on either of the above business relationships? And would you define the term “Evergreen Title” in terms of book print quantity? What about web presence (ie, how many “hits”?); when this is included in a project proposal?

MK:  Every book and every line is different. To date, as a business, we’ve been looking for evergreen titles from big brands. Clearly, Dr. Seuss, The Berenstain Bears and Little Critter all fall in this category.

So in general, we do tend to gravitate towards lines with multiple books, a dozen or more is attractive to us, and titles that have been selling for many, many years. Over time, I expect this will change, and we may start to explore books just because we think there’s a chance that in an app adaptation they’ll do particularly well.

JC:  If an author/illustrator owns the complete rights to their currently out-of-print book, they would ideally show a written proposal. What should it contain?

MK:  A written proposal is a great place to start. People can feel free to contact us via email (

A simple summary is great. Perhaps deliver a few PDF images of some pages as well. We love to know what print runs and sales figures have been in the past.

To date, most of the titles that we’ve adapted into apps have sold well over 50,000 or more copies, some into the hundreds of thousands and even millions.

JC:  Any other new news you can share with us?

MK:  One other line that we recently launched that we’re really excited about is adaptations of the Picture Me® Press books, which allow children to put their photographs into the omBooks.

In physical form, you’d put a 4×6 photo at the back of the book and see it on every page. But in app form (pictured here), we’ve found that it’s even that much more playful because you can use the camera on the device to take a picture or go get something out of your photo library.

Then we still add all of the interactivity, word highlighting and playful elements. It’s a series that we’re very excited about. Initial titles have done quite well.

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