Category Archives: Interviews

Thank you, Chris Demarest…

Click here to read our interview with
Chris Demarest [2/29/2012]
At a special ceremony, Chris was presented with a special Medal of Honor from the DAR for his recent portrait work at the Women's Memorial at Arlington. He's wearing his US Coast Guard Auxiliary uniform.

On March 10th, 2012, Chris was presented with a special Medal of Honor from the DAR for his portrait work at the Women's Memorial at Arlington. He's wearing his US Coast Guard Auxiliary uniform

. . . for allowing us a peek into your multi-faceted life as children’s book illustrator, editorial artist, dad, fire-fighter, hurricane hunter, coast guard artist, and eye-witness to the myriad duties of service men and women, both here and abroad. And for embodying how change can effect profound insights into life, and art.

Chris signing a copy of his book "Arlington" at the opening of The Greatest Generation exhibit, at the Women's Memorial, Arlington Cemetery

Chris signing his book, "Arlington" at the opening of The Greatest Generation exhibit, at the Women's Memorial, Arlington Cemetery

A Saudi-Arabian exchange student posts his appreciation

A Saudi-Arabian exchange student displays his note

What follows below is a Countdown Wall of Thanks to Chris Demarest, for sharing his artistic career with us.

Interspersed among these memorable images are a mix of photos; preliminary sketches; plus comments from Memorial visitors over the world. Enjoy.


selections from the exhibit
The Greatest Generation: A Tribute

by Chris L. Demarest

[click on any image to enlarge]


Marie Mitchell, WASP.  Stillwater, TX,  1944.  One of the few women pilots who lost her life while serving her country.


A WAVE,  spinning T-6 propeller, Texas 1943


Elizabeth Smith, WASP

Ada Neil, US Army WAC nurse. This is Bobbie Miller‘s mom.

I was put in touch with Mitch Zuchoff, the author of Lost In Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War 2.  WAC Margaret Hastings was the sole female of three survivors in the operation. This is from an amazing photograph of Margaret, sent by Mitch.

LTJG Jane Louise Kandeigh, navy nurse.  She was the first woman on Iwo Jima

General Benjamin O. Davis, one of the Tuskegee Airmen

Seaman First Class Thomas Allen Towles, USN

Griff Holland, P-47 fighter pilot pilot, Burma 1943.  This portrait started my Greatest Generation series. He (now age 88) stopped by the Women’s Memorial to view his painting on display.
A Japanese-American family were looking at it, honored to meet the pilot in the painting — the same pilot who fought the Japanese in WWII. In a touching gesture, the woman gave Griff a paper
origami heart.


US Army Corporal/MP Stephen S. Bendetto,  Egypt 1943


 This is Captain Helen Marlowe, USMC, an instructor in chemical warfare training at Camp Lejeune, 1943-45. She died of a "lung condition" at age 35 in 1947. She received the American Campaign and WWII Victory medals.

Captain Helen Marlowe, USMC, an instructor in chemical warfare training at Camp Lejeune, 1943-45.  She died of a “lung condition” at age 35 in 1947.  She received the American Campaign and WWII Victory medals. 

A young B-24 navigator who survived some harrowing missions over Germany.  His daughter viewed this portrait in person the other night. It was nice for the both of us.


A WAC communications specialist


Sgt. Max McClure, tail gunner and bomb loader

This WAC still lives!


An army nurse was always a welcome sight

The 6888 (“Six-Triple-Eight”) Battalion.
Such great faces. Every one has a story to tell.
GI Langland, in France


Henry Chu, machine gun and mortar instructor, US Army, Newfoundland, 1943. This is Joy Chu‘s dad.


This is NPR reporter Renee Montaigne‘s dad (right) with his buddy, in Long Beach. Note the USO sign in the background. The friend was killed two months later at Pearl Harbor.

Lorraine Rodgers WASP (now 91) at age 18, Stillwater TX, filling out her logbook, post-flight. Note the rolled up pant legs of her zoot suit, and penny loafers. Three cushions plus her chute allowed her to see over the instrument panel. What a pixie!


US Navy ensign Ray. His daughter poses with his portrait.
The young boy with whom I posed with a copy of my firefighting book now has a new perspective on his grandfather, Ensign Ray.


Charlie. For Merle and Marlis, my Canadian friends


I spent an hour talking with a Polish American couple, Antonia and Stanley, who fought separately in the Polish Army.  Stanley no longer had his WW2 photos. Here he is today, at 92.



In 1945, there was no serum for poisonous snakes.  The habu was one of the deadliest and responsible for killing 125 soldiers in Okinawa.


Capt Robert Wood, 11th Airborne, U.S. Army


Ensign Ludtke


Beauty knows no boundaries, even in war time Europe


Holding Bombing Run Camera

She is holding the bombing run camera. Say “cheese”!


“Somewhere in Europe”





There, in the darkness of the original photo, sits a puppy on the gas tank, previously unseen to my eyes before.
Chaplain Liteky, US Army


[Can you tell Chris likes dogs too? — JC]


Fast forward to the present:  Chris completed the following portrait of LCDR Regina Mills, whose memorial service was held at  Arlington on March 8, 2012:

LCDR_Mills, sharp-shooter

LCDR Regina Mills  [click to enlarge]

Paul Dussault:  I apologize for this huge post but I needed to do it. . . . This has been an UNBELIEVABLE week!

As some of you may or may not know, I flew off of CARL VINSON (currently deployed to the North Arabian Sea in support of OEF) this past Sunday (March 4th) via Bahrain, Kuwait, Washington DC and got back home to San Diego on Monday.

I then flew back to Washington DC with my lovely bride on Wednesday for the funeral of LCDR Regina Mills, which took place Thursday the 8th at Arlington National Cemetery.

For those who know me, you know how much she meant to me and how she will be sorely missed by so many.  I found out about her passing while I was deployed, so I’ve had plenty of time to dwell on that and many other things in my life.

Her funeral was appropriately a grand event and after it, many of her family and friends gathered at Sines Irish Pub and toasted many times to her memory. She would have approved I’m sure.

The following day I wanted to be able to take Suzie around DC a bit as she had never been there without it being buried in snow. During our journey that day we decided to go to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Regina’s honor.

When we walked in, there were many beautiful and fitting tributes to the many women who have sacrificed for our nation. As I looked around my breath was suddenly stolen from me as I locked in on a painting of Regina painted from a photo of her on deck taken during our time together on NIMITZ.

I asked the docent there how I could get a hold of the artist to which she replied “He’s here right now, I’ll get him”.

A few moments later he (Chris Demarest) appeared and I began to tell him of my friendship with Regina, and quickly recounted some of the times we shared on the two ships we had served together, and the deep respect I possess for her, and all she had accomplished in her short life.

I know I was emotional, and all of a sudden Chris told me “take the painting, it’s yours, it is my gift to you”.

Needless to say, I had a meltdown right there in front of him and Suzie. I still cannot get over his kindness and I’m comforted by knowing down deep that this entire encounter was NOT accidental.

I’ve never been big on God, although I consider myself a “quietly spiritual” person, but there is no doubt that I was being guided by an outside force. 

I like to think of it as Regina still watching out for me, just like she did while we served together.  I will miss her always,  but know I am better for having known her.

Thank you Chris, for your part in this story, and for the gift you so selflessly gave me without thought. I will never forget your kindness and generosity. As my wife so eloquently puts it: “You are healing wounds with your art.”

Keep doing what you do. For the rest of my friends, please check out his page “Military Portraits by Chris Demarest”  on Facebook. The attached photo was taken by Suzie at the memorial after he gave me the painting.


As this is an unfunded project, contributions of any size are welcome. For official recognition, mail to:

Chris Demarest
Women in Military Service For America Foundation
200 N. Glebe Rd  Suite 400
Arlington VA 22203

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If you have an image of a friend or loved one from WW II, the Korean War, Vietnam, or the Middle East you’d like painted, feel free to contact Chris L. Demarest directly. His fee is $500 for an acrylic portrait (16×20); fee slightly higher for oils. 

Contact:   Chris L. Demarest


For additional perspective on the Greatest Generation, check out this video by the daughter of WWII veteran Arthur “Dutch” Schultz , a paratrooper during D-Day [special thanks to Anne Rockwell for finding this]:

Click here for our Got Story? interview with Chris.




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Oh, The Places He Goes!

Chris Demarest on the Persian Gulf

Author/Illustrator Chris Demarest on the Persian Gulf

A colleague once referred to Chris Demarest as “the Sebastian Junger for the younger set.” It’s an apt description.

He works by creating visual imagery steadily, whether it’s on-the-go  jumping off planes around the word, or while settling in different parts of the country. He also manages to fold adventure into everything he does.

He is author and illustrator of over one hundred titles.  His upcoming book project is BASIC TRAINING, for Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press (publishers of his Arlington book), is due out in 2013.

Joy Chu:  For years you’ve been known for books that feature your cartoon-style of drawing, including No Peas For Nellie, Kitman and Willy, The Animal’s Song, plus numerous series projects for school texts, poetry anthologies, board books, and much more.

"Kitman and Willy" and "No Peas for Nellie"

We worked together on The Cows Are Going to Paris, Two Badd Babies, and My Little Red Car (all from Boyds Mills Press).

"The Cows are Going to Paris" and "Two Badd Babies"

You are possibly the fastest artist [in terms of drawing] I know.  Every art director’s dream, deadline-wise! You even owned a red Miata during that period, and took professional racing  lessons.

Chris Demarest training at the Skip Barber Racing School track, plus his book, "My Little Red Car"

CD:  That’s funny that you remember the red Miata.  Yes, I bought that after going to race driving school.

You say I’m a fast “draw-ler.”  That was several years back.  I had the record for the fastest turn-around at the Boston Globe: Eight minutes from start-to-received fax, for a b/w illustration!

JC:  I loved your line drawings [in your children’s books], with bursts of bright watercolor, full of humor and wit!

Later on, you embraced a much more realistic, painterly approach. How and why did that happen?

Chris Demarest:   I was a realistic painter/printmaker in college.  I’d always been “drawn” to action images: skiers, ball game players, race cars, generally “boy’ things as a kid.

In college, the focus was more on the human form.  The key to drawing is in both numerous life drawing classes and HOW to draw.  We were never allowed to use anything but a sharp pencil. Anything less allowed us to cheat.

We all know how hard hands are to draw.  So, in having to work with a fine line, it sharpened our eyes and taught us to draw not what we knew in general (hand = four fingers + thumb with lots of joints) but what we saw.  A hand is like a face: It’s unique in size; shape; length.

Having that line skill made transitioning to line cartooning easy.  I knew anatomy well enough so translating that into a cartoon human was simple— or let’s say easier.

I also liked the shift away from a painting that would take a couple of weeks to something that was done in a matter of minutes.

In 1990, I re-located from New York City to Vermont. That move changed my life. I had a family, and we happened upon the local town’s fire department’s open house. Thinking my son Ethan (he was one at the time) would enjoy visiting, I joined their all-volunteer department.

Over the course of two years, I developed a book on fire-fighting while working with them. It started out as kind-of-a Richard Scarry approach (using my own line work).

I like using the alphabet as a template when it works. But as I wrote the story it became edgier.

As the tone of the book changed, so too did the art.  It went through a phase of Virginia Lee Burton/ Mike Mulligan and his  Steam Shovel-like flavor.

My editor at the time told me that it was too scary (“Kids are afraid of fire”). That was when I sensed I had the wrong editor.

Long story short, I later met Emma Dryden. Her only comments after looking at the completed artwork then was “Add MORE fire. Add MORE smoke!” She was so on target!

JC:  Aha!

CD:   It had to be realistic, if I was going to talk about the dangers of fire and fire fighting.

cover from "Firefighters A to Z"That book became Firefighters A to Z,  which subsequently was chosen as a New York Times “Best Book”.

Selected pages from "Firefighters A to Z"

Selected pages from "Firefighters A to Z" (click to enlarge)

Emma Dryden embraced the firefighting idea, and let me do two more books on firefighting, Hotshots! and Smoke Jumpers One to Ten.

I visited the US Forest Service Smokejumper base in Redding CA for research.  Ironically, this was before the Coast Guard book and 9/11.  At the jump base, I was never allowed to leave the ground. No shots from the air, only ground shots.

From "Hotshots!"

From "Hotshots!", done in pastel (click to enlarge)

I was fortunate to see them do a practice jump which was very exciting. Seeing people leap out of a plane at only 1500 feet is impressive. If one didn’t open a chute, the drop would take about eight seconds.  That’s not much time if something goes wrong.

I then shifted toward other themes involving rescue. For a year, I  flew with the US Coast Guard (USCG) out of Air Station Cape Cod, doing research for Mayday! Mayday! A Coast Guard Rescue.

"Mayday! Mayday!" alongside USCG Air Station rescue workers getting ready

Left: "Mayday! Mayday!" cover. Right: USCG Air Station rescue workers (click to enlarge)

From "Mayday! Mayday!", done in pastel

From "Mayday! Mayday!", done in pastel (click to enlarge)

This is where it got interesting.  As unhelpful as the US Forest Service was with the smokejumper book, the US Coast Guard bent over backwards to help.

Gunner's Mate USCG "Adirondack"  watercolor

Gunner's Mate USCG "Adirondack" watercolor (click to enlarge)

Their first email response (after validation from Emma) was: “When can you come? We’ll take you up in the Falcon jet and the Jayhawk helicopter…”

Jen/Cobra  watercolor

Jen/Cobra watercolor (click to enlarge)

W-Whiskey  (A-10 Warthog) from "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie: a Military Alphabet" 

W-Whiskey (A-10 Warthog) from "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie: a Military Alphabet" (click to enlarge)

When I forwarded this to Emma, she immediately shot back with: “You get to do all the cool stuff while I’m stuck behind this desk.” Little did she know…

My editor Emma Dryden on her flight with Air Station Cape Cod.  After an ninety minute flight going from terrified to quietly ecstatic (if that's such a term).  Doffing her flight helmet, she leans into me and exclaims "No more books about bunnies and ducks!"  She got a chance to experience some of the adventures I've been on.

My editor Emma Dryden, on her flight with Air Station Cape Cod. After a 90-minute flight, going from terrified to quietly ecstatic. Doffing her flight helmet, she leans into me and exclaims "No more books about bunnies and ducks!" She got a chance to experience some of the adventures I've been on. (click to enlarge)

Two years later, I flew with the Hurricane Hunters into Hurricane Ivan, researching Hurricane Hunters: Riders On The Storm.

The "eye" of Hurricane Ivan

The "eye" of Hurricane Ivan. (click to enlarge)

After the three firefighting books, Emma said: “What can you do with water?”  After Mayday! Mayday! (and inspired by Sebastian Junger’s book The Perfect Storm), I wanted to cover hurricanes.  So again, I wrote to my intended target, got clearance and made preparations.

The only difference is no one can predict the evolution of hurricanes.  Whereas the Coast Guard could set a schedule for me, I had to wait to hear from the US Air Force Reserve out of Biloxi, Mississippi. The biggest problem is that it’s expensive to fly commercially at the drop of a hat.  All summer, I kept missing storms because I couldn’t just get up and leave!

Hurricane Hunters Crew portrait

Hurricane Hunters Crew portrait (click to enlarge)

Finally in August, I made plans to visit the air base. Then if a hurricane rolled through, lucky me!  As it turned out, the day after arriving in Biloxi, they called to say a flight was scheduled the next day [to witness hurricane work first-hand]. Finally I was able to go!

JC:  You seem to be entering a new chapter now.

CD:  Emma Dryden told me several times: “You have an uncanny way of reinventing yourself”.  She stated that over ten years ago when Firefighters A to Z came out, and she said this to me again recently.

There were a few transitional books like Cowboy ABC and Lindbergh, where my art style reverted (from light linework) to realism.  But with the firefighting book, I was also able to play the boy again, going out on actual adventures. Previously, my themes were imagined;  this time they were all very real.

Griff Holland. This is the painting that started it all.

Griff Holland. This is the painting that started it all. (click to enlarge)

While working with Air Station Cape Cod, I wanted to give back to them.  It came in two ways: I became a USCG Auxilarist and an official artist  — two separate entities.

Cat shot (catapult).  FA-18 Hornet launches.

Cat shot (catapult). FA-18 Hornet launches. (click to enlarge)

At the first acceptance art ceremony, I met the Rear Admiral (mid-Atlantic).   “Sally” became a good friend and ally who got me into places one normally isn’t allowed.  I got to experience so many avenues of the Coast Guard because of her.

The "Monomoy" one of four patrol boats I lived on.

The "Monomoy" one of four patrol boats I lived on. (click to enlarge)

Then one cold and depressing day in February, an email from USCG Headquarters arrived.  It began:  “Dear Mr. Demarest. We’re contacting you to see about your availability to go to Bahrain…”  Thus began a two month process of working both with them and the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet (Bahrain). It was an incredible journey and experience.

One of many sunken ships in the Kwar River (Kuwait) from the Kueait/Iraq War 

One of many sunken ships in the Kwar River (Kuwait) from the Kuwait/Iraq War (click to enlarge)

The CO (Commanding Officer) is besieged by dragonflies.  I'd heard about this phenomenon and finally on my last day, out of nowhere hundreds covered the boat.

The Commanding Officer besieged by dragonflies. I'd heard about this phenomenon: Out of nowhere, hundreds covered the boat. (click to enlarge)

The Coast Guard sent me to the Persian Gulf living aboard patrol boats, to document their work guarding the oil platforms off the coast of Iraq.

This is a war zone. Night and storm rolling in against the backdrop of a 50 cal machine gun.

This is a war zone. Night and storm rolling in against the backdrop of a 50 cal machine gun. (click to enlarge)

Nine paintings and drawings from that trip are in the USCG permanent art collection, Washington DC.

My day on the job, landing on the interstate to transport an accident victim.

My day on the job with the medical evacuation team of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, landing on the interstate to transport an accident victim. (click to enlarge)

In 2007 I flew over twenty-five missions with DHART, the medical evacuation team out of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH.  An exhibit chronicled this period. An article I wrote up on the  experience appeared in their publication, Dartmouth Medicine.

Working with the military prepared me for where I am now, working at the Women’s Memorial, talking to service people almost daily.


"Ada" (click to enlarge)


Pvt. Henry Chu (click to enlarge)

Ensign Ludtke

Ensign Ludtke (click to enlarge)

"Somewhere in Europe"

"Somewhere in Europe" (click to enlarge)

JC:  And you were here in San Diego recently!

CD:  I was deployed to San Diego to cover border patrol operations aboard a small cutter and in their rescue helicopter.

Headquarters sent me to San Diego to cover border patrols on both boat and helicopter.  Like any mission, it’s hit or miss about seeing anything of note.  As it was, there were no incidents.

Spending eighteen hours on the patrol boat Haddock I did get to see them practice rescue basket operations.  I’ve seen it countless times from above in the helicopter but this was new.

This boat was an 85-footer as opposed to the ones in the Persian Gulf (110-footers) and the size difference was thirty five feet shorter.  That meant it bobbed about like a cork.

To date, I’ve never gotten sick either on ships or flying but I was tested.  Sleeping presents a problem when the boat pitches a lot. My concern was less about getting sick than falling out of the rack.  Tucking myself in, literally, saved me from rolling out of the top berth.

Sgt Max McClure, tail gunner and bomb loader

Sgt Max McClure, tail gunner and bomb loader (click to enlarge)

JC:  Tell us about your most recent projects.

CD:  My most recent release, a picture book called Arlington: A Story of Our Nation’s Cemetery (Macmillan/Roaring Brook, 2010) honors the history of the grounds and those who made the ultimate sacrifice to their nation.

from "Arlington"

from "Arlington" (click to enlarge)

My father was buried at Arlington in 1989 and I got to see the whole show. Caisson, bugle sounding taps and the rifle salute.  I also covered a USCG funeral.

By the time it came to do a book on the troops, I chose to cover it as Arlington’s history.  That history in itself is interesting, as it ties George Washington to Robert E. Lee together, via bloodlines and marriage.

Somehow coming to the women’s memorial last year made it feel like I was coming full circle back to my father and his WW II military service, by working on portraits of WW II people.

The 6888 (Six triple eight) battalion.

The 6888 (Six triple eight) battalion. (click to enlarge)

With my move to Washington DC, my work with the military continues as an on-site artist at The Women in Military Service to America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, creating a massive collection of World War II portraits honoring the “greatest generation”.

My next project for the memorial is to create five life-size dioramas, one for each service branch, showing the contemporary work women do in the military.

Chris Demarest's office (in the shadows) Arlington House on the hill, Arlington National Cemetery

Chris Demarest's office (in the shadows) Arlington House on the hill, Arlington National Cemetery (click to enlarge)

Working on-site has provided another avenue. Interacting with the public, who stroll the hallways of the memorial daily has often brought me face-to-face with those who’ve lost loved ones in the recent wars.

Wall of Thanks

The Wall of Thanks, at the Women's Memorial (click to enlarge)

For them I created a “wall of thanks” which allows anyone to leave drawings and messages as a kind of therapy for all.

Note found on the Wall of Thanks

One note found on the Wall of Thanks, in reference to service women (click to enlarge)

It’s my greatest joy, being able to reach out to those emotionally hardest hit by letting them have a voice.

One retired Navy commander, who works at the memorial, calls me “Father Dave” because I remind her of a chaplain she was close to while she served.

JC:  She calls you “Father Dave”? Why, Chris?

CD:  In part, because of the conversations I relate to her [from my interactions], with people who’ve lost a loved one in war.

 Renee Montagne's father (right) and his buddy two months before Pearl Harbor, Long Beach CA

NPR reporter Renee Montagne's father (right) and his buddy two months before Pearl Harbor, Long Beach CA (click to enlarge)

JC:  You are producing amazing portraits!  They reveal a wholly new dimension to your body of work.

And those faces.  They radiate layered stories telepathically when they stare back at us.

Are you looking for donors / patrons / corporate funding for your on-going efforts? On behalf of World War II portraits honoring the “greatest generation”? If so, where can prospective folks contact you?

CD:  Yes, please. For official recognition, contributions of any size can be sent to:

Chris Demarest
Women in Military Service For America Foundation
200 N. Glebe Rd  Suite 400
Arlington VA 22203


Check out highlights from the exhibition The Greatest Generationhere.

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Wait wait. . . there’s more!

@ Everyone:  For those who would like to have a portrait (WW II, Korea, Vietnam era) of a beloved veteran created, the fee for a 16×20 acrylic on canvas, the fee is $500 (slightly higher fee for oils on canvas).

Contact:   Chris L. Demarest

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Q’s and A’s for You and Me, with Richard Jesse Watson

Illustrator and author members of the San Diego Chapter of SCBWI had the golden opportunity  of attending an early morning hands-on workshop and presentation at their most recent monthly meeting, led by author/illustrator Richard Jesse Watson.

Since nowadays, character-driven stories are what agents and editors seek out, it makes perfect sense to corner your own characters with a Q & A.  Why? Richard explains:

It is a simple way to get to know your character.  The results can be quite unexpected, if you let your character be themselves.

Richard applies his Q&A technique to one of Katherine Ward's critters.

Richard applies his Q&A technique to one of SCBWI-attendee Katherine Ward's critters. Surprise: It's a party animal made entirely from masking tape!

Richard walked us through the process with a plan:

Q&A for Authors, Illustrators, Undercover Operatives 
1. Make the sun shine.

2. Sit outside in your patio under a banana tree.

3. Invite your character to sit down on one of your comfortable rattan chairs.

4. Ask them if they would be willing to do a little Q&A.

5. If they refuse, fire them on the spot and go for the understudy.

6. If they agree, then start with the polite questions (favorite color, breakfast food, describe your pajamas…)

7. Once things get going, ask the harder questions (favorite cuss word, have you done anything you regret? who do you hate and why…)

8. It might be a good idea to park your car in such a way that you can make a hasty retreat [BTW, this is advice that is actually written into the rule book for FIFA soccer referees].

9. If you find yourself blushing, drink some cool orange juice. Remember, this is about your character, not you. Or is it? Damn you Freud.

10. Agree to meet again. Get the phone numbers of some of your character’s friends so you can interview them as well.

Left to right: Joy Chu, Richard Jesse Watson, Edith Hope Fine

Richard Jesse Watson with Joy Chu and Edith Hope Fine, after his presentation

“Weren’t we the lucky ducks to hear Richard Jesse Watson?” author Edith Hope Fine declared afterwards, smiling. “To do a Q and A with one of our own characters. THAT got the brainbox moving, for sure!”

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Now, it’s your turn to give it a try. Read on. . .

To demonstrate, Richard completed the following Q & A for the Countdown:

Joy Chu:   Can you list your most recent books-to-date?

cover from "The Lord's Prayer", illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson

(click to enlarge)

Richard Jesse Watson:  I am working on PSALM 23 which will be a companion book to the THE LORD’S PRAYER picture book that I did last year  for Zondervan.  And before that I illustrated a book, written by my son, Ben, THE BOY WHO WENT APE, published by Scholastic.

JC:   Describe your usual work space for us.

cover from "The Boy Who Went Ape"

(click to enlarge)

 RJW:  Chaos, Joy. Pure chaos. Pure, distilled chaos. Actually, more like pure distilled, concentrated, magnified, stratified chaos. (sigh) (Mucho projects, and muy books in various stages). There’s a bank of flat files, filing cabinets full of reference material, two drawing tables and a counter in the center for stand-up work; racks above for art storage. Looking out of every window there’s a view of the forest. I share my space with Big Sur, my moose.

Richard Jesse Watson's studio

Richard Jesse Watson's studio

JC:   What is your usual medium, or -– if you use a variety; or are experimenting -– your preferred one(s)?

RJW:   I lu-uv to experiment with medium.  Books I’ve illustrated have been done in a variety of medium (sometimes mixed), including egg tempera, acrylics, oil, watercolour, serigraph, gold leaf, sumi ink on elephant dung paper. I let the story tell me what it needs.

JC:   Where were you born or grew up; where do you live; does this effect your aesthetic style or sensibility?

RJW:   It surely must have affected me that I grew up in the jungle as an orphan, my only friends being jaguars and monkeys. On a desert island some of the time. Banana leaves.

Interior art from "The Boy Who Went Ape"

I also grew up in the Mojave desert and Pasadena. First, sidewinder rattlesnakes.  Then roses, orange trees, night blooming jasmine. The Norton Simon Art Museum and Vromens Bookstore were favorite hang out place for me. Also the Pasadena Libraries were a sanctum vitum mirabilis of sorts.

JC:   If you were not an artist/author what would you be doing for a living?

RJW:  I would probably be a bag lady.  I mean, if you are an artist or a writer, you are “all in”. You climb up all those stairs on the high dive and you crawl out to the edge and then you jump or go home.

masthead for Richard's blog, "My Inner Zoo"

Masthead from Richard Jesse Watson’s blog (click above to enter)

I could see being a chef or a baker, because then you could eat your art. Fresh baked bread. . . ohhh. . . (makes gutteral sound, eyes roll up in head).

art from The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake, written by Nancy Willard (above)

JC:   What is your greatest strength and weakness as an artist/creator?

RJW:  I hate this question. My greatest strength is melting things. Or making sparks.

Creating sparks at his studio My agent says I shouldn’t bad mouth myself, so I am reluctant to talk about my weaknesses, which are legion. But one of the worst is. . . hard to say, but my wife says it’s time to come out of the closet and just say it. So here goes, ready? One, two, three, get set, on you mark, Eeuumphh. . . Okay, I’m color blind (hears doors slamming all over the industry).  I mean not all colors. I can tell the sky is green. Maybe I see colours the rest of you don’t. Hmmm?

detail from "The Magic Rabbit"

detail from "The Magic Rabbit"

JC:   When you are teaching, what is one thing you tell your students?

from "The Boy Who Went Ape"

from "The Boy Who Went Ape"

RJW:  Run away. Hide. Get a job. Calm down Richard. I’m still carving my initials in the dining room table after that last question. Students. I tell them to readreadreadreadread and drawdrawdrawdrawdraw. It is more fun if you say that like Gomer Pyle would say it. “Raydraydraydraydrayd”.

"I enjoy the ritual of applying the gesso and meditating on the imagery to come."

". . . I try several other gesso colors. . . "

". . . then experiment with silk screen inks in combo with the gessoes. . . "

"I did an under-painting of alizarin crimson with sap green. . . "

". . . adding some silk screened patterns. . ."

". . . more silk screening on top of the other patterns . . ."

" Hey, since we're here. . . . some more. . . "

". . . well, maybe just a little more. . . "

". . . I am always amazed by the wonders shown us by astronomers, especially . . . the different wave lengths of light not normally visible. I played a little with that . . . "

And I encourage students to give themselves permission to play. You experience real discovery when you play with medium, style, and ideas. A lot of books are conceived this way. Make every effort to cultivate your passion.

from "The Magic Rabbit"

JC:   Favorite Color?

RJW:  Yellow. but only because it is the one that yells.  I like all colors. Can’t we all just get along?

from "The Legend of St. Christopher"

from "The Legend of St. Christopher"

JC:   Favorite Gadget?

from "The Night Before Christmas"

from "The Night Before Christmas"

RJW:  I like my five horsepower grinder. When I was little, and my dad was babysitting me, he used to give me iron rods and said, “Go play with the grinder, Richy”. I would shower my little bare feet with sparks galore. I felt like Thor, god of sparks and molten bits of metal burning holes in my shorts and shirts.

Drawings from The Lion and the Mouse (below)

character sketches for "The Lion and the Mouse"

JC:   Favorite App?

RJW:  I like Penultimate for sketching (on the iPad) when I’m doing school presentations and for taking notes.

JC:   Favorite TV Show?

RJW:  I am not currently watching TV. But I loved LOST until they wrote themselves into a goofy ending.

frontispiece from "Tom Thumb"

frontispiece from "Tom Thumb"

JC:   Favorite Books?

RJW:  The Idiot, Treasure Island, Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows, War and Peace, Grapes of Wrath, Life of Pi, Alexander McCall Smith’s books, especially 44 Scotland Street, the Harry Potter series, George MacDonald’s fairy tales, everything by Beatrice Potter, Shaun Tan’s books, William Joyce’s books and apps…

JC:     Favorite Movies?


Tom Thumb's teacup tub

Tom Thumb's teacup tub

JC:     Favorite Music?

RJW:  Bach, Handel, Satie, Tchaikovsky, Delibes, Blues, Global, Eastern European folk dance music, Russian sacred choral works, Santana, Khaled, Ry Cooder, Andrea Bocelli, Ravi Shankar

from "The Waterfall's Gift"

from "The Waterfall's Gift"

JC:     Favorite Fine Artist?

RJW:  N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Motherwell, folk artists

from "Bronwen, the Traw, and the Shapeshifter", an epic poem by James Dickey
from “Bronwen, the Traw, and the Shapeshifter”, by James Dickey

JC:     Hero/heroine?

RJW:  My folks, my kids, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Jesus

JC:     Bookmarked Websites?


JC:     Worst Habit?

RJW:  Chewing fingernails, coffee

JC:     New Year’s Resolutions?

RJW:  Finish current book project on time or in this century

JC:     One Thing You Can’t Live Without?

RJW:  My wife, Susi.

Susi and Richard Watson

Susi and Richard Watson

JC:     Talent You Wished You Possessed?

RJW:  Floating in the air

JC:     Best Gift Ever Received?

RJW:  Carrot bread with money baked inside

JC:     Mantra or Saying You Live By?

RJW:  Love one another.

JC:     Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?

RJW:  Projects simmering: dinosaurs, aliens, fairies

dinosaur illustration for SCBWI National Newsletter

dinosaur illustration for SCBWI National Newsletter (click to enlarge)

JC:     What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

RJW:  I have dropped a lot of boulders on my big toe. Poor toe. I’m sorry.

This art was created for the restoration of wildlife habitat, and the creative education of children.

This art was created for the restoration of wildlife habitat, and the creative education of children.

The original painting was auctioned in February 2011 to benefit five schools in Jefferson County, Washington. Cards are available through this website:

We found The Gingerbread Man!

Here's where "The Gingerbread Man: Loose in the School" story begins! Words + Pictures = Magic!  The best picture books are the epitome of the smooth teamwork between author, editor, artist, and art director/book designer. Here’s one case study of such a collaboration.

Many kindergarteners around the country have been successfully averted from first day jitters at school when the alert goes out that a cute little gingerbread boy is lost on the school grounds, and must be found!

Author Laura Murray relates one cookie’s side of the story in The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, corroborated by Mike Lowery‘s action-packed illustrations.


click to enlarge

Joy Chu:  Tell us about the genesis of The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School. Where did it all begin?

Laura Murray:  I was a teacher before becoming a writer. The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School was inspired by a Kindergarten Gingerbread Man unit I taught at the beginning of each school year.

We compared and contrasted different versions of the Gingerbread Man story and used Gingerbread Man activities for each subject.

JC:  Which versions of the Gingerbread Man story were covered in your class? This is of particular importance to beginning illustration students — that traditional tales can have a unique perspective, dependent upon the story-teller and/or artist.

LM:  The teachers that do the GB Man unit use different versions of the story to compare and contrast, but I personally liked versions that had variations in setting, plot, main characters, illustration style, or culture.  We used Venn diagrams to discuss similarities and differences of each version. The titles I typically used were:

The Gingerbread Man  by Jim Aylesworth (traditional tale)
The Gingerbread Boy  by Richard Egielski (set in New York)
The Cajun Gingerbread Boy  by Berthe Amoss (Cajun “flavored” version, different characters and setting)
The Gingerbread Baby  by Jan Brett (different characters and ending)
The Masubi Man: Hawaii’s Gingerbread Man by Sandi Takayama (different setting, characters, ingredients, etc.)

[clockwise, from top left]

Various versions of "The Gingerbread Man"

But at the end of the unit, our freshly baked Gingerbread Man always managed to escape from the classroom!

JC: Funny!

An excerpt from the Teacher List of Clues for the Gingerbread Man School Hunt
Detail from the
School Hunt List
(click to enlarge)

LM:  We hung missing posters and searched the halls, discovering crumbs and dropped candies, as we asked school staff where he might be. But he always found his way back to our classroom on his own — “one smart cookie!”

JC:  So it’s really a CONSPIRACY!!! The entire upper grade student body plus faculty are in on it.

LM:  Yes, the faculty knew that the GB Man would escape on a specific day and they would  join in the fun, often letting the class know that “he just ran through the office, or that they had tried to catch him but he was too fast…”

My students absolutely loved this unit and would come back years later asking if the Gingerbread Man had escaped yet. Even though we read many versions of the Gingerbread Man story during the unit, there was not one that mirrored the fun of our school Gingerbread Man chase. So I decided to try and write a new version.

I started wondering what adventures the Gingerbread Man might have had while he was out and about, and then I began to ask what if. . . ? What if the story was set in a school? What if the story was told by the Gingerbread Man himself? What if he was trying to find the class who made him, instead of running away from them?

Those “what if” questions helped me imagine a Gingerbread Man adventure that was sprinkled with fresh, funny twists to set it apart from the traditional tale.

I wanted the story to be from the Gingerbread Man‘s point of view, so I started asking him questions. What did he want? What was getting in the way of what he wanted? What exciting, funny, or mischievous things could he do in a school?

I joined SCBWI… and then a local writing critique group. The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School went through over 50 drafts before it was submitted to a publisher.

Author Laura Murray at a school visit for "The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School"This is the school library where they recreated scenes from the book (above);  a kitchen area with pretend ingredients to make him;  his “cozy” house that the class made him;  the GB Man stuck on the ball . . .

. . . the missing posters on the windows (above);  and a finger play poem on the pad behind me (below). Amazing!

Background image created by the class for Laura Murray's school visitIt was quite spectacular and SO much fun! They even rented a GB Man costume (see below, left) and had him greeting the kids as they came into the presentation in the gym!

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 

[Mike Lowery, illustrator, and Cecilia Yung, Art Director, joins us for the discussion that follows. —JC]

JC:  How was Mike Lowery chosen for this project? Did you review illustrators with the editor?

click to enlarge

Cecilia Yung:  Ryan Thomann (the book’s designer) had a poster from Mike Lowry of a pirate bunny (left) that we all loved.

We were at first concerned that he doesn’t show much setting in any of his samples. But we decided it might work if we can find a more graphic way to show the school, and that’s how the floor plan idea came up.

JC:  What form did the original manuscript take?  In other words, was it typed like a screenplay, given that the final book is a hybrid graphic novel/picture book?

LM:  I submitted it to Putnam as a four page, typed document, with rhyming couplets. It was approximately 900 words — which is long for a picture book, but I thought it worked in this case,  because there is so much action.  It did not include art notes. I hoped that the text was vivid enough to “paint the pictures” in the editor’s mind, and to lend itself well to an illustrator’s vision.

[See the first page of what the manuscript format looked like (below left). Note that the book title subsequently changed from this version.— JC]
A detail from the original manuscript of "The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School"

A detail from page one of the original manuscript (click to enarge)

CY:   The plot is mainly a chase scene, so we really could not have covered the story with the usual scenes and spots. 

JC:  Was it envisioned as a comic strip hybrid at this point? Or did this evolve through many thumbnails and book dummies?

Mike Lowery:  I had been working on the manuscript as a straight-forward picture book, with the illustrations on each page or spread focusing on one tiny segment from the text. It wasn’t working at all because there were so many great, little actions, descriptions of characters, etc.

I just had to figure out a way to break up the text and show a LOT more on each page.  After almost a year of working on it like this, I finally had the idea to make it into the sequential or “comic book” format.

CY:  Mike suggested the sequential comic book format, and we agreed that it really solves many of the problems.

ML: From there it was a breeze, and the book became a lot of fun to work on.

JC:  I love the opening line:  “I began in a bowl. I was not yet myself — just a list of ingredients pulled from a shelf….  It’s funny! Were you amazed at how the text was broken up, and the decisions behind the pacing? There’s 75 separate pictures panels total, from very small multiple-series to stand-alone single-pagers, plus one double-page spread.

LM:  Thank you. I love that line too because it pulls readers in, as they wonder  “Who begins in a bowl?” I revised the beginning many times with my critique groups, but I was determined to keep that first line.

I story-boarded the text during revision and before I submitted it, to see where possible page turns might occur and to check the pacing of the story.

The format of the text in the book is actually very close to how it was submitted in manuscript form — in couplets or four-line stanzas.

JC:   Who was the editor?

CY: Nicole Kasprzak shepherded this through the initial manuscript, sketches and most of the final art, and Susan Kochan finished off the project at the end.

ML: I pitched the idea [of the sequential comic strip format] to Nicole initially with some fairly worked-out drawings, as opposed to rough sketches, because I definitely wanted the crew to get on board with the idea. They did, and the book turned out much better because of it.

For some reason I was incredibly nervous that they wouldn’t like the idea, and I’d get stuck working on something that I just wasn’t happy with.

CY:  We suggested the floor plan so that we can move through the school. We asked him to differentiate the various types of spaces—cafeteria, gym, nurse’s office, art room etc.

The evolution of text during the making of a picture book (above): The text changed for the first floor plan illustration, after the GB Man finds the school nurse. It went from “Your class passed my office just minutes ago” to “Your class turned the corner just minutes ago” because it worked better with the floor plan illustration.


JC:  Did the editor share all illustration sketches with author Laura Murray? Or perhaps you [Cecilia and book designer Ryan Thomann] and the editor collaborated on what guidelines to best support Mike Lowery with?

CY:  I think Nicole shared sketches with the author at key points.

LM:  As an author, it is like Christmas when you get to see the first sketches! You know your characters well, but it is a bit of magic when an illustrator brings them to life!

Yes, I loved Putnam’s floor plan idea and Mike’s comic-panel format!

And yes, the character dialogue was in the text from the very beginning. Since the book is written from the GB Man’s point of view, I wanted the story to have lots of active dialogue rather than just narration.

CY:  I believe that this was Mike’s first or second book, so we worked very closely with him at every stage. This book took quite a while. There were many, many rounds of sketches and final art almost two years from assignment to delivery of the final loose ends. We made a lot of suggestions for developing the characters, finding different ways to show the school setting, and varying the scale and the vantage point.

We worked with Mike extensively on the final palette for consistency and legibility. We also proofed and press proofed sample pages to determine the reproduction of the color.

JC:  I like the fonts selected! Did Ryan Thomann work with Mike as to what to hand-letter? And what text to colorize?

type sample of the "Dr-Eric" font, used for the title display

"Dr-Eric" font, used for the book title (click to enlarge)

CY:  Mike started off hand-lettering the text, but we were worried about the mix of caps and lower case for such a young reader. Ryan worked with me and the editor to find a font that looks hand-lettered. Mike then combined that with hand-lettered words in color, for emphasis.

Bokka-font, used for the text.

Bokka-font, used for the text. The illustrator provided key words, hand-lettered and colored (click to enlarge)

LM:  It was awesome to see how well the chosen font fit, how certain words were bolded or colored to give emphasis, and how capitals were used to set the dialogue apart — a lot of thought and work from the illustrator and design team! 🙂

JC:   The Gingerbread Man himself — he is endearing, with that round head. Whose idea to make him childlike?

ML:  We went through several stages of revisions for the character. From the beginning none of us were really pushing for him to have the standard gingerbread “cookie” look.  When I spoke with Nicole at the very beginning of being asked to take a look at the manuscript, she made it clear that she was drawn to the personality of the characters that I draw. So I wanted to work that style into the gingerbread man, for sure.

CY:  We went through many rounds of character sketches. My comments to Mike at the time: “It may be useful to think of this as a cookie with personality, rather than a cookie made with dough and icing by kids that comes alive.

Developing a character through facial expression...

Developing a character through facial expression...(click to enlarge)

This means that he could have a full range of human facial expressions. The mouth can be be dimensional and mobile: opening, closing and smiling really wide. The eyes are better once they are able to close and lower, but perhaps the position of the eyes and the pupil can move, and we can hint at the presence of eyebrows to help convey a wider range of emotions.”

JC:  Beginning illustration students (and creative writing beginners)  always ask this:  Did the text get altered in any way as the drawings evolved?

CY:  Yes, the author made quite a few changes to the text as Mike developed the sketches.

LM:  Nicole showed me Mike’s work prior to starting on Gingerbread Man. She also shared the initial character sketches, the first round of book sketches, the colored version of the sketches, and the F&Gs. I was able to comment, look for consistency with the text, and shout out my enthusiasm for the illustrations at each stage :-)!

JC:  Laura, do you recall communal decisions? Discussions [between the book collaborators] of what actually happened at your school?

LM:  Mike and I actually did not get in touch with one another until after the book came out. I think publishers like to give each artist his/her space to create a unique interpretation of the work.

Gingerbread Man exploring the school

I was fine with that. Mike gave the illustrations layers and elements that I could not have imagined. I didn’t expect to, nor did I want to, have a say in his creative process.

If I had comments or questions, I posed those to my editor.  So, I don’t really recall discussions about specific details with this book.

I hoped that my vision written in the text was clear enough, yet open enough, to allow Mike his own unique interpretation of the visuals, along with guidance from the wonderful art design team at Putnam. But I would certainly be open to any questions or discussions on details, etc. with future books. 

JC:  That is awesome! A true collaboration, and what sparkling results!

[Specal note:  A sequel is in the works. Yes! — JC]

LM:  There were a few small alterations to the text that did not change the plot, but flowed with the illustrations and dialogue a bit better. The one that we pondered over for a while was the text for the MISSING poster illustration. The original text mixes the GB man’s narration with the text of the childrens’ Missing poster, and it made the format of the illustration tricky. So the text was changed from. . . .

The poster said MISSING: From Room 23.
And right underneath was a drawing of me!
If found, please return him as soon as you can.
We think he is lost. He’s our Gingerbread Man.


And there on the wall was a drawing of me!
The poster said: MISSING From Room 23.
If found please return him as soon as you can.
We think he is lost. He’s our Gingerbread Man.

. . . . so we could get all the narration in one place, and all the poster text to follow.  This may seem like a simple enough text revision, but it actually took longer than one might think due to the rather rigid pattern of writing in rhyme and rhythm. Here’s the final illustration:

JC:  I must confess you got me when Gingerbread Man declared “I’m in somebody’s lunch!” — and it was strategic that this scene would happen on a right-hand page. Makes you anticipate the next page turn!

LM:  Great!  And yes, this is a very natural and fun place for a page turn.

JC:   What did the art look like in person, at the Original Art Show (at the Society of Illustrators Annual 2011) Exhibition)? The copyright page says it’s “… rendered in pencil, traditional screen printing, and digital color.”


ML:  The drawings always start out really rough with just pencil.  I draw over that with pencil again on tracing paper.  From there my process goes in a few directions.

Mike Lowery at work

Mike Lowery at work (click to enlarge)

For some of the larger areas of color, I mask out an area on a screen printing screen using tape, and print out large areas of flat color.  I scan in these prints, and overlap the drawings that I made in pencil.

For a lot of the smaller areas of color, I wouldn’t have time to print out every single piece, so those are finished in Photoshop.  I have lots of old screen print textures scanned — I teach this as part of one of my classes at SCAD, so every quarter I add 30-40 new textures to my collection — that I use in my final illustrations.

CY:  Mike delivered digital files. The Original Art Show displayed a framed giclée print of the final art.

JC:   Cool and groovy endpapers! Whose idea?

CY:  Ryan worked with Mike to put this together.

Endpaper sample

Endpaper sample (click to enlarge)

JC:  Tell us about the teacher’s materials that’s offered at the author’s website, and the poster.

LM:  Some of Mike’s artwork from the book was used in the teacher’s guide on my website. A wonderful author/teacher colleague, Natalie Lorenzi, prepared the 28-page guide of curriculum-linked ideas and activities for me to include on the website as a resource for teachers/librarians/parents. Putnam also has it available on their website.

Laura Murray’s FAQs about writing (click here)

Mike did quite a bit on the poster, providing the maze, coloring page, and all the artwork.  I provided the text for the Gingerbread Man School Hunt and the cookie recipe.

One teacher, Margaret Oliver, has been in touch with me and was SO enthusiastic about the book and her student’s reaction to it! She even sent me a GB Man bingo card they created for the classroom and Missing posters that her students colored.  I have them hanging on my office wall. Here is one (below):
Missing poster colored by students

“Gingerbread Man Loose in School is the complete package! It’s fun, engaging, full of action, and it has extras – a removable map in the back of the book, and a website with even more ideas. As a teacher, I appreciate its strong use of visual supports and rhyming to increase comprehension for young readers. Laura Murray has immediately become one of my favorite authors, and I can’t wait for her next book!”  — Margaret Oliver

The Horn Book‘s book review
(they LOVED it!)
Read more reviews here

@ Everyone:  Questions? Post them in the comments box below!

Comments? Post them here! . . . . and do check out Mike Lowery’s projects and sketches at his blog . Why? Because it’s

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Wanted: One Lost “Gingerbread Man”…

Follow our posse as we join Laura Murray and Mike Lowery to piece together their search for The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, plus many more yummy surprises from The Original Art 2011 Show, next week. Spread the word…

Double-triple-quadruple happiness, and more….

It’s a double blessing to encounter Ed Young‘s childhood memoir, The House Baba Built (see my earlier article here); and to follow up with Allen Say‘s memoir of growing up with his mentor, in Drawing from Memory (illustrated below), when selections from both books are also in The Original Art Show.

In his feature in the N.Y. Times Book Review, Terry Hong writes:

“… Both books describe how family can guide artists in their early years. In Say’s case, it was a chosen family;  for Young, the extended family into which he was born …”

From Allen Say's "Drawing from Memory" (click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)


Medium: Watercolor, pen, ink,pencil and photography
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Imprint: Scholastic Press
Art Director: David Saylor
Editor: Andrea Davis Pinkney


An interview with Allen Say
A list of Allan Say books
Illustration by Nancy Carpenter (below) from Imogene’s Last Stand

When artist Nancy Carpenter was asked what she did for relaxation, she replied “Fix lamps and rearrange my furniture.”

This aptly describes the spunky exuberance of her visual story-telling, coupled with superb draftsmanship, plus an innate knowledge of how a child’s mind operates.

I asked her to share highlights with us from her Original Art Show selection, 11 Experiments That Failed, and she sent the following images, alongside her comments.

figure 1 (click to enlarge)

Nancy Carpenter:  This is a close up of the opening experiment, (figure 1, left) “Hypothesis:  Ketchup and snow are the only food groups a kid needs.”

The protagonist here starts out with the exuberant confidence she displayed in 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to do Anymore  (Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter‘s previous book together).

figure 2 (click to enlarge)

The experiment is having some effects on her and her brother after what could be several days of the snow and ketchup diet (figure 2, right).

Here’s another experiment, called “What makes fungus grow” (figure 3, below).

figure 3 (click to enlarge)

NC:  This experiment, called “Can a washing machine wash dishes?” (figure 4, below), is very close to one I have tried (and failed at) — Can the dishwasher wash my socks?

JC:  I must confess I’ve tried that experiment too. Once…

figure 4 (click to enlarge)

Joy Chu: These pieces are so delightful and full of life. Every detail tells its own story! Do you create a foundation of sketches; that is, clean up & add ink; make scans first; then add layer upon layer via Photoshop? How’s that for a multi-layered question?

NC: I do my drawing in india ink on bristol board.  I typically draw freehand with my sketch as my reference. I like the unexpected mistakes drawing with permanent ink creates. It makes the lines more lively and spontaneous. The downside is that I often need to do dozens of drawings to get one that looks like I just sat down and quickly drew it.

I then scan the black lines and add colors with layers of collage, or layers of paint swatches with Photoshop. If you look carefully, sometimes you can see the strokes from one layer going in one direction and then another thin color layer going in another direction.

I haven’t used real paint in quite a few years. This approach is far less toxic or messy. I do, however, miss having a finished painted piece.

JC: Which one of these is the piece that’s hanging in the Original Art Show?

NC: The piece I used in the Original Art Show is the washing machine washing dishes. I felt, among all the art, it conveys the essence of the character as well as the idea of that particular experiment, without needing words.

JC: You provided a print-out, then. Who took care of the framing?

NC: I had it framed myself, with a black frame and later painted the frame a Pepto-Bismol®pink. I thought [the effect] was more light-hearted and fun.

I enjoyed your link [on the public Got Story Facebook page] to a blog article by Will Terry — Get Over ItYou’re Just Another Artist!   My sentiments exactly. At first I started out determined to win awards and be on top. Now, years later, I’m just happy to be able to do this full time, and continue to get work.

I go to the Original Art Show to see if anyone is worse than I am and still allowed to hang a piece of art. It makes me feel momentarily above average.

JC:  I can think of no one else who does smart and spunky, naughty yet charming, little girls better, nor more colorfully, than you do. Thank you for sharing your process with us.

Click here for a list of books illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Illustrations and cover from 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to do Anymore (above right), the prequel to 11 Experiments That Failed (below)

Medium: Pen and ink with digital
Publisher: Random House/ Schwartz & Wade
Art Directors: Lee Wade and Rachael Cole
Editor: Anne Schwartz


While Carter Goodrich‘s dogs, Zorro and Mr. Bud (right), won a place as a selection (and in the official Society of Illustrator’s catalog), circumstances prevented getting an original piece from Say Hello to Zorro!  on display at the show itself.

However, Carter Goodrich writes:

“I’m so happy to hear that your students like Zorro! Please tell them book number two, Zorro Gets an Outfit will be out in May.”


Check out Carter Goodrich‘s website, which includes his animation work and studies for many familiar Pixar characters.

Medium: Watercolor
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Art Director: Dan Potash
Editor: Justin Chanda
Author: Carter Goodrich


We switch gears to an art style that’s soft-with-panache, via selections from two books — I Had a Favorite Dress, and Just Being Audrey, both illustrated by Julia Denos.

from "I Had a Favorite Dress" (click to enlarge)

Julia’s exquisite line work, design sense, and spare application of color displays the influence of her affiliations with advertising for luxury living spaces, alongside fashion-themed flair.

"I Had a Favorite Dress" (click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

Some behind-the-scenes commentary from Julia herself:

“…Boni Ashburn wrote a lovely story with a very fun cadence to it. Right from the get-go, it made me feeling like dancing;  I wanted the text to dance, and I wanted the art to dance…(I’m not gonna lie, I had a sweet summer soundtrack consisting of Animal Collective /jazz blasting, so I did a lot of dancing around).  Boni’s words, “SNIP SNIP, SEW SEW” helped me feel playful enough to want to cut up, collage, get messy…”

“…I spent my weeks in a blissful world of little dresses, buttons, city scapes, and thread……”

“…A very SERIOUS struggle to find the right pink…”

“…[art director] Chad Beckerman helped turn these thumbnails into something that made sense…”

“…[here’s the] cover sketch on the light box…”

Medium: Watercolor, colored pencil on hot press paper
Publisher: Abrams/ Abrams Books for Young Readers
Art Director: Chad W. Beckerman
Editor: Maggie Lehrman
Author: Boni Ashburn


Earlier in her blog, Julia walks us through her creation process for Margaret Cardillo’s picture book biography about Audrey Hepburn, Just Being Audrey:

“…While working on the book for Audrey, I’ve been lucky enough to get to research her dreamy era for cues on dresses, buildings, streetcars, hats and important places like the old Fulton Theater in New York … As an added bonus in making biographical art, I feel I have made a dear new friend. Audrey did not have an easy life by any means, but seemed to glean joy from most any circumstance (which is not always easy!) making her luminous…”

“…Here’s a peek at some of my desktop reference I was looking at as I finished painting the interior art … Dreamy reference, right?…”

from "Just Being Audrey" (click to enlarge)

Medium: Watercolor, colored pencil on hot press paper
Publisher: HarperCollins /Balzer + Bray
Art Directors: Carla Weise and Jenny Rozbruch
Editor: Alessandra Balzer
Author: Margaret Cardillo

A Gold Medal for Witches!

This is the first in a series of features highlighting artwork from The Original Art,  currently on display at the Society of Illustrators / Museum of American Illustration in New York City.  We will share a cross section of works, right here at the Countdown, over the next several weeks.

We’ll get some back story on the art from surprise guests, and provide related links for further exploration. And you, dear reader,  are invited to make comments here, 24/7.

Rosalyn Schanzer was the Gold Medal Winner for the provocative scratchboard illustrations accompanying her original text, for Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem.

title page spread from "Witches!"

Title page spread from "Witches!"

We spoke with her editor, Nancy Laties Feresten, of the National Geographic Society about the making of Witches. Rosalyn Schanzer joins us as we further discuss the artwork itself.

illustration from "Witches!"

Illustration from "Witches!"

Joy Chu How did the idea come about to create a book about the Salem Witch trials? Not the typical topic you usually see in a nonfiction children’s title!

Demon with apple, from "Witches!"

Demon with apple, from "Witches!"

Nancy Laties Feresten:  Choosing a book topic can be the hardest part of an author’s job. Roz had to find something that she’s passionately interested in;  that is appropriate for the audience;  that we at National Geographic think will sell well;  and that she feels she can bring a fresh new perspective art from "Witches!"

In addition, Roz loves subjects where there are plenty of colorful primary source documents to work from. Putting this all together can be a pretty tall order.

The Salem Witch trials fit the bill, but there was one problem. Roz generally writes and illustrates books for kids 8-12, using a high-energy comic art style, and the Salem Witch Trials proved both too complex and too dark for the age group and the style.

Spot art from WITCHES!So everything depended on Roz developing a whole new style — both for the writing and for the illustrations — that would appeal to a slightly older audience. I can’t tell you how thrilled we were to see it all come together.

JC:  Was there a lot of fact checking? How long from initial proposal to final manuscript, ready for transmission? And how long for the illustrations, from concept sketches to final art?

NLF:  We settled on the topic by fall of 2009. Roz finished the first draft in spring 2010.  She revised throughout 2010 (overlapping with the creation of the art); and the manuscript was transmitted in early 2011. So, about 18 months.

Gathering research materials for "Witches!"

(Click to enlarge)

Rosalyn Schanzer:   Here’s a small sample of some of the research I did (left) in order to help make the people in my book look the way they really would have looked in 1692. These portraits were probably painted sometime close to that year because the age of the characters looks just about right.  In my other books, I have usually found portraits painted in exactly the right year, but not this time, so I tried to come as close as possible. Of course I couldn’t find portraits of every single character in Witches!, so I studied up on the clothes they would have worn, figured out their ages during 1692, and read any descriptions I could find that might be helpful.

NLF:  Roz delivered the first rough sketches in summer of 2010, and final art was transmitted in layout at the end of March 2011. The book was published in September 2011.

Rosalyn Schanzer:  I always do my first set of sketches (see below) for a book on pieces of 8 ½” X 11” paper in storyboard fashion, so obviously the drawings are tiny and very rough.

That way I can see how the flow of the illustrations is proceeding throughout the entire book, and I don’t need to waste time doing more finished sketches that we might decide to toss out later on.

Then I write a description at the bottom of each thumbnail sketch because the art is so rough and the type isn’t there to explain the pictures yet.

This series (below) makes a good example because this 8 ½” X 11” piece includes 4 different spreads.

Preliminary thumbnail sketches for WITCHES!

Preliminary thumbnail sketches of chapter opening pages (Click to enlarge)

The spread on the upper left is fairly similar to the final art (below), except that I made the witches more stylized in the finish and showed them lined up in two rows drinking blood from little goblets.

double-page spread from Chapter 6

Opening page for Chapter 6 (click to enlarge)

The spread on the lower left (see thumbnail sketch, above) remained essentially the same as the one in the book.  And we decided to change* the two pieces on the right entirely.

[* Nancy also refers to these art changes, a collaborative process ,  in her comments, below —JC]

JC Was there a list of illustrations and spots agreed upon as a consensus? How many? Did the concepts for opening pages change drastically between roughs and the final versions? Rosalyn’s scratchboard style is highly interpretive — that is, in the style of the best editorial illustration — as opposed to narrative and literal, as in her full color books for younger readers. Did this approach evolve during the planning stages?

NLF:  Roz proposed right up front that this art style would be different, more appropriate to the topic and the audience than her usual style would have been.

She choose scratchboard with red details. She also proposed the subjects of the illustrations, and we all (editors, art director, and design director) discussed them and made suggestions for alternatives where we felt there was a stronger option.

Another chapter opener from "Witches"

(click to enlarge)

At the sketch stage, we also suggested changes, mostly to support Roz as she developed this new style, but also occasionally to suggest a change to the subject where we just weren’t seeing the strongest possible opening for the chapter.

Roz also made adjustments as she went along, basically for the same reasons. The group (Roz, editors, art directors) even made a couple of changes after the finishes were complete, with Roz doing new art to replace a piece that we all felt could be stronger.

JC:  The jacket: Were several concepts worked up?

NLF:  Roz came up with the basic concept of the half woman/  half witch very early, and it was pretty much tweaking from there.

JC  I was surprised to learn that this was Rosalyn’s first scratchboard book.  In her interview with Jules Danielson, she states:

“. . . I am easily bored, so I’ve tried out almost every media known to man and beast, except for oil paint, because it takes too long to dry. I change styles all the time, too (not a good way to be recognized as an artist).

As an aside, I’ve been using talk balloons in my illustrations for a good million years, give or take a few. Problem is, this means you can’t hang your paintings on a wall, because the words in the balloons are almost always set in type, so the balloons in the original art have to be empty. Talk balloons used to be frowned upon by everyone but me and the comics-addicts, but now they’re spoze to be cool.

If you want an actual list of mediums (abbreviated), I’ve painted entire books on wood veneer; and on rough canvas; and on various and sundry kinds of paper; with every possible texture (but mostly cold press Strathmore Bristol Board). I use gouache or acrylics; or acrylic gouaches; or concentrated analine ink dyes, like Luma, which they don’t make any more. Beware: They also fade. I do lots of outlining with various kinds of pens, or even archival magic markers (another bad thing I love). I add texture with colored pencils; or Cray-pas. I also use cut paper; and have done a few collages; and some fake woodcuts using, um, potatoes, among other stuff. . . “

Any comments to add?

NLF:  All I’d add is that Roz’s flexibility is amazing and makes her incredibly fun to work with.

JC:   I also see it’s her first YA book with you. The trim size is 5 x 7″ —  more of a middle grade shape — and 144 pages total. This is as opposed to the larger, full-color format of her previous NGS titles, all picture books of 32-to-48 pages.  “What Darwin Saw” was 10 x 11″; “George vs. George” and others were 8 x 10″.

Do you see an increase in middle grade/YA titles for the kind of nonfiction Rosalyn does, and less as picture books? The illustration approach radically different between the two as well.

NLF:  I don’t know what’s next for Roz at National Geographic. We’ll just have to wait and see what comes from her always-fertile brain.

Sample of Antique Caslon text font

Antique Caslon text font (click to enlarge)

JC: I love the overall design of “Witches”! The choice of Caslon Antique for the text font, with its ‘grunge‘ look (this font was designed decades before garage type became fashionable), and reversing-out the black for the front matter (the pages preceding the main story section).

Chapter header

Detail of a chapter heading (click to enlarge)

I also love the customized initial caps, and the combination of chiseled texture around the chapter numbers, hand-lettered chapter titles,  plus illustrated chapter headings. Truly illuminated!

Was this printed as a two-color book with a spot custom color for the red, or via four-color process? On white or cream stock, — I’ve only seen this book on-line so far — coated, uncoated, textured or smooth stock? Was this choice based on what looked best with the art?

NLF:   The book was printed in 3 colors, not 4. The red was a Pantone (a custom-mixed color), not process color, and there were two black plates (to make sure the black would be super-saturated). There was no varnish.

The paper is uncoated with some tooth.  The edges of the book block was left untrimmed to suggest a deckled edge* [*also known in the bookmaking industry as ‘a rough front and foot’JC].

The small trim was chosen in order to enhance the emotional impact of the book in a way that was appropriate to the story.

The jacket was laminated on the back of the sheet rather than on the front so we could have an uncoated feel with the strength of lamination.* [* The lamination gives both reinforced firmness plus a luxurious touch to the jacket paper stock. — JC]

Roz chose where the red would appear, and David* applied the red on the computer.  [*Art director David Seager was out of town at the time of this interview—JC]

Related links:

Rosalyn Schanzer’s interview with 7-Imp blogger Julie Danielson
Rosalyn Schanzer’s website
I.N.K. : Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (a fabulous collaborative of nonfiction writers who do picture books — including Roz!)

A SPECIAL NOTE:  Launching our series today is  auspicious since November is picture book month!
Share a picture book with someone you love!

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A visit with Zachariah OHora

Images from "Stop Snoring, Bernard!"

Illustrator Zachariah OHora made his debut as a picture book author with Stop Snoring, Bernard (published by Henry Holt, released April 2011). His work, rendered in acrylic on Stonehenge printing paper, features strong black outlines combined with crispSociety of Illustrators logo hues of warm reds, teal, brown, black and ochre. He also provided the hand-lettered type. His work was cited a special Founder’s Award at this year’s Society of Illustrator’s Annual Original Art Show.  I was delighted when Zach agreed to visit The Countdown.

Would you tell us briefly your road to illustration? And to publication?

I always wanted to be a children’s "Stay fuzzy and hopeful"book illustrator except for a couple years after high school when I flirted with being a “fine artist,” whatever that means.

Illustration appeared to be a more realistic way to get paid to draw, plus I didn’t have any other job skills.

The road to publication was a long and circuitous route where I did everything you shouldn’t do, until I learned what I should have done. And I’m still learning.

Preliminary rough, plus final version from, "Stop Snoring, Bernard!"

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, a classic depressed milltown in New England. In high school, I became obsessed with The Beats, and in emulation of my hero Jack Kerouac, I hitchhiked across the country and stayed in San Francisco for the next ten years.Another rough sketch, with final art.

I love the sound of your name. Very exotic! Would you share its roots?

The first part is a result of my parents being pseudo hippies and then going 70’s Jesus movement. As a result, I have four brothers and sisters;  all Z’s and somewhat Biblical (Zara, Zelinda, Zephaniah and Zared respectively).

My last name is a bastardization of the Irish O’Hara, someone changed it to O’Hora at Ellis island. For years, the apostrophe stumped computers. I never had dinner or car reservations, so I dropped it. Not really exotic….slightly weird though.

Did you have to go to school to learn to draw?

I always drew, If you were in Mrs. Clements 4th Grade class and you needed a Smurf or a Garfield drawn on your book cover, I was the guy.

I went to school to learn how to think and I graduated from CCA (California College of Art) with a BFA in Illustration.

Zachariah Ohora's studio

Who are your favorite illustrators, and who influenced your work?

Richard Scarry, Syd Hoff, and Margaret Bloy Graham are childhood favorites. I’m hugely influenced by Ben Shahn and Raymond Savignac, Roger Duvoisin and a lot of non-illustrator artist’s and designers.

Current children’s book illustrators who I love are Lane Smith, Marc Boutavaunt, Kevin Waldron, Sean Qualls, Calef Brown and Jon Klassen.

What are your favorite books?Richard Scarry books

This changes constantly, but at the moment; What do People do All Day? and Rabbit and his Friends by Richard ScarryEvery Friday by Dan Yaccarino; and Naked Mole Rat gets Dressed by Mo Willems. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Lane Smith and Jon Scieszka was life altering.

What art media do you use to make your pictures?

I paint in acrylics, usually on paper or wood with occasional electronic embellishments.

from "Stop Snoring, Bernard!"

Do you have any kids? Pets?

I have two sons, Oskar who is 4 and Teddy who just turned 2. I also have a cat named Teddy….don’t ask.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Hard to say (See question one above, for other job skills), but it would probably be something quasi-legal that also helped people. Like Fake Passport Maker.

What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I’m scared of birds, like, REALLY scared. I think my fear originated on an ill-fated day at Benson’s animal farm when I was 4 or 5. The sign said something like “Don’t stick ANYTHING into the Ostrich cage!” But I couldn’t read yet.

from "Stop Snoring, Bernard!"

Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

I’m working on an Ann Wheeler book that I’m excited about; and a book that I wrote about a gorilla named Nilsson who has huge fits and his best friend, a little girl named Amelia, who patiently helps him to not throw fits. Both will be out early 2013. And I’m playing around with ideas for a follow-up to Bernard, but we’ll have to see.

Would  you point us to your web site and/or your blog?

My main illustration site is but my blog gets a lot more updates and new stuff and that’s at
I have a blog for all things Stop Snoring, Bernard! related at Please come by and follow if you like!

The Original Art: Celebrating the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration, is on display at the Museum of American Illustration, at the Society of Illustrators, from October 26 through December 29, 2011.

Medal winners are listed here.

Click here for the complete list of illustrators whose works were selected for this year’s show.

Society of Illustrators building, in New York City

The Society of Illustrators is located at: 128 East 63rd Street
(between Park and Lexington Avenues)
New York, NY 10065
Tel: (212) 838-2560
Fax: (212) 838-2561
Gallery Hours:
10 A.M.– 8 P.M. Tuesday
10 A.M.– 5 P.M. Wednesday – Friday
12 noon– 4 P.M. Saturday
Closed most holidays

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Cover from "Stop Snoring, Bernard!" by Zachariah Ohora

A night time story for book, iPad, and iPhone…

Today we get a peek behind the process of turning one original book into an iPad and iPhone app, respectively.

The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle is the first title produced through an agreement between Oceanhouse Media and HarperCollins Children’s Books to bring more Berenstain Bears titles to the app market. Each omBook™  is created for two formats:  one for iOS (all Apple devices);  and one for Android devices.

Michel Kripalani, founder and president of Oceanhouse Media,  visited the Got Story Countdown last February to guide us  through his apps of classic books, including many best-selling Dr. Seuss titles.

Backstory on the Berenstain Bears:  Stan and Jan Berenstain were already successful magazine cartoonists when they wrote their first children’s book.  Inspired by their own two children, the bear family Berenstain first appeared in The Big Honey Hunt under the Dr. Seuss Beginner Books imprint of Random House in 1962.

Mike Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

Mike Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

Many more titles followed as the tales of Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister and Honey Bear garnered praise from education professionals and the reading public. The long-running series of picture, beginner and chapter books spawned a popular TV show on PBS.  In 2005, the  Berenstain Bears franchise moved to HarperCollins. Son Mike joined the enterprise after Stan passed away in 2005.  More than 300 Berenstain Bears books have been published, and more than 260 million copies have been sold.

I was invited to visit Michel and his team at Oceanhouse Media’s new office facilities in Encinitas, California, and to preview Bedtime Battle. Development Director Greg Uhler  joined the conversation.

Joy Chu:  Oceanhouse Media was already producing omBooks of the Berenstain Bears/Living Lights book series through the religious publishing house, Zondervan. Did you arrive at your current arrangement with HarperCollins as a result of that on-going relationship, since Zondervan is one of their divisions?

Michel Kripalani:  Certainly, the success that we had with the Zondervan titles helped. Previously, we had gotten The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule to #1 in the Book category on the App Store. However, we needed to strike a completely new deal for these titles. I had numerous conversations and in-person meetings with the folks at HarperCollins, including Susan Katz, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books. It took many months of going back and forth before Oceanhouse Media was given a green light to proceed. Bedtime Battles is simply the first of many apps that we hope to deliver together.

From there, HarperCollins Children’s Books selected The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle as the first app to be developed. It’s a fun story and seemed like an appropriate title to launch the omBook series.

Written in 2005 by Stan and Jan Berenstain with Mike Berenstain, Brother and Sister Bear will do anything to postpone bedtime. Playing with dinosaurs, having a tea party and getting a piggyback ride from Papa Bear all sound better than going to bed. Thus, the great bedtime battle begins!

Screen shot from main menu

Screen shot from main menu, iPad version

Greg Uhler:  The mischievous antics in the story gave our team the opportunity to be especially creative with the voice-over narration and custom background audio.

Karen Kripalani in the voice-over booth

Karen Kripalani in the voice-over booth

Michel Kripalani:  Swipe through the various pages of the app and you soon realize that the hallmark feel of the Berenstains is prevalent throughout.

As we’ve done with the Dr. Seuss apps, Oceanhouse Media maintains the original content of the book version. Every word and illustration that’s in the original 32-page print version of Bedtime Battle is included in the app. However, to display the artwork and text as large as possible on mobile devices, the app contains over 50 pages that pan and zoom to accentuate key parts of the illustrations.

Example of "pan and zoom" effect

Example of “pan and zoom” effect

The page zooms out to show more of the original illustration

Greg Uhler:  We don’t take liberties with the artwork and text. What we do is enhance what is already there. For instance, we add a thoughtful narrative, custom sound effects and music, and an appropriate level of interactivity that doesn’t distract from the original story.

We also use a “pan and zoom” effect where we take a page with multiple illustrations and enlarge individual images to create single pages within the app.

A key feature in The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle is the ability to touch individual words of the text and hear them spoken aloud.

For example, if a child is struggling to read a specific word on a page, they simply tap the word and immediately they will hear it pronounced for them.  We feel this feature provides an immediate and simple way for children to learn, whether reading with a parent or on their own.

Of course, Oceanhouse Media’s trademark reading modes — Read To Me, Read It Myself and Auto Play — are also included in the app, with word highlighting as the story is read and words zooming up when pictures are touched.

A word is highlighted when tapped

A word is highlighted and spoken aloud when the picture is tapped

Michel Kripalani:  HarperCollins Children’s Books, publisher of this Berenstain Bears book, reviewed various stages of the app’s development, commenting on such things as text placement and hot spots, areas on each page that allow a reader to tap on an image and see and hear the word.

In addition, Jan and Mike Berenstain reviewed the app and gave their input during the final phase of development.

One change they did request was to have the poem that’s on the first page of the book be the opening page of the app. They also asked that the treehouse image that’s on the title page of the book be its own page in the app.

Treehouse image from the second page of the omBook

Treehouse image from the second page of the omBook

They felt the addition of these two pages to the app would make it more akin to the physical book and would properly set the stage for the story. So, for the first time in an Oceanhouse Media digital book app, there’s a two-page introduction leading into the beginning of the story.

Greg Uhler:  As a developer, to have direct input from the author is a tremendous opportunity. We feel honored to have the Berenstains’ stamp of approval on the app and their valuable feedback along the way to make the app feel as close to their printed book as possible.

The poem that Jan and Mike Berenstain requested be the first page of the omBook

The poem that Jan and Mike Berenstain requested be the first page of the omBook

Michel Kripalani:  One challenge that Oceanhouse Media has mastered is adapting the images from the physical books to the 3.5 inch size of the iPhone screen as well as on iPad and Android tablets.

IPad and iPhone, side-by-side

IPad and iPhone, side-by-side

This is where our team’s years of software experience comes to play. A unique development process ensures that images are of the highest quality possible across all of the mobile devices we support.

iPad version






Above, top-to-bottom:  iPad, iPhone4, and  iPhone3.  Their screen sizes represent their relative screen resolutions. There are the same number of pages in the iPhone version as in the iPad version.

Greg Uhler:  Creating apps is a software business. But you need more than just the ability to write and program code to create a kid-friendly app. A strong artistic component, attention to detail, and sensitivity to the needs of children go hand-in-hand with the technology. It’s less about what we can do on a mobile device, and more about what we should do.

Tech artists working at Oceanhouse Media

Tech artists working at Oceanhouse Media

Most everyone at Oceanhouse Media has kids of our own, so we’re sensitive to the needs of young readers. We create all of our children’s book apps with a user-friendly interface that allows kids as young as two years old to enjoy them.

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Joy Chu:   Thank you, Michel Kripalani and Greg Uhler, for sharing your hard-won wisdom and details behind the  collaborative creativity of your team. And a special shout-out to Cathy Veloskey for coordinating all the details with us 🙂

Other news:  Michel Kripalani will be among the presenters at the upcoming 40th Annual SCBWI Conference in L.A.

Check out his workshop presentation, in person or via SCBWI’s live blog this Saturday. The Conference itself happens August 5-8.

Wait, wait. . . there more!  August 2, 2011 is the official pub date for The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle omBook.

Icon for Bearstain Bears Bedtime BattleTo celebrate, we are giving away a free download of The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle omBook (for iOS devices only). Enter a comment below. You will be asked for your email address — which will not appear on this page. Three winners will be selected at random from comments posted by August 9th. Good luck!

Late-breaking NEWS:
Click here for the names of the winners!

Writing, editing, parenting, and publishing!

Photo of Deborah Halverson

I’m delighted to have Deborah Halverson visit here as part of the grand blog tour for her latest book, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies

After ten years as an editor at Harcourt Children’s Books, she left to raise her triplet sons (yikes!), taught writing at UCSD Extension, and runs the popular writers’ advice site,

She’s written two acclaimed teen novels, Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth. Her third book, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, chock-full of exercises and tips on the ins-and-outs of writing and the publishing business, is the culmination of her hard-earned experience.

Joy Chu:  Your book deftly identifies the variety of young readers. That is, young adult fiction is an umbrella term for two distinct categories, middle grade fiction (ages 9-14), and young adult fiction (ages 12-17), or teen fiction. Since the primary focus of this blog is on illustrators and their collaborators (authors, editors, and art directors), I’d like to hone in on books that get art treatment.

Would you tell us what distinguishes middle grade texts from chapter books, and books for reluctant readers?

Deborah Halverson:  Distinguishing the book levels that transition young readers from picture book to middle grade novel can be confusing, that’s for sure. Try this breakdown:

Beginning reader: Ages 5 to 8; short text, simple language, usually part of a larger beginning reader series. Example: Mr. Putter & Tabby series.

Early chapter book: Ages 6 to 9; moving away from emphasis on illustration, with longer texts broken into short chapters. Example: Magic Treehouse books (below).

Chapter book: Ages 7 to 10; fully developed characters and longer text (roughly 100 or more pages) broken into chapters; may include decorative ornaments and/or limited black-and-white illustration. Examples: Chet Gecko series.Text spread from  "The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse"

This realm of children’s books is dominated by series. Reluctant readers are more likely to choose and stick with books that feature familiar characters, author style, and themes.

Joy Chu:  Sometimes I run across picture books which I feel probably should have been middle grade illustrated books instead. That is, the books will contain way too much text, and the subject matter is a bit advanced for the target audience. Do editors find themselves in such quandaries when evaluating the target audience for a manuscript with good potential?

Deborah Halverson:  “Older” picture books target kids aged 6 to 9, or 5 to 8, and thus they tend to have a more sophisticated subject matter and approach to illustrations than the general picture book range (ages 3 to 7).

Notice the overlap of the age ranges for these older picture books and chapters books? Yep: same audience.

The organization of the material is different, though, because of the introduction of chapters. Chapter books are for readers who want a longer narrative and plot, with character development across multiple chapters. The illustrations tend to serve more as decorative elements. In picture books, the illustrations tell at least half the story.

Deborah Halverson's mighty triplet sons

Let’s not forget this factor: little peoples’ pride! Some older kids crave the independence of reading their own “big kid books,” and chapter books satisfy that yen.

And then there are those kiddoes who wouldn’t be caught dead carrying a picture book around (baby book!) but can’t wait to show off their new Magic Treehouse book to their BFFs.

As well, the topics of older picture books and beginning readers are usually different, with the picture books often tackling larger concepts or events, while the chapter books are focused heavily on the relationships between characters.

These factors play into an author’s and editor’s decision between “picture book” and “chapter book.”

Joy Chu:  How does an editor decide if a middle grade book or chapter book requires illustration? And would the text feature different traits if it were for a picture book?

Deborah Halverson:  Middle grade novels and older chapter books, which can range from 75-100 or more pages, have different illustrative needs.

MG novels may have no illustrations at all, or “spot” illustrations (maybe one per chapter). This art complements the text, giving the young reader something extra for interest’s sake.

In contrast, the illustrations in a chapter book play a bigger role in the storytelling, assisting young readers as they work to decipher the sentences and making the spreads less intimidating.

Some chapter books even spice up the text itself with graphic elements—funky fonts, colored words, that sort of thing. The Geronimo Stilton series is a perfect example of this technique . . . which may account for my three sons’ instant love of that spunky mouse. I was sitting in a lawn chair flipping through The Phantom of the Subway (Geronimo Stilton #13) one day while my then-five-year-olds played in the garden. One boy peeked over my shoulder and never looked away. The other two boys soon peeked over my other shoulder, and then the four of us sat there, on the driveway, and read all 128 pages of the book. They stayed tight at my side the whole time, as mesmerized by the pages themselves as by the story.

Joy Chu:  You’ve worked with a wide variety of illustrators, authors, and target audiences. You were the editor of Searching for Oliver K. Woodman (Harcourt), the sequel to The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman. Tell us about working with Joe Cepeda.


Deborah Halverson: My knee-jerk response: dream illustrator.

I absolutely adore Joe’s palette, his imagination is off the chart, and he is a master at visual storytelling—moving the “camera” around as we turn the pages, creating a palpable sense of movement with his viewpoint changes.

Sample spread from "The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman"

He’s also a total professional, working well with deadlines and seeing editorial feedback as “collaboration” rather than “interloping.” Believe me, editors love that. Plus, Joe’s just the sweetest person. Can you tell I’m a fan?

My favorite example of Joe’s visual storytelling prowess occurs in The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman. In that book, Oliver is a wooden man who is conveyed city-by-city across the U.S. by kind travelers.

The original manuscript contained only the text that appears on the postcards sent by the kind travelers to update Oliver’s creator of his progress. Joe decided that Oliver’s travel scenes would be wordless art-only spreads, and he filled those spreads with amazing American landscapes. Green skies, pink skies, blue skies… these wordless spreads are breathtaking and energetic.

[You can read more about Joe Cepeda’s work process here — JC]

Joy Chu:   What led you to the creation of four life-size wooden Olivers?

Deborah Halverson:  First, it’s important to know that Joe is a hobbyist woodworker as well as an illustrator. Thus, Joe drew Oliver as if someone might actually build him. All the joints, angles, what-have-you were easily created with real wood.

Marking Oliver's feet

Marking Oliver's feet

It’s also important to know that my husband is also a hobbyist woodworker, and that I had enough interest to take some woodworking classes myself.

So when Harcourt Children’s Books publisher Lori Benton brainstormed the idea to send a real Oliver on a book tour, I volunteered the Halversons as his creators.

Sawing Oliver's foot

We ended up making four Olivers, and a member of the marketing team sewed four brown bookbags to travel with him. Here are some photos of us at work on Oliver, and the final “product.”

The best part in all this was the moment when, shortly after I’d arranged a finished Oliver in a sitting position on my living room couch, I accidentally bumped the wooden man’s foot while walking past and told him, “Oh, excuse me.” He’d become very real to me.

Oliver and Deborah

Those four Olivers traveled the country—bookstores, classrooms, libraries—collecting postcards and souvenirs from kids along the way. It was outstanding.

And now readers are getting into the act, using wood or paper to make their own Olivers. They take their little Olivers to wonderful places and photograph him there. My boys took a paper Oliver around Europe a few summers ago.

For a free downloadable Oliver pattern, click here.

Win a FREE COPY of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies!  Here’s how:

1. Download the free cheat sheet for Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies here. Yes, it’s a gift!

2. Post a comment below. Make sure to include your email address (it won’t appear on this page). Two winners will be drawn at random from all comments posted on this page by Friday, August 5th.

Good luck!

Deborah with the "Dummies" mascot, gifted by the Blue Slip Media folks

Debbie with Wiley, the "Dummies" mascot

   Late-breaking NEWS:

Click here for the names of the winners!

Wait, wait . . . there’s more!

Want to meet Deborah live? Pre-register for her Webinar with Katie Davis here. It’s happening Wednesday, July 27, 2011, from 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM (ET).

And bookmark the following link for future advice about authoring: