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5 Questions With … Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
 | Aug 16, 2013
Jennifer L. Holm is a NEW YORK TIMES bestselling children's author and the recipient of three Newbery Honors for her novels OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA, PENNY FROM HEAVEN, and TURTLE IN PARADISE. Jennifer collaborates with her brother, Matthew Holm, on two graphic novel series -- the popular Babymouse series and the bestselling Squish series. She is also the author of several other highly praised books, including the Boston Jane trilogy and MIDDLE SCHOOL IS WORSE THAN MEATLOAF. She lives in California with her husband and two children.

Matthew Holm first began working with his sister, Jennifer, as a copy editor and fact-checker for her Boston Jane novels, and later drew several pages of comics for her book MIDDLE SCHOOL IS WORSE THAN MEATLOAF. When Jenni came to him in 2001 with the idea of making a comic book with a female heroine named Babymouse, he again picked up his pen and the two worked out the ideas and look for what became one of the first graphic novel series written specifically for children. Today, he continues to collaborate with his sister on several graphic novels each year, both for the Babymouse series as well as the Squish series. He currently lives in Portland, Ore., with his wife and dog.

Last month at Comic-Con you took home the “Best Publication for Early Readers” Eisner Award for BABYMOUSE FOR PRESIDENT. We all knew Babymouse was very popular with young readers, but how did it feel to win at the “Oscars of comics”?

We actually sold Babymouse in 2004 to Random House. So after working on it for over ten years, it was wonderful to see our messy-whiskered mouse get some love. Also, it felt wonderful to be acknowledged by our peers in the comics industry. They have been incredibly supportive of Babymouse and graphic novels for young readers.

In a recent blog post about gateway texts, Nathan Hale specifically mentioned the Babymouse series as gateway books that help readers cross self-imposed genre boundaries. What differences are there in the way readers approach and engage with graphic novels as opposed to traditional children’s books?

Graphic novels have the incredible ability to give visual clues and break out different aspects of the text like narration and dialogue. It really simplifies storytelling in a way for readers while keeping them excited.

You’ve mentioned that Babymouse is based on Jennifer’s life and your other collaboration, the Squish series, balances the scales a bit for Matthew. With sibling rivalry inevitable, how do you make sure you both dedicate equal creative energy to both projects (as well as ones outside both series)?

We give both our mouse and amoeba equal time! (We alternate between doing Babymouse and Squish.) For example, next year, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BABYMOUSE will publish in the spring, and FEAR THE AMOEBA will publish in the fall.

We are both working on novels, but they tend to take a bit longer to get done. Sometimes, time can be a friend when it comes to revision.

You’ve said that when you initially pitched Babymouse you weren’t sure how traditional publishers would receive a graphic novel. How has the climate for children’s graphic novels changed in the last decade?

It's a whole new world. Walking around San Diego Comic-Con in July, you can see that we are really in the middle of a renaissance for kids’ comics. There was a huge showing of creators and panels. I think it's fair to say that comics for kids have arrived and they are here to stay.

Back to Comic-Con: You were both on a panel entitled “Raising a Reader!” What were the best ideas you shared and/or heard in regards to getting kids excited about literacy?

We loved the idea of extending the reading experience "beyond the page." Which is to say: kids are really motivated to write a graphic novel after they read one. This seems like a natural way to keep the spark alive for storytelling.

© 2013 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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