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    Five Questions With… Violetta Lamb (Plants and Animals)

    By April Hall
     | Jan 19, 2016

    It’s not often that a third-grade student becomes a published author, but you can find Violetta Lamb’s book, Plants and Animals (StarWalk Kids Media) on Amazon. The publisher worked with the superintendent of Lamb’s Blue Springs, MO, school district to pair the author with an illustrator, Susan L. Roth, to work together on the final product. Lamb said she was excited about the book and learned a lot from the experience.

    How long have you been writing?

    Since I was in kindergarten, but I hadn’t written an actual story until second grade.

    What was it like working with Susan L. Roth?

    It was fun learning how to work with the art materials that Susan L. Roth provided. She is amazing, and I am so glad to have met her!

    What was the inspiration for the story?

    At my old school, my teacher Mrs. Hilbert had talked about author and illustrators. She talked about Susan L. Roth and Seymour Simon, and I love their work. That’s where I got the idea and had hoped it would be like that: informative, but fun!

    Do you plan to write more books in the future and make it your career?

    I am still really young and don’t know what I will be when I grow up. But yes, I have continued writing!

    Most of our readers are teachers who work with young people. What is the one piece of advice you would give students about writing and publishing?

    Never give up—ever. If it is your dream, do it.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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    Five Questions With… Stacey Donovan (Dive)

    By April Hall
     | Nov 04, 2015

    stacey donovanThe YA novel Dive was originally released in traditional print book form in 1994. In the years since, many new books have come and gone and Stacey Donovan has written, ghost written, or consulted on dozens of books. Dive may have been relegated to history but for the encouragement of her literary agent to look into e-publishing. In September, Open Road Media released Dive as an e-book and now Donovan’s novel is anew.

    Dive was published about 20 years ago. What was your reaction to its rerelease as an e-book?

    Dive got another opportunity to be in the world because someone loved it. My literary agent nudged me to contact Open Road Media because she said the book was in her top 10 forever. I said to myself there's nothing to lose. Most of my life, my writing, fiction, poetry, screenplays, has been rejected—I've been sending out stuff since I was a kid. Rejection is part of being a writer, of being an artist, of living in this world, I think. It was a shock that Friday morning when I received an e-mail that Open Road would like to publish the book. So I will tell you: I sprang up from the desk, and I danced!

    How do you believe Dive is still relevant now?

    My hope is that Dive will always be relevant because human beings will always be searching for meaning in life. We will always experience unexpected occurrences, like who ran your dog over, why your best friend is suddenly not speaking to you, what is happening with your father who is now in the hospital, what to do when someone you immediately love walks into the room, because that's what life is. This is what happens with V (the main character of Dive).

    There is a lot of discussion around the #weneeddiversebooks movement. How do you think LGBT topics are addressed?

    DiveWe know that some young people take their own lives because they cannot imagine a world where they will be embraced. Sexuality is not simply girl meets boy or boy meets girl. We're in the 21st century now, an awareness and discussion of gender identity is, thankfully, part of it. Still, to be "different" in any way is a challenge. Yes, we need diverse books now, and of course we need to be apprised of or reminded of the many glorious books/plays/songs/operas/paintings/sculptures—so many more arts to mention—that voice to the world that the expectation of being "normal" is for those who think themselves normal, NOT for the rest of us.

    From where did you draw such a deep character and the complexity of the challenges she faced?

    Dive was my first novel. It's in the "write what you know" category. 

    Why would this be a good book to use in the classroom?

    There are many "firsts" in Dive, experiences that many people undergo. I have a hunch that most of us know what it is like to feel alone at times. There's the hit-and-run with V’s little dog, her father becoming ill with a fatal disease, the escalation of her mother's drinking, her changing relationships with her siblings. Then there's V's falling in love and it happens to be with a girl and not a boy. Something a lot of readers and reviewers have not mentioned that is so interesting to me is that V's best friend abandons her without a word as to why. To lose a close friend, for whatever reason, is so challenging, so crushing; to not know what is happening because it has not been said aloud; this might be the hardest thing V faces. We find out why in the story.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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    Five Questions With… Theodore Taylor III (Little Shaq)

    By April Hall
     | Oct 09, 2015

    Theodore TaylorTheodore Taylor III is an artist, designer, photographer, and new dad. He received the 2014 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award for his first picture book, When the Beat Was Born. Heavily influenced by music and pop culture, he was a natural to take up his tools to illustrate Shaquille O’Neal’s Little Shaq series, in addition his own self-written children’s book.

    Your latest illustration project is Little Shaq. What did you think when you were approached with this project?

    I remember being very excited! After When the Beat Was Born I wasn't sure when my next book project would be. So being signed on to this project meant a lot. It definitely gave me hope for my future as a children's book illustrator. I was also nervous because Shaq was a big part of my childhood. I never followed basketball closely, but I always remembered his jersey number for the Orlando Magic. I vividly remember watching Kazaam. And I still have my old copy of Shaq-Fu for Sega Genesis! Now suddenly I was drawing a book for him! It was surreal.

    You’ve done the cover art for a lot of albums, mostly beats. What was the transition like from album art to a book?

    The transition was fairly smooth, especially considering the hip-hop themes of my first book. The pages were still in a square format, so I sometimes tried to think of each page as an album cover. The book's cover was especially easy as I wanted it to feel like an old record jacket.

    Did music inform Little Shaq’s illustrations at all?

    I'm not sure if music informed my drawings directly, but all of the music I listened to during my late-night drawing sessions must have had some effect!

    What was the inspiration for Raised by Humans and will you write more of your own books?

    little shaqRaised by Humans was actually an assignment for a Web development course I took in college. We had to create something interactive, so I thought a virtual children's book would be perfect. My inspiration probably came from what I expected my son to be like. It turns out I was pretty spot-on. He's wild.

    I am in the process of writing my own book for Roaring Brook Press inspired by murals and graffiti. I'm hoping it will be done next year. I have a few other ideas in my head as well. I'm also thinking of redrawing Raised by Humans for fun!

    You’re a new dad. We hear a lot about how reading is essential, even in infancy. As an illustrator, do you have essential reads for your child and are they motivated by the artwork?

    I have a shelf full of books for my son, from childhood favorites to newer books I've picked out on my own. I've been buying him a lot of books with artwork I personally enjoy. Some recent favorites have been JooHee Yoon's books, several books published by Flying Eye Books, Carson Ellis's Home, Samuel Hiti's Waga's Big Scare and Bridget Heos and Joy Ang's Mustache Baby. As far as classics go, I always keep Where the Wild Things Are handy. My son's a little too young to fully understand any of these books, but he does seem to enjoy the pictures. I can tell because he grabs them and tries to rip the pages.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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    Five Questions With… Liza Flores (Hugging Trees)

    By Olivia Duke
     | Aug 27, 2015

    Liza-Flores-with-Her-Art--e1395985568429Liza Flores is the amazing illustrator who created the cover for this year’s International Literacy Day Activity Kit. Her delicate work in cut paper has been used in children’s books and in art exhibitions, but she doesn’t stop there. She is also one third of Studio Dialogo, a design firm in the Philippines.

    You studied Visual Communication (Fine Arts) in college. Did you always want to be an illustrator?

    I have always loved drawing, but it never occurred to me that illustrating can be a career until college. It was only when I saw an exhibition of children’s book illustrations did I realize that real people made books!

    The paper cutout technique you use seems so intricate. How much time do you usually have to complete your illustrations?

    It depends on the size and the complexity of the illustration. A page for a book can take a day. The biggest I made was 4-by-5 feet. Those took me about a month each.

    Between Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK), the only association of Filipino children’s book illustrators, and Studio Dialogo, your design company, you are always working with other artists. What do you enjoy about working in such a collaborative industry?

    The idea that one problem or opportunity can be addressed in many ways is what excites me about working in the creative industry. Each person (or artist) brings in something new and different to the table. I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to bring so many ideas and talents together towards a common goal. There’s so much potential and possibilities!

    How do you bring each author’s unique vision to life?

    I attended a design conference several years ago, and one thing that stuck with me was, “The problem is the problem.” Which basically means the only way to solve a design problem is to figure out what the problem is. I feel the same is true with illustrating stories. I try to find the core message of the story first. Only when this is clear does the possibilities on how to visualize it opens up.

    Is there a character that you have illustrated that you love most?

    I illustrated a story entitled “The Star Thrower” in 2008. The character didn’t have a name. It was just a girl, but I’ve repeatedly drawn her or a version of her in other works. Because of the simplicity of the character’s form, I feel that she’s like a blank canvas. She can be anybody.

    Olivia Duke is ILA’s communication assistant.

     
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    Five Questions With… Victoria Jamieson (Roller Girl)

    BY APRIL HALL
     | Aug 14, 2015
    AuthorPhoto_VictoriaJamieson_MedRes

    There are ways in which roller derby is a lot like life. It moves fast, it can be slippery, sometimes you get a little bruised—physically and emotionally.

    When Victoria Jamieson saw those connections, she turned it into Roller Girl, her latest graphic novel. In it she also follows the theme of many of her other books: Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you still fail. And that’s OK. Jamieson knows that’s a hard lesson to learn, even for adults, but she keeps reinforcing it for her readers.

    In Olympig! and Roller Girl, you aren’t afraid to show that sometimes, even when you tried really hard, you can fail. Do you think students are told enough that failing IS an option?

    I know it was a tough lesson for me to learn as a kid. Instead of being told that failure is an option, I was more likely to hear, “If you try really hard, you can do anything you put your mind to.” That’s an important sentiment, but sometimes when the big game, test, or competition comes around, you try really hard and still fail. For example, Olympig! was born out of the memory of a Kid Olympics we had on my block when I was 6 years old. I was obsessed with Mary Lou Retton and was determined to win the gold medal (tin foil) in gymnastics. I practiced for weeks, tried really hard and—lost. I was devastated, because I wasn’t prepared for the fact that I could practice hard, try my best, and still lose. As an adult, this still happens of course, and I don’t think the pain gets any easier to bear! As an author, I think this is great fodder for stories—how do you rebound from crushing defeat? It’s a real test of character.

    You are a roller girl yourself. How far were you into roller derby before you thought, “This would be a great book concept for kids”?

    RollerGirl_frontI first learned about roller derby through a YA novel (Derby Girl, by Shauna Cross; later renamed Whip It after it was turned into a movie). At first, I was not thinking at all about writing a book about derby; it was a new and exciting obsession, but it took all my energy just to learn how to skate. As time went on and derby became more integrated into my daily life, I began to see how “real life” and roller derby intersected and informed one another. I began making little “mini-comics” about my personal trials and tribulations with the sport. At the same time, junior roller derby for skaters ages 12–17 was becoming more and more popular. I finally felt ready to write a longer story about roller derby, and a story about junior derby told as a graphic novel seemed like a perfect match.

    I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times, but… What is it like as a woman creating graphic novels, and has that changed since you began in picture books?

    I am very lucky that my book came out in the PRT (Post–Raina Telegemeier) age. I am not even sure that I would have considered a graphic novel format if I had not read Smile and thought, “Yes! This is the type of book for older readers I want to write!” And of course, the month before Roller Girl was published, Cece Bell won the Newbery Honor for her graphic novel El Deafo. So I am very lucky and grateful for the achievements of these trailblazing women. Honestly, when I decided to write a graphic novel I was less concerned about being a woman, and more concerned with not knowing very much about the comics industry. I didn’t read comic books growing up, I wasn’t interested in superheroes, and I wasn’t aware of anything beyond that in comics. I loved comic strips like “For Better or For Worse” and “Calvin and Hobbes,” but that was about the extent of my knowledge. In that respect, I am also thankful to the work of Matt Phelan and Jarrett J. Krosoczka; I watched as they transitioned from picture books to graphic novels, and it gave me the courage to try it too.

    What’s your process for picture books compared with graphic novels?

    The process for writing both is actually quite similar! I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about my characters first. I doodle, draw, and daydream for quite some time before worrying too much about the details of the plot. As I get to know the characters more, I can start to think more concretely about the story. For both picture books and graphic novels, I like to think of the story as an arc. Who is the character at the beginning of the story? What is his or her struggle? What is the emotional climax of the story? How has the character changed by the end of the book? The transition from picture book to graphic novel was actually much smoother than I had envisioned, because I could apply this same “formula” to both.

    Recently, William Joyce released Billy’s Booger, a revision of the very first book he wrote in elementary school. You’ve mentioned Super Cow! as your first book. Would you ever go back and revise that?

    I didn’t know Billy’s Booger was a revision of a childhood book! I also love No, David! which, as David Shannon explains in the author’s note, is a revision of the first book he wrote as a child. So maybe you’re on to something! I know my mom would be thrilled; I think it is still her favorite book that I’ve written. I’ll need to revisit the ending, because if I remember correctly, Super Cow! ends with the statement, “… and it was all a dream!”. I’m not sure if that ending will “fly”—har har!

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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