WHOOO WHOOO! Interview with Whobert Whover’s Illustrator Jess Pauwels!

We’re wrapping up the party for Jason Gallaher’s debut picture book Whobert Whover, Owl Detective with an interview with Jess Pauwels, the talented illustrator. It’s such a thrill for me to chat with Jess, because not only do I love this “whodunnit” fun story starring an owl (one of my favorite animals), but I adore the wonderful illustrations!

First, WHO is Jess Pauwels? In her own words:

I live in Brussels Belgium. I grew up in a family of professional dancers, but pencils were more appealing to me (and less exhausting ^!^) ! I studied arts and I graduated in illustration from St Luc-Brussels. For a few years, I was both an illustrator and a bookseller.

Six years ago, I chose to concentrate only on my graphic career. I drew for magazines, music labels, and picture books publishers. Since then, I have illustrated great stories, mostly in France, and some of them have been translated into Chinese and Italian.

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is my very first USA picture book

And now, on to the interview!

Tell us a little about your creative process. What are the steps you take before you start working on the book’s illustrations? How did you come up with Whobert and the other cast of characters?

First, I sketched all the characters. Like a « forest theme » movie casting – how should they look like to stick to the story? It helped me to get their reactions and to find the appropriate facial expressions for each one.

Then, I waited for the publisher’s creatives to send me the text layout – the way they want the text to be spread from one page to another.

After they decided where to put the text and where my illustrations would stand, I made several storyboards (small fast drawings with the same proportions of the book) to settle who is in the picture doing what and what is the general ambiance. I tried to find a balance between close ups, large views, etc. It helps with the dramatization of the image.

The drawings part was the most creative, fun, personal touch part. I was able to choose how I would tell Jason’s great story with my own touch.

Then, when the publisher’s team validated this part, they pretty much left me to decide on the rest of the job. They gave me advice more than asked for changes.

So next, I drew properly the whole thing, with all the details and the intentions I wanted – every image at the final book size, this time. Sometimes when the image is bigger than in my storyboard, things didn’t work anymore, so I changed or got rid of some stuff. I’m not usually very satisfied with the firsts results. Slowly, I found the right tone to satisfy me.

To complete and color, I scanned my drawings to the computer. This helped me to make final changes (eyes too close together or add a feather here and there, resize a worm …). If I had to do it in traditional techniques it would have taken ages.The computer can be a wonderful tool if you don’t skip important first creative steps.

Were there any specific challenges you encountered during the process? Any particular joys?

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is my first USA picture book collaboration. Humor is very different over there (in the USA). You are less serious and you seem to trust more the kids’s sense of humor. It’s very liberating to illustrate.

But the most challenging thing for me was the long wait before the launch of the book. In Europe, it takes around 3 to 6 months. With my project for Whobert, it took more than a year between the finished illustrations to the real printed copies.

But the real challenge for me was when I was finishing the pictures, because my 10-year-old French bulldog became very hill. Rushing into work helped me not to be too depressed about it, as he was my hairy muse for so long. He left us in February 2016.

A year and a half later we are welcoming our new puppy and Whobert Whover, Owl Detective is going out. It’s been a long, dog-free, but projects-full year in my studio. The wait for this fun picture book gave me hope and kept me focused on my other books to finish.

Meeting Jason through this project and seeing him be so enthusiastic, proud, and thrilled with the result was a vitamin shot to my self esteem.

Who is your favorite character from Whobert Whover, Owl Detective? Why?

This is quite a tough question, because when I draw a story I need to step into the shoes of every character. But, I think it’s really Whobert I like the most. He is so funny and stubborn. He’s a determined hero even if he’s mostly naive. With that kind of character you just cannot stay serious about life. He’s kind of a mix between Sherlock Holmes and Kimmy Schmidt, and I’d love to be this kind of mix! ^!^

(I LOVE Jess’s answer!)

Finally, can you show us a picture of your work space (I’m obsessed with creative work spaces.) What is your favorite part of your work area? Do you have any special rituals or talismans?

I work at home in our apartment in Brussels Belgium. I have my own studio. I tried to work in an outside place with other creative friends, but I was suddenly not so productive (morning coffee talks/lunch breaks talks/afternoon coffee talks). It became harder to focus on the jobs. I love to socialize a little too much.

So back home I’m more effective. I have my morning coffee in front of my social media and news, and I’m launched.

As talismans, I need several things to reassure myself, like music (Nina Simone, Laura Veirs, Joan As police Woman). On the walls, inspiring images like Lewis Carroll’s drawing of Alice in Wonderland, other illustrators’ prints. or pictures of our trips. On my desk are my favorites pencils and markers and two mini statues of Ganesh, brought from India and Lao, which are taking care of my projects.

…and lately COOPER our new companion, watching me from his pillow…not very calmly yet. !-)

Thank you, Jess! Congratulations to you and Jason on Whobert Whover, Owl Detective! You and Jason make a fabulous team!


Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her puppy, Kiku; rabbit, Aki; and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth, the first two books of her debut chapter book series is now available from Farrar Straus Giroux. Two more books will follow next year: Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl (4/3/18) and Jasmine Toguchi, Flamingo Keeper (7/3/18).

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.

 

 

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WHOdunnit???

whobert hoover

WHO, WHO, WHO doesn’t love a good mystery? Jason’s WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, is a delightful read that introduces young kids to the mystery genre through clever phrasing and hilarious illustrations. It’s sure to be a hit and become a childhood favorite for many kids!

As part of this week’s celebratory posts, I asked fellow EMUs what mysteries they remember loving from their childhoods.


For me, I berenstainbearsandthemissingdinosaurboneread all kinds of mysteries. But my earliest memory of a mystery I loved was THE BERENSTAIN BEARS AND THE MISSING DINOSAUR BONE. I enjoyed it so much, that later in life it became my go-to book to take to houses I’d babysit at, so I could share it with other kids!

As it turns out, I also loved a lot of the same mysteries as my fellow EMUS, so down memory lane we go!

 

Debbi says:ND1tsotoc

Here’s a funny-strange thing about me – as a child, I scared easily and did NOT like mysteries, and yet, I read them anyway. (I still scare easily as an adult so Whobert Whover is the perfect mystery for me.) As a child I LOVED the Nancy Drew series, but the covers scared me so much that I had to hide the books at night. I think I enjoyed RE-reading them more than reading them for the first time, because it was less scary once I knew everything was going to be okay. 🙂

 

Encyclopedia_Brown,_Boy_Detective_(1963)Sarvinder says:

I loved Encyclopedia Brown. I remember when I first read a book from the series. I was hooked. I don’t remember which title I read, but I remember the answer to the mystery, the clue that solved it, was that gold was too heavy to have been carried. I learned that gold is heavy! Encyclopedia Brown is so smart!

 

Christina says:

I love a good mystery, I have ever since discovering the Encyclopedia Brown series  – as nate the greatan affirmed geek, I got so excited to read about a smart kid who used his smarts to fix problems in his neighborhood, and to pit  my own brain against the same challenges.  And I liked John Keane’s books about dog detective Sherlock Bones, another animal sleuth like Whobert! But my favorite was Marjorie Weiman Sharmat’s Nate the Great series.  I loved how there were all these pets involved with the main characters, particularly Nate’s lovable dog Sludge and the deliciously creepy neighbor Rosamond’s four cats, Super Hex, Big Hex, Plain Hex, and Little Hex. I never had a cat or dog growing up, and there was just something about these kids going around and solving their own kid-size mysteries with their pets by their sides that appealed to me over and over again.

Hey, I’m just noticing something – all of these are series of books.  Is it possible Whobert will return to try to solve Who-Who-Who done it again in the future? Here’s hoping!


And that brings us to Jason himself! What mystery inspired him as a child? None other than the amazing television series, Ghostwriter!

ghost-writer-01

Jason says:

When I was a kid there was this show called Ghostwriter that I was robsessed with. This group of teens solved crimes with the help of an actual ghost they called Ghostwriter. Ghostwriter could move letters around that were near the wee detectives, giving them clues to whatever conundrum they were trying to solve. Between Ghostwriter and Casper, I was very pro-ghost in my childhood.


Jason, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’d LOVE to see you take on a 90s-style-friendly-ghost-helps-kids-solve-mysteries project in the future! But in the meantime, CONGRATULATIONS on your launch of WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE!


Katie Headshot.jpgKatie Slivensky’s debut novel (THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY) releases on  August 1st, 2017 with HarperCollins Children’s.

Katie is a science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does live presentations, and runs the rooftop observatory program. She lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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WHO, WHO IS YOUR AGENT? An interview with Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency

whobert hoover

As we continue the debut celebration of Jason Gallaher’s WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, I got to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on how WHOBERT went from manuscript on submission to debuting picture book with the help of agent extraordinaire, Tricia Lawrence. For those of you interested in becoming agent-signed authors yourselves, here’s how the process worked for Jason and WHOBERT:

Tricia, I saw WHOBERT as an advance reader copy and was immediately charmed by this over-eager owl detective. Was WHOBERT WHOVER the manuscript that led you to sign Jason as a client? (If not, please tell us how you and Jason first connected!)

Actually, this wasn’t the only manuscript. Jason had a few more manuscripts and WHOBERT made me laugh out loud for the second time. The first time I laughed out loud was at his manuscript about a squirrel that hoards unusual sustenance for the winter (that one hasn’t sold yet, but if you love WHOBERT, you’ll love that one too!)

squirrelI’d love to see that one – I’m already trying to imagine what that squirrel is up to! What was it about Jason’s writing that drew you in?

 

His incredible sense and use of humor; his understanding of what makes a text strong enough to stand up to being illustrated; his vision coming through only the text (very sparse art notes) and the beauty and strong emotion of his writing. 

 
I understand you’re the kind of agent that helps her authors revise and polish their manuscripts before sending them out to editors. How did you and Jason work together to make sure WHOBERT was in tip-top shape before going out on submission?

I didn’t have to work on this one, and that is very rare. Usually, I am much more involved in manuscript revisions. This is why I knew I had to sign Jason immediately. The majority of his PB texts come to me ready to go. Jason has that strong eye to know when he needs revision before I even seen the manuscript.

Being on submission can be a nerve-wracking time for authors, since every day can Jason G.bring the chance of an offer…or the chance of another rejection. While WHOBERT was out on submission, did you do anything to keep up Jason’s spirits? (Did he even need spirit-up-keeping? He seems like one of the bubbliest and cheerfullest authors ever. And I know livens up any costume party.)

Jason doesn’t need much spirit up-keeping, true! But we keep in close contact anyway, because even if the submission process is going smoothly, he also writes novels and he is awesome about keeping me in the loop on his progress and always ready to ask for help when he needs it. 

 
Knowing when to ask for help is a skill in and of itself; Jason’s main character Whobert the owl certainly has trouble doing that! Have you ever done something Whobert-esque, where you were certain you were right but completely misunderstood the situation?

Oh, yes. Haven’t we all? It’s usually me intervening in the dog negotiations at our house. The big mastiff, Toledo, is a bit intimidated by his younger and smaller sister, husky-shepherd mix, Rue, and they have this long “Wookie”-esque conversation about who gets to come through the dog door first. I often think it’s Toledo trying to bug his sister, but he’s just trying to get inside out of the sun or outside into the sun. 

dog negotiationsDog negotiations do sound complicated. I know you are closed to unsolicited queries, so if there’s an author out there who thinks they have something special like WHOBERT, is there a way they can query you? And do you have a suggestion on how their query can shine as brightly as an owl’s talons among all the queries that come your way?

 

They can attend a conference where I’m on faculty (I’m done for 2017; stay tuned for the 2018 schedule) or they can get referred into Erin Murphy Literary Agency by an EMLA client or another industry professional. Write something good! The query should not shine brighter than the manuscript. Make your manuscript amazing first. Then get help with the query by reading aloud a lot or having someone more experienced read and review it for you. I am a BIG FAN of critique groups and beta readers. Use them.

I’m going to take a page from some previous Emu agent interviews and ask you to finish this sentence: the perfect reader for WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE is…

Who, Who, Who, Whover-ific!

Who could doubt that? Thanks, Tricia!


Christina UssChristina Uss loves being part of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency since she gets to hang out with terrific people like Jason Gallaher and Tricia Lawrence and see sneak previews of books like WHOBERT.

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Who, Who Made Whobert?

I can’t believe this day has finally arrived! Whobert is hatching from his little egg and becoming a fully fledged book bird! It’s so unreal, and I still can’t quite believe that this book is actually getting published, nearly two and a half years after the book was acquired. During that time, I learned that this book is so much more than just the manuscript I wrote back in 2014. So to celebrate the hatching of Whobert into bookstores, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge who, who helped create Whobert and make his hatching possible.

Jess Pauwels! You are such an amazing illustrator, and you make Whobert and his pals pop off the page. Your facial expressions! I can feel Whobert’s suspicion ooze off the page. Thank you for making Whobert come alive.

Tricia Lawrence! You are the best agent a guy could ever ask for. You work for me tirelessly, and Whobert wouldn’t be in the hands of readers if it weren’t for your hands guiding me along this thrilling writing rollercoaster.

Annie Nybo! That first critique you gave of Whobert really spurred me on to keep creating. I can feel your enthusiasm for Whobert through every email and text, and I feel so lucky to have worked with you.

Bethany Hegedus! The Writing Barn feels like home. That ball that started rolling towards a real writing career was given that initial push because of you and the beautiful space of inspiration and creativity that you’ve created.

My entire family! You’ve supported me since birth, and have never once doubted me, even at the times I doubted myself. Thanks for cheering me on during the good news, and for boosting me up during the bad. I love you all!

Jerry! Words cannot express how much I love you. I am so thankful everyday to have you rooting for me and supporting me at every turn. I live a real life fairy tale, and that’s all because of you.

And lastly, to all my fellow Emus! Whobert may be hatching today, but he wouldn’t be able to take flight if not for your constant efforts, not only letting people know about his publication, but also being my cheerleaders and offering advice as I got closer and closer to this book birthday.

________________________

Jason Gallaher is a picture book and middle grade writer who loves to create stories that mix the flamboyantly whacky with the slightly dark. His debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, releases TODAY, from Margaret K. McElderry Books. When not writing, Jason zips about Austin, Texas. He loves dinosaurs, unicorns, and days when the goofy characters that live in his mind get to actually make their way into the real world. Jason is a tried and true Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)

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Interview With WHO? Whobert’s editor ~Annie Nybo~

I had the pleasure of interviewing Annie Nybo. She’s a fun editor with lots of books and lots of experience to her credit.  She gave some great insight into what editors are looking for.

Annie Nybo
  1. What are you looking for in a narrative picture book?

In narrative picture books, I am looking for something that evokes an emotional response (it needs to make me laugh out loud or literally touch my heart and  make me say “aww”). I look for something that is truly telling a story, and for something that has some kind of subtle message to it—that doesn’t just rely on silliness (more on that below). And, I can’t say this enough, a good title can make me look at a submission differently. Jason has AMAZING titles— WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE is so absurdly funny—and when I saw his manuscript, I knew he would be able to make edits because he had been able hone in on such a good title. It takes both a creative mind and a very fine-tuned editorial eye to title something, and if an author has an excellent title, it shows me that they think about details.

whobert hoover

  1. How do you edit a picture book?

I read a picture book out loud at least five times before I start editing—even if it’s not being marketed as a “read aloud,” the reality is that most of these books are read to children, so the verbal pacing needs to work. I then do a macro edit where I look at the beginning, the middle, and the end, and think about whether they’re working individually, and if they are working together. I find blocking things out into sections is particularly useful for narrative books because you need to make sure that the cause and effect is working and that there is an inherent logic to the story—sometimes if you don’t look at the connections between the pieces, you’ll miss bits that were glossed over. Just because there’s only 500 words doesn’t mean it should lack dramatic structure. And I then do a micro-edit, looking at word choice, rhythm, pacing, etc.

jason

Learn more about Whobert Whover’s author Jason  Gallaher

  1. How do you keep a funny picture book from being too slight?

The more I work with picture books, the more I have come around to the notion that every picture book needs to have a message. I think people get the “this is slight” comment when there isn’t something else at work in the text beyond the humor. Now, that doesn’t mean that every picture book should be didactic—I also make the “should be subtler” comment a lot. But take a look at something like WHOBERT. WHOBERT, on the surface, is a very funny picture book about an owl trying to solve his possum friend’s “murder”. But there are two things going on here: first, it teaches basic detective and mystery tropes to kids by introducing the concept of clues, getaway cars, hideouts, etc. This might not seem as important as learning how to share, but learning genre conventions—particularly genre conventions of a number of chapter books—is very important to growing up. And second, Whobert has a deeper message about false accusations, and about being aware of your own body and physical presence. These are all the messages that are being conveyed that keep the book from being too slight, but they’re quite subtle and absolutely inherent to the story.

whobert-whover-owl-detective-9781481462716.in03

  1. What kind of picture book submissions do you see the most of? What would you like to see more of?

I’m still seeing a lot of meta alphabet books, which are a really, really hard sell. The market is so crowded… It’s not a bad idea, it’s just an idea that may not be worth your effort right now. I think we’ve all been seeing a lot of STEM biographies about women, which is great! I’d love to continue to see nonfiction books, particularly about women and people of color. And I would love to see more picture books about religious minorities in the United States, preferably by authors from those religious backgrounds.

  1. What books have you edited/ worked on?

If you can allow me a quick plug for my pinterest page – I list all the books I’ve edited and worked on there:https://www.pinterest.com/annienybo/. But a few highlights: In Middle Grade I’ve edited The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente, The Adventures of Lettie Peppercorn and its prequel, the forthcoming His Royal Whiskers, by Sam Gayton, and in YA I’ve edited Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta and Feeder by Patrick Weekes.

glass town game lettie peppercornhis royal whiskersshimmer and burnfeeder

  1. What are some of your favorite picture books?

I love UGLY FISH by Kara LaReau and Scott Magoon. It incorporates everything I mentioned above: humor and a subtle message (well, not SO subtle in this case) with a great title. I think NIGHT ANIMALS by Gianna Marino is an excellent read-aloud, and I love David Ezra Stein’s DINOSAUR KISSES. Apparently I really like animal books.

  ugly fishnight animals dinosaur kisses

 

Thank you Annie for your WISE words that shed a little bit of light onto this owly business. Whobert Whover is quite a hoot & a feather in your cap.



sarvinder-naberhaus-1200
Sarvinder Naberhaus is a the author of Boom Boom, a picture book about the seasons, illustrated by Caldecott Honor recipient Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Her most recent book, Blue Sky White Stars received 4 starred reviews and is a patriotic salute to the flag, paralleling the forces that forged this great nation, illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Kadir Nelson. Look for her upcoming STEM book, Lines (launching August 26, 10:30) at the Ames Library and visit her website www.sarvinder.com

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The Power of Persuasion

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Another post in the fabulous celebration of the launch of the first two books in Debbi Michiko Florence’s debut chapter book series, Jasmine Toguchi! Hitting the shelves this week – Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth. In Mochi Queen Jasmine is angry that her older sister, Sophie, is allowed to help in the kitchen with New Year’s celebration preparation, but Jasmine is stuck babysitting younger cousins. She uses all her winning powers to try to get her way. I’ve heard that teachers are using this book to talk about crafting persuasive arguments! Given that interesting use of this book,  I thought I’d pole some EMLA’s about things they wanted when they were Jasmine’s age.

Kate Silvensky wanted a cat! Half her family was allergic, though, and her parents and sister were more “dog people”, so ‘it was futile. Kate had lots of stuffed animals that were cats substitutes. Her favorite was named Dusty, and she had quite the personality. For never actually having a cat, Kate nailed the cat-itude rather perfectly with Dusty. Some of her friends were scared of Dusty the stuffed animal, because she wasn’t nice and if they pet her too long she’d “hiss” at them. Ultimately, within months of leaving school and starting her first full time job, Kate adopted a cat. 🙂 (For the record, he’s much nicer than Dusty!)

Katrina Knudson also really wanted a cat! Her family loved animals, but her dad and brother were both severely allergic too. Once her brother found a kitten that had been thrown out of a car, and he brought her home. Katrina named her Taffy, and made up a whole song about her. The words were, “Her name is Taffy, Taffy, and she’s my cat, my cat!” Katrina’s mom then made it clear that Taffy was only staying one night before heading for a shelter. Katrina changed her song to a minor key, and sang it in between sobs. For a while, Katrina got a lot of cat-themed sweatshirts, sheets, and mugs for Christmases and birthdays, but it didn’t fill the void.

Like Jasmine I longed to be able to partake in traditions before my parents thought I was ready. I was sure I was old enough to light the candles at Sabbath dinners and especially when Chanukah rolled around. It took all my powers of persuasion and many supervised match lighting sessions, but I finally prevailed and as I recall it was still far earlier than any of my friends got to handle “fire.”

You’ll have to run out and buy Mochi Queen to see how Jasmine made her case. Enter to win a copy by midnight EST Sunday July 16th. One entry per one comment per post this launch week for a maximum total of five entries. The winner will be drawn at random. Must have U.S. mailing address. Good luck!

FullSizeRenderDarcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in August 2017. LOST BOYS, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California.

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Sweet Treats to Celebrate JASMINE TOGUCHI—Plus A Giveaway!

To celebrate the arrival of the first two volumes of Debbi Michiko Florence’s JASMINE TOGUCHI chapter book series, I asked the EMUs to tell me about their earliest kitchen experiences. From batter-covered beaters to Easy Bake ovens, it was a sweet trip down memory lane.

Sarvinder Naberhaus recalls, “I did learn to bake as a child, motivated by (and still motivated by) the objective —  to eat the sweet treats! Cooking was a chore but baking was fun! And who wouldn’t want to use Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook for Boys and Girls with all their fun presentations of food? 

Although I’m torn between sharing our Betty Crocker recipe for Carrot Cake and the cookie dough recipe from childhood, I think I’ll stick with my mentor, Betty.

BETTY CROCKER’S (AND SARVINDER’S) CARROT CAKE

Grease and flour a 9×13 cake pan. Preheat oven to 350. 

Ingredients:
4 eggs, beaten
2 c flour
2 c sugar
1 1/4 Crisco oil or a bit less
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 c chopped nuts, if desired
2 c grated raw carrots

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, & salt to combine. In a medium bowl, blend together sugar and oil, then add beaten eggs. Stir dry and wet mixtures together gently. Fold in nuts and carrots last.
Bake 350 for 1/2 hour or so until the middle bounces to touch. When cool, adorn with:

Frosting:
1 stick butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
Beat all ingredients together thoroughly until whitish and fluffy. Frost cake and serve.

“I started learning how to bake at my mom’s elbow when I was four,” recalls recent EMU Fledgling Andrea Y. Wang. Mom was a nurse-midwife and worked a lot, so baking was my special time with her. My favorite thing to bake was chocolate chip cookies, because…CHOCOLATE, but I also loved making banana bread. It was so easy and mashing up the bananas was really fun—and way easier than pounding mochi rice! I still have the Betty Crocker cookbook that we used when I was little, and you can see all the stains on the banana bread page.
I even wrote the smaller amount of milk needed (only 3/4 cup) right on the recipe, because the mashed bananas added the extra liquid. Now that my mom is gone, using her cookbook and her mixing bowls keeps her close to me.

Katie Slivensky enjoyed annual baking bonanzas as a kid. “My childhood baking was cookie-related. Classic chocolate chip cookies throughout the year, or ALL THE COOKIES
at Christmas-time. My mom would have my sister and I help out with the mixing and measuring (and in the case of Christmas—decorating!) I mostly liked to help because that meant I’d get to eat the extra batter off the beaters. I also took decorating the frosted cookies for the holidays VERY seriously.

Here’s my mom’s Frosted Cookie recipe:

KATIE’S MOM’S CREAM CHEESE COOKIES

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix together:

1 cup shortening
3 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar

Then add:
1 beaten egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour

Roll dough out will lots of additional flour. Dip cookie cutters into flour before cutting so dough won’t stick.
Bake cookies 9-12 minutes or until edges start to get light brown.

Cool completely before decorating with:

Frosting (3 batches of frosting to 2 batches of cookies)
1 1/2 confectioners sugar
2 TBL butter (margarine) softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 TBL warm water

Blend ingredients until smooth. Divide frosting into smaller glass bowls and use food coloring to tint. Have fun! After decorating, allow cookies to rest overnight so frosting sets up.

Jason Gallaher says, “My mom is a marvelous baker, and I remember sitting with her in the kitchen while she made a whole slew of goodies. Turtle brownies, chocolate chip banana bread, and oatmeal butterscotch cookies were my absolute fave. I wish I had a recipe to share with you, but I can’t recall any of the *actual* steps in how to make these treats, because the only steps I ever participated in were Dipping Fingers Inside the Batter, and Licking Serving Spoons Clean. But those are steps that I highly recommend in any recipe!”

POM BROKAW THINKS JASON IS SUPER SWEET! >>>>>>>>>>>

Judging from this adorable picture, Terry Pierce was a baking prodigy. Her fondest early childhood memory was baking cupcakes with her mom. “I loved to help pour, mix and my favorite part, licking the leftover batter. My brother and I had to alternate so that one of us got the bowl and the other got the beaters. When I was around five, I got my first Easy Bake oven. I found it fascinating that a light bulb could bake those small cakes! I loved the coveted chocolate cake mix. The vanilla tasted like cardboard!

I still love to bake. In fact, just this morning, I made a chocolate- cream-filled-ganache birthday cake for my family. Yum!

Christina Uss remembers, “Early baking experiences were all about my mom and me and cookies. Her Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookies were, in my opinion, far superior to all others. My best friend Karen and I started asking to cook them on our own when we were eleven, and to make sure we got the perfect results, we followed everything my mom did exactly, down to using the same mixing bowls and measuring spoons. It worked! Why? I figured my mom passed on some sort of cooking magic to us. It took meeting my husband who loves to bake but uses his grandma’s old Sunbeam electric mixer for every recipe to realize the real secret to my mom’s awesome cookies wasn’t specific mixing bowls, measuring spoons, or magic, but creaming the butter and sugar by hand with a wooden spoon. It’s hard work (especially if you forget to leave the butter out to soften until you start mixing everything else, which I always did), but gives the cookies this satisfyingly chewy texture that can’t be beat. So here’s my recipe – with two caveats.

 

My thanks to the EMUs for these scrumptious stories. I think I’ll go bake some cookies now and tuck in with my copy of JASMINE TOGUCHI.


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Families, Happiness, Launch, middle grade, Middle Grade, series, Uncategorized

Interview with JASMINE TOGUCHI editor, Grace Kendall!

The launch for Debbi Michiko Florence’s JASMINE TOGUCHI series continues with an interview with Debbi’s editor, Grace Kendall of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers. Read below to get the inside scoop on all things Jasmine!

JG: What initially drew you to Debbi’s writing and JASMINE TOGUCHI?

GK: Oh! What a tough question. I think, aside from the writing itself–which is sweet and fun and pitch-perfect for this age–I was in awe of how elegantly Debbi handled big issues. In MOCHI QUEEN, Jasmine is simply trying to have a new experience before her older sister. It’s also about questioning traditional gender roles in a Japanese-American family. But the story is funny and energetic and packed full of silly sister drama. Jasmine has a ton of gumption, just like Debbi. That’s why I couldn’t put the manuscript down!

How have Jasmine, her adventures, and her family changed through the editorial process? Did JASMINE read much differently in the original submission from what we read now?

No, I think the Jasmine of Draft 1 is the Jasmine you see in the final books here. But when we decided to sign up four titles, it became clear that Jasmine’s voice needed a bit more volume to help sustain a whole series. So we worked on pulling out the brightest details in her personality. Debbi knows this character so well, and I love this little girl more with every book. It’s been so fun to see her develop over four stories!

One of my personal favorite characteristics of Jasmine’s is her insistence that she can do anything she sets her mind to, even if it’s labeled a “boy” activity. What is your favorite personality trait of Jasmine’s?

I can’t pick one, so I’ll give you three:

Artistic trait: Jasmine loves to make collages from her mother’s old magazines. I did the same thing when I was a kid.

Kinetic trait: Hopping. When Jazz (as I fondly call her) is anxious or excited, she hops from one leg to the other. It’s the perfect solution to too many nerves. And funny in a serious scene!

Emotional trait: I adore her sisterhood with Sophie. I’m a lot like Sophie, and my younger sister is a lot like Jasmine. I think it’ll be helpful for young readers to see these two siblings get through their growing pains–and look for any similarities in their own relationships.

Elizabet Vukovic’s illustrations are so dynamic and really showcase Jasmine’s personality. How did you find and decide on Elizabet Vukovic as the illustrator for these books?

It was a journey! We looked at A LOT of portfolios. But the second I saw Elizabet’s drawing of a little girl with big glasses playing dress-up in a glowing red gown, I knew we had our artist. I love Elizabet’s use of ink, the weight of her lines, and the phenomenal sense for color wash. We were SO lucky she was free. Her enthusiasm for the texts has brought a whole other layer of narrative to these books.

We get four whole JASMINE books, the first two releasing on July 11th! What adventures are in store for Jasmine as the series progresses?

Every time Debbi sends in a new manuscript, I’m convinced it’s my favorite Jasmine book yet. So, get ready for even more awesome adventures! In Book 3, Jasmine learns how to play the taiko drum for the school talent show. But there’s a big difference between being the best and trying your best. And a new kid in school will challenge Jasmine’s patience to hilarious and heartfelt effect.

In Book 4, Jasmine’s grandmother sends her and Sophie daruma dolls to wish on. So, Jasmine decides to wish for a pet: a flamingo! But where will it live, and how will Jasmine feed it? Can she even convince her parents to keep her pet flamingo? Jasmine gets a big surprise when a different wish is fulfilled!

Thank you so much for your time, Grace! We can’t wait to get our hands on more Jasmine adventures!

You can enter to win a copy of MOCHI QUEEN and SUPER SLEUTH! One entry per one comment per post this launch week for a maximum total of five entries. Enter by midnight EST, Sunday July 16. The winner will be drawn at random. Must have U.S. mailing address. Good luck!

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Filed under Book Launch, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Editing and Revising

Pinch Me

My new puppy, Kiku, is joining in on the celebration!

Today, my debut chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi launches with the first two books: Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth. This is the culmination of over 15 years of writing, learning, growing, revising, querying, submitting, and collecting rejections. Having my chapter books published is a dream come true.

I’ve talked about my journey on this blog and elsewhere so I won’t rehash it except to say, for Jasmine, it’s been seven years from the spark of an idea to book release. And it’s been a little over two years since my wonderful editor, Grace Kendall, made the offer to publish Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, not as a stand-alone, but as a series. It’s been a truly wonderful experience working with my editor Grace, my awesome agent Tricia Lawrence, talented illustrator Elizabet Vukovic, and the FSG team. I feel so fortunate.

I’ve revised, copyedited, and proofread (with the help of the sharp eyes of professional copyeditors and proofreaders). I’ve reviewed and loved the art. Jasmine Toguchi is part of a Macmillan bookseller campaign called “Got Character?” that features six series. Jasmine is on a poster! The reviews (all good, thankfully) are in. Mochi Queen is a Junior Library Guild fall selection and a pick for Amazon’s Summer Book Club – New Favorite Series for Kids. I’ve been interviewed by some awesome bloggers. I’ve stumbled upon Twitter conversations and Instagram posts about Jasmine. And I’ve held the actual books in my hands. I’m giddy!

So when does it feel real? This still feels like a dream. A very wonderful dream but, still, a dream. I can’t believe that a book I wrote with characters I conceived is really going to find its way into the hands of readers. Perhaps that is when it will feel real – when a child reads my books.

Pre-launch, so much energy and focus is on getting the words and the art just right, on waiting for the reviews to come in, on planning events, on promotion and marketing. All of this is, of course, relevant and important and fun. But during all that, sometimes it’s easy to forget why I wrote the story in the first place, for whom I wrote the story – for a child. When I started my writing career over 15 years ago, I didn’t know about Kirkus or School Library Journal, or the effect of sales numbers or earning out, or how important it was to get parents and educators on board. All I thought about was the child who might pick up my book, read the story, connect to the character, and fall in love. And today, I’m remembering that. I can’t wait for readers to meet Jasmine and, I hope, fall in love with her.

Art copyright Elizabet Vukovic

Maybe that’s when it will feel real. When a child reader says, “I read and loved your book.” That is the review I’m holding my breath for.

In the meantime, I am celebrating this dream come true. I’m pinching myself to make sure this is really happening. I’m grateful to everyone who has supported me along this journey, who has believed in me, who has talked up my books, and who has helped make Jasmine and her stories come alive. Thank you, thank you, thank you! And extra special thanks to my awesome agent Tricia Lawrence, to my amazing editor Grace Kendall, and to my husband B0b and daughter Caitlin!

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Enter to win Mochi Queen and Super Sleuth! One entry per one comment per post this launch week for a maximum total of five entries. Enter by midnight EST, Sunday July 16. The winner will be drawn at random. Must have U.S. mailing address. Good luck!

 

 

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Launch, Thankfulness

Show Yourself in Your Work: An Illustrator’s Story

It’s launch week! It’s launch week! Hold onto your summer floppy hats, we have a book…well, actually two to launch into the world this week. A little bit from the publisher about our first book baby!

Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is a flamingo fan, tree climber, and top-notch mess-maker!

She’s also tired of her big sister, Sophie, always getting to do things first. For once, Jasmine wishes SHE could do something before Sophie—something special, something different. The New Year approaches, and as the Toguchi family gathers in Los Angeles to celebrate, Jasmine is jealous that her sister gets to help roll mochi balls by hand with the women. Her mom says that Jasmine is still too young to join in, so she hatches a plan to help the men pound the mochi rice instead. Surely her sister has never done THAT before.

But pounding mochi is traditionally reserved for boys. And the mochi hammer is heavier than it looks. Can Jasmine build her case and her mochi-making muscles in time for New Year’s Day?

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

And even better? This is the first book in a series. The second book is also available this week! At the end of this post, you can enter to wind a copy!

To kick off a week of Jasmine Toguchi celebrations, I sat down with illustrator Elizabet Vukovic. Ok, technically, she was in the Netherlands and I was in Maine… but laughing all the way through our video chat, it was as if we were sitting at the same table. Elizabet is not only talented and brilliant, but she’s bubbly, fun, spunky, and there are some big surprises in her journey.  You are going to love her as much as I do. Let’s get to it.

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Elizabet knows exactly what it’s like to have a big sister who gets everything first! Reading the pages of Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen, Elizabet related to Jasmine immediately. She laughed heartily as we talked about her own childhood and the misery of hand-me downs.

Growing up in the Netherlands, Elizabet lived around the corner from a bicycle store. Every summer, she looked through the shop window at the new bikes. So shiny! So new! And every summer, she watched her older sister pick out a new bike… while Elizabet got her sister’s old bike to ride. (Eventually Elizabet would get a new bike, but not until high school!)

Elizabet wore her sister’s hand-me-down clothes and played with hand-me-down toys––until one day Elizabet had enough. It happened in the toy store. The girls had begged their father to walk into the toy store, promising only to look at the toys. Finally, their father agreed. The three of them walked into the store and that’s when Elizabet saw it: a microphone. Not just any microphone, but one that echoed. Elizabet was always singing and this microphone would be the perfect accessory. She had to have it.

She asked her dad to buy it. He said no.

So Elizabet refused to leave the store––without that microphone. That’s when her father and big sister left her there and went home.

But Elizabet did not budge.

Finally, her father returned to the store. And he bought Elizabet that microphone!

As we talked about this story, Elizabet’s eyes sparkled and her grin grew wide. Tapping into these experiences, brought Jasmine to life for Elizabet. She says the illustration on page 37 of the book put in a fine point on what both girls dealt with. (And no sneak previews. The only way to see this emotional scene is to buy the book or request it at the library or win it in our book give away! Also, it’s totally worth it.) But, it’s that illustration in particular that captured both Elizabet’s experience and Jasmine’s: complete frustration and irritation. The contrast of Jasmine’s level of anger juxtaposed to the oblivious prancing around of her older sister really nails the dynamic.

Elizabet says that level of personal connection is critical to her work. You can learn anatomy, she explains, but you have to put yourself in those characters. “Show yourself in your work,” Elizabet said.

But Elizabet’s path to accomplishing that, to creating the space where that’s even possible is interesting. She is the child of immigrants from Croatia. Her parents are hard workers and always expected that of their kids. Because they had to overcome so much and accomplish so much to establish their new lives in the Netherlands, they are also very practical and pragmatic.

Elizabet was interested in drawing as a very small child. Her kindergarten teacher used to say to her parents, “You have a real Picasso on your hands.” Even in high school, a teacher mentioned that Elizabet should go into drawing.

But as a profession? That was hard for Elizabet’s parents to accept or encourage. After all, they wanted Elizabet to have a paying job, security. .. all of the things they had immigrated to the Netherlands to build.

But as effervescent and charming as Elizabet is, she also has steely determination and an unyielding drive to prove herself.

So, what could she do in that situation? First, Elizabet got a degree in optometry. That’s right, optometry. She worked full time in the field to save money for art school. She worked during the day and studied illustration at night through online coursework until she graduated from the San Francisco Art Academy.

Then, she rode her bike 45 minutes to work every day, put in her hours, rode her bike home––which was another 45 minutes, climbed into her studio chair and began working on her illustration portfolio. Every night.

But Elizabet swears that something magical happened in those late hours. It was like her illustration time was protected. Because she had a full time job, she could really give herself permission to go for it at night. Permission to take risks, to enjoy her passion. Her artwork was not burdened with the responsibility of having to make money.

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Once her portfolio was ready, Elizabet prepared herself mentally for the process. She was ready for the rejections, the long, hard, and difficult path to an agent and publication.

She started by picking her top three agencies. Then one morning, she submitted her work by e-mail. She had an offer by that afternoon. She ran around her room screaming. Elizabet doesn’t remember much of her call with her agent Justin Rucker, just that he said he loved her work. “I was so high on emotion and he talked a lot and I kept thinking is this real? Oh my God!” she remembers.

And Elizabet brings all of that to these illustrations. You’ll see it immediately, the joy and spunk…. the struggle and conflict. They flow out of her pen onto the page. These masterful illustrations are a treasure for readers and an invitation to all of us to show ourselves in our work.

Enjoy!

Anna Crowley Redding

P.S. Elizabet and her older sister are close friends today !

P.P.S. Keep reading, there’s a book give away at the bottom of this post!

Also available this week: Book 2 in this delicious, unforgettable series:

Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth (Book 2)

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

It’s a big weekend for Jasmine Toguchi! She’s excited to celebrate Girl’s Day―a Japanese holiday honoring women and girls―with her sister, mother, and best friend, Linnie. When Linnie comes over to plan for the Girl’s Day celebration, Jasmine’s neighbor lets them play dress up in her garage. But the garage is dark, which is kind of scary. And Linnie decides to go home early, which is kind of weird. And Jasmine’s big sister, Sophie, doesn’t seem to want to join in the Girl’s Day fun this year, which is kind of confusing. WHAT is going on?

As her big weekend plans start to unravel, Jasmine must use her sleuthing skills to spot the clues around her. Then maybe, just maybe, she can fix things and make sure the Girl’s Day celebration happens!

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

Enter to win MOCHI QUEEN and SUPER SLEUTH! One entry per one comment per post this launch week for a maximum total of five entries. The winner will be drawn at random. Must have U.S. mailing address. Enter by midnight EST Sunday July 16th. Good luck!

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Character Development, Dreams Come True, Families, Illustrating, Illustrators, Inspiration, Interviews, process, Uncategorized