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Interview with Illustrator Christopher Denise

Authors + Illustrators, Illustrators, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward10 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have the incredibly talented illustrator Christopher Denise stopping by to chat with us! I’m a huge fan of Chris’s books and I’m thrilled to share his work with all of you today! I was lucky enough to meet Chris and his lovely and talented wife, Anika Aldamuy Denise a few years ago at a writer’s retreat in Vermont. You can read Critter Lit’s interview with Anika here. Their newest book, BUNNY IN THE MIDDLE came out earlier this month with Henry Holt and has received wonderful reviews:

"This sweet picture book acknowledges the special place each sibling occupies in a family. . . Kids will savor adorable details, such as children's artwork on a bedroom wall and winsome animal students lined up for school in a tree. Charming and comforting."Kirkus Reviews

So without further ado, please welcome Christopher Denise!

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Where do you live?

We live in Rhode Island in a little bayside community just outside of Providence. We love it here! We found an old beach house, fixed it up (most of it), and built a studio out back. The best part is that we can walk barefoot to the beach.

How many years have you been in publishing?

I started in publishing before my graduation from Rhode Island School of Design in 1990. So, about 29 years ago. My first book, The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, was published in 1994.

How many books have you published?

Bunny in the Middle just published this July. It is my twenty-fifth book in trade publishing. When I first started out I published a number of books for the educational market.

Do you illustrate full-time?

I do! But it’s not necessarily like most full-time jobs. My wife, Anika Aldamuy Denise, is a kid lit author so in addition to our careers, we share responsibilities for taking care of all the house and family things. If I am on a deadline, she will step in and make sure all the home things happen. If she is in the thick of a project, I will take over. It’s not uncommon for either one of us to be back at work on a Sunday night.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I am inspired to create picture books that I like to read. Humor is big for me. I love to laugh and I love surprising and funny picture books! I also try to keep myself in a state of wonder. Children are fascinating and have such a truthful and amazing way of seeing the world. If you can tap into that, there is always inspiration.

What surprised you the most working as an illustrator?

The degree of tenacity that is required to stay in the field surprised me. While at RISD, I was fortunate enough to study with David Macaulay (Cathedral, The Way Things Work). Just before graduation, we had a long chat and he told me that it is not always the most brilliant or the most talented that make it in this business. You need the grit to stick with it, day after day, year after year.

What is your favorite thing about being an illustrator?

The ever-changing challenges of each book. Every author that I work with has a distinct voice and requires me to start over, to start fresh. I try to get myself into a beginner’s mind at the start of each project so I that I can respond to what is in front of me and what that particular book is asking for in terms of pacing, character development, and even the look of the book. It’s a wonderful way to be constantly in a state of growth and exploration.

What do you find difficult working as an illustrator?

The hours can be tough but I have gotten much better at managing production schedules. Even more difficult is managing the uncertainty of the market. You never really know how a book is going to land and if it will find its audience. That can make it difficult to plan and can be a challenge when raising a family.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Spending time with my family is hands-down the best thing I can do to generate new ideas or get a fresh perspective. It gets me out of my own headspace. The dinner table at our house is like a brain trust and the perfect place to beta test ideas.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

This sounds odd but I am habitual about routine. I need to show up in the studio and get in my hours. After so many years at this job, I know what works. I’m very good (an expert, actually) at breaking routine when I want to, but if I have too many days of distractions that take me out of the studio, I get very grumpy. Also exercise! It’s another way to get out of my own headspace and come back fresh.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the kid lit community?

A few years ago I was asked to speak at Kindling Words East as a guest illustrator. I really didn't know what to expect but it was such a good fit for me, I ended up joining the committee and being their Resident Illustrator — and in many ways, finding a family. It truly is a safe and trusting place where we can discuss kid lit and the real nuts and bolts of living a creative life.

What is your favorite picture book?

A very tough question. I am going to skip listing the classics. But I can’t choose just one! I have so many favorites in different sub-genres of picture books and they change all the time. I do love I am Small by Emma Dodd. Swan by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad, is a big favorite. Also Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli, and Days Like This by Simon James.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

Hmm, another tough question. In a way, living as an artist and spending my days in the studio, I am living the highlight every day. I’m grateful for the good reviews, the stars, the acknowledgements, and certainly when something happens like your book lands on the NY times list! But looking back at highlights can be tricky because comparison is inevitable. Comparing what was then, to this day in the studio. It just doesn't not feel right to me. There are things I am proud of. Firefly Hollow was a journey that required me to grow and change in different ways. Recently, I completed and sold my first picture book manuscript and I feel great about it. But really today, with all the possibility it offers, is the highlight.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started illustrating?

Don’t spend too much energy trying to prove yourself or working towards becoming something that you think that you should be. Allow the work to grow and to change. Just relax and have fun with it! Work hard at refining your tools but focus on allowing your individual, authentic voice to emerge.

Tell us about your newest book?

Bunny in the Middle written by Anika Aldamuy Denise!

We created Bunny in the Middle to celebrate the unique (sometimes challenging), but ultimately very special experience of being in the middle. Our middle is fearless but wise. She holds a unique place in the family. So we wrote a book to celebrate her — and all the middles out there.

What’s up next for you?

Oooo, I wish I could say more! Just last week we reached an agreement to publish my very first book that I have written and illustrated. Check the PW rights report-it may be in there this week!

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

Yes, the standard advice is true. Read tons of picture books. Your local librarian should be your best friend. If you can, volunteer to read at a story hour at your local independent bookstore. Reading aloud to an audience is one of the very best ways to really understand what makes picture books work. Once you get going, avoid the comparison game. I know that we all seek recognition for our efforts and award time can be tough for many. Don’t fall into that trap, it will not serve you. Celebrate great books and achievements by your fellow authors and illustrators — especially if they are underrepresented in the industry.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

I guess Star Wars falls in the wrong decade so I would say Back to the Future with Raiders of the Lost Ark being a close second.


Huge thanks to Christopher Denise for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on all your success and your first author/illustrator project— we can’t wait to check it out!


CHRISTOPHER DENISE is an award-winning illustrator of many critically-acclaimed books for young readers including Alison McGhee’s Firefly Hollow, Rosemary Wells’ Following Grandfather, Anne Marie Pace’s Groundhug Day, as well as several in Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. His books have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and have been recognized by Bank Street College of Education, Parents' Choice Foundation, and the Society of Illustrators. Christopher lives with his wife and collaborator, Anika Denise (Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bunny in the Middle). They live on the coast of Rhode Island with three exceptionally nice people who happen to be their daughters.

 FOR MORE INFORMATION about Christopher, visit him online at http://www.christopherdenise.com/ or follow him on social media:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/christopherdenise/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Christopher-Denise-Illustrator-385062757194/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cadenise

Blog: http://christopherdenise.blogspot.com/

TO ORDER Christopher’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of BUNNY IN THE MIDDLE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 1st! US addresses only please.

Debut Interview with Jenn Harney

Authors + Illustrators, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward4 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! It’s been a while— but it’s great to be back! I’ve had a crazy few weeks with ALA and deadlines— I’m trying to push through the rest of the summer until baby no. 3 arrives! BUT I’m so excited to be back to our interview schedule with fellow local author and illustrator Jenn Harney! I’m thrilled to be sharing Jenn’s work with you all today. Her debut, UNDERWEAR! just came out this past April with Disney/Hyperion and it is HILARIOUS— I just know you’re all going to love it!

So without further ado…please welcome Jenn Harney!

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Where do you live?

Twinsburg, Ohio. I usually say “Clevelandish” because people know where Cleveland is. Twinsburg, not so much.

When did you know you wanted to write/illustrate picture books?

I met Tomie dePaola from a far at a Young Author’s Conference when I was, I think, in second grade. It was the first time it ever occurred to me that people could write and illustrate books as a job.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

I was VERY VERY lucky. When I signed with my agent, Rachel Orr, she asked if I wrote. So, I started writing. My first story went nowhere. My second story was UNDERWEAR! It was picked up by Stephanie Lurie at Disney Hyperion on its first round of submissions. Right time. Right place. Right Editor. I was very lucky.

Can you share a bit about your process?

My process always starts with drawings. I love character design and that’s where I start. Just doodling characters and seeing if any of them have any merit. Then, I play with the story. I write everything on legal envelopes. Easy to throw out. Usually I thumbnail a dummy as I write. Everything is always visual with me. The words come afterwards.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I’ve learned that if I’m having a bad drawing day to walk away from it. It’ll pass. If I force it, nothing looks good. I’ll get more done in a good drawing day than if I try to force it on a bad one. The Colour Collective weekly drawing challenge is a huge part of the rust shaking, too. Just a great group of illustrators. Just follow the #colour_collective tag on Fridays around 2:30 EST, and you’ll see what I mean.

Anything you can’t live without while you write/draw?

Something to listen to. Not music. Usually has to be an audiobook, or episodes of MST3K or RuPaul’s Drag Race. Have to have talking in the background.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

So many! Bill Watterson, Paul Coker Jr., Tomie DePaola, Tom Yohe, Steven Kellogg, P.D.Eastman, Richard Scarry, David McKee, Alan Tiegreen....I could keep going.

Dream project to work on?

Little Golden Books. I’ve always wanted to do a Little Golden Book.

Tell us about your debut book.

UNDERWEAR! Started with a Colour Collective piece I did. The story worked itself out on a walk with my ever stubborn corgi lodged under a bush and my ever loud self yelling “Get out from under there.” And he looked up at me like “Under where?” and it clicked. Steve went on an extra long walk that day as I looked like a crazy person tapping out syllables and talking out loud about underwear.

UNDERWEAR! Is pretty much autobiographical. I am the frazzled parent who just wants to get their kid out of the tub, into PJs and off to bed. My daughter is said kid who finds ENDLESS ways to keep herself out of bed. I think every parent has been on both sides of this story. And, stories about underwear are never not going to be funny. It’s just a fun word to say.

What’s up next for you?

My second book SWIM, SWIM, SINK is slated for launch in early 2020. Fingers crossed I can just keep working along.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Amadeus or Empire Strikes Back or Time Bandits. Don’t make me choose. (Oooo...Sophie’s Choice is good too!)


Huge thank you to Jenn for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for you and your fantastically funny debut! Congrats!


JENN HARNEY has illustrated several picture books, including Todd Tarpley’s HOW TO BECOME A KNIGHT (Sterling), NEVER CRUMPET WITH A TRUMPET (Boyd Mills Press), SMELLY KELLY (Boyd’s Mills Press). She has
also illustrated the covers and interiors for Jennifer Hamburg’s Hazy Bloom series (FSG), and Susan Lurie’s Wanda Seasongood series (Disney-Hyperion).

Jenn made her author-illustrator debut with UNDERWEAR (Disney-Hyperion) to be followed up by SWIM, SWIM, SINK in 2020 (Disney-Hyperion). She enjoys working at break-neck pace at her desk while binge watching old episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. Jenn lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband, her daughter, a dog named Steve and the ghost of the oldest living goldfish in North America.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jenn visit her online at jkharney.blogspot.com or follow her on social media:

Instagram + Twitter: @jennharknee

TO ORDER Jenn’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of UNDERWEAR?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, July 18th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi!

Interview with Author/Illustrator Philip Stead and Illustrator Erin Stead

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Interviews, Illustrators, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so thrilled about today’s interview— it’s somewhat of a fangirl moment for me, as I love their books so much. Each time I read one, I discover a new detail to fall in love with. Their newest book, MUSIC FOR MISTER MOON is stunning. We’ve been reading it at bedtime almost every night over here. I don’t think there is an intro I could write that would do them justice…so let’s just jump in, shall we?

Please welcome Erin and Philip Stead!

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Where do you live? 

We live in an old farmhouse in Northern Michigan, not too far from the Lake Michigan beach.

How many years have you been in publishing? 

13 years.

How did you first get published?

PHIL: We moved to New York City when we were just out of college with the idea of getting into children's books. I worked briefly for the Brooklyn Children's Museum as a designer/illustrator and spent my free time hitting the pavement, talking my way into publishing offices. Meanwhile Erin worked in a children's bookstore, Books of Wonder, and then later took a job in design at HarperCollins. In the end it was a friend that helped us get a foot all the way in the door. Our friend, fellow bookmaker George O'Connor, passed some of my work along to Neal Porter, an editor at Roaring Brook Press. George had worked with Erin at Books of Wonder. Interestingly enough, Erin also worked with other future authors Nick Bruel, Jason Chin, and Julie Fogliano at the same store. All of those names ended up getting their break with Neal Porter as well. After George had linked me up with Neal he also suggested to Neal that Erin might be interested in illustration work. Up till then Erin had never done illustration work. In fact, she'd barely done any drawing at all in almost three years. In the few days between George's suggestion and Erin's first meeting with Neal I wrote a draft of A Sick Day for Amos McGee, then basically pitched it to both Erin and Neal at the same time over dinner. 

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

Yep, we've been doing this full-time since the beginning, even before it made any financial sense to do so. We're just not good at multi-tasking. But we are pretty good at being broke.

What inspires you to create picture books?

Dusty, old, forgotten books, mostly. And animals.

What surprised you the most working as an author, illustrator, or author/illustrator?

We would read books (i.e. Dear Genius, by Leonard Marcus) that made it seem like all the illustrators and authors that we grew up reading were all actually friends in real life. This seemed cool, but unlikely to us. But even just a few years in it became clear to us that we all really DO know each other. We love knowing so many other bookmakers. It's one of our favorite things about the job.

What do you find difficult working as an author, illustrator, or author/illustrator?

Literally everything. We're both really hard on ourselves and we both contemplate quitting on an almost daily basis. By now though (and we say this often to each other) we basically have no marketable skills for the real world. We could be professional dog walkers maybe. That's about it.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

PHIL: Erin is always cooking when she's stuck on a problem. Sometimes she avoids her desk for weeks and just cooks, cooks, cooks. It used to stress me out, the longer she'd go without setting pencil to paper. But now I know it's all just part of the process. Neither of us are prolific sketchers. We often go straight to final art from the idea in our head. So I guess cooking is akin to sketching for Erin. I find a lot of my inspiration outside of the children's book world. Aside from my love of used book stores I don't really stay too up to date on what's new, other than what my friends are making. I love movies, especially weird ones. And I love music. All music. I'm currently in love with an album by an Ethiopian jazz pianist named Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. It's unlike anything I've ever heard and I'm sure it's trying to tell me something if I just listen to it long enough.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Procrastination. And the making of coffee to do so.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit community?

We've done several school events through an organization called An Open Book in Washington DC. Their goal is to get books into the hands of kids who might not have access to book ownership otherwise. School events can be exhausting but we always leave our Open Book events feeling energized and in love with books again. When you see how much a book, just a single book, can mean to a kid it really puts a lot of the other troubles of bookmaking into perspective. It also helps you realize that your books don't really belong to you after they're finished. They go out and live their own interesting lives outside the studio.

Recommended reading?

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Stamaty. A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears, by Jules Feiffer, and Bambert's Book of Missing Stories, by Reinhardt Jung. We recommend these books to pretty much anyone who will listen.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far? 

Making a book about our dog (Ideas Are All Around) and then getting her picture published in the New York Times thereafter. 

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing/illustrating?

That there will be a lot of public speaking. Neither one of us really considered that getting up and talking to grown-ups would be a big part of being a children's book illustrator. For two bonafide introverts it's kind of a bummer sometimes.

Can you tell us about your newest book? 

We've been thinking a lot lately about what it would be like to grow up right now in a world that is all about over sharing and over stimulation. Quiet, alone time was essential to both of us as kids. It's still essential to us. I don't think kids are often allowed these days to do things alone—truly alone. Everything is always documented and shared. Music for Mister Moon is book about an introvert, made by two introverts. We hate to ever say what a books means, but at its core the book is meant to ask a question which is: can a thing have value if it isn't shared? 

What’s up next for you?

Our next book is actually the 10 year anniversary edition of A Sick Day for Amos McGee. It'll come in a nice, cloth slipcase and have some bonus content inside. After that I've (Phil) got a book called In My Garden. It's the first ever book that I've illustrated but not written. It was written by Charlotte Zolotow and originally published in the 1960s with illustrations by Roger Duvoisin. 

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators? 

Always be curious.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

PHIL: The Princess Bride

ERIN: Yes, definitely, The Princess Bride


Huge thank you to Phil and Erin for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited to see what you make next!


PHILIP AND ERIN STEAD are the author and illustrator of the 2011 Caldecott Medal Book, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. They have collaborated on many books together including Bear Has a Story to Tell, Lenny & Lucy, and most recently The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, a New York Times bestselling reimagining of an unfinished Mark Twain fairy tale. Philip and Erin live in northern Michigan. Someday Erin hopes to learn how to play the cello.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Erin and Philip, visit them online:

Erin Stead’s Website

Philip Stead’s Website

TO ORDER Philip and Erin’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of MUSIC FOR MISTER MOON?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 9th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author Sheri Dillard!