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Book Reviews

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author/Illustrator Jen Betton

publishing, Illustrators, Book Reviews, book release, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward4 Comments
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Happy Thursday Critters! Today, I’m thrilled to share an interview with Jen Betton, the debut author and illustrator of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG. I met Jen while we were both in school at Syracuse. I was working towards my BFA in Illustration when I took an intro class on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, taught by Jen, who was an MFA Illustration student at the time. Adobe Illustrator is actually the only program that I use when I work digitally…which I have Jen to thank for. I’m not sure I would have learned it otherwise. Thanks Jen!

I'm so excited to share Jen’s work with you all today, and I’m sure you’ll see why. Her watercolors are GORGEOUS! And she has this tremendous ability capturing light….I’m a huge fan of her work and I hope you will all go out and read HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG!

So without further ado…please welcome Jen Betton!

Where do you live?

I recently moved to the Dallas area, so I’m still getting connected with the Kid Lit community here.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I always loved picture books; I never really grew out of them. It just took a while to give myself permission to pursue it because I thought I needed to do something more practical! I loved painting and I loved stories, so creating picture books was a natural combination of those loves.

Tell us about your debut book as an author and illustrator?

HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG is the first book I’ve written as well as illustrated! It is about a Hedgehog who feels down in the snout and droopy in the prickles and so goes looking for a hug, but other creatures don’t want to get close to his spines! Fortunately, he finds someone else who is feeling the same way. 

 I came up with this story while I was brainstorming story ideas that involved animals who have a physical characteristic that is at odds with what they want. I love stories where the character has a goal that inherently creates conflict!

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One thing that helped me figure out my story structure was understanding the heart of the story. This is the essential, core theme of the story, beneath the surface-level action. I was brainstorming the ending and I had to decide how Hedgehog would finally get his hug. Hedgehog could have hugged another hedgehog (someone just like him) or a turtle (someone who would not be hurt) but I had an “aha” moment where I understood that empathy was important to the story, and I quickly realized that Hedgehog needed to give Skunk a hug.

Can you share a bit about your process?

If I’m writing the story, then I start with an outline. I really have to get the structure of the story right, and the first draft is almost in bullet points. After that I might start weaving small thumbnail sketches into a storyboard while concurrently revising my manuscript. After I have the basic story arc hammered out, I keep writing, tweaking, polishing. At the same time I’m working on the storyboard with rough sketches, trying to get the composition, the page turns, the expressions right. I try to not to get too far into the drawings until the manuscript is fairly firm, because it’s like working a Rubik’s Cube – every change affects every other part of the puzzle. 

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Next, I start working on finished drawings. For this stage I usually gather a lot of reference materials, sometimes getting friends to pose for photos or taking a trip to the zoo. Then I’ll do some color studies. After all those steps are approved by the art director, I’ll start on the finished paintings. I transfer the drawings to my illustration board, and then I jump in with watercolor. After I’ve taken the painting as far as I can, I’ll often add a bit of colored pencil or pastel for details. Once it is scanned, I’ll touch it up a little bit in Photoshop. 

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

Inspiration, community, and perspiration! I get inspired by both books and people. Reading the beautiful books that others have created and seeing how they solved problems teaches me a lot. I find conferences to be energizing - rubbing shoulders with creative pals. My imagination also responds well to discipline, so participating in Storystorm or checking in with critique buddies for some accountability really helps me. And sometimes it’s really helpful to just do something for fun without expectations of how it will turn out. 

Any art supplies you can't live without?

Strathmore 500 Illustration board. Totally different way to watercolor, and I love it! 

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Favorite authors/illustrators?

Soooo many!! John Singer Sargent’s watercolors are stunning. I love Trina Schart Hyman, Min Ji Kim, Lizbeth Zwerger, Christian Birmingham, Scott Gustafson, Greg Manchess. A couple newer illustrators I love are Jessica Lanan and Corinna Luyken. 

Dream project or book to work on?

Something with a sense of wonder or otherworldliness, like Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers or The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe.

What's up next for you?

I’ve been working on a new story, called ANITA’S FLOWERS, which is about perseverance, failure, friendship, and finding your gift. Hopefully it will be ready to submit soon!

I’ve also been working on some goodies for HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG: coloring pages, an activity kit, bookplates, etc. There is also a teacher’s guide by Marcie Colleen. You can download them here. 

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

Princess Bride and Adventures in Babysitting


Jen Betton loves to draw and make up stories with her pictures. In Kindergarten she got into trouble for drawing presents on a picture of Santa, and she has been illustrating ever since. She wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, published with Penguin-Putnam, and she illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion.

She has a BA in English, and a BFA and MFA in Illustration. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two children.

For more information about Jen Betton and her books, visit her online at www.jenbetton.com or follow her on Twitter: @JenBetton.

TO ORDER a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, September 20th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Craft Post.

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Marcy Campbell

Authors, book release, Book Reviews, publishingLindsay Ward3 Comments
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I was lucky enough to meet Marcy Campbell a couple years ago at the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, Ohio. I was participating as an author/illustrator when Marcy walked up and introduced herself. She told me how she'd just signed with an agent and they'd recently sold her first picture book, ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE. It's funny because at the time, I remember getting a feeling that the book she was describing was going to be special, different, maybe even make a mark. And I was right. It's been wonderful to watch the word spread about this book. It has gained incredible buzz. In addition to Marcy's wonderfully powerful text (I cried the first time I read it), the illustrations are by the extremely talented Corinna Luyken, whose debut picture book last year, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, was my absolute favorite of the year. Needless to say ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE is a must read!

I'm incredibly honored to interview Marcy and thrilled for you all to hear about her stunning, poignant, and extremely relevant debut picture book: ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE.

So without further ado....please welcome Marcy Campbell!

Where do you live?

Wooster, Ohio.

When did you know you wanted to make picture books?

I’ve always been a writer, since my preschool years when I taped books of my pictures together, but I was never encouraged to pursue it as a “career” and so I did other things first, primarily marketing and public relations. I finally decided to take the leap and got a graduate degree in creative writing. I wrote strictly for adults, however, and after publishing a bunch of short stories, started working on what I’d hoped would be a great literary novel. Then, I became a parent and filled my home with picture books. I think any writer, after spending a lot of time with a certain type of book, will entertain the thought of writing those books. Still, it took me quite awhile to set aside my adult novel projects. I kept a list of picture book ideas and kept adding to it. Then, one rainy afternoon, I was sick and tired of editing my novel, and I opened that idea file and got to work on Adrian. It felt right almost immediately. I won’t say that writing for kids is any easier than for adults (and in many ways, it’s more difficult), but it feels natural, like what I’m supposed to be doing.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I have a very different process for picture books versus novels (I just finished drafting a middle grade.) I’m very methodical about novels and have all sorts of steps throughout the phases of outlining, drafting and revising, but so far, my best picture book ideas have come in a moment of inspiration and were written pretty quickly. I think about the idea for awhile and jot down some notes, but then I wait for that moment when I hear the voice in my head and have a sense of the story’s arc. The writing can then happen in a day. After that, I’ll sit on it for a few weeks, revisiting, tweaking individual lines. I’ve found that the picture book drafts that took me a long time to write tend to not work out in the end. Of course writing processes are very different for each writer, and even different for the same writer across different types of books. It can take some experimentation to find what works best.

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

Nothing beats surrounding myself with a stack of new books. When I’m in idea generation mode, I’ll be at the library a lot, and you’ll see towering stacks of picture books on my coffee table. Inevitably, something grabs me and turns me onto a new idea. I also find that long walks in the woods help a great deal (for many maladies, not just a lack of book ideas). I like to clean or paint (walls and furniture, not canvases) or rearrange things in my house, anything that keeps my hands busy while letting my mind wander. When I’m coming up with ideas, I have a spotless house! When I’m finishing a manuscript…not so much.

Anything you can't write without?

I’m pretty adaptable in terms of location. I write nearly everything on my laptop, so I’m kind of lost without that, though I’ve certainly been known to jot down ideas on scraps of napkin in a pinch. The most important thing to my writing, and general well-being, is a great cup of coffee.  

Favorite authors/illustrators?

Oh gosh, such a hard question. I will say that the picture book that I found most inspirational while writing ADRIAN was Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson’s Last Stop on Market Street. There are so many fabulous picture book authors and illustrators out there, and, having entered the kidlit world kind of late, I’m discovering new ones every week. Jacqueline Woodson’s books have really touched me. When I want some fun, I love Mac Barnett and Bob Shea and Ame Dyckman (especially her work with Zach O'Hora, whose illustrations I love). Lane Smith is a perennial favorite of mine. I’m certainly partial to Corinna Luyken’s illustrations (and I loved her before she did my book, so I’m only a little bit biased). I’m beyond fortunate to be working with her. The most recent picture book I can’t put down (from both a text and illustration perspective) is Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

Tell us about your debut book. What inspired you to write it?

I did know a boy when I was a kid who said he had a horse, but he said he had a lot of things, and his family seemed to be doing well financially, so there was probably some truth to his boasting. I remember, however, that I thought he was lying about the horse in particular. That childhood memory became one line in a list of picture book ideas I started keeping after having my own kids. “Boy says he has a horse and girl doesn’t believe him.” One rainy afternoon, I was struggling with a rewrite of an adult novel and decided to try my hand at a picture book. Chloe's voice came to me quite clearly, and the story took off from there. Over the last few years, I’ve put in a lot of time volunteering at my kids’ public elementary school, which has a high percentage of children with economic need, and I believe those experiences helped shape the story beyond just a couple of kids arguing about a horse and toward issues of class and empathy.

Dream project or book to work on?

That’s a tough one. Thankfully, my dream book is usually the one I’m working on right now. I do think it would be fun to collaborate on some kind of science series with my husband some day (he’s a biologist).

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

Hands down, Back to Future (the first one; I don’t care much for the sequels). I had a huge crush on Michael J. Fox, and there was a year where my friends and I were listening to all this old 50s and 60s music for some reason. It hit all the right buttons. I still get chills when he’s playing “Earth Angel” at the dance, and his parents kiss, and his hand reappears.

Thank you Marcy for chatting with us today! Wishing you heaps of success with your stunning debut and future projects!


Marcy Campbell lives in Ohio with her family and menagerie of rescued pets. Her writing for adults has been published widely in journals and magazines, including Salon. She grew up on a farm filled with cows, chickens, cats, and dogs, but she never had a horse. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse is her debut picture book.

For more information about Marcy Campbell and her books, visit her online at www.marcycampbell.com or follow her on Twitter @marcycampbell.

TO PURCHASE A COPY of ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE visit your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 23rd! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author + illustrator Betsy Snyder!

Book Reviews | August 2018

Recommended Reading, Book ReviewsLindsay WardComment

Welcome to Critter Lit Book Reviews! The first Thursday of every month Critter Lit will review two newly released, outstanding picture books.

So without further ado, Critter Lit's picks for August 2018:

Drum roll please....

Alma by Juana Martinez-Neal

Published by Candlewick, April 2018

I love everything about this book. The words. The story. The art. Everything. This book just makes you feel good when you read it. It's one of the few books that I've actually hugged after reading.

Meet Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela. Alma thinks her name is too long. "My name is so long, Daddy. It never fits."

Alma's father grabs a family photo album and sits down with Alma to explain the origins behind her beautifully long name. Alma meets Sofia, Esperanza, Jose, Pura, and Candela, learning that she shares something with all of them. But Alma-- that's a name all her own.

This book beautifully celebrates what it means to be proud of who you are and where you come from. I can't think of a more important book to share with our kids right now.

ALMA is Juana Martinez-Neal's debut picture book as an author and illustrator. And what a stunning book it is. Definitely a favorite this year.

For more information on Alma click here. Or to learn more about Juana's work, visit her online at www.juanamartinezneal.com or follow her on Twitter @juanamartinez.

Look by Fiona Woodcock

Published by Greenwillow Books, July 2018

LOOK literally asks you to look at it, how clever is that?! And it makes me happy every time I do. The colors, style, and creative approach are composed together in such a charming, accessible way, that this book is fun for any reader.

LOOK begins with two siblings waking up for the day before heading to the zoo with their mom. Each word used in the text is a double-letter word. The sibling's day is filled with animals, encounters, and objects that all contain a double "o": zoom, zoo, kangaroo, scoop, shampoo, book, moon, beginning and ending with "look."

I was so impressed by the creativity and cleverness of this book. Initially, I thought this book would be a concept book only, simply listing double-letter words. But Fiona Woodcock weaves a story into the concept seamlessly. Each page felt like a wonderful surprise. My favorite page includes panda bears that "boogie." Bonus...Fiona's last name has a double "o" too. 

Oh and did I mention the art was created using BLO pens?! Growing up in the 90s, this warmed my heart. In case you aren't familiar with BLO pens, click here. You're welcome.

For more information on Look, click hereOr to learn more about Fiona's work, visit her online at www.fionawoodcock.com or follow her on Twitter @FionaWoodcock.

Book Reviews | July 2018

Recommended Reading, Book ReviewsLindsay WardComment

Welcome to Critter Lit Book Reviews! The first Thursday of every month Critter Lit will review two newly released picture books, representing two categories: WORDS and PICTURES, that are especially worth while and must reads. So without further ado, Critter Lit's picks for July 2018:

Drum roll please....

W O R D S

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We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Published by Disney-Hyperion, June 2018

So I'm already pretty partial to orange dinosaurs, but I knew this book would be a keeper even before I had the chance to read it, simply because the title is so great. WE DON'T EAT OUR CLASSMATES is the newest book from author/illustrator extraordinaire, Ryan T. Higgins. We are big fans of the MOTHER BRUCE books in this house, so I had pre-ordered this book ages ago. But it wasn't until it arrived in the mail recently, that I finally got the chance to take a peek....

Meet Penelope Rex. A small(ish), orange, adorable T. Rex who is about to start school. And like most kids, she's pretty nervous about it.

"Penelope's mom bought her a new backpack with ponies on it. Ponies were Penelope's favorite. Because ponies are delicious."

"Penelope's dad packed her a lunch of three hundred tuna sandwiches and one apple juice."

The big day arrives, and it turns out Penelope's class is filled with...CHILDREN! And Penelope loves children. Because children are delicious. But we don't eat our classmates, right? Well, Penelope does, which makes it that much harder to make friends. Soon, all of Penelope's classmates are afraid of her. So she decides to befriend the class pet, who just might give her a dose of her own medicine. Hilariously written, with spot on pacing, this book is a must have for any library or picture book collection. Not to mention the art is great, as always, with any Higgins book. A perfect back to school read aloud.

Click here for more information on We Don't Eat Our Classmates

P I C T U R E S

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Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Published by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, April 2018

This is quite possibly the most beautiful book that Sophie Blackall has done. Which I realize is saying a lot because she's already won the Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie, but this is hands down my favorite.

I've been a huge fan of Blackall's illustrations since being introduced to them as a bookseller with the Ivy & Bean series. She has created such an amazing body of work as an illustrator, but HELLO LIGHTHOUSE is simply stunning. Blackall has taken everything into account when creating this gorgeous book, from the art itself to the trim size, which reflects the height of a lighthouse. The entire book is masterfully crafted together. I especially loved her use of patterns to emote the feeling of the ocean as the story progressed and the circular spot illustrations to recreate the intimate setting of a lighthouse.

But the page where she shows the lighthouse in the fog is on a whole other level. The delicacy of the line work and feeling that she creates is so incredibly lovely. This book made me feel nostalgic, lonely, happy, and sad all at once. HELLO LIGHTHOUSE is a wonderful look at a job and the life of a lighthouse keeper that has been lost to technology. A must own for any picture book collection. If you haven't done so make sure you spend some time with this beautiful book.

Click here for more information on Hello Lighthouse

Book Reviews | June 2018

Recommended Reading, Book ReviewsLindsay WardComment

Welcome to Critter Lit Book Reviews! The first Thursday of every month Critter Lit will review two newly released picture books, representing two categories: WORDS and PICTURES, that are especially worth while and must reads. So without further ado, Critter Lit's picks for June 2018:

Drum roll please....

W O R D S (or I suppose in this case, word)

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Dude! by Aaron Reynolds, Illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Roaring Brook Press, April 2018

Dude, this book is awesome! Seriously. The entire story is told using just one word. Which is kinda crazy when you think about it, but totally works. For those of you obsessing over your picture book word count, pay attention! AARON REYNOLDS DID IT WITH ONE WORD!

Dude! is a wonderful read aloud because it relies on the inflection of the reader's voice and delivery. I found myself laughing out loud at each page turn, while reading with my two-year-old, curious as to where the story was headed. Oh, and did I mention it's illustrated by Dan Santat? No biggie. I've always loved Santat's animals, in this case a platypus, a beaver, and a shark. He does such a wonderful job bringing their personalities to life. The added element of surprise with the shark is also well done.

There have been a batch of new shark books that have recently come out, but this may be my favorite. Highly original and funny!

Click here for more information on Dude!

P I C T U R E S

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The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler

Published by Balzer + Bray, January 2018

I absolutely LOVE the art in this book. It's stunning. I poured over each page, soaking up every detail Joseph Kuefler had to offer in his illustrations. The story is simple and lovely, with a touch of Ferdinand. Kuefler juxtaposes hard, cold, modern machinery with nature, specifically a delicate flower, all the while creating a character as warm and friendly as the digger in his story. Although the art is graphic in nature, Kuefler provides rich textures, shapes, and a sound palette, adding tremendous depth to the art. Bonus: it has a digger in it, so it will go over well with the kiddos.

Click here for more information on The Digger and the Flower