Book birthdays are always special…even more so when they are for author friends. And guess what? This author has more than one book launching today!!!
So please clear your throats and get ready to sing out for these beautiful books!
Forgive me…I couldn’t wait! I had to just splash them right up there!
Both books are illustrated by Suzie Mason and are published by Amicus, Ink and are part of the Little Animals Friends series.
And now that you’ve had a little time to enjoy these beautiful covers, please sit back and relax because author Julie and illustrator Suzie kindly agreed to stop by to chat with us…and have a piece of birthday cake, of course.
JULIE: Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday dear Littles,
Happy birthday to YOU!
Thanks for having us on your blog today, Vivian. I do love to sing, and it’s double the JOY when you have book birthday TWINS and can share the day with your incredible illustrator, Suzie Mason. It is very exciting to think that we are now publishing book 3 and 4 together.
SUZIE AND JULIE IN BOLOGNA
I think most of you know that the Little Animal Friends series started out with one little story. A very little story, in fact, as it was less than 50 words and was for your 50 Precious Words contest in 2016, Vivian. I was overjoyed and incredibly honored when you announced it as your top place story and kicked off my publishing journey.
But Little Tiger wasn’t keen to be an only book, so I wrote Little Panda. It was a very proud moment when the first two launched as board books last year.
When Amicus Ink asked for two new stories, I started to research animals again. So, let me tell you a little about my process.
I look through animal books, photos and videos and when something makes me go “Ahhhh” that often starts a story idea.
Each book is based on the principle that baby animals act just like our human little ones – all about action and exploring, and sometimes overstepping the line. The key is to find lots of action verbs to really ‘show’ what is going on and if those verbs can be specific to the animal that’s even better. I keep track of these verb pairs for all the books on an excel spreadsheet, that way I don’t repeat myself too much.
The books have a consistent structure, but each animal has its own adventure. They have a maximum of 80 words over the 10 spreads. The first line of each quatrain is fixed, Little Hippo, Little Monkey etc. Then each spread follows a similar pattern with the problem climax on spread 6 and Mama to the rescue on spread 7. I know that generally we aim for the protagonist to solve their own problem, but I felt that as young animals and children grow, they need a helping hand from time to time.
When I work on stanzas, the musicality is the driving force for me. The rhyme, rhythm and flow of the words must work to enable the story to be read aloud fluidly. I aim to create a songlike quality and finding the right words can take a long time! I often sing books with children and have a tune which fits the little books, but on a school visit I discovered that the children could rap these stories quite well too!! Oh, I wish I had taken a video!
Thank you so much for having me today, Vivian. And it’s over to Suzie…
For Julie’s books I like to have a really good grounding in the anatomy of the animal protagonist before I begin. The art style is simple and sweet, so the animals have to be very clear and understandable, especially as the target audience is the younger end of the children’s age groups. For Little Monkey I was lucky enough to be able to visit a zoo that had the chosen monkey species. I took a lot of reference photos – monkeys in all sorts of odd positions, interacting with each other, and especially in motion! Back at home I spent some time sketching these photos, trying to reduce the detail until I could draw the monkey with a simple outline and have him still be recognisable. The trickiest part was figuring out his snout and ears!
Once I have a style in mind I’ll draw up a couple of sketches of each spread based on Julie’s text. Sometimes the publishers ask me to include a certain setting or action, and sometimes it’s up to me to interpret the text from scratch. I have to ensure there is plenty of ‘blank’ space on each spread to incorporate the text, and to allow the animals to stand out and not get overwhelmed with background details. I send the sketches over and make any amendments where suggested, then when the publishers have picked their favourite sketches they’ll tell me where the text is going and I can start illustrating!
All my art is hand drawn in photoshop, so I’ll start with a white page with my sketch superposed over it, and fill in the different areas with colour piece by piece, using multiple layers. I use a lot of texture brushes to get a soft look, and only ever use pure black for the animals’ features, such as eyes and paw lines. When black is usually called for, such as the black fur of the monkeys, I use darker shades of other colours to keep the animals colourful and ensure their facial expressions are always easily readable. For example, Little Panda has purples, blues and pinks in his ‘black’ fur areas!
I use light and bright palettes, which I choose at the start, in order to bring a cohesiveness to the book. Each book has its own palette – when picking a colour for the scene I’ll first use one from that palette and then add others as needed to bring interest.
Once the scenes are all drawn, I send them to the publishers who will come back to request any changes. For example, for Little Monkey one of the spreads had two rounds of amendments – first to add more colour in the scene with extra plants and flowers, and then to bring in a blue sky to brighten the whole scene up. When the art is all approved, my portion of the work is done, and I don’t see anything else until a box of books shows up on my doorstep several months later! Seeing the books in real life with the art and text together is one of my favourite parts of this job.
Wow…thank you so much, Julie and Suzie. You just gave us a mini-workshop in writing and illustrating a board book!
To find out more about Julie:
Julie Abery is a children’s author and former Pre-K teacher. Originally from England, she has spent half of her life living in Europe, bringing up her three (now grown up) children and experiencing new languages and cultures. She now calls Switzerland home.
Julie’s debut board books Little Tiger and Little Panda illustrated by Suzie Mason, published in March 2019 with Amicus Ink. Little Hippo and Little Monkey joined the Little Animal Friends series in February 2020; a nonfiction picture book biography entitled Yusra Swims, Creative Editions, illustrated by Sally Deng in February 2020; a true story THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN, Kids Can Press (Fall 2020) and nonfiction picture book bio SAKAMOTO AND THE SUGAR-DITCH KIDS, Kids Can Press (Spring 2021).
She is represented by Essie White of Storm Literary Agency.
To learn more about Suzie:
Suzie was born and raised in a tiny village in Buckinghamshire, where she was always drawing and creating things. She then chose to pursue science by studying astrophysics at university, with no end game in mind for such an oddly-specific degree, and tried out events management before returning to academia. While searching for a creative outlet during her studies, she discovered and fell headlong in love with digital art. Now back in another tiny village, this time in Worcestershire, she is delighted to be able to spend her time drawing and creating things once again.
To learn more about Suzie and her wonderful books:
- Website: Www.suziemason.com
- Instagram: @waffleandbear
And that’s not all folks. Julie actually has ANOTHER book that launches today...YUSRA SWIMS (Creative Editions, illustrated by Sally Deng)
And we are not done yet! Please leave a comment and share on social media to be entered in the giveaway of a copy of LITTLE HIPPO or LITTLE MONKEY.
It’s been a busy month…the first half I spent in Chicago, doing school visits and bookstore events…and the second half I spent in Spain with my son and his family…today I fly home…and will be working hard on the #50PreciousWord International Writing Contest official post…I hope all of you have been working hard on your stories! I can’t wait to read your precious words!