WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
I love getting to meet fellow kidlit people. A couple of years ago, I went to lunch with a local critique buddy and two of her author/illustrator friends. We had a lovely time, even though I felt a bit out of my depth because my artistic talent consists of stick figures standing on swirls of color and all of these ladies are gifted artists. One of these friends was Emilie Boon. And when I heard that Emilie had a new picture book coming out, I knew I wanted to feature it on Perfect Picture Book Friday as well as interview her here on Will Write for Cookies.
Emilie Boon is the illustrator or author-illustrator of more than twenty books for young children. She was born in the Netherlands and spent her childhood in California and Mexico. Emilie later went back to the Netherlands to study graphic design at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. She has always loved to draw, especially with crayons, which she still uses regularly. Emilie lives in the Boston area. To learn more about Emilie’s work please visit her website, tour her studio, or visit her on Instagram.
So, dear friends, you can see why I am excited for Emilie to stop by – she has so many books to her credit and and I know she plans to share some of her experiences with us AND show us some of the process using early sketches of her story!
But first I want to remind all of you to leave a comment at the end of the post because Emilie and her publisher are donating a copy of ELLA AND MONKEY AT SEA for a giveaway.
ME: Welcome, Emilie! We really appreciate you taking time to chat. By the way, congratulations on your new book. I wonder if your early experiences with books had a big influence on you. Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
EMILIE: Since I was born in Holland, my favorite book was in Dutch! It was a book of poems and nursery rhymes, originally titled Do Kola in Cezch, written by Petr Denk and illustrated by Adolf Zabransky. My beloved grandmother, Oma, gave me this book when I was two and I can just see myself sitting on her lap listening to the poems. The illustrations are so gorgeous that I have always cherished this book which is still on my bookshelf. I’m sure it inspired me years later to become an author and illustrator of children’s books. But before that, it inspired me at a very young age to love drawing, especially with crayons just like my main character Ella in Ella & Monkey at Sea. That story is based on my own childhood experience of emigrating from Holland to America via passenger ship when I was three.
Photo credit © Adolf Zabransky
After I arrived in America, I struggled to learn to read. My parents spoke Dutch at home and I ended up being the youngest in my first grade class. Maybe that’s why my favorite books in English were classic easy readers from the 60’s that inspired me to learn to read. I especially loved those written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman. Favorites were: Red Fish, Blue Fish, One Fish, Two Fish, Hop on Pop, Green Eggs and Ham, Are You My Mother? and Go Dog Go!, among many others. Once I learned to read I became a voracious reader!
Photo credit © Adolf Zabransky
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
EMILIE: It always surprises me how hard it is to write picture books and how much rejection is involved. I don’t think I would have wanted to know that when I first started! I certainly would have liked to know how helpful it is to have a critique group and how important it is to connect with fellow writers.
Something I like to tell young students when visiting schools, is how I first started writing and illustrating. I was living in London right after graduating from art school and an editor I visited loved my illustrations. She especially liked a little character I had in my portfolio and asked if I could write a story about him. I told her I wasn’t sure if I could do that (I was very honest!). She suggested that I create a wordless book, and that’s what I did. In the end we decided to add words and named the character “Peterkin”. Since I had created the story with pictures, the writing followed more easily. So for me, many times images and pictures come before words. Often I first create an illustration, which in turn inspires the writing. That can be a helpful way for young elementary school students to start their writing, too. Start with the pictures and the writing will follow naturally.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
EMILIE: Since I am also an illustrator I’m lucky to have a small but lovely studio in an old mill where I draw and paint, mostly with watercolors. You can take a tour here. (http://www.emilieboon.com/studio-tour). But when it comes to writing, my favorite place is in bed at home. It sounds a little indulgent but I like to trick my unconscious into staying relaxed to keep it playful and fun. I usually start with pen or pencil in a notebook so I can sketch a little, as well. Then I move over to a laptop. When I’m in the editing stage, I usually switch to my couch or desk at home or at my studio. Similarly, when I start a project as an illustrator, I also try to let myself just play with lines and color. It’s helpful not put too much pressure on myself in the initial creative stage. That’s why at my studio I have two desks, one for sketching and painting, the other for digital work.
Regarding ELLA AND MONKEY AT SEA, all of the character sketches and artwork were created months before I wrote the story. In between developing the character and writing the story, I took a trip to Holland where I visited the original ship I sailed on! You can read about it and see a few photos on my website here.
Looking back at my sketchbook, I’m surprised at how early on the suitcases appeared in my drawings. They made it all the way to the final cover and hint at the narrative to come.
Notice how Ella and even Monkey changed in the sketches below, all done in quick succession.
Very first sketches for “Ella” in my sketchbook
First “Ella” with pigtails and suitcases
Experimenting with emotion and character
“Ella” the final character appears only a few pages and days after the first sketches
© Emilie Boon 2018
The final color character piece that caught the attention of my editor at Candlewick
© Emilie Boon 2018
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
EMILIE: Morning is my favorite time. But I’ll take any time the muse strikes, and I’m perfectly happy to spend a whole afternoon or evening writing!
ME: Why do you write for children?
EMILIE: Children are my favorite people. I love how open, curious and full of wonder they are. Before I had children of my own and before I had the opportunity to regularly visit students at elementary schools, I probably created books solely for my inner child. Maybe I still do. But now I also have a better understanding of children. I feel inspired by the experiences I had with my own children, as well as from encounters with the wonderful young people with whom I interact at schools. Because I love books and I’m young at heart, creating books for children is the most satisfying thing I can do.
ME: And your books are so beautiful, my friend. You put your heart into each one! Do you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring authors or illustrators?
EMILIE: Picture book writing can be like a puzzle. All the pieces have to fit together. It can be frustrating at times, to be sure, but it can also be fun! Try and stay playful and open. Listen to your characters and what they want. A blank page in front of you before writing or sketching can feel overwhelming but it’s also exciting! There’s a little magic in there along with all the hard work. Enjoy the process, from generating ideas to editing over and over again. Keep at it… but also know when it’s time to put a story aside if it just isn’t working and let something new reveal itself to you. Let your imagination take flight and trust it!
ME: This has been wonderful, Emilie. We are all cheering for everything you have shared with us. Seeing the actual process the illustrations go through is extremely helpful, not only for other illustrators, but for all of us writers!
EMILIE: Thanks so much, Vivian! It’s been fun stopping by! And I have a special treat to share with you.
I love this recipe for meringue nut cookies because it uses only 3 ingredients and allows the baker to be creative while still having a foolproof recipe. Pecans are one of my favorite choices. Have fun experimenting because these cookies are simple and delicious every which way!
Emilie’s Meringue Nut Cookies
1 egg white
½ cup sugar
¾ cup nuts of your choice––salted or unsalted.
If using small nuts like peanuts or pine nuts, they can be left whole. For larger nuts, chop into medium pieces, not too tiny.
- Heat oven to 325º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Beat egg white until stiff with a hand mixer. Slowly beat in sugar to make a meringue. The egg whites will become opaque and shiny. Fold in the nuts.
- Drop the meringues by the teaspoon full onto the paper-lined baking sheet. Bake 45 minutes. Turn oven off and leave cookies in for another 15 minutes. Cool before serving. Cookies can be stored in an airtight tin or plastic bag between layers of wax paper for up to a week.
Makes 2- 2 ½ dozen cookies
Dear friends, this looks amazing! Honestly, inviting my guests to share their favorite recipes is dangerous…so much temptation for me to be baking, and then eating, these yummy treats. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend…filled with all sweetness…and maybe even a few of Emilie’s cookies!
Please make sure to leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway. And remember that the greatest gift we can give our favorite authors is to buy their books, review their books, and tell our libraries and friends about their books.