PINCH ME SOMEBODY: Look Who Is Illustrating My New Picture Book!

I have good news to share.

Great news, in fact.

I have a new picture book coming out, titled All Welcome Here.

It was announced yesterday in a write-up in Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf:

Liz Szabla at Feiwel and Friends has bought North American rights to All Welcome Here by James Preller, illustrated by ____________, celebrating the first day of school and the beginning of a child’s new, diverse, and open-hearted community in a narrative composed of interconnected haiku. The book is set for spring 2019; Rosemary Stimola at Stimola Literary Studio negotiated the deal for both author and illustrator.

I deleted the illustrator’s name because I want you to guess.

I’ll wait.

Hum-dee-dum, dee-dum-dum.

Give up?

It’s possible that you know her work, but not her name.

And yes, that was a clue: she’s a she.

Here’s a hint:

 

hogwarts

Got it?

Really, not yet?

Surely I would have thought that . . .

Okay, here’s another:

 

c02--the-vanishing-glass

And one more:

 

gof_chp11

 

That’s right. I’m feeling blessed.

The great Mary GrandPre.

 

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My book is now our book.

Pinch me somebody.

More details, like the book itself, to come.

All Welcome Here, Macmillan, Spring 2019.

 

 

5 QUESTIONS with Matt Faulkner, creator of the graphic novel “Gaijin”

Today we visit with Matt Faulkner. His award-winning graphic novel, Gaijan, has never been more darkly relevant than it is today. It’s a good time for middle-grade readers to know this powerful story, and to become aware of this chilling, “round ’em up” period in American history. 

GAIJIN cover

Welcome, Matt, thanks for visiting my blog today. You might appreciate this: I first became aware of you with the publication of The Amazing Voyage of Jackie Grace in 1987. I loved that book –- so richly imagined and, I still think, an accurate depiction of a child’s imagination. Bath time has never been the same for me.

You’re very welcome. I’m happy to spend some time talking with you and happy, too, that we can share our conversation with your blog readers.

Oh, you mean Chet and Gladys? They’re awesome.

In regard to Jackie Grace, thanks, that’s very kind. It was my first author/illustrated book and only the second book I’d worked on. It was tremendously exciting to get that manuscript purchased and also very misleading to me. The misleading part was that I actually sold that manuscript to Jean Feiwel over the phone back in 1985. She really dug the illustrations I’d just done on my first book — a version of Jack and the Beanstalk — and was enthusiastic to get me moving onto another project. We started talking about blackrotarygif2Jackie Grace over the phone and she indicated that I’d have the contract if I just send in a few sketches. And that’s what happened. I can assure you, James, I’ve never sold a manuscript to anyone, ever again, over the phone.

Yet I keep expecting it to happen. My bad.

I agree, phones aren’t what they used to be. So you’ve been at this business a long time. I published my first book in 1986. I think we are all confronted with different ideas of success, but lately I’m most proud of simply having survived. You know, just hanging around all these years through the ups and downs. It can be a tough, cold business. As I recall the line from an old PW article, “children’s publishing is a bunny eat bunny” world. But we’re still alive and kicking.

Oh yes, survival is sweet.

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The fact is — for us to be here, doing what we started doing over thirty years ago is a victory. There have been more than a few times over the past 30 years that I wondered how in God’s name I was going to move forward — how was I going to make enough money, how was I going to stay inspired, how was I going to stay sane within the pressures of being a husband/father while working as a freelance author/illustrator (and all that that implies). So yes, to have this discussion right now — this is a good thing.

Congrats to the both of us.

Speaking of congratulations, I’m so impressed by your graphic novel, Gaijin, which I believe is not only a terrific book, it’s an important book. Tell us about the origins of that story. I gather it has personal significance for you.

 

GAIJIN 3

Thank you.

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War came from an experience I had as a child and from the experiences my relatives had during WWII. During the summer after fifth grade I read a bunch of books about children who’d survived the Holocaust. It just seems that the librarian who handed me the first book kept right on handing them to me when I’d complete one. Eventually, my mom placed a piece of paper with a name and address before me — a return address from an envelope. She told me that our family had been in a concentration camp in California.

 

Early character study, sketch, from GAIJIN.

Early character study, sketch, from GAIJIN.

I imagine that I was incredulous — after all, concentration camps were something horrible in Europe, not America. Not so, my mom said. She helped me to understand that my great aunt, Adeline, along with her daughter and grandchildren, had been placed in the Japanese American internment camp called Manzanar, during WWII. This was because Adeline, an Irish American, had married a gentleman of Japanese descent and hence, their children were part Japanese. At that time in America, this was enough to send a child to a prison camp in the desert.

At what point did you decide that this story would be best told as a graphic novel?

Fairly early in the process of developing the story I realized that the format of the graphic novel would help me best express the way I felt about the material.

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You didn’t begin your career as a graphic novelist. What attracted you to that medium?

Of late, I feel more and more that this — the graphic novel — is my medium. I don’t feel that I am in any way a rigorous student of this medium. However, I know that I tell stories best in a visual format. For me, a story flows far more readily when the images and text are free to roam across the landscape of the spread, as they can in a graphic novel. It’s far more film-like. The format feels more like the experience of watching a film and to me, creating the frame work of an imagined film for my readers is what I reach for in any book, but most especially in creating a graphic novel.

I can see that, and agree about the cinematic qualities.

It’s interesting that you mentioned my first author/illustrated picture book, Jackie Grace, because that was seen as a bit of a risk in 1986. Why? Because it didn’t follow the traditional picture book form and was, actually, a graphic novel for 6-to-8 year olds. This was kind of a big deal back then and I recall editorial discussions which addressed this risky thing — a graphic novel picture book. It was simply not done in 1985. However, it is done now. And I’m going to do as much of it as I possibly can in my allotted time.

When I look at many graphic novels, I often think, “Wow, that’s a lot of work.” Can you take us through to process of creating this book? How it began? How long it took?

GAIJIN 2

The idea for the Gaijin began to take a more concrete form following 9/11 when I started to hear the talk of various pundits who were advocating internment for another minority group, American Muslims. That pompous, paranoid talk got me to nail myself to my desk and begin the sketching. But it took another 9 years before Gaijin was sold to Disney/Hyperion and it wasn’t published till 2014.

The book was created in traditional materials — graphite, water color and gouache. I used a brown/blue palette (reminiscent of the olive drab and khaki uniforms) for scenes set in the day time. The hero’s dream sequences were created in a hot, acidic palette.

I spent a a good deal of time doing visual research — visited the sites of both the Tanforan and Manzanar internment camps etc., and created three variations of the sketch layout.

Wait, what?

Yes, that’s right, three separate layouts for the 130-page graphic novel. A little crazy, yes, but I think this was something that had to do more with my inexperience of creating a graphic novel than anything else.

 

Sample of an alternative sketch.

Sample of an alternative sketch.

 

It was fascinating how you introduced the news of Pearl Harbor. Koji and his mother don’t at first realize how it will affect them personally. But the next day they begin to learn, in ways large and small, that the world has changed.

From my research I learned that Pearl Harbor in 1941 simply wasn’t a place that every American was aware of the way it is today. There was so much that was left unexplained and therefore became the source of fear for both Japanese Americans and white Americans. It was important for me to express as best I could this sense of surprise, looming terror and dread.

GAIJIN 4

One thing that stood out for me in my research was learning that the racism as expressed by whites on the west coast toward Japanese Americans following Pearl Harbor was more than just a response to the attack. That racism was very old and very deeply rooted within California laws. There were many, many whites who were simply waiting to take advantage of the fear that the attack engendered and couldn’t wait for the removal of Japanese Americans so they could take possession of their farms, their homes and shops. From what I’ve learned, as much as it was about fear and racism, it was also greed that fueled the Japanese American internment.

That’s a great point, and I think it’s something we are seeing today. The old hatreds have existed all along, waiting for the right atmosphere in order to emerge. Like Voldemort’s followers, the Death Eaters, waiting for the signal in the sky. Suddenly it’s “safe” to haul out those repressed prejudices into the light of day. But my comments aside, I think you admirably refrained from imposing any obvious editorial judgments in your book. You let the story speak for itself.

Yes, I did try to refrain from inflaming what is already a hot issue. I didn’t think any editorial refinements or judgment on my part would do much to make the point any clearer. In short — we, as a nation, failed on a vast scale. We grossly mistreated over 120,000 people — half of whom were children — because of their race.

It’s shocking and heartbreaking that this moment in American history –- a troubled, dark, confusing time –- is still so relevant to today’s America. What are the lessons to be learned here, in your opinion?

GAIJIN 1

Lessons?

It’s best to keep it this simple: They’re all our children.

The Japanese American children which we, as a nation, imprisoned in Manzanar and over twenty-five other remote prison camps from 1942 till 1945 were all our children. Similarly, the Syrian child that drowned and whose body was photographed on that beach was our child, too. As a species, we are either going to accept and work with this reality or we’re going to continue to suffer.

Thank you for those thoughts, Matt. I know I asked a lot of you today, but only because I think we need to hear your voice now more than ever. What can we look forward to from you in the future? Have you got a new book in the works?

Thanks for asking. I’m currently working on illustrating a four picture book series about American ideas, ideals and people, written by Ruby Shamir and edited by Jill Santopolo at Philomel.

In addition, my agent, Abi Samoun of Red Fox Literary, is currently shopping two graphic novel ideas for me right now — one is called Burrito Fever, which tells the tale of the annual march of 10,000 crazed bunnies in search the perfect burrito.

The other story is about a young Japanese American who joins the army during 1944 and fights in France with the all Japanese American 442nd Combat team — the unit most decorated for it’s size in U.S. army history.

Again, thanks for inviting me to talk about my work with you, James. I wish you all the best with yours.

Authors and illustrators previously interviewed in my “5 Questions” series include: Hudson Talbott, Hazel Mitchell, Susan Hood, Matthew McElligott, Jessica Olien, Nancy Castaldo, Aaron Becker, Matthew Cordell, Jeff Newman, Matt Phelan, Lizzy Rockwell, Jeff Mack, London Ladd, John Coy, and Bruce Coville. To find past interviews, click on the “5 Questions” link on the right sidebar, under CATEGORIES. Or use the “Search” function. 

Coming soon: Elizabeth Zunon, Robin Pulver, Hannah Barnaby, and more.

Gavin, Baseball, Six Innings, Championship Games, etc.

RE-POST: This was originally posted back in August, 2010, and I’m sharing it again because winter is on the wane. My thoughts turn to baseball. Maybe yours do, too. I wanted to tell this little behind-the-scenes story to my baseball book, an ALA Notable, Six Innings. You might even want to buy a copy (who am I kidding?).

 

I don’t like to brag, but.

Look at this kid, will ya.

That’s Gavin, right around his 11th birthday, back in June/July. We endured a heartbreaking All-Star experience and I had to let time pass before revisiting it.

This year, along with my friend Andy, I coached a team of ten-year-olds in the District 13 All-Star Tournament. We played five games and found ourselves in the Championship Game — a scenario not much different than what I wrote about in the book, Six Innings (now in paperback).

As it turns out, that was the problem. Six innings. Would it were five.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Gavin really shined in this tournament, played the best baseball of his life. Pitched a shutout, fielded great, hit a ton. He was focused and he cared and somehow it all came together for him.

As a parent, you love ’em whether they strike out or hit a double. And let me tell you — it’s easier when they hit the double.

So there he was on the mound to start the Championship Game against our talented arch-rivals. It was a tense game, all the boys felt it, and nerves got the best of many of them. Both sides made errors. By the top of the 6th, we were on top, 10-6. Gavin had pitched with poise and determination, but after throwing five full innings and 75 pitches, the Little League maximum for boys his age, it was time to turn the ball over to someone else.

We had a four run lead. We needed three more outs.

paperback-cover-six-inningsNever happened. Our rivals exploded for 11 runs (!) in the 6th — it was the longest, most brutal inning of my coaching career — and we fell, 17-10, with an ignoble thud. Gavin was seriously bummed. For my part, I slept less than two hours that night. Just tossed and turned and replayed it all in my head, over and over. It was a week before I could walk without a limp.

When you write a book, you can get that last out, the boy can kiss the girl, you can pick any ending you want. Real life, that’s a tougher thing.

So let’s look at that scene from Six Innings one more time . . .

Max takes the sign, nods, understands. He wants me to climb the ladder.

One last time, Max Young is alone in his daydreams, throwing against an imaginary hitter in a game of his own invention. He is the author and the instrument, the pitcher and the ball, the beginning and the end.

Max rocks back into his windup, he drives forward, the ball leaves his fingertips, comes in high and hard and true.

Angel Tatis hits nothing but air. Swing and a miss.

That’s it. Game over.

Max drops to his knees, flings his glove high into the sky. All the boys rush the mound, shouting, screaming, piling on . . . .

Sigh.

The Truth Behind the Photo that Tricked the Internet into Hating on Kids Today

If you spend any time on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this 2014 photo, which periodically makes the rounds to disgusted clucks of disapproval.

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There it is, the end of the world as we know it. A metaphor for our times.

One thing we’ve learned about the internet, people love to pile on. It makes us feel better about ourselves. Read the comments under this photo when it is shared and you’ll find the overwhelming majority of people are appalled by “kids today.” This shot, for many people, represents all of society’s ills in a nutshell: this is why we’re going to hell in a handbasket. Those darn kids and their stupid phones!

And yet to me it never looked quite right.

Maybe that’s because I’ve spent time in schools, have teenagers of my own, or perhaps I’m just not so ready to believe the worst about this generation. In fact, I incline toward the opposite direction. I look at young people today and feel hope.

And I also believe in teachers — that they wouldn’t be so ready to allow students to stare vacantly at phones during an educational field trip to a museum. Right? That’s obvious, isn’t it?

Earlier this morning I saw that photo come around again. I typed out a quick response, but didn’t post my comment. Instead I saved it.

I had written this:

“My two cents: I’ve seen this photo before and I don’t like it. Very easy to shame these kids for using their phones, and the reality is we don’t know what’s going on here. It may be as bad as it looks, or something else entirely. They might be bright, thoughtful, intelligent, creative young people who are using those amazing computers in their pocket to enhance learning. They may even have been instructed to do after viewing the artwork. I know the idea here is to portray these students as brain-dead zombies and for us all to feel smug and superior about the younger generation. It doesn’t seem fair or accurate.”

I didn’t post those thoughts because these days I am trying to stop myself before unloading on innocent victims. But it did spur me to do some research, and I discovered this:

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It turns out that these students were, in fact, on a field trip. The museum allowed them to download a free app onto their phones — you know, those useful, instructive computers they carry around in their pockets.

Reports indicate that the students were active, engaged, inspired.

The lesson here is don’t be fooled by one photo.

And more importantly, don’t be so ready to judge.

You don’t want to be this guy:

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5 QUESTIONS with Bruce Coville, author of “Hatched”

 

Big day here at James Preller Dot Com. Nevermind the mess. Kick those balloons out of the way, pick the confetti out of your hair later. We’re thrilled for today’s visit from the nearly-legendary author Bruce Coville! Or should I say the impossibly prolific? The glistening-domed scribe? Words are so hard sometimes. Anyway, I’m glad to have Bruce here, an author of wit and wisdom and unfailing good cheer (so long as he doesn’t open a newspaper). 

Bruce Coville - credit Charles Wainwright

 

Bruce, welcome. I’m eager to discuss Hatched, the second book in your “Enchanted Files” series. I should let readers know that each title in the series is a stand-alone, they don’t have to be read in any order. Or at all, I suppose!

Hey, don’t let people off the hook that easily. Of course they should read them all!

I guess the literary term for this book is “epistolary,” in the broadest sense. Not limited to letters, but inclusive of documents, cell phone photos, newspaper accounts, journal entries, and so on: multi-textural. It’s a highly entertaining way to deliver a story. Tell me about what attracted you to this narrative device.

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Actually, I’ve been trying for some months now to remember how I first thought of it! I think what happened was that when I was working on the proposal for the first book in the series, which was originally titled Diary of a Mad Brownie (long story there!), I realized I had a lot of information I needed to convey that the main character would not put into his diary, for example things about his world that he would take for granted but that would not be common knowledge for a young reader. Once I started down that path, I realized what a good source of humor such documents could be, especially with ironic juxtapositions.

It seems like you are having fun. It comes through in the book. I can imagine you giggling to yourself as you typed.

Totally! When kids ask if I like writing, I always explain that there are days when my head feels like oatmeal, and I think the only way I can get something out of the keyboard is if I plant a geranium there.

Other days I’ll write something so fabulous it makes me laugh out loud and hug myself. Naturally, I have a lot more oatmeal days than I do scream and hug myself days. Thing is, you have to live through the oatmeal to get to the hugs.

Or something like that . . .

I think someone on the interwebs needs to create a meme right now with your face and the words, “You have to live through the oatmeal to get to the hugs.” Back to the book — the design is fresh, clean, and inviting. Fabulous covers, especially. As a hot-shot author, did you have input into that aspect of the publishing process?

In this case it’s rather a long story.

That seems to be a trend with you. Try to hurry it up, I rent by the column inch.

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The first book (born Mad Brownie, but called Cursed in paperback) got great reviews, but did not do as well as we had hoped. In retrospect, I think the title was all wrong for the audience. It made adults laugh, but mostly just baffled kids.

Random House, bless its collective heart, believed in the project enough that rather than drop it –- which some other publishers might have done -– they literally went back to the drawing board and came up with an entirely new look that everyone seems to love. (Which shows what I know; I thought the art for the first cover was great!)

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That original cover artist had actually already done a crackerjack cover for Hatched, but it was replaced with the cover you’ve seen, and quite rightly described as “fresh, clean, and inviting.”

Because of the “epistolary” aspect of the books, I have indeed been involved in the design aspects of the interiors, much more so than usual. Much discussion of typefaces has ensued. And the artist, Paul Kidby, has been wonderful at coming up with different illustration styles, as the documents are supposed to be from a wide variety of sources.

You’ve long been interested in the magical, fascinated by the fantastic, always with a healthy dose of humor and playfulness. Publishing trends may come and go, but that’s always been your sweet spot. You’ve been ahead of the times and you’ve been behind the times, inhabiting your own planet, yet always working away, doing your own thing. Writing Bruce Coville-type books.

As the great Popeye so often said, “I yam what I yam.”

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Where did that interest come from? Is it something that goes back to your childhood?

Oh, definitely. But, changing styles aside, I think the mix of a compelling story with goofy humor is something that all kids love, always. Whatever is currently in style has as much to do with publishers seeking the next big thing as it does with actual kids. Okay, that statement is less true for YA fiction, where there are definite trends and fads. But for a large subset of the 8–12 year audience fantasy, science fiction, and adventure –- all leavened with humor –- will never go out of style.

This may sound silly, since this is a book about an imaginary creature, but what kind of research went into it? You are writing within a tradition, after all. You can’t just make it up. Can you?

Oh, I do a vast amount of research for these books. Obviously studying the creature that will be at the center of the story is vital. And not just because you’re writing about a figure for which there is a lot of existing lore. The delicious side-effect is that the research actually sparks all kinds of plot ideas. A good example would be the armband worn by Alexander the Great that plays an important part in the resolution of Hatched. That whole strand of the story came about because in the initial research I learned that there is a story about Alexander harnessing a pair of gryphons in an attempt to reach the heavens.

But the research isn’t restricted to the magical aspects of the story. I needed a place for Gerald, the griffin, to stay where he could avoid being seen. Once I decided that the Catskills would be perfect for my purposes, I had to research the area and its lore.

And doing a backstory for the gnomes that are also key to the book led to studying some Dutch history. I was fairly amused when the translator working on the Dutch edition queried me about naming their colony New Batavia, since Dutch kids learn that Batavia was the original name for Jakarta. I was able to tell her in return that the reason that city was called Batavia to begin with was in honor of the Batavi, a tribe that led a revolt against Rome in the first century AD, and that in the 1500’s there was a movement (“The Batavian Revival”) to claim the tribe as the forebears of the Dutch people as part of a nation-building/myth-making effort.

Really, I become a fountain of useless information when I am working on something like this!

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It took you all the way to page five before your first “stinky fart” joke. I believe “unicorn poop” is mentioned on the same page. Get a hold of yourself, Bruce! How in the world are you going to win a Newbery with this kind of attitude?

Brief story: The late, great Paula Danziger was a close pal of mine. She once told me about a snot joke she had put in one of her Matthew Martin books. Her editor wanted her to take it out. Telling me about it, Paula said, “I told him it stays. And that’s why I’ll never win the Newbery!”

But she sure had a lot of readers!

Seriously, you are willing to go there. The facile answer is that you’ve never grown up. But I wonder if you have anything to say about the place of “low humor” in children’s literature? Besides uproarious laughter, you must have gotten a few complaints over the years.

Actually, I used to have an entire speech called “The Importance of Bad Taste in Children’s Literature.” The essence of it was that as a writer I believe you have to start where the child is, not where you want to take them.

urlLook, if you say to a kid, “This book provides a deep and meaningful meditation on the meaning of life, and will prove to be important to you and the person you are to become,” the kid’s response is likely to be “That’s nice, but I have an important video game to play.”  

But if you start the book with some slightly naughty humor, then catch them with the story, they will follow you anywhere. And that is when you can also provide something deeper and more meaningful. On the other hand, if you gain the gift of a child’s attention but don’t go on to also feed his or her heart, I count that as a failure.

I like that, Bruce, well said. If you gain the gift of a child’s attention . . . .

Another meme!

The book is built upon the relationship of Brad –- a human boy -– and a Griffin, Gerald Overflight. Obviously, characters from different worlds. You like to write about that nexis where the magical and the modern world come together.

Absolutely!

Tell us your thoughts about Brad. Are you an author who has it all mapped out beforehand, or are you discovering him as you write?

Oh, I was totally discovering Brad as I wrote. One day when I was only partway into the book the editor contacted me and asked for a description of Brad to give the cover artist. (This was before the style change.)

To be honest, describing the main character is not a strong point with me . . . I mostly like to leave room for readers to imagine themselves in the lead roles.

In Elmore Leonard’s classic phrase, you leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

But it is important for most covers. They asked if Brad could have dark hair and eyes, and maybe despite his Scottish heritage (something that later changed anyway) be not too fair-skinned.

My reply was that as far as I was concerned he could be black. I was being a bit flip. But that email exchange led to me deciding to make Brad of mixed race, which in turn helped make him a much richer and more interesting character in the final version.

Ah, that opens the door an entirely different conversation about diversity and representation in children’s books — a topic we can’t possibly due justice to today. Maybe we can tackle it another time. Because look: we made it through to the end without you jumping on a chair and screaming about Donald Trump. You’ve shown admirable restraint.

That’s because I’m tired of having to replace keyboards after I pound out a message that sets them on fire!

51SX43Um+qL._AC_UL320_SR216,320_BRUCE COVILLE was born, raised, and still lives in the Syracuse, New York, area, where he is king of all he surveys. He has written many books and enjoys visiting schools, because that’s where they keep the kids.

 

Authors and illustrators previously interviewed in my “5 Questions” series include: Hudson Talbott, Hazel Mitchell, Susan Hood, Matthew McElligott, Jessica Olien, Nancy Castaldo, Aaron Becker, Matthew Cordell, Jeff Newman, Matt Phelan, Lizzy Rockwell, Jeff Mack, London Ladd, and John Coy. To find past interviews, click on the “5 Questions” link on the right sidebar, under CATEGORIES. Or use the “Search” function. 

Coming soon: Elizabeth Zunon, Matt Faulkner, Robin Pulver, and more.