Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Q&A with Sue Rama, illustrator of "Daddy Adventure Day"

It was such a thrill to finally have the book launch party for my picture book "Daddy Adventure Day" last Friday. It's been a long time since I wrote the story, so to see it brought to life by illustrator Sue Rama has been extra rewarding. It's quite difficult to describe the experience of seeing your story actually illustrated for the first time. It's truly a thrill.

Most people assume the writer and illustrator collaborate throughout the process, but that isn't how it works. Typically, the book arrives at the writer's doorstep fully illustrated, so opening that envelope is one of the most exciting parts of being an illustrator. I was lucky to have someone as talented and as insightful as Sue Rama to find the sweetness and humor in my little story. Here's an interview with Sue about the book and her life and career as an illustrator.

1.) How many books have you illustrated? How long have you been illustrating children’s books?
I've been illustrating children's books for five years, and I have illustrated 16 books.

2.) Have you always been a good artist? For example, were you the best drawer in your first grade class?
Yes, I was always drawing. My older sister and I used to write and illustrate stories on our long bus ride to school when I was in kindergarten and first grade. My mom sent me for piano lessons, but after a few months my piano teacher showed my mom my piano books covered in drawings and gently suggested that perhaps art lessons might be a better idea! I think it is REALLY important that everybody pay attention to the special gifts that children have and nurture them.

3.) What can you draw best? People? Animals? Cars? Monsters?
People, definitely. I'm not real fond of straight lines. I used to draw
storyboards for commercials, and I was told that my soft-sided cars
looked like there were blown up, like balloons.

4.) What is the hardest thing for you to draw?
A proper ellipse, like the opening of a jar or a coffee cup. They should
always be more narrow then I think they should be.

5.) As an illustrator, what did you like best about the story in “Daddy Adventure Day?”
The understated humor in the dialogue, absolutely.

6.) What was your biggest challenge in illustrating this book?
Casting… that is, figuring out what the characters should look like. I
got so frustrated trying to cast the dad that I finally prayed to be
shown. Seriously! The next day I came across a photo of some sweet guys
I know from Brooklyn and I thought, eureka! That's it. Kinda big, but
sweet and easygoing! In the end I combined those Brooklyn guys with a
bit of my Uncle Donnie from Queens.

7.) If you had to pick just one, which illustration is your favorite?
Probably the kitchen scene, where the boy is giggling because he hid
Dad's paper. I like the contrast between him and his grumpy dad.

8.) Did you ever go on a Daddy Adventure Day with your dad?
I don't remember one. But I do remember being really mad when my dad
took my older sister—who was seven—to Ebbets Field for a Brooklyn
Dodger's game, and left me home because he thought I was too young. I
think that might have been the angriest day I had as a kid.

9.) Where do you live?
I'm in the middle of moving from Connecticut to Hampton Beach, New
Hampshire. I'm looking forward to living by the ocean.

10.) Which sport is your favorite to watch? Which sport is your favorite to play?
I like to watch soccer and baseball. My favorite sport to play is racing
sailboats, but I haven't done that in quite a while.

If you'd like to see more of Sue's work, visit her newly redesigned website.
To order your copy of "Daddy Adventure Day," visit the book's Amazon page.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Q&A with illustrator of "Bobby Bramble Loses His Brain"

I couldn't be more proud of my picture book "Bobby Bramble Loses His Brain," in large part because of the absolutely awesome illustrations by David Clark. Here's an interview with David that gives you some interesting insights into his life and how he approached the task of illustrating a story about a kid whose brain has run off.

1.) Were you always the best artist in your class in elementary school?
I tried to be. I actually chaired the art committee in my elementary school, which I had no political talent for. I think I was impeached. I just wanted to draw.

2.) Did you go to art school? If so, where?
Yes, I went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, one of the oldest art schools in America. Ben Franklin was one of the founders and a heck of nice guy, too!

3.) Had you drawn many brains before doing this book? Did you have to study brains before you got started?
I’ve drawn a few brains in the past for cartoons in magazines. I did do some research on brains and a lot of sketching. This time I tried to stylize Bobby’s brain more than usual in an attempt to give it a little more personality.

4.) Do you have kids and do you ever draw with them?
Yes, I have three kids, and they seem to be in my studio all the time, drawing, painting, and generally making a mess!

5.) What’s your favorite thing to draw?
I love drawing people and animals…and, of course, MONSTERS!

6.) How many books have you illustrated? What’s the hardest thing about being a children’s book illustrator?
I’ve illustrated more than twelve books. Waiting to hear what the publisher thinks of the finished art is probably the hardest part—it’s very nerve-racking!

7. Was illustrating Bobby Bramble Loses His Brain fun? Was he a fun character to draw?
I can honestly say it was one of my favorite books to illustrate and read. Bobby was loads of fun to draw, with or without a brain (by that I mean Bobby’s brain, not mine!).

8. Weren’t you worried about drawing a brain with legs and a kid with an empty head?
For your information, the legs were actually a mutated part of the brain called the medulla oblongata. (Hey, it’s possible.) And as for the empty head, no one is perfect!

9.) What’s your favorite drawing in Bobby Bramble Loses His Brain?
I kind of like the Hamlet/Poor Yorik pose on pages 28-29, when Bobby holds up his brain and considers it. But that’s just today’s favorite; tomorrow’s might be different.

10. Have you written any children’s books?
No, but I have tons of ideas. It’s not as easy as you would think. I have immense respect for what Dave Keane can do.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Q&A with "Sloppy Joe" author Dave Keane. Uh... that's actually me!

Last week I blogged an interview with Denise Brunkus, the illustrator of my picture book "Sloppy Joe." Well, I thought it only fair that I share the interview I did for "Sloppy Joe." Not to toot my own horn, but this is good comedy.

1.) Are you as messy as Sloppy Joe?
Well, I think “messy” and “sloppy” are really two different things. Messy means you make messes everywhere. Sloppy can mean a lot of things: you’re careless, or unorganized, or not striving for perfection—even having poor penmanship is considered sloppy. So to answer your question: I am sloppy and messy.

2.) Who inspired you to write this character?
Well, I grew up with six brothers, so there were seven rowdy boys in the Keane house. And let’s just say we weren’t famous for being tidy. My poor mom! There were dirty socks, empty glasses, and toys everywhere. Sometimes she’d say in frustration, “I’m raising a pack of wolves!” I think that was rather unfair to wolves everywhere.

3.) Why does Sloppy Joe love to catch frogs?
When I was a boy, all the kids in my neighborhood would ride their bikes to the creek near our elementary school and catch frogs. Lots of frogs. And tadpoles, too. We’d bring them home by the dozens in coffee cans and try to catch bugs and worms to feed them. We’d eventually get distracted, so they’d hop away. No surprise that my street had a ginormous frog population.

4.) Did you have a bearded dragon, too?
Nope. Always wanted one though. I had an aquarium with fish, I had red-eared slider turtles, and a hamster. I borrowed my friend’s snake once, but I lost it in the house at some point—but DON’T tell my mom, she still lives in that house! Today, my own family has a dog, a guppy that seems to be starving all the time, and a tortoise that seems very wise and very bored at the same time.

5.) Did you try to help your dad around the house like Sloppy Joe?
Ha! That’s a good one. Never. When it was time for chores, we hid. I usually climbed all the way to the top of a tree and ditched. My brothers and I would do just about anything to get out of chores, even scrambling out the window when we heard our parents shout, “Time for chores, boys!”

6.) Sloppy Joe likes grilled cheese sandwiches. Do you? What’s you’re favorite sandwich in the whole wide world?
Well, occasionally I’ll chow down a grilled cheese sandwich with my kids, but it’s not on my Top 10 Sandwiches list. My favorite sandwich? Pizza. Okay, I know that’s not officially in the sandwich category, but I fold each slice over when I eat it, so it sorta looks like a sandwich. What can is say, I LOVE pizza!

7.) So do you burp, and slouch and put your elbows on the table at the dinner table like Sloppy Joe?
Of course. Why wouldn't I? Next question.

8.) What inspired you to write Sloppy Joe?
Well, I talked with my editor, Margaret Anastas, about this book quite a bit. We agreed that the character had to be sort of the “anti-girlie-girl.” Most importantly, I wanted to write a book that was funny. I wanted the main character to be sloppy, but basically well-meaning. Most boys aren’t all cute and buttoned-up, like you see in movies and read about in books. They laugh at their burps, leave their shoes on the stairs for everyone to trip over, and they’re experts at making farting noises with their armpits, which is exactly the spirit I was trying to capture.

9.) What’s your favorite part in Sloppy Joe?
My favorite part in the book is when his friend’s mom won’t let Sloppy Joe come in their house. That’s a true story about one of my friend’s mom. I also used that same idea in my Joe Sherlock chapter book series: Lance Peeker’s mom never lets Joe Sherlock come into their house, which Joe Sherlock thinks is totally odd. All the weird stuff that happens in your life is useful when you’re a writer!

10.) What was the best part about writing this book?
Getting to meet and become friends with the book’s illustrator, Denise Brunkus. She’s hilarious. And when we weren’t talking about Sloppy Joe, she was giving me advice on the book I was illustrating at the time, called “Monster School.” She was a big help! And she’s a big crack up, too. I was glad I got to meet in person when we went on our two-week book tour across the country. That was the first time we met! I’m in California and she’s in 3,000 miles away in Massachusetts, so we're not likely to bump into each other at the grocery store! If I did, I'd buy her a grilled-cheese sandwich…or a bearded dragon.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Q&A with "Sloppy Joe" illustrator Denise Brunkus

I had the pleasure of having my picture book Sloppy Joe illustrated by Denise Brunkus, who's mucho famous for illustrating the Junie B. Jones series. I even got to do a two-week, cross-country book tour with Denise, who I learned is a rock star at every elementary school between Texas and New Jersey. She's also a funny and interesting creative type who loves nothing more than answering silly questions.

1.) So are you sloppy or neat? Have you always been that way?
Well, I started out neat and have pretty much been neat my whole life. But then Sloppy Joe introduced me to the perks and benefits of “sloppy,” so I have since lightened up on the neat thing.

2.) What's the single best thing about being an illustrator?
THE ART SUPPLIES!!! I have tons of colored markers and pencils, piles of beautiful papers and sketchbooks, colorful paints and pastels galore! And because I am “Boss” of my studio, I can have as many art supplies as I want. Ha!

3.) What is the hardest thing for you to draw? What's the easiest?
Hardest thing? Well, I'd say horses, but then, to be fair, I'd also have to admit that I am not good at drawing cars, airplanes, buildings, and straight lines. But years ago, I needed to draw a horse in one of my illustrations. I panicked! My 10-year-old daughter saved the day; she drew the horse for me. As for the easiest thing for me to draw........dots! I love drawing dots. And I am a pro! Dots everywhere.

4.) Did you want to be an illustrator when you were young?
When I was young I didn't even know what an illustrator was, but I did know that I liked to make art. And that's what I've been doing all my days. When I was a kid, I was always imagining, drawing, coloring and making things... artwork, puppets, Barbie clothes. And it is still what I do. Well, not exactly, because I HAVE stopped making Barbie clothes.

5.) What was the best thing about illustrating Sloppy Joe?
I'd say the best thing was getting to talk to the author of Sloppy Joe, Dave Keane. I don't usually get to talk with the authors of the books I illustrate: in the publishing business authors and illustrators are kept apart. But this time, our amazing editor, Margaret, believed it would make a better book if Dave and I talked throughout the creative process. So we talked and exchanged ideas, and I do believe our book is better because we did.

6.) What is your favorite page in Sloppy Joe?
I really like the picture of Sloppy Joe slouched in the chair with his lunch. although I must say that my favorite thing in Sloppy Joe is Sloppy Joe himself! I really had so much fun drawing him and making him move and react throughout the pages of the book. What a guy!

7.) Have you ever drawn so many frogs before? Do you feel you are now a frog expert?
No, never. Truth is, I do not particularly care for real frogs, so I am totally surprised at how many frogs I DID draw. Better yet, I am even more surprised at how much fun I had drawing them all. Maybe it's because my frogs look funny and friendly and not too slimy. Once I started drawing them, I couldn't stop. Frogs EVERYWHERE! But I am no expert. I only wish that real frogs looked more like MY frogs. Then maybe I'd like them more.

8.) Do you have a dog like Sloppy Joe has? Frogs? A bearded dragon? Crickets?
No, I don't have a dog like Joe's, nor do I have a bearded dragon. I didn't even know that bearded dragons existed until I read the Sloppy Joe story. (I had to Google "bearded dragon" to see how to draw one!) As for frogs, yes, I have frogs— way more frogs than I drew in the book! I live in the woods and so do they. Having frogs for neighbors is okay, as long as they stay in the woods. But every so often they decide to come OUT of the woods. And don't you know they come out and sit along the path that leads to my studio. They think it's real funny to jump out to scare me when I walk by. Yeah...real funny.

9.) Do you like grilled cheese sandwiches? How many could you eat? What is your favorite sandwich in the whole wide world?
Grilled cheese sandwiches are tasty enough, so I can definitely eat one, two if I am totally starving. But my favorite sandwich in the whole wide world? That would be a baloney sandwich. Yessir. Baloney on squishy white bread served with real chocolate milk. Dee-licious! I always have it on my birthday, which, by the way, is Barbie's birthday, too, although I don't know what her birthday meal would be. (P.S. Can you find the baloney sandwich that I put in the book?)

10.) If you were not illustrating children's books, what do you think you'd do for a living?
Oh, I'd be working in a beauty salon. For sure. And if that didn't pan out, I'd be a cowgirl, as that would give me the opportunity to wear fringe, yodel, and sit around the campfire playing the harmonica after the round-up.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Too Big To Fail

It's been a looong time since I posted on this blog. Mea culpa. To get this going again, I thought I'd share a quick "Sketch O' the Day" I did recently. It took about 6 minutes or so from beginning to end, the perfect timeframe for me!

For those of you who'd like to hear what's up on a more regular basis, be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Chow for now!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why kids love author visits

Had a great author visit yesterday at Parkside Elementary in Menlo Park, CA. Here I am with Jamie, Brianna and Maya, winners of the "have lunch with the author lottery." Great school and great kids; everybody had a blast—especially me!

I try to imbue my school visits with a stand-up comedy concert vibe. It's been years since I did real stand-up comedy, but doing author presentations is amazingly similar. Kids love hearing about my goofy kids and I love making them laugh. I think it makes a real and lasting impact to meet the author or illustrator behind a book; we're not odd creatures (maybe odd people, but not odd creatures!). They learn that authors and illustrators are just regular people like them, and perhaps they too can do something as amazing as writing a book. (Hey, if Mr. Dave Keane can do it, maybe anybody can do it!)

And not only do kids love the break from routine, but I think the teachers enjoy a nice break for once, too!

It's been horribly slow on the school visit front these days, mostly because California has budget woes that could only be fixed by King Midas himself. But luckily some schools manage to procure the funding and I get the chance to entertain kids with stuff like where ideas really come from and how they can create a new character in 25 seconds or less. Best of all, I know when I leave there are roughly 450 kids who are newly interested in reading books. I guess that, after all, is my job.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Manless Pants?

Here's a recent sketch I did. Not sure what it's supposed to mean, but it does prove that not all the ideas a writer has are good ones!

Also, for fans of picture books and for the parents who read them, this New Yorker article is a must! I think the notion that picture books reflect current societal trends concerning children, parents and child rearing in general is really interesting.