Holy moly, friends! I’ve been offered representation by a literary agent as an author-illustrator! I am over the moon excited, and will send more details when I’m done running in circles around the back yard like a middle-aged fool. This is the next step to my 2nd (3rd?) career and I couldn’t be happier. EEEEEEEEP!
Those of you who know me well, or maybe not so well but in-person or through working with me, (may know that I’ve been slowing way down lately. I’ve been a full-speed-ahead, ADHD hyperfocus kind of person for all of my life – and while I still have the hyperfocus and enthusiasm, I also now have a chronic illness. My twitter posts are either #kidlit or #longcovid related these days, because those are the things front and center in my mind. Yup, Long Covid, probably ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). I got the original SARS-COV-19 back in March of 2020, when there were no vaccines, no tests, and people telling us it wasn’t even here. I’ve been sick since, and with a lot of rest and pacing, about a zillion pills, and a doctor who’s willing to experiment, I’m starting to get better. But it… is…. HARD.
I’ve been self-employed since 2009, and hustling every minute. I barely took maternity leave. Being self-employed means I’ve taught myself to say yes to every opportunity that comes along – and the two times in my life (2008, and 2020) that I planned to take a large chunk of time off of work and work on my writing and illustration, THINGS HAPPENED that prevented my sabbaticals. This time, I’m not going back to the old ways, though. My illness means that mental, emotional, AND physical exertion tire me, usually with a lag of 12 hours beefore the crushing fatigue kicks in. So I can’t do it all. I can’t parent, work 30 hours a week on architecture, and create books and illustrations in the margins – not if I want to stay mobile. I have to RADICALLY REST. REALLY REST. “Be prone and not make appointments” rest. So for the rest (heh) of the summer, all two weeks of it, I’m not taking on any more architecture jobs. I’m limiting myself to two new paid gigs per month, start dates spaced two weeks apart and scheduling accordingly. Because what I want is to draw and write.
Drawing and painting – at least the inking and coloring pages – are restful to me. I feel recharged when I do them, not drained. Writing takes a ton of mental energy, though, so if I’m not protecting the heck out of my time, I can’t do it. And if I don’t write new stories, I won’t be able to make this my real job. Oh, I know picture book publishing isn’t super lucrative – I’ll probably always have someone’s bathroom renovation to design to keep me in watercolors and cutting edge digital brushes – but gosh dang it I want to make art my focus!
My parents helped me take a family vacation where I really unplugged, and I’m hoping to hold on to this feeling – the expansive, follow-your-body-and-get-better feeling. Wish me luck!
Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke is a middle grade graphic novel (my kid enjoyed it at 5-6 years old, but I think the titular Jack is at least 12 yo in the book and I fully enjoyed the story as an adult).
Actually, we’re reading the collected works of Ben Hatke, because he easter-eggs characters from all of his books in his other books, and once we read one (I think we started with Julia’s House for Lost Creatures), the kiddo wants to read them all and figure out why the dragon in Julia looks familiar (it’s a hero in Mighty Jack, and makes a cameo as a baby in Nobody Likes a Goblin). Ben Hatke is one of my inspirations, too, as an artist and a storyteller. His picture books are really lovely pen, ink, and watercolor (what I love to make) and his graphic novels are bold, energetic, and fun.
Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl is a mashup sequel to both the… you guessed it, Mighty Jack AND Zita the Spacegirl books. The Jack stories are a little bit older target audience than Zita (I’d say solidly middle-grade, with a maybe 13 year old protagonist, vs Zita who we meet at a younger age and worked for my kid at 5 years old). It’s a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk… loosely… in that there’s a really awesome garden that opens up a portal to other worlds and there are kids climbing on beanstalks and eventually the adventure saves the family home. Do you like magical gardens? YEAH! Start with MIGHTY JACK and go from there. Prefer space adventures and maybe have a younger kid? Start with ZITA THE SPACEGIRL, a space-portal adventure about saving your friends and making new ones on the way, with lots of cute and/or creepy many-worlds characters. Either way, get all three of the books in the series you’re starting, because you will surely want to keep reading.
What I’m Reading – Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire
Surely I’m not the only adult out there who misses the absorption of going to a different world (I know I’m not, because The Magicians series is literally about a dude depressed about Narnia not being real). Anyway if The Magicians felt too bummy-outy for you, Wayward Children is your ticket to wonder. This is modern portal fantasy that works. It’s full of all kinds of magical worlds, a kind of a framework to hang it on, and characters you will want to befriend (or follow into their magic doors, in some cases). It’s an older YA/adult feel (I’d have loved them at 13, I bet, but they’re a little dark in places, but not explicit!)
The internet says there are 8 books but I think one isn’t published yet. That’s ok – they’re all standalone like Narnia, so you aren’t left hanging too badly and I read them out of order (read Every Heart a Doorway first if you can though, then the rest in any order is probably ok.) You might, however, be longing for YOUR door when you’re done!
Oh, and if you haven’t read Seanan McGuire before, you’re in luck, because she has a LOT of books and every one I’ve read is fantastic.
New type of post: influences!
I’m taking a really fantastic class from OC Art Studios with fab fantastic teacher Larissa Marantz, and one of our homework assignments is to dissect style from some of our influences. I’ve done this before, briefly, anyway, with Lisa Congdon’s book about finding personal style (the one with a tiger on the front? it’s really good but I’m blocking the title and don’t want to ADHD over to another tab to find it in case I lose my train of thought… hi welcome to my brain, bet I could have found it in this time).
One of the influences I didn’t get to in my homework assignment is Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge.
If you have not been lucky enough to encounter Brambly Hedge, well, I am sad for you but I want you to see it now. Not for the stories, really. An agent once told me that one of my stories read (she said this very gently)… “a little… ’80s”. What she meant by that was that the style was kind of gentle and quiet and didn’t feel like it had high stakes. Brambly Hedge is like that. So are a lot of picture books I read as a child of the 80s and babysitter of the 90s (same books, natch, since I just purloined our existing library). The stories kinda don’t really go anywhere, and other than the Secret Staircase, didn’t really do much for me as fiction. BUT THE PICTURES.
GODDESS the pictures.
These little British-style mice in their epic, cottage-core, country-victorian tree houses, eating GBBO-worthy trifles and cakes. The almost-steampunk-but-they-work inner workings of the mill tree and the dairy stump. The super fine sepia pen work over watercolor that’s so crisp it almost scares me to think about how it was painted. THE PLANTS!!!
I used to get lost in these pictures for days.
As a tween, I got really into drawing cross-sections (cutaway views) of houses… boring suburban ones, not cool hobbity ones like in Brambly Hedge, but undoubtedly influenced by then.
Then I ended up going to ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL. Because I liked drawing the insides of houses so much.
img: from Jill Barklem’s THE SECRET STAIRCASE
I mean. Missed the mark there, kiddo. I don’t think anyone mentioned to me that “illustration” is a major and possibly one I could have double majored in with creative writing. Did I know somewhere deep in my psyche that Jill Barklem went to illustration college? Maybe, but I think I relegated it to “historical” and “foreign”, and didn’t connect such things to career counselling in 2001. REGRETS!!!
Anyway so be it. I’m not sure I’ll ever have the patience to do a whole picture book in as much detail as Jill Barklem did, but I do like drawing endless little details on shelves and painting them later. I like busy artwork that you could get lost in, techincal details that seem like they work, steampunk (or solar-punk, or cottage-core) fantasies. I really enjoy pen-and-watercolor style, and I like working in it too.
from Jill Barklem’s AUTUMN STORY
OK WHUT how are we halfway through summer break already!?! Is this for real? I am new to the whole “camps if you need childcare” action because of pandemic weirdness last year (oh and the year before I guess jeez). The chaos is giving my ADHD/Long-covid brain a run!
Anyhoo I sent out my Dino Chicken paper airplane project in my first ever (omg who am I even) newsletter last weekbut forgot to make a blog post with it for non-newsletter friends.
SO HERE IT IS!!
Download your Dino Chicken Paper Airplane Project Below (the PDF is the full booklet) with instructions
And just for you bloggy reading types, here’s one that I made, using a folded plane that totally worked, but then could NOT for the life of me figure out how to fold properly later. Maybe you or a very determined tween can figure this out (or maybe it just didn’t work). Drop a comment if you figure it out 🙂
Owly by Andy Runton
Early reader graphic novel, ages 4+
Oh my goodness pals, this is such a SWEET series. Not cloying, but just genuine and kind and lovely. Owly, who speaks only in icons, is a flightless owl who feeds birds, even though they’re terrified of him. He wants a friend… and his kindness in helping others despite their fear gets him MANY over the course of the series to date (including his bestie Wormy, humminbirds, a possum, a butterfly, and some bluebird buds). My 7 year old, who is totally into fighting goblins and being intense, is in love with the the gentle kindness and the relatable adventures. He also likes that there aren’t a lot of words and they’re nearly always paired with iconography, so he can understand the story without an adult or too much struggle. And they’re fun to read aloud, with just enough emotional tension to keep everyone really rooting for Owly and his buds.
The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones
MG novel, probably ages 9+
If you have never read anything by Diana Wynne Jones, please start. Maybe not with this one if you don’t like ghost stories – she’s got a huge collection of middle grade/early YA novels that are more adventuresome than spooky (Dark Lord of Derkholm, Dalemark Quartet…) and a favorite YA+ of mine, Deep Secret. Anyway sometime last year I decided I needed to read everything she’s ever written and I just found The Time of the Ghost on my shelf. I’m only halfway through but it’s pretty delightful. A girl finds herself invisible and mostly intangible, drifting down a lane, and discovers she’s a ghost, but she doesn’t know why! Her investigation involves observing her three sisters and trying to manipulate objects to communicate. There’s some witchy magic at work, along with a British boarding school vibe. I’d definitely rather be reading it in the yard than working through my emails, and I’m confident (because I know DWJ’s books) that the early promise will pan out!
Hilo: The Boy who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick
Graphic Novel series for middle grade readers (I’m guessing ages 6-12 interest level, 9+ reading level)
Robots! Robots that look like kids! A robot that crashes to earth and learns to burp! And then fights intergalactic robot powers with two human kids and a robot sister and a magical cat warrior! Seriously, there is nothing not to like about this series, unless you’re not into fantasy-adventure punctuated with burp jokes. If you’re not into those things, probably this is not the mini-book-review site for you, because my kid and I love mild rudeness, unexpected magic, and drama. My reluctant-reading rising 2nd grade kiddo does all the sound effects, and is learning to recognize Hilo’s catchphrase (“Outstanding!”), so we call it a team reading effort. Highly recommend, and don’t think you’ll get away with just having book 1. We absolutely tore through the 6 book series!
Graphic Novel (FOR ADULTS / older teens) – Thirsty Mermaids by Kat Leyh
Just a warning – this one’s probably not for the little ones, as it’s about drunken mermaids with foul mouths. It’s hands down the funniest book I’ve read this year, and if you know me personally, you’ll know that irreverent potty-mouths are kind of… on brand. Add it to powerful femmes with magic making bad decisions but making it work anyway, ride-or-die besties (I’m a Scorpio, I dig loyalty) and the beach? Oh, am I here for it. This book is bright. It’s queer (great for Pride Month!) It will make you laugh, and want to give your bestie a hug.