Amazon Best Books 2017

THE POMEGRANATE WITCH  made the Amazon’s ‘Best children’s books of 2017′ list — and to make it extra sweet, it sits alongside illustrator friends’ books; THE ANTLERED SHIP by The Fan Brothers, and THE BOOK OF MISTAKES by Corinna Luyken. Congrats to all!

Check out the full list here: Amazon.com: Best Children’s Books of 2017 

 

 

THE POMEGRANATE WITCH…new release!

 A new book that I illustrated, written by Denise Doyen, came out last week; THE POMEGRANATE WITCH. It’s here in time for the fall season coming up, and is such a fun romp between a group of neighborhood kids from the suburbs, and the old Pomegranate Witch who guards a legendary pomegranate tree.

This release kicked off with an awesome starred review from Publisher’s Weekly!

“Luscious rhymes and an atmospheric eeriness immerse readers in a neighborhood battle: five children versus the witch who guards the tempting pomegranates that hang from a tree on her property: “Its unpruned limbs were jungle-like, dirt ripplesnaked with roots,/ But glorious were the big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruits.” Wielding tree branches, rakes, and badminton racquets, the children mount an assault in what is quickly dubbed the Pomegranate War, but hoses blasting water, a scattering of walnuts, and the thrashing tree itself foil their efforts. On Halloween, the witch’s sister, the Kindly Lady, invites the town’s children over for cider and celebration—but could the two women be one and the same? Working in ink and watercolor, Wheeler (Tell Me a Tattoo Story) contrasts the rich red of the pomegranates with washes of pale, sickly green, saturating the pages with a sense of otherworldly magic. And yet: Doyen (Once Upon a Twice) leaves many hints that the Pomegranate Witch is less a malevolent presence than a woman who happily plays that role in the children’s imagination-fueled games. Delicious. Ages 5–8. Agent: Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary. (Aug.)”

Some peeks into the book: 

Delight yourself with a copy of your own, or ask your library to order one!

Buy THE POMEGRANATE WITCH at your local indie bookstore
-or-
Order from Barnes and Noble here
Order from Amazon here

Cut the Fluff in Your Portfolio!

For those illustrators making last-minute shifts to their portfolio for the SCBWI National Conference, I have 3 pieces of advice:

I was recently asked to judge portfolio applications for a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators award. It was an eye-opening experience being on the other side of the table, in the judge’s seat. Here’s what my big take-away was from that experience:

I preferred to see 5 GREAT pieces alone, vs. 5 great pieces mixed up with 5 okay pieces.

It was ALWAYS obvious when people were adding filler, or thought they needed more variety, so they put in mediocre stuff. In many cases, a portfolio would be amazing, and then right at the end the illustrator panicked and threw in one or two strangely out-of-place, low-quality works. Those one or two pieces were the ones that cut them out of the running to be considered.

So yes, it would be GREAT if you had 10 GREAT pieces, but if you don’t, don’t try to hide it. Take one last look at your portfolio before you submit it, and ask yourself, “Am I really proud of this piece?” Those are the only ones you should display. Even if there are only 5. You can add more great work next year!

See more more tips on how to edit an award-winning portfolio here:
Portfolio Comparison: What made an SCBWI winner

 

 

 

Research Travel Tips

“Sir Adam’s Amazing Maps”

 

Over on the Picture Book Builders blog, I shared some highlights about illustration research I did for three weeks in England in 2015 for the new picture book biography JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS: STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN, by Caroline McAlister.

I had a great question come over Twitter recently about traveling for research, but couldn’t seem to limit my answer to few characters, so I’m sharing those here!

The most helpful thing I learned overall is to prepare as much ahead of time as possible, but leave some time and flexibility in the schedule for the unexpected.

Timeline at the Tolkien Museum in Sarehole Mill, Birmingham.

Here are some other key tips:

  1. Print out maps, bus/train schedules, and directions ahead of time. Phone and internet service can be unpredictable and at times unavailable (usually in the moments when you need them most). Luckily, my super amazing husband/travel assistant, Adam had foresight and prepared printouts to guide us, and they were indispensable.
  2. Call ahead. We discovered that dates and times for exhibits or opening hours were frequently inaccurate online.
  3. Balance travel with rest. When paying out-of-pocket to travel for research, you can feel pressure to maximize every minute there. But filling every minute will make for a miserable trip, and you’ll want time off for rest and recovery. We spent the weekdays researching, and chilled with relatives of Adam’s who live in England on the weekends.
  4. Keep your receipts! These trips are tax-deductible, so keep a detailed travel journal and all your receipts for filing at tax time.

We did a pretty great job of maximizing time and enjoyment. If I could have changed one thing, I would have added some extra days for returning to locations just for sketching on-site, which we didn’t end up having time for. But we took hundreds of photos to make up for it!

A few pictures: Mosely Bog, Sarehole Mill, Tolkien’s childhood cottage, Oxford tour, The Eagle and Child pub.

If you’d like more info on the book:
JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS: THE STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN
March 2017, Roaring Brook Press/MacMillan
AGES: 4-8,  48 pages
ISBN 9781626720923

Buy JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS at your local indie bookstore
-or-
Order from Barnes and Noble here
Order from Amazon here

THIS IS OUR BABY BORN TODAY book birthday!

My new picture book, with author Varsha Bajaj and Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Books, came into the book world today! THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY celebrates the birth of a baby elephant. Over the course of one day the jungle family and friends rejoice the baby’s arrival. The book is set in the lush wilds of India and is a tribute to all little ones getting their first warm welcome into the world.

I’m so excited to share more about this book, its author, and the process of creating the illustrations later this week on the Picture Book Builders blog.

OURBABY_box_web

A box of real books arrives!

So far the reviews have been lovely:

Kirkus Reviews
When a baby elephant is born, “wrinkled and gray,” not just the herd, but the whole world rejoices, from morning to night. From the proud Mama to the grand Aunts, from the “fertile and firm” Earth to the ancient Banyan tree, everyone and everything around the new baby elephant joins in celebration and care for the Baby “who warms the hearts of the world today.” Glowing with warm golds and greens and shadowed with deep blues and greens, the gorgeous artwork lushly illuminates the day of an elephant’s birth as it is cared for by its family and surroundings. The expressions on the elephant faces are sheer joy to behold; the elephant smiles are realistic and yet radiate affection. Seemingly simple, this gentle rhyming story works on two levels: the playfulness of the young elephant and its friends ensure that young children will be able to see themselves in the story, and given the depiction of the natural scenes, at least some young readers will become fascinated with the lives of elephants as well. An author’s note at the end provides background from the Indian-American author’s own life and also draws attention to the present-day need to protect elephants from poaching and the loss of habitat. The soft cadence of the rhyming verses and the joyous pictures of the elephants will make this a bedtime favorite. (Picture book. 2-5)

Publishers Weekly
Bajaj (Abby Spencer Goes to Hollywood) traces the first day in a baby elephant’s life, an event celebrated by family members, other animals, and even elements of nature itself. The soft, gently repetitive text quickly establishes a soothing message of love and acceptance: “These are Aunts,/ caring and grand,/ who circle the Baby/ born today.” (There’s a hint of “The House That Jack Built” to the episodic structure, minus the cumulative aspect.) Bajaj focuses on a female-centric cast of elephants, subtly referencing their matriarchal societies, and glancing mentions of monkeys and peacocks give a fuller look at the book’s Indian setting. Working in pen, ink, and bright watercolors, Wheeler (Wherever You Go) evokes a lush environment of towering banyan trees and dense vegetation, helping create another personified character in the setting (“This is the Lagoon,/ calm and waiting,/ to bathe the Baby/ born today”). It’s an intimate and celebratory look at the early days of an elephant’s life, and a reminder that human births are pretty special, too.

9780399166846Buy THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY at your local indie bookstore
or
Order from Barnes and Noble here.

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Published by Nancy Paulsen Books
Aug 02, 2016 | 32 Pages | 9 x 10 | 3-5 years | ISBN 9780399166846

Tell Me A Tattoo Story

TattooStory_coverWEBI have illustrations in two picture books releasing this year. The first is TELL ME A TATTOO STORY, written by Alison McGhee and published by Chronicle Books, came out this spring.

In TELL ME A TATTOO STORY, a father tells his little son the story behind each of his tattoos, and together they go on a beautiful journey through family history. There’s a tattoo from a favorite book his mother used to read him, one from something his father used to tell him, and one from the longest trip he ever took. And there is a little heart with numbers inside—which might be the best tattoo of them all.

I share about the process of making the art for this book in this post on my ‘Picture Book Builders’ group blog, The Story of TATTOO STORYwhere you can read about how I developed the characters, sketches, and a color story throughout.

ewheeler_process3One story behind this book that I haven’t shared about yet is one about the cover art. The original sketch for the cover was to show the father in this arm-flexing position, as if he’s showing off his muscles, but he’s actually sharing his tattoo story. When the publisher, Chronicle Books, shared this sketch with international publishers at the Bologna Book Fair in Italy, they pointed out that this arm position is offensive in Italy (the equivalent of dropping an F-bomb). Yikes! Luckily this was discovered in the pre-publication stage, and we were able to change the position of the father to an embracing pose for the final cover.

When getting inspired to illustrate this story, I found myself staring at the tattooed folks all around my neighborhood (and then usually had to apologize and explain why I was studying their tattoos). I also frequented a great shop, Wacko Soap Plant, around the corner from my apartment to capitalize on their great collection of tattoo books (like this one).

It’s been a lot of fun to see this unique book go out into the world, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t exactly sure how it would be received by the world at large (being a picture book about tattoos and all) — but what I did know was that this book has an audience of tattooed parents who would be certain to appreciate it. Luckily, this story seems to be finding that audience, and some lovely reviews have been the icing on the cake! Here’s a highlight:

ewheeler_process4The New York Times: “Tell Me a Tattoo Story,” by Alison McGhee and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, seems, at first glance, written specifically for the hipster parent who longs to see himself reflected in literature, tat sleeves and all. Here, tattoos are emblems of personal history, as a father describes to his son what inspired each one. The first is from his favorite childhood book, the next — the phrase “Be Kind” — was something his own dad said to him. Wheeler’s lush, detailed images beautifully dramatize each moment from the father’s past, and we move seamlessly between the present to these memories.

I was also able to share and sign TATTOO STORY at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in April, and Chronicle books set me up on a lovely discussion panel of Picture Book illustrators with Dan Santat, Nikki McClure, Jose Lozano, and Lee Wind.

For more?
Blogger and reviewer Jules Danielson wrote this sweet article about TELL ME A TATTOO STORY.
Alison McGhee collected and shared tattoo stories on her blog, and here’s one of my favorites.
Alex Cohen of Southern California Public Radio conducted an interview with Alison McGhee here.
You can Buy ‘Tell Me A Tattoo Story’ HERE!

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9780399166846This year’s second picture book with my illustrations is coming out August 2nd, 2016: THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY by Varsha Bajaj, published by Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Books. I look forward to sharing more about this book in the coming weeks!