Saturday, 18 December 2010

Starred review and "it's a wild" or Scarry ride?

Hooray!  Mini Racer got a starred review in that venerable US publication, the School Library Journal

“An array of animals takes off in a race, ensconced in vehicles of every description, from a rainbow-wheeled wheelchair to tricked-out motorcycles and cars made of bananas, logs, carrots, or cheese. 

Bouncy rhymes curve along the race course as the critters speed, swerve, and careen around the serpentine country roads, encountering obstacles, crashes, and even having time for a swim. 

The journey is as much fun as seeing the skateboarding snail take the winner’s cup for his slow, undistracted pace. Bright, colorful illustrations feature bold dark lines and saucy, big-eyed characters zooming across the spreads. 

With a line or two on every page, this book can be used with groups, although kids with the need for speed and a love of vehicles will pore over the pictures and find details to delight on their own.” 

School Library Journal, starred review

This week I've received an advance copy of the Bloomsbury US version - my original choice of 'road' coloured background, elegant dust jacket and all.  Here's the back of the Mini Racer:

For the Bloomsbury UK version which is in paperback only, the powerful bookstore chain Waterstones wanted the background yellow - so the designer had to change the tanker top right, to blue.  I reckon this background makes it look more Richard Scarry-like.  

And talking of Scarry,  it's scary how things come back to haunt you from the depths of your childhood.   I'm pretty sure Scarry used a  cheese or carrot car somewhere.  It didn't occur to me when I was drawing.  Too busy imagining different energy sources for cars - acorns, water, milk...and what kind of characters and vehicles matched.
That said, when I realized Scarry was lurking somewhere in my illustrations for this particular book, I toyed with dedicating the book to him.  I've always loved his details.  But then I thought that might be risky -  he's not around to approve or not so I dedicated the book to a US friend, Brian G. Karas, whose work I love and who encouraged me when I was working on this way back, during a difficult time when my mother was ill.
Anyway spot the difference in the blurbs too.  US "It's a wild ride!" /  UK "Who will win the race?"

Saturday, 6 November 2010

back on track and leaving behind...

There are times when you really need to be reminded of what you do and why.
Next week I'm giving two workshops at the SCBWI British Isles conference in Winchester which will help put me back on track. 

And now I've just had this first  -  wonderful - review by Kirkus in the US, a month ahead of  the Bloomsbury US publication date for my upcoming book,  Mini Racer (author Kristy Dempsey).  The UK edition is due out in January:
"'Start your engines! Time to race, / round the corners, take your place.'   
So begins this fast-paced rhyming book featuring a diverse animal menagerie in a humorous variety of unique, coordinating vehicles revving to cross the finish line. 
Both preschoolers and adults will find much to explore in the bright cartoon-like illustrations as the track weaves past town and “Over, under, in, and through.” 
Strevens-Marzo successfully shows the circuitous route through the use of varying, at times almost Cubist perspectives. Each creature’s emotions during the race come across clearly, including frustration at crashing, panicked urgency during a pit stop and the mix of disappointment and elation at the end with the surprise winner. ... Full of zooming action and fender-bender drama, it has definite appeal for youngsters"--Kirkus Reviews

I've had no time to sit down and think about new projects  -  let alone blog -  since my last post. Shuttling between France and England, I've been clearing the way for a new stage in my life.  
My parent's house and my father's studio,  two lifetimes of memories,  is a heavy weight - to shift and to share.  Years of 200+ paintings  in their home which he didn't sell or give away (there are many more that he did!) .  Shelves of  books, old music, the trappings of an incurable romantic.  Notes by my ma, when as a young Catalan woman, she came to England in the 1950s, not knowing a word of English, and how a guitar (bought on impulse with the money saved for a winter coat) let to her meeting my pa.
Little by little I'm recording what I can.  There are stories to share there.  
A friend gave me this short film of the place, accompanied by a guitar piece that my father used to play.   I've put  it on the John Strevens site.  It's a lovely gift.  And it helps make the letting-go lighter.

And it helps too when I hear my work has got through to the toughest critics of all. 
There's nice write-up in  a French blog about a certain baby Raoul who has tested and approves of my Snail bath book.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

kid's book agents and a new generation of techno mothers

This past Thursday morning, having finished a small adjustment to a cover for my Bayard book, I took the train into Paris for my first weekly class of the art school year at Parsons Paris - 17 keen new students.  After a quick preview of  my partner Mick’s painting show near Notre Dame, I made it for 2h15 minutes of Eurostar across the channel to the London tube, then in a rush, a rickshaw through Trafalgar square.
Destination? A top floor of a London pub,  before a line up of 5 kid's book agents.  

I thought I'd had a busy day.  You should have seen the agents!
First at the panel they talked about their aims, practices and history before responding to  impromptu questions from the crowded room.   
Then, fuelled only by the odd sip of wine, they seemed happy to chat away to a never-ending but polite huddle of authors and illustrators.  We were warned not to bombard them with actual projects but  still, there was sharing and networking all round.

Not everyone got to talk with the agents - some like me, needed to eat.
As I watched the rapidly diminishing delicious buffet,  I poked my head into their huddles simply to offer them a  plate of food.  No need.  As one agent said, she was way beyond hunger.   
So, if you need proof, this is it:  agents love us authors and illustrators,  and go hungry for us.

Nancy Miles of Miles Stott:
explained they are a small agency representing 40% PB creators, 60% fiction.  
They are actively looking for fresh voices, originality, humour and “an innate sense of what resonates with young children of picture book age, generally 3-5 years”. 
 While proactive in looking for fresh talent and submissions from debut  as well as mid-career authors and illustrators, they ARE highly selective.   
Nancy’s other comments:
“We’ve always been told it’s tough times for picture books but there is a rise in sale right now though most are classics or one-off bold ventures”.
Writers out there - read this and get going!  There is a dearth of  middle grade books for feisty females.
You knew of course about the resurgence of YA.   She’s looking for yes, dark , but especially, funny YA.
what is Nancy’s editorial input? 
It’s part of her job to help edit - and “beat into shape” -  a promising project.  t’s the agents responsibility she feels,  to present the best version possible and save the publisher time.
what is Nancy’s take on the new media? 
She’s positive about ebooks, apps etc -  the more formats there are, the better for everyone but  exactly how much authors will gain is still up for grabs. 

Penny started out in foriegn rights at Walker Books UK and then went to work in Boston for their sister US company Candlewick   for several years, before returning to the UK to become an agent. 
Penny's comments:
They push UK publishers to get PBs out despite the reticence of UK retailers.
They are very active in exploring audio, film, tv and merchandizing potential.
Penny’s looking for exciting projects by debut authors in children’s but adult books too.  They select v few out of the large pile of submissions.  They try to reply in 6 weeks but there are busy seasonal periods so be patient. and please say if you are submitting elsewhere. 
Small but punchy  she said they look for the stars of tomorrow  and are desperate for good picture books - in short,   600 words or less, good character development, a beginning and middle and a funny or heart rending end.  
 what is her take on the new media? 
a true fair royalty for ebooks has yet to emerge.  
The tendency is to go for  established titles, though she would hate to see that a child’s first discover of a book like The Gruffalo was as an app.  
Market is changing everyday.   
New media from web sites to video trailers are enabling for authors 
so do it!
what is Penny’s editorial input? 
Like Nancy she is more than happy to edit
A good PB project may need a lot of work to get it at its best to show a publisher.
what grabs Penny in a new submission?  
Title, title, title!  A strong voice.  Humour.  The authors sense of potential for their ideas in other media.
And the cult of the author personality is important.

Jodie Marsh of United Agents
started out as assistant to the highly respected and visually-savvy agent Rosemary Canter when the agency was  called PFD .
Jodie now has 16 clients of her own in addition to Rosemary’s 65-70 and is actively seeking more across the board, from YA to PB,  both from new and established authors and illustrators.
Jodie said
there’s a movement to more highly illustrated older fiction and is interest in graphic novels and the humour that comes out of comics.
what is Jodie’s editorial input?
Focusing tonight on the illustration side, she said they would happily edit and develop a portfolio ready for presentation and research their potential with publishers before taking on the artist. 

Salyanne Sweeney of Watson, Little Ltd
is looking for fresh voices from adult to YA to MG, includes authors like Margaret Mahy and Adam Hart-Davis, 
Also has a small numer of illustrators too including Stephen Beisty.    
The agency doesn’t take on science fiction or poetry.
What grabs her in a new submission?
A good story hook.
what is Salyanne’s editorial input?
A lot - she does considerable editorial work at times and enjoys it, even if the project doesn’t  eventually go further.

The only agent present to also represent non-fiction.  Unlike the others she does not represent picture books.
After a background in kids theatre Jenny started as PA to Andrew Nurnberg.  They represent rights for agent and publisher clients in the UK and US and have several offices abroad selling rights of English language books successfully in Western and Eastern European countries and elsewhere.
Jenny's comments
She’s been building their kids author list, actively involved with the amazing book venture of SCBWI British Isles's Undiscovered Voices, among other things.  She loves a quirky take, unpredictability, surprise, humour and doesn’t like too much description.  She feels that YA for boys is under represented.  Write from within, not for the market.
And writers -  where is romance for boys?  They need it too!
what is Jenny’s take on the new media?
They are watching different countries.
"The app is spawning a new species of techno mummy who will buy an app for her baby first before buying the book."

Thank you to Liz , Miriam and all at the British SCBWI for a buzz of an evening!  My ears are still ringing.
And if you were there too, well, I was standing up during their panel with a beer in my hand so my jottings were sketchy.  If you were sitting down, please add to, or correct this report! 
Back home now,  my assistants below, are helping me sort out papers...

Friday, 13 August 2010

All boxed up and ready to go!

I hit the ground hopping after the LA conference, designing the cover of the little box for the seven French rhyme books to slot into.  Bayard explained they'd be sold with a wrapper so I'd need to suggest something of the action of the inside spreads  on the outside.

Here's me bleary-eyed in the early hours, with the first prototype to show my editor.

And here's the top of the box with my favourite characters* -  the Trois Petits Minous (in the French version of the Three Little Kittens,  they get chocolate cream for finding their mittens).  


Here are the 3 sides of the box with
the Furet (ferret), the  Escargot, the Souris Vert, the Petit Lapin, the Coccinelle ...
Away in the distance, another creature as bleary-eyed as me, brother Jacques.  
Ring a bell?

Ding, dong! I'm ready for a real break.  Off tomorrow with  Mick and Ella to Italy for a week.   

I'd hoped to buy an Ipad to use simply as a lightweight colour sketchbook - but they had run out  of all Ipads in LA, and in France so I'll bring whatever paints are allowed on the plane.

*The black and white kitty was my childhood mog, Freddy Whiskers.  Our current elderly grey Pousse Pousse has had a facelift here. And last but not least, before we even got our new ginger kitten Bowie, I'd drawn this ginger one like a wish...

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Another seven books just done

Here are the covers of seven little board books - each a rhyme - which I just finished this yesterday for Bayard France to slot into a 'bookshelf-cube' which I still have to design. Each book is six spreads.  Once again it was all about weaving a  picture-story out of a very few words.  I added a kind of visual afterword on each back cover ( left sides here are backcovers).  Ah yes,  another snail - what is it about me and snails this year?!

All that work has left me barely 24 hours to prepare thoughts, words, pictures and clothes for the SCBWI Los Angeles conference and board meeting.  Better stop blogging now!

Underwater testing

Here's the first serious reader of my bath book.  His ma tells me he's fascinated by the colourful pictures and its buoyancy.  I'm glad it made a big splash.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

It's raining snails!

Just got a big box of my bath books from French Editions Tourbillon.   Anyone out there who'd like a snail bath book to review or play with?    My bath ain't big enough!

Petit Escargot is an old French rhyme.  I showed Snail playing hide and seek with his friends, the ladybird (another back to show off!),  and a ant, carrying a strawberry.  Why a strawberry?  Well aside from matching the colour of all their loads,  I see now there's also an ant bearing a strawberry in Ann and Paul Rand's  book 'I know a lot of things'.  It must have imprinted itself on my memory.
Their wonderful timeless book was published the year I was born and it's been recently reprinted by Chronicle

My spongy Snail book has with it,  a larger than life blow-up snail. 
They couldn't add tentacles on the blow-up shape.  In the book I drew the eyes on the end of the tentacles.  That's where snail's eyes are.  It also meant I could hint at a smile in the head shape between in eyes...

Bath books are screen printed - so a limited number of colours -  but I wanted to avoid the usual red, yellow, blue combos...   It was a pleasure to work with Tourbillon.  I love their beautiful books for toddlers - designed with respect for new - and used -  eyes!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Pinning it down

 The wonderful, generous illustrator, author and teacher Pat Cummings came to stay with me in Senlis earlier this month.  She and I had fun working together, sharing our pictures and experiences of US, UK and French children's books, publishing and teaching.  And we gave a joint 5 hour workshop for Parsons Paris art students and SCBWI France and Germany members called

Shaping a Picture Book and Shaping Character.

We showed a lot of pictures but mostly it was about writing it all out. 
When drawing can tend to flutter about or meander from one tempting squiggle to another,  words are like pins.   Straight, sharp and effective.

We gave a brief advance assignment for part of the workshop:

  • up to 50 words  describing one character of your choice.
  • up to 50 words  describing the setting your character inhabits.
  • up to 50 words  describing a conflict, predicament, or obstacle your character has to confront.
People used this checklist to look over each other's assignments and pin down a character-led picture book structure that could work:
  1.   Whose story is it?
  2.   Does character description fit the story?
  3.   Are the emotions clear?  (language, eye-contact, gesture)
  4.   How are relationships between characters shown  (visual tools, actions, dialogue )
  5.   Is the character's behaviour logical for his/her age and situation?
  6.   How would the character resolve his/her own problem?
  7.   Why do we care?
We ended with another checklist, the final HOT SEAT checklist, in the hunt for that shiver-of-delight picture book ending, rare even in published books. 
  1. Is the outcome consistent with the character?
  2. Is it truly surprising?   (I’m Coming to Get You! by Tony Ross is a perfect example of a surprise that works - in this case an unexpected change of scale...)
  3. Has the character grown or changed?
  4. Is the conclusion truly satisfying?
Ah yes, editing and endings.  
Cutting down to essentials feels easy in the shared energy of a workshop.  

So much harder to stay on track back home with distractions on and off screen.   
 Here's one worthwhile distraction about just this problem, from UK writer Meg Rosoff:

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Spring starts in Bologna

Bologna gets the spring fever going,  for kids book people at least.
Publishers are gathering dummies, books, figures and worrying about flights and stands, illustrators might be polishing off a final pic to show, the Italian fair organizers are doing their best to keep calm and organized...

I'm off on Saturday from Paris,  to meet SCBWI Bologna keynote speaker and friend Leonard Marcus off his NY plane.  I'll be carrying a pile of stuff for the SCBWI Symposium on Monday, as well as a few books and illustrations for my own showcase at the SCBWI Stand (Hall 26, stand A 66)  on Tuesday from 1-2pm.

Still caught up with SCBWI emails and powerpoints, so haven't finished my story roughs I  was hoping to show.

So hard to get the balance right but when you've been dubbed International Illustrator Liaison you can't procrastinate.   I have to think about the group first - a lot of expectations to fulfill the day before the fair opens, moderating panels, helping it go smoothly as possible.  And there's an incredible energy in a group of creative people planning together online from many corners across the world, and then converging or a day's conference and a night in the old town.

Then comes the Fair, and work for the SCBWI stand.   Last but NOT least, I tell myself, my own work for my own Showcase.  I have some cards, and books to show.  Do I need to put a small portfolio together at this point?   Do I have time?   Will I have the energy to paint with my favourite gouaches in the Duelling illustrator event at 3pm ?  And where to go next?   Well I want to see Shaun Tan at the Illustrators CafĂ© at 4pm for a start.

The Fair is first and foremost for publisher to sell co-editions of their books to other countries.  I've never been one to push my stuff.  Some people manage to do that so well.  But it's painful to see young illustrators hugging portfolios like camp beds, looking in vain for a shelter.  But who knows what I'll see and who I'll run into?   I'm looking forward to exploring Korea and China and Slovakia and....And I can't wait to see the final mock-up of the book I've just done for Bloomsbury.  Here's to them selling lots of  co-editions of Mini Racer  -a whacky race with an ecological twist.
Here's the final final rough cover with a better road colour and another spread.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Pictures and text: Gita Wolf "An expanded organisation of meaning"

This article by Gita Wolf, publisher of Tara Books, India  (who will be joining us on our publishers panel in the SCBWI Bologna symposium next week)  says it all so well.
Picture Literature
Here are some snippets from it.

Thought is impossible without an image — Aristotle 
When you look at a newspaper article — or an advertisement — what do you see first? The words or the image? And what do you remember later? If you are like most people, the odds are that the picture — the frozen moment or the carefully constructed image — will stay with you longer.
This is simply part of the human condition...

But when it comes to books and literature, pictures (at least for the adult reader) are traditionally seen as mere supplements to the text. Literature has largely come to mean the written word. There is a long and complex history behind why this is so, but the fact remains that in the literate world, the word triumphs over the image...

This is most obvious when we consider children. In children’s literature, we assume that it is the very young child who enjoys picture books. The older a child gets, the more she is lead towards reading ‘proper’ books. Children typically graduate from the visual to the word.
Seen another way, it is implicit that those who can read well will not spend too much time on a visual account of the same thing...

We forget that when a subject is rendered visually, it will not be the same thing.

The way we construct meaning from an image is through our perception of line, colour, form, depth and motion. Even with all this, our perception of the image as a whole is still more than just the sum of its parts. ‘Image’ resonates with the possibilities inherent in ‘imagination’. When words and images work together well, they don’t just say the same thing in two different ways.
They amplify each other, creating an experience that is an altogether distinct and expanded organisation of meaning.

Combining pictures & words

Delving into what this special experience could be has been a key project with Tara — the publishing house I’m part of — for the past decade. We’ve experimented with picture books not only for children, but for readers of all ages, trying to widen the experience of literature, given our fascination with visual communication.    Gita Wolf.

Gita Wolf of Tara Books will be talking in our SCBWI Bologna symposium.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Re-do and to do!

My website badly needs updating in time for the Bologna international  book fair and our scbwi symposium & showcase there.   Last week while in London, I was all set to get that done.

Then I got Mini Racer back from my publishers with their edits .  I like their cover rough, and font choice and the basic design but still...

I spent a week editing the edits -  in London - on the Channel ferry  - and back home in Senlis.  Finished at 3am on Monday morning.

The problem with digitally submitted images  (although this book was  part gouache...) is that it's so easy to cut and paste.  Easy as text editing. And everyone has their colour preferences.
And you can re-do and re-do...
Enough said.  I'm happier with it now.    Here's a small peek (text is roughed in).

This page was the only one I didn't re-touch:

Fingers crossed Mini Racer (written by Kristy Dempsey) will be out this year or next...I should check the date!

All I've got ready for  Bologna, is my sample for the  Illustrators Display Portfolio on show at the SCBWI stand Hall 26, A 66.
Another glimpse of  Mini Racer  plus some "cat kids" for  Bayard France -  a snippet of my line-free work...

Naughty cats kids  - they managed to slip out of the SCBWI Bologna online gallery!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Back in London, back on the plot

Back to my own work at last, though not at home. Weeks of driving  (Senlis to Paris and then across the Channel)  and running in the other sense,  for the SCBWI Bologna Book Fair symposium and showcase illustrator events in March.

All this in-betweening takes time. Am I  dissappearing into the in-between?  Any volunteer will know what I mean.  But there's always the pull -  the excitement over kids book obsessives like me, converging from across the world to meet in Bologna especially in the old town, at night.

Now, surprisingly at a table looking over a London street, I'm back on a story line, moving only across paper -  a welcome change... 
And another brief diversion -  this phone snap I took later last year, when wandering around the wonderful Oxford Blackwell's.   Heartening to see my book in my favourite bookshop. Odd it was under Hobbies and labelled 'Art Appreciation'.
Art Appreciation -  I ask you!  Sounds so precious.
The Big Book of Shapes, like the Big Book for Little Hands, is not about art or appreciation.  It's about action - a book to draw in, with story pictures to complete for fun and as freely as any small hand can and wants to...And that's that! Glad it was on offer.  Hope someone small might enjoy it.  If anyone can reach up that high to that shelf.
Now better get back to that plot!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

B is for Books and borrowing. You can read about everything.

O be amazed that art and wire
Can so artfully conspire
to reveal that part of man
Which himself he cannot scan!

It's not just about X-rays.
This alphabetical sample of apparently benign ABC books from all cultures and times contains more than this by Joyce Dennys in 1916.

or T for torpedo.   Spanning informal sketches to highly designed prints and photography, the transitions reveal extraoridinary cultural shifts as well as some interesting art work.  
Enough to keep cultural and political studies people mulling, let alone illustrators.
I nearly missed  Zola in a 1900 English parody of  Hoffman's 1845 Struwwelpeter
"Z is Zola, see his rage,
Look at him on this very page..."

Monday, 18 January 2010

Pass the parcel

DSCF0410, originally uploaded by bridget strevens-marzo.
Postman delivered a huge carton box this morning.
Rattling around inside, were 3 tiny boxes - each a bijou collection of board books by different artists.

Very nice of the publisher to send me samples to help me weigh up ideas for a new collection.
Really it's all about scale.
Something their mailing department doesn't understand!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

That's my baby!

As I've told a few friends, it was a surprise bordering on stage-fright.
In London I picked off the shelf of Foyles,  this new, unusual-looking book:
Illustrating Children's Picture Books by Steven & Lesley Breen Withrow.
Turn to the title page.
Hey - that's my baby!

A quick sketch of a cover idea for my 2007 Harper US picture book,   How do you make a baby smile? by Philemon Sturges.
I wanted a glum baby all alone on the cover.   The title called for it.  Besides, there are far too many smiles in children's books.
Sadly,  glum was not on the marketing menu then.
Now, who'd have guessed?  Baby Glum has gone public,  ballooning the title at the opening of this new book. 

I had received an email from Steven Withrow not long after my piece in the 2007 Original art show at the Society of Illustrators in NY.  He interviewed me and asked for some sketches and for my take on picture book form.  Answer on page 15.  

And here I am in print with 4 pages of  'Artist's Profile'  among some illustrious company -  Shaun Tan,  Polly Dunbar,  Bob Staake among them.  And there are good words from wonderful writers,  Leonard Marcus and Jack Gantos and editors Tessa Strickland and Susan Sherman.

As I'm so colour-obsessed,  it's odd there are no finished colour spreads for How do you make a baby smile?  - just  a big bunch of black ink sketches. Reproduction rights got held up I guess.   
But some colour is shown in this particularly messy corner of my studio, post Bologna when I was juggling with a Bayard story and a school visit. 

I've not yet had time to read the whole book yet,  but already it stands out for its for its variety of voices and viewpoints,  and an intelligently wide approach to process.    Bravo to Stephen and Leslie  Breen Withrow for putting so many goodies together and to Rotovision for the original design. 

As for me,  I better get over the stage-fright with a better-than-ever book to come!