Today I get the privilege to bring you an interview with author/ illustrator Suzanne Bloom.
Suzanne claims “I come from cowboys and I come from Queens.” You’ll have to check out her website to figure out that riddle (and a few others on her “about me” page). Suzanne is the illustrator of three picture books, and the author/illustrator of six Goose and Bear stories and nine other books, including her newest one - I Just Like You, releasing on November 6th.
Welcome Suzanne. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing and illustrating? Where/when do you write/illustrate? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
SUZANNE: “This mess is a place” best describes my work surfaces. I write in between watching too much TV and procrastinating in general. A big fat deadline is very motivating.
When I was in my mid-thirties, a preschooler sang a song to me and it sounded like a great story.
Beside picture books, I am urged by 3rd graders to write chapter books. It’s on my list of projects.
But this seems to work for you. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I really like wearing glasses, because I think they make me look smarter.
Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Mr. Dog, illustrated by Garth Williams and written by Margaret Wise Brown and
The Golden Treasury of Poetry illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund and edited by Louis Untermeyer. Their tattered covers attest to the fact that I use them still.
If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?
Daydream a little bit every day. Look up; gaze at a far horizon. Check out the clouds. Check out the smells of books and bakeries, the pizza parlor, the barn, the subway, of autumn and the ocean. Doodle.
Great advice for all of us! What was the inspiration for I Just Like You?
The idea began to take shape 20 years ago. I was 11 years and 2 books into my life as a writer and visiting artist and loved reading aloud. I thought it was important for little listeners to hear the words, “I just like you.” No pressure, no conditions, no complications. It’s nice for adults to hear it too.
I whole heartedly agree with you. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in I Just Like You? Could you share a few with us?
This book contains very few personal artifacts; though you might guess from the last page that I’m partial to over-stuffed chairs. Scattered through all of my other books are red wagons, shapely table legs, and rag rugs. The faces of friends and family show up as do the dogs and cats we’ve had over the years. I do search my surroundings for details. From barns to subway cars, I was there. From bird houses and beanpoles to time machines, I’ve built them.
Illustration from A Mighty fine Time Machine
Illustration from No Place for a Pig
I love the illustrations you provided! Is there something you want your readers to know about I Just Like You?
Yes. I wanted to avoid some obvious choices. For instance, when Porcupine says, “I like to take my time” and Tiger says, “I’m speedy” I could have shown them racing each other. Not all of us are athletes (ahem) but most of us have a pace at which we work. And that’s OK. (Deadlines notwithstanding.)
Unless you have joined the circus, you might not know that Squirrel is riding a giraffe unicycle. Really. Look it up.
The statements in the middle section were the result of asking my young audience what you might say to make a friend. “I like your flip-flops” seemed like a great place to start.
I love that you incorporated kid's brainstorming into the text. As an illustrator you worked with Eve Bunting on Girls A to Z (2002) and My Special Day at Third Street School (2004), and with Pat Brisson on Melissa Parkington's Beautiful, Beautiful Hair (2006). During that time, you also wrote and illustrated six “Goose and Bear” stories. Do you find it harder to be the illustrator or the author/illustrator? Do you prefer one or the other?
Thanks for asking the hardest question ever! (That's my job. :-) )
It’s fun to respond to a new story that conjures images as soon as you read it, make notes or tiny sketches in the margins and then re-read it looking for language patterns and pacing.
Each job has its own challenges. When I’m writing I’m convinced that drawing is so much easier. And when I’m drawing, well, the writing seems like a breeze.
"The grass is always greener" phenomenon for author/illustrators! What is the best thing an author can do to help an illustrator? The worst?
Write your best story. Leave room for the illustrator to imagine scenes that enhance your words. Be open to suggestions.
In addition to the previous books, you’ve also written & illustrated Number Slumber (2016), Feeding Friendsies (2011), A Mighty Fine Time Machine (2009), The Bus For Us (2001), and Piggy Monday: A Tale About Manners (2001). Would you say there is a common thread in your books? Does I Just Like You differ from these other books? If so, how?
I set out to have fun with words like “bamboozle” and “hoozie-doozie”, “chickadee”, “splendid”; fun with rhythm and rhyme – “Seven slightly stinky skunks somersault into their bunks.”
And anagrams – “DARE to READ” and BUS STOP/SPOT/POST/TOPS/POTS.
I fall in love with my characters; I must if I’m going to draw them 16 or so times in a book. And I hope to show some emotional truths in their faces and gestures.
I don’t set out to be message-y. I do intend to show friendship, cooperation, creativity and acceptance. They are "like" stories, not love stories.
I Just Like You fits right in. It calls out differences and yet, discovers affinities. Timely, I think.
Unfortunately, I have to agree. What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite or hardest?
My favorites are watercolor or gouache paints, soft pastels and pencils. I use the computer to size images but otherwise I like the feel of the materials in my hands. I would like to include some collage at some point, in some story. I don’t bother with whatever my least favorite might be.
So, everything else. Good philosophy - use/do what you enjoy! Thank you for showing us a bit of your working area, too. What is the hardest thing for you about writing and/or illustrating children’s books? Which was your hardest book to write or illustrate?
The hardest book to write is always the current one. What starts out as an amazing, brilliant, unique idea quickly turns into a mountain of work that requires perseverance and sitting down to do it. This is challenging for someone who likes to lollygag. Or, as I prefer to say, engage is Productive Procrastination.
But, you're daydreaming or smelling "the books and bakeries," during this time, right? What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)
The work of fellow author/illustrators, children’s art and readers’ feedback.
Three inspiring examples of alligators
Great answer, Suzanne. I love these pictures you sent along. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished authors?
It’s terribly frustrating to write or draw your heart out without any feedback or to face recurring rejection.
Go to regional SCBWI conferences and workshops where you can make connections for constructive criticism and develop a network of writer/illustrator friends with whom you can commiserate and create.
Go to the book store to see what’s new, and the library to immerse yourself in children’s literature.
Yet still, we all write or draw our hearts out - because we can't keep it inside. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
The many moods of Bunny:
It’s the first day of kindergarten and Bunny has the jitters. So far it doesn’t look like the same bunny from one picture to the next. Right now I’m working to make the face consistent. And trying to think of a title.
Do you have a favorite face?
Such an expressive face! You portray so much with those ears & eyes (plus, of course, the body). I bet kids could tell you the emotions immediately. Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or are glad that you did not know?
I had no idea what I was doing and there were fewer resources or conferences to turn to. But, you could make appointments with editors and art directors and get rejected in person. Consider it all part of your continuing education.
Boyds Mills Press has been my very supportive publisher for many years.
I'm not sure if that's better or not. What is your favorite animal? Why? (Or maybe a current animal you are enamored with?)
Another question, impossible to answer with just one character.
Bear from the Goose & Bear series Gus from The Bus for Us Last page: I Just Like You
Thank you, Suzanne for stopping by and sharing with us your art and your writing journey. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.
Maria, thank you for inviting me.
Be sure to stop back by this Friday for a Perfect Picture Book Friday post on I Just Like You.
To find out more about Suzanne Bloom, or get in touch with her: