Today, I have the distinct pleasure of talking with Eileen Ryan Ewen. She is the award-winning illustrator of 4 children’s books published by Sleeping Bear Press - Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivitt (2018), Symphony of Cowbells by Heather Preusser (2017), Mr. McGinty's Monarchs by Linda Vander Heyden (2016), and Miss Colfax's Light by Aimee Bissonette (2016).
Eileen Ryan Ewen first fell in love with stories and art listening to her storyteller father, watching him draw on paper sprawled across their nicked kitchen table. She earned a BFA in painting from Miami University in Ohio and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has lived in Cleveland, Ohio, Chicago, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri. She and her husband have four beautiful children.
Her newest picture book, Jonas Hanway’s Scurrilous Scandalous Shockingly Sensational Umbrella by Josh Crute (Page Street Kids), released May 12th.
Welcome Eileen, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest book, illustration, and writing.
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you illustrate? How long have you been illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to illustrate?)
EILEEN: I’m lucky enough to have a studio in my attic, where I can spread out my things and work. As far as when I work, now that all of my kids are in school full-time, I use the time they’re in school to work, roughly from 8:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Once they’re out of school it’s homework and the mad rush of after school activities, dinner, etc.… Then, when they’re in bed, I usually work for 2-4 additional hours (more if on deadline) before I go to bed as well.
I’ve been illustrating professionally for six years. Prior to that I was working as a freelance artist, was in grad school for creative writing, and learning the ropes of motherhood. But during that time, I was always tweaking my children’s book illustration portfolio. It’s always been my dream to illustrate children’s books! I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve illustrated. One of my favorite things is to read a new manuscript for the first time. They’re all so different! If I had to choose my favorite type of book, however, it’d be one that has some whimsy to it, and other-worldliness. Perhaps that other-worldliness is another time era, a different country, or something completely fantastical.
Your pictures are all different, but now that you mention it, I can see the whimsy in each one. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
The first career I set my heart on was to be a professional baseball player. When I was in second grade, I fell in love with baseball. I was determined that I’d be the first woman to play in the Major Leagues.
However, it was after winning an award for an original story I wrote and illustrated in Fourth Grade that I realized writing and illustrating could actually be a career. I still love baseball, but from Fourth Grade on, creating art for children’s books and art in general, became my passion and focus.
Maybe someday, you'll get to illustrate a book about a woman baseball player. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?
I suppose if I had to choose just one, it’d have to be, Have Patience. Your path to whatever your goal (or think your goal) is in life, is more likely than not to have so many unexpected twists and turns and diversions, it might take longer than you think to achieve that goal. Your goal might even change a bit while you're trying to reach it. Know that. Know that and don’t give up.
Learning to accept, and maybe even enjoy, the twists and turns of life, is great advice. What about the manuscript of Jonas Hanway’s Scurrilous Scandalous Shockingly Sensational Umbrella appealed to you and made you want to illustrate it?
I was immediately attracted to the Jonas Hanway manuscript. I love history. My father was a history professor and I minored in History in college, so the challenge of researching and depicting 17th century London, with its crowded streets and period clothing, was something I knew I’d enjoy. I was also attracted to the whimsical, silly nature of Josh Crute’s writing. I think it’s a rare combo to have a historical nonfiction picture book biography with such a fun, playful text. Those two qualities really made Jonas Hanway extremely enjoyable to work on!
Whimsically written nonfiction is unusual and your illustrations show how much fun you had with it. Is there something you want your readers to know about Jonas Hanway’s Scurrilous Scandalous Shockingly Sensational Umbrella? Did you perhaps hide a special treat in an illustration or two?
Nothing too secret is in the illustrations, though I do have a little orange tabby cat that seems to have found an attachment to Jonas. I enjoyed placing the cat in many of the illustrations. He doesn’t belong to Jonas, per se. The cat is just an alley cat, an observer, to all of Jonas’ annoyances, struggles, and successes.
The first glimpse the reader gets of this alley cat is on the title page. Be sure to keep your eyes out for all the fun places & ways the cat appears. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I just finished illustrating another book for Sleeping Bear Press, called H is for Honeybee: A Beekeeping Alphabet, written by Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen. It will be out in August, and I can’t wait! It’s the first alphabet book I’ve worked on, and I can’t think of a better time for more awareness about the amazing work honeybees, and beekeepers, do for our world.
What is your favorite animal? Why?
Oh, it’s easily cats. I should say that I like all animals, but cats have always been a part of my life. I think other than my years in college dorms and apartments, and one year as an adult, I’ve always had at least one cat in my life. They’ve always been personable, wonderful companions. When I stay up late to work, they’re curled up next to me, giving me company. When I wrap up for the evening and head to bed, they follow. They’ve watched over my kids, meet us at the door when we come home, and are all together loving companions.
Thank you, Eileen for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
To find out more about Eileen Ryan Ewen, or get in touch with her:
Be sure to check out Kathy Temean's Illustrator Saturday post where Eileen shares her process for creating this cover and also talks about getting an MFA in writing and her other picture book illustrations.
Review of Jonas Hanway’s Scurrilous Scandalous Shockingly
I love when I find big, unusual words in picture books. Ones that expand a child's (and perhaps a parent's) vocabulary.
I was so intrigued by this cover with its use of - "Scurrilous," "Scandalous," "Shockingly, & "Sensational" - in the title. It's perfect that a biography of a man "who dared to be different," breaks the oft recited rule of not using adjectives with the deliciously rare "scurrilous" and that determined, rebellious look on Jonas Hanway's face. This is a wonderful historical nonfiction picture book biography, full of whimsical text and illustrations.
Jonas Hanway’s Scurrilous Scandalous Shockingly Sensational Umbrella
Author: Josh Crute
Illustrator: Eileen Ryan Ewen
Publisher: Page Street Kids (2020)
Daring, persistence, problem-solving and umbrellas.
Sometimes in London it drizzles. Sometimes it mizzles. Other times it pelts and showers and spits. And Jonas Hanway hates getting wet. How can he go about his day as a proper London gentleman when his shoes are soggy, his coat is always collecting puddles, and his wig looks like a wet cat? Fed up with damp and dreary London, Jonas sails far away, to places where the sun always shines. But what he sees when he gets there is.... scandalous! Shocking! Sensational! Perhaps also...quite genius? Now all Jonas has to do is convince the rest of London that they need an umbrella, too.
All about the real gentleman who introduced umbrellas to 1750’s London society, this is the perfect story of persistence, problem-solving, and how good ideas hold (off) water.
London was a rainy place,
no matter which way you said it.
On some days, it drizzled.
On others, it mizzled.
On others, it pelted and showered and spat.
What I loved about this book:
What a wonderful, whimsical way to describe rain. How many know "mizzling" means "raining lightly"? Now look at the accompanying, whimsical, historically accurate ink and watercolor illustrations. Eileen Ryan Ewen weaves the playfulness of the text into the fickleness of the swirling clouds (just over a part of the city) and the wind's effect on the children and governess (or nanny). [See the orange tabby on this first spread?]
Text © Josh Crute, 2020. Image © Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2020.
Even the refrain that Josh Crute uses has a touch of whimsy to it. Establishing the setting, Josh notes that when it rained in London, everyone would "stay indoors, travel by coach, or just get wet. By 1750, the people had gotten used to it. “It’s just what we do,” they said."
When we meet Jonas Hanway, he's a "grumpy man" who hated that "his socks were soggy, his shirt was soaked, and his wig looked like a wet cat" anytime he went outside. So, he sets out to find a place where it doesn't rain. Not only is the travel whimsically portrayed but look at the mermaid with an umbrella!
Text © Josh Crute, 2020. Image © Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2020.
Jonas discovers that umbrellas were used throughout time and around the world, even *gasp* by the French. So, upon his return to London, despite the fact that Londoners rejected umbrellas as "silly and foreign and frilly," Jonas steps out with a smile and an umbrella. I enjoyed Josh's tweaking of his refrain to - “It’s not what we do," (the townspeople said, reacting to Jonas' umbrella) and "This will do!" (Jonas said, arriving warm and dry), and “This simply won’t do,” (the coachmen complained, afraid of losing business).
Despite being jeered at and almost run down by a coach, Jonas persisted in his use of the umbrella. Until, after 30 years, "a scurrilous, scandalous, shockingly sensational thing happened" and umbrellas popped open everywhere. And today, where "[o]n some days, it tipples. On others, it dripples. On others, it plothers and lutters and chucks . . . the people of London stay dry. “It’s just what we do,” they say."
Text © Josh Crute, 2020. Image © Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2020.
If you enjoy this image (and it's "then & now" comparison to the one above), wait until you see the final page!
I adore the lively verbs and vernacular used to describe the London rain. Josh uses his refrain to great effect to show the change in attitudes and bring the reader back in a full circle to people dealing with London's rainy nature. Wrapped within a fun biography of the man who brought umbrellas to London, is a story of accepting change and originality. A look at the conflict between tradition and innovation. The back matter explains why Jonas' umbrella was so scandalous and explores two other societal issues that Jonas fought against. There is also a whimsically presented "Brief History of Umbrellas." Overall, this is a fun nonfiction that will appeal to many kids and adults.
- make a rainy-day breakfast (https://www.findingzest.com/rainy-day-breakfast/)
- draw a picture, or write a description, of the craziest umbrella you can imagine.
- Can you think of a tradition that you would like to change? Why? How would you change it?
- try the Umbrella STEM Challenge (https://raisinglifelonglearners.com/what-makes-the-best-umbrella-stem-challenge/). Besides their suggested items, what other things could you test as umbrellas?
I hope you enjoyed this interview of Eileen Ryan Ewen and review of Jonas Hanway’s Scurrilous Scandalous Shockingly Sensational Umbrella. If so, please consider that in addition to your notes (via their websites or social media), a wonderful gift for your favorite author or illustrator is to buy their books, review their books (on Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, or Amazon), tell friends about their books, or request your local library buy a copy of the book(s).