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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview With Toni Yuly

Today, I get the privilege to feature a dear friend of mine.

Toni Yuly has been an early bird all her life and loves to start the day in the studio listening to other early birds sing outside her window. She was born in Seattle and now lives in Bremerton, Washington, in a small house by the water. She studied painting at the University of Washington, where she worked with the great American painter Jacob Lawrence. Toni spent a year in Sendai Japan as a cultural exchange student and worked for over 30 years at the King County Library System.

She is the author and illustrator of six books - The Whole Wide World and Me (2019), Thank You Bees (2017), The Jelly Bean Tree (2017), Cat Nap (2017), Night Owl (2016), and Early Bird (2015).

Her newest book, Play Day School Day, released June 9th .

Welcome Toni, thank you for joining me to talk about your newest book and illustrating.

You are welcome Maria! Thank you for having me.

For some basic information on Toni, please see our earlier interview (here).

ME: What's something you want your readers to know about Play Day School Day?

TONI: The main idea and spirit behind this book is that a lot of the stuff kids do outside when they are just playing is the same as they do at school. It might not look and feel the same but it really is and hopefully that will make school a little less scary and a lot more exciting and relevant.

What a great way to ease the fears of little ones off to school for the first time. Would you say there is a common thread in your picture books?

All of the books I have made so far kind of split into a couple different groups.

The first 3 books, Early Bird, Night Owl and Cat Nap have their own appeal for the very young - easy to read - strong characters with strong stories. The next 4 books are more about a many layered experience with multiple ideas going on.

The Jelly Bean Tree is about a baby giraffe who loves trees and kind of wants to be a tree and then one day she falls asleep with her head in a tree and a bird builds a nest on her head. It is about friendship, helping out, patience and being kind.

The next 2 books are based on very simple ideas that show things we know but maybe don’t know we know.

Thank You Bees is an ode to gratitude for simple everyday things we might encounter in a typical day. We see and use so many things in a day without thinking about them, and this book helps us become conscious of that fact.

The Whole Wide World and Me is a poem that celebrates the idea of being small and big at the same time - a feeling I associate with being deeply connected to nature. I think this feeling is most keenly felt when you are at the ocean or near the mountains, in a forest or in a big meadow. I first had this feeling when I was quite young... I was this tiny little person but also connected somehow to all of the bigness around me too. It is about realizing and embracing that we are all a part of the natural world and what a wonderful thing that is.

Play Day School Day shows that playing outside is full of learning and even relevant to traditional school learning. I grew up in the generation that played outside for hours every day. I know that world is gone but if kids today can be outside exploring and experiencing things for even a little bit each day no matter if they have a huge backyard or no back just walk down the sidewalk with a parent or go to a park it's a way to connect to the natural world and I think that helps keep us all grounded in the reality and love of planet earth. It also helps us learn to learn in a lot of different ways!

And all of them explore our connection with nature. What is the medium you used in Play Day School Day? How difficult is this medium? Is it the same medium in all your books?

I used collage which I love because it takes away all of the pressure to make something perfect. It allows me to get to the essence and feel of something I want to express. When I cut a shape from paper I know it won't be quite right and that is what gives it its charm. My first 3 books were made by doing line drawings with pen, scanning them, and adding color in the computer.

I think your illustrations are a lot of fun. What was your favorite part of Play Day School Day to illustrate? What is your least favorite part? Or your favorite spread?

©Toni Yuly, 2020.

Um, kids are really hard for me to illustrate so it took a long time to get the feel and look for the kids that I wanted. I think my favorite spreads are the ones where Mona is telling Milo that sometimes you sit still and listen, and sometimes you run and run and be loud.

You've definitely captured the joy of children playing outdoors. What is the hardest thing for you about writing and illustrating children’s books?

It is hard to explain but once the initial joy of signing a contract is over and the book schedule kicks in, there has always been something daunting and stress inducing for me to make a book that moves from one page to the next and all fits together. It is the pressure to give consistency and flow to the overall shape of the book that is the scariest thing for me, but I think I am finally getting better at letting go of that stress and trusting the process.

Interesting. I'm glad it's getting easier for you. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Play Day School Day? Could you share one with us?

Hmmm, I don’t think I do this much but I usually do have some kind of little helper or recurring side character in my books. In Play Day School Day there is a funny looking black kitty that tags along.

That's perfect! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I just finished a stand-alone board book with Sasquatch Books about an emotional octopus and his overwhelming day. It is set to be released in Spring of 2021. And I am very excited to be starting work on my 9th book called, Some Questions About Trees! I am honored to be working with the amazing Reka Simonsen at Simon & Schuster. It is a book of questions from the point of view of a small girl who wonders things like - why are trees are naked in winter? The questions the girl asks are kind of like koans and don’t really have any answers. I am using chalk pastel and collage to illustrate.

That sounds like a lot of fun. For anyone else who doesn't know the word "koans" - A koan is a riddle or puzzle that Zen Buddhists use during meditation to help them unravel greater truths about the world and about themselves.

Thank you Toni, it was wonderful learning about your process and your books.

Be sure to come back Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Play Day, School Day.

To find out more about Toni Yuly, or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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