The Soaring 20’s High Flying Picture Book Debuts is a group of authors and illustrators hailing from California to New York (and Canada!), who’ve joined together to help promote their 2020 debut picture books.
Be sure to visit their website to “discover picture book talent on the rise.” Their website includes “behind-the-scenes posts about how these books were made; resources for using these books in your classroom or library; places you can meet these talented authors and illustrators in person; and of course, GIVEAWAYS!”
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or draw? How long have you been writing and/or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
Carrie Finison – Dozens of Donuts (7/21/2020, illustrated by Brianne Farley) - I’ve always been a reader, and a writer. My first job in high school was shelving books in a public library, and later I worked in the educational technology industry where I wrote content for kids (among many other tasks). Now I write picture books as well as poems and stories for children’s magazines. After 10 years of drafting MANY picture books manuscripts, I’m thrilled to be launching Dozens of Doughnuts into the world and happy to say that I have four more books in various stages of production. I love writing in rhyme, although I also try to write in prose an equal amount of time.
Isabella Kung –No Fuzzball! (8/4/2020) - I mostly write and draw picture books in my studio at home in San Francisco. Occasionally, I’ll go to the library a cafe or a park to write and paint outdoors, though that is not an option these days. I have been professionally illustrating since I graduated from Academy of Art University in 2010, I didn’t take my writing seriously for another 5 years. By then, I knew I wanted to illustrate and write my own stories and was determined to learn. I enrolled in a couple of writing courses on writing picture books and a whole lot of drafts later, I am finally reaching that goal!
Christina Soontornvat – Simon at the Art Museum (6/9/2020, illustrated by Christine Davenier) - I have been writing seriously toward publication for over a decade now. My first books that were published were MG fantasy novels (The Changelings series, 2016), but the first book I ever sold was a picture book. Because of the funky and slow way that picture books work, that book will come out in 2021 and will be the 13th book I have published! I write for many different ages and formats (novels, picture books, chapter books, nonfiction, short stories) and it is so hard for me to choose just one. I do love writing picture books, but I’ll admit it’s the hardest for me. Because the word count has to be so spare, I can’t write myself out of a problem! It’s more like catching magic than anything else.
Sam Wedelich – Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale (6/2/2020) - I’m 39 and I’ve been drawing since before I could write and pretty much constantly since then. I have a lot of childhood memories of getting in trouble for drawing when I was supposed to be doing other things. (Church, school, in meetings, during lectures, on my lunchbox, etc. You get the idea.) I have only been writing in a focused way for children for a few years, but had a blog that I posted on regularly back when that was a thing people did. Ha! My favorite type of book to write/illustrate is something with a lot of emotion and humor. (I can do scenery, but it’s not my favorite.)
Candy Wellins – Saturdays Are for Stella (8/11/20, illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan) - I have been writing my whole life. I loved writing stories as a kid and was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper. I earned a degree in journalism, but then became a teacher for 10 years. Spending all that time reading great children’s literature made me want to write picture books. I have been honing my craft since 2016.
I have three kids under 10 who provide lots of inspiration for my stories, but don’t leave a lot of free time to write. But like anything you love to do, you make time for it if it’s important. Nowadays I do most of my writing when the kids are asleep. Many of my stories are written between 8-10pm.
I love writing a variety of stories. SATURDAYS ARE FOR STELLA is sentimental and
sweet and I love that, but I like mixing up my writing too. My next book is a biography
written in verse and I’m currently developing some humorous stories. Always trying new
projects keeps me feeling fresh and inspired.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Carrie Finison – I’m listed in the Internet Movie Database for an appearance on Ask This Old House. The team came to our house and installed a shut-off valve on our clothes washer. Exciting times! That’s about as close as I’ve come – and probably as close as I’ll ever get – to television fame. [That must have been interesting.]
Isabella Kung – I am a major night owl. Often going to bed around 3-4 am. The quiet of the night is the best time for me to work, especially when I have to paint for long stretches of time without interruptions. It’s worse when I have a tight deadline, sometimes I will work till sunrise around 6 am! Not the healthiest schedule but it is sometimes necessary for my creative mind. [Wow, even I usually get to bed by 2 am.]
Christina Soontornvat – I feel like most people who know me would assume I’m an extrovert. I do love my friends, love speaking to kids and grownups alike, love events – but if I had a choice for how to recharge, it would be by myself, curled up with a book on a beach! [I'd grab the recliner or towel next to you!]
Sam Wedelich – I was actually studying to be a doctor (Ophthalmologist) when I decided to quit and transfer to art school. I was in a pre-med program and had studied with 2 amazing doctors and even co-published a paper in a medical journal... but I was miserable in the program and I kept feeling an irresistible magnetic pull toward the art department.... I took a huge leap, and here I am. [So glad you followed your heart.]
Candy Wellins - I helped set a Guinness World Record for the largest school reunion in 2006. I went to Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington, which looks like a castle overlooking the bay (it’s really beautiful) and it was the setting for the movie TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU. After a major remodel in 2006, nearly 4,000 alumni returned to celebrate the school. [How fun! What a small world. That's just down I-5 from me!]
Now that we know a little about you all, what inspired you to write your story?
Carrie Finison – Dozens of Donuts (7/21/2020) - One of my critique partners had written a story called Double the Dinosaurs. I love alliterative titles and that one was especially appealing so it stuck in my head. I played around with the words for a while until ‘Dinosaurs’ became ‘Doughnuts’ and ‘Double’ became ‘Dozens.’ Once I had the title, I knew I HAD to write that story! [What an awesome way to 'find' a book.]
Isabella Kung –No Fuzzball! (8/4/2020) - My two cats Bubo and Bella. They were the ultimate muses and loves of my life. My main character, Queen No Fuzzball’s, personality is really just a combination of both my cats. Bella was the one with the smarts and attitude, she only does things on her terms and Bubo was the one who wanted attention from everyone and was the silliest goofball. Everything No Fuzzball does in the book, I have observed my girls do in real life (with the exception of putting dirt on the dog bed). [Sounds like you aren't in a lack for entertainment or inspiration.]
Christina Soontornvat – Simon at the Art Museum (6/9/2020) - It was inspired by a visit with my young children to my favorite art museum, the Kimbell in Fort Worth, Texas. My kids were so excited for what they *thought* the art museum would be like. I realized they thought it would more like an amusement park than a place where we needed to be quiet and reflective! I realized that we needed to figure out a different way to enjoy our time in the space. So, I came up with the story of a boy who starts to look at people more than the art itself and appreciates how art impacts different people in different ways. [Love how you molded our experience into a story.]
Sam Wedelich – Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale (6/2/2020) - This time we are living in! The constant deluge of news-tainment and social media isn’t a neutral force. It has a huge effect on what we think/feel about ourselves, our communities, and our world. I wanted to find a way to talk with children about information, rumor, problem-solving, and community... but a way that was silly, funny, and light-hearted. Re-imagining the folktale of Chicken Little seemed the perfect way to do both. IS the sky actually falling? [Viewing a tale through today's lens is a great story idea!]
Candy Wellins – Saturdays Are for Stella (8/11/20) - Growing up, I was really close to both of my grandmothers. They died in a span of two months while I was pregnant with my first child. It’s been important for me to keep their memories alive with my own children and I wanted to write a story that celebrated the grandparent-grandchild relationship. Saturdays Are for Stella was my way of honoring the past and the future. [This will touch many people, maybe especially now.]
I love all the different ways you were inspired. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Carrie Finison – I LOVED looking at the illustrations in Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day. I love how he showed the characters making mistakes while also explaining everyday jobs. There are so many funny details and of course trying to find Lowly Worm in every picture is always a treat.
Another favorite was The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa. I loved looking at all the baked treats in those illustrations and the cute little Santa she envisioned – much less threatening than some other illustrated versions of Santa.
Isabella Kung – My favorite book as a child was The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith. I remember laughing so hard at the library and wanting to borrow it over and over again. I’m pleased to say I have my own copy now.
Christina Soontornvat – I get asked this question often and I always pivot to talk about books that have meant a lot to me as an adult. The reason is because when I was a child I didn’t have access to diverse books, and I am so glad that is changing for today’s kids (though we still have a ways to go to reach equity). So, if I had to pick one author/illustrator who has made a big impact on me as a reader and a creator, I would say it’s Vanessa Brantley Newton. She is an author who works in so many different styles, genres, and age ranges and the one constant thread throughout her art is that she is completely committed to centering the child’s perspective and honoring the child. I think we should all strive toward that goal.
Sam Wedelich – Bill Watterson. I couldn’t get enough Calvin and Hobbes growing up. I still have all my C+H books and hope to share them with my own kids when they are a bit older. The expressive simplicity of his line and smart, sharp sense of humor were huge inspirations for me. There are other notable references, but he’s probably the biggest.
Candy Wellins - I really loved Beverly Cleary books as a kid. I felt like she understood the pains and frustrations and joys of childhood like no one else did. Her books were a revelation to me—there were other kids who had the same struggles I did and adults who understood us.
Such a great collection of good books! Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book?
Carrie Finison – Dozens of Donuts (7/21/2020) - I love hearing about readers engaging with the math in the book. Some kids like to just read and enjoy the story, but others want to look again and discover how each batch of doughnuts was divided up and exactly how many doughnuts each character got to eat. It’s a fun exercise in everyday math and we all know how intensely kids care about treats being divided equally! [Fairness is so key to kids.]
Isabella Kung –No Fuzzball! (8/4/2020) - No Fuzzball is written in first-person, every word is coming directly from Queen No Fuzzball herself. As bright and mighty as she is, her perspective may not be all that reliable. I encourage readers to look very closely at the illustrations and figure out what is really happening in the story. [That really increases the fun of the book.]
Christina Soontornvat – Simon at the Art Museum (6/9/2020) - One thing I love that the illustrator, Christine Davenier, did in the book is to have the same museum patrons show up in multiple scenes: entering the museum, appreciating the art, and then leaving the museum at the end of the day. It gives the story another layer that kids can appreciate, and something that they can look for as they read again and again! [What a great tidbit to know. Thank you.]
Sam Wedelich – Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale (6/2/2020) - I want readers to know that Chicken Little has depth if you want it, but is also just a hilarious and silly read aloud if you have smaller children who aren’t ready/interested in talking about news/rumors/fact/fiction. It’s satirical and sweet at the same time and I hope readers enjoy the layered approach and my treatment of a classic tale that has a LOT to say to us right now. [Love how you've created a book that can grow with the reader.]
Candy Wellins – Saturdays Are for Stella (8/11/20) - Although there are moments of sadness in the story, I hope readers will find it to be a hopeful and uplifting book. [Just like life, bad times & good times mingled together.]
Thank you all for that "insider" scoop. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Carrie Finison – Oh, wow, there are so many! I recently read Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Leonard Marcus and would love to have met her! She was the editor of what she called “good books for bad children” -- pretty much every children’s classic you can think of: Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Where the Wild Things Are, Charlotte’s Web, and many more. I’d love to be transported back to 1950s New York and take a lunch with her. [That would be so amazing!]
Isabella Kung – Without a doubt, Sir David Attenborough. I have been in love with his nature documentaries since I was a child. His writing and narrative voice infuse watchers with awe, educates, and inspires us all to fall in love with our natural planet over and over again. Plus, his voice is like butter! I would listen to him read a phone book! [Oh, I know what you mean!]
Christina Soontornvat – This is so hard! Since we are talking about Simon at the Art Museum I think I would pick my illustrator, Christine Davenier. I am a huge fan of her work and we have never met or corresponded. I hope that I will get the chance to meet her in person one day! [I hope you two get to meet.]
Sam Wedelich – My maternal grandfather. He was German and died before I was born, but we were both window display artists and seem to have similar personalities and interests. I would love to just have an afternoon to get to know him and learn more about my family history. [That sounds like a wonderful afternoon.]
Candy Wellins - I’m a big Beatle fan and Paul is my favorite. I last saw him in concert two years ago when I was nine months pregnant! To meet him in person would be fab. [What an amazing wish!]
Can you describe one thing you’ve learned from your journey, so far.
Carrie Finison – Dozens of Donuts (7/21/2020) - We writers hear the phrase “kill your darlings” often, but it’s hard to overstate the absolute bloodbath that has occurred with some of my manuscripts. It’s taken me a long time to understand what true revision means. I now consider a manuscript truly revised when not one word of the original is left standing. [Brutal! But maybe freeing to remember that the 1st draft (+) is the 'sloppy copy.']
Isabella Kung –No Fuzzball! (8/4/2020) - I learned that each journey is different for everyone. Most of them, including my own, are filled with twists and turns and there’s no such thing as an overnight success. Behind every success story is years of hard work and persistence, so I try my best not to compare myself to others. (easier said than done though!) [I hear you. But sometimes so tough to implement.]
Christina Soontornvat – Simon at the Art Museum (6/9/2020) - Be open to the unexpected. Fifteen years ago, I never imagined myself writing children’s books. I never imagined myself writing nonfiction. Or a memoir. There are so many wonderful things that I have been able to be a part of because I was open to doing something I never imagined. [Great advice! Thanks.]
Sam Wedelich – Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale (6/2/2020) - To not take myself too seriously. I mean, as artists I think we all feel like we have things to contribute and say... It’s what drives us to make art... but at the same time, there’s a lot of freedom to be found in taking some of the pressure off and knowing that since my book is out in the world, it’s not really mine anymore and I can’t waste energy trying to worry/control how it’s received. That’s for readers to do and it’s the gift we give them unconditionally when we make the work and put it out there. It’s a lesson in vulnerability, that ultimately leads to joy. [I love that!]
Candy Wellins – Saturdays Are for Stella (8/11/20) - You’ve got to keep working at your craft. Everyone wants to be an overnight success, but like most things in life, that rarely happens. Writing regularly (daily if possible), reading current picture books, and staying positive and committed have helped keep me in the game. [Keep working and keep smiling. Got it!]
Final question. What is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?
Carrie Finison – I have two cats and love them, so I won’t tell them that my favorite animals are horses. I rode a bit when I was a teen and still love horses today even though my dream of owning one myself hasn’t come true. (My daughter keeps trying to convince me we DO have room in our yard, though.) [When you figure out a backyard version - please let me know!]
Isabella Kung – Obviously, I have to say cats, I love them so much I wrote a whole book about one! *whispers* But in all honestly, I love all animals, recent obsessions are: sloths because they are the cutest, gentlest, sleepiest little eco-systems in the wild; manta rays because of their majestic beauty and size; wombats because they are adorable and they make square poops! [Promise not to tell the cats!]
Christina Soontornvat – Bats. They are the only mammals that fly. How could I not love an animal as audacious and daring as that? [You got a point there.]
Sam Wedelich – Red Pandas! I mean, look at this guy. I can’t even. It’s just too cute. [I totally agree! We just had twins born at our favorite zoo!]
Candy Wellins - Dogs! Our dog died when my youngest child was a month old and we haven’t got another one yet. I miss the companionship and loyalty of a dog. Plus, now that my daughter is a toddler, I really miss having a dog who can help clean the floor during mealtimes. [I am so sorry. Hope the hole in your heart fades to beloved pawprints.]
Thank you all for giving us a little peek into yourselves and your books. Wishing you all great success.
To learn more about these writers and illustrators, visit Soaring 20’s High Flying Picture
Book Debuts @ https://www.soaring20spb.com/