The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Sue Lowell Gallion & Review of Our World
Sue Lowell Gallion writes for children because she is passionate about children, reading, and any combination of the two! Sue lives in the Kansas City area with her black lab mix, Tucker, who likes to go on walks and hold hands.
As a printer’s daughter, Sue grew up surrounded by the smells of paper and ink and the sound of printing presses. Sue and her sister, Nancy, liked to visit The Lowell Press, the family printing plant. They raided the plant gumball machine, gathered paper scraps to make paper dolls, and played with type and stamp pads. When they got a little older, they worked there, too. They stuffed envelopes, boxed books, and proofread endless pages of cattle pedigrees (with breaks for gumballs.)
She’s the author of the award-winning Pug Meets Pig (2016) as well as: Pug & Pig: Trick-or-Treat (2017) and a 2-book early reader series Tip and Tucker. She has two books releasing this
fall Tip and Tucker Paw Painters (August 15, 2020) and All Except Axle (September 22, 2020).
Her newest nonfiction board book, Our World, A First Book Of Geography, releases today!
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I was a kid who got in trouble for reading too much – hiding a book under my desk in
grade school, practicing the piano with one hand and thinking my mom wouldn’t notice I was reading a book at the same time. I worked as a writer in corporate and non-profit jobs, but I didn’t start writing for kids until my own kids were in middle and high school, about 15 years ago.
I really enjoyed going back to my journalism roots and writing nonfiction with OUR
WORLD, I’m looking forward to doing more of that.
I love that you got in trouble for reading TOO much! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
When I was in my mid-20s, I took a three-week business trip literally around the world. I flew across the Atlantic from Houston to London, then Pakistan, Singapore, and Indonesia, then flew back over the Pacific to San Francisco. Maybe the seed for this book actually started there! It did take a while to get over that jet lag.
What a great adventure! Do you find it hard to switch between writing picture books and early readers? Do you have a favorite genre and/or, heaven forbid, a favorite among your books?
I think writing for kids is like a puzzle, no matter what genre or format. How might an idea or character in your brain turn into an illustrated physical object?
I’ve only written early readers with a co-author, Ann Ingalls. Ann taught reading as an educator for years, so I’m so lucky to work with an expert. Plus, we’ve had a lot of fun and consumed a lot of coffee together as collaborators.
Pug Meets Pig will always be special because it was my debut. I’ll never forget standing on my driveway with my neighbor and opening that package. It’s led to such wonderful experiences and relationships over the last four years.
Sometimes it feels like a puzzle with a piece or two missing. What was your inspiration for Our World, A First Book Of Geography?
I love travel, geography, and finding a perfect picnic spot in a national park, although I don’t have a great sense of direction. If you saw me trying to navigate the streets of an unfamiliar city using my phone app, you’d know. I think my grandparents’ house foundation was stabilized by old National Geographic issues, and watching slide shows of anyone’s travels anywhere was a family tradition. Later I loved to play games with my kids where they’d stop the globe with a finger on a spot and we’d imagine taking a trip there.
The actual idea for a globe-shaped board book came to me during an SCBWI workshop. I made a little dummy right then, and now, almost three years later, I’m holding it my hands. I always tell people interested in creating books for kids to join SCBWI!
[For additional information on the development and construction of Our World,
check out Kathy Temean's post.]
I remember doing that with a globe as a child. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Charlotte’s Web, written by E.B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams, is hard to top.
I agree with you there. What was the hardest part of writing Our World, A First Book Of Geography? Maybe the rhyming or limiting the sidebars to text that fit the base?
Definitely the rhyme. This is my first nonfiction book and the first rhyming manuscript I’ve sold. I didn’t make it easy on myself – rhyme and nonfiction are a tough combo! Not only does each line of the poem have to work with rhyme and meter, it has to be factually accurate and just the right word for a young audience. Just about every revision changed the order or number of spreads in this book. I went through a lot of legal pads scribbling possible phrases and stanzas.
Our Phaidon editor and art director are based in London and the book was released in both North American and U.K. editions, so I also had to revise to make the content and spelling work for all audiences.
Our World started out simply as a poem. The additional layer of text on the globe stand was the idea of the brilliant Phaidon team. I did a lot of research and reworking of the both the poem and the secondary text as the illustrations and design developed. And then it was tricky to make that text fit. That took me back to my college headline writing days.
Boy, talk about a bunch of moving parts! Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Our World, A First Book Of Geography?
My dream is that this book will inspire children and adults to experience, learn about, and appreciate our natural world more fully. I hope it inspires exploration, both outdoors and through books, and that it will encourage all of us to take better care of our fragile planet, especially with the critical and looming issue of climate change. It’s truly a book of my heart. I know the Phaidon team feels the same way.
It's a beautiful book that kids are going to love. What was the most surprising thing for you about Our World, A First Book Of Geography? Perhaps something in the illustrations, reader reception, or something you learned about yourself. Do you have a favorite spread?
Lisk Feng’s illustrations are incredible. The Phaidon team said they had been wanting to do a book with her, and this manuscript seemed like a perfect pairing to them. I am so grateful to have been able to create a book with this team. When I saw Lisk’s first sketches within the globe-shaped format, I couldn’t even imagine how beautiful the book would be.
Part of my initial vision had been that this book would convey the connectedness of our world. The COVID-19 pandemic spreading around the world gave connection a whole different meaning and sense of urgency. In the midst of this crisis, I’m still inspired by the courage and caring of people and the commitment and expertise of scientists worldwide. Perhaps this book can play some tiny part in encouraging us to appreciate and embrace differences around the world.
Text © Sue Gallion, 2020. Image © Lisk Feng, 2020.
The rivers, lakes, and ocean spread is my current favorite. There is such a sense of serenity and hope in those illustrations.
As you said, just what is needed right now. Is it easier to write a single book, such as Our World, A First Book Of Geography or All Except Axle, or to write a book for a series such Pug Meets Pig? Why?
Pug Meets Pig (illustrated by the marvelous Joyce Wan) didn’t start out as a series. Soon after the manuscript was bought by Beach Lane Books, the reaction of my dog to the dog next door in a skeleton costume sparked a Halloween adventure for Pug and Pig. Beach Lane bought that manuscript before the first book released, which is unusual. I worked on several possible third books before one sold. Pug & Pig and Friends comes out in spring 2021. In a way, it’s easier to write these books because the characters and setting are established. But to come up with a new story for Pug and Pig that has humor and heart and can stand alone is really challenging, too.
I wish you luck if you aim for a fourth book. Did you envision the book opening into a globe? Or was that something the illustrator Lisk Feng and the art director developed? If it was your idea, how did you pitch this book?
I envisioned the book opening into a sphere. The Phaidon team came up with the idea to have the book fasten together magnetically so it can stand alone. I’m entranced with how it works and I’m going to have to clean off one of my messy bookshelves for a standing copy.
My agent submitted the manuscript with my dummy via snail mail. Ariel Richardson of Chronicle taught that SCBWI workshop and encouraged us to dream up novelty elements. She also suggested submitting dummies along with board book manuscripts. I had so many different novelty elements in mind, each book probably would have cost $50!
Since my book arrived, I've been playing with it too. It's such a cool concept. What has been your biggest surprise, for any of your book(s), when you first got to see the illustrations? Good or bad.
In the first Pug and Pig book, I had no idea that Pug would have an outdoor doghouse. My dog sleeps in a bed in my bedroom, so a dog living in a doghouse was a foreign concept to me! It took me a bit to rationalize that a) this is fiction, b) our editors lived in southern California with mild weather all year, and c) Pug could go in and out of the actual house through the doggy/piggy door anytime.
Text © Sue Gallion, 2016. Image © Joyce Wan, 2016.
That's funny. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer.)
The love, talent, discipline, courage, and humility of other authors and illustrators creating books for children inspires me every day.
And I’m a mom, grandma, aunt, great-aunt, daughter, cousin, friend, and book-sharer. Those relationships keep me writing and give me joy.
Lots of great inspiration. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Sure! All About Axle is about a new car with anxiety about leaving the assembly plant. I’ve always wanted to sell a vehicle book, and I’m crazy about Lisa Manuzak Wiley’s color palette and characters. The book comes out September 22 from Aladdin/S&S.
Text © Sue Gallion, 2020. Image © Lisa Manuzak Wiley, 2020.
The third in the Tip and Tucker series from Sleeping Bear that I co-write with Ann Ingalls may be my favorite of these early readers so far. Andre Ceolin, the illustrator, makes spilled paint incredibly cute in Tip and Tucker Paw Painters. It comes out in mid-August.
We'll have to keep our eyes out for these books. Do you have any advice on surviving rejections, managing bouts of success, or anything else for authors or illustrators?
Perseverance is a big part of this business. My “overnight success” took 10 years, and right after my first books came out, I experienced two years of not selling a single manuscript. Now I’ve got three books coming out in the middle of a pandemic! Don’t have any illusion that you can control anything. Just enjoy the gift of collaborating with other creative people and do your best work for kids.
Great advice for surviving in this strange business. What is your favorite animal? Or one you are currently enamored with. Why?
I’ve always been a fan of moose. They’re so gawky and klutzy. I’m a bit that way too. I’d love to have one star in a manuscript sometime.
Thank you, Sue for participating in this interview. I enjoyed the chance to get to know you better.
For more information about Sue Lowell Gallion, or to contact her:
Review of Our World: A First Book Of Geography
Although I typically focus on picture books, every once in a while a board book catches my eye and I can't resist featuring it on my blog.
Our World is just such a book. This would have been a treasured book in our house when the kids were young. It would have easily appealed to both of my kids: the one who loved looking at and learning about animals and the child enthralled with nature and anything to do with science. This is truly a treasure.
Our World: A First Book Of Geography
Author: Sue Gallion
Illustrator: Lisk Feng
Publisher: Phaidon (2020)
Geography, novelty book, STEM, nature, and rhyming.
A read-aloud introduction to geography for young children that, when opened and folded back, creates a freestanding globe
Children are invited to identify and experience the Earth's amazing geography through rhyming verse and lush illustrations: from rivers, lakes, and oceans deep, to valleys, hills, and mountains steep. Secondary text offers more detailed, curriculum-focused facts and encourages readers to consider their own living environments, making the reading experience personal yet set within a global backdrop. This informative homage to Earth is sure to inspire readers to learn more about their planet – and to engage with the world around them.
Many places to explore,
From mountain peaks to ocean floor.
Look around you, step outside . . .
What I loved this book:
I really enjoy books that push the boundaries, that bring science, animals, and the wonders this world holds into the experience and imagination of children.
First off, while shaped books aren't unusual for board books, I really like that upon opening this book it feels like an awesome snow globe.
Text © Sue Gallion, 2020. Image © Lisk Feng, 2020.
For the very youngest, the left section continues the poem - "Find forests tall" - while the right sidebar caters to the older readers and adults. On this spread, it expands upon the two different forests in the illustration, asking "What kind of trees grow where you live?" Then it goes one step further, exploring how temperature and the amount (and type) of precipitation determines whether the trees in a certain forest are deciduous or evergreen. Sue Gallion and Lisk Feng masterfully included so many layers in both the text and the bright illustrations.
The book continues to explore grasslands, jungles, deserts, icy poles, and one of my favorites - "tundra high" - compares the North Pole and the tall peaks of the Andes mountains. Lisk's stunningly beautiful spreads, team with animals of every size that inhabit each of these various locations.
Text © Sue Gallion, 2020. Image © Lisk Feng, 2020.
Sue and Lisk continue to explore the natural features - "Rivers, lakes, Oceans deep. Valleys, hills, Mountains steep," weather, and continents. With gorgeous illustrations, simple, easy rhythm and spot on rhyme, this books immerses a young child in the diversity, wonder, and beauty that exists in the world and entices a child to think about how they personally interact with our world.
Then once you're done reading it, a magnetic fastener turns the book into a globe. Isn't that amazing! It makes for a wonderful display, until you're ready to read it again. It's simply ingenious.
Text © Sue Gallion, 2020. Image © Lisk Feng, 2020.
This book is a delightful read, a treasure to display, and a wonderful STEM evaluation of nature and geography. It captures the connectivity and interdependence that everyone in the world shares and hopefully helps create a sense of responsibility and stewardship in the next generation. Our World is a great jumping off point for discussions about so many aspects of nature, geology, animals, and how it all applies to our individual lives. Definitely a book that can grow with a child from toddler to first grade (or farther).
- build a diorama about the area where you live (https://thecraftyclassroom.com/crafts/geology-crafts-for-kids/landform-diorama-craft/) What animals live there too?
- if you could draw a spread for this globe, what would you include?
- make a list or draw a picture of all the different areas of Our World which you have visited.
- looking at a world map or globe, can you find all the areas and features mentioned in the book?
- checkout the activity guide for Our World (created by Marcie Colleen) (https://suegallion.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Our-World-Activity-guide-final.pdf).
- and look at Sue's "Hands on Activities for an Inflatable Globe" (https://suegallion.com/teacher-resources).