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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz- Interview with Julie Rowan-Zoch Plus Giveaway

Julie Rowan-Zoch describes herself as “a reformed graphic designer, concocting and sculpting story ideas and illustrations – every day. I’ve been called opinionated (I like to share) and hyper (ready for anything), and a Pollyanna (isn’t that nice?).”

Julie is the illustrator of the board books You’re Here, You’re One, and You’re Two (2014). And her author/illustrator debut, I’m a Hare, So There!, releases on March 16th, 2021.

Today, I get the privilege to offer you a sneak peek at her picture book illustration debut, Louis written by Tom Lichtenheld, which releases next week on October 6th.

Welcome Julie, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut book and illustrating.

Thank you so much for the invitation, Maria!

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you illustrate and write? How long have you been illustrating and writing?)

JULIE: When my kids were in their later years of high school a friend of mine was learning to be a creative coach. Since I had often mentioned wanting to write and illustrate picture books but hadn’t (!), she asked if I would be her guinea pig! A writer herself, she gave me the advice to find at least one critique partner and to join SCBWI. At the end of the year, 2011, I repeatedly saw the logo (by Linda Silvestri) for the 12x12in12 Picture Book Writing Challenge - and I am still a member in 2020! I focused first on learning to write a good story and found the most wonderful community! Within 12x12, one of the illustrators started a Doodle-a-Day group and the daily practice has become a lifesaver for me and catapulted my skills. Learning by doing a lot!

Developing a community is so important and helpful in this industry. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

Most social media followers and friends know I am “political”, and active on a number of local issues, like homelessness, but my #1 focus is on the implementation of Improved Medicare for All. Anyone wanting to know more, please feel free to contact me for info! [Photo of me and friends in patient gowns in a local July 4th parade - activism can be fun too!]

It does look like you were all enjoying yourselves. What appealed to you about the manuscript of Louis?

I was excited by the challenge of bringing an inanimate object to life with minimal gestures, to give a teddy bear personality but not make him feel too much like a real bear. And the story is as heartwarming as it is funny! [bear character sketches]

© Julie Rowan Zoch, 2020.

I love Louis' expressions! What was the toughest part of illustrating Louis? (Did Tom Lichtenheld include any illustration notes?)

The toughest part was getting over the intimidation of illustrating a book written by a successful illustrator - a NYT-bestselling illustrator! There were a couple of minimal art note/suggestions but I admit I ignored them initially. In one scene, I did go back and take the suggestion, but I am very grateful the discretion was still left up to me. (Three cheers for Tom and the team at HMH!)

Oh my gosh, I can imagine the nerves. But what a great opportunity for your debut as a picture book illustrator. How many revisions did it take to get the final art? Was this much different than illustrating your board book series?

Not as easy to count art revisions as it is with draft revisions! But most of the back and forth effort between myself, the art director, and the editor - and ultimately between them and Tom - was made over the dummy, and all of it was done per email.

© Julie Rowan Zoch, 2020.

The board book art was quite different, also because the local press had never created board books before. They are located just 7 blocks from my house, so I rode my bike over anytime we had things to discuss! For my taste they supplied too many art notes for the board books, but there were almost no revisions.

It's so interesting to see your dummy sketches. Thank you for sharing them with us! Do you have any advice for unagented and/or prepublished illustrators or authors? Anything that helped you get through that period (phase)?

Keep your skills well-oiled! Getting out of practice is dangerous for people like me because diligence in your craft is as important as perseverance in submissions.

Equally as valuable is community connection. Another writer may help you take your manuscript to the next level, another artist might give you just the right tip on materials, and someone else might suggest your work to an agent - but most kid-lit people will help you get up when you’re down and be there to cheer you on at every milestone!

Never underestimate the power of community. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

I have so many, but no one picture book stands out from childhood like Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russel Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. Likely because I could identify so well with another picky eater!

© Lillian Hoban, 1993.

The whole Frances series was special to me, and I only realized much, much later that Garth Williams had illustrated the first book and Lillian Hoban kept up the look for the rest. That must have been very difficult to do as an artist - both physically and emotionally.

Interesting. I hadn't known that either. What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite? Which did you use for Louis?

Pencils, ink pens, and markers were my thing, but I love working digitally and cannot thank illustrator Michael Garland enough for advising me to take it up. I used the Procreate app on my iPad for Louis, from start to finish. I would love to learn water color properly one day and I admit I find painting in any medium intimidating!

I hope you get the chance to experiment with it. If just for fun. Do you have a favorite illustration in Louis?

Text © Tom Lichtenheld, 2020. Image © Julie Rowan Zoch, 2020.

Probably the umbrella spread.

That is such a tender moment. Is there something you want your readers to know about Louis?

Oh, no! It is my hope that the reader brings as much to a book as any of its creators. I would love to find out what a reader wants ME to know!!!

I love that response! You heard her, readers, reach out and tell her how you connect to Louis. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Louis? Could you share one with us?

On just about every page! One is the chickadee on the washline post: I hang my laundry to dry (even in the winter) and one of the best things about that are the chickadee calls I hear while I’m outside! My own son also had an orange backpack - albeit with a basketball texture!

The stuffed pig is a nod to the Astrid Lindgren’s Lotta books and Lotta’s Bamsie Bear - in German, Schweinebär, which translates to Piggy-Bear. (If you haven’t read them, do!)

© Ilon Wiklund

What an intriguing image. I've read her Pippi Longstocking books, but not the Lotta books. There's one more for my growing TBR list! How are you staying creative during this crazy year? Any specific things you are doing to “prime the well”?

I was invited to join a Facebook group for artists of all sorts called 'Made in Isolation,' where we share whatever we might be working on. It’s been a great motivator to see what others are up to all over the world. And the group’s originator also made a website for some of us:

That is such an amazing gift and opportunity. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

It’s very important not to grow up. Not really, not inside, where it counts.

I adore that advice. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I hope I am done with the last revisions for I’m a Hare, So There! - just waiting on final word from the art director and editor. Everything else is in pre-submission development stages - in other words, I need to get my butt-in-chair!

Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one that you are currently enamored with. Why?

Recently I had an invasion of what appear to be Pharaoh ants in my kitchen which inspired these baby ants in diapers. The ants are just very, very small and are not babies! But I love what they "gave" to me before they had to be disappeared!!

© Julie Rowan Zoch, 2020.

That is hysterical! Thank you, Julie for stopping by and sharing these amazing images and about yourself with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.

The pleasure is all mine, Maria!

Be sure to come back Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Louis.

To find out more about Julie Rowan-Zoch, or get in touch with her:

One lucky reader will win a copy of Louis.

- Simply comment below or on Friday's #PPBF post (or both), to be entered in the random drawing for a copy of Louis.

- Be sure to say where you shared the post, and I'll add additional entries for you.

- Sorry, US Residents only.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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