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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Cover Reveal for BIG BEAR WAS NOT THE SAME

Today, I'm doing something NEW! I'm hosting the cover reveal for Big Bear Was Not the Same.

BUT . . . first I'd like to introduce you to the author & illustrator.

John Ledda is an illustrator, designer and aspiring children’s book author living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. He enjoys creating charming, humorous, and heartfelt images and stories for readers of all ages with the help of his trusty iPad, a hot cup of tea, and a good podcast. When he’s not working, John enjoys cooking, reading, and spending time outdoors, hiking in some of the of the beautiful nearby parks and forests with his partner. This is John's debut picture book.

Joanna Rowland grew up in Sacramento, CA where she liked to play in the creek looking for crawdads and tadpoles, as well as daydream and participate as a synchronized swimmer. Joanna earned a BA in Child Development, followed by her teaching credential, and is currently an elementary teacher by day and a writer by night. She lives with her husband and their three daughters in Northern California.

Joanna is the author of The Memory Book: A Grief Journal for Children and Families (Beaming Books 2020), Stay Through the Storm (Beaming Books 2019), The Memory Box: A Book About Grief (2017), and Always Mom, Forever Dad (Tilbury House Publishers 2014).

Welcome John and Joanna. Let’s start with you both telling us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write/illustrate? How long have you been writing/illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)

John: I’ve been making art since I was a kid, but it’s only been in the past couple of years that I’ve been focusing on breaking into picture books. I work as a graphic designer during the day, so most of my work takes place in the evening, which suits me just fine. My favorite place to draw is a comfy chair in our living room, and since I do everything on my iPad it’s very convenient to just sit down and start without much fuss or setup. I love illustrating stories that have a lot of heart, with plenty of room for humor, and space for me to add my own ideas and interpretations.

Joanna: I teach during the day so either early in the morning or later at night I find a comfy chair by a window at home to write in. Whenever we can get away, I visit a family cabin that has no TV and read and write all weekend. I try to go up there a couple times a year. I’ve been writing since 2009. It was actually the Writers Workshop Training my school district provided for teachers, that helped me find my love of writing. My first book published in 2014. I love writing picture books on difficult topics in a hopeful way.

Heart, hope, and humor are definitely some of the best elements of picture books. Seems you were perfectly matched for this book. John - what about the Big Bear Was Not the Same manuscript snagged your attention or captured your imagination? Who or what was the inspiration for your illustrations?

Big Bear Was Not the Same is the first book I’ve ever professionally illustrated, and so at the beginning of the project–before I knew any real details about the book–I was very nervous it would be some terribly grueling process, or that I wouldn’t connect with the manuscript. However, as soon as I read it, I just felt like I was bursting with ideas. I couldn’t wait to get started! I was immediately reminded of a trip I took to Yosemite last year, and all of the beautiful forests and landscapes. Trying to capture the variety of settings you find in a beautiful place like that was a fun challenge.

I so enjoyed camping at Yosemite, I can't wait to see your illustrations! Joanna - what was the inspiration or backstory for Big Bear Was Not the Same?

I had been working on a name origin story for my dad, who has a unique name, for almost a year. My grandfather had given him this unique name after going through some very traumatic experiences. Some feedback I got on the name origin story was that I was trying to fit two stories in one. I needed to either focus on the name origin story or a story about trauma. It was actually in January of 2020 when the title Big Bear Was Not The Same came to me during Storystorm. And I needed to answer the question – Why wasn’t Big Bear the same? And four months later, it sold.

Joanna, that's amazing! Having just finished Storystorm, it's fun to hear of a success story from that idea challenge. How much, if any, collaboration did you two have? If you communicated, did you do so through the editor? How much did the text change after the illustrations were completed?

John: All of our collaboration was done with our editor, Naomi, as the intermediary. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but the whole process was so smooth on my end. The feedback I received after I’d submit artwork was always so positive, and the updates requested were always straightforward and made the book better. I never had to fight for any particular vision, and everyone was always very open to hearing my ideas and input as the illustrator. Joanna was always kind enough to reach out to me on Twitter to tell me how much she was loving the sketches, which always made my day.

Joanna: That’s a great question. I always wonder about this too. Our editor primarily worked with each of us separately, but she shared sketches when they were pretty much finished. And I adored seeing them. I know I revised this book after John signed on as the illustrator. Naomi, our editor, had such wonderful thoughts for revisions that would make the story richer. The main shift was focusing more on Little Bear who sees what is happening to Big Bear. I included a few illustration notes when it sold to the publisher Beaming Books, but when I send illustration notes, it’s only to convey how something can be shown. I’m never tied to it. I love how illustrators can look at a text and bring their own vision to the story. When I was thinking about why Big Bear was not the same, I thought how a forest fire would be traumatizing for an animal. I live in California and we had been struggling with fires the last few years. I can’t wait for you to see the richness and depth John’s illustrations add to the story. It really brings it to life and I think kids will love seeing and meeting these characters.

Can you both give us a hint, or tell us something you want your readers to know about Big Bear Was Not the Same?

John: I’m so excited for people to read this book. Joanna handles difficult topics in such a warm and approachable way, and I really wanted to encapsulate that in my illustrations. While this book is especially good for kids dealing with trauma, at its heart it’s a story about friendship that anyone can relate to.

Joanna: The characters John drew are so adorable. They will tug at your heart. And he has such fun and creative ways to show that on the pages. I can’t wait for you to meet Big Bear and Little Bear.

After 2020, I think we are all going to need a book full of heart and friendship, that helps soften trauma. Oh, it's going to be hard to wait until August 24th! Thank you, John and Joanna for stopping by and sharing your cover reveal and a snippet about Big Bear Was Not the Same with us. It was wonderful to chat with you both.

Ready to see the cover?

If you enjoyed our mini interview, be sure to come back on August 23rd for a more in depth interview of John and Joanna.

To find out more about John Ledda and Joanna Rowland, or get in touch with them:

John Ledda

Joanna Rowland


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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