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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview Marsha Diane Arnold, Anne Yvonne Gilbert + Review Armando's Island

Talk about dynamic duos - gorgeous writing paired with stunning illustrations! I am so honored to be able to share with you a bit about Marsha and Anne, their inspirations, creativity, and creation of the absolutely stunning picture book - Armando's Island.


Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold is a picture book author of twenty-three books, with over one million books sold.

Photo of Marsha Diane Arnold.

Her books have garnered honors like Best First Book by a New Author, Smithsonian Notable, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and Green Prize for Sustainable Literature. Her Lights Out, about light pollution, has been praised by the Dark Sky and children’s lit communities and was a finalist for the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text.


Marsha lives in Florida with her husband and funny dog Sailor. When not writing, she enjoys spending time with family, gardening, and exploring new places and ideas.

Collage of 10 of Marsha Diane Arnold's published books.

Marsha’s the author of 23 books, including One Small Thing, illustrated by Laura Watkins (2023), Lights Out, illustrated by Susan Reagan (2020), Badger's Perfect Garden, illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki (2019), Mine. Yours., illustrated by Qin Leng (2019), Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña (English and Spanish Edition), illustrated by Angela Dominguez (2018), May I Come In?, illustrated by Jennie Poh (2018), Baby Animals Take a Nap &Baby Animals Take a Bath, illustrated by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes (2017), Waiting for Snow, illustrated by Renata Liwska (2016) and Lost. Found.: A Picture Book, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (2015).


For additional information about Marsha, see our earlier interview (here) and (here).


Anne Yvonne Gilbert is a renowned British artist and book illustrator and author whose work runs the gamut from children’s books and postage stamps to posters and record sleeves.

Photo of Anne Yvonne Gilbert and her dog.

The richness of her imagination reflects her life long research and interest in the quality of materials and surfaces, from the familiar glint of an embroidered cloak to the soft, unblemished skin of an infant.


Her love of Fairy Tales and history combined has resulted in the design and illustration of many books for the top publishers worldwide. Amongst her many other commissions she has designed three sets of postage stamps for Royal Mail, (her 1984 nativity winning ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Stamp’ and the ‘Golden Stamp Award’), and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ album cover.


Her originals are held in many private collections including those of Arnold Swartzenneger and the late H.R.H. Princess Margaret.

Collage of 7 of Anne Yvonne Gilbert's published books

Anne’s the author/illustrator of 7 books, including The Red Canoe (2022). And the illustrator of over 32 books including, Powerful Princesses (Heroic Heroines) by Angela Buckingham (2022) Ghostology: A True Revelation of Spirits, Ghouls, and Hauntings (Ologies) by Lucinda Curtle & Dugald A. Steer, co-illustrated with Garry Walton & Doug Sirois (2020), Robin Hood: The Classic Adventure Tale by Nicky Raven (2019), Illustrated Ballet Stories by Various authors (2018), The Adventures of Snider, the CIA Spider, by John Taylor Gatto (2017), and Montmorency's Book of Rhymes by T. J. Winter (2013).


Their newest picture book, Armando’s Island, released yesterday, on August 8th.


Welcome Marsha & Anne!


Let’s start with Anne. Tell us a little about yourselves. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate? )


ANNE – I have always worked from home. Lucky me. I got my first commission in the mid -seventies and have worked ever since. I have done just about every type of illustration over the years—design, advertising, editorial, stamps, cards, posters, record sleeves but book illustration is where my heart is. I’m a fairly traditional illustrator so I get a lot of myths and legends which I’m happy with—I like lots of details and decoration and wonderful costumes.


That definitely comes through in your gorgeous body of work! What is one of your most fun or unusual illustrated manuscripts or prints?


ANNE – In 1982 I illustrated the cover for Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s RELAX. And I’ve done 3 sets of stamps for the Royal Mail.


For both of you, which has been your toughest picture book to write or illustrate? Why?


MARSHA – I suspect it was my first book, Heart of a Tiger, published back in 1995. I had worked for years to improve my writing craft, my art. But I can’t remember that far back, so I will need to say the most challenging was my bilingual Galápagos Girl, a fiction book based on real life.

Cover of Galapagos Girl - leading blue-footed boobies across a rocky shore.

I met Valentina Cruz, the real Galápagos girl, when I visited the islands with a dear friend. I had wanted to write about the Galápagos animals for years, but knew I also wanted a child in the story. That child turned out to be Valentina, who was born and raised on the islands. Valentina graciously shared her stories, but there were so many! I had the most challenging time deciding which of her stories to tell.

Cover of The Giant and Viola - older lady in puprle and cream dress carrying a satchel and a cat.

ANNE – A laser-cut book with a hollow center called The Giant and Viola for Grimm Press, Taiwan. The mechanics were mind boggling to work out.


Those both sound challenging. Marsha, what was your inspiration or spark of curiosity for Armando’s Island?

Book cover - boy peeking through rainforest vegetation surrounded by numerous rainforest animals.

MARSHA – People are surprised when I tell them I started researching Armando’s Island thirty years ago. It’s difficult for me to remember back so many years and I have misplaced some of my notes. However, the inspiration was the rainforests, the beautiful rainforests on this planet. I had read about them for years. I had been a member of organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Nature Conservancy, organizations working to save the habitat for animals. That was my inspiration. I fell in love with the rainforests.


I am so glad that you did not give up on this book. Anne, what about the Armando’s Island manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Title page - heart made of vegetation with a hut and a stream in the middle.

ANNE – I really only want to draw people and animals so Armando’s Island was perfect for me. I also like to get stuck into the research side of my job and thoroughly enjoyed the deep delve into the Amazonian flora and fauna.


This must have a little slice of heaven for you, then (tempered a little by a looming deadline, of course). Notably, neither of you live in the Amazon, so how were you able to channel Armando’s experience to make this story realistic? Have either of you ever travelled to the Amazon?

Little house tucked into the Costa Rican forest.

MARSHA – Sadly, I’ve never travelled to the Amazon. My husband and I did have a casita in beautiful Costa Rica for years. It was nestled in the tropical rainforest. Toucans, macaws, monkeys, and more stopped by to visit. It was like heaven to us. We have visited Costa Rica many times and have many friends there. But the truth is I wrote Armando’s Island before we had our casita. The desire to have that type of life, surrounded by nature, has always been in my heart.


Over the years, I followed organizations working to protect the rainforest, like Rainforest Alliance and Amazon Watch, and did lots of research. On September 1st, there should be an Activity Guide for Armando’s Island available on my website and The Creative Company’s site https://thecreativecompany.us/ In the guide, I wrote:

“There is a difference in knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by knowing information. We may never travel to the Amazon rainforest, so we will not know it by acquaintance. But we can immerse ourselves as much as possible with videos, audios, books, and activities and we may know and appreciate it a little in this way.”


I hope those who read Armando’s Island will feel the respect I have for the wildlife and people who live there.

Two acquaintances who live in Brazil have invited me to visit. Someday I hope that is possible.


ANNE - I’m afraid I haven’t but many thousands of photographers and film-makers have so it isn’t exactly unfamiliar. And we’re all aware of what’s happening there, and we’re all more than concerned---terrified actually, so it wasn’t difficult to identify with Armando.


Thank you both for your candor. I think you did a great job capturing the beauty and destruction of the Amazon. How many revisions did Armando’s Island take for the text or illustrations from your first draft to publication? What was the toughest aspect of writing or illustrating this book?


MARSHA – I don’t really keep track of drafts, especially from over twenty years ago. The arc of the story didn’t change. I revised phrases, changed animals, moved things around a bit, but the kernel of the story was always the same.


I think I showed the manuscript to my first editor in the late 1990s. I shared it with other editors in 2003, 2007, and again in 2011 when I joined Red Fox Literary Agency. Everyone said good things about the story. Everyone also rejected it. Rejections are tough, tougher than the writing. In 2019, my agent sent the story out again. I’d added back matter, but changed nothing else. This time two offers came in. I accepted the offer from The Creative Company because they do such magnificent books. They had also published my Lights Out, beautifully illustrated by Susan Reagan. I knew The Creative Company would find a fabulous illustrator. Who could be more fabulous than the brilliant Anne Yvonne Gilbert?


*[Note - Marsha has discovered older files and expanded on this answer on Beth Anderson's Behind the Scenes: “The Long Journey of ARMANDO’S ISLAND” by Marsha Diane Arnold (8/4/2023)]*


ANNE – Making Armando real. That’s my job in a nutshell.


Ultimately, you both do what you have to do to get the book right. Marsha, how long did it take for you to come up with your lovely, lyrical refrain? (“Chasing butterflies along a golden stream,/calling to howler monkeys swinging high above,/dancing to the rain’s rhythm with a leaf as his umbrella.”


MARSHA – Thank you for describing it that way, Maria. That is actually one of my favorite parts of the book.


Who knows how long it takes a writer to come up with a phrase or a refrain? So much of my writing is done in my mind, before ever taking pen to paper. That refrain is in my earliest drafts, so it must have come to me fairly quickly...quickly after much reading, much research, much thinking.


Well, I think it's magnificent and I'd love to live that way. Anne, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Armando’s Island? If so, could you share one or more with us?


ANNE – No, everything is based on what Marsha has written. Marsha described many of the animals so I brought them into Armando’s home and made them his friends. It seemed only natural to me.


I love your initial illustration of Armando cuddling a sloth! Is there something you both want your readers to know about Armando’s Island?


MARSHA - I hope readers will want to learn more about rainforests and what we can do to help protect them. I also hope readers will look around their own homes and neighborhoods to discover ways they can help the animals and habitats that surround them. There is much we can do in our own backyards.


ANNE – I loved working on it. I don’t often get the chance to draw animals, birds, insects etc. so thank-you Marsha!


Marsha, did anything surprise or delight you when you first saw Anne Yvonne Gilbert’s illustrations for the first time? Which is your favorite spread?


MARSHA – Everything delighted me about Anne Yvonne’s illustrations! I had seen other illustrations she’d created, so perhaps I wasn’t completely surprised. It was more a feeling of delight.

Young Armando in a hammock, snuggling s sloth and surrounded by tapir, parrots, monkeys, and an armadillo.

Text © Marsha Diane Arnold, 2023. Image © Anne Yvonne Gilbert. 2023.


When you look deeply at her illustrations, you see amazing details. It seems every time I look at the book, I see something new, something more. Anne Yvonne graciously gave me two prints to hang on my wall. It was a difficult decision, but I chose the first illustration with Armando in the hammock, looking straight at the reader, asking the reader to come into the rainforest with him. I also chose the illustration with the jaguar. I love cats, especially big cats.


As I mentioned above, I adore this illustration! I'd hang that on my wall. Anne, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - young boy peeking through rainforest vegetation surrounded by numerous rainforest animals.

Text © Marsha Diane Arnold, 2023. Image © Anne Yvonne Gilbert. 2023.


ANNE – The spread used on the cover.


Given your previous comment, I can imagine how much fun this was for you to create. And I love this one, too. (Actually, I don't think there is a spread I don't like...) Are there any projects you both are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


MARSHA – I’ve been so busy with family, manuscript consultations, and PR for my two 2023 books that I haven’t been able to focus on a new project. Maria, I think I shared with you before that I have a book coming out in 2025. I still cannot share about it! Soon. There are so many stories waiting for me, stories about a child detective, rare animals, monsters, and more. I’m eager to join them and see where they lead me.


ANNE – I am just finishing another picture book for the Creative Company----lots and lots of animals!


We'll keep our eyes and ears open for the announcements. If you could share a moment with anyone, real or imaginary, dead or alive, who would that be? Why?


MARSHA – I would love to share a moment again with my mother and grandmother. I miss them so. Although I know quite a bit about my heritage, there are questions that I never asked. After I hug them, I’d ask those questions.


If I were to choose someone well known, it might be Charles Dickens. I majored in English Literature in college and Dickens always captured my imagination with his characters and his turn of phrase. Oh, those characters! Quirky, complicated, heartbreaking. “Barkis is willin’” When my daughter was eight, she played one of Fagin’s pickpockets in the musical, Oliver Twist. “Please, sir, I want some more.” I’m not sure what I’d ask Mr. Dickens. Perhaps I’d just sit and bask in his genius.


ANNE – My grandmother who died when I was young. The great depression ruined her chances of continuing with her art so it would be nice to talk about art and illustration with her now.


Thank you Marsha and Anne for stopping by and sharing with us. It was a pleasure to "meet" you Anne and to chat with you both.


MARSHA – Thanks to you, Maria, for your generosity. You are always so supportive of authors and books.

To find out more about Marsha Diane Arnold, or contact her:

To find out more about Anne Yvonne Gilbert, or contact her:

Website: http://www.anneyvonnegilbert.com/


Review of Armando's Island


If you're looking for a magnificently illustrated book on the Amazon rainforest, get this book. If you're looking for a gripping story about the joy of caring for and living with nature and the destruction that "progress" or greed is inflicting on the land and the animals, you have to get this one. With gorgeous and poignant illustrations and lyrical test, this book is a treasure. One to enjoy reading over and over and one that will encourage us all to take actions to protect the remaining rainforests.

Book cover - boy peeking through rainforest vegetation surrounded by numerous rainforest animals.

Armando's Island


Author: Marsha Diane Arnold


Illustrator: Anne Yvonne Gilbert


Publisher: The Creative Company (2023)


Ages: 6-8


Informational Fiction


Themes:

Conservation, living with/caring for nature, deforestation, and environmentalism.


Synopsis:

Armando's home is the rainforest—he knows its sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. He even knows its moods. From the bottom of the forest floor to the top of the emergent layer, the trees are also home to a multitude of creatures. When outsiders begin laying claim to and destroying the surrounding landscape, the displaced animals find refuge with Armando in the only remaining pocket of untouched forest, his "island." As people come in and animals are forced out, this poignant tale shows the cumulative and disastrous effects of Amazonian deforestation.


Opening Lines:

Beneath a canopy of trees, flowing like green ocean,

in an ancient forest,

lived Armando.


Each morning he awakened to the smell of the earth,

the sounds and songs of treetops,

the taste of just-picked berries.


What I Loved about this book:

This lyrical opening and stunning illustration are such a wonderful way to enter Armando's world, feel. As the text rolls off the tongue, like the river, listeners will be captivated by Armando waking in a hammock, surrounded by the most amazing friends.

Left - river winds down the page through the rainforest. Right - Young Armando in a hammock, snuggling s sloth and surrounded by tapir, parrots, monkeys, and an armadillo.

Text © Marsha Diane Arnold, 2023. Image © Anne Yvonne Gilbert. 2023.


Two gorgeous spreads, layered with so much detail that each time you look you discover something new, accompany Armando's childhood discoveries about the "moods of the rainforest" and his maturing into a young man who "skipped less and climbed more carefully. But with the first song of the toucan, he remembered:"

Armando carrying a rush basket and a monkey on his back  walks through the forest surrounded by storks, toucans, anteaters, cappybaras, butterflies,  and turtles.

Text © Marsha Diane Arnold, 2023. Image © Anne Yvonne Gilbert. 2023.


Chasing butterflies along a golden stream,

calling to howler monkeys swinging high above,

dancing to the rain’s rhythm with a leaf as his umbrella


This is both a wonderful encapsulation of Armando's childhood growing up in the rainforest and a beautiful, lyrical refrain.


When a tree cutter offered to make Armando rich by buying his land, Armando replied, "I am rich already." So the man bought the neighbor's land to the north. And the Macaws, monkeys, tree frogs, and green-furred sloths flee to Armando's. A poignant image of a bulldozer, spewing smoke and toppling giant trees, is juxtaposed against an image of scared rainforest animals. Armando also refused to sell to ranchers, so they bought and burned the neighbor's land to the south, causing more animals to flee to Armando's. Likewise he refused to sell to dam developers, who bought land to the east. In each instance, Marsha's lyrical text highlights the cessation of the animal's ordinary actions and Anne's powerful images portray both the displaced animals and the destruction of the neighboring portion of the rainforest.


The last group offered to trade Armando a bigger piece of land with more animals and plants to protect. As the animals and the forest listened and waited, Marsha's amazing refrain reappears and Armando replied:

Left side - machinery tears down rainforest trees. Right side - jaguar, monkeys, frogs, and golden kinkajous flee the destruction.

Text © Marsha Diane Arnold, 2023. Image © Anne Yvonne Gilbert. 2023.


"One piece of land cannot be traded for another,” he told the crowd.

“Each piece has its own treasures to give.”


So the crowd went to Armando’s neighbor in the west.

The next morning, to the west, a great scar was cut in the forest.


And more animals, including the jaguar, flee to Armando's. I won't give it away, but the ending is both heart wrenching and hopeful. It is a warning about what society loses when we capitulate to greed and destroy our forests and other wild spaces. As well as a poignant plea for the protection of all of our natural spaces - especially the precious Amazonian rainforest which contains plants and animals that exist nowhere else on earth. Additional information about the Amazon rainforest is accompanied by stunning side panels showing the animals and plants. This is a wonderful story, full of stunning illustrations and packed with information, which will inspire children and adults to look closely around themselves and act to protect our environment.


Resources:

Two examples of rainforest dioramas.

- create a rainforest diorama.

- when you read the title, what did you think "island" referred to? How is Armando's home an island?

- do you agree that the forest holds everything Armando needs? Why or why not? What is the difference between needs and wants?

- check out Rainforest Foundation US for information on how kids live in the Amazon, activities, and ideas for helping save the rainforest.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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