The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/Beth Ferry - Tom Lichtenheld and Review of Stick and Stone BFF!

I get the unbelievable privilege to interview the dynamic duo of Beth Ferry & Tom Lichtenheld!

Beth Ferry is a New York Times best-selling picture book author who reads and writes by the beach in New Jersey. She has three grown children and one plump bulldog named Chaucer who entertains her endlessly.

Beth is the author of over 20 picture books illustrated by many amazing artists, including these which were published in 2021: The Nice Dream Truck, Marsha is Magnetic and Tea Time. She also writes graphic novels for emerging readers including the Fox and Rabbit series and an upcoming series called Crab & Snail.


For more information about Beth, check out our earlier interview (here).

Tom Lichtenheld makes books for children and people who used to be children. He has always loved to draw pictures and make up stories, and he’s been lucky enough to make a living by using his imagination for over 25 years. He lives in Geneva, Illinois.


His earliest childhood memory is of sitting in the kitchen, drawing pictures of ships and trucks on a blackboard. And spending hours staring at the illustrations in National Geographic and thinking how wonderful it would be to be one of the people who got to make all those incredible pictures.

Tom’s venture into children's books was a happy accident which happened when his nephew asked for a picture of a pirate. He is the author of Louis (2020), author/illustrator of When My Brother Gets Home (2020) and Cloudette (2011), and the illustrator of 24 picture books, including Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker (2015), I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (2015), Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry (2015), Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (2009), and Yes Day! Amy Krouse Rosenthal (2009).


Beth and Tom’s newest picture book collaboration, Stick & Stone Best Friends Forever!, released yesterday.


Tell us a little about yourself. (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?)


BETH: My favorite time and place to write is early in the morning snug in bed with a cup of coffee. When my bulldog Chaucer joins me up on the bed, I am happy to stay there all morning. Unless it’s summer. Then I’m happiest to be writing somewhere outside.


I have been writing for ten years now although I’m not sure how that can be . . .


That sounds like a heavenly place to write. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?


BETH: I am currently on a quest to make the perfect popover. The popover is a light, beautiful, puffed bread or roll or pastry - I’m not even totally sure what it is, but my family clamors for them for every special occasion. But they are finicky things and despite having made them for 30+ years, I never know if they are going to “pop” or not. There are tons of websites and recipes with all types of advice, but I’ve never quite figured out why they are ‘popovers’ one day and ‘flopovers’ the next. It’s like a breakfast mystery that I’m determined to solve.


TOM: I was a terrible student through high school. Seriously, I almost flunked English, math and history, then could not get admitted to any decent college. I ended up going to a community college which was a wonderful experience because I could finally focus on the only things I cared about: making art and making friends.


Thank you both for sharing a breakfast dilemma and a personal discovery! Beth, what was the inspiration for Stick & Stone Best Friends Forever! Had you both always wanted to do a sequel?

BETH: When I originally wrote Stick and Stone in 2011, I had also written a number of other adventures for the duo and was working on turning them into graphic novels. When we approached our editor about the idea, she asked if we had considered a picture book sequel. I honestly hadn’t and felt that I had used up all my good ideas in the graphic novels. But then I realized that these two characters had been friends for a long time now and like old friends, they had become more like family. Friends as family is one of my favorite themes because I think it is a universal experience. So, the idea of Stick searching for his family tree and finding instead his best friend who has always been right next to him was very satisfying.


TOM: I am generally not a fan of creating sequels because a) I feel like I’ve already covered that territory, and b) it’s hard to do a sequel as good as the original. But collaborating with Beth, and her wonderful writing, won me over. It was both familiar and totally new with a message that’s just as important as that in the first book.


I love the premise of discovering a “found family” & finally seeing what’s always been there! Tom, what was the hardest part in creating the illustrations for this sequel?


TOM: Being true to the spare aesthetic of the first book while taking Stick and Stone into new territory. But honestly, there were very few snags in the art-making process and it was a joy to work on.


That joy definitely translates through your illustrations. Beth, what's something you want your readers to know about Stick & Stone Best Friends Forever!?


BETH: I hope readers notice all the little nods to the first book and enjoy the reappearance of Pinecone as a friend this time rather than a foe!


That was a nice touch! So Tom, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Stick & Stone Best Friends Forever!? Could you share one or more with us?


TOM: I love hiding “Easter eggs” in a book. Here are a few to look for in this book:

- There’s a dandelion in one of the opening images. See if you can find what happens to it at the end.

- There’s a spread with a field of poppies that’s inspired by this Monet painting.

- The first Stick and Stone book has a scene where Stick and Stone are peering into a cave that has a pair of eyeballs staring back at them. See if you can find a similar image in the new book.

- There’s a recurring cardinal in the book, which also appears in some of my other books. The only reason for this is that an illustration sometimes needs just a wee dash of red. 😊

- Speaking of red, Stone is wearing a red stocking cap on the title page. Don’t ask me how a stone would put on a stocking cap.

- The back flap has an illustration of Jack’s canoe rental shop. This is a tribute to my father, Jack, who was an avid canoeist.

Those "eggs" are amazing. Thank you for highlighting them. I hope everyone looks for them. Tom, what is your favorite medium to work with? Or your least favorite or perhaps one you’re itching to try?


TOM: I have no professional training as an illustrator, so I lack technique and have never mastered any single medium. Truth be told, I’m most confident with a plain old pencil and a piece of copier paper, but that would make for a boring book. I enjoy working in watercolor because it’s unpredictable; full of delightful surprises and discouraging disappointments. I like colored pencils because of the control, so watercolor and colored pencils make a good combination. But when I’m in the thick of it illustrating a book, all the tools come out and I shamelessly use whatever medium makes the picture submit to my wishes. As for new mediums, I’ve been wanting to do a book with potato prints but that would require a book on the subject of potatoes, which Beth Ferry has failed to come up with! (In Beth’s defense, this will be the first she’s heard of it.)


*Chuckling* Well, I hope you get that chance, one day. As a child, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book?

BETH: When I was little, my sister and I both had rabbits as pets. My first rabbit was a Flemish Giant called Toasted Coconut who weighed about 20 pounds! He was huge. But then I got a small lop-eared bunny (Noelle) for Christmas accompanied by a book called Leo the Lop illustrated by Robin James. I loved the art in this book! I have no memory of the story, but I loved the illustrations, most specifically the absolutely cuddly bunny with big dewy eyes. I wanted to own every book in this series just so I could look at the art. It’s probably the only time in my life that the story didn’t matter, just the art.


TOM: These not-children’s-books were hanging out on my parent’s coffee table and I found them fascinating.

- The Lonely Ones, by William Steig. Long before Steig got into children’s books, he created this collection of surreal drawing accompanied by nonsensical captions. It was, and still is, captivatingly odd.


- Addams and Evil, by Charles Addams, creator of The Addams Family. As a kid, I could hardly take my eyes off this cartoon from the book, still regarded as a benchmark of visual wit.


That cartoon is hysterical! What is the hardest, most challenging, or surprising thing for you about writing or illustrating picture books? How about specifically with Stick & Stone Best Friends Forever!?


BETH: Stick and Stone Best Friends Forever is my first sequel and it is common knowledge that most sequels are never as good as the original, so I was pretty worried about writing something that could live up to the original. I think the most surprising thing was how happy I was with the story. It felt exactly right, and the experience was so much better because Tom and I were working on it together. In the six years that have passed since Stick and Stone was published, Tom and I had become good friends so collaborating on a sequel to the book about friendship that sparked our friendship was joyful.


TOM: Endings are the hardest part. A good ending feels like a cat lying down; it turns in one graceful spiral and settles so elegantly that you can’t discern the difference between when it’s standing and when it’s lying down. A bad ending is like a dog lying down; it sniffs a spot, turns and drops like a heap in one graceless galumph. Even though Beth Ferry is a dog person, her picture book endings are graceful cats.


Oh, I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall while you two worked on this project. Beth, did anything surprise you when you first got to see the illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Beth Ferry, 2021. Image © Tom Lichtenheld, 2021.


BETH: One of the first sketches Tom sent was of Stick imagining himself sprouting all different types of leaves. Because Stick had lost his leaf in the first book, I was totally surprised to see him sporting different leaves, even if they were only in his imagination. It completely delighted me. It’s absolutely my favorite page (although the end papers are pretty awesome too)!


Tom, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Beth Ferry, 2021. Image © Tom Lichtenheld, 2021.


TOM: I had a great time drawing the forest scenes because I love trees. My favorite spread is the “…shadows that creep” image because I got to draw a creepy tree with ominous lighting.


You did such a great job adding a little spookiness. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child, now as a writer, or both.)


BETH: I know I answered this is the last interview, but I will say again that words are my greatest source of inspiration. It’s where I get 90% of all my ideas. I revel in the ability to play with them in as many ways as possible. I like to write stories about friendship and pets and the ocean, but true inspiration strikes me when I see a word that is either a compound word like the word scarecrow or a homonym like words stick and crush. Words are so important - how we use them, which ones we choose, and how fun they can be! There’s a lot of power in words. Words can make us feel, make us laugh, make us think. I hope my books convey this idea to kids.


TOM: I’m inspired by other books, great writers, and small moments that can be turned into stories.


How are you, or have you been, staying creative these days? What are you doing to “prime the well”?


BETH: Summer is my favorite season and nothing inspires me more than reading on the beach which I luckily get to do a lot. There is endless inspiration in books. But besides reading, my other summer project is called “Quotes in a Clamshell.” I’ve been painting a lot of clam shells. Some days there are tons of them and other days, I have to fight the ocean for them, especially if the tide’s coming in! Painting them is fun and relaxing. The quote part, however, is much harder. Writing on a shell isn’t as easy as it sounds, and it doesn’t even sound easy, does it?


TOM: Doodling keeps me sane. Drawing with no purpose and no promise; drawing just to draw.


I love how art, in any form (even sewing), can spark creativity and inspiration. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us? Any possibility for a third Stick & Stone book?


BETH: I’m happy to say that Stick and Stone will be having more adventures in a graphic novel series coming out in 2022. The series is wonderfully illustrated by Kristen Cella in the style of Tom’s art and is completely adorable. I’m excited to see how kids react to new characters, like Boulder and Acorn and a sweet Nature Girl.

Tom and I also have a few things in the works. I’ll let Tom talk about it since the key to a good collaboration is sharing the workload. Right, Tom?


TOM: Right, Beth! I have a Beth & Tom collaboration on my drawing board as we speak, and a truckload more on the horizon.


Well, that's cryptic! So, I guess we'll just have to keep our eyes open to see what you two create next. Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one that you are especially enamored with.


BETH: So, besides my beloved bulldog, Chaucer, I am currently enjoying turtles and tortoises. I find many of these faster-than-you’d-think creatures in my backyard and am quite enchanted by them.


TOM: I love cats but acknowledge that they are useless opportunists. “A cat’s greatest gift is its presence.” – Anon.


And that, Tom is a spectacular gift to us. Thank you so much, Beth & Tom, for sharing with us a bit about yourselves and your newest picture book.


Thank you so much for having us, Maria, and for the great questions.


Find out more about Beth Ferry:

Website: https://www.bethferry.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BethFerry1

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bethferry1/


Find out more about Tom Lichtenheld:

Website: http://www.tomlichtenheld.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tlichtenheld

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tom.lichtenheld

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tlichtenheld/



Review of Stick and Stone: Best Friends Forever!


If you liked Beth Ferry & Tom Lichtenheld's New York Times best-selling Stick and Stone, have I got a treat for you! They have created a wonderful sequel about these two special friends and Stick's discovery about what "family" means.


Stick and Stone: Best Friends Forever


Author: Beth Ferry


Illustrator: Tom Lichtenheld


Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing (2021)


Ages: 4-7


Fiction


Themes:

Friendship, family, and belonging.


Synopsis:

This ode to unconditional love is a brand new adventure for New York Times best-selling BFFs Stick and Stone, in which Stick searches for his family tree and discovers the importance of found family and forever friends.


Stick has always wanted to find his family tree. It’s probably big and beautiful! Is it an oak? A maple? What other sticks might he meet?


Stone is happy to accompany his friend on the journey to find the tree he comes from—until it gets dark, and a bit scary in the forest . . .


With bright, engaging illustrations from best-selling creator Tom Lichtenheld, Beth Ferry’s story explores the importance of learning about our roots, as well as the ability of friends and found family to help us grow strong in heart and mind.


Opening Lines:

Stick.

Stone.

A friendship full-grown

Together they’ll venture

into the unknown.


What I LOVED about this book:

Stick and Stone are back. After the opening spreads delightfully confirm their abiding friendship, Stick wonders "Where did I live before my branch broke? Determined to find out, the two friends embark on an adventure - a search for Stick's 'family tree.'

Text © Beth Ferry, 2021. Image © Tom Lichtenheld, 2021.


The combination of Beth Ferry's succinct text, full of wonderful rhymes - such as "excited/delighted, explore/galore"- with Tom Lichtenheld's humor and gorgeous illustrations creates a fun adventure kids are bound to adore, even when it gets a tiny bit spooky and scary. I love how Tom is able to portray such an amazing range of emotion for Stick and Stone with such an economy of lines.

Text © Beth Ferry, 2021. Image © Tom Lichtenheld, 2021.


Despite climbing, canoeing, and trekking, Stick can't find his family tree. Instead, he discovers he's had a special family all along. I love the irony that it's Pinecone (the antagonist in the first book), who guides them back to the playground. The final pages are touching, with the sheer joy on the last two spreads sure to induce smiles from all. A wonderful book for beginning a unit on family roots, that acknowledges family can also be something we create.


Craft note - I love the informational aspect of the end pages. With spunky, happy poses and expressions, Stick models the leaves of thirty-six different trees. Providing an opportunity to talk about deciduous and evergreen trees, the differences in leaves, and the types of trees seen near the reader(s).

Text © Beth Ferry, 2021. Image © Tom Lichtenheld, 2021.


Overall, this is a beautiful, fun sequel for these two beloved characters which celebrates friendship and gives a touching humorous spin to the meaning of family.


Resources:

- who is part of your family tree? Make your own family tree. (https://buggyandbuddy.com/9-family-tree-activities-for-kids/ )Did you add any pets? How about friends?


- what do you think should be Stick and Stone's next adventure? Draw a picture or write a story about their next adventure.


- make a rock (https://livingwellmom.com/pet-rocks/) or stick (https://www.danyabanya.com/stick-people/) friend.


- what trees live around your neighborhood or school? Why do they have different leaves? Why do some leaves fall off and others don't?


- watch Beth & Tom's interview about Stick and Stone: Best Friends Forever! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDxAZ1N27nU&ab_channel=Mariner%26ClarionBooks)





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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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