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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/ Maria Gianferrari, Maris Wicks + Review of You & the Bowerbird

I got to interview the dynamic duo Maria Gianferrari and Maris Wicks who have created an entertaining, informative, and slightly unusual nonfiction picture book on a fascinating Australian bird - You and the Bowerbird. [Be sure to check out the giveaway notice at the end of the post!]

Author photo of Maria Ginaferrari

Maria Gianferrari is a community scientist, self-taught naturalist, and bird nerd who holds an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English. She is the author of narrative nonfiction picture books which celebrate urban ecosystems, the natural world and our wild neighbors. She also writes engaging expository nonfiction. Maria lives in Massachusetts and loves birdwatching from her kitchen window while drinking her morning cup of tea. Her next title with Roaring Brook Press, To Dogs, With Love, releases in December. Maria’s other forthcoming 2023 titles include Thank a Farmer (September) and Fungi Grow (October).

Collage of the 15 titles of Maria Gianferrari's books.

Maria’s the author of Being a Cat (2023), Ice Cycle (2022), Being a Dog (2022), Bobcat Prowling (2022), Be A Tree (2021), Whoo-Ku Haiku (2020), Play Like an Animal (2020), Terrific Tongues (2018), Hawk Rising (2018), Operation Rescue Dog (2018), Hello Goodbye Dog (2017), Officer Katz and Houndini (2016), Coyote Moon (2016), Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars (2016) and Penny & Jelly: The School Show (2015).


For additional information see our earlier interviews (here), (here), (here), and (here).

Author/illustrator photo of Maris Wicks

Maris Wicks is a writer and illustrator of science comics, as well as a self-proclaimed gigantic nerd. She has written, drawn, and colored comics for First Second Books, New England Aquarium and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, as well as Spongebob Comics, Marvel Comics, and DC Comics. She has also collaborated with science communicator/comic artist Rosemary Mosco to bring you Your Wild City (https://www.yourwildcity.com/), a weekly webcomic about urban ecology.


When she is not busy making comics, Wicks can be found prepping slides for her collection of vintage microscopes, traveling, scuba diving, hiking, and baking cookies (though never all of those things all at once). She was a program educator at the New England Aquarium for eight years, teaching kids about how awesome marine science is. Now, her work in science education and outreach continues into her comics work: Wicks was the science outreach communicator for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution onboard the R/V Atlantis for Popping Rocks Cruise in March/April of 2016. Most recently, she was in Antarctica as a part of the USAP Artists & Writers grant, working on a graphic novel about life and science in Antarctica.

Collage of 6 book titles illustrated by Maris Wicks.

Maris is Wicks is the illustrator of The New York Times Bestselling book Primates, by Jim Ottaviani (2013), the graphic novel, Human Body Theater (2015), Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean (2016), and Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani (2020), and the picture books Dragon Bones: The Fantastic Fossil Discoveries of Mary Anning by Sarah Glenn Marsh (2022) and Yes, Let's written by Galen Goodwin Longstreth,(2013).


Their newest picture book collaboration, You and the Bowerbird, releases on August 15th.


Maria and Maris thank you so much for stopping by to talk about You and the Bowerbird and your writing & illustrating.


Thanks for having us here, Maria!


Maris let’s start with you. 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? )


MARIS - Hello! Sometimes I get to go on fun adventures for my books (like Antarctica!) where I'll take notes in the field, but most of my work is done at in my apartment in Arlington, MA. I have been writing and drawing for as long as I can remember - I really like telling stories with pictures. I've been a "professional" illustrator for 20+ years, and I specialize in making comics inspired by science. My favorite type of books to work on are ones with animals in them, bonus points if I get to draw what they look like on the inside!


I love those science comics books! They are such a great way to entice readers to learn about science. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?


MARIA - I’m a person who needs calm and quiet when first drafting a project, so I mostly do that at home, by hand, while listening to nature sounds. But I can revise in public spaces a lot more easily, so I’ve revised in the car (though not while driving), on airplanes, in offices and waiting rooms, on benches, and in parks and soccer fields.

Cover of Whoo-Ku Haiku - three owls in a tree. Two in a nest and one with wings spread on a branch. Full moon behind them.

When my daughter was little, we used to make up haiku poems while riding in the car to pass the time, and those kinds of haikus inspired another manuscript, Whoo-Ku Haiku—does that count? [totally!]


Cover of Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean, Science Comics book - subra diving boy peering at reader from between corals.

MARIS - I worked at McMurdo Station in Antarctica for almost 3 months - I'm working on a graphic novel about what it's like to live and work in Antarctica - so a lot of the manuscript for that book is compiled from my journal, notes, and research while I was there! I also did lots of scuba diving for work on my book Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean, but I didn't write or draw underwater! Sadly, Maria and I did not get to travel to Australia to observe satin bowerbirds...


Maybe one day you'll get to do that. Maria, what was the inspiration or spark of interest for You and the Bowerbird?

Book cover - birl with binoculars looking up at a bowerbird in a tree.

MARIA - I’ve long been a lover of birds, but I was first introduced to bowerbirds in general, and satin bowerbirds in particular, while watching “Bowerbirds: The Art of Seduction” a film narrated by the naturalist, Sir David Attenborough. I was fascinated and intrigued by these extraordinary birds, and their courtship behavior, including the creation and decoration of these elaborate bowers, so that was the initial story seed.


That is an amazing film and have to admit I could listen/watch anything Sir David Attenbourgh did. Maris, what about the You and the Bowerbird manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Title page of You and the Bowerbird - miscellaneous treasures the bird collected (shells, crayon, spool, bottle cap, and feather) surround the title.

MARIS - I love birds! More than that, I love observing animals in their habitat. Ever since I was little, I could spend hours outside just watching nature. So this book was a joy to draw - it felt like You and the Bowerbird was a love letter to little Maris (and any other kids that love being out in nature).


Thank you, Maris! (Young me thanks you, too.) Maria, what was the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing You and the Bowerbird?


MARIA - I first did the research and wrote a draft very long time ago, sometime in 2009, and it received a number of rejections when it was subbed over the years until it got to the point where we decided to put it on hold. Then it sat in a drawer for many years, until Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook Press took an interest in it and acquired it, and we partnered with Maris.


So the main challenge at that point became re-visiting the science to ensure all was accurate. Science is constantly evolving, and new discoveries are always being made and are in flux—that’s the exciting thing about it. We had to make edits to both the text and the art and the back matter to make the relevant updates and ensure that it was as accurate and up-to-date as possible, so I was also very grateful to Maris for making so many changes in the end. So check out your manuscripts at the bottom of your real and digital drawers—they may find a new purpose and publication!


Great advice Maria. I'm glad you finally found someone who believed in the book, too. Maris, what was the hardest or most challenging thing for you about illustrating You and the Bowerbird?


MARIS - I think the most challenging thing for You and the Bowerbird (and for all my books) is to get the science right. Maria did a ton of research, and then passed all that on to me once I started working on the book. I know that the world I've illustrated is cartoony, but the information behind that world is real, and I want to portray it as honestly and accurately as possible. It's like walking a tightrope, balancing fact (the science!) and fancy (the cartoons!). And while it can be the most challenging thing, it's also the most fun thing about this type of work!


I really enjoy the way you can weave 'fancy' throughout and around the facts. How many revisions did You and the Bowerbird take for the text or illustrations from the first draft to publication?


MARIA - Honestly, I have absolutely no idea. Lots! I’d have to do a bit of detective work, since as I mentioned, I first wrote it many years ago, in 2009 or so, and there were many different iterations over the years. I can be more accurate about the timing: first draft in 2009; garnered rejections; marinated in a drawer for about 10 years; did some more revisions between 2020 and 2021 when it was acquired, and then further edits for scientific accuracy to both the text and the art as well as minor edits to make the text and art flow more seamlessly before its 2023 publication.


MARIS - My method for working on picture books is pretty much the same as for graphic novels: once I get the manuscript (and additional reference materials), I make thumbnails (a very rough, sketchy version of my interpretation of the manuscript - also called a "dummy"), pencils, inks, and then colors. Each stage is submitted to our editor (and usually, Maria too!). We did have to make some changes to the final art based on updated research about satin bowerbirds - no big changes, but updates to what Satin was collecting for his bower.


Thank you both for sharing your portion of the journey, each book has such an interesting trajectory. Maris, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in You and the Bowerbird? If so, could you share one or more with us?


MARIS - I think using comics in the book - both my use of comics storytelling elements, as well as the girl drawing her own comics about bowerbirds - was something that felt very "me." Comics are such a fun way to show the progression of time, and they're also one of the ways that kids learn to read and write! Lots of early literacy exercises involve combining drawing and writing to tell stories, so comics are often a very natural way to both read and make stories.


The other part of the book I was really excited about was the "secret cover" - the cover under the dust jacket. It takes the form of the cover of the girl's journal, so the book becomes a story-within-a-story, with her drawings intertwined with mine.


Ooh, a secret cover....I can't wait to get a hold of the book! Is there something you want your readers to know about You and the Bowerbird?


MARIA - Readers, I adore Maris’ art for our book—savor it. Pay special attention to all of the wondrous details that she has woven throughout the book: Take off the dust jacket and discover the surprising cover. Enjoy the collection of blue-hued objects in the end papers. Observe, like the book’s birdwatcher, how the different satin bowerbirds behave: the male, Satin, his rival, Pirate, his paramour, Pea, and mischievous juveniles--there’s lots of action to keep you engaged and more detailed information in the back matter for bird-loving readers.


MARIS - Even though the story takes place all the way over in Australia, we have so many amazing critters right where we live! I hope this book encourages readers to look more closely at their own backyard - and maybe even draw what they see, too!


I think this book will encourage readers and animal lovers to both research and observe the animals around them. Maria, when you first saw Maris’ illustrations in You and the Bowerbird, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?


MARIA - Absolutely everything delighted me! I had been a fan of Maris’ science comic books, so I was thrilled when she agreed to partner with me and illustrate the book. Our editor, Emily Feinberg had true vision of what our collaboration for this project could be.

Internal spread - bowerbird, Satin, surveying his almost completed bower.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Maris Wicks, 2023.


Maris is truly brilliant and it’s so hard to pick a favorite spread—there are so many wonderful details! I love Satin’s expressions (like when his welcome mat is first pilfered); I love how pleased Satin looks when the bower is finally ready—that’s a really satisfying spread. I LOVE how Maris is using panels on the spread where Satin and Pirate scuffle, and the courtship song and dance begins, and ends with the sweet floral offering to Pea. There is so much action and emotion packed in there—it’s thrilling and captivating and charming!


And I adore the endpapers! They are so perfect! And I could go on…


Satin's face is so expressive! I love that Maris was able to create such wonderful expressiveness without anthropomorphizing the birds. Maris, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - two male bowerbirds battling (on the left) and then winner courting the female on the right.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Maris Wicks, 2023.


MARIS - Haha, the "bird battle" page, where Pirate and Satin have a territorial dispute! Observing animals can be pretty intense sometimes, especially when they are defending or protecting their space! I wanted to use color and layout to emphasize the conflict, and then contrast it to the charm of satin bowerbird courtship that happens right after!


You did an amazing job with this spread, Maris. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


MARIA - I’m working on another tree book, as well as re-visiting and revising some older projects, including a book on saguaro cacti. I also have a fiction picture book on crows that’s currently in the marination stage 😊.


MARIS - I mentioned the Antarctica graphic novel in the begging - that's my big (400+ pages!) project for now. And don't worry - there are lots of birds in it! Mostly penguins! But lots of them!


Best of luck to you both! I can't wait to see what you each create next. What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing, publishing, or not?


MARIA - One that can be hard to process—the journey to publication is a marathon, not a sprint, so be patient, and don’t give up. Celebrate the small victories, that personalized rejection, a new element that makes everything click. Work on projects that you’re truly passionate about, and tell them in your own unique way. That passion/obsession will carry you through and help you endure the inevitable rejections that will come. And when they do, surround yourself with trusted critique partners to support you when you’re feeling down, and cheer you when you’re up.


MARIS - I have a little sticky note at my desk that says, "Get outside every day!" I am happiest when I am outside in nature, and it took me a long time to realize how important that was to my health (mental, physical, etc.). And I don't mean hiking 10 miles a day, I mean something as simple as stepping outside to listen to the birds, or watch some ants, or smell the rain, or look at the moon. Humans are animals too, and we are a part of nature!


Thank you, Maria and Maris for this advice and for stopping by and sharing a bit behind the scenes with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.


Thanks for having us, Maria!

To find out more about Maria Gianferrari, or contact her:

Penny & Jelly Website: http://www.pennyandjelly.com/


To find out more about Maris Wicks, or contact her:


Review of You and the Bowerbird

Plus Giveaway


As a bird photographer and naturalist, I love finding books which encourage kids to watch and marvel at our feathered friends. Luckily, bird watching is something everyone can do. If you can't get outside, you can still watch and record observations about birds from inside a building. This is a fun book which puts the reader at the edge of a forest in Australia and allows them to observe the remarkable courtship activities of the satin bowerbird.

Book cover - birl with binoculars looking up at a bowerbird in a tree.

You and the Bowerbird


Author: Maria Gianferrari


Illustrator: Maris Wicks


Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (2023)


Ages: 4-8


Nonfiction


Themes:

Bowerbird, Australia, courtship, birdwatching, and science.


Synopsis:

Follow the Satin Bowerbird as he searches for the perfect welcome mat for his new home, in this delightfully colorful and action-packed nonfiction tale by award winning author Maria Gianferrari, and illustrated by comic-star Maris Wicks.


Opening Lines:

Have you seen the

blue-black bird?


On the edge of the rainforest,

you watch.


His eyes are lilac marbles.

His curved beak,

so much like the sun.


What I LOVED about this book:

I love the opening, where the lyrical text, with a really fun second person address, directly asks the reader if they have seen this bird. And the illustration - focused on the bowerbird through the lenses of binoculars - places the reader directly into the role of a bird watcher.

Internal spread - peering through binocular lenses at a male bowerbird.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Maris Wicks, 2023.


The next spread names the bird - "a satin bowerbird" and introduces a young amateur naturalist researching, recording, and observing the bowerbird from her treehouse. Though she is seen occasionally in the illustrations, she remains a distant observer keeping the focus on the birds. I love all the little touches Maris Wicks added to this illustration - crayons, sharpener, and a hint of the setting in the title of a research book - "Birds of Australia."

Internal spread - girl in a treehouse documenting observations of a male bowerbird. Surrounded by research books , crayons, and binoculars.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Maris Wicks, 2023.


With wonderfully succinct text, Maria Gianferrari provides a detailed look at the behavior of a male satin bowerbird ("Satin") and the specific materials he collects to create and decorate his bower to impress a female bird. "Satin patches and places. The bower is ready."


The book's wonderful pacing enhances the struggles and challenges Satin faces in finding a mate. And the lightly comic illustrations, such as Satin's the dotted trail route (a nod to the Family Circus comic) through the girl's yard as he hunts for blue things to decorate his bower, the use of panels, and the birds' wonderfully expressive faces, add a bit of fun lightness and energy.

Front end papers -  child's drawings of the various bowerbirds seen in the book. 2 males, juveniles, and the female.

Text © Maria Gianferrari, 2023. Image © Maris Wicks, 2023.


I love the end papers and the final illustration which beautifully encase the book with wonderful child-like drawings and notes about the girl's observations of the birds. There are so many fun elements in the illustrations, like the "bird's eye view" from a female bowerbird ("Pea"), as she soars in to investigate the bower. And a few more close-up views through the binoculars of Pea poking about in the bower and a clothesline heist. But each time Satin gets the bower ready to impress Pea and it seems things are going well, either another male or a group of juveniles swoop in to pilfer items and disrupt the courtship.


This is such a wonderful, exciting way to introduce kids to the unusual habits, challenges (a rival male & thieving juveniles), and courtship of Australia's satin bowerbird. Great back matter expands on the building and pillaging of bowers, the males dance moves, and what a female bowerbird looks for in a mate. As well as offering a number of resources and videos about bowerbirds. It's an awesome introduction to bird watching, highlighting the unusual actions of bowerbirds and encouraging readers to watch and record birds in our own yards.


Resources:

4 different decorated versions of a toilet paper binocular craft.  Red, green, blue, and purple with fabric stripes and matching pom poms.

- customize your own pair of binoculars.

- make your own bird watching journal/notebook. Be sure to record when & where you saw the bird, a drawing or photo of the bird, and what the bird was doing (eating, building nest, etc.).

- pair this with Bird Count by Susan Edwards Richmond, illutrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, The Big Book of Birds by Yuval Zommer, and Bird Watch by Christie Matheson.


You and the Bowerbird Giveaway


Awesome news! Maria & Maris are offering one lucky reader a copy of You and the Bowerbird.


- Simply comment below to be entered in the random drawing on August 22nd.


- Be sure to say where (if) you shared the post (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), and I'll add additional entries for you.


- *Sorry US Residents only.*

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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