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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/ Sheryl Haft, Jeremy Holmes + Review of Mazie's Amazing Machines

Sheryl Haft is the founder of Let’s Engineer!, a pre-school and elementary after-school program that teaches engineering principles through design and invention-building. And STEAM Educator with the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum and Jackson Hole Elementary Schools K-3.

Author photo of Sheryl Haft.

Sheryl and her family reside in New York City and Wyoming.

Collage of Sheryl Haft's book covers.

Sheryl’s the author of Goodnight Bubbala: A Joyful Parody, illustrated by Jill Weber (2019), Baby Boo, I Love You, illustrated by Jane Massey (2017), and I Love You, Blankie, illustrated by Jane Massey (2015).


Jeremy Holmes is an internationally renowned children's book illustrator whose work has received numerous awards and starred reviews from critics.

Photo of Jeremy Holmes.

He won the prestigious BolognaRagazzi Opera Prima Award (2010) for his debut book There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Jeremy's approach to illustrating books is to tailor his illustration style to each unique manuscript. This process can include custom hand drawn typography, experimentation with physical form and paper mechanics, and an array of visual mediums.

Jeremy lives in Abington, PA with his wife and four children.

Collage of Jeremy Holmes' book covers.

Jeremy’s the author/illustrator of illustrator of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (2009). And the illustrator of Road Trip! by Claudia Friddell (2022), The Eye that Never Sleeps by Marissa Moss (2018), The Emperor of Mars by Patrick Samphire (2017), The Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire (2016), Great Ball of Light by Evan Kuhlman (2015), Poem­mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian (2014), The Templeton Twins Make A Scene by Ellis Weiner (2013), What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World by Henry Clark (2013), and The Templeton Twins Have An Idea by Ellis Weiner (2012).


Sheryl and Jeremy’s newest picture book, Mazie’s Amazing Machines, released on September 12th.


Welcome Sheryl and Jeremy,


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? )


SHERYL – I had an early career in product design for Warner Bros. but it was while raising my three daughters that I became inspired to write stories that would capture the magic of childhood. I wrote for many years before my first book was published in 2015: I Love You, Blankie – an 83-word story about a child who travels and imagines with his beloved blankie.


I’m an early riser and find the quiet morning hours, sitting in a big chair by the window, my most productive. I love writing picture books and imagining the art that will also tell the story. Although I am not an illustrator, I often handwrite my stories in big sketch books, with simple drawings to work out words, rhythms and scenes.


JEREMY - A typical day begins at 4 am, sitting at my drawing desk with a strong cup of coffee. I have a studio with a window well in the basement of my house. Surprisingly, it gets lovely light throughout the day, helping one forget they're working in an underground lair for hours. When I am not in the studio, I can be found in front of a classroom teaching art and design at West Chester University.


You are both such early risers; but with seven kids between you, I can see why. 😊What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written of illustrated a manuscript?


SHERYL - Jeremy and I might have a similar answer, as we are both smitten with the Highlights Foundation in PA, but I’d have to say the most fun and transportive place I’ve ever written was in one of the little writer’s cabin on the Foundation campus. You get a little bed and a little desk with a writing light. Because of its magic, I pulled an all-nighter there once, writing into the wee hours.


JEREMY - My favorite place to create is at the Highlights Foundation in Boyds Mills, Pa. They have charming little mountain cabins you stay in to work and a large barn where everyone gathers to eat and discuss their projects. The air is thick with inspiration and creative energy. It is a gem.


I've managed to go once and I agree it is inspirational and full of magic! Sheryl, what was your inspiration or spark of interest for Mazie’s Amazing Machines?

Cover of book - girl wearing a strainer on head with a lightbulb on top, wearing a gadget belt. A tree house ful of pulley's and inventions is in the background.

SHERYL – I was writing the flap copy for this book when it hit me that I’ve sort of been writing this book my whole life. My parents are artists and my dad was always tinkering and inventing products for the travel industry. Like lots of little kids, my brother and I were natural “makers” - building go-carts, forts and contraptions in our garage and front yard.


I continued my love of making and inventing when I founded my afterschool program Let’s Engineer. Mazie’s Amazing Machines is the book I always wished I could have in the classroom. A book that would make kids laugh while inspiring them to think about problem solving by building inventions.

Title page of Mazie's Amazing Machines - gadgets fill three  shelves.

I love this answer. Jeremy, what about the Mazie’s Amazing Machines manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?


JEREMY - Whenever I get the chance to put on my Rube Goldberg hat, I jump at it. Since I was a tiny cog, I have always loved contraptions; the wackier, the better. So, a story about a little spunky engineer who creates inventions to help their family couldn't have been more in my wheelhouse. Add to this the publisher allowing me to include a small pop-up element, and I am in.


Sounds like a perfect manuscript for you. What was the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing or illustrating Mazie’s Amazing Machines?


SHERYL - I seek harmony in my life and relationships and find it difficult to add discord to my stories. This said, siblings getting annoyed with each other, such as Mazie’s big brother Jake finding her “engi-noying!” is a natural and familiar part of life, so I wrote that!


JEREMY - I do my best to craft a unique visual look for each book I illustrate. This process usually involves experimenting with and learning different art-making techniques. Ultimately, the final art will have all my visual sensibilities running through its veins, but its overall look, I hope, is all its own. As you can imagine, this approach can be quite time-consuming.


For Mazie, all the colored shapes in the illustrations are created from stamps that I cut out of thin foam, inked, and hand-printed. After stamping, I scanned and digitally arranged the stamped shapes to form the colored parts of the illustrations. I printed out each composition, overlayed it with vellum, and made a final pencil drawing, defining the details and volume of each image.


I really liked the “engi-noying!” And wow, Jeremy that's so interesting & I can imagine - very time-consuming. So, how many revisions did Mazie’s Amazing Machines take for the text or illustrations - from first draft to publication?


SHERYL - I agree with the writer David Sedaris: “Writing is rewriting.” Like David, I wrote and re-wrote at least a dozen versions of my story before the text finalized to what it is today.


JEREMY - For the illustrations, there were probably a dozen significant rounds of revisions, which is typical. The overall style of the art stayed the same, but Nancy Paulsen and her incredible team pushed each illustration to be the best it could be.


Jeremy, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Mazie’s Amazing Machines? If so, could you share one or more with us?


JEREMY - Unfortunately, I didn't leave any hidden treasures—a missed opportunity.


I wouldn't worry. There is so much to find and enjoy in the illustrations. What's something you want your readers to know about Mazie’s Amazing Machines?


SHERYL - While Mazie’s machines are what Jeremy and I deemed “exaggerated reality,” I see with my Let’s Engineer students how they are inspired by this science-minded, confident, and self-reliant young girl. And how this empowered young problem solver encourages young readers to find inventive solutions to problems in their own lives.


JEREMY - Mazie is modeled after my 8-year-old niece, Claire.


Mazie definitely is a great role model. And Jeremy, that’s a special treasure and a great gift for her! So Sheryl, when you first saw Jeremy’s illustrations in Mazie’s Amazing Machines, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?


SHERYL - Jeremy had a tall task. He not only had to conceive of Mazie McGear and her entire family, but also the technical and mechanical aspects of Mazie’s many machines. I leapt for joy when I first saw Jeremy’s sketches for Mazie with her spaghetti strainer and light-bulb hat: how he ingenuously captured in her a girl who is smart, inventive, and artsy with actual positive energy!

Internal spread - on left girl jumps on a air pump and sends a rocket clanging into her brother's room.

Text © Sheryl Haft, 2023. Image © Jeremy Holmes, 2023.


It’s almost impossible to choose, as every page is filled with delights, but in reading the book with kids, I find myself overflowing with excitement and theatrics on the Waker-Upper Rocket Machine spread.


Jeremy, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Or perhaps one which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - on left family wearing thinking caps, the scribbling their ideas. On right carrying supplies  and sounds of construction.

Text © Sheryl Haft, 2023. Image © Jeremy Holmes, 2023.


JEREMY - One of my favorite moments in the book is when the family brainstorms ideas to save Doodle (each with their unique thinking cap) and then ribble scribbling out their BIG IDEA. It was such a fun page to create.


These are both great spreads. Can you think of something you wish you’d known before you started the publication journey with Mazie’s Amazing Machines?


SHERYL - I have to point to something that I am incredibly glad I did NOT know: due to a myriad of delays, from the time Nancy Paulsen signed on to my manuscript (Oct. 2015) it would be 8 years until the book would finally be published! This said, the timing feels just right.


JEREMY - I wish I had known the world would come to a standstill in 2020-2021, and Covid would turn my studio into an elementary and middle school classroom. Luckily, Sheryl and Nancy are incredibly understanding and patient people who gave me the space and time needed to complete the art for Mazie.


Wouldn't we all have loved to have seen that coming? Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


SHERYL - Oh yes! While in this book, Mazie’s machines center on mechanical engineering and the six (6) simple machines: the lever, pulley, inclined place, wedge, screw and wheels and axels, in my Let’s Engineer workshops, to create inventions we employ all kinds of machine power including electrical, solar, wind, etc. I am already working on my next Mazie McGear, Kid Engineer stories that will introduce Mazie’s friends who help her invent and build machines to solve important problems around their neighborhood.


JEREMY - I created the art for Beth Anderson's upcoming picture book, Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science, available in May 2024. On my drawing board, I am working on the final art for Vicki Conrad's book Introducing Sandwina!


Sheryl, that sounds wonderful! Jeremy, I can't wait for Beth's book! Okay, last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo of a river winding to the Grand Teton Mountains.

SHERYL - I’ve lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for most of the past 8 years and adore Grand Teton National Park, where I love to explore and revel in its beauty and wildness. I also revere Central Park in New York City, where I am forever grateful to the urban planners who gave the city this varied, magical oasis.


photo of picnic bench in trees by Mauch Chunk Lake.

JEREMY - I have taken my two sons camping at Mauch Chunk Lake near Jim Thorpe, PA, for the past ten years. It is a simple campground on the edge of a beautiful mountain lake. We reserve a tiny cabin, cabin 13, right on the water. It is our special little spot.


Thank you Sheryl & Jeremy for sharing with us a bit about yourselves and your new picture book.


To find out more about Sheryl Haft, or to contact her:


To find out more about Jeremy Holmes, or to contact him:


Review of Mazie's Amazing Machines


One of my favorite movies is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I've always loved all the gadgets and devices which Mr. Potts (Dick Van Dyke) created. Who wouldn't want an automatic breakfast maker? Until it didn't "quite" work. The enjoyment of those multi-step, tinkering marvels is beautifully captured in this wonderful book about a young girl who uses STEAM to solve her family's daily problems.

Cover of book - girl wearing a strainer on head with a lightbulb on top, wearing a gadget belt. A tree house ful of pulley's and inventions is in the background.

Mazie's Amazing Machines


Author: Sheryl Haft


Illustrator: Jeremy Holmes


Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books/ Penguin Random House (2023)


Ages: 4-8


Fiction:


Themes:

Mechanical Engineering, STEAM, inventions, family, and creativity.


Synopsis:

As Mazie delights in building all sorts of fabulous inventions to solve household problems, kids will see how simple machines work.


Mazie McGear loves to engineer! Whenever she encounters a problem, she turns on her imagination and starts drawing and building—think blink, ribble scribble, bing bang boom! Need a more convenient way to feed the dog? No problem! Mazie invents the Food-o-Matic. Mom needs help carrying boxes? No worries! Mazie makes her a Roly-Ramp. You can always count on Mazie to invent a machine that will make life easier—although her brother, Jake, isn’t too thrilled with her Waker-Upper Rocket. But no worries. Engineering is so cool that before long he can’t help but get into the invention action too!


Featuring dynamic illustrations and a fun fold-out spread, this is a book that’s sure to inspire budding engineers while celebrating creative out-of-the-box thinking.


Opening Lines:

My name is Mazie McGear. What I love to do is engineer!

I’m the small one in my family, but I always wear a big belt

full of tools. My favorite is the crank drill.


Engineers like to make

up inventions to fix

problems. Like how I

have to feed my dog,

Doodle, so early every

morning.


That’s a PROBLEM.


What I LOVED about this book:

I agree with Sheryl Haft, I love how Jeremy Holmes created Mazie and her family. She's such a confident and creative girl determined to tinker away any problem. Her big brother's face and reaction are superb. And I love the lightly graphic panels; with the robotic hands holding the narration in "signs." It adds to the inventive feel of the book.

Internal spread - on left dad, Mazie holding a crank drill over her  head, brother, grimicing, with fingers in his ears and mom. On right dog waking the girl  really early for food.

Text © Sheryl Haft, 2023. Image © Jeremy Holmes, 2023.


To avoid waking too early, Mazie shows how she uses the scientific method and creates a great pulley system, automatic dog feeder - the "Food-o-MATIC." I love the refrain - "Think/Blink/Ribble/Scribble/Bing Bang Boom" which features again with the ultimate machine the entire family builds.

Internal spread - on left girl thinking, drawing and hammering. On right  a pully operated automatic dog feeder.

Text © Sheryl Haft, 2023. Image © Jeremy Holmes, 2023.


Using her creativity and engineering skills, Mazie helps her mom move stacks of heavy boxes with a "Roly-Ramp" and builds a "Pulley-Lifter" to help her dad store tires on a high shelf. But I think the best machine of all is the bellows, maracas, & bells "Waker-Upper Rocket Machine." As a sister, I think it is so cool and just a touch "cruel." It definitely made me chuckle. Sheryl and Jeremy do a great job of showing Mazie's process and the trash can full of crimpled paper and plans, as she works out this new "alarm clock," is a great touch. The illustrations are full of interesting tidbits - like the structure and workings of a bellows.

Internal spread - on left girl jumps on a air pump and sends a rocket clanging into her brother's room.

Text © Sheryl Haft, 2023. Image © Jeremy Holmes, 2023.


Throughout, Mazie's brother remains unimpressed and perturbed by her engineering feats. But when she successfully impresses him, she accidentally creates a big problem she can't solve. The ending is fun, touching, and creative. A wonderful celebration of family, engineering, and ingenuity. A back matter spread contains a six-panel explanation of the mechanical engineering elements of a pulley, wheel & axle, lever, inclined plane, wedge, and screw. It's a really fun book to get kids excited about science, tinkering, and making their own machines.


Resources:

Collage of some of the 30 simple machines for kids to build -

- practice your engineering skills and make some (or all) of these simple machines.

- what problems do you notice around your house or school? Brainstorm ideas for inventions which could solve the problem. When you find your idea, draw it, write a description of it, or try to create your machine.

- pair with Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts for a couple of other confident, creative, and tinkering girls.

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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