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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Adam Pottle and Ziyue Chen

Adam Pottle Adam Pottle was born deaf but grew up in a hearing family.

Author Photo of Adam Pottle

As a child, he had to wear hearing aids and endure speech therapy to get through school. Over the last several years, he has been developing his Sign Language skills so to become more active in the Deaf community.


He earned his PhD in 2016 and has taught English, creative writing, and professional communication since 2006. When not writing or teaching, he can be found at the boxing gym, the library, the comic store, or the park with his wife Deborah and their goldendoodle, Valkyrie. He lives in Saskatoon.

Collage of the book covers of Adam's 4 books.

Adam is the award-winning author of several works, including the prairie gothic horror novel Apparitions, the groundbreaking Deaf musical The Black Drum, the writing memoir Voice, and the historical novella The Bus.


Ziyue Chen Raised in sunny island, Singapore, Ziyue, pronounced as Zzz yuair, aka Angeline, lives with her husband, Zw and her two darling children.

Illustrator photo of Ziyue Chen.

Dabbling in art was her form of escape from the struggles and confusion of growing up deaf. This led her to discover the beauty of how art communicates with the viewer. Her life goal has been to have an emotional connection with those who view her work. She enjoys visualizing stories through illustrations, working on mostly Children’s Books and personal life experience.


She’s illustrated middle grade book covers, done editorial and sketch illustrations, and been part of three exhibitions.

Collage of the book covers of Ziyue's 9 picture books.

Ziyue is the illustrator of The Last Plastic Straw: A Plastic Problem and Finding Ways to Fix It by Dee Romito (2023), Dancing with Daddy by Anitra R. Schulte (2021), How Women Won the Vote: Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Their Big Idea by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (2020), Some Days by Karen Kaufman Orloff (2019), Rocket-Bye Baby: A Spaceflight Lullaby by Danna Smith (2019), Mela and the Elephant by Dow Phumiruk (2018), Just Right Family by Silvia Lopez (2018), Enough! 20 Protesters Who Changed America by Emily Easton (2018), and When I Carried You In My Belly by Thrity Umrigar (2017).


Adam’s debut, and Ziyue’s newest picture book, Butterfly on the Wind, releases on March 12th.

Welcome Adam and Ziyue,

 

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?)

 

ADAM - I usually write in my office, surrounded by posters and collectibles and, of course, my beloved goldendoodle Valkyrie. I started writing when I was sixteen, but I’ve been imaginative since I was little. I’ve always enjoyed pretending that I’m someone or something else. I grew up drawing and making up stories and pretending to be Godzilla stomping around, and I like to write stories that are different, that are offbeat, that show us things that we’re not used to seeing.

 

ZIYUE - Hi! I’m from Singapore and I love avocado milkshake. I’ve been illustrating for editorial, book covers, and Children’s books since 2014. It is the first time that I illustrated a story written by a Deaf accomplished author, Adam Pottle. It has been a real honor to do so especially since I can relate to the story that centres on the sense of belonging and community where no one is alone with their own struggles.

 

It is so nice nice to meet both of you. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?

 

ADAM - I once jotted down a novel scene in my journal while sitting directly in front of Michelangelo’s statue of David.

 

ZIYUE - The most fun artwork for me to illustrate for that story is where everyone gathered together and created more butterflies, generating more wind lifting each other up. It is a very touching moment for me. 

 

I've seen that statute, Adam. It would definitely be an interesting place to draft a story. Adam, what was your inspiration or spark of interest for Butterfly on the Wind?

Book cover -  Girl signing 'butterfly' surrounded by sparkling pink butterflies.

ADAM - I grew up in a hearing family, so I didn’t get to learn Sign Language until I was older. I never saw Deaf or hard-of-hearing characters in any of the books I read, and I wanted to capture the beauty and creativity and strength of the Deaf community.

 

Whenever I see Deaf people signing together, I always imagine their signs generating a wind that can rile up ocean waves or shift mountains. That image of a powerful wind dredged up another image from my childhood, and that was Mothra, the Queen of Monsters. Mothra creates her own wind when she flies, and that idea of butterflies and the winds generated by Sign Language blended together. 


I love that imagery and the creation of more books with signing characters. Ziyue, what about the Butterfly on the Wind manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Titile page - toe women dancing surrounded by mulitcolored, sparkling butterflies.

ZIYUE - As a child growing up deaf, I rarely see a deaf character featured in the story so to see a deaf character in the story with Sign Language is quite appealing to me. I liked the fact that this story reminds the reader that he/ she is not alone in their own struggles.

  

I am so glad you got to illustrate this book. You did such an amazing job. What is the hardest or most challenging thing for each of you about writing or illustrating Butterfly on the Wind? Why?

 

ADAM - I’d published a previous children’s book in 2020 that I’ve since disowned because I wasn’t happy with the illustrations (or with the ending, which was changed without my permission), so this time around, I was vigilant in ensuring that everything was exactly the way I wanted. Connie and Nico, our editors at Roaring Brook, have been amazing to work with, as has the publicity team, and I’m grateful to all of them.

 

ZIYUE - When I first started working on this project, I was a fresh Mum of two kids, after giving birth to the younger child. It was really tiring managing a couple of roles. So, the most challenging thing for me is to stay persistent in completing illustrations for this meaningful story. It also helps to have a kind and understanding team from Roaring Brook Press. On the creative side, I ensured the butterflies give a sense of magical feeling through compositional layout and color, and that every illustration connects with the reader emotionally.

 

Wow! Sorry, Adam, for your earlier experience. Ziyue, I'm impressed! How many revisions did Butterfly on the Wind take for the text or illustrations - from first draft to publication?

 

ADAM - The text went through at least four or five rounds of revision. That’s typical, though. We had to ensure we got the story exactly right and that it matched up well with the illustrations. If an illustration can carry a scene on its own, then we can eliminate part of the text. Ziyue’s illustrations are so evocative and beautiful that you could read the entire book without text and still understand what’s happening.

 

ZIYUE - I can’t really remember the exact number of revisions but revisions do help to improve the overall. The process is temporary, but the result is forever. So, it is definitely worth the hard work.


I love both of your approaches to revisions and agree that it is worth making the best book possible. Adam, when you first saw Ziyue’s illustrations in Butterfly on the Wind, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread? 

Internal image - on left spot images of granmother and girl signing to each other. On fight grandmother and girl sign 'butterfly' and three butterflies fly away from them.

Text © Adam Pottle, 2024. Image © Ziyue Chen, 2024.


ADAM -- The whole thing astonished me. Ziyue is a gem. Her work is perfect for this story; it maintains a beautiful balance of whimsy and wonder and beauty. I can’t imagine anyone else illustrating it.


I chose this one for the gorgeous whimsy and wonder you spoke of. Ziyue, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Or perhaps one which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - boat in the background full of people signing to hep the eight colorful butterflies out of the sea on on their way.

Text © Adam Pottle, 2024. Image © Ziyue Chen, 2024.


ZIYUE - As mentioned earlier, my favourite spread is where the people on the boat, be it hearing or deaf, they come together to sign butterflies, generating more wind in the sense of lifting each other up, moving more butterflies along to continue their journey around the world to share the spirit of resilience. It portrays that with unity, they are stronger and that no one is alone in their struggles. I find that beautiful especially when you read the ending of the story.

 

This image is so stunning and heart warming! Ziyue, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Butterfly on the Wind? If so, could you share one or more with us?

 

ZIYUE - I created two background characters somewhere in the story that look like my children! The main thing would be the sparkles and movement of butterflies.

 

What a great gift for your kids! What's something you both want your readers to know about or take away from Butterfly on the Wind?

 

ADAM - You don’t have to be Deaf or hard-of-hearing to appreciate a story like this. Just because a character is Deaf or Disabled or different doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to connect. We can learn. We can step inside the perspective of someone else and emerge richer for the experience.

 

Also: Deaf people are out there. We are creating, whether the spotlight is on us or not. Deaf and Disabled people have been creating amazing work for hundreds of years, but very few people are paying attention. Our voices have the power to change the world. Hopefully, people understand that and allow us more opportunities to show our strength and creativity.

 

ZIYUE - No matter where you are in the world, you are never alone in your struggles. It is the beauty of Sign Language that brings people together.

 

I hope I can help spread this message. You definitely don't have to be deaf to have performance nerves. I'd love to see many more books with deaf and disabled kids just like Aurora. Where the deafness is part of them - but not the defining aspect of them or the book. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, or cherished book as a child?

Book cover - Troll on top of a wooden frame looking at a girl standing below.

ADAM - I loved Robert Munch’s stories, along with Mercer Mayer and Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes books. Loved Where the Wild Things Are. Loved the Goosebumps series, along with Judy Blume’s books. One book my mother used to read to my brother and I was The Girl Who Tricked the Troll, by Don Arthur Torgersen. I can still picture very clearly the image of the troll at the end. 

Peter Rabbit eating carrots in McGegors garden, with a robin perched on a shovel handle next to him.

ZIYUE - Beatrix Potter for her lovely rendering of watercolor illustrations and Roald Dahl for his wild and creative imagination!

 

I'm not familiar with that book Adam, but excited to find a new one to read. Ziyue, I love your favorites. They both created such amazing work. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

ADAM - I’ve written a few more children’s stories, as well as a horror novel and a graphic novel script. I’m not sure what’ll happen with them; hopefully, I get to share them someday!

 

ZIYUE - I’m currently working on two books that also feature a Deaf character and Sign

Language. One is Signs of Friendship about two best friends who communicate using Sign Language until a hearing friend comes along and the other is the heartwarming story of how the hearing community gathers together to learn Sign language to create an inclusive environment for a Deaf girl and everyone. News about the release of these two books will be shared on my social media.

 

Best of luck to you both with your projects. I will be keeping my eyes out for them. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park (anywhere in the world)? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo of trail in Gabriel Dumont Park by Eh Canada Travel
Gabriel Dumont Park by Eh Canada Travel

ADAM - I love the Gabriel Dumont Park here in Saskatoon. My wife and I take Valkyrie there whenever we can. I’d also love to visit the Cape Breton Highlands on the East Coast and go to Singapore and visit Ziyue and see the parks there!

Photo of Milford Sound in New Zealand.
Milfor Sound image: L. Gim/Creative Commons

ZIYUE - It is Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park in New Zealand!! It is the most beautiful magical place all around I’ve ever seen in my life. I went there once during my honeymoon, and I’d love to be there again to soak up all the sweet air and lovely nature scenery. It is an indescribable feeling. I highly recommend that place if anyone is heading to New Zealand. Another place I’d love to visit and have yet to visit is the Grand Canyon in the US. It would be nice to see up close the details and texture of the layered bands of red rock, and everything. I pretty much appreciate all the national parks in the world. They are the hearts of the world.

 

Such excellent locations! I am unfamiliar with both and enjoyed a small dive into the parks and their pictures.


Thank you, Adam & Ziyue, for sharing with us a bit about yourselves and your stunning new picture book.

Book cover -  Girl signing 'butterfly' surrounded by sparkling pink butterflies.

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF review of Butterfly on the Wind.


To find out more about Adam Pottle, or to contact him:

 

To find out more about Ziyue Chen, or to contact her:


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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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