The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Amy Nielander and Review of My Name is not Ed Tug
Amy Nielander graduated from College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. Before becoming an Author Illustrator, she worked as a product designer and digital sculptor in the automotive industry.
In 2014, she earned international recognition as a finalist in the Silent Book Contest. Her picture book submission debuted at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and traveled to Milan, Italy for exhibition.
The Ladybug Race was published by PomegranateKids and received a Bronze Medal Book Award in the Children's Picture Books All Ages Category by Independent Publisher. Her second picture book, Grama’s Hug, (Page Street Kids) received a starred review from Booklist and was featured in the Grand Rapids Magazine as a recommended read. She is represented by Adria Goetz of P.S. Literary and works as a Children’s Book Coach at The Detroit Writing Room.
Amy fuses her talents to deliver high quality art, design and playful stories for kids. She pushes her creativity to explore what makes characters unforgettable, storylines stick and fictional worlds, delight. Her mission is to spread joy, inspire, and fuel imaginations.
Her newest picture book, My Name is Not Ed Tug, was released October 11th.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing and illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate? )
I’ve been writing ever since I was a kid. I kept a journal of some sort, almost my entire life. I didn’t draw as much as a child until I was older. After high school, I went to College for Creative Studies and became a product designer. The first time I experimented with picture books was when my son was born (he’s a teenager now!). I decided to illustrate a story my mom had written for a godchild years ago. I fell in love with the process and started writing my own stories so I had something to illustrate! I discovered SCBWI, became a member, and devoted as much time as possible to improving my stories and illustrations for years. My favorite picture books to work on are fun stories with big-hearted characters.
I look forward to seeing the heartfelt books you create next. What do you like to do outside?
I love being near water when possible. I grew up with a pool and being close to water reminds me of the long summer days I spent outside swimming with my sister or friends. I also enjoy biking with my family and walking our dog (not at the same time though).
That would be quite an accomplishment, though. 😊 What was your inspiration for My Name is Not Ed Tug?
I used to volunteer in my daughter’s computer classroom years ago. On my first day, I watched a student react to his name misspelled on a monitor. That sparked the initial idea. Seeing how upset he was over the error as well as how quickly his engagement dropped, really stuck with me. That day, I left the classroom wanting to create a main character...for him. This main character would share the same feelings he experienced that day and have a name that was routinely misspelled too. The challenge for me was figuring out how my character would conquer the same problem.
I like the way you figured it out. Subtle, but with a very realistic child-centered agency. What is the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing and illustrating children’s books? Which comes first?
The hardest part for me is doing major text revisions. I don’t mind tweaks here and there, but when a story needs to be gutted, writing becomes a bit more painful. Words usually always come first for me when I’m writing a new story. There have been times when a strong character I’ve created (often through my blog) inspires a story though.
Do check out Amy's blog for lots of drawing fun. She takes a random shape (this character's nose) and creates multiple fun characters. So, what was the most challenging aspect of My Name is Not Ed Tug? Why?
The most challenging aspect of My Name is Not Ed Tug, oddly wasn’t the writing or illustrating part but the production phase. Being an author illustrator is a solitary endeavor and when you know your book has a team of people championing it in different ways – but you can’t work with them in-person – the production part can amplify that seclusion. There were times when I wish we could have been in a room together communicating versus emailing back and forth.
Things got done, but Covid really did have a big effect on many. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
I remember reading and rereading Popcorn by Fred Asch, Christina Katerina & The Box by Patricia Lee Gauch and The Monster at the end of this Book by Jon Stone. Popcorn fascinated me because the story takes place when the main character’s parents are not home (and he fills their house with popcorn - these were super high stakes as a kid!). What intrigued me the most about Christina Katerina & The Box was Christina (also my middle name). I loved her imagination and determination. My favorite part about The Monster at the end of this Book was the exciting, cliffhanger page turns.
Yeah, I've discovered a 'new' book. How many revisions did My Name is Not Ed Tug take from the first draft to publication? Which had more, the text or the illustrations? How did this compare to The Ladybug Race and Grama’s Hug?
There were around five major revisions of My Name is Not Ed Tug. I did a major text revision after the story was acquired. In the end, both text and illustrations received equal amounts of editing. Grama’s Hug ranks highest among all three picture books in the amount of revisions needed before the book was finally published. It started off as a wordless story!
Wow, that would be a change. What's something you want your readers to know about My Name is Not Ed Tug?
I want readers to feel empowered to own their identity and to celebrate their name no matter how challenging the circumstances are.
As well to learn respect for the names of others. Many illustrators leave treasures (Easter eggs) in their illustrations. Did you do this in My Name is Not Ed Tug? If so, can you share a couple with us? What is your favorite spreads or one you are most proud of?
Text & Image © Amy Nielander, 2022.
I sure did! I love leaving Easter eggs. I drop little love notes to my family and tiny odes to my first picture book, The Ladybug Race, when the moment is appropriate. For My Name is Not Ed Tug, I added my kids names, as well as friends and families, to the back cover (which is full of name tags). Similar to a spot in Grama’s Hug, I illustrated a classmate admiring a ladybug outside. One of my favorite spreads in My Name is Not Ed Tug is the very first scene. It shows Edimorwhitimormiligimmus Tug as a baby with his loving grandpa, Edimor.
So sweet and such an amazing block tower! Is there any advice that you’ve received along the way either for writing, illustrating, or life that you’d like to share with us?
When you are stuck on a drawing or manuscript, find a way to keep moving. I recently worked on a picture book manuscript that needed major reconstruction. I felt the minutes tick by as I attempted to undo and redo sentences/storylines. I was getting nowhere. I decided to go to the library and check out a pile of picture books by my favorite authors. I typed out and paginated every story. Afterwards, I was able to quickly spot unnecessary details in my own text and made major progress. Switching gears and propelling forward in something else like reading, studying, or researching, can be beneficial when your writing is at a standstill.
I totally agree that sometimes you need a change of scenery or activity. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I have a fun, silly story brewing about a beaver and his family. I’d love to submit it to publishers in early 2023.
Good luck. I look forward to seeing it. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
My favorite park is Arches National Park. We visited Utah a few years ago during a family trip and spent the day there. The rock formations were astounding and I remember marveling at how beautifully balanced giant slabs were (especially when they stretched across the park). Luckily, we were there on a beautiful day and the reddish orange rocks against the blue sky were stunning.
Thank you Amy for sharing with us a bit about yourself and your newest picture book.
To find out more about Amy Nielander, or to contact her:
Review of My Name is Not Ed Tug
I've had a number of friends with names that were commonly misspelled or mispronounced. None quite as long as the young boy's name in this story. And given the many, many ways that a simple (and internationally universal) name such as Maria can be misspelled or altered, my heart went out to poor Edimorwhitimormiligimmus. As our world becomes smaller and more diverse, it is increasingly important to celebrate the uniqueness and heritage of everyone's name.
My Name is Not Ed Tug
Author/Illustrator: Amy Nielander
Publisher: West Margin Press (2022)
Importance of names, humor, identity, and acceptance.
Edimorwhitimormiligimmus Tug has a very special name that is all his own. But his teacher thinks it's too long and hard to say. One day she shortens it to. . . Ed.
But he loves his name just the way it is. So he comes up with a plan—if he can teach everyone his name, maybe they'll love it too!
Sweet and whimsical, My Name Is Not Ed Tug empowers readers to own their identities and proudly celebrate who they are.
was named after his Grandpa Edimor…
What I LOVED about this book:
This is a sweet book on empowerment and acceptance. Both of ourselves and others. Edimorwhitimormiligimmus Tug's name came from "his Grandpa Edimor...his Great Uncle Whitimor, his Aunt Mili, and his Granny Gimmus." As a reflection of the family members he loved, he adored his name. Even if to others it seemed like a mouthful. The gorgeous, colorful initial spreads - showing him interacting joyfully with each family member - culminate in this wonderful family portrait.
Text & Image © Amy Nielander, 2022.
To any non-TUG, this name was nonsense.
But to Edimorwhitimormiligimmus Tug, it was perfect.
Life was great, until he went to school. The kids and the teacher had trouble with his name. The illustration's depiction of everyone's drab gray clothing and green toned classroom perfectly captures his unhappiness. To top it off, the arrival of a new kid, prompted the teacher to place a name tag on Edimorwhitimormiligimmus which read - 'ED.' Claiming it would just be easier for everyone else. I love Amy's descriptive analogy for his emotions - "He felt like his heart had/ been stung by a giant bee./Twice."
After much thought, and 6 more name tags, Edimorwhitimormiligimmus had a plan to help his classmates (and maybe some readers?) remember his name. I love how he not only covers his entire chest and belly, but Amy's vertical image requires the reader to rotate the book to read ED-IMOR-WHIT-IMOR-MILI-GIMMUS TUG. Amy created a great change from a dark toned, almost ominous image of him frowning at the tag "ED" to this 'larger-than-life' beaming and proud child whose figured out how to help others see the beauty in his name.
Text & Image © Amy Nielander, 2022.
With his improved name tags, Edimorwhitimormiligimmus successfully teaches the kids and teacher to say his name and involves them all in a secret plan to show how special each of their names are. Amy reflects everyone's improved mood through more colorful spreads and wraps a bit of humor and a healthy dose of compassion and friendship into these final spreads.
This is another book with amazing endpapers! Ones that perfectly wrap the story and add one more layer. When the kid's (and the teacher's) full names are acknowledged, instead of shortened, not only does their attitude but also their self-expression (mostly in hair styles) change. I love the setup as a class yearbook photo. Did you notice the change in the school too? From the original image of a depressing school with a droopy tree to one with a full tree, flowers, curtains, and welcome banner!
Text & Image © Amy Nielander, 2022.
It's a wonderful book about having pride in our names, family, and uniqueness and the celebration of the same in others. A fun book for the beginning of a school year, as well as a great segue into discussions on cultural identity, compassion, and caring.
- make an acrostic 'Namebow" or an acrostic poem from the letters of your name.
- where does your name come from? A relative? Something or someone special to your parents?
- design your own name tag, draw your own family in a fancy frame, or enjoy many other activities in the Book Guide.
- pair this book with That's Not My Name! by Anoosha Syed, Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal, and The Change Your Name Store by Leanne Shirtliffe.