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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Brooke Hartman and Evon Zerbetz plus Review of Little Narwhal Lost!

Brooke Hartman is an Alaskan mom and author of silly, serious, and sometimes strange stories for children and young adults.

Author photo of Brooke Hartman

Her writing has garnered national awards, including honors from Writer’s Digest, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. When she’s not writing, she can be found flying, fishing, and having fun with her family in their home state of Alaska.

Collage of the covers of Brooke Hartman's 7 books.

Brooke is the author of 8 books, including All Aboard the Alaska Train illustrated by John Joseph (2024), Watch Out for the Lion! illustrated by Anna Süßbauer (2023), Klyde The Kraken Wants a Friend illustrated by Laura Borio (2023), The Littlest Airplane illustrated by John Joseph (2022), Pega Sisters Go to Camp illustrated by MacKenzie Haley (2022), Lotte's Magical Paper Puppets: The Woman Behind the First Animated Feature Film illustrated by Kathryn Carr (2020), and Dream Flights on Arctic Nights illustrated by Evon Zerbetz (2019).


Evon Zerbetz is an artist and illustrator for whom relief printmaking has been her passion for over 20 years.

Illustrator photo of Evon Zerbetz carving in her studio.

She prefers carving tools over pencils and relishes the physicality of mark making as she carves into linoleum and other matrices to make printing plates.


Evon’s projects have ranged from a 65-foot wall of architectural art glass for the Alaska State Library/Archives, suspended sculptures in busy public buildings, to linocuts for health posters that might be push-pinned to the school nurse’s office wall. Her linocuts have illustrated an armload of children’s books, rolled down the road on a mobile science exhibit on wheels, informed 12 public art commissions, and formed the basis for a multimedia traveling exhibit about ravens.

Collage of the cover of Evon Zerbetz's 8 books.

Evon is the illustrator of 10 books, including Alaska is for the Birds!: Fourteen Favorite Feathered Friends, by Susan Ewing (2022), Dream Flights on Arctic Nights by Brooke Hartman (2019), Dog Days, Raven Nights by John M. Marzluff and Colleen Marzluff (2013), Ten Rowdy Ravens, by Susan Ewing (2005), Little Red Snapperhood: A Fishy Fairy Tale, by Neal Gilbertsen (2003), Whalemail, by Ron Hirschi (2001), Blueberry Shoe by Ann Dixon (1999), and Lucky Hares and Itchy Bears, by Susan Ewing (1996).


Their newest picture book collaboration, Little Narwhal Lost! A Tale of Found Family, releases on January 30th.

 

Welcome Brooke and Evon, thank you so much for stopping back by to talk about your new picture book collaboration and your writing and illustrating.

 

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?)

 

BROOKE – Wow, how long have I been writing—that’s a loaded question! In truth, I’ve been writing since I was in the first grade, always penning little rhymes and, later on, driving my English teachers nuts by responding to essay assignments with random poems. But I’ve been writing with the goal to be published since early 2000’s, when I drummed up an idea for an epic young adult fantasy novel that has of yet to see the light of day. Having kids redirected all that creative energy into picture books, and I haven’t turned back since!

 

EVON – I live and work on an island in Southeast Alaska. The town of Ketchikan is in the middle of the rainforest and averages 160-some inches a year. When it’s sunny, we are all outside, but the rainy environment is QUITE conducive to working in the studio. I’ve been working full time as an artist for 28 years and my first children’s book came out that same year that I went full-time.

 

Nice to meet both of you! What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?

 

BROOKE – This isn’t going to be a very fun answer from me because I’m a religious Starbucks writer. I even have my “own” table and all the staff know me (and my drink, of course) by name. If I’m not in the Starbucks zone, I find it hard to get into the writing mood—though recently I wrote a picture book draft while flying business class on an overseas trip, and that was probably the fanciest seat I’ve ever cracked a laptop in!

[Ha! 😊]

 

EVON – I sketch anywhere I have scratch paper. Some of my best ideas come when I am doodling at public meetings or maybe an airplane, someplace where I am sitting for a few hours and focused, maybe even in the flow. When it’s time to execute a block, I want to get back to my studio to make final sketches, carve my blocks at my solid drafting table with a good light, with tools to hone my knives on one side, with my knives lined up in front of me.

 

Brooke, what was the inspiration or spark of interest for Little Narwhal Lost! A Tale of Found Family?

Book Cover - little narwhal alone in the arctic ice flow.

BROOKE - Sometimes we happen upon a story that reaches out and grabs us by the heartstrings, and this one did just that. True animal friendship stories have always been near and dear to me, and this tale—an entire pod of belugas adopting a stray narwhal—captured me even more. At its core, the story of Little Narwhal is a tale of adoption, a situation many children (and adults) know about firsthand—not only with formal adoption, but the concept of “found family,” of making lasting, loving connections beyond traditional familial bonds. This story is a touching reminder that the ability to make those connections exists in the animal kingdom, as well.

 

I love finding examples of animals making their own families. There's something endearing and so hopeful about that. Evon, what about the Little Narwhal Lost! A Tale of Found Family manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Titile page - little narwhal splashing in the water.

EVON – The inspiration for the book came from a video I watched which showed a narwhal traveling with a pod of belugas. I was absolutely mesmerized and watched it over and over. I was working with Brooke at the time on the book Dream flights and Arctic Nights, and one of the spreads features a beluga, a narwhal, and bowhead whale. At the time, I was having so much fun carving the pattern of the narwhal that I wanted to keep carving narwhals, I sent Brooke the piece and noted “this story should be a book (so I can carve more narwhals!).”

 

That is a wonderful reason for a book! Brooke, what was the toughest aspect of writing Little Narwhal Lost!? How many revisions did you end up working through? Was there a particularly tricky portion?

 

BROOKE - Honestly, this story almost felt pre-written for me, not just in the fact that it’s a nonfiction account, but in the emotional arc that came with it. With previous manuscripts, I’ve always had to throw words onto paper like darts at a wall in an effort to figure out where those emotional peaks and valleys should go, and just how high and low they should be. I knew I wanted to keep the message of unconditional acceptance beyond physical differences and a lack of traditional familial bonds at the forefront of the text, and this story swam into my lap almost fully formed. It was a refreshing surprise! A couple rounds with my critique group helped hone that message even more, followed by another revision or two with the original editor, and the manuscript was complete.

 

EVON – Little Narwhal Lost may win the record for the longest time I’ve spent on a book project, which is notable, as the cuts are ultimately quite simple. I think there is a beauty in spare clean design, but everything must be just right to be that simple, so I ended up re-carving more pages than I usually would. I have no hesitation to start over when something isn’t right. Each line matters.

 

Interesting. The companion to "every word matters" is "every line matters." And when they masterfully come together, they create an amazing book. Is there something you both want your readers to know about Little Narwhal Lost!?

 

BROOKE – While this book is a fictional rendering of a nonfiction account, the story was (and still is) true; the narwhal was first seen with the pod of belugas back in 2016 but has been spotted with them as recently as the past few months. It’s no “fluke,” Little Narwhal has truly been adopted by his new family.

 

EVON – As I researched both the natural history and the mythology of the narwhal, I knew that the lore of the unicorn was connected to early people making sense of where narwhal tusks came from. Something new I learned was that after early naturalists had proven that the tusks were not from a magical horse-like animal no one had ever seen, and they WERE from a fabulous northern sea creature, many people at the time would still not believe the scientists, and wanted to persist in believing that there were unicorns!


Maybe not so surprising - people don't want to believe scientists now. Brooke, when you first saw Evon’s illustrations in Little Narwhal is Lost! did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - little narwhal with four friendly beluga whales.

Text © Brooke Hartman, 2024. Image © Evon Zerbetz, 2024.


BROOKE - I just adore all of Evon’s work. Her little touches and attention to detail always surprise me. I’m not sure I have a favorite illustration, but I love the way Evon rendered Little Narwhal and the belugas. They’re physically accurate in every way, yet also evoke a sense of emotional expression, and that combination is so hard to get just right. She is truly a master of her craft!


It is amazing to be that these are all carved images. Evon, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread?

internal spread - little narwhal alone, swimming through an ice field toward a sun beam.

Text © Brooke Hartman, 2024. Image © Evon Zerbetz, 2024.


EVON – One thing that was important to me from the beginning was to have the narwhal’s tooth in the proper place. There are many delightful narwhal books available on the market, and artists have had some fun taking artistic license with the placement of the tooth, placing it on the forehead like an upside-down ice cream cone, or otherwise evoking more of a unicorn look. The long tusk is actually a left tooth that pierces the upper lip.


This is what sets our book apart, while my artwork is quirky, I always begin with learning the basics about the anatomy of the animals. The stark cover is bold in its graphic simplicity. I’m hoping that our pensive lonely narwhal will help kids relate to sometimes having their own deep feelings and want to open the book to see how his story unfolds.

 

I love the care and accuracy that you used in your illustrations. Evon, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or special elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Little Narwhal is Lost!? If so, could you share one or more with us?

 

EVON – Again, the illustrations are intended to be spare and clean, so there are not a lot of hidden treasures. However, there are details that are not in the story, but that I add to enhance the natural history of the animals: the pod of narwhal includes a rare double tusked male (1 in 500); while it may have seemed an oversight to have all males on this same spread, narwhals are known to typically travel in all female or all male pods, so this is accurate. I also have both the narwhal and the beluga swimming upside down, and the beluga blowing big bubble rings on a few pages. The melon on the belugas head changes shape.

 

Additionally, details like the twist of the tusk are important to me, and you will always see that it is twisted counterclockwise.

 

That's so interesting. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Book cover - train driven and occupied by wild Alaskan animals.

BROOKE – I have a ton of exciting projects releasing in the next couple of years (aside from Little Narwhal, of course). This March, All Aboard the Alaska Train comes out with Red Comet Press, and then in 2025 I’m releasing three more books: Adorable Animals that Can Kill You Dead (humorous nonfiction) with Sourcebooks Xplore, and two more projects that are super fun, but I can’t quite talk about yet. Stay tuned to those official Publisher’s Weekly announcements for all the deets!

 

EVON – I am currently making a major career pivot to opening a gallery (spring 2024) in a cool historic building built on pilings over a fish creek in the center of town. I am paring down my personal workload to a handful of book projects, I have two on simmer that I just completed carving sample art, I am proofing the blocks tomorrow!

 

This sounds exciting for both of you. We'll have to keep our eyes open for your books and news. 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 Katmai National Park with two bears looking across at mountains.

BROOKE – I coincidentally just returned from an African Safari and had a once in a lifetime opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride over Serengeti National Park. Just… wow. Talk about a mind-blowing experience. Definitely a bucket list item I didn’t even know I had until I did it. But if I’m being honest about my favorite national park, I’d have to stick close to home with Katmai National Park right here in Alaska. This park is just a 15-minute flight from our cabin, and every summer we trek to the famous Brooks Falls where bears spend all day catching salmon mid-air. It’s quite a sight and definitely a bucket list item for anyone who doesn’t already have it on their list! 

Photo of granite basin in Alaska.

EVON – My favorite place that I can hike to in one day is a place I call granite basin. I’ve sat for hours watching mountain goats, and other animals—once an entire wolf pack. It’s not a park, but a rough trail in a huge National Forest land. Often wet, the forest is very lush and green in the temperate rainforest.

 

Thank you, Brooke and Evon for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you both.

 

To find out more about Brooke Hartman, or contact her:

 

To find out more about Evon Zerbetz, or contact her:


Review of Little Narwhal Lost! A Tale of Found Family


It's so fascinating when you discover instances of cross-species adoptions, fostering, or found families. Such as loons adopting a duckling, a cat and a squirrel, a tiger and piglets, or sperm whales and a deformed dolphin. This new picture book is a delightfully touching story based on the true event of a beluga whale pod adopting a lost narwhal calf.

Book Cover - little narwhal alone in the arctic ice flow.

Little Narwhal Lost! A Tale of Found Family

Author: Brooke Hartman

Illustrator: Evon Zerbetz

Publisher: Alaska Northwest Books/Turner Publishing

Ages: 5-8

Informational Fiction


Themes:

Whales, narwhals, and foster family.


Synopsis:

Inspired by a true story of how a young narwhal finds himself a new family to love and accept him—a pod of beluga whales!


Little Narwhal is lost. After a big storm hits, he wanders the ocean alone, in search of a community to belong to. Eventually he finds other whales . . . but these whales don’t look like him at all! Will they welcome him into their family?


From the same team behind the bestselling book Dream Flights on Arctic Nights, this story is told in lyrical text accompanied by gorgeously colored linocut art. Also included at the back are facts about narwhals, including the real story about the narwhal who is adopted by beluga whales.


Opening Lines:

Far away, in waters cold and deep, lived Little Narwhal.


Everyone in his pod was alike:

Strong flukes for slapping the water,

Wide flippers for swimming,

And dappled gray snouts with

a long, spiral tusk.


Click, buzz, kreee! his pod would call.

Click, buzz, kreee! Little Narwhal

would call back.


What I LOVE about this book:

One of the most amazing things about this book is that each illustration is a carved block image. The time and attention to detail which Evon Zerbetz dedicated to each image created such beautiful, realistic images of the narwhal and beluga's underwater world. As Evon mentioned above she ensured each tusk wound counterclockwise and that even a rare male with two tusks was depicted. I am so impressed by her ability to create a unique individually spotted hide for each whale.

Internal spread - of a pod of narwhal whales swimming together.

Text © Brooke Hartman, 2024. Image © Evon Zerbetz, 2024.


Gentle, lyrical text explores Little Narwhal's story. Exploring his life growing up safe and happy within his pod; Until a huge storm separated Little Narwhal from his pod. No matter how much he called - Click, buzz, kreee! - no one answered. He was alone and lost. For a child afraid of storms, this could be a very scary moment. Except that Evon added a faint touch of lightness in her carving of the clouds.

Internal spread - little narwhal caught spinning in a huge storm.

Text © Brooke Hartman, 2024. Image © Evon Zerbetz, 2024.


Cold, hungry, and lonely Little Narwhal swam for days, calling for his family. When suddenly he heard a call so close to his "Click, click, kreee. Buzz, buzz, buzz." And he bumbled into a pod of curious, playful beluga whales. Whales who "didn’t seem to notice that his snout was dappled gray. They didn’t seem to care that he had a long, spiral tusk." They accepted him. They hunted and played with him.

Internal spread - little narwhal with four friendly beluga whales.

Text © Brooke Hartman, 2024. Image © Evon Zerbetz, 2024.


The ending is hopeful, loving, and encouraging. The back matter offers great information on narwhals and more particulars on this actual story. As well as a fun map showing the overlap and nearness of the whale's ranges. This is an amazing story of a real cross-species adoption, a wonderful true tale of acceptance and caring. A great story for anyone who loves whales, found families, and unique aspects of nature.


Resources:

Photos of an origami narwhal on the left and oin the right an origami beluga.

  • do you know of other animal adoptions or unusual friendships? Create a story of a really unusual animal friendship. Write a short story or draw a picture of these unusual friends.

  • check out the coloring page of narwhal and a beluga (as well as other fun coloring pages).

  • compare this book with Little Narwhal, Not Alone by Tiffany Stone, illustrated by Ashlyn Anstee. How are they the same or different.

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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