The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Janet Costa Bates and A.G. Ford
I had the opportunity to talk with Janet Costa Bates and A.G. Ford about their newly released sweet, and a little sneaky, picture book - Time For Bed, Old House.
Janet Costa Bates writes chapter books, middle grade novels, picture books and poetry. She’s been writing poetry since about the third grade. Over the years, she’s written many poems, short stories and essays, most of which have never seen the light of day. When her sons were born, Janet started reading to them as infants and completely fell in love with children's books. She’d found a focus for my writing passion.
Janet’s the author of Seaside Dream (2010).
A.G. Ford is a New York Times Bestselling Children's book Illustrator and recipient of two NAACP Image Awards. He grew up in Dallas, Texas. Ford attended The Columbus College of Art and Design majoring in illustration. He has illustrated picture books for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sharon Robinson, Ilyasah Shabazz, Martin Luther King III, Nick Cannon, Jonah Winter, The Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many others. He lives in Frisco, Tx with his lovely wife Brandy and their two sons Maddox & Carter.
He has over 30 published books for children including picture books, chapter books such as the Magic Tree House Series, and YA covers. He has worked with publishers such as HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Scholastics, Penguin RandomHouse, Candlewick Press and more. Some of his books include Isobel Adds It Up by Kristy Everington (2021), Construction Site Mission: Demolition! by Sherri Duskey Rinker (2020), Brown Baby Lullaby by Tameka Fryer Brown (2020), Three Cheers for Kid McGear! by Sherri Duskey Rinker (2019), Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker (2018), Cookiesaurus Christmas by Nate Evans & Amy Fellner Dominy (2018), Littles: And How They Grow by Kelly DiPucchio (2017), and Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz (2014).
Their picture book collaboration, Time for Bed, Old House, released November 1st.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write/illustrate? How long have you been writing/illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
Janet: I started writing poems as soon as I learned how to write. In college, I wrote for the campus newspaper and also wrote a few short stories. After my sons were born, I started writing children’s books and never looked back. My favorite type of book to write? That’s an impossible choice – kind of like picking out my favorite kid. Or my favorite flavor of ice cream. Some things just can’t be done.
A.G. : Well, I’m an artist at heart, and have been drawing since I was a young child. I’m in love with technique and draftsmanship. I enjoy the process of drawing people mostly, and always have. I can’t say that I have a favorite type of book to illustrate. Mainly I just like to keep things fresh and illustrate all different types of books that present new ideas, and new images for me to draw. I’ve illustrated everything from biographies to dinosaur cookies that talk.
You both have created some remarkable books. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Janet: A little-known fun-fact is that when the Boston Public Library redesigned their children’s section a few years ago, they decided to include my first picture book, Seaside Dream, in the mural. I had no clue until a librarian pointed it out to me during a BPL visit.
A.G. : Tough question being that I am a pretty open book. I’m often or more likely to share too much information rather than to not share enough. I’m pretty open and honest about most things, and I believe more people would be more open an honest themselves if they realized how normal their thoughts and experiences are. We just like to hide true feelings. But the most famous people in the world, are often famous because they are revealing more about themselves than most are willing to share.
Now, there's something to chew on; very interesting point, A.G. Let dive into the book. Janet, what was the inspiration or backstory for Time for Bed, Old House?
Janet: The book was first inspired by my own sons. When my oldest son was an infant, I would walk around the house holding him, gently explaining what I was doing as I closed the blinds and turned down lights. My youngest son was an absolute night owl. Maybe if I had written this book before he was born, it would have helped my husband and me to get him to go to sleep. It quite possibly could have been the sanity saver we needed!
Boy, I wish it had been as easy as that! A.G. what about the Time for Bed, Old House manuscript snagged your attention or captured your imagination? Was there anything in particular that inspired your illustrations?
A.G.: Because I had two boys, the story really grabbed me just thinking about the relationship they have with their grandpas.
This love between a grandfather &and grandchild definitely comes through your illustrations. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Janet: That’s hard to answer since it was so long ago and there are many books for which I don’t remember the title or the author. What I remember, however, is how those books made me feel.
A.G. : Hard to say here for me. The book I really remember from childhood was Maniac MaGee. I got into Goosebumps and things like that as I got older, but I was also wrapped up in basketball quite a bit.
Interesting. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Time for Bed, Old House?
Janet: It seems as though there was some creative channeling that took place. There is a much-loved blue wingback chair in my parents’ house that looks just like the blue chair in Time for Bed, Old House. When my mother became too unsteady to sit in her rocker, we moved the blue chair to her favorite spot. She has since passed but when my father came to live with us for about six months during the height of the Covid lockdown, we brought the blue chair to our house for him. Also, the quilt on the bed looks similar to one I can remember my grandmother making when I was about five. As an adult, I was hoping to find it in my grandparents’ attic, but it was long gone. I haven’t mentioned it to AG yet, but he found a way to give that quilt back to me.
A.G. : I really would want them to understand the importance of family and the time we share with them. Also, just the impact family has on children. It’s just a warm, fun story. I really enjoyed illustrating it. It allowed so much freedom and playfulness which is something I look for in a manuscript.
Text © Janet Costa Bates, 2021. Image © A.G. Ford, 2021.
Janet: The magic that an illustrator brings to a picture book is that they bring the story to the next level. AG made the house so warm and welcoming that it, too, becomes a character. I love the expressions on the faces of Snuffles, the dog, and Bear, Isaac’s stuffed lovie. And Isaac’s slippers absolutely slay me.
Those monster slippers are awesome! A.G., many illustrators weave (hide) treasures in their illustrations. If you did this, can you share one or more with us? What is your favorite spread?
Text © Janet Costa Bates, 2021. Image © A.G. Ford, 2021.
A.G. : HAHA, I didn’t hide anything into the illustrations. What I will do is let me 6 year old paint something that would never be noticed. Usually I will let him paint a cloud or a texture in a piece of wood. I think I may have let him paint a highlight on the clock in this book.
Wow! What a treat for your son, and for you. What was the hardest part of Time for Bed, Old House to write or illustrate? Why?
Janet: It took me a while to find the balance between making it engaging while still keeping it a quiet, bedtime story. And by a while, I mean years.
A.G. : For me, the hardest thing was to find a balance between giving the house personality, but not overdoing it. With this concept, we could have really taken it to the extreme, but I took the subtle approach.
I'm glad you both worked at finding the subtle magic, in text and illustration, which makes this book shine. If you could meet anyone, real or imaginary, who would that be and why?
Janet: I wouldn’t mind having a chat with the creative genius, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
A.G. : Easy! Malcolm Gladwell!
Wouldn't those be great meetings! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Janet: Due out in fall 2022, also from Candlewick, is a chapter book entitled Llamas, Iguanas, and My Very Best Friend featuring Rica Baptista and her best friend Laini. Keep your eyes open for a Rica Baptista series!
A.G. : I’ve been mainly working on Construction Site Books for Chronicle. We have a series, so that’s been keeping me pretty busy.
We'll have to keep our eyes open for these books. How are you, or have you, been staying creative these days? What are you doing to “prime the well?”
Janet: I’ve been working on revisions for the next book in the Rica Baptista series as well as working on a few picture book manuscripts. I also have a middle grade in mind, but right now that one is just notes scribbled in a journal.
A.G. : Well, I have been juggling a few projects, so honestly, I’m staying creative pretty easily at the moment. But when I do get in a dry spell, I just draw portraits and read books and discover new music. That’s how I get out of any creative rut.
Okay, last question. What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with at the moment? Why?
Janet: While doing some research for Llamas, Iguanas, and My Very Best Friend, I learned about the quokka. If you want to see a tremendous smile, do an image search for quokka. It will make your day.
A.G. : Mmmmm… Favorite animal is a tough one. There are so many and each time I learn something new about a different animal, they become my favorite, or shall I say most interesting. I read the Kids National Geographic to my 6 year old, so I feel like we discover all types of weird and interesting animals. They all have so many interesting ways of building habitats, eating, mating, hunting….it's truly amazing. SO…let's just say a dog, who doesn’t love a dog?
Thank you, Janet and A.G. for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you both.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Time For Bed, Old House.
To find out more about Janet Costa Bates and A.G. Ford, or get in touch with them:
Janet Costa Bates