The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Karen Jameson and Review of Woodland Dreams

Karen Jameson’s always loved reading and writing. A retired teacher, she holds a master’s degree in education. She’s a lover of books, wildflowers, farmers’ markets, and everything chocolate. Karen lives and works in sunny, Southern California.


She's the author of the lyrical picture books Where the Wee Ones Go (Chronicle, 2022), Farm Lullaby (Chronicle, Fall 2021), Woodland Dreams (Chronicle, 2020), and Moon Babies (Putnam, 2019).

ME: Welcome Karen, tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)


KAREN: Becoming an author has been a lifelong dream. I dabbled it in here and there, but didn’t seriously start writing until a friend encouraged me to join the SCBWI in 2012. As an elementary teacher and mom of three, I was enamored with picture books and aspired to create one of my own.


I initially started taking writing courses and going to conferences and had some luck publishing articles in children’s magazines. Once I retired, in 2016, I was able to get some momentum going. In 2017, I found my dream agent and sold my first books.


After years of being on a teacher’s schedule, I love having the freedom to write whenever the mood strikes.


Sounds like you've found the perfect second career. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?


Though I’ve always LOVED books, I was a struggling reader in my early years. I didn’t understand phonics at all, and felt like a failure. Thankfully, one of my teachers figured out that I was a visual learner and introduced me to sight words. I finally learned to read in third grade.


That was a special teacher! Thank you for sharing this struggle. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?


I loved Little Women and Little House on the Prairie, as I was especially fascinated with historical fiction. Plus, being the only girl in a family with two brothers, I craved stories about sisters.


I can understand that. What was your inspiration for Woodland Dreams?


I was teaching a habitat unit to my third graders, when it became clear that few, if any, had any knowledge of woodland flora and fauna. Most had never been to a forest, let alone taken a walk in one. So, I decided to write a picture book walk in the forest.


It's such a great idea. Is there something you want your readers to know about Woodland Dreams?


I hope that Woodland Dreams will spark a love of nature and inspire readers to visit woodlands and National Parks.


I do to! What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)


Nature is my greatest inspiration. A walk in the forest, a day by the sea, or a visit to the mountains, brings me peace and fills me with wonder.


If you're willing to look around, there is so much to see and marvel at in nature. Was Woodland Dreams easier, or harder, to write than Moon Babies? Which was the hardest spread to get the rhyme or rhythm right?


Woodland Dreams was a gift, as the ideas and lines came fairly easily. It was acquired and published without a single revision. In comparison, Moon Babies went through multiple revisions.


WOW! That's truly amazing. I think I've only had one other author - out of 200+ interviews - say this. I really enjoyed the little girl in the illustrations. Had you included illustration notes regarding the girl and her activities in the forest as she (or her dog) spots the snoozing critters? Which is your favorite spread?


The text was submitted without a single illustration note. It was a delightful surprise to behold Marc Boutavant’s lovely art for the first time!

Text © Karen Jameson, 2021. Image © Marc Boutavant, 2021.


All the spreads are gorgeous, but I have a special fondness for the little girl and pup asleep at the end.


I know that Farm Lullaby (Chronicle) comes out in the Fall and Where the Wee Ones Go (Chronicle, 2022) next year, are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


I’m brainstorming ideas for nonfiction picture books at the moment. Nothing specific to share yet, but hopefully inspiration will strike soon.


Congrats on the next couple of books and good luck in your brainstorming. What have you been doing to stay creative? Anything in particular that “primes the well”?


I’ve been blessed (and am obsessed) with my two adorable grandbabies who are now toddlers. Their antics are a daily inspiration and spark such fun ideas. I’ve got a list going (and growing). Ha! One just may end up becoming a picture book.


Heading into your third book release, and associated readings and, hopefully, school visits, do you have any advice for those just learning their book is to be published? (What will you do/try differently this time?)


Here’s my advice: Have professional author photos taken and create a website. Join SCBWI to connect with the kidlit community. Get to know your local bookstore and library in preparation for future author events. Establish a social media presence. Above all, have fun doing the kinds of promotional things that you enjoy.


I’m still trying to figure out where my time and energy is best spent in promoting books. Obviously, the pandemic has upended author visits and events for now, but hopefully we’ll be able to do in-person story times and readings by the time Farm Lullaby releases this fall.


Great advice and I hope that things settle down by Fall! What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with. Why? As part of this question, can you tell us how you became the grandmother to a hippo?

I love seeing pictures of baby doll sheep. They have such charming smiles! As to being a hippo grandma, “Baby Hippo” is the name of my son’s guinea pig! Ha! It’s a skinny pig, a hairless breed of guinea pigs, and looks just like a tiny hippo, hence the name.


Wow, at a quick glance, it really does look like a baby hippo! Thank you so much for coming by to talk with me Karen. It was a pleasure getting to know you.


My pleasure! Thank you, Maria.


To find out more about Karen Jameson, or get in touch with her:

Website: https://karenljameson.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karenjamesonkidlit

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KarenJameson15


Review of Woodland Dreams


I was excited when I first saw this cover. I mean, isn't the image of the squirrel cozily asleep in its nest full of treasures, as a girl and her dog walk past, just adorable.


Given my love of forests, exploration, and animals of every sort, it's no surprise that I'd fall in love with a beautiful, rhyming bedtime book where the animals are "tucked in tight" into their beds. Especially one which contains nuggets of STEAM tucked throughout, like a treasure hunt through the woods. Although it's a wonderful bedtime story, it is also a great book for opening discussions about animals, scientific observation, poetry, and art.


Woodland Dreams


Author: Karen Jameson


Illustrator: Marc Boutavant


Publisher: Chronicle Books


Ages: 3-5


Informational Fiction


Themes:

Bedtime, animals, forest, nature, rhyming, and art.


Synopsis:

In Woodland Dreams, young readers say goodnight to beloved woodland animals as they prepare to sleep.


This sweet bedtime book is at once a picture book and a lullaby, pairing familiar bedtime routines with nonfiction elements. Little ones will follow along as each animal returns to their warm and cozy woodland home.


From the fox curling up in her den to the turtle dozing off in his shell, Woodland Dreams will send your little one off to sleep with a gentle and loving goodnight. The lyrical text is perfect for bedtime read-alouds, engaging little readers with beautiful illustrations and a cozy rhyming narrative.


Opening lines:

Come home, Big Paws.


Berry picker

Honey trickster

Shadows deepen in the glen.

Lumber back inside your den.


What I love about this book:

There is so much to love about this book; especially, if like me, you adore nature and time in the woods.


First, like When You Are Brave by Pat Zietlow Miller and Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet by Curtis Manley [two books I adore, by the way!], the Woodland Dreams narrative never specifically mentions a child exploring the woods on a walk. The girl and her dog are the genius additions of the illustrator Marc Boutavant. As is the steadily deepening of the twilight sky, darkening forest, and the gently increasing snowfall. In addition, Marc masterfully depicts a variety of gorgeous habitats and numerous species of trees.

Text © Karen Jameson, 2021. Image © Marc Boutavant, 2021.


Second, Karen Jameson has created a beautifully, poetic text which, instead of naming the animals, refers to a characteristic of each, such as "Velvet Nose," "Swift Legs," or "Painted Wings," as she calls them to bed. Then in stanzas of two rhyming couplets, she provides characteristics of each animal.

Text © Karen Jameson, 2021. Image © Marc Boutavant, 2021.


Come home, Velvet Nose.


Antlered swimmer.

Pond-weed skimmer

Daylight’s fleeting—wade ashore.

Bed down in the great outdoors.


What a great way to learn about forest animals and where/how they sleep. It's chocked full of scientific information, both visually and in the text. This is so much more than the wonderful bed time story it appears to be. While it is gentle and soothing, it also provides a start to discussions about these animals.


Craft Note: This is also a wonderful mentor text for leaving room for the illustrator. In my interview with Karen on Monday, she confirmed that she had NO illustrator notes with the manuscript. And a mentor text for artists for using every inch of the book; the front and back end pages beautifully frame the story, as they shift from a purple twilight or a cobalt blue night. It's so amazing that the lines -

"Tiny Hooves.

Wide-eyed runner

Spotter sunner . . .

nap in wooded brush."


informed and inspired a fawn dashing through the woods and snuggling to sleep beside it's mother. Woodland Dreams is also a good mentor text for a creative way to use paired rhyming couplets and tidbits of science. Basically, in four lines & fourteen words, Karen gives us four or five facts about each animal. And it's all wrapped up into a 'simple' calming bedtime book!


Lastly, I also love that the girl is carrying a notebook on her walk and documenting the animals and plants she encounters. What a great bit of modeling scientific behavior for the reader. The last spread is amazing!

Text © Karen Jameson, 2021. Image © Marc Boutavant, 2021.


Marc not only includes a number of the girl's drawings (and they look like a kid's drawings), but he shows a few additional aspects of the story and fun ways to use leaves and natural items in images. As well as showing that art, like anything, takes practice. For instance, look at the sketches of the hummingbird's head; some super messy, some misshapen, but all steps in learning to draw a hummingbird she was proud of.


Overall, this is a wonderful STEAM book; modeling observation, record keeping, and creativity. While at the same time having a lyrically beautiful rhythm that could encourage sleep and sweet dreams.


Resources:

- take a walk in the woods or a park with a notepad, or piece of paper, and draw everything you see. Are your sketches similar to the girl's at the back of the book? Did you see any of the same animals?


- gather up interesting leaves and things on your walk. Can you make a picture (or create a story) with the things (leaves, nuts, berries, grasses) you found on your walk? Look at the girl's images for ideas or check out http://www.kokokokids.ru/2011/09/fall-leaves-craft-ideas.html.


- what are your favorite things to have with you when you go to sleep?

Maria Marshall
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