The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Michelle Meadows and Ebony Glenn
The dynamic duo who created Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins are back with another awesome nonfiction picture book biography. I am so excited to share this fun dual interview with Michelle Meadows and Ebony Glenn.
Michelle Meadows loves dreaming up new projects and telling stories with heart. Connection, compassion, and family are common themes in her work. Michelle has always loved poetry and the music of language; she enjoys writing stories with rhythm and rhyme.
Michelle graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and literature. She shares her love of storytelling through presentations and encourages children to follow their dreams. Michelle is a regular contributor to Picture Book Builders, a blog on the craft of creating children's books.
Michelle Meadows is the author of 10 books for children. Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins (2019), Super Bugs (2016), Piggies in Pajamas (2013), Itsy, Bitsy Baby Mouse (2012), Piggies in the Kitchen (2011), Hibernation Station (2010), Traffic Pups (2011), Pilot Pups (2008), and The Way The Storm Stops (2003).
Ebony Glenn is an Atlanta based illustrator who enjoys bringing stories to life with whimsical imagery. A passion for the arts, great storytelling, and advocating for more diverse narratives in children's books, she aims to create illustrations that will foster a love of reading in young readers. She also loves to create joyful and heartwarming crafts to satisfy her endless need to always make new things.
When Ebony is not giving in to her creative itch of art-making, you may find her lost in the pages of a good book, learning some new hula-hooping tricks, or going on an adventure with her pups.
She is the illustrator of seven picture books - Red Shoes by Karen English (2020), Speak Up by Miranda Paul (2020), The Unstoppable Garrett Morgan by Joan DiCicco (2019), Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin (2019), Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins by Michelle Meadows (2019), and Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Tompkins-Bigelow (2018).
Their newest picture book, Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, released December 29, 2020.
Welcome Michelle & Ebony,
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?)
MICHELLE: I have always been a writer. From a very young age, I loved storytelling and have always found great comfort in reading and writing poetry. When my son was born, I read to him all the time and immersed myself in picture books. I was inspired to write my first book, The Way the Storm Stops, after rocking my son to sleep during a thunderstorm. My favorite type of book to write is a young picture book that is bouncy – filled with rhythm and fun to read aloud.
EBONY: Hi Maria! Ever since I was a young girl, I knew that I wanted to be an artist. Drawing has always been my passion; however, it was only after I graduated college that I decided to pursue a career in illustration. After working my day job, I’d work on building my portfolio at night. Eventually my hard work paid off, and now I’m fortunate enough to make a living by creating art for children’s books!
Sounds like you both followed childhood passions into fulfilling careers. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
MICHELLE: Most people who know me know that I love movies. Perhaps not many know that I love Al Pacino! I have always admired his ability to portray different characters so convincingly.
EBONY: I have a very peculiar fascination with paranormal phenomena. :-)
Interesting. What was your favorite book as a child?
MICHELLE: My favorite book was Charlotte’s Web. I adore talking animals and found the warm relationship between Charlotte and Wilbur enchanting. I still have my copy from elementary school. Every now and then, I pull it out and re-read my favorite parts.
EBONY: It’s probably so cliché, but I was and still am I huge fan of the Harry Potter series written by JK Rowling. I, like so many fans, was enraptured with the world Rowling created and the art the illustrator, Mary GrandPré, created for each chapter. I just loved the amount of detail and charm GrandPré always created in her work.
YES! Harry Potter is awesome (especially Jim Dale's audio recording). And I think Charlotte's Web is not just a classic, but for many a well-loved friend. So, Michelle, what was your inspiration for Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles?
Like the rest of the world, I was mesmerized by Simone Biles during the 2016 Olympics. I was struck by her beauty and incredible talent. I wanted to learn more about her background and the experiences and relationships that shaped her life.
Simone impressed & amazed everyone. Ebony, what about the Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?
Simone Biles is one of the few athletes that I personally admire, and I couldn’t have been more honored to have been trusted by the author, Michelle Meadows, and the editorial team at Macmillian Kids to illustrate this biographical picture book. Working with the same team as before with Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins, it was a welcomed challenge to illustrate, but it was also more nerve-racking to illustrate someone so famous and well regarded.
I bet! Michelle, is there something you want your readers to know about Flying High?
First, I want them to know that Simone Biles is amazing! And I also want them to know that disappointments, obstacles, and setbacks are part of life. There will be falls. The question is: Do we get back up and try again? I feel that Simone’s story is one of resilience.
She is definitely a model of resilience and determination! Ebony, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Flying High? If so, could you share one or more with us?
Yes, for some books I do leave little treasures like a reference to another book or include someone I love as a background character, but for Flying High, I thought it best to solely focus on Simone as well as her many wonderful achievements.
Understandable. Though now we're going to have to go through your earlier books to see if we can find these treasures. I'm wondering, Michelle - how long did it take Flying High to go from idea to publication?
I started thinking about the idea during the 2016 Olympics. I worked on the book off and on throughout 2017 – doing the research and writing the manuscript in about 6 months all total. I worked with my agent to submit the manuscript in January 2018. Holt/Macmillan accepted the manuscript in 2018, and the book was published in December 2020.
So Ebony, how long did it take to illustrate Flying High? Is this more or less than your other books?
Flying High took about a year to illustrate, which is about the same amount of time I take to illustrate children’s books. I actually love it when art directors and editors provide me with a full year to illustrate; it gives me enough time to research, plan, and create the best illustrations I can.
Sounds like you've had a few projects with shorter timelines. Michelle, was there anything that surprised you when you first saw the illustrations for Flying High? Which is your favorite spread?
Text © Michelle Meadows, 2020. Image © Ebony Glenn, 2020.
Ebony Glenn had done such beautiful illustrations with Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins, so I knew that Ebony’s illustrations for Flying High would be stunning. I have lots of favorites! One of my favorite spreads is the one where Simone does her signature floor move, “The Biles” – a double layout with a half-twist landing.
It is amazing to see this move in person and phenomenal to see Ebony's illustration of it. Really slows it down enough to see why it is such an amazing feat. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)
MICHELLE: My parents have always been my greatest source of inspiration They fostered my love of reading, libraries, books, and storytelling. They followed their passions and have also always encouraged me to follow my writing dreams. They are my heroes.
EBONY: It may be unorthodox to say, but a well-rested mind is my greatest source of inspiration. When I can get quality sleep AND manage to calm my busy mind, I can find inspiration in pretty much anything.
Very interesting, Ebony. So, what is the hardest thing for you about illustrating picture books? Did Flying High present any unusual challenges? And what is your favorite spread?
Unfortunately, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to creating art, and my inner critic loves to torture me with endless self-doubt and pointless rumination. While working on Flying High, I was also working on three other picture books, and the workload took a toll on my mental and physical health. Overall, it was a challenging but also worthwhile experience that taught me the importance of self-care.
Text © Michelle Meadows, 2020. Image © Ebony Glenn, 2020.
And my favorite spread is the Final Five—Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas, and Madison Kocian—for Team USA at the Olympics. :-)
Self-care can't be underestimated. Yet is often something we all tend to skimp on. Michelle, do you find fiction or nonfiction harder to write?
I find them both hard!
*Smiling* - Touché. Ebony, what is your favorite medium? Is there one that is particularly challenging or that you’d really like to try?
At the moment, digital painting is my favorite medium. I love the versality it provides as well as the amazing things you can do on Photoshop, but I’ve been wanting to try something new like watercolors and gouache lately.
I hope you get the chance to dabble and play with it sometime soon. Michelle, what was the most fun part of the research for Flying High?
The most fun part of the research was watching videos online of Simone competing. I spent a lot of time watching her routines so that I could infuse that sense of movement into the text.
That sounds like such "torture." Though I can think of a lot worse things to have to watch for hours (like making sausage...). Ebony, illustrators need to do research, too. What was the most complicated part of your research for Flying High?
Although Simone is alive and thriving, it was a challenge finding photos of her childhood and upbringing. At times, I felt that I was stalking her just to ensure I characterize her and her life accurately for the picture book.
Yikes! How are both of you staying creative these days? What are you doing to “prime the well”?
MICHELLE: Reading keeps my creative juices flowing. I am so grateful my local library is doing pick-up service.
EBONY: It’s been a challenge during this Coronavirus pandemic, but I have noticed when I create just for fun with no strings (or deadlines) attached that it helps me to stay creative.
Reading and playing are definitely great ways to battle Covid-fatigue. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
*Unfortunately, if Michelle told us anything, she'd have to . . . well you know the rest. We'll just have to keep watching & waiting.* 😉
EBONY: Yes! At the moment I am illustrating two picture books, Twelve Dinging Doorbells and Cats Can. Twelve Dinging Doorbells, written by Tameka Fryer Brown, is an all-holiday tale that captures the magic, tension, and humor of family gatherings, and Cats Can, written by Roseanne Greenfield, is a sweet story about the similarities cats and young children share.
Both are such fun books to illustrate, and I can’t to share them when they’re released!
These sounds really fun. I'll be sure to watch out for them. What is your favorite animal? Why?
MICHELLE: Dolphins - probably because I love the ocean. I think it’s fun to look for dolphin sightings. Not only do dolphins jump, but they are altruistic creatures known for helping people and other animals. So cool!
EBONY: They change all the time, but lately is been an elephant; I love how majestic, wise, and maternal these wonderful animals are, and I am always in awe when I’m in their presence.
Great answers! Thank you so much for coming by to talk with me Michelle & Ebony. I enjoyed getting to know you both.
MICHELLE: Thanks for having me!
EBONY: I feel the same and thank you Maria!
Be Sure to stop back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles.
To find out more about Michelle Meadows, or get in touch with her:
To find out more about Ebony Glenn, or get in touch with her: