The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Roxie Munro
I'm so excited to interview this talented author/illustrator who has such an amazing range of published books from intricate maze books to phenomenal nonfiction nature and biography books.
Roxie Munro has been an artist from the age of six, when she won first prize in a county-wide contest for a painting of a bowl of fruit. She has supported herself all her life on her art, at one point freelancing in Washington DC as a television courtroom artist. Clients included CBS, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press. Fourteen of her paintings have been published as covers of "The New Yorker" magazine.
Roxie is the author/illustrator of more than 45 nonfiction, STEM/STEAM, and concept books for children, many using "gamification" to encourage reading, learning, and engagement (including Mazescapes; Amazement Park; the Inside-Outside Books: New York City [New York Times Best Illustrated Award], Washington DC, Texas, London, Paris, and Libraries; Feathers, Flaps & Flops; Doors; Ranch; Wild West Trail Ride Maze; Circus; Mazeways: A to Z; Rodeo; Go!Go!Go!; and the KIWi Storybooks nonfiction series). Her books have been translated into French, Italian, Dutch, Chinese, and Japanese.
Some of her books include Dive In: Swim with Sea Creatures at Their Actual Size (2020), Rodent Rascals (2018), 30 Animals That Share Our World (Contributor; 2018), Masterpiece Mix (2017), Christmastime in New York City (2014), Slithery Snakes (2013), Busy Builders (2012), Hatch! (2011), and Desert Days, Desert Nights (2010), EcoMazes: 12 Earth Adventures (2010), and Inside-Outside Dinosaurs (2009). She’s also illustrated books including Texas Rangers: Legendary Lawmen by Mike Spradlin (2008), The Great Bridge-Building Contest by Bo Zaunders (2004; Abrams), Gargoyles, Girders & Glass Houses by Bo Zaunders (2004), and The Inside-Outside Book of Libraries by Julie Cummins (1996; PB, Random House, 2008).
Roxie’s newest picture book, Anteaters, Bats & Boas: The Amazon Rainforest from the Forest Floor to the Treetops, was released August 10th, 2021, by Holiday House, and received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.
Welcome Roxie, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest book and writing.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write and illustrate ? How long have you been writing and illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
I live in midtown Manhattan in New York City, but my studio is just across the East River in Long Island City (sometimes I take the short ferry ride across the river, but usually take the subway under the river). The studio is light-filled; it has a skylight and 12-foot ceilings. The building used to be Helena Rubenstein's makeup factory (which I figure is good karma for artists who use color!), but now has a lot of creatives and small businesses. I'm pretty disciplined - usually at the studio weekdays by 9 or 9:30AM till maybe 4:30PM or so. Also Saturdays, though I may come in a little later.
Have been writing and illustrating children's books since the mid-1980s. I write almost all my books - have only illustrated other authors a couple times (and did a series of four bios with my husband, Bo Zaunders, which was a lot of fun).
I do nonfiction and concept books. My favorites are those with game-like formats: paper-engineering (life-the-flaps), mazes, ABCs, guessing games, inside-outside, seek-n-find, using real size or at-scale relationships, etc.
Your books are so intricate and fun. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I was a cheerleader, but sat alone on the bus to football games. There was an odd number of girls - nine, so I happily got a seat alone (in those days you didn't sit with the boys on the team bus). My rural high school had an awful team - we always lost, so I guess my cheering was for naught. I designed all the decorations, invitations, etc. for the Senior Prom my Junior year and didn't even have a date or go. The next year I was a Senior, and didn't have a date either, so my sister's boyfriend took pity on me and was my escort. I was a weird combo of engaging in school activities, but also being a loner. I met my only good friend (we're still buddies) in high school because we both sat alone at lunch hunched over a book.
Where did the idea for Anteaters, Bats & Boas: The Amazon Rainforest from the Forest Floor to the Treetops come from?
The old-fashioned way. I didn't do the formatted complicated multi-part proposals folks are now told to send to an agent, but from a brainstorming lunch with my brilliant Holiday House editor. We discussed it (I had just finished Dive In, about coral reefs, and had done an earlier book on ecosystems) and by the end of lunch I knew we had a deal; went back to the studio and began researching rainforests. (I often start work on a book long before the contract is signed, or I even have a commitment.)
What a lucky relationship to have with an editor. Have you found anything particularly helpful in keeping you inspired and writing these past couple of years?
Lots and lots! I have some ideas that I have not given up on - that are in progress from years ago. Did a dummy and worked out the game elements of a book I have coming out this fall - most of the work was done years ago (and rejected by quite a few publishers). Revisit your ideas. A project resting a while in a flat file drawer can be new and fresh and maybe just needs a tweak when you pull it out again one day years later. I have several projects percolating, including developing ideas for a new genre for me - sophisticated nonfiction interactive board books.
It can be so fun to go back and look at manuscripts or ideas you file and forget. How many drafts, or revisions, did Anteaters, Bats & Boas take? Which took the most work - the text or the illustrations?
For sure the writing is the hardest. After some fundamental, then progressively deeper, research is done, and I've figured out the approach, I do a storyboard, and then a rough dummy. Most editors don't like it when you do the visuals first (before the text), but I am a visual thinker, so the art drives my content. Then I start the serious research (for both text and art), and begin writing, which is harder for me. Doing the final art is a reward for all the work researching and writing (and rewriting, and rewriting....).
I love that the final art is the 'reward" for revising! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
After I became a children's book author/illustrator, in my 30s, I found again a book I had loved as a child - Andersen's Fairy Tales, illustrated by Arthur Szyk. I remembered each painting, including the fabulous detailed and richly-colored endpapers, as though I had last seen them yesterday, rather than decades ago.
Which was the hardest image to complete? Why? What is your favorite spread in Anteaters, Bats & Boas?
© Roxie Munro, 2021.
My favorite spread is the Jaguar... still don't know how I did those eyes! None of them gave me a lot of trouble, I was so hungry to do the art. BTW, about 50% of the art was done in a make-shift "studio" in my apartment living room. NYC more or less shut down and made us all work from home at the height of the pandemic in 2020, so I packed up some art supplies and research materials from the studio and moved it all home for several months. During my years as a freelance courtroom artist I had worked in all sorts of different and crowded spaces, finishing up in taxis, even ladies’ rooms - so I learned to work under tight deadlines and draw and paint anywhere under any circumstances.
Wow, those eyes are impressive! And finishing a sketch in a ladies' room is something I haven't heard before. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from Anteaters, Bats & Boas?
It is a book in what is now sort of a nature series about animals and our ecosystems. It started years ago with EcoMazes (Sterling), and then I did books on birds, snakes, bugs, rodents, coral reefs, and now the rainforest. Coming up are two new books, out from Holiday House in 2023, about climate change and saving our species and our earth (one focuses on a variety of lizards and the other is called Day and Night in the Desert, about six USA deserts and the environmental issues associated with global warming, for a new series Holiday House is developing with a several authors.)
This is such a great series. Many illustrators leave (hide) treasures in their illustrations. Did you do this in Anteaters, Bats & Boas? If so, can you share one or more with us?
I didn't in Anteaters, but in some of my books I have. In The Inside-Outside Book of Libraries, I put the covers of a few of my books, plus books by my kidlit friends, on the shelves. In the New York book, I put my editor (who attended City Ballet a lot) and her boyfriend in the Nutcracker audience. I put a portrait of my husband on one of the TV monitors in The Inside-Outside Washington DC newsroom spread (and put my sister, also a TV courtroom artist, drawing in the Supreme Court).
Thanks. Now I have to go scour those books! You’ve created a wide range of picture books and puzzle books. Is one type more challenging? Or easier?
They all have their difficulties, but maybe the picture books are harder than the interactive puzzle books, because they are nonfiction and have to be really accurate and are vetted by experts - both text and illustrations. However, some of the game books have almost unsolvable issues.
The ABCity book coming out in October 2022 from Schiffer Kids was really a challenge to make work. On consecutive pages, you go from AB to CD to EF to GH, etc., turning the pages normally, going left to right through the book (each spread has a walkway or path connecting to the next page). So that makes for a super long skinny horizontal city, right? Wrong! In about 5 junctures I matched up top/bottom/right or left page with, say green grass or a building or railroad on far left that then appears on the right in the next spread. It works consecutively as you go through the book - you don't notice, but at the end you see the big city spread and it's a normal squarish layout of a town, not a long skinny town. Tricky, and took a lot of cutting and pasting stuff together and making visual connections to make it work.
[Note: ABCity will be published by Schiffer Kids, in October 2022,]
Those books sounds so tricky. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Yes! Am excited that a "secret" maze concept I've worked on for years, more fanciful and outrageous than any of my other seven maze books, will be published in 2024, and, I hope!, may also have a series of nonfiction interactive board books to write and illustrate.
[Note: Roxie has two books coming out from Holiday House in 2023, including Day and Night in the Desert.]
Can't wait to see this book! And fingers crossed for the board books. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
I LOVE Big Bend in SW Texas, one of the least visited National Parks in the US. Went there the first time researching The Inside-Outside Book of Texas, and also later, using what I learned in the upcoming Day and Night in the Desert coming out in 2023 by Holiday House.
Thank you, Roxie for stopping by again and sharing your time and thoughts with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to come back on Friday for a Perfect Picture Book #PPBF review of Anteaters, Bats & Boas: The Amazon Rainforest from the Forest Floor to the Treetops.
To find out more about Roxie Munro, or contact her: