The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with the Picture Book Scribblers
The Picture Book Scribblers is a creative group of picture book authors and illustrators publishing in 2021, who’ve joined together to help promote their books. Today, I'm visiting with the three members who have books releasing throughout the summer.
Be sure to visit their website, Facebook page, and Twitter page to discover even more amazing books and the talents behind them. Their website includes connections to these creatives, lists of their books, and upcoming events.
Welcome Meghan Browne, Kate Fox, and Sophia Gholz,
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or draw? How long have you been writing and/or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
Meghan Browne - Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards (Random House Studio 06/22/21) - Hi, Maria! Thank you so much for inviting us today. Right now, I’m writing to you from my bed while my husband and littlest kiddo take a rainy Sunday nap. I usually love to work from my house, but it’s been a little busy around here this year with our three young children home during the pandemic. I do a lot of my best writing at a nearby café in Austin, where all the clerks know my name and my taco order.
Kate Allen Fox – Pando: A Living Wonder Of Trees (Capstone Editions 8/1/21) - As a mom of two small children, I write in cracks of time whenever I can. I started writing seriously after second child (now 3) was born. So, my writing schedule has evolved with his nap schedule. Ideas often percolate when I’m out with my children in the morning, and I try to write them down over lunch and nap. I love writing about science and nature (often finding inspiration on hikes with my kids) and finding ways to bring nonfiction to life.
Sophia Gholz - Jack Horner: Dinosaur Hunter (Sleeping Bear Press 8/15/21) – I live (and write!) in Florida and have been focused on creating books for children and teens for a little over ten years. It’s wild to look back and realize that I originally joined the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) in 2011! What a journey it’s been. I originally thought I’d write angsty YA fantasy, but I quickly became obsessed with picture books and have been writing them ever since. You never know where the creative path will take you—that’s part of the adventure!
[Author of This is Your World: The Story of Bob Ross illustrated by Robin Boyden (Running Press Kids/Hachette 9/7/21) and The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng illustrated by Kayla Harren (Sleeping Bear Press 2019).]
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Meghan Browne - - I’m a pretty open book about most things, so this is always a tough question for me. There is one thing that’s so new that most folks don’t know about it: I recently volunteered to be the co-manager of my kids’ 4-H club. It’s a crash-course for me since I didn’t grow up in that world, but I love learning new things, and I’m excited to do that alongside my children.
Kate Allen Fox – One of my dreams in life is to visit to the Serengeti. I love national parks and have been to parks in many countries, but the Serengeti is high on the bucket list (though it may have to wait until the kids are grown up).
Sophia Gholz - I love to dance. In an alternate universe, I am for sure a professional dancer. My mother swears she tried dance classes with me as a child, and claims I hated them. I have no idea when the switch flipped, but it flipped, and I am a dancer at heart. Without the training to back this passion up, my moves may be…questionable. But I don’t let that stop me! ;-)
Now that we know a little more about the three of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Meghan Browne - Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards (Random House Studio 06/22/21) - After I signed with my agent, the incomparable Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Birch Path Literary, we were brainstorming stories, and I told her I’d love to write about Governor Ann Richards, who was at the helm of Texas politics when I was learning to read. Richards was funny, self-deprecating, and a total trailblazer. She believed strongly in the importance of representation and worked hard to make government inclusive in Texas. I wanted to be sure that the next generation of children knew her story and the importance of her legacy.
Kate Allen Fox – Pando: A Living Wonder Of Trees (Capstone Editions 8/1/21) - I was driving home after a hike when I remembered something I had read or heard about trees connected by their roots. When I got home, I Googled it and became absolutely fascinated. Walks in nature often allow my brain to find creativity (as does driving). Both activities are supposed to active the “default network” of your brain, allowing you work out problems, and they definitely work for me!
Sophia Gholz - Jack Horner: Dinosaur Hunter (Sleeping Bear Press 8/15/21) – I am proud of this book for so many reasons. What first connected me to Jack’s story was how he struggled in school before powering through to become the paleontologist he is known as today. Jack Horner was severely dyslexic. He almost failed out of high school and never received a traditional college degree. Still, he was incredibly smart and driven. He knew what he loved, and he refused to let his differences hold him back. I connected to Jack’s struggle and that he had to forge his own way in life. The traditional route is often not the norm for most people. In fact, most people aren’t traditionally normal, and that is okay! I hope children are able to see themselves in Jack and to know that many different paths can still be the right one in life.
These are three very captivating and important nonfiction books. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Meghan Browne - One of my favorite author/illustrators was Diane Stanley. I still have my signed and personalized copy of her book, Captain Whizbang, my parents got for me when she visited my elementary school in 1990. I loved her picture book biographies, and I think my love of nonfiction developed in reading her beautifully illustrated books about historical figures from all over the world.
Kate Allen Fox - I loved, loved, loved Shel Silverstein. I’ve always loved poetry, and his work was silly, but also a bit dark at times, like being let in on a joke adults usually wouldn’t tell you.
Sophia Gholz - I read so much as a child and loved so many wonderful authors and books. In the picture book realm, there was a book called When the Sun Rose (Barbara Helen Berger) that I loved as a kid. I still have my original copy on my bookshelf! I always had fun trying to guess whether or not the friend in the story is imagined. I also loved a lot of the classics like Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst) and Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak). As I got a little older, my father used to read Shakespeare to us at bedtime and I was swept away listening to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But what really got me as a kid was listening to my mom read the Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle. I think that is when my love of fantasy really began.
Thank you for the introduction to a few books I am unfamiliar with. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book? Do you have a favorite spread?
Text © Meghan Browne, 2021. Image © Carlynn Whitt, 2021.
Meghan Browne - Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards (06/22/21) - Carlynn Whitt, who illustrated Indelible Ann, is absolutely a dream illustrator for this project. Her style is realistic and edgy, bold and fun – all great words to describe our subject. I love Carlynn’s work, and I’m eternally grateful for the way her illustrations turned my black and white words on the page into a true work of art. I simply can’t pick a favorite spread. Though she lives in Los Angeles now, Carlynn is also originally from Texas, and I think our shared Lone Star roots are on display all throughout the book.
Text © Kate Allen Fox, 2021. Image © Turine Tran, 2021.
Kate Allen Fox – Pando: A Living Wonder Of Trees (8/1/21) - Pando is a true story about one of the oldest and largest living things on earth, a grove of Aspen trees connected by their roots. While the tone of the story is lyrical, I worked with experts to ensure the science was correct. I hope the book inspires readers to protect natural wonders across the globe!
My favorite spread is the first one. I love how illustrator Turine Tran sets the stage, showing the vastness and beauty of Pando.
Text © Sophia Gholz, 2021. Image © Dave Shepard, 2021.
Sophia Gholz - Jack Horner: Dinosaur Hunter (8/15/21) – I absolutely adore Davie Shephard’s art and illustrations! I love the graphic novel and comic book look that Dave uses and how he’s been able to tell Jack’s story with this unique style. When my editor, Sarah Rockett, initially told me the direction that the art department at Sleeping Bear Press had decided to take with this book, I totally freaked out and couldn’t stop smiling. I cannot think of a better way to tell the story this story and I am so excited about it!
What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing or researching your book?
Meghan Browne - Indelible: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards (06/22/21) - Because we live in such a politically polarized climate, I had some reservations about alienating half of my potential audience (or at least their gatekeepers) by writing about a political figure. The truth of the matter is that Ann Richards was the kind of politician who united people. Not every person agreed with her stance on every issue, but folks of all stripes knew she had an open ear, an open heart, and a sense of humor, especially about her own shortcomings. This book honors the kind of civic servanthood, and willingness to work together across ideologies, that so many of us are longing for.
Kate Allen Fox – Pando: A Living Wonder Of Trees (8/1/21) - Balancing poetic text and science is always challenging. I worked at a scientific agency for eight years and often had to “translate” science accurately into plain language. This book (and my other manuscripts) take that one step further: translating science into something close to poetry. Keeping the lyricism and beauty of the words while maintaining scientific accuracy is always a balance, but one I enjoy.
Sophia Gholz - Jack Horner: Dinosaur Hunter (8/15/21) – I often struggle with writing openings. The opening lines set up the structure, tone and mood for the whole story to come. So, the hardest and most challenging part of writing this book was figuring out how I wanted to open this story and what tone should be set to share Jack Horner’s journey. I wrote and re-wrote the opening lines so many times! Another challenging part about writing nonfiction is choosing the most important and interesting facts to be included in the main text of the story. Jack Horner has accomplished so much and lived such a big life that I struggled with wanting to add everything into the main text and then having to cut back on some of those facts and moments in later revisions.
Nonfiction can be so challenging! How are you staying creative? What things are you doing to “prime” the well?
Meghan Browne - I come to many of my ideas through setting first, and travel tends to be a huge source of inspiration to me. Even if it’s just down the road to a park I’ve visited a million times. I’m so relieved that the pandemic seems to be easing and that I can get back out there and fill my well with adventures with my family and ideas for new books.
Kate Allen Fox –I love experimenting in different genres and trying new things. I periodically work on novels, which are a challenge for me and energize my other work. I stay in touch with other writers, who never fail to inspire me. And I try to take time away from writing when I need to. I focus on hiking, yoga, and baking and usually inspiration finds its way back to me.
Sophia Gholz - I find that mornings are typically the most creatively productive time of the day for me. As the day drags on, I’m faced with more distractions and my creative brain tires. So, I always try to set at least a little time aside in the mornings to focus on writing. If I’m feeling sluggish or stuck in a writing rut, a surefire way to kickstart my creativity is through movement and exercise. I find that endorphins help clear the mind and get the inspirational juices flowing every time.
Another wonderful way to find inspiration is through reading other books. I love reading as a writer and dissecting what tricks other authors have used and what I love (or don’t love) about them. Exploring other stories and listening to how they are woven is a fantastic way to gain writing knowledge and inspiration.
Now for an oddball question, if you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Meghan Browne - I never had a chance to meet Ann Richards. One of my favorite parts of the humbling experience of writing her biography for children is that I get to hear so many personal stories about the Governor. “We shared a hairdresser,” or “She was my boss,” or “I met her on an airplane once, and…” I would love to have my own story about being totally star-struck in her presence.
Kate Allen Fox – Roxane Gay comes to mind. I’ve read all of her books, and every sentence is perfectly-made and brimming with insight. I don’t think you could walk away from a conversation with her without being changed for the better.
Sophia Gholz - This is a loooong list. I mean, are you kidding? I’d meet every single one of my favorite literary characters! What a dream. However, if I had to choose, I might spend an afternoon practicing magic with Gandalf (Lord of The Rings), eating sweets with Nina (Six of Crows) or maybe flying around Neverland with Tinker Bell (Peter Pan).
Wouldn't this be an interesting gathering. Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Meghan Browne - I have two picture books coming out that I am thrilled about: Dorothy the Brave (with illustrator Brooke Smart, Viking Children’s) is due out spring 2022 and details the life of living national treasure, Dorothy Smith Lucas, who flew in World War II for the Women Airforce Service Pilots, and The Bees of Notre Dame (with illustrator E.B. Goodale, Random House Studio), due out Fall 2023 follows the honeybees atop the Notre Dame Cathedral during the fire in 2019. Currently I’m working on an early middle grade series and an upper middle grade novel. I also have a ton of picture books in various stages: from percolation to submission!
Kate Allen Fox –Because this is publishing, I can’t say much at the moment, but I can’t wait until I can!
Sophia Gholz - After Jack Horner: Dinosaur Hunter!, I have a third picture book biography coming out in September 2021 called This Is Your World: The Story of Bob Ross. In 2022, I have a humorous nonfiction picture book called A History of Toilet Paper (And Other Potty Tools) releasing, along with my fiction debut, Bug on The Rug. Each story is so different, and I can’t wait to share them all with you! Aside from my upcoming picture book titles, I do have several projects in the works, but I can’t share any details yet. In the meantime, keep an eye on my social media for announcements coming soon!
We'll have to keep our eyes open for these books. Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?
Meghan Browne - I love all animals, and I live with a bunch of them: we have goats, chickens, many honeybees, a cat, and a puppy. But of less familiar animals, I love whales and elephants the most. I fell in love with whales when we watched The Voyage of the Mimi in fifth grade. As a former competitive swimmer, I feel a kindred spirit to mammals who make their home in the water, since I often feel most at home there, too. My elephant love starts with a book my dad wrote and illustrated but never published about a boy and an elephant. He passed unexpectedly a year and a half ago, just after I’d convinced him to join SCBWI and give his publishing dream another go. Maybe one day I will be able to revive his vision of that story.
Kate Allen Fox –I’ve been studying sea otters with my sons as part of our homeschooling, and really, they are the best. A life spent floating around the kelp forests of California is a life well-spent.
Sophia Gholz - I don’t really have a favorite animal—I like them all! That said, I have an affinity for birds. To me, birds represent freedom, strength and beauty. I love both watching them and listening to their songs.
Thank you all for giving us a little peek into yourselves and your books. Wishing you all great success.
To learn more about these authors, visit them at Picture Book Scribblers.