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 five members who have books releasing throughout the fall and winter.
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.
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?)
Charlotte Offsay – How to Return A Monster(Beaming Books 9/7/2021) – I am a children’s book author living in Los Angeles with my husband and two young children. I adore all things picture book, and spend every free moment reading, writing and reviewing them. I write a wide range of picture book subgenres (social justice, humor, lyrical, non-fiction etc.), but I try to make sure everything I write is filled with heart and a drop of humor. I began writing picture books in 2017 after tumbling head over heels for them during my first picture book class through UCLA extension. How to Return a Monster is my second picture book (to read more about my books please visit www.charlotteoffsay.com).
Meera Sriram – Between Two Worlds: The Art & Life of Amrita Sher-Gil (Penny Candy Books 9/21/2021) & Dumpling Day (Barefoot Books 9/17/2021) - While I’m published in India where I grew up I started writing picture books for an audience in the U.S in 2015. The Yellow Suitcase was my debut, followed by A Gift For Amma. I enjoy writing lyrically and try to tell some of the stories I wish my kids had read when they were young. I don’t write every day but on days I feel like words flow out easier, I hardly do anything else!
Anne Wynter – Everybody in the Red Brick Building (Balzer + Bray 10/12/2021) - I’ve been writing since I was a child. I’ve mostly written plays and picture books, but I’m working on a chapter book now and having so much fun, so I’d say that’s my favorite type of thing to write.
Jocelyn Rish – Battle Of The Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds (Running Press Kids 11/2/2021) – I’m a night owl, so I do most of my writing in the dead of night. I used to write in bed because it helped me feel connected to the dream world where creativity rules, but it was murder on my back, so now I have a cool desk that has a glass desktop about eight inches above the wooden desktop, so there’s double the space to be totally messy.
I’ve been writing on and off for almost twenty years – YA and MG novels, short stories, screenplays. But I never thought I would write a picture book. Then I had the idea for BUTTS, and now here I am with my first published book being a picture book!
Dane Liu – Friends Are Friends, Forever (Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) 12/14/2021) - I write everywhere and every day. It can be in the car during my commute or on napkins and receipts so that I don’t forget an idea. I prefer, however, to write at my desk at home, where I get to look out at giant Douglas firs.
I started writing during undergrad, where I also co-founded a literary journal. I love the short story genre. As a journalist, I wrote for news and documentary. I started writing for young readers when I became a parent, and I wanted to introduce my kids to characters that my generation of children rarely got to meet—people who look like them (and me). My favorite stories to write and read are joyful, inclusive, funny, emotional, resonant, and honest. They capture the full humanity of their characters, who reflect our diverse, complex world.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Charlotte Offsay – I love live music, particularly a good 80’s cover band.
Meera Sriram – Okay, maybe some of you don’t know this, but the community in Southern India I come from does not practice the concept of last names or family names. There are some patriarchal options. Or we could get creative.
Anne Wynter – I’ve been listening to a lot of British audiobooks this year (specifically, the Lady Sherlock series), so sometimes when I’m alone and talking to myself, I’ll speak in a (probably bad) British accent, without even meaning to.
Jocelyn Rish – In college, my work-study job was at the Institute for Parapsychology. The researcher I worked for was studying the correlation between Myers-Briggs personality types and psychic abilities, so my main task was scoring the personality tests. But I also helped maintain the library and prepared testing equipment. It was an interesting few years!
Dane Liu – I was a left-handed child. But, when I started school, writing with my left hand was forbidden. My teacher told me to sit on it. At home, I continued to use my left hand, while at school it was strictly right. These days, I do almost everything ambi, but I write with my right.
Now that we know a little more about each of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Charlotte Offsay – How to Return A Monster (9/7/2021) – As with most of my manuscripts, it all begins with my two children. I have a 7-year-old daughter Eliana and a 5-year-old son, Thomas. While Eliana never tried to mail Thomas back, How to Return a Monster was born out of my concern over how I was sure Eliana must have been feeling about having to share my husbands and my attention with her younger brother. My concerns were amplified at the time by Eliana’s trouble separating from me for the first time to transition to preschool. I felt terrible leaving her and even worse knowing that she knew I would be spending our time apart with her younger brother. I began writing How to Return a Monster as a way to process all of these emotions.
Meera Sriram – Between Two Worlds: The Art & Life of Amrita Sher-Gil (9/21/2021) – I was inspired to share Amrita’s story after reading an article someone sent me. I’d known about Amrita but the more I learned about her journey, the more her experiences started to resonate with me. I found the need to introduce her and celebrate her work among children because art (and exposure to artists) is rather very Eurocentric and patriarchal in the West. I felt compelled to tell the story of the remarkable bicultural feminist painter and pioneer of modern art in India.
Dumpling Day (9/17/2021) - It is important to celebrate diversity in books for very young children. However, early learning books often fail to offer honest reflections of our diverse societies. We’re more similar than different and our differences only enrich us. And food is a great example for that. Food also bridges us and brings us together, always! I wanted to celebrate and incorporate these in a concept book so very young children also see the richness of diversity mirrored in the stories they enjoy.
Anne Wynter – Everybody in the Red Brick Building (10/12/2021) - This book was inspired by a few things, but one of them was the experience of bringing home a new baby to my apartment, and wondering if someone in a neighboring apartment unit was waking up every time they heard my baby’s loud crying in the middle of the night.
Jocelyn Rish – Battle Of The Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds (11/2/2021) – I have a very bad Twitter habit, and late one night when I should have been writing (or sleeping!) I was mindlessly scrolling when I saw an adorable picture of a manatee. It was a meme, and the words on the picture said, “Manatees can control their buoyancy through an endless cycle of farting. There. That’s a thing you know now.”
I giggled and thought that can’t possibly be true. So I googled it. And it is true! The best part is the google search also brought up articles about other animals that do weird things with their butts. So I started reading all these cool facts, and I knew they would make a hilarious book for kids (and adults!).
Dane Liu – Friends Are Friends, Forever 12/14/2021) -The book is inspired by my own life and that of many immigrant children I know. I was in grade five when we moved from Northeastern China to the Southern United States. Everything was different: language, culture, weather, and social norms. It was a process of loss and rebirth. Like any difficult transition, things became easier to navigate with the support of a friend. This book celebrates the power of friendship, the resilience of children, and how we bring richness to each other’s lives by sharing our traditions and cultures.
I love learning the story behind the book. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Charlotte Offsay – When I was a young girl, I remember curling up with my family and reading The Adventures of Winnie The Pooh over and over again. In the wise words of Winnie The Pooh, "sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart." 💖
Meera Sriram – I didn’t (or did not have the opportunity to) start reading “real” books until I was in middle school. During my teens, I enjoyed reading novels by Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, tales of detectives like Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, and the only stories I saw my own life in – in the works of R.K.Narayan.
Anne Wynter – I loved the book Me and Neesie by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Moneta Barnett. It’s about a girl and her mischievous invisible friend Neesie. The ending is a little sad, because Neesie disappears when the main character starts school. I read this book over and over, and I always wished I could conjure up an invisible friend who felt as real as Neesie. [I loved it, too. Amazingly no one's ever mentioned it before!]
Jocelyn Rish – Okay, this is probably a weird answer in a post about writing picture books, but I was a weird kid. I started reading Dean Koontz books when I was really, really young. They inspired my love of horror and thrillers and planted the seeds for wanting to be a writer. My favorite was Watchers because it featured a super smart golden retriever who could communicate through Scrabble tiles. I had two goldens at the time and desperately wanted to chat with them that way.
Dane Liu – When I arrived in America, my classmates were reading Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I’d just started learning English, and no dictionary could help me understand its humor or inventive word play. So Phantom Tollbooth became my goal book.
Every day, I tried to learn a hundred English words, a detail that appears in Friends Are Friends, Forever. Of course, I couldn’t remember them all, not even close! But the effort helped. A few months later, I picked up Juster’s book again and laughed. It made sense, and that felt so good. Phantom Tollbooth is my favorite book. It is superb, and for me it also signifies a process and a new beginning.
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book? Do you have a favorite spread?
Text © Charlotte Offsay, 2021. Image © Rhea Zhai, 2021.
Charlotte Offsay – How to Return A Monster (9/7/2021) – When I first saw the baby covered in stamps I laughed out loud. Rea Zhai did an amazing job brining the emotion of the story into the characters expressions. She added a whole extra layer to the text and elevated it in a way that I didn’t even know was possible.
Text © Meera Sriram, 2021. Image © Ruchi Bakshi Sharma, 2021.
Meera Sriram – Between Two Worlds: The Art & Life of Amrita Sher-Gil (9/21/2021) – This book is one of the earlier biographies about a female of Indian descent in picture books for children. I believe it is very important that we open up the world and decolonize and diversify the biography sections in our kids’ bookshelves. And celebrate the life and work of many overlooked scientists and creatives around the world, especially from countries and cultures outside our own.
Text © Meera Sriram, 2021. Image © Inés de Antuñano, 2021.
Dumpling Day (9/17/2021) - This book comes with recipes for the ten different dumplings celebrated in the narrative so kids could get in the kitchen with friends and grown- ups and bond over food and celebrate cultures!
Text © Anne Wynter, 2021. Image © Oge Mora, 2021.
Anne Wynter – Everybody in the Red Brick Building (10/12/2021) - I love the final spread of the book, in which a mother is putting her baby back to sleep. The baby is the same age that my younger child was when I wrote the book, so I always see myself in that image.
Text © Jocelyn Rish, 2021. Image © David Creighton-Pester, 2021.
Jocelyn Rish – Battle Of The Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds (11/2/2021) – Since the book talks about butts and poop and farts, it is funny (I think … I hope!), but while giggling and eww-ing their way through the pages, readers will learn about biology, chemistry, and physics – so it’s a win for kids and their parents and teachers. A number of very generous scientists reviewed the sections for me, so all the rump-tastic information is accurate.
I love all the spreads because they’re adorable, and there are so many pops of humor in the illustrations. But my favorite is probably the manatee spread because the farting manatees are extra adorable, plus they’re the animal that inspired the book.
Text © Dane Liu, 2021. Image © Lynn Scurfield, 2021.
Dane Liu – Friends Are Friends, Forever (12/14/2021) - Is it okay to have two? The first is when Dandan says goodbye to her friend in China, who reminds her that “Friends are friends, forever.” The second captures her new friendship in America, as it helps both of them bloom.
These all sound so fascinating. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Charlotte Offsay –Julia Donaldson! I think the woman is a genius and absolutely adore her books, especially Room on the Broom.
Meera Sriram – That’s a hard question because it keeps changing every day J I pick the amazing Jason Reynolds today. I was listening to him on a podcast the other day, and I was smiling and tearing up at the same time. He’s such an inspiration!
Anne Wynter – I’d meet Anne Shirley and we’d have a tea party with (the wrong) raspberry cordial.
Jocelyn Rish – While I think it would be fascinating to meet the real Einstein, I’m actually going to pick the Einstein from Dean Koontz’s Watchers. I’ve had a number of dogs over the years, and I always want to know what they’re thinking. So it would be so fun (and probably useful) to chat with a dog who could respond to my questions and give me insight into the wonderful minds of dogs.
Dane Liu – When I was in college, I read everything by Mavis Gallant. Her language, point of view, and honesty drew me in, and I started writing short stories, too. When my daughter was born, I knew exactly what I wanted to name her: Mavis—because of Gallant, and also Mavis Staples. I would love to meet them. These two audacious, creative, and strong women inspire me, and I hope they inspire my daughter, too.
How are, or have you been, staying creative these days? Are you doing anything special to “prime the pump”?
Charlotte Offsay – What a great question. Lately, I have been turning back to my earliest stories to see if I can find a new way forward for them and give them new life. My writing has come a long way over the years (it is hard not to cringe at my earliest drafts) and time has allowed me to tackle my revision more freely by playing with structure, POV and setting.
Meera Sriram – I had three books come out during the pandemic. I’m grateful for that because it kept me busy and my mind preoccupied. However, this also meant not as much time to create. Slowing down and mulling over an idea puts me in the mode to create. Reading my favorite genres and authors also reignites the urge to write my own stories.
Anne Wynter – I’ve never been great at having a daily writing routine, but I’ve been trying to push myself to sit in the same spot every day, for at least an hour, and write. It’s the same time when I have my coffee and a little breakfast, which seems to be a good enough incentive. So far it’s working!
Jocelyn Rish – I’ve always been a feast of famine writer. I go for long stretches without writing a word, and then I’ll start a project and write in a frenzy of long hours and minimal sleep. I just recently finished the next book in the Battle series (Battle Of The Brains), so I’m in a writing lull right now. Plus, I’ve been focused on releasing both Butts and my first feature film Grave Intentions, which has been very hectic. But I am trying to take some time to read and catch up on Netflix shows to keep me inspired.
Dane Liu – I read.
Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?
Charlotte Offsay – I have always loved elephants. They are playful, compassionate, adorable and highly intelligent.
Meera Sriram – Squirrel. We have a beautiful redwood right behind our house and watching their joyful rumpus every day energizes me – they also keep me company when I write!
Anne Wynter – My cat, Jasmine! She’s been jumping into my lap during every single Zoom event I’ve had lately. She loves to steal the spotlight!
Jocelyn Rish – I go through favorite animal phases. Like many kids, I was obsessed with horses when I was young. Then I had a manatee phase (not knowing that would be the animal that would launch my publishing career!). The dolphin phase probably lasted the longest, and they actually show up in Battle Of The Brains.
But if you read my previous answers, you can probably guess my consistently favorite animal – DOGS!!! They are sweet and smart and silly and mischievous and playful and loving and totally know how to work the humans in their orbit. They’re the best!
Dane Liu – I love birds. My family and I live in the Pacific Northwest, where we see and hear many different birds throughout the year. Every one is beautiful with its unique plumage, song, and behavior. The hummingbirds captivate me most. Anna’s Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world. The males have this satin green coat and fuchsia throat that shimmer in daylight. They come often to our feeder and the flowers in our garden, dipping their bills into the nectar. They flutter so rapidly, their wings blur. Then they zoom away. Oh, did I mention they’re only the length of a golf pencil? This means, relative to size, they can outfly a fighter jet. Yes—a fighter jet!
Thank you all for giving us a little peek into you and your books. Wishing you all great success.
To learn more about these authors, visit the Picture Book Scribblers @ https://picturebookscribbl.wixsite.com/home