The Picture Book Buzz - Soaring 20's Fall 2022 Releases
The Soaring 20’s High Flying Books for Kids and Teens is a group of authors and illustrators hailing from California to New York (and Canada!), who’ve joined together to help promote their books.
Be sure to visit their website to “discover kidlit talent on the rise.” Their website includes “behind-the-scenes posts about how these books were made; resources for using these books in your classroom or library; places you can meet these talented authors and illustrators in person; and of course, GIVEAWAYS!”
Welcome Elisa, Melanie, & Julie,
Tell us a little about yourself. (For instance, where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
Elisa Boxer – Covered in Color: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Fabrics of Freedom (Abrams 8/16/2022) - The only consistent thing about my writing process is the lack of anything consistent! Perfect example is this week: I have been trying to work on another picture book biography, but a fiction picture book keeps coming out instead! I’ve learned to pay attention to that, though, because some of my best writing has emerged while I have been in the process of working on something else.
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Interestingly, some of my more recent picture books incorporate themes of struggle, loss and grief, which showed up in my early childhood writings, as I was processing these things in my early life the only way I knew how: through words on a page.
As a journalist, I’ve been drawn to telling stories about barrier breakers and unsung heroes – themes that show up in some of my picture books as well. I want kids to read about ordinary people who followed their passions and ended up doing extraordinary things.
Melanie Ellsworth – Battle of the Books (little bee books 8/23/2022) – I usually write in my office in our old barn. I focus better in a quiet workspace a bit removed from the house where I’m not so easily distracted by laundry and other procrastination opportunities! Joyful, punny picture books from unique perspectives are my favorite type to write, though I love the creative freedom of writing for a variety of ages and trying new genres to keep my brain engaged and excited. Occasionally I write a short story or an early graphic reader, or work on a middle grade chapter. We’re told not to write slice-of-life stories, but for me it’s often the smallest moments in life that capture my attention and spark writing ideas, and those moments usually have a deeper, richer significance that becomes clear when I start exploring them in writing.
Writing in the morning works best when I have a solid block of time before after-school duties ensue, but I also write while waiting for appointments or in my head during walks. I use my phone to text ideas to myself when I’m away from my computer.
Julie Rowan-Zoch - Not All Sheep Are Boring! by Bobby Moynihan (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 9/20/2022) - A friend of mine was studying to be a creative coach. Since I had often mentioned writing and illustrating picture books but hadn’t yet taken a single step, she asked if I would be her guinea pig! A writer herself, she advised me to find at least one critique partner and to join SCBWI. At the end of 2011, I repeatedly saw the logo (by Linda Silvestri) for the 12x12in12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. I joined and am still a member in 2022! I focused first on learning to write a good story and found THE most wonderful community!
Now that we know a bit about each of you, what is something that helps when you are feeling uninspired?
Elisa Boxer – Reading! Something completely different and outside my genres, like YA fantasy. I also love the meditative aspect of coloring geometric patterns.
Melanie Ellsworth – When I’m uninspired, it helps to scroll through my idea list and start playing around with a new idea (or an old idea that I never wrote). Taking a walk and noticing small details around me helps, too, or having a new experience unrelated to writing. Sometimes sitting down at the piano or getting out my clarinet again gives me a different type of creative experience that spills over into the writing. Early in the pandemic when school had shut down, my daughter and I joined some generous illustrators as they gave weekly virtual drawing lessons. Being creative in a different way was reinvigorating! Hanging around with kids is also a great way to overhear snatches of conversation that inspire a title or an idea. Having been a writer for many years now, I realize that I’m just not going to be inspired all the time, and that’s okay. It seems to cycle around, so I know to be patient. But a part of my brain is always open to the next spark that might be a new picture book.
Julie Rowan-Zoch - Two things: if I’m stuck but feeling antsy, any work in my garden is great - the tougher the better! A good sweat frees the mind and the visual result of yard work is very satisfying. If I’m more relaxed but stuck, my go-to is reading poetry. Mostly adult, but sometimes poetry written for children does the trick. I really enjoy Michael Rosen's channel on YouTube.
Coloring, music, and gardening are such awesome ways to quiet a mind and let creativity flow. So, what inspired you to write, or chose to illustrate, this book?
Elisa Boxer – Covered in Color: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Fabrics of Freedom (8/16/2022) - I’ve long been fascinated by Christo’s out-of-the-box art. When I began delving deeper into his childhood, I learned that he grew up under the Nazis, and then under the Communists. I was so moved by the contrast between this oppression and suppression and his wild, free-spirited public displays of art, that I knew I wanted to share his story in the form of a children’s book. [So interesting!]
Melanie Ellsworth – Battle of the Books (8/23/2022) – Watching my daughter choose picture books to read at bedtime was the main source of inspiration for Battle Of The Books. It was great fun to write from the books’ POV and imagine how they would feel, waiting to see if they’d be the ones chosen for story time! [LOVE it!]
Julie Rowan-Zoch - Not All Sheep Are Boring! by Bobby Moynihan (9/20/2022) - When I first read the manuscript I was able to visualize the text easily and was thrilled by the opportunity to draw such fun animals as sheep! I laughed out loud at some of the ideas and started sketching before I officially agreed to the project! And I’ll be honest, the chance to work with art director Cecilia Yung was a HUGE pull! [No kidding!!]
Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
Elisa Boxer – I always loved reading biographies as a child, especially about trailblazing women. I think I devoured every book about Harriet Tubman, Hellen Keller and Amelia Earhart. I also loved picture books with strong emotional resonance and stories about people doing what nobody thought could be done. The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson is still one of my all-time favorites, with its delightfully simple message of: “Oh yeah? Watch me!” Christo and Jeanne-Claude epitomize this.
Melanie Ellsworth – The great thing about books is that there are so many different reasons to love them, which was part of my inspiration for exploring various formats and genres of picture books in Battle Of The Books. As I child, I had many favorite types: pop-ups, like Lamont, The Lonely Monster, adventure/fantasy stories, like The Paper Party, The Berenstain Bears And The Spooky Old Tree, and Pinny’s Holiday, and setting- and family-driven stories like One Morning In Maine and Molly Moves Out. I was especially drawn to books that had Maps Or Home Interiors, Like The Fourteen Bears in Summer and Winter, which had detailed illustrations of the inside of each bear’s tree house. It’s fun to feel your heart beat just a little faster when you pick up a favorite childhood book. As an author, I can only hope my books will do that someday for people looking back on their own childhood favorites!
Julie Rowan-Zoch - I have so many, but no one picture book stands out from childhood like Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russel Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. Likely because I could identify so well with another picky eater! The whole Frances series was special to me, and I only realized much, much later that Garth Williams had illustrated the first book and Lillian Hoban kept up the look for the rest. That must have been very difficult to do as an artist - both physically and emotionally.
These are such wonderful classics! Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book? Which is your favorite spread in the book?
Text © Elisa Boxer, 2022. Image © Susanna Chapman, 2022.
Elisa Boxer – Covered in Color: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Fabrics of Freedom (8/16/2022) - My favorite spread is one where Christo and Jeanne-Claude have just wrapped their first building. They then get the idea to wrap a shoreline: rocks, cliffs, coast, all of it. An entire coast. But everyone tells them the same thing: “A coast cannot be wrapped.” Well, can you guess what they do? (Spoiler alert: The spread is called “Wrapped Coast.”)
I am in awe of everything Susanna Chapman has created with this book, including this glorious 2-page spread. It’s also a limited-edition print that comes tucked inside the book if you order from either of our local indie bookstores, Print in Portland, ME and Parnassus in Nashville, TN.
Text © Melanie Allsworth, 2022. Image © James Rey Sanchez, 2022.
Melanie Ellsworth – Battle of the Books (8/23/2022) – I’m a fan of the spread where Pirate Book has fallen on the floor and is scared by the shark slippers under the bed – the perspective the reader has from Pirate Book’s point of view is so unique. Illustrator James Rey Sanchez is great at perspectives that look almost cinematic, like the spread where Pirate Book is looking up at the bookcase and Joke Book is looking down. I also enjoy the movement in the spread where Pop-up Book lowers a staircase to rescue Pirate Book. It’s amazing to me that James was able to make book characters so expressive and animated; his art is full of energy and humor. We were well matched for BATTLE OF THE BOOKS as we both enjoy seeing things from an unusual perspective!
Text © Bobby Moynihan, 2022. Image © Julie Rowan-Zoch, 2022.
Julie Rowan-Zoch - Not All Sheep Are Boring! by Bobby Moynihan (9/20/2022) - I enjoyed every little thing about illustrating this book, and I hope young readers feel compelled to get out their crayons after reading! The text in the attached spread gave me the opportunity to incorporate another childhood favorite, Caps For Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina. Such a heavy nod to the book was challenging but also a celebratory gift!
I love these spreads that you've all chosen. For a different type of question, if you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Elisa Boxer – I would hug both of my grandmothers. They’re no longer here, but they both encouraged my writing from an early age, and they were both such powerful sources of unconditional love.
Melanie Ellsworth – I’d like to hang out with Eleanor Roosevelt and chat about books (and hike with her on the gorgeous trails around her Campobello summer home). I think she’d help me kick my procrastination habit, and she’d remind me not to become too much of a hermit! I’ve always admired her empathy and sense of community responsibility.
Julie Rowan-Zoch - There are far too many real people I would love to meet (including the grandmothers I never knew), so I’ll choose a character - and thanks, Maria, it was fun to think about! I’d like to meet Bill Furlong, the main character from the wonderful novel Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan. I don’t imagine he’d be particularly talkative, but after a beer or two he’d likely have good stories to share. If that were not possible, Edwina (Mo Willems) would be fun to bake - and share - cookies with! Both characters are what I like to call Community Connectors.
What was the hardest or most challenging part about writing or illustrating your book? (such as maybe research, rhyme, word count, a particular portion….)
Elisa Boxer – Covered in Color: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Fabrics of Freedom (8/16/2022) - Deciding which scenes to keep and which ones to cut, that’s always a challenge. Especially for this book, where so much research was involved, and I learned so many interesting elements about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s lives. Thankfully, my editor, Howard Reeves, let me include a very long author’s note! And Susanna Chapman has a wonderful artist’s note.
Melanie Ellsworth – Battle of the Books (8/23/2022) – At first, I’d say the hardest part was writing the whole book in rhyme and the challenge of not making any stanzas feel forced. Later, the hardest part was letting go of the rhyme when the action, humor, and dialogue was better suited to prose! But I got to keep some rhyming elements, as Poem Book speaks in rhyme. I also changed the original premise of the book and the ending and let a few beloved characters go. Cutting was tough, but it strengthened the story.
Julie Rowan-Zoch - Not All Sheep Are Boring! by Bobby Moynihan (9/20/2022) - Both my editor, Jennifer Klonsky, and my art director, Cecilia Yung, allowed me to fully express my silliness, my vision, and to share my opinions. And what can I say, I have strong opinions! The challenge is prioritizing what to share and how, but each point was met with kindness, generosity, and encouragement! As a creative person I'm always striving for growth and I couldn't have asked for anything more rewarding.
Interesting. What piece of advice has helped you the most in your journey, so far.
Elisa Boxer – Write what moves you, touches you, tugs at your heart. I used to focus more on what I thought would be marketable. And of course that’s a consideration. But I find myself, especially in such a crowded marketplace, prioritizing the projects that my gut is telling me to go with.
Melanie Ellsworth – The advice to leave room for the illustrator has been extremely helpful, allowing me to cut more easily, knowing that my co-creator will tell those parts of the story. Beth Ferry also gave me great advice during our mentorship to make sure I ask myself with every manuscript, “Why do I care?” That way I can check to make sure my stories have heart to go with their humor, and that the characters are worth caring about.
Julie Rowan-Zoch - Incorporate daily rituals. Some days we just don't feel productive or want to produce! But one daily ritual can make all the difference on a stifling day.
Awesome advice, thank you all! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Elisa Boxer – I’m so fortunate to have more books coming out over the next few years, including Hidden Hope (illustrated by Amy June Bates, publishing with Abrams in 2023) and Tree of Life (illustrated by Alianna Rozentsveig, publishing with Rocky Pond Books in 2024). And I’m excited to be working on my first YA book, a nonfiction anthology that publishes in 2024 with Rowman & Littlefield called Dear Younger Me: What 30 Trailblazing Women Wish They’d Known as Girls.
Melanie Ellsworth – I’ve been writing a verse novel with my daughter about our dog, who died recently at age 16. This isn’t something I’m planning to publish, but it’s been good to practice the verse novel format, and when we add photos, it’ll be a nice tribute to our dog that we can keep forever. I have another humorous picture book I’m revising now (hint – it also has a pirate!), and a few new picture book ideas I’m starting to draft. I always have too many works in progress, but that allows me to work on whatever feels inspiring on a particular day!
Julie Rowan-Zoch - Nope! Just out on sub - cross your fingers, please!
Fingers definitely crossed and eyes peeled for your next book announcements and covers! Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Elisa Boxer – Kettle Cove State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. It’s a glorious slice of coastline, with rocky cliffs, sand, bridges, trails and woods. I grew up going there with my parents, and I’ve taken my son there ever since he was little. Thankfully, we only live fifteen minutes away now. We just had his senior pictures taken there! No matter how many times I get out of the car, take in the scenery and breathe in the sea air, I am always astounded at the magnificence of nature in this spot.
© Photo by Amy Paradysz
Melanie Ellsworth – A favorite getaway for me and my husband is Acadia National Park in Maine. Even though the number of visitors has been growing each year, once we get out on the trails we love, we are often alone. Further north in Lubec, West Quoddy Head Light and State Park has some of Maine’s most breathtaking coastal hiking. We don’t get there often, but when we do, the sound and smell of the water and pines lift up my soul.
Julie Rowan-Zoch - I've really enjoyed Arches National Park, but have only experienced it in the summer. I'd love a visit that included snow! Or maybe the Lake District? I can't decide!
Thank you all for giving us a little peek into you and your books. Wishing you all enormous success.
Covered in Color: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Fabrics of Freedom by Elisa Boxer, illustrated by Susanna Chapman (Abrams 8/16/2022) -
Synopsis: A vibrantly illustrated biography about visionary artist Christo, encouraging creativity, perseverance, and appreciating the beauty all around us.
Christo (1935–2020) and Jeanne-Claude (1935–2009) are renowned for their large-scale, ambitious art installations that wrapped landmarks and swaths of land in fabric, including Berlin’s Wrapped Reichstag, Paris’s The Pont Neuf Wrapped, and concluding with New York City’s The Gates in Central Park (2005).
Battle of the Books by Melanie Allsworth, illustrated by James Rey Sanchez (little bee books 8/23/2022) -
Synopsis: It's time to choose a bedtime story! In this hilarious competition for the right to be read, may the best book win!
In Josh's bedroom, tension mounts as each of his books battle over who will be chosen for story time. It's every book for itself-until Pirate Book needs rescuing, and the books must use their unique talents to save him. But when story time arrives, the battle resumes.
This energetic picture book celebrates the magic of stories and the joy of choosing your favorite books.
Not All Sheep Are Boring! by Bobby Moynihan, illustrated by Julie Rowan-Zoch (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 9/20/2022) -
Synopsis: A slyly hilarious bedtime picture book by Saturday Night Live actor Bobby Moynihan.
Everyone knows that sheep are boring. That's why people count them to fall asleep. Right? Don't be so sure...
Actor Bobby Moynihan's (SNL) debut picture book proves sheep are anything but snoozeworthy, introducing a cast of the weirdest, wackiest, funniest sheep you've ever seen. From riding jetpacks to prancing on the moon, it's safe to say these might be the LEAST boring sheep you've ever encountered. Julie Rowan-Zoch's lovably goofy artwork pairs with a breathlessly silly text to make this the perfect read-aloud—but don't be surprised if the giggles keep you up long past bedtime!
To learn more about Elisa, Melanie, and Julie and other authors and illustrators, visit Soaring 20’s High Flying Books for Kids & Teens @ https://www.soaring20spb.com/.