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I was so impressed with the visual story that Polina Gortman created in our picture book THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED that I decided it would make a great mentor book for both illustrators and writers.

In the video at the end of this post, I walk you through the visual story that is related to my text but independent of it in many ways. It demonstrates to illustrators how doing more than just showing what the text is saying can add layers of meaning to a story and make a picture book much more interesting. It also demonstrates to writers the importance of leaving room for the illustrator to help tell the story. 

Western Washington SCBWI featured Polina on their blog Pen & Story. It is a worthwhile read to accompany this video because Polina talks a bit about her process and how she managed all the characters that she created that appear throughout the story. You can read the post by clicking here.

Also, in a recent article in the Toledo Blade Newspaper, Polina shared some interesting details about how this great visual story came to be. It all started with her not fully connecting with the story . . . 

Blade quotes PolinaI hope that you will be patient and watch the video to the end because that is where the whole story that Polina created comes together. This visual story is all Polina’s creation–no one told her to tell the story, no one told her what characters to create, and there is no bakery, baker, or older woman with a dog mentioned in the text at all. I know that without the text it’s hard to know what Polina created in addition to the story told via text. But I can’t give the whole book away. My publisher wouldn’t like that 😉 Also, I intentionally left the text out because I wanted the visual story to stand on its own with just a little help from my guidance. I hope this video inspires both illustrators and writers, and if it does, please leave a comment to let us know.

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It’s been months since I’ve written a blog post, but it’s time to pick myself up by my bootstraps and get going again. What a year this has been! I’ve bounced around a number of ways to approach this return to my blog. I even started down a path of several paragraphs talking about how when times get tough, the tough keep going. But that path also led me into a “true confessions and soul searching” direction that just didn’t feel right. So, I’m going to try a more direct approach to where I’ve been, what I need to do, and where I’m going. I’ll start with where I’ve been.

Please forgive any weird formatting issues. WordPress decided to change it’s format while I was away. I need a little more time to learn it.

Who Knew?

When my latest books were scheduled for release, who knew that we would be challenged with a pandemic that has changed nearly everyone’s life? Who knew that my first picture book in ages, An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin, would be released eighteen days after I had knee replacement surgery? Who knew that the surgery would still be holding me back nearly four months later? Who knew that my next picture book, The Weed that Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed, would be released four days after my oldest brother’s death? Who knew that book two in the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book Series, Cowboy Trouble, would be rescheduled for 2021? Who knew, that my first picture book, Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa’s tenth anniversary would slip by without acknowledgement or celebration? Who knew that it would be picked up by Clear Fork Publishing under the Blue Whale Press imprint, and continue selling all these years later?

My Brother and Me–I will miss him, but I carry him in my heart.

I didn’t know that my exciting book launches and the wonderful year I had planned for all of my beloved books would all come crashing down around me. I’ve been knocked down, but I’m getting back up (broken heart, bum knee, and all) and moving forward.

Trying to get in the spirit in spite of my challenges.

What I Need to Do and Why I Need to Do It

I need to make up for lost time and share the news of my books with y’all. I feel compelled to do this because I feel it’s only fair to the illustrators (Milanka Reardon and Polina Gortman) who worked so hard on my picture books. And it’s only fair to the beautiful books and heartwarming stories that people should get an opportunity to read them. It’s only fair that the kids and adults who will read them should be made aware that the books even exist. It’s only fair to João Pereira de Souza and Dindim to have their story told. It’s only fair to the citizens of Toledo, Ohio and the little weed that their story of unity be told when it seems we’ve forgotten how to love and care about one another as human beings. Along those same lines, I feel like I have an obligation to humanity to share these stories of love and kindness. They both touched my heart, and I want to reach as many other hearts as I possibly can.

You can help me and the illustrators as well as readers by requesting the books at your library and writing reviews. I would be forever grateful.

Future Posts

Keep an eye out for future posts. I’m going to start a new series called Arc Angels where published authors will analyze each other’s books and share with you how each made their stories shine by using the classic narrative and/or character arcs. I expect there will be prizes and giveaways along the way. I plan to share the very first version of Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa with my crude illustrations and all. I will also share how the book started as one thing and ended up being another. And I’ll soon have a book trailer for Cowboy Trouble to share.

There are lots more great posts to come, but I will save them for surprises.

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED

BOOK TRAILER

Review Excerpts

“A heartwarming holiday tale that proves even the littlest things can make a big difference.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The fine message about holiday spirit makes for a perfect read for parents seeking stories that encourage kids to feel empowered to begin changes that cross age and economic barriers. The Weed That Woke Christmas is a lovely, positive, much-needed story for modern times.” —D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“This sweet story is accompanied by lush illustrations by Gortman, who portrays Toledo’s citizens as diverse. The author manages to convey the importance of charity and community without making the tale mawkish or trite. She closes the text with the real story of the Christmas Weed and the hope that the holiday magic will continue.” —Kirkus Reviews

Description

This heartwarming and inspiring book proves that even the smallest gestures can make a big difference and transform apathy and oblivion into awareness, unity, community, kindness and hope. Partly truth and partly fiction, it is based on the true story of how a weed on a Toledo street corner helped spread the giving spirit far beyond its traffic island home. All Weed wants is to be seen, but people are in too much of a hurry to notice each other, let alone Weed. Weed watches, wishes, and waits until finally someone does see it. But Weed discovers that there is something far bigger and more important than a little weed being noticed.

Where to Buy

Buy wherever books are sold and . . . 

Amazon Hardcover

https://www.amazon.com/Weed-That-Woke-Christmas-Mostly/dp/0981493815

Amazon Softcover

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981493823/

Booktopia

https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-weed-that-woke-christmas-alayne-kay-christian/book/9780981493817.html

Book Depository

https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Weed-That-Woke-Christmas-Alayne-Kay-Christian-Polina-Gortman/9780981493817

Barnes and Noble

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-weed-that-woke-christmas-alayne-kay-christian/1137418710?ean=9780981493817

Indie Bound

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780981493817

Booktopia

https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-weed-that-woke-christmas-alayne-kay-christian/book/9780981493817.html

AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: HOW DINDIM MADE JOÃO PEREIRA DE SOUZA AN HONORARY PENGUIN BOOK TRAILER

Review Excerpts

“A moving, affectionate, and joyful tale, all the more so for being true.” – Kirkus Reviews

“An Old Man and His Penguin holds a number of important messages about human/animal relationships, love, oil slicks and their impact on sea life, and loneliness. . . . its underlying focus on letting go and reaping rewards from non-possessiveness offers an outstanding lesson about love for the very young.” —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“Adults looking for an inviting animal story with an important message will welcome this appealingly different seaside tale.” —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“The underlying lesson about compassion and good stewardship is subtle but effective; an author’s note explains the real-life circumstances. Reardon, who also illustrated the penguin-themed Noodles’ & Albie’s Birthday Surprise (2016), deftly captures the story’s charm and expressiveness.” —Kirkus Reviews

Description

Off the coast of Brazil, João rescues a lifeless, oil-covered penguin (Dindim) and nurses him back to health. Dindim adopts João as an honorary penguin, and the steadfast friends do everything together. They swim together, fish together, and stroll the beach together. But there are real penguins somewhere across the sea. So one day, Dindim leaves João. The villagers tell João the penguin will never come back. João cannot say if he will or will not. Are the villagers right? Will Dindim ever patter into his old friend’s loving arms again?

Where to Buy

Wherever books are sold and . . .

Amazon Hardcover

https://www.amazon.com/Old-Man-His-Penguin-Honorary/dp/173289356X/

Amzon Softcover

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732893578/

Book Depostitory

https://www.bookdepository.com/An-Old-Man-and-His-Penguin-Alayne-Kay-Christian-Milanka-Reardon/9781732893566

Barnes and Noble

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/an-old-man-and-his-penguin-alayne-kay-christian/1136805502?ean=9781732893566

Books-A-Million

https://www.booksamillion.com/search?id=7861112761623&query=An+Old+Man+and+His+Penguin&filter=

Indie Bound

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781732893566

Booktopia

https://www.booktopia.com.au/an-old-man-and-his-penguin/book/9781732893566.html

SHORT NEWS VIDEO ABOUT THE REAL CHRISTMAS WEED

I chose to share this video because the narrator gives a sense of the heart of the story that ended up in my book THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED.

ANOTHER SHORT NEWS VIDEO ABOUT THE REAL CHRISTMAS WEED

I chose to share this video because it does a good job of showing the community coming together.

A SHORT NEWS VIDEO ABOUT JOAO AND DINDIM THE PENGUIN

BOOK LAUNCH POSTS

Thank you to all my friends who helped me share the news of my books via social media when I couldn’t! There are too many to mention, but you know who you are.

Thank you friends who featured my books on your blogs!!!!

My brain is still somewhat foggy, so if I’ve forgotten anyone, please forgive me and feel free to add your post in a comment.

The Weed That Woke Christmas

Vivian Kirkfield’s Picture Book Friday Post 

Perfect Picture Book Friday: THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS Plus Giveaway

Kathy Temean shares my book journey on her  Writing and Illustrating blog.

https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2020/10/11/book-giveaway-the-weed-that-woke-christmas-by-by-alayne-kay-christian/

Rosie Pova interviews me on her Chitchat blog.

https://www.rosiejpova.com/blog/chitchat-with-author-editor-and-publisher-alayne-kay-christian

Keep an eye out for my KidLit411 feature coming in November.

An Old Man and His Penguin

Janie Reinart interviews me on the GROG blog.

https://groggorg.blogspot.com/2020/07/she-wears-many-hatsinterview-with.html

Vivian Kirkfield features An Old Man and His Penguin on her blog.

Alayne Kay Christian: Will Write for Cookies Plus GIVEAWAY

Kathy Temean shares Milanka Reardon’s and my book journey for an Old Man and His Penguin or on her Writing and Illustrating blog.

https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2020/07/23/book-giveaway-an-old-man-and-his-penguin-how-dindim-made-joao-pereira-de-souza-an-honorary-penguin/

Kathy Temean features Milanka Reardon’s art process for An Old Man and His Penguin.

https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2020/05/09/illustrator-saturday-milanka-reardon/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Developing as an Illustrator, Interview with Tara J. Hannon

tara-hannon head shotI’d like to introduce author/illustrator Tara J. Hannon. Tara did the fun and expressive illustrations for No Bears Allowed—picture book written by Lydia Lukidis and published by Blue Whale Press. In this interview, Tara shares excellent tips for remaining consistent from page to page, illustrating facial expressions and body language, dealing with creative direction, having the courage to help tell the story with your art, and more!

Interview Q & A

How did you get your start as a children’s book illustrator?

I always knew I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator. I went to college for illustration and after I graduated, I steered myself towards every possible artistic outlet that I could find and said “yes” whenever anyone came knocking. Slowly but surely, experience led to growth and knowledge, and I was able to secure jobs illustrating books with self-publishing authors. The books that I have been able to illustrate for self-publishing authors helped me stay focused on my craft, improve my skills, and enjoy the kid lit world. I am thrilled that No Bears Allowed will be my first traditionally published book.

Cover from BWP site 978-0-9814938-9-3

How has your business Meant for a Moment Designs influenced your illustration career or visa versa? Which passion came first?

Meant for a Moment (M4AM) was born from my desire to make art my career. So the answer to this question might be a ‘chicken or the egg’ kind of thing. I always knew I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books, but it took me a very long time to learn how to do that. Years ago, I had a graphic design job that was unfulfilling and terribly boring. I was starving for something more. So I created tons of little sketches on my lunch breaks that I turned into greeting cards. Meant for a Moment was born from these drawings and slowly evolved from there. M4AM gave me the platform that I needed to take on custom work. And every custom piece that I created gave me more knowledge and skill and time at my drawing desk, which was a dream come true for me.

You are also a writer. Which came first? Writing or art?

Illustration definitely came first. I went to school for illustration, and I still kick myself a little for not having the foresight to have snagged a creative writing class while I was there. Writing came much later. But I found that I loved it just as much as I loved illustrating. And when I discovered the magic that happens by balancing words and images, I was forever hooked. To me, a good picture book is like a good song. I could read it over and over again.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing one of your author/illustrator pieces, and it truly is magic!

Others have described your art as whimsical, playful, and quirky. I tend to agree with them. Do you have any artistic influences? If not, what does influence your style?

NBA_Page23_Color

My love affair with children’s literature and illustration began with Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. I also used to spend hours copying Mary Engelbreit illustrations when I was in Middle School. In my early work, you can see strong influence from these artists. I think my style has evolved into its own space now but every so often, I can see a trace of them slip in. I still love their artwork so much, but have found so many contemporary artists to admire, like Peter Brown, Anita Jeram, and Kelly Light.

Do you have a preferred medium?

I really enjoy drawing digitally. About a year ago, I transitioned from primarily pencil and paper to a drawing tablet (Wacom Cintiq). I found that with a tablet I could take more risks, add more detail and LAYER to my heart’s content. It has been a really fun learning process for me and I am thrilled about it.

NBA_title page

What medium and process did you use for No Bears Allowed?

No Bears Allowed was one of the first books I illustrated with my tablet. I really enjoyed creating the textures of Bear and Rabbit’s fur and layering in all of the bits of nature in those outdoor scenes.

NBA_Page11-ColorD1

Blue Whale Press is involved in the illustration process throughout book development. What was it like following a publisher’s process versus working independently?

Blue Whale Press was wonderful to work with. They were supportive throughout every step and they gave me a lot of independence to create. I’d say the biggest difference between working with BWP vs. working independently would be the technical support I received. At each phase of every illustration Steve was there to ensure that there was enough space for bleed, text etc. which was really helpful. It was also really nice having extra eyes to look out for any inconsistencies. It was a wonderful team effort.

You have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways, but also in the area of creative direction. Do you have any tips for illustrators regarding how to keep from taking direction personally?

Oh wow, that is really nice to hear, thank you. I do think it is helpful to understand that when you are illustrating a picture book you are part of a team. And that team is stacked with experts. Trusting the input of others is certainly easier when you believe that you are part of a team of people who are all working towards the same goal. Feeling like a part of the team is helpful too and BWP did a great job of making me feel valued and heard.

I love that tip of remembering that everyone is working toward the same goal. This is so true!

Poster correctI love the little extras you put on every page of No Bears Allowed. Of course, my favorite is the illustration with the survival list. It cracks me up. How do you get over the natural instinct to show only what is in the text and instead put some of yourself into the story by doing a little something extra or special on each page? Does it take courage to express yourself and help tell the story? Do you have any tips for illustrators for going beyond the text with your expression?

Oh yes, it does take courage. It has taken many years of picture book observation to understand that illustrations are allowed, and encouraged to go beyond the text. No Bears Allowed has such a playful tone (my favorite kind of story) so it felt really natural to add those bits into the images. I think every added detail should add to the story in some way. And when you think of it that way, the illustrations become a lot more about storytelling and less about simply mirroring the text. Example: If you are drawing a messy room, are the undies on the floor white? Or do they have super heroes on them? Or is the character so wild that they’ve thrown them on the lamp instead of the floor? Does the character have a ton of stuffed animals? Or just one ratty overloved teddy? Is there evidence of a tea party still set up? (You get the idea right?) It is really fun to make decisions in artwork that compliment a character’s disposition and help tell a history of the scene. And I think every detail that you add like this will be noticed by a child, and that is a really cool thing.

Wow! These are fantastic tips!

In No Bears Allowed, you do an excellent job of showing mood and emotion via facial expression and body language. And on animals, to top it all off! How did you learn to do that? And do you have any tips for illustrators on developing that skill?

NBA_Page14-15_ColorD2

Bear and Rabbit have a ton of personality, so it was a lot of fun creating their expressions. I suppose I learned this through observation. I think it is common for artists to observe the world in a unique way. I tend to dissect art as I view it. An example of what I mean is, when I watch a cartoon with my daughters, I notice the way the art is drawn. I watch how the eyes squint or widen during certain scenes or how the posture changes with the mood of the character. It is a really fun practice and has actually been very helpful. I do this in real life too. And I often make the face or gesture that I am drawing to work out exactly how it should look.

I really like that idea of studying cartoons. And making the face yourself is an excellent tip. Shadra Strickland has a course where she actually looks in the mirror to see how her face changes with different expressions and emotions.

I believe one of the most difficult things for an illustrator is to remain consistent from page to page—especially with characters. What is your trick for remaining consistent?

Yes, consistency is very challenging! Character sketches are super helpful and very important. I used them obsessively while creating the art for No Bears Allowed. Beyond that, one thing that helped me for consistency was that the characters felt really natural to draw. I drew Bear and Rabbit a bunch of times in rough sketches to give my hand a muscle memory of their shape and proportions. So when it came time to start the book I really “knew” the characters.

Interesting, muscle memory and really getting to know the characters by living with them by drawing them for a long time makes so much sense. Another great tip!

You recently signed with an agent as an author/illustrator! I was so excited to get that news. Congratulations! 

Thank you so much, Alayne! I am so grateful and excited to see what is next.

It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Tara. Your work has brought us so many smiles and chuckles over the last year. And the visual story you have told is amazing!

I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to work with you and Steve. This experience has been nothing but a joy for me. Thank you so much for choosing me for this awesome book. XO

About Tara

Tara Hannon has always loved to illustrate. As a child, her wish lists included only one desire: more art stuff! Now that she is an adult, her wish lists really haven’t changed—the more art stuff the better! She is truly grateful to be doing what she loves for a living.

Tara’s illustrations have been described as whimsical, playful, and quirky. She works happily from her home studio in Crownsville, Maryland.

When Tara is not illustrating, she can be found playing in the sand with her two daughters, jogging, and drinking strong coffee. It is her dream to find a way to do all of these things at once. To learn more about Tara, visit her website.

Get tips about writing and surviving the writer’s life and learn more about author Lydia Ludikis and her journey to publication here.

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