Interview Alert: Leah Gilbert

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I fell in love with this book as soon as I saw the cover. I mean, just look at that llama perched precariously, yet comfortably, on the arm of that sofa. Love!!!

I flipped through the pages and was treated to more gorgeous illustrations featuring that lovable llama. After I read the text, I knew I wanted to learn more about Leah Gilbert the author/illustrator of A COUCH FOR LLAMA, a wonderfully sweet and majorly funny picture book about a caring family, a curious llama, and a brand new couch.

I’m excited to share Leah Gilbert’s interview with you today!

Q. What inspired you to create your hilarious debut picture book A COUCH FOR LLAMA?

L.G. I got the idea for A COUCH FOR LLAMA driving to work one day! I would sometimes see a few llamas grazing in a field that I used to drive by on my way to work. I thought they were fun (and I really like cute, fluffy animals) so I usually looked to see if I could see them out there, and was always excited when I did. One day, the llamas weren’t out, but there was a couch sitting on the side of the road near where I would see the llamas, and the story idea was born!

Q. What came first, the words or the pictures?

L.G. Both! I almost always think of words and images together. The first thumbnail sketches I did for this book have the words written on the pages in my sketchbook.

Q. Llama is so full of personality! As a dog lover, I can’t help but notice a few canine traits in him. Am I right?

L.G. Ha, yes! Good eye! I did take some inspiration for Llama’s silly poses from the silly ways my Cavapoo, Camden, sits around the house sometimes… mostly in the illustrations on the endpapers. Inspiration can come from many places, including pups!

Q. Have you always been an artistic person? Besides writing and illustrating children’s books, in what ways have you used your creative skills?

L.G. It has always been my dream since I was a kid to write and especially illustrate children’s books. I have always LOVED drawing, and was always doodling and creating things throughout my entire childhood. In high school, I spent as much time as I could in the art room and taking art classes, and majored in Illustration and Graphic Design in college. For the past 10 years, I have worked at a greeting card company as an artist and designer illustrating and designing cards, calendars, bookmarks, and other gift products.

Q. Who are your favorite picture book authors or illustrators?

L.G. Wow, so many… it’s hard to choose favorites! I have too many current favorites to list, but some lifelong favorites of mine are Peter Spier, Jack Kent, Frank Muir, David Wiesner, and Beatrix Potter. I think these have probably had the most influence on me and my style as an author and illustrator, especially Peter Spier—I have always just loved his illustrations and the way he told so much of the story through the art—and Beatrix Potter’s personal story of being a female author and illustrator has always been an inspiration to me.

Q. Why do you believe picture books are important?

L.G. Lots of reasons! Reading to kids at an early age is so important, and picture books are some of the first exposure kids have to books—either being read to by an adult or paging through by themselves, “reading” the story through pictures before they can read words. I also think picture books can be so important for kids even after they’re reading chapter books. You don’t need to outgrow picture books at a certain age just because your reading level goes up—they are a powerful storytelling medium for all ages! The combination of the words and illustrations in picture books is such a unique and great way to bring joy as well as communicate things that words alone can’t do as well, and picture books do that in a way that no other medium does quite the same.

Q. Where can fans go to connect with you?

L.G. I’m on Twitter (@lalaleeeah), Instagram (@leahgilbertbooks), and my website is www.leah-gilbert.com!

Studio

Leah’s Studio

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

L.G. My husband and I recently replaced our well-loved couch with a new one, and writing this book made me look at that experience in a whole new way! I felt like I should go find a llama who would like our old one 😉

Thank you so much, Leah, it was a pleasure getting to know you! I’ll be keeping an eye out for more books from you in the near future.

Leah Gilbert Leah grew up just blocks from Lake Michigan in a small Wisconsin town, with a deep love of art, books, and The Lake. After earning her bachelor’s degree in illustration and graphic design, she moved to Colorado where she has worked as an illustrator and designer at a greeting card company for the past nine years. She currently lives in the Denver area with her husband and a fluffy puppy, and still has a deep love of art, books, and The Lake… and the mountains, too.

Picture and bio from Leah Gilbert’s website: http://www.leah-gilbert.com/

Interview Alert: Henry Herz

34006335Did you know that September 19 was International Talk Like A Pirate Day? You didn’t? Well, I’ll bet today’s interviewee, multi-published author Henry Herz, knew. His latest picture book, Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew, published August 1, is overflowing with pirate pizzazz and dinosaur daring.

Let’s find out more about Henry Herz and Cap’n Rex, and a bit about his two sons, too, who’ve helped Henry create four indie-published children’s books!


 

 

We don’t often hear about authors working with their children. How did this collaboration begin?

Ten years ago, when my sons were five and seven years old, I wanted to share my love of fantasy with them. Struck by inspiration one day, I came up with a way to share the joy of entering the magical realms of fantasy. I would write a fantasy book for them.

What I did not anticipate was that my boys would give me feedback on the story. They devised some of the character (Nimpentoad) and creature (Neebel) names, and made plot line suggestions. And who better to help make the story appealing to kids than other kids? We were sufficiently encouraged by feedback, that we decided to self-publish.

My sons also helped with the art direction. Our artist would give us a rough sketch, and we would provide feedback on details and color palette. My goal of interesting my sons in fantasy transformed into encouraging them to participate in the creative process. In the end, it was a great experience for my sons, and I discovered that I loved to write children’s fiction.

Your latest picture book, Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew, is hot off the presses. Tell us a bit about the story.

The kernel of this story was the idea that if kids like pirates and they like dinosaurs, then kids would really like a story that combined both. Sort of a literary Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. In fact, I was originally going to write about dinosaur SPACE pirates. However, my critique partners reeled me in, and said that was mashing up too many things. So, my big buccaneers set sail in a triceratops trireme, not a spaceship.

The original title was going to be DINOSAUR PIRATES. As the artwork was being finalized, I discovered that another book was coming out with that very title. So, at my suggestion, we changed the title to better reflect the story.

My favorite illustration shows the crew trudging across an island toward the buried treasure. The illustrator, Ben Schipper, did a great job conveying the personality of Cap’n Rex. He’s out in front, of course, as the leader. But he’s got this jaunty walk that just screams self-confidence or perhaps hubris. And we all know what happens to characters that get too full of themselves…

What do you like best about picture books?

From an author’s perspective, I love the challenge of telling a story, conveying a theme, and developing empathetic characters in 500 words. The whole “brevity is the soul of wit” thing. It really is a unique art form that is very little like writing a novel.

From a reader’s perspective, I love how the illustrations add depth and texture, taking the story to a higher level. What I find ironic, and most non-authors don’t realize, is that there is often very little collaboration between the author and illustrator of a picture book. You sell your manuscript to a publisher, and they take your baby and hand it over to a stranger. Authors must trust the illustrator and publisher to make the story even stronger.

What’s your favorite thing about writing and/or writing books for kids?

The fame and fortune! Seriously, I write fantasy and science fiction for kids because (a) it’s fun and challenging at the same time, and (b) I think those genres are particularly powerful ways to spark a child’s imagination and plant the seed for a lifelong love of reading. I still remember to this day escaping into the magical world of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE in my elementary school library. And if I’m doing my job as a writer, the books will have a secondary appeal to the little kid inside all adult readers. I still love picture books, and so should you! Check out JOURNEY by Aaron Becker or THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen to see what I mean.

Any other books set to be published in the near future?

I have three picture books scheduled to be published next year:

HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS (Pelican Publishing) – Ever wonder why two of a squid’s ten arms are longer than the others? A selfish squid is cold, so he swipes other animals’ clothing. Will he learn it’s wrong to steal in the end? This modern fable demonstrates you reap what you sow.

GOOD EGG & BAD APPLE (Schiffer Publishing) – Not all the foods in the refrigerator get along like peas in a pod. Bad Apple and Second Banana are at the root of the problem. The vegetables are steamed. Good Egg suggests his friends try different responses to the bullies, but his tactics don’t bear fruit, at first. Only by using his noodle does Good Egg save their bacon.

ALICE’S MAGIC GARDEN (Familius) – Alice lives in the dreariest boarding school in England. She pours her love and attention into caring for her little garden and its denizens. Unknown to her, these include a large caterpillar, gryphon, and a talking white rabbit. When Alice is in trouble, the magical creatures come to her aid. Love, it turns out, is magical.

Where can fans connect with you online?

Fans can find me at any of the following. I especially recommend the website because it features interviews with successful authors and illustrators, as well as humorous and artistic posts.

Websitehttps://henryherz.wordpress.com/capn-rex-his-clever-crew/

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/henry.herz/

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/HenryLHerz

Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5329496.Henry_L_Herz

Thanks so much for stopping by, Henry! I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for your next books, especially GOOD EGG & BAD APPLE! It sounds perfectly peachy! 🙂


Henry HerzHenry Herz has an engineering Bachelors from Cornell, an engineering Masters from George Washington U., and a national security studies Masters from Georgetown, none of which helps him write fantasy and science fiction for children. He is represented by Deborah Warren of East/West Literary Agency. Henry is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). He participates in literature panels at a variety of conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon. Henry reviews children’s books for the San Francisco Book Review and the San Diego Book Review.