By Malayna Evans
Two things inspired me to write Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh.
The first was my son, then nine, now sixteen (!), who asked me over lunch one day what ancient Egyptians looked like. When I told my beautiful, biracial son he’d fit in well, he told me someone should write a book about a kid who looked like him lost in ancient Egypt. I’d spent a huge chunk of my life earning a Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history. So, you know, seemed like maybe that person should be me.
Which brings us to my second inspiration: ancient Egypt. I don’t work in the field, but my passion for ancient history has never dimmed. The roots of my interest lie in my middle grade years, and, specifically, my fascination with Sci Fi. Raised in small-town Utah, I think the genre attracted me in part because I loved the idea of goddesses. (Yeah, rebellion came early for me … and easily to me!)
Eventually, I earned M.A.s in Greek and Roman, and Mesopotamian and Egyptian, history, before deciding Egypt was my true love. That’s a lot of words to say that I just wanted to make learning about ancient Egypt fun for middle school aged kids. And yet, when I wrote my first draft, I loaded it up with pedantic historical details. I picked a good setting, one of the weirdest periods in the ancient world: the Amarna Period, when the Pharaoh Akhenaten tried to replace the traditional gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt with his favorite deity, the sun disc, Aten. But I ruined it with scholarly historical theories about genealogy and architecture and … bla, bla, bla … a bunch of boring stuff that I tediously wove into the story.
I should have known, right? No kid wants to read that. So after finishing one full draft, I tossed it out and started again. And this time, I tried to put Historian Malayna on the backburner, so Storyteller Malayna could lead. In lieu of arcane knowledge, I turned to magic and giant scorpions and flying amulets. I made the eldest princess of the Amarna period a Hermione-esque magician and turned the Aten into an evil god. I relied on my understanding of ancient history to craft bad guys, all of which would scare the pants off your average ancient Egyptian (well, if they wore pants, which they didn’t).
The solutions Jagger and crew turn to combine ancient magic and/or artifacts with modern technology and/or knowledge in weird and fantastical ways. (Who knew you could scare off killer crododiles with gum and a magic spell?) In other words, my second stab focused on the fun, the unexpected and the adventurous.
Since book one, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, came out in May, I’ve been busy with school visits and finding ways to share my passion for the past with educators and middle school ages readers. Writing an Educator’s guide was fun, but working up an escape room style classroom activity and scavenger hunt was even better!
If I’m honest, I’m hoping kids will enjoy Jagger’s adventure so much they won’t even notice all the history they’re picking up on the way. And, I hope there are kids out there who will see themselves in Jagger and his precocious little sister, Aria, and realize that they, like my protagonists, can accomplish amazing things, even when it all feels impossible.
By Author - Annette Schottenfeld
Obi is an adorable little rhino. His determination and silly antics earn him new friends and laughs from readers along his journey.
The story is based on an actual event with a happy ending.
Spoiler alert, Obi and his friends show off some dance moves. Readers can dance along with Obi and his friends.
OBI’S MUD BATH is partnering with a charity that supports worldwide water efforts, enabling more children to attend school and their families to have better living conditions.
The story has STEM connections and can be used to spark classroom lessons on topics such as taking care of our environment, the importance of access to clean water, animals living in Africa, and counting in other languages.
OBI’S MUD BATH is due to be released in 2020 (Clear Fork Publishing/Spork).
Follow Annette on Twitter @nettschott and Facebook @AnnetteSchottenfeldAuthor
By Kat Harrison
During the few years I spent creating and polishing my debut picture book, I often daydreamed of who would sign on to illustrate the project. What would their artistic style be like? Would they be able to add dimension and their own voice to an otherwise sterile environment? (It’s OK, you can say it – a book about surgery isn’t exactly Disney World.)
Luckily for me, the perfect person said “yes” to the job -- Shane Crampton. She’s the visionary behind Sunday’s world and a freelance illustrator based out of Cornwall, England where she lives with her husband and four equally amazing sons.
Her work is a mash-up of scribbling, painting (usually with gouache) and digital techniques, and she often listens to music from groups like Iron Maiden and Rob Zombie while she creates.
To start us off, can you describe your illustration style in a few words?
Happy and playful!
What made you excited to sign on as the illustrator for SURGERY ON SUNDAY?
It’s a really interesting subject and I think it will be helpful to a lot of children so that was very appealing.
Not surprisingly, the majority of the book takes place in a hospital. What kind of research have you done (or need to do) in order to bring it to life?
I have spent a considerable amount of time in hospitals when I was younger and I have looked up lots and lots of different visual images online.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever been asked to draw?
Veins doing yoga and weightlifting from your book. Hahaha...sorry!
I’m actually honored by that – better to be strange than boring. Have you or any of your kids had surgery before?
Yes, I have had surgery a couple of times and one of my kids has, as well. My younger brother was in and out of hospital a lot when he was little and had two major operations by the time he was two. He went on to have more as he got older, so I spent quite a lot of time in hospital with him and my parents. The car we used to travel in to get to hospital ended up just being called "the hospital car.”
Name three fun facts about yourself (outside of your art!).
I have a black belt in Taekwondo. I love dogs and used to be a kennel maid, and I am totally obsessed with playing my guitar.
What inspires you to create?
I don't think there's one particular thing that inspires me to create, I just "feel" like I have to do it -- it makes me happy. This is why I try to do personal little projects as often as I can, I need to be able to create something and not be confined to a brief now and again.
How do your children influence your work?
My kids, particularly when they were younger, would often say totally random and hilarious things. Now and again, I would translate into a little piece of work or it would spark a little idea for narrative in an illustration.
What is your all-time favorite children’s book that you didn’t illustrate and why?
The Princess and the Pea. I loved it as a kid and it was mainly because it was the only book I'd read where the princess wasn't blonde. It was more relatable to me than other princess books, but this is weird in a way too as I am not even a little bit Princess-y!
If you want to see more of Shane’s work (trust me, you do) – learn more about her here (https://www.shanecrampton.co.uk) or follow her on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/shanecramptonillustrator/).
When #OntheScenein19 suggested our debut authors interview their illustrators, I found myself in a bit of pickle. But then, I talk to myself all day. So…
Laurie Smollett Kutscera, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to chat with you. You’re always on your cell phone!
Yes, I know. I actually just turned it off so I could give you my undivided attention today.
Let me begin by saying, your illustrations for MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON fit the story quite well. When you read the manuscript for the first time—did you have a vision in mind?
Absolutely. It was such a vividly written novel, the characters almost created themselves. Actually, I was pretty fortunate. I usually receive a finished manuscript before I begin the illustration process, but in this instance, I got to watch you pull your hair out and throw little temper tantrums while you wrote your first five or six drafts. While you were having your meltdowns, I was busy sketching your cast of characters.
Thank you for sharing that. I’m sure our readers are very interested in my occasional meltdowns. Ahem. Well, I must say, you really captured the essence of each character. Did you use models?
I had quite a number of models pose for me. Friends. Neighbors. Children of friends and neighbors. I even had a few of our darling boat crew pose for the bad guys! They were very convincing! Makes a girl think…
How is illustrating for a middle grade audience different from illustrating a picture book?
With middle grade, you’re illustrating for a more mature audience. So, the characters are probably going to be in the range of 11-14 years old. Also, in general, you’re creating fewer illustrations—usually one for an entire chapter, but that may vary– some middle grade books have more, some have none. With picture books, you’re basically telling the entire story through the illustrations.
So…how did you approach illustrating MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON?
I’ve always envisioned MISADVENTURES as a movie. So, that’s how I approached the illustrations. I was also inspired by the moody, shadowy illustrations Brian Selznick’s created for Hugo Cabret, and the evocative work of Bagram Ibatoulline, illustrator of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. These talented artists approached illustrating for middle grade readers in a more dramatic, reflective manner. That really spoke to me.
Did you always plan to work in in black and white?
Not exactly. The original illustrations were in full color. But as I began to read more middle grade books, I noticed most illustrations were black and white. So, I went back and played with them in Photoshop. I was surprised at how much richer and more mysterious the illustrations became once I removed the color. Sometimes I feel like color can be distracting, especially when the writing is so descriptive.
What did you enjoy most about illustrating MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON?
The story takes us on an adventure with 12-year old Alex. It’s an emotional, heart felt journey, as he is still grieving at the loss of his father, but it’s also filled with lots of humor. Especially the scenes with Joker. I know YOU had a good time developing his character, because I heard you cracking yourself up at three in the morning. But let me tell you--he was just as much fun to illustrate. He was a handful…literally!
Joker is quite unique, isn’t he? Speaking of fun, you looked like you had a great time creating that magic deck!
Totally! How cool to be able to create characters that can jump out of their card! What a concept! I had a blast playing with the possibilities. Once I had the characters down, I took it a step further by making real cards– front and back. Just for kicks, I would mix them into a regular deck. I’ve always been intrigued by playing cards. They’re so intricate and graphic. Isn’t that what inspired you to write the book?
Yes, I was watching a James Bond film and during the opening credits these huge playing cards filled the screen. I was mesmerized. But enough about me. Did you always want to be an artist?
Pretty much. I began drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon. I drew all the time. When I started school, paying attention wasn’t my strong point. I used to get in trouble for doodling in my composition books. My mother was an artist. She loved experimenting and working in a variety of mediums including oils, pen and ink, and photography. She had her own darkroom and developed these extraordinary photos. I’m sure being around her creative energy rubbed off a little.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of illustrating for Misadventures?
Seeing it all come together. I don’t think there are any words to describe what it feels like to see your story come to life in words and pictures. While Blue Whale Press still in the process of finishing the book – it looks like the release date is moving to early Spring of 2020—It’s very exciting to be at this stage after so many years of hard work.
It was a pleasure collaborating with you. We have so much in common, I’m excited to start on the next project.
Me too! That new wordless picture book you’re playing around with should be a lot of fun. More work for me than you, but I’m okay with that—in this business you have to be flexible.
Tina: Hi Maddie. Thank you for stopping by today. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Maddie: Oh sure. I go to Walker Elementary School and I am the oldest in my family. The best part about school is I am in the same class as my best friend Stella. I see her every day, all day long.
Tina: What do you like to do when you are not at school?
Maddie: That’s simple. I love to draw with my crayons and markers and play with my friends.
Tina: I heard you were part of a school walkout recently? Can you tell us a little about it?
Maddie: Yea, I was. Our school was having one but it was only for the big kids and I really wanted to walk out with them.
Tina: How did you become a part of it then?
Maddie: Well, it was School Safety Week and I just thought everyone should be included, not just the big kids.
Tina: That makes perfect sense. Did you walk out with the big kids by yourself?
Maddie: Oh no… I asked my friends for some help and everyone got together during lunch to make signs about safe schools. Even our teacher helped us. Only Stella didn’t.
Tina: I am sure she was just busy.
Maddie: Actually, she was scared. Our principal told us it was for the big kids only. He even said so during announcements. She just didn’t want to get into trouble.
Tina: I understand how she felt. Didn’t you?
Maddie: Yes, I did. But I also didn’t want her to feel left out. I really wanted all my friends to help the big kids stand up for safe schools so I kept asking her to see if she would change her mind.
Tina: And did she?
Maddie: That was a really busy week at school, plus I had homework every night too. If you want to find out if Stella changed her mind and even how you can help schools stay safe, you have to read WALKOUT.
Tina: That is a good idea Maddie, and thank you for telling us about your experience.
Maddie: Bye, see you later!