Fall is my favorite season and we’re just starting to get into it. I’m not a huge fan of snow as an adult (which is funny because winter is the longest season in Alaska), but that’s because of shoveling driveways, cleaning off cars, and other adult concerns. When I was younger, I loved snow. Today’s picture book appeals to the kid in me who loved winter.
Today we get to talk with both the author AND the illustrator of this picture book.
Author Jamie A. Swenson lives in Wisconsin with her family (and many pets) where she (mostly) loves the snow – especially when she’s waiting for it to start! WE WANT SNOW: A WINTRY CHANT is her eighth book for children. When not writing, she can be found sharing her love of books and stories at her local library where she has worked in the Children’s Department for over twenty years. Jamie received her MFAC in writing from Hamline University in MN. You can learn more about Jamie at her website or follow her on Facebook.
WE WANT SNOW: A WINTRY CHANT is just as it sounds. It’s a group of kiddos who want snow to be here NOW. They spend the whole book wishing and thinking about all the fun they can have in the snow, but there’s a twist ending that will surprise you. This is a fun winter read that will be enjoyed at read aloud time over and over again.
Me: You have written several pictures books and some early readers. What is it that draws you to writing picture books specifically?
Jamie: I fell in love with the combination of language and illustration at a very early age, but later than most! I found picture books when I was a teenager shelving books at my local library. I would get lost in the picture book section just reading and loving the books. I love the interaction of the story, the art, and the theatre of reading aloud to listeners.
Me: The rhyme in “We Want Snow: a Wintry Chant” is stellar, but there is also a rhythm that is amazingly sing-song-y. And your use of alliteration! It’s fantastic! This is such a fun read aloud. Are all your books in rhyme? Did you have a hard time selling a rhyming picture book?
Jamie: Many of my books rhyme – or at least have an internal rhythm that I hope readers (and listeners) enjoy. As a storyteller myself, I love reading rhyming or sing-song-y (love that) type books to children. I do try to write books that I would (and hopefully others would) enjoy reading to children. I have always heard that rhyming books are harder to sell than other types, but I haven’t found that to be true – as I have found ALL types difficult to sell! Grin. It’s a tight market and writers just need to find the right editor. That takes the time it takes – as well as dedication, perseverance, a manuscript that is ready, and a bit of luck never hurts!
Me: That’s true! I love the chant, but I was especially surprised by the twist ending! It’s funny and fun. What is one thing that surprised you in writing this book?
Jamie: I think that I laughed when I came to the ending too (when I realized what I was writing) – I realized that I spend fall dreaming about snow – and all the fun we’ll have… and then around January I start dreaming of spring and all the fun we’ll have! I’m such a fickle season person! Grin. I also LOVE fall and summer. The ending of WE WANT SNOW certainly makes me smile, and I think Emilie did a great job illustrating that ending.
Me: That twist ending is the perfect setup for a sequel. Do you have one already written? Is there a potential for a series here??? (Please say yes!)
Jamie: I have been playing with a few ideas – and I certainly would love to do another one, but *sigh* that isn’t always up to the writer or illustrator! I certainly have a few more chants floating about in my head – so let’s hope a spring book pops up too!
Me: The illustrations by Emilie Boon are beautiful. I especially love her watercolor textures. Did you have any say in art notes? Or did Emilie create all these amazing visuals on her own?
Jamie: I think Emilie’s artwork captured my joyful feelings as I wrote this book perfectly. I saw the art a few times along the way – but I believe my only real suggestions were about text placement on the page – and that is more a book design issue. I simply fell in love with Emilie’s style – and wouldn’t have wanted to try to change her creativity (after all, she didn’t change my words! Grin).
Me: Any advice or insight for other new picture book writers?
Jamie: The most basic advice is READ, READ, READ – but don’t just read the book – read it ALOUD. Feel the words on your tongue, feel the page turns and how they interact with the text. Think about how that story starts (what are the specific words on the first page? The last page? What makes you want to read it again?).
After you read it a few times – go ahead and type the text out. Get a tangible idea of what that book you love looks like in manuscript form. Sometimes, seeing how books look in manuscript form teaches a writer about how to format, where page breaks work, and the overall length. Once a writer knows the types of books that speak to her – she can start to find her own voice and style and place on the shelf.
My other advice is try (really try) to not take reactions/revision/rejections personally. In the end, it’s a business and although it FEELS like the writer/artist is putting their heart out into the world for judgement, in the end – it’s the text, illustration, and whether they work and connect with the reader. And that, in my opinion – takes a bit of magic along with everything else. So, I TRY to not get overly attached to my work. Easier said then done!
Me: Since your book “We Want Snow: a Wintry Chant” is about the fun of winter, what is your favorite season? Why?
Jamie: As I mentioned, I am a fickle season lover – I usually love the season we’re in, but I’m always dreaming about the fun we’re about to have in the NEXT season. I love winter for all the reasons in WE WANT SNOW, but I also wrote a book called FALL BALL FOR ALL that is sort of my celebration of autumn. My WOOF & QUACK books take place in summer and winter – and I guess my book BOOM BOOM BOOM! takes place in spring (thunderstorms are often a spring thing in WI).
I’m guessing my love for every season likely comes from growing up in the Midwest where we have such distinct seasons – each with pros and cons! With the fun of winter comes the bitter cold – with the sun of summer comes the MOSQUITO! I think I’ve learned to appreciate the now (but it doesn’t stop me from dreaming about tomorrow too!).
Thank you so much for asking me questions today! I hope you enjoy WE WANT SNOW: A WINTRY CHANT and have fun with it. 😊
Thank you for stopping by my blog Jamie! But wait, dear readers! There’s more.
Emilie Boon is the illustrator or author-illustrator of more than twenty books for children, including “ELLA & MONKEY AT SEA, published by Candlewick Press and inspired by her own experience sailing to America when she was young. Born in the Netherlands, Emilie spent her childhood daydreaming in California and Mexico. She draws her inspiration from the many places she has lived. She vividly remembers New York City transformed by snow into a magical place, which inspired her illustrations for WE WANT SNOW written by Jaime A. Swenson. Emilie now lives in the Boston area. You can learn more about Emilie at her website or follow her on Facebook and on Instagram.
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start creating artwork?
Emilie: When I was young, my family moved a lot. I moved to different continents, different countries, and often, different schools. I had to learn to speak new languages, understand new cultures and make new friends, despite being shy. But luckily, I liked to use my imagination and had a rich inner life. From an early age, crayons and books were my friends and constant companions. I loved to draw and found inspiration all around me, especially in Mexico, which has a very colorful and had a bold visual history.
My family was originally from the Netherlands, and after high school I attended the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, where I studied graphic design. The program was very broad, so besides design and typography courses, we also took photography, printing, painting and my favorite… illustration.
Me: You have had several books published as either an illustrator of others’ work or an author illustrator now. How did you get into the work of illustrating picture books? Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to illustrating this book?
Emilie: Soon after graduating from the art academy in the Netherlands, I found myself living in London. That’s where I met with a children’s book editor, who after showing her my portfolio, encouraged me not only to illustrate, but also to write my first two picture books. Since then, as you mentioned, I’ve illustrated quite a few books for other authors, as well as my own stories. I was delighted to be asked by Sleeping Bear Press to illustrate Jamie’s book WE WANT SNOW. The first discussions were just as the pandemic started. I had no idea what was coming, but the text is so energetic and cheerful, that I knew it would be fun to work on even during difficult times.
Me: What does your illustration process look like? HOW did you create such amazing textures in each page of this story? (I especially love the scenes with the polar bear.). Is it a blend of traditional media and digital?
Emilie: Thank you! I’m delighted to hear that you like the textures! My illustration process for this book was traditional, using a variety of mixed media with watercolor. Some of these textures were created with color pencil, while others were created by sprinkling salt on wet paint or using the crayon resist technique with watercolors. There was also some splattering, which is a bit nerve wracking to do as the last step over the finished artwork! Although I had considered adding textures digitally, in the end it was satisfying to be able to create them traditionally.
Me: I loved the variety of characters you put in this book. As far as I can tell they weren’t described in the text. Were there art notes? What inspired them?
Emilie: There were no art notes. One of the roles of the illustrator is to create an interesting visual narrative to complement the text. Pictures can tell little stories within the story or even create a parallel story with images that are not in the text. Initially I had envisioned the book with animal characters and started working with them, but then decided it would all work better if I portrayed a small group of children. But I couldn’t quite let go of using some animal characters, so I ended up with both! I thought that adding in arctic animals would be a nice way to accentuate the contrast between the children’s real city world and their imaginary winter world where they traveled further north. Finally, at the height of their imaginary journey, they arrive above the tree line, close to the North Pole, and encounter the polar bear. I was inspired by children’s capacity for creating imaginary worlds and was intrigued to see what would happen if I let the character’s imaginations run truly wild!
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in illustrating this story?
Emilie: What surprised me was that, because the text is a chant and not an actual story, there were so many options to create the setting and visual narrative (as I described above). It was a reminder that in the process of illustrating a book there are so many ways to go about interpreting one story or text, so many different paths one can take. Narrowing down the choices and finding your own vision, while staying true to the text, is an important balancing act.
Me: Any advice for other new picture book illustrators?
Emilie: I don’t always follow my own advice… but one thing I never regret is doodling in my sketchbook or having fun with watercolors and paints. Leaving time for creative play, experimentation and curiosity, while not taking oneself too seriously, allows for magical things to happen on blank paper. That magic and sense of wonder are in turn inspiring and it’s delightful to see characters and their worlds appear. So I highly recommend keeping a sketchbook as well as experimenting with materials and new techniques, but without too many expectations––keep it joyful!
Me: I love that advice! Is winter your favorite season, or is another season your favorite? Why?
Emilie: Because I grew up in California and Mexico, both warm sunny places, I rarely encountered snow when I was young. But it was all the more special when I did. WE WANT SNOW was inspired by a big snowstorm in New York City, years later when my kids were little. The snow truly transformed the city into a quiet magical place. We frolicked in the middle of the avenues that shortly before bustled with traffic––it was a whole other world! Since then, I moved to the Boston area where we have had many snowy winters. Sadly, after all the snow shoveling, winter has lost some of its magic. Living in New England I’d say fall is the most spectacular and my favorite season!
I can relate to that! Thank you for stopping by my blog Emilie. Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to track down this book, I highly recommend it. Winter is coming and what better way to celebrate than with hot chocolate and a good book to read. This book will do quite nicely for that!