Simply 7 with Andrea Denish and BlueBean: THE WAY WE SAY HELLO

Today I’m interviewing both an author and an illustrator about their upcoming book.

Andrea Denish Profile PicAndrea Denish works in the children’s department of her local library, where she jumps at the opportunity to lead story times and recommend books to young readers. She is also the author of EVERYONE LOVES A PARADE! (Astra Books, 2020). Andrea resides with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of pets in Elkins Park, PA.  You can learn more about her at her website.

The Way We Say Hello - CoverTHE WAY WE SAY HELLO is an exploration in language, as well as customs.  It explores many different ways humans say hello (and one pair of cats) all under the framework of greeting a new sibling.  And in case you wanted to learn more, there’s back matter about each of the salutations included in the book.  It’s a very sweet take on greeting a new baby.

Welcome Andrea!

Me: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey as a writer?  What made you want to write picture books? What brought you to this book? 

Andrea: I always enjoyed creating with words. When I was applying to college, I considered a major in advertising with a future career writing clever product slogans. That shifted when I took a class in genetics that opened my mind to science. I ended up becoming a certified teacher of  high school biology for several years. Down the line after I had my own children I revisited my interest in writing. I like to write in rhyme, so picture books are a good structure with their shorter texts and illustrations.

The idea for The Way We Say Hello developed during the Covid-19 lockdown phase. News reporters warned that we should no longer shake hands and instead turn to more distant greetings like elbow bumps or bows. The whole subject of how we greet each other really captured my interest. I did lots of research about greeting practices around the world. I initially considered writing a guidebook about greetings for children, but that morphed into a story about searching for a way to greet a new sibling.

Me: Your book both teaches about the way we say hello in many different languages and cultures, as well as welcomes a new baby into the family.  Where did you get the idea to combine those two things?

Andrea: I think greeting someone you will know for the rest of your life, particularly a new sibling,  is a “high stakes greeting.” The moment you meet a new brother or sister is a memory that stays with you or is retold to you by your family. I thought this book would help prepare big brothers and sisters while also educating readers about greeting customs. Readers of The Way We Say Hello learn languages, greeting gestures and origin stories about how we say hello to one another.

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Me: There are so many different ways to say hello around the world.  How did you narrow down your selection and choose which countries or cultures to highlight?  Did some get cut out during the revision process?

Andrea: There really are so many different ways to say hello! The Way We Say Hello is just a dip into the pond of world language greetings and gestures. Because the text was written in rhyme, there was a structure that dictated the kinds of words that fit.  Some languages also have phrases that are situational in how they are used  – for example there are formal greetings or time of day greetings. As this is a book for young children, we could not include everything, but I hope readers who are interested in this topic will continue exploring additional greeting customs in their favorite places.

Me: I love your back matter.  How much research did you have to do to fill all that in?  Was that something you wanted to include or your editor?

Andrea: Yes, I read as much as I could about greetings and I listened to native speakers pronounce the words so I could properly include them in the text. I wrote the backmatter for the initial submission and revised as needed when the book was in the editing process. I’m proud of the way the backmatter turned out – I think it adds an extra layer for older readers to learn and enjoy. 

Me:  The illustrations by BlueBean are absolutely adorable.  What were your favorite illustrations?

Andrea: I completely agree. BlueBean did a fantastic job with the illustrations. I have many favorites, but I’ll mention a spread that shows the greetings of Aloha and Namaste. The illustrations are sweet and friendly. They capture the feeling I wanted for this book.

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Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?

Andrea: That’s easy – how much I didn’t know. I learned a tremendous amount about cultural traditions. In many countries, greetings are an expression of respect. The type of greeting you choose, who greets first, how deeply you bow, who offers a handshake first, how men and women greet one another, etc… Americans are very casual about greeting rituals, but in many places greetings set the tone for the relationship. People who travel to other countries should be mindful of appropriate greeting customs.

Me: Any advice for new picture book writers and/or illustrators?

Andrea: For those who are new to the craft of picture book writing/illustrating, I’ll share a big hello and a hug. In my experience, the kidlit community has been very warm and welcoming. Join SCBWI and check out online social media groups. There you will find great resources available to begin your journey. Read lots of picture books to get a feel for the structure, language, topics, and tone. I always encourage writers to read their work aloud or have it read to them. Reading it silently on the page is different from feeling how the words leave your lips or hearing how the words enter your ears. Picture books are read aloud experiences. Create them with that in mind.

Thank you for stopping by Andrea.

BlueBean Work SpaceBut wait, dear readers, there’s more!  I also interviewed the illustrator of this book.

BlueBean (蓝豆, Angela Wong) worked as a concept designer before becoming an illustrator. She is influenced by nature and her surroundings. She lives in Sarawak, Malaysia. You can learn more about her at her website.

Welcome BlueBean!

Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing or painting? How did that bring you to where you are now?

Bluebean: I started illustrating books in 2020, but I started drawing at a young age. I guess I’ve always had a strong feeling that I was born to draw and I wanted to create something worthwhile, especially happy subjects. I also want to do a lot of things, including writing, baking, traveling, and owning my own orchard.

Girl and Mail

Me: You have had quite a career illustrating books, animation, music videos and advertisements. 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?

Bluebean: Yes, I worked as a concept artist at an animation studio before becoming a full-time illustrator. I spent many years exploring different paths, including teaching, working in the wild, picking fruit, and growing avocados. These are the things that inspire me to keep creating.

After my last job at the capsicum greenhouse, I started drawing again, and a few months later, I got the chance to draw my first picture book! Children’s picture books have always been one of my favorite books to collect. Illustrating a book myself is something I never dreamed of! 

Sketch 10-11

Me: What does your illustration process look like? Is it a blend of traditional media and digital?

Bluebean: THE WAY WE SAY HELLO is one of the most exciting picture books I have drawn. As you say, the illustrations are a blend; they are created in gouache and digital. I first painted each spread with gouache, then digitally touched up the painting to finish it.

Me: I love the variety of characters you create with touches from each culture. Did you have to do a lot of illustration research to make sure your depictions were accurate? How did you choose what each character would look like?

Bluebean: I appreciate your warm words! Yes, research is important to me before I start working. But I am very happy that the book team always gives me a lot of suggestions to improve my characters. Sometimes, I may also start an idea by sketching out roughy what comes to mind, then I’ll only do more research and refine the cultural details of it.

Interior - The Way We Say Hello - 7.13.22-5

Me: What is one thing that surprised you in illustrating this book?

Bluebean: The outcome of course. It means a lot to me to finish the whole thing! It’s also the first book I have drawn in a traditional media. That was the hard part. It took a lot of courage for me to take the first step. I also read this story to my cat, Yibby who I brought home for New Year’s and it was a great welcome gift for her.

Me: Aww!  I love that. What is one of your favorite illustrations from the book?

Bluebean: The parade scene is the first big scene I started to paint for this title. It was challenging, yet I appreciated having the creative freedom given by the Starry Forest team to make the best work I could.

Interior - The Way We Say Hello - 7.13.22-3

Me: Any advice for other new picture book illustrators?

Bluebean: “Love what you do! Do what you love!” These are the words that popped into my head. I know that sometimes we are asked to choose between two options. But I hope that in the adult world, we wouldn’t have to select a single answer to a multiple-choice question: we can always do our best to balance many aspects at the same time.

That is great advice.  Thank you for stopping by my blog BlueBean.

Dear readers, this book releases into the world on February 7th.  Make sure you get a chance to give it a hello of your own.

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