I have a student this year who cannot speak lower than a level 5 (though his favorite volume is 11). Today’s picture book not only made me laugh, but it made me think of him.
Jenna Beatrice began her legal career as a lawyer for children before becoming a litigator and a trustee of a children’s advocacy center. As a children’s author, Jenna now has the honor of sharing the joy of reading with young students. A graduate of Barnard College and Fordham University School of Law, Jenna lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and their young son. You can learn more about Jenna at her website or follow her on Twitter or on Instagram.
THE LOUD LIBRARIAN is Jenna’s picture book author debut. It’s a funny story of a girl who becomes the class librarian and is too loud to do a good job. How loud is she? She’s so loud that they can hear her in outer space. In fact, she’s so loud that the story takes a disastrous (and hilarious) turn. Trust me, if you like a good funny picture book, you will NOT want to miss this one.
Me: Can you talk a little bit about yourself and about your writing journey up to this point? What brought you to this book?
Jenna: I always dreamed of being a children’s author but of course life takes over and it’s not always a straight line! But a few years ago, I decided it was time to see if I could make this dream a reality. I took classes and joined writing communities and found critique partners. I wrote the first draft of The Loud Librarian in April 2019 so it’s very special that the book is now being published exactly four years later to the month. The writing journey can take a long time but I’m grateful for every part of the journey.
Me: Your story of a young girl who wants to be student librarian but struggles to be quiet is both funny and touching. What inspired this story?
Jenna: I was brainstorming ideas one day and the thought occurred to me that it could be funny if a very loud student (so loud she could be heard in space!) was picked to be the student-librarian. I quickly jotted down a first draft and captured Penelope’s voice and energy right away, but I needed to sit with the character to see where she (and the story) would take me. This was done through many, many rounds of revisions! Astronauts also make an appearance in the book, which was inspired by my time as a summer space camp counselor. It’s fun to incorporate different parts of yourself into a story as you write!
Me: Can you talk about the marketing of your book a little bit? How did your debut picture book come to be pitched to Simon and Schuster?
Jenna: This story has a lovely publication story! I submitted an application to the #PBChat Mentorship Program, founded by Justin Colón, and was incredibly lucky to be picked by the wonderful Lindsay Leslie. Lindsay donated her time and talent to mentor me and to help make this and other stories submission ready. Lindsay taught me so much about storytelling and I am so grateful to her for believing in this story. At the mentorship showcase, The Loud Librarian was requested by several editors and an offer was made by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. It was an absolute dream come true!
Me: Wow! Congratulations! What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Jenna: This is my debut, so I learned a lot throughout this journey. But one of the biggest surprises was trusting myself in the revision/editing process. I cut a few lines that I thought were important but after sitting with the revisions for a while, I realized the story really didn’t need them, after all. Sometimes when you’re in the moment, it’s hard to know if you’re making the right editorial choice. That’s why I try to give myself some space between drafts to help see the story as clearly as possible.
Me: That’s SO true! What does your writing process look like?
Jenna: Once I have an idea, I write a quick draft to get the outline of the story on paper. But it takes a lot of revision to expand on the story and to add layers (especially the emotional layers). Once I feel confident that I have a workable story, I share it with critique partners. After I get their feedback, I go back and revise (and revise) until I feel confident that the story is as strong as I can make it. Only then do I show it to my agent. But throughout this process, I often let the story “sit” for weeks or months at a time so I can have “fresh eyes” when I return to the story for edits.
Me: The illustrations by Erika Lynne Jones are wonderful. I loved the textures of the collage elements and colors she chose! Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Jenna: Everything felt like the best kind of surprise! This story took two years to write and revise (and put out into the world) so having lived with it in my imagination for so long, I was eager and excited to see Erika bring this story to life! It felt like my birthday when I first opened the email with the sketches. The illustrations are so joyful and charming, it was an absolute DREAM to see it all come together.
Me: Any advice for other new picture book writers?
Jenna: Read! I think reading as much as you can and analyzing the stories as you read can be tremendously helpful. Ask yourself: why do you like this book? What’s my favorite scene of the story (and why)? And the most important question: how does this story make me FEEL? I think learning to analyze the emotional parts of a story especially can help incorporate “heart” into your storytelling.
That is great advice Jenna. Thank you for stopping by my blog today.
But wait, Dear Readers! There’s more! I also interviewed the illustrator who is also making her picture book debut.
Erika Lynne Jones LOVED the opportunity to hold new books when she was growing up. She relished the time spent reading in libraries, book mobiles and bookstores. In fact you can still find her hanging out in libraries and stores QUIETLY gathering inspiration for the books she is writing and/or illustrating. Erika lives in the Dallas,Texas area. You can find out more about her at her website or follow her on Twitter or on Instagram.
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start creating art? How did that bring you to where you are now?
Erika: I did not grow up feeling like I made exceptional art or like I could have a career in it. I really became passionate about learning to make art after my mother passed 9 years ago. I wanted to take classes to learn to make pretty things, the kinds of things I thought my mother would have liked and appreciated. While at first it was a kind of art therapy to help me process my grief, my desire to make art never ceased. I just kept taking classes and came across many that helped me see that illustration could actually be a career.
Me: This is your publishing debut as a picture book illustrator, correct? 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?
Erika: In 2020 a lot of things shifted for me that helped me see it was time to take the plunge and seek out an agent to make my dream of illustrating children’s books come true. Up until then I had just been taking class after class to build the “perfect” portfolio. So I wrote the first draft of what will be my first picture book story, polished my portfolio and began doing critiques with professional illustrators and editors that could help me make this happen. I did take a few more classes and did a mentorship program with Vanessa Brantley Newton at Storyteller’s Academy to help me refine my story and my art style. I pitched a few agents virtually (because everything was virtual that year) and got offers from everyone. I was able to go with my first choice, Painted Words. I began getting assignments pretty quickly. I believe this is how Kristie Choi, the editor of The Loud Librarian found my portfolio (which included a library scene with animal characters) and offered me the opportunity to be a part of the story.
Me: What does your illustration process look like? Is it traditional, digital, or a blend of both? Why do you gravitate towards that medium?
Erika: It is a blend of both. I will initially put ideas on sticky notes and kind of make a book dummy. Then I will sketch and refine them on my ipad. When those sketches are approved I get out my mixed media supplies and paint papers and characters. I cut most elements out and glue them down. I’m really thoughtful about what types of things I might be asked to change at some point during the editing process, so I might keep those elements separate so I can have the liberty to change them without starting everything over. I then bring all of that handcrafted goodness into PhotoShop to layer and add finishing details.
I used to work entirely digitally, but I wanted to work with my hands and spend less time in front of the screens. I wanted more texture, but I struggled to achieve that with the brushes. Yet I loved the ability to change things such as color and placement during the process. So I work in a way that gives me what I love about both.
Me: I love that! I love the variety of colors you used in this story, including the skirt Penelope wears. And the library posters you put in the backgrounds are hilarious! Why did you make some of the decisions you did as you were illustrating those? What made you want to show your sense of humor and flair for fashion?
Erika: Thank you, I’m so flattered by this question. 🙂 The colors were actually a journey and so was Penelope’s outfit. I initially wanted to do the environment and the other characters in really muted colors and have Penelope be the only bright thing on the page. But it wasn’t working as well in execution as it was in my head. So with the art direction of Karyn Lee, I turned to brighter, more saturated colors and I truly think it’s a more fun and appealing book because of it.
Penelope’s outfit came about after the editors asked me if I could make her appear louder. I didn’t really know how I was going to do that until my daughter came out of her room in her park day outfit dressed in a rainbow jumper with striped tights. I was hesitant to go along with the chosen outfit, but then it hit me that she was dressing loudly – because it fit her personality, but also she was demonstrating the loudness I was looking for. It was perfect.
The library posters, well they just made me laugh. I’m always looking for a place to infuse a little extra humor. My editors and art directors make sure I don’t go overboard. I figure the children will read them and see something different each time they read or as they get a little older and be delighted. And I figure the adults reading along need some chuckles too. We all need more love and more laughter.
Me: I hear that! What is one thing that surprised you in illustrating this book?
Erika: Well the book calls for quite a bit of chaos. That surprised me. And giving myself permission to draw that chaos was work. I guess somewhere along the way, I got the idea that everything in a picture book should be neat and in perfect order. Realizing I believed that surprised me because real life living with children can involve quite a bit of chaos.
Me: LOL! That’s so true. I can see myself struggling with that as well. What is one of your favorite illustrations from the book?
Erika: I actually love the spread where Penelope is at home practicing library things with her family. It was fun imagining how she could take “ordinary” tasks and turn them into librarian training. I wasn’t asked to do that, I just thought it would be fun and it was.
Me: Any advice for other new picture book illustrators?
Erika: Have an abundance mindset. There are lots of opportunities to make the world a brighter place with your art. Choose the projects that really light you up!
I love this advice. Thank you for stopping by my blog today Erika.
Dear readers, this book was released into the world April 11th. If you haven’t had a chance yet to read it, I highly recommend tracking it down. There are so many bits of wonderful humor included and this is truly a character you won’t forget. Don’t miss it!