Simply 7 with Breanna Carzoo: GREENLIGHT

It’s a return visit today from author-illustrator Breanna Carzoo about her latest picture book!

CARZOO_JR_HeadshotBreanna Carzoo first visited my blog last year about her debut picture book LOU.  This time she is back to discuss her follow up picture book GREENLIGHT. She is an author-illustrator based Austin, TX who loves crafting stories that are humorous and full of raw and messy human emotions. She creates illustrations with cut paper collage and mixed media. You can learn more about her at her website.

GREENLIGHT_Carzoo_CoverGREENLIGHT is another wonderful picture book about an inanimate object: a stop light!  Or rather the Green light that says go.  Poor little green light is depressed.  Every time she tries to let her little light shine, everyone runs away.  You can imagine the damage this is doing to her self-esteem and perhaps even the story arc that comes from that.  I don’t want to spoil too much by discussing ALL the details, but suffice it to say I was surprised and delighted with this book.  I never thought to tell a story from a fire hydrant’s point of view, let alone a traffic light!  And the SEL arc that’s in this story is beautiful.  I need to get copies of both of these for my classroom!

Welcome back Breanna!

Me: Oh my gosh!  You’ve done it again.  You created such an incredible character with a point of view I never considered before.  What gave you the idea to bring Greenlight to life?

Breanna: Thank you so much for the kind words about GREENLIGHT! I was in the middle of the contracts process for LOU, took a morning walk and saw a giant line of cars waiting for a green light, and as soon as GREENLIGHT shined, all the cars drove away and thought to myself- well that’s heartbreaking! I knew I had to tell her story!

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Me: I love how Greenlight has all these insecurities but ultimately just looks within herself to find peace.  It’s a message similar to LOU and yet completely different.  It’s so wonderfully written in an un-preachy way.  Is it important to you to create stories that will affirm young readers and build them up?

Breanna: 100%! Life is inherently full of both joys and difficulties and we all have to figure out how to navigate the tough stuff in life. Perceived rejection (in GREENLIGHT’s case) and being treated unkindly (in LOU’s case) are two of those really tough things that happen to us in life that can be the seeds of insecurity and self doubt. We all have insecurities and self doubt, feelings we have to learn to accept, live with, and move through so that we do not allow them to hold us back from the experiences we want to have in life. GREENLIGHT has to find her own permission, or greenlight, to shine again, and I know as a young reader I needed these books, and while creating this book, I trusted that young readers today do too.

Me: Can you talk a little bit about your creation process?  What comes first for you: the writing, or the illustrating? 

Breanna: I see illustration as writing too, just through pictures! So it’s hard to say, it’s always both for me! It’s like a back and forth dance, there’s a separate more nuanced story to tell when what’s said in the words or pictures either contradicts, deepens, or responds to the other. A bigger part of my process – beyond the writing or illustration work, is moving through insecurity and self doubt, just like GREENLIGHT, and reconnecting to why I’m working to tell a story – and taking that time to listen within, which is probably the most important part of the process for me.

Me: You mentioned having a hard time with LOU because it was a stationary character who never moved.  Greenlight has the same issue, yet even more challenging as there’s a lot of sky surrounding her.  Did it make it difficult for you to illustrate this book as well?  How did you get around that?

BCarzoo_MakingGreenlight_ProcessBreanna: YES, it was still a challenge designing an environment and figuring out how to vary the story and angles on a character who doesn’t have the agency to move about the world themselves! I made 3D traffic lights and cars out of cereal boxes and scrap paper to get a sense of the world, and took pictures of it so I could figure out how to tell the story, and how the way we viewed GREENLIGHT would move or reveal the world around her! It was still a challenge with this book, but I definitely learned that playing with the world in a physical space helped me to illustrate it in a 2d book format! The bigger illustration challenge for me with this book was figuring out how to make glowing lights in cut paper!

Me: And I think you did a fantastic job with that!  I love the inside joke about Lou that was included in the illustrations.  Was that your idea?  Or a critique partner or editor?  Did you get any pushback on including that?

Breanna: Haha definitely mine, I always knew I wanted to do it and felt that GREENLIGHT’s perspective on Lou is also true to what we do as humans. Sometimes we use our perspective on other people’s lives to try to make us feel better about ourselves, or minimize our feelings, neither of which are particularly helpful. There was a bit of concern from editorial about including Lou in the book at first and whether it should be a different fire hydrant design since that’s not where THE Lou lives, but we chose the joy of discovering Lou in the book over the practicalities of it, which I’m thrilled about.

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

Breanna: I’m ALWAYS surprised about how emotionally hard and personal it is creating a book.  This one made me want to give up MANY times. I emailed my editor at one point and said something about how I didn’t feel the book was feeling ‘right’ and I needed a deadline-less break. Temporarily releasing the pressure on it and ‘giving up’ for a bit actually is what unlocked GREENLIGHT’s story and inspired a breakthrough for her, and for me.

Me: Wow!  I love that.  Up until now, you’ve been telling stories of inanimate objects.  Yet I’ve seen a lot of work on your social media with adorable little crabs.  Is there a story in the works with a crab main character we might look forward to seeing from you in the future?  Or at least a story that includes those crabs?

Carzoo_TheSquishReleasedateBreanna: YUP! Another inanimate object book, called THE SQUISH, comes out next year on May 21, 2024! THE SQUISH is about a little sandcastle, who after their very first squish, tries to build up bigger and taller and stronger so they’ll never get squished again! But you’ll have to read it to see if that works for them, and find out how the little crabs fit into that!

Oh my gosh!  A beach story?!  I love it!  I’m SO excited to read it.  Thank you so much for stopping by my blog again today Breanna.

Dear readers, GREENLIGHT is released into the world next week.  You’ll want to keep an eye out for it.  Writers have heard repeatedly over the last few years that inanimate object stories don’t sell, yet I continually see stories like these gems that defy the odds.  The illustrations in cut paper are amazing and the stories are heart-warming.  Trust me when I say that this is a book you won’t want to miss!

4 thoughts on “Simply 7 with Breanna Carzoo: GREENLIGHT

  1. Wow! I would never had thought about a story featuring a stop light, but this sounds like it works great! Congratulations, Breanna!

  2. So interesting to see how building a 3D model helps you create the story. I love the voice of Greenlight. Congrats!!

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