In today’s Picture the Books Two Debut interview, debut author Hannah Barnaby interviews debut author Ariel Bernstein about I HAVE A BALLOON, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2017)!
Hannah Barnaby: Congratulations on your debut, Ariel! What was the initial inspiration for I HAVE A BALLOON and the characters of Monkey and Owl?
Ariel Bernstein: I was at my first SCBWI conference, listening to Laura Vaccaro Seeger talk about her book, GREEN. I started to think of colors and the image of a red balloon popped into my head with the idea of two characters who both wanted it, which was based on a lot of interactions my kids have had when one has a tempting object! When I got home, I went into their rooms and found stuffed animals of an owl and a Curious George doll. I figured an owl and monkey would go together pretty well.
HB: They certainly do! And I think most kids (and parents!) can relate to that sudden burning desire for something you never knew you wanted. As Monkey says, “The only thing I’ve ever wanted, since right now, is a shiny big red balloon!” Was there something you desperately wanted as a child? (And did you get it?)
AB: For a long time, we didn’t have a television in my house. Luckily my best friend lived across the street and not only did she have a television, but she also had cable. So I was at her house quite a lot! My parents eventually got a television when they realized the value of renting movies.
HB: I bet a lot of kids will be shocked to hear that you survived life in a household with no TV! Now, let’s talk about collaboration. When I talk to people about writing picture books, they’re often surprised to hear that I had very little direct interaction with the illustrators before the book was published. Was that your experience, too? What about afterwards?
AB: I have the good fortune of being paired with Scott Magoon on this book. He’s had an incredible career so far as both an author and illustrator, and I never imagined talking to him about the illustrations while he was working on them because it’s completely in his hands and the editor’s. I’ve gotten to know Scott a bit from touching base during publication and he’s as nice as you’d expect! And it’s been fun to tag each other in our promotion of the book on social media as the pub date gets closer J
My experience with Mike Malbrough, the illustrator for our chapter books, WARREN & DRAGON, has been a little different. I know Mike personally from a local writers group that we’re in, as well as Picture The Books. Because we meet up in person, sometimes I’ve gotten to see some sneak peeks of sketches which is very cool! And I get to hear about the behind the scenes work of what he does. As an author-only it’s really interesting because usually it’s such a mystery.
HB: So you’ve experienced varying degrees of collaboration between your first two books. Writing picture book texts when you aren’t the illustrator comes with some challenges, but it also comes with a lot of fun surprises. When you saw Scott Magoon’s illustrations for BALLOON, were there things you didn’t expect? Was it difficult at all to shift from your vision of the story to his?
AB: The biggest surprise was the lemur character at the very end! It’s such a perfect way to end the story, as it leaves the reader guessing what could happen next. I love all the details that Scott brought to the story from his imagination and how he interpreted the text.
The only adjustment I made was that I imagined reading the story a certain way based on how page turns might go. The layout of the book ended up being a bit different, so the beats in how I read the text out loud has changed. But I get a great reaction from kids so I’m very happy with it!
HB: I know there’s another Owl and Monkey adventure coming our way (yay!). Can you give us any inside scoop about WHERE IS MY BALLOON?
AB: WHERE IS MY BALLOON? is about what happens when Monkey loses Owl’s balloon, and is desperate to act as though everything is fine. It’s scheduled for September 2018 and I’m hoping it will elicit many giggles from readers!
HB: Your first chapter book is coming out next year: WARREN & DRAGON’S 100 FRIENDS. Congratulations! How is your writing process different for picture books and longer stories? Is one easier for you than the other?
AB: Thank you! Writing the first draft of picture books is much easier than writing the first draft of a chapter book, no doubt because it’s so much shorter. But when revising it’s the opposite. I could write thirty or more versions of a picture book before I’m happy with it, but only need to revise a few times for a chapter book. I think the revising is harder with a picture book because every word has to be perfect. There’s a bit more leeway in chapter books in getting from the beginning to the end.
HB: Well, here’s hoping we get LOTS more books of all kinds from you, Ariel!
Ariel Bernstein is a picture book, chapter book, and short story writer. Her debut picture book is I Have a Balloon, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, Fall 2017.) Monkey desperately wants Owl’s balloon and tries everything to get what he wants—this is not a book about sharing. Ariel’s debut chapter book, Warren & Dragon’s 100 Friends (Viking Children’s, Spring 2018) is a modern-day CALVIN AND HOBBES-esque tale involving a dreamy boy, his smarty-pants twin sister, and his vain dragon companion. You can find Ariel online, or on Twitter @ArielBBooks.
Hannah Barnaby is a former children’s book editor and independent bookseller, and served as the first Children’s Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library. The author of two acclaimed young adult novels, Hannah makes her picture book debut with Bad Guy, illustrated by Mike Yamada (Simon & Schuster, May 2017), the story of a little boy who learns that being a bad guy is awesome…but it can come with consequences. In June 2017 comes Garcia & Colette Go Exploring, illustrated by Andrew Joyner (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), in which two friends journey to outer space and the deep sea and find that the best place of all is somewhere in between. Hannah lives with her family in Charlottesville, VA, where she teaches creative writing to students of all ages. You can find her online at http://www.hannahbarnaby.com, or on Twitter@hannahrbarnaby.