Congrats on your debut as an author/illustrator, Gina! How was this process different from your first illustrated book, IT’S GREAT BEING A DAD, written by Dan Bar-el?
Thank you, Chana. The books are completely different stories and settings. While DAD allowed me to use my imagination, SMALL forced me to work within a somewhat realistic framework. SMALL also focused on one main character’s journey compared to the adventure of DAD’s multi-character cast. SMALL is also a very personal story and while I’ve worked on it for a long time, creating the final art felt new and exciting. I illustrated both books digitally on a Wacom Cintiq with a layer of gouache for added texture.
What were your favorite picture books growing up?
I know this sounds a bit strange but I truly don’t remember reading many picture books as a kid. I was an early reader so I moved on to chapter books very quickly. I cherish my copy of Gyo Fujikawa’s picture book JENNY AND JUPIE. For illustrated books I loved Anne Rockwell’s THE GIRL WITH A DONKEY TAIL, Patricia Coombs’ DORRIE THE WITCH series, and everything AMELIA BEDELIA.
How did you come up with the story for SMALL?
I was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room and just started writing what made me as an adult feel small and big. It was very simple, but I felt the spark of a good idea and reworked it from a child’s perspective. I have only recently pinpointed exactly what SMALL is to me. It is my love letter to all the small kids and to finding what our big is in this world.
Do you have formal art training? How about writing?
I have a BFA from Syracuse University. I studied computer graphics and initially worked in the animation field. While a lot of my peers focused on new media electives, I always chose drawing, painting, or printmaking. A few years after graduation I took a children’s book illustration class and knew I had found my direction (and a fine group of friends and critique partners!) I took a wonderful writing class from children’s book author Mark Karlins several years ago. Participating in 12×12 and Storystorm were also immensely helpful.
In SMALL, I especially love the hot dog scenes and the little girl singing at the fountain. What’s your favorite spread?
Oh, those are two of my favorites as well. The singing spread might be my favorite. I love all her big scenes but it warms my heart that she is spreading her joy, through music, to the city. I am also really happy with the spread where she crosses the street and is framed by the window of the waiting car.
Are you agented? If so, how did you find your agent?
My agent is Teresa Kietlinski, founder of Bookmark Literary. I feel incredibly blessed to have Teresa as a partner, advocate, and friend. Four years ago I was floundering a bit trying to find the right literary agent. I may have vented publicly about it (in a humorous way!) and a friend and fellow client mentioned me to Teresa. She remembered me from many years ago when she was an art director and received my postcards. She has an amazing memory. Teresa reached out and the rest is history.
What’s your best advice for budding author/illustrators?
If I’m forced to say just one thing, it would be to keep pushing your work. When you get criticism or revisions, take some time to process your emotional response and really think “Will this make my story better?” It may take longer and far more iterations than you anticipated but it is worth it when you finally hold your book baby! I think the hallmark of a professional is whether or not they can put the project ahead of their ego.
Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 20 nonfiction books for kids about stinky castles, exploding volcanoes, and other wild stuff. Her first picture book, DADDY DEPOT (illustrated by Andy Snair, Feiwel & Friends), debuted in May 2017. ANIMAL ZOMBIES & OTHER MONSTERS IN NATURE will be coming out from National Geographic Kids in 2018. WAKAWAKALOCH, Chana’s semi-autobiographical picture book about a cave girl who wants to change her unpronounceable name, will be coming out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019. Chana is repped by agent John Cusick at Folio Literary. Visit her at www.chanastiefel.com and her blog for authors, www.kidlittakeaways.com, which she writes with her critique partner, Donna Cangelosi. Follow Chana Stiefel on Facebook and Twitter @chanastiefel.
Gina Perry is an author and illustrator working under the tall pines in New Hampshire. She grew up in Massachusetts, drawing, playing with yarn, and burning through all the books in the library. Gina went to Syracuse University and worked in animation and as an art director before realizing that children’s books were her true calling. Her debut picture book, IT’S GREAT BEING A DAD (Tundra), written by Dan Bar-el, is a hilarious story about imagination, play, and the best parts about being a dad. Her picture book debut as author/illustrator, SMALL (little bee books), is an empowering story about a small girl in the city, who shows us what happens if you take one big and brave step. Future books include TOO MUCH NOT ENOUGH (Tundra, Summer 2018) and a yet untitled picture book (Tundra, Summer 2019). Visit her at ginaperry.com or on twitter @ginamarieperry or instagram @ginapineapple