Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Jo Ellen Bogart and Gillian Newland

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Ten Questions with Jo Ellen Bogart and Gillian Newland

Award-winning author Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrator Gillian Newland’s wonderful new book Big and Small, Room for All provides a captivating look at how a child, fits into the great, big universe around us.

OBT:

Tell us about your book, Big and Small, Room for All.

JEB and GN:

JEB: This book grew out of chemistry more than out of astronomy. When I studied chemistry, a long time ago, I was struck by the relatively huge distances between the parts of the atom, by the nonsolid-ness of apparently solid objects. I was also fascinated by the tiny creatures in a drop of pond water and looked at them through my little microscope. The space in which we humans live seems to be in a middle range between the extremely enormous and the extremely minute. I wanted to help young readers to think about this idea. There is so much more than what we see.
GN: It's a book about one's place in the universe. Jo Ellen wrote these simple yet charming rhymes that explain that idea by comparing the size of one thing related to the size of another, from the very, very big to the very, very small. I tried to reflect that universe visually.

OBT:

Which books made a great impression on you when you were a child?

JEB and GN:

JEB: I liked books about distant worlds depicted in science fiction and also stories about animals and people’s experiences with them. I read a lot of Robert Heinlein and particularly loved Star Beast. As a very young child, I had my favourite little Golden Books and the illustrations resonate with me to this day. The Saggy Baggy Elephant with its line of dancing pachyderms is very memorable for me, as is the treacherous trip of Scuffy the Tugboat.
GN: I was a bit of a morbid kid. I loved books with big, sad stories and rich, detailed illustrations. I was a huge fan of old fairytales, especially those with illustrations by Errol Le Cain.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote/illustrated this book?

JEB and GN:

JEB: I feel that this book is for everyone. We forget just how vast the universe is, and how small our part of it is, while, at the same time, we forget the world of things so small that they almost seem not to exist. Most of the time, we float around in our everyday space of things we see and hear and smell and feel, and don’t think of the extremes.
GN: Not really, I just tried to interpret Jo Ellen's text as best I could. Sometimes I think it's best if you don't intentionally "draw for kids." You end up with something much more original if you draw and paint as you normally would and assume the kids are going to understand and respond to it. I think most of time they do, and those books often turn out to be their favorites.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing/drawing environment.

JEB and GN:

JEB: This particular book came to me while I was walking my dogs beside a river that has been my path for many years. I actually formed the main part of the book with the rhythm of my steps. A song about the moon, and to the moon, I wrote while sitting in my front yard. I write in notebooks and scraps of paper, but also on the computer, especially longer works. I guess that the keyboard is now my most comfortable place to compose. My house is a quiet environment in which to think and read and write.
GN: When I first start a project, or when I'm drawing for fun I like to be around strangers and listen to their conversations while I sketch. I'll usually find a coffee shop or ride the subway. When I start a painting it's at home in my studio where I listen to a lot of music, podcasts, and books on tape.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

JEB and GN:

JEB: My first publication appeared in Canadian Children’s Annual back in the late 1970’s. It was a poem in Spanish with my own English translation. Another early work with the same publication was an account of my adventures with my pet coatimundi, Clyde. My first two picture books came out in 1988 from Annick Press and Scholastic Canada. Malcolm’s Runaway Soap remained in print until a couple of years ago. My newest book is my eighteenth.
GN: It was a small editorial illustration in the Facts and Arguments section of the Globe and Mail. It wasn't very good.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

JEB and GN:

JEB: I am currently reading Bernd Heinrich’s The Snoring Bird, My Family’s Journey Through a Century of Biology, Wayne Grady’s collection of fascinating essays, Bringing back the Dodo, and Daniel J. Levitin’s The World in Six Songs, How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature.
GN: This book called Stripmalling, which a friend of mine did the illustrations for. It's not for children.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

JEB and GN:

JEB: My choices would depend on the person receiving the gift. For a hip and cool approach to knowing Canada, I would give Douglas Coupland’s Souvenir of Canada. Add to that Roy McGregor’s Canadians, A Portrait of a Country and Its People, and we are off to a good start. I would want to include a book about our magnificent wildlife and vast terrain. I would have to think about which one if I could choose only one.
GN: Hmmm.....I'm just going to list some of my favorite books that I know are written by Canadians. They are from a variety of genres because I can't think of three which are specifically children's books that aren't all written by Robert Munsch.
1. Jonathan Cleaned Up-Then He Heard a Sound by Robert Munsch 2. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood 3. Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer/illustrator?

JEB and GN:

JEB: Well, “write what you know” has worked well, but “explore new idea” has worked well, too, so there is probably no one best piece of advice, except for the clichéd, but very helpful advice, to read and read and read.
GN: This one is tough because most of the advice you receive as an artist is along the lines of "don't become an artist." The best advice? Well, it's not very profound but I was told once to just "stick it out." It can take many years to become established as a successful illustrator and for the first while you won't make a lot of money, or get a lot of jobs, but if you believe in what you do, it will eventually pay off.

OBT:

Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

JEB and GN:

JEB: I received a letter from a little girl in Israel telling me that Malcolm, of Malcolm’s Runaway Soap, left his mother standing at the city hall fountain when he rode home in the sidecar of Policeman Dan. She was right. The illustrator had Malcolm’s mom follow him when I had thought she was at home with a younger sibling or two.
GN: To be honest, I haven't had much contact with readers. This is the first fully illustrated children's book I've ever done. Jo Ellen has read Big and Small to kids and she has assured me they like the pictures, so that's good to hear.

OBT:

What is your next project?

JEB and GN:

JEB: I have been writing songs with musician Eddie Douglas and we hope to turn some of them into books. Songs have the rhythm and rhyme, the heart or the humour, to make great rhyming picture books. A good song is a good poem. I also have several ideas for children’s non-fiction topics that I want to explore. Having two little grandchildren is inspiring me to write further for younger children.
GN: Oh who knows, whatever comes along I guess. I'd like to do another project like this, it was a great experience. In the meantime, I suppose I'll try to work on some of my more personal artwork. There never seems to be enough time for that.

For more information about Big and Small, Room for All, please visit the Tundra Books website at www.tundrabooks.com.

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