Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Monica Kulling and Bill Slavin

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Ten Questions with Monica Kulling and Bill Slavin

On this day in 1888, George Eastman registered the trademark Kodak. It’s a Snap! George Eastman’s First Photograph introduces a new series for Tundra – the Great Idea Series – a must have for schools, libraries and parents alike. Monica Kulling’s spunky, playful text is beautifully complemented by the stunning pen-and-ink illustrations of artist Bill Slavin.

The launch for It's a Snap! is on September 23 at the Stephen Bulger Gallery and Camera Bar. See our events page for details.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, It’s a Snap!

Bill Slavin:

When this project first came to me, I was intrigued by the format of a non-fiction story told in a picture book style for a younger audience. It seemed to me that this was a terrific way to talk about history to children that have yet to move up to the myriad of wonderful books on the topic for a slightly older child.

Monica can better tell you what the story is about, but for me, my interest in illustrating this story lay in the opportunity to do some historical pen and ink illustrations, a departure from most of my book illustration work these days.

Monica Kulling:

It's A Snap! is the story of George Eastman, a hard-working young banker, who takes up photography as a hobby. George quickly learns that the camera of his day is excessively cumbersome and that it is extremely time-consuming to make prints. He thinks about the problem, and soon his inventor’s brain comes up with an idea for making “dry” plates. George successfully realizes his idea, which leads him to other ideas — among them, film, an easy-to-use camera and a kiddie camera.

I've published two other inventor stories, Eat My Dust! Henry Ford's First Race and Listen Up! Alexander Graham Bell's Talking Machine, that also focus on an invention rather than on the details of the inventor's life. Both are part of Random House's Step-Into-Reading series, whose books are meant to be “easy-to-read,” and, in writing them, I was limited by sentence length, word count and word choices. The picture book's open format gave me liberty to bring in more fun elements and to give the details of Eastman's life a storybook quality.

OBT:

How did you research your book?

MK:

I began by reading Elizabeth Brayer's biography George Eastman, which was published in 1930. Eastman died in 1932, so Brayer’s reliable biography is also close to the source.

I also did online research. I learned that Eastman's first photograph was of the bridge spanning the Genesee River in Rochester. This fact becomes central to the story — en route to taking his first photograph, George meets many friends and neighbours who want in on the fun.

I also read all the books written for children on George Eastman. Most of the writers took the “cradle-to-grave” approach and aimed their information at an older reader. I wanted my story to be for younger readers, but not as young as an easy-to-read audience, and I didn't want to delve into all the facts of Eastman's life.

BS:

There are some terrific sites on the Internet for this sort of thing, especially one devoted to George Eastman’s house in Rochester, N.Y. which has an extensive collection of photos from Eastman’s life. And of course, with Google Image Search, the world of visual reference really lies now at your doorstep.

OBT:

Describe the collaboration process between author and illustrator.

MK:

Tundra Books’ choice of Bill Slavin to illustrate It's A Snap! is inspired. Bill has illustrated several books for Tundra in addition to many books for other publishers. I introduced myself via email and also sent Bill my two published inventor books. Bill works magic with historical material; he has so many books to his credit that both the publisher and I trusted him completely. We wisely let Bill do his thing. I saw the rough sketches and was then able then to comment on anything I thought didn't quite fit with what I had in mind, and Bill incorporated those changes. I also saw the final art. It's wonderful to see the story you've seen in your mind come alive on the page, and even more exciting when the illustrator brings in elements you hadn't envisioned, which is what Bill has done – for example, I didn't know that George Eastman had a dog!

BS:

In our case, there wasn’t really a collaboration process. Monica lead me in the direction of some helpful sites for visual reference, and then I was on my way. The collaboration is between words and images, not between author and illustrator.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

MK:

In 1992, I published a picture book called I Hate You, Marmalade! with both ABC Books in England and Penguin in the United States. Alex Ayliffe illustrated the book in her charming paper-collage style. Sadly, the book has long been out of print.

BS:

My first published children’s book was Too Many Chickens, by Paulette Bourgeois.

OBT:

What's the best advice you ever received as a writer/artist?

MK:

Believe in yourself.

BS:

I honestly can’t remember. Get a job?

OBT:

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

MK:

Let's Call It Canada: Amazing Stories of Canadian Place Names by Susan Hughes, I Want a Dog by Dayal Kaur Khalsa, The Big Book of Canada by Christopher Moore.

BS:

No idea. Sorry!

OBT:

Describe your ideal work environment.

MK:

I like to work in my home office with no interruptions or distractions (and I prefer winter to summer, which is stacked high with interruptions of every sort!). I also like my four cats and two dogs to be happily sleeping and the outside noise to be at a minimum.

BS:

My home is my ideal work environment, rural, comfortable and peaceful. I don’t like noise when I work, and in summer I like to take out to the porch if I don’t need to be at my drawing table. The aesthetics of my studio aren’t important to me – it’s very utilitarian. Definitely need my computer, so I can check e-mail when I get bored! Work-wise, enough to stay busy, not so much that I can’t relax, and varied enough that I stay engaged.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

MK:

Lost Voices of the Edwardians by Max Arthur, The Murder of Dr. Chapman by Linda Wolfe.

BS:

The Watchmen, the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

MK:

Make sure that you have a real passion for writing. If you don't, try something else because the business of writing is always tough. If you do, keep on writing and learning about the craft. There are many excellent books on writers and how they work. Over the years, I've been encouraged and inspired by the working habits of other writers. If you have the passion, you just need to persevere.

OBT:

What is your next project?

MK:

Bill and I have another inventor story coming out in Fall 2010. All Aboard! Elijah McCoy's Steam Engine is about the African-Canadian inventor and engineer Elijah McCoy, who invented the lubricating oil cup and revolutionized steam engine travel.

I am currently writing another inventor story, which I hope will be the third in the Great Idea Series — this time, about a woman inventor. I'm also working on an early chapter book about a young girl who struggles to be true to her nature in the restricting society of the 1900s.

BS:

I have a few on the go, but the one I’m especially excited about is a graphic novel series for kids that I’m co-creating with my partner, Esperança Melo. The working title is Elephants Never Forget, and it chronicles the adventures of an elephant, Otto and his parrot friend, Crackers, as they journey through America in search of a long lost friend.


Monica Kulling was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. She received a BA in creative writing from the University of Victoria. Monica Kulling has published twenty-six fiction and nonfiction books for children, including picture books, poetry, and biographies. She is best known for introducing biography to children just learning to read and has written about Harriet Tubman, Houdini, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Amelia Earhart among others. Monica Kulling lives in Toronto, Canada.
Photo of Monica Kulling by Monica Kulling.


Bill Slavin has illustrated over seventy books for children, including The Big Book of Canada by Christopher Moore. He has won the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award, the Blue Spruce Award and the Zena Sutherland Award for Children’s Literature, among many others. Bill Slavin lives in Millbrook, Ontario.
Photo of Bill Slavin by E. Melo.

For more information about It's a Snap!, please visit the Tundra Books website at www.tundrabooks.com.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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