MAKING PEOPLE SMILE
Jennifer Black Reinhardt writes on her website that when she was in elementary school, she wanted to draw the pictures on greeting cards. “I just thought it seemed like a happy thing to do,” she said, “to make people smile when they looked at something that you drew.”
With illustrations in stories like Adventures of a South Pole Pig, Inventor’s Secret, Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons, and Yak’s Yak, Jennifer has been making us all smile. This week, she brings a new book to young readers, one that she’s both written and illustrated, and it’s called Blue Ethel.
Jennifer took a moment to share a little bit about her newest book, her thoughts on writing, and what she’s working on new.
AUTHOR Q & A
Q: Tell us a little about Blue Ethel. Where did you get the inspiration for this story?
A: The story is about an old, curmudgeonly cat who is very set in her ways and likes everything “just so.” One day Ethel goes outside to do her important jobs and turns blue! The inspiration for this book is that it’s a true story. We were visiting my in-laws in New York and my sister in law’s cat, Ethel, pranced into the living room and was black and blue! It took several minutes for me to realize that she had rolled in my daughter and niece’s sidewalk chalk masterpiece. That was many years ago, but I began at the time wondering what Ethel was thinking and how she felt about changing colors?
Q: How did the creation and/or publication process change with you being both the illustrator and the writer?
A: That’s a great question because it really has been a different journey. It’s both a blessing and a curse in my opinion. It’s great to be able to express and control my vision for the book in its entirety. But that also is like having twice as many chocolates from which to choose. Being able to control when words are needed, and when the illustration alone (that’s in my head at this point) can do the job of telling the story, is a very tricky balance to find. When you illustrate someone else’s story the illustrator’s job is to expand and interpret that narrative. It’s a challenge and has parameters. When it’s just me— the world is my oyster and that can feel a little overwhelming. That’s why you need an awesome editor, which I was lucky enough to have Margaret Ferguson.
Q: I always wonder if the artist has a favorite illustration in a book he or she does. Do you have a favorite page?
A: I like certain ones for certain reasons. When Ethel tries to lick the chalk off her fur she isn’t successful and ends up striped, which I really love seeing her in blue and white stripes. But that spread took me the most sketches to complete. This is Ethel “surveying the land." I sketched it about 550,000 times. Margaret kept feeling that Ethel looked like she was up on a hill and even sent me pictures from her neighbor’s porch from an “Ethel-eye perspective!”
Q: What message do you hope is shared through this book? What do you want readers to take with them?
A: The story begins as a ‘be yourself’ tale and grows into Ethel learning (with her friend, Fluffy’s, help) to accept and embrace change. And I really want readers to laugh.
Q: Could you share one tip that might be helpful to our members?
A: Trust yourself. And within that one "tip" are a whole bunch of tips. Because to do that you have to have your own confidence and not look to others for validation. It means really believing in your own style and vision. And if you really trust your talent you will have persistence and perseverance.
Jennifer will be launching Ethel's arrival into the world by doing a short presentation, reading, and signing on Sunday, June 11, 3 pm. at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City!
You can find Blue Ethel everywhere, from local indie bookstores to Barnes & Noble or Amazon. And, while Jennifer is celebrating this book release, she’s also busy with new work. She’s illustrating a book by Katherine Applegate, Sometimes You Fly, which she describes as a “gorgeous poem” about the meaning of life. She’s also working on a book about dragons by Linda Sue Park.
Looks like Jennifer will be making lots of people smile for a long time.
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