Monday, April 22, 2019

When SCBWI Members Wander: Meet Paul Fleischman!

One of the wonderful benefits of being a member of SCBWI is that wherever you go, you’re likely to find another member of SCBWI! That’s because we’ve grown into an international organization, supporting children’s writers and illustrators from California to Calcutta and just about everywhere in between.

So when you’re wandering here, there, and everywhere in between, it’s always fun to reach out to the local SCBWI region. Not only will you make new friends in SCBWI but you might also find out about children’s book, literacy, and art events you’d like to participate in while you’re visiting. Or perhaps you can get tips about arranging a workshop or a book-signing at a local library or bookstore. That’s what SCBWI member Paul Fleischman did, and now Breezers in the Birmingham area have a chance to meet this Newbery-winning author and pick up his latest release, Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child.

But we can’t all be in Birmingham on April 25th for Paul’s event so Southern Breeze caught up with him to get the latest news about his book (and a few words of wisdom from a long-time SCBWI member):

SB: Big congratulations on your latest picture book, Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child, A Worldwide Jack and the Beanstalk Story. Was it hard weaving the variants into a single, coherent tale?

PF: I'd done it twice before, turning Cinderella variants into Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal and creation myths into First Light, First Life, so you'd think it would have been easy. But these tales were tougher because they varied more. The hero was often the youngest of many siblings, but might be an only child like Jack. Some were standard-sized, some just an inch high. Some were male, some female. To keep from confusing readers I ended up having to cut the female versions and lost much great material. But solving problems is central to the writing life.

SB: I had no idea that there were tales similar to Jack and the beanstalk in Russia and the Philippines and Ethiopia and beyond. 

PF: I didn't either. But stories come from families, just like people, and Jack's Thanksgiving table would be a big one. Tom Thumb, Baba Yaga, Seven League Boots--they all share many motifs with Jack. A spurned child, a hungry family, food found at a man-eater's table, a series of daring thefts and escapes...

SB: How did you track down the variants? 

PF: This is the private-eye side of writing. Instead of bus stations, I skulked around public libraries for the easy stuff and university libraries for the obscure tales. The internet also has some great folklore sites. I had a huge advantage: a folklorist had already gathered many Tom Thumb variations and collected them in a single volume.

SB: Fearsome Giant is a picture book, of which you've written many. But you've produced lots of novels and nonfiction and plays and won the Newbery Medal for Joyful Noise, a book of poetry. How have you made such a varied career work? 

PF: My publishers no doubt would have been happier with a more coherent brand--but I wouldn't. I studied everything in college, from English and history to botany and folkdancing. I devoted years to sailing, shadow theater, colonial history, playing with copy machines as art tools, and more. My varied books come out of those varied interests. I've been happy to trade sales for the freedom to follow my own path.

SB: Anything else coming out in the near future?

PF: In September I have a brief memoir coming out that describes the charmed, free-range childhood that led to those interests and books. It's called No Map, Great Trip: A Young Writer's Road to Page One. The following spring will see Alphamaniacs: Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word, a nonfiction book presented as a circus sideshow, starring a cast of obsessives who've explored the most distant shores of language. Never heard of mondegreens, Strine, or zaum? Step right up...

SB: Can't wait! Finally, what’s the best advice you can give to our members, especially those who write across categories or are still plugging away at getting published in any genre? 

PF: If putting words together into well-made, splinter-free, light-catching sentences still gives you satisfaction, don't give up.

Thanks, Paul! Come meet Paul Fleischman at Homewood Public Library at 3:30 on April 25. Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child will be published on April 23.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A Southern Breeze Success Story: Illustrator Laura Freeman

It’s not every day that one region has three Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Awardees, but that’s exactly what happened this year in Southern Breeze! And one of those honor awardees was able to join us in Decatur, Georgia at the Portfolio Show and Book Signing Reception on the eve of our SpringMingle conference. Laura Freeman, illustrator of Hidden Figures, was there to chat a little and sign a lot of books, and I had an opportunity to catch up with this very busy illustrator!

SB: Laura, as the winner of such a prestigious award, you joked that you were an “overnight success” because now people are noticing you and your work. But you’ve been a professional illustrator for a very long time! When did you begin your career and how did you start? 

First of all, thank you so much for inviting me. I was treated like a celebrity, Southern Hospitality at its finest! As to how I began: I spent years carrying my portfolio of editorial illustrations around door to door back in the days when you dropped off your portfolio at the offices of a magazine or newspaper and picked it up the next day. This was pre-internet. Occasionally I’d get an interview with an art director and once in a while I’d even get a job! I ended up working for 10 years as a staff artist at Polo/ Ralph Lauren while doing freelance illustration jobs at night but I didn’t get enough work to quit my day job. Things really began to improve when I changed my focus to children’s books, which was 20 years ago! It didn’t take me that long to get “discovered”, it took me that long for my work to be good enough to be “discovered”! I am very stubborn, persistence is my secret weapon!

SB: So glad you persisted! And how did you get involved with Hidden Figures, the picture book? Hasn’t this book won other awards as well?

 It has! In addition to the Coretta Scott King Honor, The Georgia Center for The Book selected Hidden Figures as one of ten “Children’s Books All Young Georgians Should Read”. Erin Fitzsimmons, the art director at Harper Collins, approached my agent Janet at Storybook Arts Inc. and asked that I do a sample for Hidden Figures. (That’s publishing’s version of an audition.) I was so excited! It was the only movie I had actually gone to the theater to see all year and here they were calling me, of course I did it!

(And this just in! Hidden Figures just received an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children. Congratulations, Laura!)

SB: You mentioned that you were busier than ever now! Can you share some of the projects you’re working on? Where will we see your “Illustrated by Laura Freeman” next? 

Yes, I am extremely fortunate to have been offered so many exciting projects! Since Hidden Figures came out Pies From Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott (by Dee Romito, Little Bee Books) came out in November 2018 and Biddy Mason Speaks Up! (by Arisa White and Laura Atkins, Heyday books) came out in February 2019. Follow Chester! A College Football Team Fights Racism and Makes History (by Gloria Respress-Churchwell, Charlesbridge Books) is coming out in September and a biography of the tennis star Althea Gibson called Fleet of Foot Girl (by Megan Reid, HarperCollins) is coming out soon. And … I just finished the art for a biography of Aretha Franklin! It’s called A Voice Named Aretha! (by Katheryn Russel Brown, Bloomsbury Books). It was a blast listening to Aretha’s music the whole time I worked on the book! It’s due out in 2020.

Currently I’m working on a book about the architect who designed the museum of African American History at the Smithsonian. It’s called Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon and is written by Kelly Starling-Lyons and published by Lee & Low books. I still do editorial work too. It’s been a real whirlwind and a dream come true!

SB: Wow, Laura, that's a whole lot of persistence! And you’ve persisted as a member of SCBWI since 1999! So even though you’re very successful, you must believe in SCBWI. How has our community helped you and your career? And what advice do you have for any of our illustrators on their just-getting-started-on-their-overnight-success stories? 

I joined the SCBWI as soon as I became interested in illustrating Children’s Books. It’s been an enormous help as it was my primary resource for researching the field. The SCBWI is also a great way to meet other illustrators and writers in your community. When I moved to Georgia it was how I met other illustrators and writers here.

Thanks so much for sharing your insights and advice, Laura! Look for Hidden Figures wherever books are sold. And you can find out more about Laura Freeman and her art at her website.

We love sharing Southern Breeze success stories, so if your persistence has paid off, let us know!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Breezers in Your Neighborhood: APRIL!

It's April showers of books around the Southern Breeze region!

Sunday, April 7

Join author Tanya Valentine for a very special storytime and book launch of Little Taco Truck, her debut picture book. And treats, too! (P.S. Are you thinking tacos? Yum!)

When: Sunday, 2:00 PM                                           

Where: Little Shop of Stories
             133 East Court Square
             Decatur, GA

Saturday, April 13

The Alabama Book Festival is back and 'Bama Breezers will be there, signing books. Join authors Irene Latham, Kerry Madden-Lunsford, and Randi Pink to name just a few. Check out the schedule to see where they'll be appearing, and see the website for all the fun and activities.

When:  Saturday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Where: Old Alabama Town
            Montgomery, AL

Thursday, April 25

We'll have an Honorary Breezer in the Neighborhood when Newbery Medal-winning author Paul Fleischman is in town! He'll be signing his latest picture book, Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child, a braiding of Jack tale motifs from around the world.

When:  Thursday, 3:30 PM

Where: Homewood Library
             1721 Oxmoor Road
             Homewood, AL

Come out for Breezer book-signings in April (and maybe bring an umbrella)! If you have an event coming up in your neighborhood, send the details to by the first of the month!