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  • Writer's pictureManju Howard

Author Raven Howell and Illustrator Pamela Rice Chat About Creating Their New Picture Book

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

Ever wonder about the backgrounds and collaboration between a picture book author and illustrator? This month's post is a conversation that you won't want to miss!

For our Kidlit Creatives Members, you have a to win Raven's special prize package. To WIN this prize, follow the directions at the end of this post.

Welcome, Raven!

Hi, Kidlit Creatives! I’m fellow picture book-er, Raven Howell, coming to you via the Hudson Valley, in New York. Our family cat Lilac, belly full, is curled up in a warm snuggle, a furry ebony ball on my favorite chair. I’m settled into my writing space after a clear blue sky and perfect temperature morning hike on the mountainside. Sipping a cup of green jasmine tea, I nibble on my favorite farmer’s market carrot/raisin/oat/walnut/maple cookie. As all authors know, any quiet, undisturbed writing time is precious, so I’m ready to share!

Celebrating fourteen children’s book releases over the years, and involved daily with writing for publications such as Cricket, Highlights, and Story Monsters Ink magazine, I grew motivated to try my hand at writing something different.

The inspiration for writing my latest release, Rhymes That Go From Head to Toe, was to explore human senses in a light-hearted way, helping children learn more about the functions of their body parts. Often, this naturally precedes ways of caring for them.

In hopes of encouraging preschoolers to express their feelings and to choose to feel healthy, my fingers were crossed for the prospect of my book’s artwork to be full of cheer and warmth, appealing to both the toddler and adult reading to them.

Enter illustrator Pamela C. Rice.

Raven: Welcome, Pam, and thanks for joining me! This is our first collaboration with more books forthcoming. What have you been up to recently?

Pam: I’ve been spending my days working on various publications, one of which is a monthly community newspaper where I get to use my editorial design skills. Editorial design/illustration is always so fascinating because in today's climate there is so much to visually translate.

I’ve also wrapped up two 2nd edition children’s books, revisited during the COVID lockdown; and updating existing websites.

Raven: You have an eclectic background of experience. Tell us about that and how it led you to where you are today as an artist.

Pam: I’ve always been an artist, and most people knew that about me from the early age of five. My best girlfriend’s grandfather would only call me by the name of ‘Artist’. I painted my way through school for friends and family, creating portraits and landscapes, and I always knew my path in life. I chose to study advertising design and visual communications in high school. Through college I worked in the art field, freelancing with as many as three companies at a time. I painted in college, but did not pick it up again until 2003. I’ve worked with galleries to promote my paintings, and had a few ‘one woman shows’.

My life is art. I’ve always created - games, clothing, furniture, and then I’m always moving on to something else.

Raven: You and I have several things in common, one of which is being raised by creative parents with a creative background. My father was a published poet, and growing up, we’d often accompany him on his poetry readings or tours. I learned a lot about the spoken word from him, and still consider it the early stages of rap music as we know it today. My mother is a songbird. Not only does she have a lovely soprano, but she was a dance teacher and remains an avid nature lover. There was always music and art in our household when I was growing up, and several of my talented family members are professional artists and photographers. I didn’t seriously contemplate any other lifestyle for myself as I went out to explore the world on my own.

Pam: My mother would always encourage my art, by supplying me with paint-by -numbers, making paper doll clothes, enrolling me in the Famous Artist School (a mail study course), supplying materials on any project I wanted to create, including the first computer I made. She would create background sets for the women’s auxiliary shows. My brother was involved with textile and furniture design, and has culinary design skills. My father was a commercial artist, hired as one of Hallmark’ first Black illustrators in the early 1950s.

Everyone in our house played music. We took piano lessons and played in recitals for over ten years.

This picture was not used in the final book.

Raven: We all played music, too. Guitars, pianos, drums, Latvian string instruments- you name it! My older sister and brother were in bands, released albums and played live shows often when I was still a young child.

I recall “music” coming from within - loving those first bursts of sounds I got from clapping my hands, forming my lips for a whistle, tapping my toes on the wood floor. Then when I realized there was a method to getting a “snap” with fingers - I spent hours and days coordinating my movements to try to get that perfect sound. All of these experiences, set in rhyme, are in the new book. Furthermore, you can imagine my delight when Anthony L. Manna’s Book Review of Rhymes That Go From Head to Toe expressed the balance and blend of art and word.

Rices friendly-looking mixed media illustrations showcase children romping playfully about or quietly engaged in imagining as they explore their assigned body parts. She supports the wit and upbeat manner of the rhymes with lively personality-filled art.”

Pam: Reading the text drives my visual direction. This makes it easy to illustrate the extremities of expressions. The expressions dictate how well the emotions affect the reader…and this is what the writer wants. Initially, I may do a rough sketch for position; when I call it up on the computer, I determine the color, texture. Texture and color are two major components in my illustrations. I stay away from ‘cartoony’ colors because they can be unsettling. I like illustrations to take on a ‘fine arts’ feel and that’s why texture and composition are important. One of the main compliments I get from parents is that they enjoy soothing or muted colors.

I enjoyed the simplicity in these illustrations. I tend to lean towards the graphic presentation as it’s related to the subject matter.

Raven: It’s only at the end of the book when the reader also comes to realize correlation to other creatures and living beings having “body parts”. I love that you hint at that in the form of foreshadowing illustrations on the very first couple of pages. It’s subtle and you won’t make a connection until you finish reading the entire book. The artwork brings the “Ah-ha!” ending full circle, connecting the very beginning to the end, with children at the center.

Pam: The bears (who also have their own body parts) on the first and last pages are the same color. To add more interest to them, I added shadows. The human characters, on the other hand, have color and stand out, making that the focus.

Raven: My original idea was always having the rhyming verse storyline move from head to toe, hence the title. At the same time, I needed to work on the climax. That high point can be tricky for toddlers who sometimes just spend long minutes literally nibbling the sides or pages of a book instead of turning them! Ha! But the belly button can truly be quite a mysterious thing when we discover it. “Mom, what is a belly button for?” I knew that was a noteworthy spot - and it ended up being my favorite illustrated page.

Pam: All of the illustrations are favorites. I treat each spread as a full piece of art. When I illustrate spreads, I look at them as how they would look separated, matted and framed. The main objective was getting the gestures right…the bodies, the position and expression of the hands.

Again, simplicity. The focus is on the boy’s clothing, striped shirt and textured blue jean overalls, and wearing a bucket hat to protect his head from the sun. It’s all about the texture, shapes, and composition; illustrations should do the 'speaking.' I have found in certain instances, when young children that pick up a book which they cannot yet read, they’ll go through the book and make up their own stories based on the illustrations.

Raven: We both have similar creative desires to work with themes of diversity and inclusivity. Over the years, I’ve contributed my writing to various learning disabled communities and this book is no exception. Rhymes That Go From Head to Toe is printed in a dyslexie font, the font that is legible to both dyslexic readers and those who are not.

Pam: Diversity in any arena is important and certainly in children’s books. This is the way the world is. Unfortunately, when I was growing up, this was not the case. Kids live in different situations and places. One of my books, “Wings of Color Fly Free”, covers a disabled child, another story takes place in Peru, characters live in one-parent homes or with grand-parents and in other settings…

I want my books to appeal to anyone. Most parents will buy books that have a good mix of children within the story. I try to write stories with children in different living situations. I would hate for a story to be overlooked because the right ‘faces’ aren’t represented in a book or the subject matter isn’t relatable.

Raven: Rhymes DO go from “head to toe”. Whether you’re a writer, a parent or teacher, my hope is that you introduce children to rhyme as bouncy, cheerful music to the ears!

Thanks very much, Raven and Pam!

Coming soon from Raven and Pam: Finding Joy (Story Monsters Press, 2022), a picture book about working through grief to happiness after loss.

Special Prize Package includes a copy of Rhymes That Go From Head to Toe, one medium t-shirt, stickers and book marker. To enter this giveaway - Read this post, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on your Twitter or Facebook.

Deadline to enter is Sunday, October 24th.

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