One Word Pearl is the story of a girl who LOVES words and collects them in her special word chest. When all but a handful of words are blown away, she decides to use only one word at a time. Soon her chest is empty, making her “No Word Pearl” and she must find a way to get back all her precious words.
I recently interviewed the lovely and talented duo that created One Word Pearl. Author Nicole Groeneweg and illustrator Hazel Mitchell.
Nicole, tell us a little bit about your history. What got you interested in writing children’s books?
Nicole: For the past thirty years, I’ve been reading picture books to my first and second grade students every day. I use our favorite books as mentor text to teach writing. I write alongside my students and one day I realized I loved writing as much as teaching! I’ve written three teacher resource books and numerous nonfiction articles for children’s magazines. One Word Pearl is my first picture book and like Pearl, I love words!
Hazel, please share your history. What got you interested in illustrating children’s books?
Hazel: I can never remember a time when I WASN’T interested in children’s books. I lived at my local library. I started reading books for older age groups pretty early and was into adult novels fast. So I have a sketchy impression of picture books that I read … Dr Seuss for sure and many Enid Blyton books (I am English after all!). I was always drawing or creating something, so it was inevitable that’s where my career would lead me … to something creative. I held out for a while as I was determined to work with horses. Then I attended art college in England. After that I didn’t know what to do – so I joined the Royal Navy and luckily ended up working in graphic studios! I learned a lot and worked on a wide range of projects. I also learned to use computer drawing software there too. When I left the Navy I set up a print and design business in the UK and that’s what I did till I moved to the USA in 2000. I still loved books and often thought about children’s illustration. I worked in commercial illustration when the internet got going and finally found my way to the SCBWI in about 2007. But I didn’t attend a conference until 2010. By then I’d done some self publishing books for people, but had no idea how to go about contacting trade publishers and putting together a portfolio for children’s illustration. Luckily the SCBWI put me straight. I got my first book in Fall 2010 and have been lucky to work solidly since then. I am now writing and working on my on projects and recently signed with children’s representative Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, NYC. Mine has been a long and circuitous journey. But, we all have our own paths and mine has given me a lot of experience in different fields and I think that helps me approach books in a variety of ways.
What was your favorite book as a kid? What are some of your favorite children’s books now?
Nicole: Peter Rabbit was and continues to be one of my favorite books. I think I identified with Peter, I was a bit mischievous myself and often learned the ‘hard way.’ One day I would love to visit the author Beatrix Potter’s home in the Lake District in England. Now, I love picture books of all kinds. I love reading books by Gail Gibbons, Kevin Henkes, Melissa Sweet, and so many other authors to my 1st and 2nd grade students. Right now my favorite book is The Scraps Book by Lois Ehlert. I display it in my ‘studio’ to inspire me when I write.
Hazel: The first book I remember as a child is ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. I adored all Beatrix Potter and Winnie the Pooh (including the illustrations of course). Because I was horse crazy, I read every pony book I could lay my hands on. I also loved Enid Blyton, Alan Garner, CS Lewis, and later Tolkein. But my reading was wide. Now I have so many hero’s in children’s illustration and writing it’s hard to say. I love the drawings of Quentin Blake, Edward Ardizzone, EH Shepherd, Marla Frazee, David Weisner, Eric Rohmann, Barbara McClintock, Jim Kay, Levi Penfold, Kelly Murphy, David Small, Peter Reynolds. I’ll stop there.
Nicole, this book came out of winning a contest. Share with us the background of how One Word Pearl came to be?
Nicole: The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Foundation and Charlesbridge Publishing created the Children’s Book of the Year Contest in 2011 to promote good literature for young children and offer opportunities to authors who want to break into the publishing world. There are two winners each year, one in the picture book category and one chapter book. My principal forwarded the contest to me saying, “This is right up your alley,” and I decided to give it a shot. I tried the first year and placed in the top 25. In 2012 One Word Pearl won!
Hazel, the words and illustrations so perfectly compliment each other in this book. Describe your process of deciding how to draw the character Pearl?
Hazel: Thank you! I always saw Pearl as of Asian descent. So that’s kind of where the black, bobbed hair came from. I like her in spectacles, because she is always reading and it gave her a studious look. And it’s great to have a child with glasses front and center. I wanted to give her quirky, creative clothes and I love her big shoes! I lot of people asked me if I modeled her on my friend Debbie Ohi, and I didn’t realize the resemblance till after I finished the book!
Early bird, middle of the day, night owl or catching quick moments? When do you do your best work?
Nicole: I am a teacher and tutor, so my days full. I sneak in a minute here and there to write. Once in a while I get an idea and can’t stop writing—I get a lot done at those moments. Right now it’s summer and I find myself writing on the patio in the cool mornings.
Hazel: I am an early bird. However, when you’re under deadline it’s all times of day.
I’m fascinated by creative workspaces and what you see while you work. Tell us about yours.
Nicole: I call my space my ‘studio’. It’s crowded with objects that inspire me—picture books, kids’ art, craft supplies… I also love to be on my patio surrounded by flowers, herbs, and birds.
Hazel: I work on the 2nd floor of our little house in an L-shaped studio. One side is the computer area, the other a drawing board etc. I have a wood stove, a futon and a wing backed chair to collapse in. I am pretty tidy (naval training!). Usually I have a tidy up when I finish a book and stuff goes up and down on my wall. Usually there is a dog (Toby) and cat (Sleep) to be found hanging around. I do try and work in different parts of the house at times (dining table, sofa, deck) to give myself a change of space or go out to a coffee shop or the library.
Nicole, how do you prefer to work? Writing by hand, typing on a computer or both?
Nicole: I scribble in my writer’s notebook, but I use the computer to draft and revise my stories.
Hazel, what art media did you use for this book?
Hazel: It’s hybrid …. the line work is graphite, the colouring digital and I scanned and used different textures, like rice paper, water colour washes and odd things that I then assembled in photoshop.
What projects are you working on now?
Nicole: I have so many ideas floating around my head. At the moment I’m revising a biography on Buffalo Jones, a man who helped save the American Bison from extinction and researching for a picture book about a girl who loves broccoli, but can’t buy it near her house in the city.
Hazel: I have 3 books under contract, ‘Animally’ for Kane Miller, ‘Where do Fairies go in Winter?’ for Down East Books and ‘Kenya’s Art’ for Charlesbridge. I also have a picture book I have written on submission and working to get the 1st draft of an adventure middle grade set in England finished!
Nicole, what advice would you give aspiring authors?
Nicole: Read, read, read and then write, write, write! I read books similar to the ones I want to write. Authors’ writings can be our mentor text. I also think a good critique group can make an author! I’m glad Susanne’s in mine!
Hazel, what advice would you give aspiring illustrators?
Hazel: DRAW. READ. DRAW. SEND POSTCARDS. GET AN ONLINE PORTFOLIO. NETWORK ON LINE AND AT CONFERENCES. LISTEN. LEARN. DO NOT ENVY. DO GOOD WORK. DRAW. READ.
And some quick, fun questions to end the interview:
Nicole: Blue, all shades.
Favorite food and drink?
Nicole: Chocolate and herbal iced tea.
Hazel: Seafood and cider.
Do you have any pets?
Nicole: No, but the birds and squirrels that come to my feeders are almost tame and I feel that they’re my pets (I spend a lot of money feeding them, but no vet bills).
Hazel: Toby – poodle – Sleep – black cat - Beau and Lady – horses.
Last book you read?
Nicole: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliette
Hazel: The Night Gardener
Thank you ladies! What a treat to have you both be my first ever blog interview!
Hazel can be found at: