Many book ideas are born when an author sees a hole in the market that needs to be filled. Andrea Alexander saw a need for books about real athletes that were easy enough for reluctant readers. Alexander and the illustrator Danny Moore, have created a series of sports biographies that are instant hits with young children, especially those sports fans out there. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to interview this innovative pair.
Tell us a little bit about your history. What got you interested in writing/illustrating children’s books?
Andrea: My background is actually in IT/Telecom. I’ve been a consultant for several years working with telecom providers, so writing children’s books wasn’t exactly anything I’d ever see myself doing! It just seemed to happen once I had my boys went through elementary school. I had the idea to write sports biographies when I struggled getting my youngest son to read. He was a sports junkie from the time he was born, but when he started reading in school, the only books that he was interested in were books on athletes. Unfortunately, the only ones I could find were at a reading level that he wasn’t ready for. So, I did a little research and decided to take a shot at writing books to fill that need – lower reading level, less text on a page (that was always his biggest obstacle) and fun facts about the players that would interest kids to read.
Danny: I have always loved to draw and create. My father used to call me Doodle when I was younger because I would draw doodle on everything. When I found out you could make a living with art, I attended Auburn University for graphic design. While I was there, Naren from Mascot Books contacted me and asked me to illustrate a book for him. I have been illustrating ever since and loving every minute of it.
What was your favorite book as a kid? What are some of your favorite children’s books now?
Andrea: As a child, I loved Where the Wild Things Are. It was definitely my favorite book, hands down. Neither of my boys were ever interested in reading fiction, so while I like some of the well-known books – The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Goodnight Moon, and,of course, I have fun with anything by Dr. Seuss, I spent most of the time with my boys reading non-fiction. I’m pretty sure if I tried I could recite Count Me In, Salt in His Shoes, and of course, Larry Bird, The Boy from French Lick.
Danny: I know they aren’t really children’s books, but I have always really loved Calvin and Hobbes. Even when I was younger and didn’t get the jokes, I would still sit and look at the artwork. As for children’s books, there are a lot of great ones out there! I guess my favorites are the classics like Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and the old Disney Little Golden Books.
Andrea, share with us the background of these Sports Biographies. How did these books come to be?
Andrea: I had the idea for several years, but wasn’t sure if it would be successful or not. After really struggling to find books my son was interested in, I decided to give it a shot. A college friend of mine, Naren Aryal, started Mascot Books several years ago. I reached out to him to get his take on the idea. He loved it and from there, we brainstormed what we thought would be the best approach to rolling this out.
Since we are in the Washington area, we decided to focus on Washington players first. Being a huge Nats fan, I started with Bryce Harper. Harper is a positive role model and the kids just love him – from the excitement he brings to the game when he hits a home run to his ever-changing hairstyles – little boys look up to him in so many ways. Naren and I then discussed our options and selected players from each of the other Washington teams to work through – Kirk Cousins, Alexander Ovechkin and John Wall. I really tried to find players that kids love and would want to learn about, but that are also good role models. Each of the players we select has such a great story on becoming a success. I personally love learning more about them and, in turn, try to share as much as I can in each of the books. The key for me is pulling out the facts that a child would be interested in as that’s truly my end goal – getting those reluctant readers to want to read.
Once we found the books were well received from the kids and elementary schools, we selected the Boston area as the next city of focus. Let’s face it – Boston fans LOVE their teams! Tom Brady was an obvious pick and that was a huge success upon release. Brady had just wrapped up the Super Bowl so it was great timing as well!
Danny, illustrating pictures of actual people can be tricky. What research did you do to ensure that the pictures were accurate?
Danny: I always make sure to use reference photos as much as possible, which is easy these days with everything that is online. It IS tricky though. I have illustrated a lot of people into children’s books over the years and, no matter how accurate it is, they always tend to say, “Is that what I really look like?”
Andrea, where can your books be found?
Andrea: All of my books are available on my website – glorydayspress.com and my publisher’s site – mascotbooks.com. And, then all the key retail outlets – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million, etc.
Andrea, tell us about the publisher you worked with.
Andrea: Mascot Books started out writing books on college mascots, so there are a lot of similarities. As I mentioned, Naren Aryal & I went to college together –both of us are Hokies – the first book is company published was on the Hokie Bird. Since that time, he’s expanded to working with authors to self-publish a variety of books.
Early bird, middle of the day, night owl or catching quick moments? When do you do your best work?
Andrea: It’s a mix – I’d say anytime there’s quiet! Actually, if I had to pick, I’d say I do my best work between 3pm-8pm. It’s always been a time that I am more productive with work. The challenge is that is also usually the times when my boys have a lot of activities. So, I do my best to work it all in throughout the week.
Danny: I work normal hours, but would say I do my best work later in the evening after the rest of the family has gone to bed.
I’m fascinated by creative workspaces and what you see while you work. Tell us about yours.
Andrea: There’s nothing creative about mine, I promise you that! I have an office in the upstairs of our home. It’s actually above our garage and has windows on 3 sides – my husband teases
me and calls it the crow’s nest because I can see out the front, side and rear of our home. When we moved in to the house a few years back, I actually positioned my desk so I could see my boys getting on/off the bus, along with anyone driving up our driveway – so I definitely use it as a lookout point. But, to be completely honest – I usually have a pretty messy desk! I’m one of those that has papers all over the place.
Danny: Well, I work from home, and we just moved into new house, so my workspace is filled with boxes at the moment. I collect ukuleles and Hawaiian chotchkies, so it will have a Pacific Island feel once I get everything organized. I tend to have music or movies playing in the background while I work. It helps keep my mind from wandering.
How do you prefer to work? Writing by hand, typing on a computer or both?
Andrea: I like to type everything on the computer – easier to revise as I’m going along. But, when it’s time to review, I’ll print everything out, edit and scribble notes on the paper. Then, go back and update on my laptop. I never call it final if I review the soft copy – I definitely need to see it on paper. I guess I reveal my age a bit when I say I still like to print things out!
What art media did you use for these books?
Danny: These books were all done digitally, so Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. I have done books in watercolor and acrylic in the past, but these days you can do so much on the computer.
Danny, what other books have you illustrated?
Danny: I work for Mascot Books, and we have put out a lot of children’s books over the years for College and Professional sports teams as well as self publishing authors. It would be hard to list them all, so here are just a few: Raymond’s Gameday Adventure, Show Trouble, Bo, America’s Command in Leash, Hello, Aubie!, Wally the Green Monster and His World Tour, and of course the four Glory Days Press Books by Andrea Alexander: Bryce Harper, Kirk Cousins, John Wall and Alexander Ovechkin.
What project(s) are you working on now?
Andrea: The biography on David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox, just came out and there are other sports biographies in the works.
What advice would you give aspiring authors and illustrators?
Andrea: Try to figure out the business side as much as you can upfront. It’s definitely different than what my professional experience has been, so it’s been a huge learning curve for me.
Danny: Keep practicing, try drawing things you have never drawn before, and get your artwork out there. You never know who might see it.
And some quick, fun questions to end the interview:
Andrea: Red – it’s been my favorite for as long as I can remember!
Favorite food and drink?
Andrea: Anything with crabmeat or shrimp – I love seafood. Cranberry apple juice.
Danny: A good pot roast and a Diet Sunkist
Andrea: We have one dog, Franklin. He’s a double doodle, ½ goldendoodle and ½ labradoodle. He keeps me company all day at work!
Danny: Two cats, Charlie and Toofer
Last book you read?
Andrea: Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
Danny: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline