This week we have to pleasure of having Berrie Torgan-Randall on the blog.
Berrie has been passionate about children’s literature since she was a little girl, and has fed her desire by becoming a children’s librarian and by pursuing a career as an illustrator and writer of children’s books. Berrie’s professional experience includes illustrating books for various businesses and academic institutions. Berrie is under contract with publisher Blue Bronco Books Jr. to write and illustrate a series of early reader graphic novels Bella & Blue is a graphic novel early reader series following 8-year-old Bella and her little dog, Blue. Bella & Blue celebrates life's everyday struggles, silliness, and surprises. In addition, Berrie is the Illustrator Coordinator for the Eastern PA SCBWI. She is looking forward to making connections with professionals while organizing events for illustrators who are on a similar journey of creating beautiful and meaningful picture books. https://www.berrietr.com
Thank you so much for joining us Berrie. To begin, what inspired you to write Bella & Blue?
Every week, I make myself participate in a self-imposed ritual of “Marketing Monday” where I spend at least one morning researching agents, editors, and publishers to send submissions of my dummy books and portfolio samples. While researching, I came across a publisher who promotes creatives from New Jersey. I grew up in a small NJ town across the river from Philadelphia, so I thought I would give it a shot and write a query letter with a link to my portfolio. A couple months later an email came, then a phone call, and then a contract!
Originally, my publisher wanted me to write and illustrate an early reader about a young girl and her pet monkey. I didn’t agree with this plan. Mainly because I had heard too many real life disaster stories of owning a pet monkey! So I suggested to my publisher that I would come up with a story about a girl and her dog. The publisher emphasized that the book series should be a social/emotional story so I created my character, Bella, who is a spunky 8-year-old who suffers from anxiety. My character, Blue, is a dog who helps calm Bella’s anxiety by jumping up on her lap and giving her a high five.
I love that you weren't afraid to voice your suggestions to help make the book better, switching from a pet monkey to a dog.
As you are both author and illustrator, what was the process like for you? Did you start with an image or text?
I begin with really rough thumbnail sketches to get my ideas on paper. I then write out the story like a script with art notes so that my editor can get what the story is about. My final story is much different from the original thumbnails. It’s a long process of sketching, rewriting, new sketches, rewriting, to final art and manuscript. I signed my contract in 2020, and the first of the series comes out in October 2022!
We can't wait to get our hands on it! Do you have a scene in the first book that is your favorite?
Yes! Bella loves to dance so she imitates ballet dancers she sees on tv and almost knocks over Gigi’s (her grandmother) prized plant. The next day, Bella begins a ballet lesson and has an anxiety attack because there are too many ballet rules. While at Gigi’s house, Bella is sad about the class so Gigi tells Bella to slip a tape in her boom box. Gigi teaches Bella and Blue her dance moves – Disco, Boogie Woogie, and The Bump. Bella is excited to show off her dance moves in ballet class and causes a domino of dancers during the floor exercises while showing off “The Bump!”
You mentioned earlier that this book has a social emotional focus. Why do you think this series is important for kids to have on the shelves?
Many kids, including my own daughter, suffer from anxiety. Bella & Blue reflects an anxious child’s personality with humor and heart and helps kids see how having a supportive family and pet can help them cope with their anxiety. Bella also takes the lead and figures out how to solve problems that occur during the story.
How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use Bella & Blue to engage in deeper conversations with kids?
This book is a mirror for anxious kids. They can see themselves reflected in Bella, and it helps readers talk about their own anxieties. Bella’s anxiety is illustrated like a tornado that comes on all of a sudden and escalates. Kids can talk about how they feel when they have anxiety and talk about what or who makes them feel better.
Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics for kids?
Be real and be honest. Kids don’t want you to fluff over the hard stuff. You can talk about hard stuff and still make kids laugh along with the characters in your book. If you have a book inside you write it down (it’s very therapeutic). Join organizations like SCBWI (Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators) and 12x12 to learn how to write for children and hang in there.
Thank you so much Berrie for taking the time to connect with us here!