Something especially for Covid19 shut-in kids: Sarah Lynne Reul reads aloud her book The Breaking News here. The book is particularly pertinent now in view of the pandemic. In this story, some unnamed bad thing happens which takes over the TV news coverage. The parents display distress, which worries the little girl in the story. That is until her teacher advises the class to look for the helpers. Gradually she finds ways to get people to smile, to make a difference. The story helps kids feel hopeful during an unspecified disaster. Like the one right now. As in today.
Now about her newest book, Nerp!
Starred review from Kirkus! “. . . Reul’s clever use of nonsensical monster vocabulary plays very well against the expressive green and yellow countenances of her charming and sympathetic characters. Even the scaly pet’s personality pops, especially when eying the foul contents of its food bowl. The creativity of the menu—both the names and the neon images—is half the fun of this homage to dinnertime chaos.”
Nerp!, an inventive story of picky eaters by Sarah Lynne Reul, was released on March third by Sterling Kids. Imagine a family including an infant and a pet who are all brightly colored monsters. Naturally, they speak their own language and have a creative cuisine, which both mom and dad prepare for baby.
Their nutritional efforts are to no avail. The pet refuses the gelatinous purple delight that lands in his dish. Baby monster says Nerp! (No!) to the garblesnarfy barflecrunch, the hotchy-potch, and even the squishalicious wumpa glump that his doting parents serve.
What is a monster parent to do?
The vibrant artwork blends brushy characters and culinary adventures that are painted over photographs of tiny furnishings crafted by the artist of paper, cardboard, and yarn. Color connects these distinct media. The child’s skin (or should I say hide?) is the same green as two of the placemats as well as some of the culinary offerings. Mom’s and Dad’s personal hues coordinate with the surroundings too. White type connects with the white of Dad’s apron and everyone’s eyeballs. The shadows make interesting connections between the “real” furniture and painted aspects. Everywhere there is action, motion, and expression.
The text is simple and the plot dashes along. A twist in the story changes everything. The hilarious solution satisfies everyone’s tastes. Yerp, it does.
Sarah Lynne Reul has mastered many mediums from books to animations, miniature furniture, and even fabrics. The Search for the Monster of Lake Quannapowitt is her clever three minute and twenty-eight-second animation about a quirky job search that won multiple awards. One of the main characters, Hazel, was voiced by our own Allison Potoma. Sarah’s books are: The Breaking News (Roaring Brook/Macmillan), Allie All Along (Sterling), Pet the Pets and Farm the Farm (Little Simon/Simon & Schuster), and Nerp! (Sterling).
Sarah, congratulations on your monstrously engaging book Nerp! A month has passed since it released, so how are you feeling about the fantastic review it received?
It has been such a strange month, the release feels like it was ages ago! The best part of the feedback has been hearing that families have been laughing during their own read alouds. That makes me feel like a good small thing that I have done to help someone else, even a little, in these unusually distant days.
Your art technique is cool! So, you draw over photos of tiny furniture…tell me more. This is your first book done entirely this way?
Thanks! Yes, it’s my first time doing it this way – my other 4 books were entirely digital. The style grew out of a combination of personal projects that I worked on over the last few years – both versions of #the100dayproject, where the goal is to pick a project and a unique hashtag, and create something for 100 days. For two years in a row I did #100daysofdrawingonphotos, then the following year I did #100daysofmakingtinythings, and the idea to combine them came while working in that third year. I loved making things for my dollhouse when I was growing up, and it was equally fun as a grownup.
What did you use to create the artwork?
For this project, just a Cintiq & PhotoShop, plus an old digital SLR camera, some cardboard, markers and glue.
The baby monster and pet sure are picky eaters, though Mom and Dad are inventive cooks. Are hotchy-potch and squishalicious wumpa glump recipes you use often at home?
Only on special occasions! But actually, one of my critique partners, Sharon Abra Hanen, made a version of yuckaroni smackintosh for our critique group (as well as monster pet food!) and they were both super fun and delicious.
Using monster language is a smart strategy. Is that about food universality?
The idea came from trying to come up with silly sounds – sometimes when my kids ask what’s for dinner, I come up with silly new names for the dishes (especially if the real recipe contains an ingredient that is not one of their favorites). Then I found this super interesting article about the sounds of food, about the maluma/takete effect, and I was encouraged to keep going, combining different sounds to come up with something food-ish.
In what form did you first propose Nerp! to your agent? Did you fully illustrate it upfront or did you somehow do a sketch dummy?
It was a full dummy of mostly rough sketches, with two finished spreads.
Our current COVID 19 situation makes your book The Breaking News ever so pertinent. Do you have any special plans to get that book into kids’ hands now? That would be helpful.
I have been posting read-alouds of my books on Youtube , as well as on IGTV. THE BREAKING NEWS is already up, ALLIE All Along is going up today, and NERP! should be up this week – the links will be up through at least June 30th, so please feel free to share.
What new books are you working on?
I’m currently working on some color samples for a book I wrote that has a working title of BEANSPROUT – some of the work-in-progress can be seen on my IG account. The illustrations are a new, totally real-material method for me – tissue paper prints, watercolor and collage, and while progress is slow, it’s been fun. It’s currently out on submission, but since the style is so different from what I’ve done before, I need to get the samples out to the publishers who have seen it so far.
Do you have any pearls of wisdom for beginning authors and illustrators?
Well, I think we all have to define what success means to each of us, at any point in time. I feel lucky to be able to keep experimenting with new illustration styles but there are definitely lots of roadblocks; I think if you can come up with ways to come back to making it fun for yourself, then that will hopefully shine through in the version that you share with others.
Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your books with children everywhere and your experience and process with other creators here. Stay safe.
“Books are… the best way to hold a world in your hands.” – Sarah Lynne Reul
book photography by Egils Zarins
other photos are from Sarah’s website