Friday, April 24, 2015

Children's Picture eBook Review and Author Interview: The Bewundering World of Bewilderbeests Written and Illustrated by Bailey Fort

Illustrations: 5.0 Stars 
Cover: 5.0 Stars
Storyline: 4.5 Stars
Total: 5.0 Stars

My Review: Meet quirky creatures and galloping rhymes and rhythms in this well-illustrated children's book.

Illustrations: Top notch illustrations. They are colorful and the animals' expressions and oddness contribute to the book. It's very unusual to have a successful illustrator who can also write a great book (and vice versa), and Bailey Fort manages it very well.

Storyline: This isn't a story-line type of book. It's like Shel Silverstein's writings--unique creatures and fun word-play poems about the "bewilderbeests."Author Interview with Bailey Fort:

Author Bailey Fort
Valerie Harmon: How did you get started in writing?
Bailey Fort: While I’d previously gained a fair bit of experience with academic writing, this was my first real foray into writing for children—though I always did enjoy a bit of wordplay. Now I’m hooked! (As you might imagine, this form of writing has proven to be considerably more fun than the academic stuff ever was…).
VH: Why did you decide to write a children's book?
BF: It actually began as an assignment in an editorial design course, but quickly evolved into something I wanted to expand upon beyond the bounds of the course. I had a great professor who was very supportive and offered tremendously helpful guidance throughout the development process—and he encouraged me to pursue it further. That being said, the work I’d done sat on a metaphorical shelf for a while, but kept calling me back. Eventually, I returned to it and added new material (and polished up the earlier work), then decided it was finally ready to be shared with the world. On the plus side, ebook technology made great advancements in the area of children’s picture books during that time period—though I still have plans to release a print edition in the near future. Even though the children’s book began as an assignment, it turned into a labour of love; I’m thankful that the assignment illuminated an area of work I hadn’t really considered previously. 
VH: What are your top three favorite children's books?
BF: Plenty of wonderful children’s books have been released since I was a kid, but some of my personal favourites were Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, Matilda by Roald Dahl, and a beautifully illustrated book called Cats’ Carnival Ball written by Edith Schreiber-Wicke, illustrated by Monika Laimgruber, and translated from German by Alison Coughtry.

VH: How did you come up with the "bewilderbeest" idea?
BF: When I was developing the idea for the book, I wanted to integrate certain elements inspired by the types of books I loved most as a kid. I was drawn to anything to do with animals— especially if they were engaging characters. Rich and colourful illustrations won me over, and—perhaps most importantly— I was drawn to books that were fun to read because of their rhythm or amusing content.
I considered writing about real animals or mythological creatures, but ultimately decided I’d have the most fun introducing readers to new, made-up beasties. I wanted them each to have distinctive personalities that were like little slices of humanity, reflecting the idiosyncrasies of different people you might meet or already know personally. The creature names and poems evolved from there.
VH: Who influences your writing?
BF: Shel Silverstein was a big influence—I aimed to capture a similar sense of rhythm and playful whimsy in telling each creature’s story, but I also wanted to ensure that my own writing voice was clearly expressed. Beyond that, anything I might read (or hear) has the potential to spark an idea for word choice or a particular turn of phrase.
VH: Click here for more information on writer/illustrator Shel Silverstein.

VH: What's your top three favourite books?
BF: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams,  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, and Papillon by Henri Charrière.

VH: What advice do you have for people who want to write/illustrate books?
BF: It involves more work than you probably realize to develop a well-crafted children’s book. Children’s books seem deceptively simple, but require a lot of planning and ruthless curation. 
Write down any ideas you have—concepts, characters, phrases, etc.  Do sketches when you get flashes of inspiration. It’s not a quick process, and you might not do anything with your ideas right away, but once you’ve started to collect those ideas, you might eventually see something cohesive start to emerge. 
In children’s books especially, the specific selection of every individual word becomes important.
Step away from your work for a bit and revisit it periodically—it will help you to see things with fresh eyes and to edit mercilessly.
The words and the pictures should enhance each other, so if you’re doing only the writing or only the illustrating of the children’s book, try to find someone to work with who shares your vision and seamlessly complements your work. This is no easy feat…
VH: Who influences your illustration?
BF: It’s difficult for me to cite specific examples that consciously influenced my illustration style for the book, since it evolved gradually. I started with sketches of different characters and backgrounds, as well as an assortment of hand-painted abstract patterns and textures, all of which I then scanned and layered digitally. In hindsight, however, I recognize a kinship with Eric Carle’s work, both in terms of aesthetic and technique. My own illustrations are essentially digital collages, but stray from the tradition of Carle’s aesthetic with richly layered landscapes as the backgrounds for each spread. The faces of the various creatures are a bit more expressive, as well—to fully convey their unique dispositions and personal stories.
VH: Click here for more information on illustrator Eric Carle.

VH: What do you have to say to the children who read your books?
BF: Reading is fun—or at least it can be. You can learn about anything you want through reading, and it can offer an escape to anywhere you might  imagine—and plenty of places you wouldn’t have imagined for yourself! So visit your local library! Go to a bookstore! Raid the bookshelves in your home!
Try to appreciate how words are used—because the English language is both glorious and incredibly stupid. It’s wonderfully versatile and great for wordplay, but is also inconsistent, confusing, and difficult to learn in comparison with other languages. The more you read, and the more you write, the easier it will become to express yourself clearly and articulate your thoughts—and I think we can all agree that what you have to say is important! In any case, have a bit of fun with language and how you use it!
We all have our quirks—try to have a sense of humour about your own, and aim not to judge other people too harshly for theirs.

VH: What bewilderbeest are you most like?
BF: Hmmm… A few of the characters reflect an exaggeration of personal idiosyncrasies. For instance, like the Meadowsnark, I’m not really a morning bird—though I’m not quite that grumpy! Mainly, I’d say I’m most like the Millipus—juggling a lot of different things at once.

The Millipus, a page from Fort's Bewundering World of Bewilderbeests

VH: What do you have to say to children who want to grow up to be like you?
BF: Feed your brain: read—a lot. Anything and everything! Serious stuff and silly stuff; scientific stuff and artsy stuff; true stuff and marvellously made-up stuff; stuff you’re assigned in school and stuff you discover all on your own. There really is no limit here.

Dabble: keep trying new things. You’ll discover interests, activities, and hobbies that you love—and probably a few that you hate, but that’s okay, too. For instance, I learned I hated playing baseball…and soccer…but I liked playing basketball. More importantly (for me), I discovered artistic pursuits outside of the classroom. Try to maintain the interests that you love as a part of your life.   

Sometimes life is hard, so cultivate a sense of humour: it will see you through the good times and the more troublesome ones.

For more of Fort, check out her website and Facebook page. 

~Written by Valerie Harmon

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