Hi Math is Everywhere readers,
I’m doubly excited today because we have a joint interview! We have the honor of talking with the author and illustrator of Calm Down, Zebra, a new picture book that helps little ones learn about colors and deal with frustrations. Please welcome, author Lou Kuenzler and Illustrator Julia Woolf.
Book description for Calm Down, Zebra:
Annie said to the animals, “Let’s help baby Joe.
He’s learning his colours, which he doesn’t yet know.
I’ll paint pictures of you – please line up for me.
If I use the right colours then Joe will soon see.”
But although things don’t turn out quite the way she imagines, together Annie and Zebra make the world a brighter and more beautiful place! A perfect picture book introduction to colors for young readers.
Kaitlyn: Thanks so much for joining us today ladies!
Lou: Thank you for inviting us to chat about our latest picture book.
Julia: Hello and thank you from me too.
Kaitlyn: Can you ladies tell us about your process of working together?
Lou: One of the great joys of writing picture books is seeing how illustrators will bring vivid, visual life to the words. I try to stand back a bit, in the early stages, while Julia responds to the first draft of the text and the brief, initial illustration notes I have made. However, once she has done some initial sketches/roughs of each spread, I am always very eager to chat and share thoughts. Mostly, I just beam with delight!
Julia: I am sent Lou’s text with her illustration notes, which are a really great starting place to kick things off from. I will do rough layout sketches of all the spreads and then we all meet up to discuss what we like and what we would like to change. As this was the second book with mostly the same characters it was a slightly quicker process. But for any new characters there were quite a few sketches done to choose from.
Kaitlyn: It sounds like you ladies have a wonderful working relationship. Lou, what was the inspiration for this story?
Lou: I came up with the character of Zebra for our previous picture book, Not Yet, Zebra. In that first one, our impatient friend causes havoc as he cannot wait for his turn to come up right at the very end of the alphabet. This idea came to me when I saw that the magnetic alphabet letters on my refrigerator door had got in a muddle. The black and white stripy Z was right at the top of the ABC by mistake. As I moved it back down to the ‘proper’ place at the end, I thought to myself: “Oh dear, Zebra won’t like that.” Right away, I knew I had a story. When we were thinking about a sequel, I knew that the same Zebra who cannot bear to be last in the alphabet would also be very keen to decorate everybody he knows with gorgeous stripes and patterns just like him! Once again, the more law-abiding Annie must try to bring some sort of order to Zebra’s chaotic zeal.
Kaitlyn: Oh, Lou, I just adore the inspiration for your original character and that you knew this character so well that the sequel was just meant to be! Julia, what inspired you to want to do the illustrations for this story?
Julia: My agent was approached by the publishers for the first book. I had done another book with lots of animal characters and they had seen that and thought I’d be a good fit for Lou’s fab text. I love doing animal characters and making the illustrations humorous and giving them great expressions. Putting things in the illustrations that aren’t necessarily in the text is always great fun for an illustrator and something for the kids to find when looking at the book.
Kaitlyn: Yes! And the humor you both have in this story makes it absolutely un-put-down-able! Speaking of characters, Julia, how did you decide on the characters?
Julia: Through a lot of sketching. Zebra went through quite a few changes as did Annie. I’ve lots of sketch books full of drawings of many different animals doing all sorts of things. When making a new character it’s good to sketch them doing lots of different things. Obviously in Lou’s first illustration notes she had described the characteristics of Zebra and Annie. Zebra being cheeky and a little bit naughty and Annie being lovely but also a bit bossy. These are great notes to start with to try and find the right character.
Kaitlyn: Wow, Lou really knows how to communicate well with you. So, Lou, we’ve got to know, what did you think when you saw the characters Julia came up with?
Lou: I just love Julia’s illustrations – not just the central characters but those in the background too. Look out for the heart-meltingly adorable penguins who pop up everywhere in Calm Down, Zebra!
Kaitlyn: Oh, I definitely noticed them–so cute! Now, ladies, if you HAD to pick a favorite spread, which one is it and why?
Julia: I love the spread where Annie hands out the black and white paintings for everyone to decorate. I really like the graphic quality of this spread. I do love the surprise of the sparkly Peacock spread too. And the last rainbow spread has a great impact.
Lou: Obviously the gorgeous, glittery Peacock … but I do love Elephant’s ENORMOUS flowery bottom too! My grandma had some splendid curtains with a very similar pattern in the 1970s.
Kaitlyn: Hahahaha! I’m so proud you were able to choose because I couldn’t; they’re all so great! The celebration of joy is well represented in this book, where did the inspiration come from in your story, Lou? How did you go about showing that joy in your art, Julia?
Lou: For me, the joy of writing these stories is the mis-matched but very fond friendship of Annie and Zebra. I love the muddle which ensues when method and madness meet. It reminds me very much of the dynamic one often sees between siblings or different children in a classroom – neither standpoint is right and the resulting opposition/compromise breeds creative outcomes on both sides.
Julia: I think it comes from the characters’ expressions and postures and just thinking about what little kids do when painting and trying to remember the things that made me laugh as a kid.
Kaitlyn: Absolutely beautiful, ladies. Okay, last question, if you were able to spend the day with your favorite author or illustrator, would you rather drink tea by the fireside or go fly a kite?
Julia: Tea please and a good natter.
Lou: Tea every time. Especially if there is cake! I would want our conversation to be gloriously uninterrupted.
Kaitlyn: Haha, yes! And, I’m now looking up natter means…I’m thinking like a cookie?…hold please…drum roll…and OH, I was wrong, it’s a talk/chatter. Well I was way off but I love learning new things and would love to join both of you and have a good natter with cake and tea! Thank you both so much for this delightful interview!
Lou: Thank you. It has been really fun and has made me realise all sorts of subconscious things about the story writing process in general and my adventures with Julia, Zebra and Annie in particular.
Julia: Yes and thank you from me too. It’s a great pleasure to illustrate Lou’s books and feel very pleased that I was picked for the job.
Aren’t these ladies and their story just lovely?
Author Bio: Lou Kuenzler
Raised on a remote sheep farm amongst many animals and the chance for endless adventure, Lou has written a number of funny books for children right across the primary school age group. Other titles include the picture book Eat Your People, plus the Bella Broomstick books and The Incredible Shrinking Girl series for newly-fluent readers.
Illustrator Bio: Julia Woolf
Before enrolling at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge where she completed her MA in Children’s Book Illustration, Julia worked for twenty years in animation, including several years at Dreamworks in Los Angeles. When Julia returned to the UK, she embarked on the Cambridge course and loved the fact that the course challenged her to experiment with different processes and that it took her in a fresh new direction.
Julia’s work was shortlisted for the AOI Awards in the New Talent, Children’s Books category and her first picture book as author/illustrator, Giraffe on a Bicycle was published by Macmillan in 2016. Her second picture book, Lazy Cat was published by Templar in March 2017. Another author illustrated book is Duck & Penguin are Not Friends, was published in June 2019 with Andersen Press. Duck & Penguin Do Not Like Sleepovers is published in August 2020
Alongside her published work, Julia’s The Fox in the Forest was the inspiration for the architects Hawkins Brown’s design of Ivydale Primary School in South London, which subsequently won the RIBA London Award for 2018. In the same year Julia won the ARU Alumni Contribution to Culture Award.
Kaitlyn’s Review of Calm Down, Zebra
This book is so wonderful. I love how with each page, it just got better and better and the art is just adorable. The rhyme is spot on and the characters are just splendid. The main character, Annie, wants to help her brother learn his colors so, of course, she wants everything to be perfect. It’s absolutely wonderful to see her grow through the story and learn that sometimes it’s okay to just have fun. This is a delightful read for all kids with its adorable characters and great humor.
It’s Giveaway Time!
If you’re as delighted by these ladies and the story they shared about as I am, then get in on the giveaway to win a copy of Calm Down, Zebra (Continental US only please)
You have three ways to enter (each one will get you one entry into the drawing, so feel free to do all three!):
- Comment on this post
- Share in the comments below that you did a purchase request for Calm Down, Zebra at your library
- Retweet my tweet about this blog poston Twitter (gold star if you tag Lou @LouKuenzler and Julia @Juliawoolf)
Thank you all for reading, and I hope you had as much fun as I did. Remember to support these authors and illustrators in any way you can. Follow them on social media, share about their books, buys, read, review their books, whatever you can do!
PS Everyone for the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest has been matched with their winners so look for a follow up blog post about the contest coming soon, and for all of you who participated, thank you so much for making this such a lovely time for all of us!