Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
I am totally fan-girling today because Debbie Ridpath Ohi is one of the first picture book artists I fell head-over-heels for! Why, you ask? Well, first I’m Sad is so hilarious AND Debbie does so much for kids as well as authors and illustrators on her website and on social media, always encouraging the best from everyone. Note: check out her broken crayon art! Today we get to talk about the next book in the series that I fell in love with immediately, the I’M… series, and this newest book is called I”M SORRY.
Kaitlyn: Hi, Debbie, thank you so much for joining us!
Debbie: Thank you for inviting me to visit your blog, Kaitlyn!
Kaitlyn: It’s so great to have you, and thank you, too, for sharing this important story with the world. Can you share how you were chosen for this series and why you’ve continued to create art for this fun series?
Debbie: I feel incredibly lucky to have been chosen for the I’M…. picture book series! The first title in the series, I’m Bored, was actually my very first children’s book illustration contract EVER. When Justin Chanda of Simon & Schuster Children’s saw my portfolio in the SCBWI Summer Conference Showcase in 2010, he was looking for someone to illustrate Michael Ian Black’s newest picture book mss. He sent samples to Michael, and Michael approved. I’m grateful to both (and SCBWI) for helping to give me my first big break! You can read my post about what happened on the KidLitArtists blog.
Kaitlyn: Wow, that’s amazing! How many illustrators get to say their first book is now a series of books? Can you share why you think stories like these are so important for our little ones to read about?
Debbie: Young readers (and not-so-young readers) need to understand that emotions can be complicated sometimes, and that no matter how they’re feeling, it’s okay. As Michael said, “…It’s good to know we have people (or potatoes) in our lives who won’t think any less of us for feeling the way we feel and who will still love us no matter what.”
In I’m Sorry, the Potato learns how to give a genuine apology – to recognize what happened and how the other person feels, acknowledge responsibility. One of my hopes for the I’M… books is that they’ll help jumpstart conversations about difficult emotions.
Kaitlyn: The I’m… series definitely starts those conversations and also provides fun, comedy (especially through your art) to make these ethics relatable. Can you share how you came up with these characters after reading the first manuscript in the series?
Debbie: I had a lot of fun brainstorming how to draw these characters, especially the Potato. I actually went to our local grocery store and bought different types and shapes of potatoes. And then, of course, I interviewed them:
For the Little Girl, I came up with a bunch of options and sent some to my editor (Justin Chanda) and art director (Laurent Linn):
They ended up liking Option C the most, especially the simple drawing of the crabby girl with pigtails, and that’s the one I developed into the final character.
Kaitlyn: Omg, I was laughing so hard at your “interviewing potatoes” comic here! And wow Justin and Laurent and you? What an amazing team! As most of us know, art is half the story in picture books, and even cooler is how wonderful artists like you add so much extra to the story, Debbie. Can you share something about the art that others may not have noticed that you put in to make this even more fun?
Debbie: In I’m Sorry, there is an illustration where the Potato is fantasizing about an Apology Sandwich (the imaginary sequences are drawn in turquoise). To help me come up with a big, messy sandwich, I asked my Twitter followers for suggestions:
I received all kinds of great suggestions, including from Kate Messner, Julie Hampton, MocaMouse, Angela Misri, Leah Rose Kessler and Kellie DuBay Gillis. Here is the final sandwich drawing:
Kaitlyn: Hahahaha! The Twitter community can be so great, especially when asked a fantastic question like this, Debbie! Can you share who your team is behind this book (editor, art director, designer, whoever too worked with the most that you’d like to talk about) and why it was so wonderful to work with this person?
Debbie: As I mentioned earlier, Justin Chanda is the Simon & Schuster Children’s editor who “discovered” me through my portfolio in 2010. He is a BRILLIANT editor. I love that he can easily switch between his publisher and editor hats, and is so good at helping me step back and see the bigger picture. He helps me see into the heart of every story, whether it’s on the writing or illustration side.
Laurent Linn is my wonderful art director at S&S, and I also feel incredibly lucky to be working with him. I love his creativity and how he pushes me as an illustrator. He’s SO fun to work with! I love his sense of whimsy. Plus (and this is a BIGGIE when it comes to art direction), he is an EXCELLENT communicator, able to give me concrete advice as well as conceptual feedback.
(Above photo was taken at Books Of Wonder in NYC. From L to R: Laurent Linn, me, Justin Chanda, Michael Ian Black)
Kaitlyn: This team sounds absolutely brilliant! I had the pleasure of Laurent speak at the SCBWI conference recently, and it was just a joy! Can you share who your agent is and why you enjoy working with this agent?
Debbie: My agent is Ginger Knowlton, who is Executive VP at Curtis Brown Ltd. I adore Ginger.
Here are just some reasons why:
Kaitlyn: Hahaha! Another comic that I just adore. I love that you share best through art; it definitely tells me you chose the right profession. Since you’re such an amazing illustrator, can you share some advice you like to give to aspiring illustrators?
Debbie: If you aspire to illustrate children’s picture books, I strongly advise you to READ them. I come across so many hopeful children’s book illustrators who aren’t really familiar with the genre, except from what they remember in their childhood. Read as many picture books as you can, and a wide variety. Look closely at how the art and text complement each other.
Connect with other children’s book creators. Join the SCBWI and (in Canada) CANSCAIP.
When putting together your portfolio, be aware that just being good at design and drawing does not mean you will automatically be good at illustrating children’s books. I recommend browsing some of the portfolio advice at KidLitArtists.com for tips.
Kaitlyn: Wow! This is some amazing advice (I hope you’re taking notes, readers!) Debbie, can you share how you and your team are working on marketing this book? Is it different to market a series?
Debbie: Marketing and publicizing books is more of a challenge these days because of the pandemic, but I’m grateful to be working with the team at Simon & Schuster Children’s. I just recently had a Zoom meeting with my S&S publicist, Shivani Annirood, and there are some exciting plans in the works which I can’t really talk about yet.
However, speaking for myself: I’m soon going to post a special giveaway for those who pre-order I’M SORRY from an indie bookstore by mid-August! In addition to special signed bookplates by both Michael and me, I’ll be giving art, books and book-themed jewelry.
Kaitlyn: Did you say JEWELERY??? That’s so cool, and readers, I hope you’re following Debbie on social media so you don’t miss these giveaways! Wishing you the best of luck for great marketing with your team, Debbi. Can you please share with us what’s next for you or what you’re working on now?
Debbie: My current picture book project is a yet-untitled sequel to SAM & EVA. Super-excited about this solo project, which is a story within a story and involves found object art.
I’m also working on a yet-uncontracted middle grade novel. I put this on the back burner years ago when I began illustrating picture books, but haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It was nominated by Jen Rofé for the Sue Alexander “Most Promising New Work” Award a while back – it didn’t win, but just being nominated was a reminder to myself to NOT give up on my dream of getting my middle grade novels published. This is my fifth middle grade novel project. I never sent out the first, the second is what helped get me my awesome agent. The second and third received increasingly nicer rejections, so I could tell I was getting better. I never sent out the fourth, not even to my agent, because I could tell that it didn’t have a strong enough concept.
I am VERY keen on finishing and sending out my current middle grade. I can’t control if it will ever get published, of course….all I can do is make sure I FINISH it. After I send it out, of course, I’m not going to just wait. I have other middle grade project ideas waiting to be finished, including a graphic novel. Please cross your fingers for me!
Kaitlyn: You are so amazing and inspiring. We can’t predict which books will be published, but we can keep creating. I, for one, hope all of your books get published. And I can’t wait to have you back to talk about the found object art PB! Finally, if you could meet your favorite author, illustrator, historical figure, or mathematician, would you chat by a fireside or go on an adventure?
Debbie: I would have loved to go on an adventure with Ray Bradbury and see the world through his eyes. The adventure, of course, would include many fireside chats!
Kaitlyn: Oh that sounds wonderful, count me in please! Thank you so much for sharing and for joining us today, Debbie!
Debbie: Thank YOU, Kaitlyn!
Kaitlyn: It’s been an absolute pleasure!
Book Info and Links
I’M SORRY is written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers on August 6th, 2021. The synopsis for this fourth book in the I’M… book series:
Flamingo is upset. Very upset.
Potato is sorry. Very sorry. In fact, he is the sorriest.
But he doesn’t know how to tell Flamingo. He would rather run away to the South Pole and live with penguins. He’d rather wear a disguise for the rest of time. But will that be enough to fix their friendship? Will they ever go back to being a girl, a potato, and a flamingo again?
You can find out more at the Simon & Schuster website:
Author/Illustrator Bio and Links
Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? and Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers). Her illustrations also appear in books by Judy Blume and Michael Ian Black, among others. Her newest book is Gurple and Preen: A Broken Crayon Cosmic Adventure (2020), written by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Debbie. Debbie is currently working on illustrations for I’m Sorry, written by Michael Ian Black and scheduled to come out from Simon & Schuster in 2021. For more info about Debbie and upcoming projects, see DebbieOhi.com. You can find Debbie on Twitter at @inkyelbows, Instagram at @inkygirl (art) / @inkyelbows (bookstagram) and Youtube at @debbieohi.
I’m Sorry is the best way to help kids learn about apologies. It’s hilarious, heartfelt, and has the best art! I hope you all share I’m Sorry with all of the kids in your life!
Giveaway – Debbie is happy to offer a copy of I’M SORRY (US/CANADA only please)
To enter the random drawing, do any/all of the following options, then come back and write all of the things you did in ONE blog comment. (If you forget something, feel free to reply to your first comment ;))
- Share that you added I’M SORRY to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist
- Share that you ordered a copy of I’M SORRY
- Share that you did a purchase request for I’M SORRY at your library
- Share that you left a review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble for any of Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s AMAZING books
- Share that you retweeted or quote retweeted my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tagged some friends.
Thank you all for supporting such amazing creators, and make sure to check back soon because we’re having our second Team Sanchez cover reveal very very soon!
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez