Meet Author/Illustrator Hazel Mitchell: A KidLit Pearl!

A hearty welcome today to Hazel Mitchell, an award-winning author/illustrator with several new books to celebrate, including:

ONE WORD PEARL (Mackinac Island/Charlesbridge Publishing Fall 2013, Written by Nicole Groeneweg).

Hazel has graciously taken time from her busy schedule to answer some of my questions about the world of KidLit.  But first, some more about PEARL:

One Word Pearl Cover

From the publisher:

*Pearl loves words. All kinds of words. Words make up songs, stories, poems . . . and what does a lover of words do? She collects them, of course!

But one day, most of Pearl’s words are blown away, leaving her only a few which she keeps safely in her treasure chest. After that day, she uses each word carefully—one at a time, until she has no words left. When her teacher asks her questions at school, she doesn’t answer. When her friend wants to know what she has for lunch, she can’t respond. What will Pearl do without her precious words? Will she ever find them?

One Word Pearl explores the power of words to transform, inspire, and cultivate imagination. This whimsical story is the winner of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Children’s Book Competition in the Picture Book category.*

One Word Pearl Interior 5

Click here to watch the darling trailer for ONE WORD PEARL.  See below for details on winning your own copy!

Here’s a little background on Hazel, from her website:

Hazel Mitchell Photo

*Hazel Mitchell is an award winning illustrator. From an early age she drew on every thing she could get her hands on and still can’t be left safely alone with a pencil. Her most recent books include One Word Pearl1,2,3 by the SeaHow to Talk to an Autistic Kid (Foreword Reviews Gold Medal winner and Finalist in ‘Books for a Better Life’), Hidden New Jersey and the All-Star Cheerleaders series by Anastasia Suen. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives and works from her studio in Central Maine, USA. She still misses fish and chips and mushy peas, but is learning to love lobster. She has a dog, a cat, two horses and several snow shovels. You can see more of her work at or find her on Facebook and all those online places!*

Here’s what Hazel had to say about her work and her career as an author/illustrator:

Nancy:  A lot of people think that authors need to find their own illustrators in order to publish a picture book, which of course is not the case.  However, I’m curious – have you ever known an author personally before you were asked to illustrate their work?
One Word Pearl 9
Hazel: All the trade books I’ve published have been with authors I didn’t know. The editor/art director chose the illustrator. People entering, or beginning to write, don’t usually get this disconnect, but I think it’s how it should be. The illustrator is hired to do a job and bring their vision to a project. It’s hard if you get too much input from the author, or very specific directions, because your own ideas take a back seat. I can understand how hard it is for an author sometimes, they’ve lived with their characters for so long! I’ve done self publishing projects in the past where I’ve worked closely with an author on their vision. To me that’s a different kind of illustrating, more of an ‘artist for hire project’ in which you expect to follow tighter guidelines. But in general, working with an author on a project isn’t easy. That’s why we have art directors! 
Nancy: Your drawings of children are delightful.  Do you have kids in your own life you model them after? Where is your favorite place for people watching?
One Word Pearl Interior 4
Hazel: Thank you! When I began my career in illustration I always thought I’d be illustrating animals, with minimal children. It’s been quite the reverse! I have learned to embrace drawing children, although it’s been a steep learning curve. The looser the drawing the better, is how it works for me. I do not have children, and my step children are grown. I usually do research on the specific type of child for a project. Youtube is a great source of reference for studying children! And if you pause them, it’s even easier!! Mostly I draw from imagination. My favorite place for people watching .. sitting in a Parisian Cafe with an excellent cup of coffee, a croissant and a sketch pad!!
Nancy: You moved from the UK to Maine.  Both are beautiful places, but do you ever long for hot, crispy summer days?
One Word Pearl Interior 3
Hazel: Believe me, Maine has plenty of hot summer days! And humid ones too. I lived in South Carolina when I moved from the UK, it was hellishly hot and I was glad to move North. (I’m a celt at heart.)
Nancy:  What kinds of things do you like to write? Are illustrations swirling in your head whenever you write?
One Word Pearl Interior 6
Hazel: Writing and visuals are mixed up together for me. I have several projects on the go from picture books to a middle grade novel. I do find, that even when working on a picture book, the words are very important. I’ll write descriptions of what I see before I draw them, but at the same time the images are jumping in my head. If I’m writing straight prose, there’s a movie playing in my mind.
Nancy: About how long is the creative process – from the time you take on a project (like ONE WORD PEARL) until you are holding the finished book in your hands?
Process character Character design
Hazel: One Word Pearl was a fast turnaround, about 3 months from receiving the manuscript. There isn’t much time for pondering. The book was in stores 7 months later. Of course it was in editing before I received it. I would love a nice, leisurely project!!
Nancy: If you could go back in time, is there any particular children’s book you would have loved to have illustrated?
One Word Pearl Interior 1
Hazel: That’s hard. When you think of the classics you love, they’re so set in stone, why would you change them? I think I am very attracted to chapter books, and I would have loved to illustrate something like Peter Pan.  (Nancy’s note: I can see Peter Pan wanting to peek in the window in the above picture).
Nancy: Here’s one that my writer friends and I wonder about: Which came first, the blog or the author page? Do you think  it’s smart to get a blog rolling when you are pre-published, and then just link to an author page when there is something to promote?  I’d love to know your thoughts since you have both (and both are so perfectly aligned visually!).
Hazel:  I started my blog first. I stayed off social networks for a while, but now I use everything in tandem. Which reminds me … I need to update my blog! 
You can find Hazel online at:
twitter:  @thewackybrit
BOOK GIVEAWAY! Hazel has generously offered a copy of ONE WORD PEARL to one lucky reader.  Just enter your favorite word in the comments below, and I’ll put your name in the hat!  If you’re not the gambling type, ONE WORD PEARL is available at your local indie bookstore.  Just click here!
Happy Reading.
Update 9/30/13:  Congratulations to the winner of a copy of ONE WORD PEARL, Michele Manning!  Thanks for playing.  By the way, my favorite word is fresh.  I especially like it in the context of fresh sheets, fresh piece of paper, and my all time favorite, fresh pot of coffee. 

Worth a Visit: The Eric Carle Museum

I have the pleasure of living a short drive from a mecca for picture book fans:  The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  Located in Amherst, MA, the museum is designed to “inspire a love of art and reading through picture books.”

It was founded in November 2002 by Eric Carle (well-known author/illustrator of over 70 books, including the iconic classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar), and his wife Barbara Carle.

The museum is a wonderful place to explore with children, but you will get much more out of your visit if you do a little planning ahead of time.  The museum is not a children’s museum, per se.  Actually, one of the things I like about taking my kids there is that it affords a small, safe environment for them to learn proper museum etiquette.  You won’t find Eric Carle’s caterpillar or butterfly or brown bear all over the walls (although they do cleverly haunt the bathroom tiles).  What you will find are several dimly lit galleries (which highlight the work of picture book authors and illustrators on a rotating basis), a welcoming reading library, and an interactive art studio.  There is also a rock-star gift shop, but I limit my time there so as not to spend my children’s college savings accounts prematurely.

To make the galleries more enjoyable for children, be sure to ask for the scavenger hunt style activities at the front desk or from one of the docents.  Or, if you know what artist is currently on display, you can set up some activities ahead of time.

We recently visited the exhibit, “The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats” (on display through October 14th).  Fortuitously, the other parent joining me on the outing is a “Librarian Mom” and just happened to have at least 7 of Ezra Jack Keat’s books in her home library.  On the drive up to the museum, we had our kids each choose one of the books to read.  Then we told them to find one picture from their chosen book that they would be “on the lookout” for in the gallery.  (My favorite part was the 90 seconds of silence that accompanied their book reading).

Here are said children with their Keats books, ready to hunt.

They were so excited to match the pictures from the books in their hands to the ones framed on the walls.  The staff in the room circulated without hovering, helping the kids to experience the art work while maintaining some decorum.  Not easy!

My favorite part of the exhibit was the display of letters that fans of Keats’ had written him over the years.  Keats was one of the first picture book artists to portray African-American children in his work, and many of the letters thanked him for that and defended him against critics.

After enjoying the galleries, we wandered into the kid-friendly art studio.  In a room with floor-to-ceiling windows, several tables were set up with inviting art supplies.  Suggested art projects rotate frequently.  A friendly staff member explained the ‘project du jour’:  Imagining your perfect day.  Adults and kids alike got in on the act, using the large variety of paper provided to make cut-outs, and then finishing with watercolor paints.

Here’s my modest attempt, depicting me and Librarian Mom talking about nature, books, and ranting about whatever’s on our minds:

What would you imagine as your perfect day? Would you turn into a butterfly?

Or go to the beach….

…and enjoy the sunset?

Or maybe you’d just hang out with your family:

Whatever your pleasure, be sure to make time for a trip to this special museum.  It’s inspiring!