Teachers for Teachers | It’s Monday! Here’s What We Are Reading … #IMWAYR
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It’s Monday! Here’s What We Are Reading … #IMWAYR

We typically meet children’s book authors and illustrators on social media, at reading conferences, or at local libraries and bookstore events.  Recently we had the lovely surprise of meeting an illustrator at one of our partnership schools. You see, Kevin Barry is a teacher at the Pine Hill Elementary School.  We have known him as a teacher.  We just didn’t know he is also a children’s book illustrator.

In April, we had the chance to interview Kevin and get a “behind the scenes” peek into his creative process.  Here is our interview with Kevin and a giveaway for readers.

Why did you become an illustrator?

I love stories, spoken, written, acted, filmed…whatever.  There is nothing like getting lost in a good tale. Heart string tugged.  Pulse racing.  A guffaw alone in your room.  The ability of stories to affect our lives is a fascination of mine, and the human tradition of storytelling is something I’ve wanted to be a part of since I was a child, recounting the exploits of my favorite comic book characters to my mom, who humored me with feigned interest that was academy award worthy.  Illustration is just my way of telling stories. It’s a skill I have been adept with and loved honing since copying Garfield comic strips as a 2nd grader during indoor recess.

How do you decide what aspects of the text to illustrate?

It all starts with reading. I will pour over the manuscript many times, often doodling ideas in the margins, underlining key moments, or writing general notes to myself.  What I’m doing is trying to boil down the essence of the book as I’m reading.  By the time it reaches my hands, this book has already had blood sweat and tears poured into it by the author and editorial team.  I have to do the same.  As I read, I begin to arrive at a sense of the world of the story, and the characters that inhabit it.

The biggest thing that I am looking for is the wonder behind the words.  Is there a key moment within the story that is pivotal?  Is there a moment of character change or unexpected occurrence that is essential?  If I can find that moment, that will be the anchor point for the design of my illustrations.  I have been fortunate enough to illustrate for such talented writers that those moments are always there, waiting to be found.

Color is so prominent in your illustrations.  How do you choose the color palette for a book?
Every story is different, and it’s design should elucidate the themes or mood of the story.  Color is tricky, because, in my experience, it is deeply subjective.  People respond to color in different ways. Colors that I find subtle and thought provoking may inspire yawns from my daughter.  Colors that excite her may strike me as garish and unsophisticated.  I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by kids to provide counterpoint my specific color biases.

When I illustrated Schnitzel: A Cautionary Tale for Lazy Louts, written by the amazing Stephanie Shaw, the gothic undertones of the text brought old Universal horror movies to mind.  I chose to illustrate the story in the warm gray tones of classics like Frankenstein and Dracula, with pops of color to direct the reader’s eye or dramatize specific elements.  I think the contrast (alongside Stephanie’s rhythmic verse) makes for a really fun read.

Ghost Cat, on the other hand, is a softer, more tender tale written with grace by the legendary Eve Bunting.  This story called for a completely different color world.  I opted for warm golds and purples that I hope welcome readers into the quiet world of Miss Maggie and her ghost cat, Sailor Boy.  I let the colors bleed and fade right off the edges, hoping to reflect the ethereal tone of the story.

What do you want teachers and students to know about you and your illustrations?

As an educator myself, I want teachers and students to know my illustrations are really hard to create, and that’s what makes the process rewarding.  Every time I start a new project, be it a full book or a standalone illustration, I am filled with overwhelming self-doubt. I spend plenty of time staring at the white page.  Ask my wife how many times I’ve claimed to have “forgotten how to paint.”  It’s practically a mantra.

I want teachers and particularly students to know my challenges and self-doubt, and then see my success, because yes, I ultimately love the Illustrations I create.  I struggle with each one, and the struggle is precious. My paper is hit with the eraser just as much as the lead. That is where learning happens.  I fail countless times with every painting, and I just keep trying until I succeed.  I think that this is one of the simpler lessons in life that many of us miss or dismiss.  The finish line isn’t moving.  Just keep walking.

Note to self: “I have forgotten how to paint…but I will learn again.”

What are you working on now?  What can we look forward to reading?

I am just now wrapping up illustrations for Kindergarrrten Bus, a picture book fabulously written with humor and heart by Mike Ornstein and published by Sleeping Bear Press. I love this book and can’t wait to get it into the hands of preschoolers and kindergarteners this summer.  It’s a story about bravery and overcoming the nerves of walking into new situations. But all that heavy stuff is hidden within a super silly story of a land lubbing pirate bus driver and his parrot first mate. There are plenty of laughs to be had.  The book should be out just in time for preschoolers this summer.  I hope to get a copy to my nephew, Gray, before he starts on his kindergarten adventure in September.

Thank you, Kevin, for sharing so much with all of us! 

Kevin has generously offered to send a signed copy of Ghost Cat to one reader.  If you would like to participate, please share which authors and illustrators would be in your local author and illustrator basket in the comment section below by Friday, May 11.   We will use a random number generator to choose a winner and will announce the winner on our blog on Monday, May 14.

For more information about Kevin Barry, visit him at

http://www.kevinbarryillustration.com/home.html  or on Twitter @madeoflines.

  • Avatar
    Lisa Maucione
    Posted at 10:05h, 07 May Reply

    I am not familiar with these books or the illustrator. I love this advice that he gives: “The finish line isn’t moving. Just keep walking.” Kara LaReau is a local author whose books kids are enjoying lately. They love The Infamous Ratsos. Of course, Josh Funk’s books are in the basket, too!

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    2Shaye @ Miller Memo
    Posted at 16:00h, 07 May Reply

    It’s so important for kids to see that authors and illustrators still struggle with self-doubt at time, but that they push forward to finish the creative process. Enjoyed reading this interview. Thanks for sharing!

  • Avatar
    Linda Baie
    Posted at 17:04h, 07 May Reply

    I love reading of these books new to me, especially like the idea of Ghost Cat. I’ve known that Steve Jenkins is near, in Boulder, but just discovered A Couch for Llama recently and the author/illustrator Leah Gilbert lives here in Denver! Thanks for sharing the interview!

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    Jane @ Raincity Librarian
    Posted at 20:59h, 07 May Reply

    I remember how exciting it was for me to meet real-life authors as a kid – I always dreamed of being a writer, but I was so shy and so nervous that I never really thought I could actually do it. Hearing from authors helped me realise that if they could do, I just might be able to, too!

  • Avatar
    Christine Baldiga
    Posted at 23:52h, 07 May Reply

    Thank you for sharing this fabulous interview. Our students (and we adults) need to hear stories about failure and getting up and trying again and again.
    A few local author / illustrators I could add would be: Judith Moffat. illustrator of books such as I Am Water, and I Am a Caterpillar, and Melissa Sweet is both an author and an illustrator of many nonfiction books and texts.

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    Jana Eschner
    Posted at 22:48h, 08 May Reply

    How exciting to be colleagues with an author/illustrator. What a wonderful resource for fellow teachers and kids! Ghost Cat was a beautiful book, and so I’ll definitely look for the other books listed. Thanks for sharing what you found out from this artist. Have a great week!

  • Avatar
    Myra from GatheringBooks
    Posted at 10:04h, 09 May Reply

    What a lovely interview – I’ve stacked a few of the titles in my Goodreads, so I’d remember to hunt them down next time I visit the library.

  • Avatar
    Michele Knott
    Posted at 00:25h, 12 May Reply

    It’s so exciting for a local illustrator to get some fame!
    A local author and illustrator to me is Matthew Cordell! Our library is hosting a celebration for him next weekend, looking forward to finally congratulating him in person!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 10:38h, 12 May Reply

    Thank you for sharing. Kevin. Barry’s books. He is a new author to me. Thankful for the summer to check out his books. A local. author and Illustrator is Kevin Sherry who has written both picture books and chapter books like Remy Sneakers and

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