Interview with Jessica Young (Author of “My Blue is Happy”)

IMG_6122Jessica Young grew up in Thunder Bay.  After she had her first child she became inspired to write picture books.  My Blue is Happy is her first book, with more coming in 2015.  Jessica will be visiting the Waverley Library on July 24th.  Children are invited to meet Jessica to explore how colours make them feel; they’re welcome to wear their favourite colour.

Shauna Kosoris: My Blue is Happy is such a cute book.  What inspired you to write it?

Jessica Young: The story took a while to evolve. But I think I started it around 2008 – at least that’s the earliest version I can find. I’ve always been really affected by colours. After I started teaching art, I remember looking at paintings from Picasso’s Blue Period and thinking about blues music and how things like that colour people’s perceptions of blue. I wondered how a child might react to finding out other people’s views of her favourite colour. I wish I could remember the moment the title came to me, because that was really the beginning of the story.

SK: Are the friends and family of the main character based off of your own family (and their thoughts about colours)?  

JY: The idea of blue being happy came to me first, and my blue is generally happy, although my ideas about colour change depending on the variation of the colour and what day it is! For the rest of the book, I wrote many versions of each colour, with different associations and images. Then I chose certain ones and revised to create a sequence that fit into the course of the main character’s day. I also tried to pick versions of each colour that would add variety and contrast to the text and provide an opportunity for interest in the images.

SK: What was the hardest part of writing My Blue is Happy?

JY: The theme of the book is so basic and conceptual, there were a lot of different directions I could have taken it — and did — before settling on the final structure. I got many suggestions about revising it, and they varied widely. It’s only three hundred and something words, but it took a long time to write and to revise. (I counted eighty-nine saved versions, but there were many more changes that I didn’t save.)

SK: The direction you chose seems to have really resonated with people.  I see that My Blue is Happy won the 2014 Marion Vannett Ridgway Award, which recognizes books by debut authors.  What was it like to win that award?

JY: I was thrilled and amazed to learn that My Blue won the Ridgway Award. It’s an incredible feeling to have your book recognized in such a way, to feel like someone noticed all your work even though it appears simple and almost inevitable in its final form. There have been some fantastic debut books this year and wonderful winners in previous years, and I was really honored to be in such company. It also made a number of lists, and that’s been fantastic as well.

MY BLUE cover final

SK: My Blue is Happy was illustrated by Catia Chien.  What was it like working with her?

JY: As in most cases with picture book writers and illustrators, I didn’t work directly with her, but it was really amazing to see the book come together, the images working in partnership with the text. She has a really ethereal, atmospheric quality to her work, which I love.

SK: Can you tell me anything about Spy Guy, which is due out in 2015?

JY: Spy Guy — the Not-So-Secret Agent is the story of a boy who’s not a very good spy but who doesn’t give up in his search for the secret to spying. I’ve recently seen the final illustrations by Charles Santoso, who lives in Australia, and I’m really excited about them.

SK: How do you choose or find your illustrators?

JY: Typically, with picture books, the publishing house buys the text then pairs it with an illustrator according to what they envision for the book. Sometimes the author is involved in that process, to varying degrees. For all of my books, I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to share my vision as well as some input. I’ve also had amazing teams working on them, including the editors, who worked with me on the texts, and art directors, who found the illustrators and worked with them to bring the texts to life. The illustrators I’ve been paired with have really taken my texts to another level with their fantastic images. I have several more books coming up, and I can’t wait to see them in their final forms!

SK: So what are you working on now?

JY: Right now I’m working on a chapter book series called Finley Flowers, about a creative girl and her friends. The first two books, Finley Flowers — Original Recipe and Finley Flowers — Nature Calls, are also due out next spring, and the next two will come out in the fall of 2015.

SK:  Next year’s going to be a very exciting year for you!  I’d like to finish off with a couple of questions about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

JY: I think that every book I’ve ever enjoyed or have been touched by has probably inspired me to write on some level. But some from my childhood that I particularly loved and that have stuck with me are: a Helen Oxenbury-illustrated version of The Quangle Wangle’s Hat by Edward Lear; Ferdinand; a lot of Sendak, especially the Nutshell Library stories; George and Martha; a lot of Shel Silverstein; Crictor; a Lisbeth Zwerger-illustrated version of The Gift of the Magi; Island of the Blue Dolphins; The Secret Garden; A Wrinkle in Time; Tuck Everlasting; and the Narnia series. A little more recently, after I had my first child, a book called On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier inspired me to try to put some ideas into a story. That was my first real attempt at writing.

SK: Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

JY: Such a hard question! I think everyone should read the books they’re drawn to, and there are so many great ones to choose from. I know that sounds evasive, but I really think it’s true. There are a great number of quality books being published at all age levels, and certain ones will call to certain readers and will become personal “windows and mirrors” for them to view the world around them and reflect on themselves. Librarians, teachers, and booksellers are wonderful resources for getting the right books into the right hands.

SK: That’s very true.  Finally, what are you currently reading?

JY: I don’t get a chance to read many books for adults, but right now I’m partway through The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. As far as books for young people, I recently read We Were Liars, a young adult novel by E. Lockhart, and I’m constantly reading picture books. Recent ones include My Teacher is a Monster — No, I Am Not by Peter Brown, Maple by Lori Nichols, Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio (and illustrated by the amazing Christian Robinson), and The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara.


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