Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome a super talented author-illustrator: the one and only Jarrett Lerner! The EngiNerds series is a personal favorite of mine, and now he has a new book and activity book coming out shortly. Check out his journey below:
EngiNerds is a favorite in our house. Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Thank you! That’s so great to hear. Regarding the book’s inspiration – I think it came from a number of sources, as inspiration often does. But the first spark, the thing that really lit a fire under me, was this idea to write exactly the sort of book that I would’ve been in love with as a 10 year old. So: farting robots and tests of friendship.
Your new book, Geeger the Robot: Goes to School!, comes out this September. What excites you most about this one?
I love how it looks. The text is stylized, with some words being bold, some being bigger than others, some being angled or otherwise contorted. Also, there are TONS of awesome illustrations. I got to work once again with Serge Seidlitz – the brilliant, bonkers artist who created the covers for all three of my EngiNerds books. His work in these books really shines, and I am so honored and excited to have it in there.
You also have an activity book coming out in December, what can children expect in this one?
If you’ve been to my website (www.jarrettlerner.com), you’ll find an ACTIVITIES page. There are, I think, nearly 200 activity pages on there that you can download and print for free. The activity book – Give This Book A Title – is a collection of 140 more such pages, though many of these pages contain multiple activities. There are “How to Draw” pages, “Finish This Comic” pages, and general writing and drawing prompts. I put a lot of time, energy, and thought into crafting and organizing this book, and I hope kids leave it feeling more confident artists and writers than they entered it, and that they never again sit down at a blank piece of paper and can’t figure out what to write or draw. I also hope they have TONS of fun.
What is it like being both the author and illustrator?
Well, I really don’t know any different. Ever since I was a kid, I expressed myself both visually and verbally, often together. My teachers didn’t always recognize that, or accept it, and I often had to refrain from communicating and expressing myself visually in the classroom – which is a shame. But stories, ideas – for me, the visual and verbal is always jumbled together. I always start projects on paper, in a notebook or sketchbook, because both words and images come at me at once, and I don’t want to have to jump back and forth between a pad and a computer in order to get them both down.
One thing that might surprise people about me, though, is that I LOVE working with other illustrators. There are certain projects of mine that I feel strongly about illustrating (such as my activity books, or my graphic novels – my Hunger Heroes series of graphic novels launches next summer). But there are other stories of mine that I am not attached to illustrating, and some that I actually think would benefit from having someone else illustrate them. The story comes first. The reader matters most. I work in service of those two things, primarily. If I know, deep down, that a book will be better with the inclusion of another artistic voice, I don’t hesitate to let my publisher know and hand over that part of the project.
What’s your artistic process, and does it vary depending on the project?
As I mentioned above, it always begins in a notebook or sketchbook. But from there, I really try to experiment, to PLAY, and let the story dictate as much as possible. I always encourage people to allow their process to change, evolve, shift, and I try to remember that as much as possible myself, especially when I start getting precious about any of my own routines or tendencies. In a way, I think each unique story needs a unique approach, and that it’ll ultimately only benefit from that. If I’m ever feeling stuck or uninspired, I switch things up. I’ll go from writing on lined paper to writing on construction paper. Or instead of a pen, I’ll use a crayon. I’ll write on sticky notes, or napkins – whatever. I think this sort of approach and spirit gives your creativity, imagination, and any particular idea you’re hunting down the most space to breathe and properly, fully emerge.
Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I am always working on four, five, sometimes six projects at any given time. Usually, some of those are contracted books that I really have to be working on, and some are in other stages of completion. I thrive off of having lots of irons in the fire – or maybe even having multiple fires to tend to. Sometimes things get out of hand, but usually the jumping around keeps me excited and inspired. I usually don’t talk publicly about projects until they are under contract, as I don’t want any reactions of feedback to influence my process, so I’ll just say that I’ve got LOTS of more stuff in the works and on its way.
Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book.
I love the work of Ed Emberley. His approach to creativity and creation, his spirit, his openness, his embrace and mastering of the power of simplicity – I could go on and on. I regularly reach for his work when I want or need a surge of inspiration, and I think that several of his books get just about as close to perfect as a book can be. In terms of contemporary books – Jarod Roselló’s Red Panda & Moon Bear graphic novel and Remy Lai’s Pie in the Sky both really rocked my world when I read them. Both books I’ve read multiple times. Jarod’s always reminds me of what I love most about stories and storytelling. Remy’s reminds me to, as I spoke about above, let the story dictate both process and product. And aside from that, both books are incredible in about a thousand other ways.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Dive deep into your projects, and try to get each one to a place of near-perfection (because that’s as much as we can ever hope for), but don’t forget to take also regularly step back. Think about your next project. And the one after that. Think about your career as a whole. Think about where you are headed, and where you want to be. Also: READ.
And a bonus question- If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
I think I’d be snot-flavored, to prevent anyone from eating me!
Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds and its sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds, as well as the author-illustrator of the upcoming activity book, Give This Book a Title. Jarrett is also the author of the forthcoming Geeger the Robot early chapter book series, the forthcoming third book in the EngiNerds series (The EngiNerds Strike Back), and the author-illustrator of the forthcoming Hunger Heroes graphic novel series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com and on Twitter and Instragram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives in Medford, Massachusetts, with his wife, his daughter, and a cat.
Twitter and Instagram: @Jarrett_Lerner
My books can be purchased anywhere books are sold, but if they are purchased from my local indie, Porter Square Books, I’ll go in and sign/personalize them:
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