The Children’s Book Review | March 18, 2019
Brenda Faatz is a critically acclaimed author and music theatre performing artist and director. Her accolades include a nomination for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical” by the Denver Drama Critics Circle and most important the love and admiration of the hundreds children she has taught and directed.
Peter Trimarco is a former music industry creative director and Grammy-nominated executive producer who has turned his energy to creating children’s books with his wife, Brenda. He also has a long history in entertainment as a publisher and as an art director. Peter is currently co-owner and publisher of the international trade publication Beyond Cinema Magazine.
Together they have created the It’s Just So … picture book series. It’s Just a Bunnypalooza, is the third book in the series. Brenda and Peter discuss this latest book here …
The Children’s Book Review: In It’s Just a Bunnypalooza, the third installment of the It’s Just So … picture book series, bubbly Lizzy discovers a new talent inspired by a bunch of adorable bunnies, but not before dealing with a little bit of self-doubt. What inspired this latest book about redheaded Lizzy?
Peter Trimarco: We knew in our first book that we had opened the door to a conversation about Lizzy’s secret life of communicating with animals. These are her ‘other’ friends, which begs the question “Is this only her imagination?”
We have a little refrigerator magnet at home that reads “At least once a day, let your imagination get in the way.” With this in mind, added to a desire to illustrate over a hundred bunnies in a single book, we seemed to have a direction. The decision to go down this ‘rabbit hole’ was at the heart of our new book. So we sat down in the backyard with 106 of our closest bunny friends and flushed out this little tale about cotton-tails.
As in the other It’s Just So … books, you’ve weaved in fantastic, playful words. Only this time, keeping with the theme of Lizzy’s desire to dance for the talent show, a lot of them are inspired by real dances: jigga-wiggalous, ballet-hoo, polka-loca frenzy etc. How did you decide which dances to include and play with the spelling? In a previous interview, you said it can take weeks to come up with just the right word. Was this the case again? Or did playing off the varying dance styles make it easier?
Brenda Fattz: It’s pretty nutty how long it can take to come up with these words. There’s this process that we go through before we land on what we hope will be a perfect word for each section. First and foremost, the words have to be fun to say! They also need to further what the rest of the text is trying to convey and ideally provoke the desired feeling from the reader. In deciding which dance terms to incorporate into the made-up words, we wanted to choose a variety of styles stemming from unique cultures with words that are deliciously chewy. Having the dance words did lend a fun and helpful aspect to the process, giving us a place to begin and allowing for a sense of movement to the words.
Lizzy settles on the hop-stompin’ Bunnypalooza for her talent. Do you each have a favorite dance style of your own? I’m more of a free stylin’ dancer myself—ha!
PT: Ok so Brenda is the dancer in the family, so my appreciation is often as an observer…that said…I like everything from tap to ballet to hip-hop. However, after working on this book I have a new respect for bunnies doing the hora and throwing other bunnies in the air by way of a blanket (now those are some cool dance moves).
BF: I’m with you, Bianca, with the love for free stylin’, but I also adore doing all kinds of dance. I really dig that toe-tappin’ and so wish I could figure out how to do the hip-hoppin’!
Brenda, in my opinion, your experience as a professional musical theater performer shines through in the pacing, cadence, and rhythmic tone of the text. Would you agree that your work experience has aided in creating rhyming text that works wonderfully as a read-aloud book?
BF: Thank you for your very kind words. Indisputably, working in musical theatre for so many years has been instrumental (pun intended 😉 in the design of how the words come together on the page. Additionally, Peter and I have written songs for children’s musical theatre programs and I also enjoy teaching a wonderful program for very young children called Music Together®, so I’m singing and dancing every day with these little ones and their parents. Music is in my bones and I’m an absolute stickler when it comes to the cadence and rhyme scheme in Lizzy’s World because, well, it just has to SING!
As the founder and director of the Notable Kids Arts Center in Denver, Brenda, I imagine you see children dealing with situations similar to what Lizzy goes through in the book. What do you do in real life to encourage kids to listen to their own imaginative hearts?
BF: That’s a great question. As a music and theatre teacher, I have the joy of helping children discover themselves and the world around them through these arts. Understanding that children learn best through play, we always try to come at things with this lens. We do a great deal of improvisational activities, with both our younger and older kids that tap into their instincts, feelings and imaginations. These types of inclusive exercises allow the kids to safely and playfully explore their inner artists and embrace the philosophy that we all see through different eyes, and there is never just one way to do things.
Peter, what is your favorite thing about drawing Lizzy and her world?
PT: It took quite a while before I settled on the look of Lizzy…and even that has evolved a bit. It is truly fun to draw Lizzy in a variety of situations and have her as the vehicle for magnifying our feelings; to play with her expressions of joy, playfulness, sadness and sense of adventure. I think the tire-swing scene from “It’s Just So little” and the math class scene from “It’s Just So” are examples of this, as each still make me giggle a bit. As for this third book, the opening sequence of Lizzy waiting (not so patiently) for the school bell to ring was one of my favorites to draw. I hope that we see a little Harpo Marx…a little Charlie Chaplin and a little of all of us in Lizzy.
Can you describe your process for this book and how you collaborated with Brenda? Did you do anything differently for this latest book?
PT: Yes, the collaboration on this project was a bit different and especially challenging as we wrestled with several ways for the story to culminate. We were living and breathing the various scenarios for many weeks. Because Lizzy is going through such a ‘trying’ time in this episode, we had hours and hours of discussions about what children go through when their ‘imagination’ and self-esteem are challenged. We even had child development specialists read the various versions and took their insight to heart.
Our collaboration extends far beyond the written words as it involves every aspect of the storyline, the nuance of the verse and that of the illustrations…right down to Lizzy’s expressions and body language. In this book, even the placement of the bunnies was significant as we considered to what degree these magical bunnies are actually seen by the other children.
Is there anything you would each like to say to the other about creating the It’s Just So … books together? Something that maybe, being a husband and wife team, you take for granted or just get too busy to say?
PT: I am “just sooooooooo” grateful to have Brenda in my life and being a part of my creative journey. How lucky we are that we get to create something like this together…so I have to thank her for asking me to break out the pencils and crayons so that I can create a world for that little red-headed Lizzy. This adds yet another dimension to what we have.
BF: You’d think I’d get used to the unique eye and incredible giftedness of Peter as an artist, but I am ever amazed. He surprises me all the time as we work through this creative process, laughing, bantering and hair pulling (mostly our own, but sometimes each other’s). I so enjoy the richness that creating these books together brings to our lives. Thank you.
If you could each sum up your lives in a book title, what would that book title be?
PT: For me I think Brenda summed it up best when she started with that simple phrase, “It’s Just So…”
BF: Hey, Peter, if you’re going to steal my words at least finish the title, “It’s just so…Crazy Good!”
It’s Just a Bunnypalooza
Written by Brenda Faatz and Peter Trimarco
Illustrated by Peter Trimarco
Publisher’s Synopsis: “It’s Just a Bunnypalooza” for Lizzy as she learns dance moves from her animal friends, but is embarrassed when children giggle at her over-active imagination. So she becomes a firm “non-believer” until the neighborhood bunnies decide to organize an intervention! This heartwarming story is filled with hoppin’ humor, rockin’ rhymes and wacky words, while gently reminding us to look within ourselves and be true to who we are.
‘The mission was clear, there was magic to weave. For Lizzy to see, she would need to believe!’
Ages 3-7 | Publisher: Notable Kids Publishing | March 12, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-0997085174
www.notablekidspublishing.com | www.itsjustso.net
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