Brenda Faatz and Peter Trimarco Discuss It’s Just So . . . Little
Interview sponsored by Notable Kids Publishing
The Children’s Book Review | August 2, 2017
The Children’s Book Review: It’s Just So … Little is the second book starring your effervescent Lizzy character. Can you tell us why you picked the theme of preparing to be a big sister for this new story?
Brenda Faatz: As you may remember the first book, “It’s Just So” was focused on Lizzy dealing with perspective, hence the use of the phrase ’it’s just sooooo…’ as things are not always what they seem. The overriding theme behind this second Lizzy book revolves around dealing with change and growing up. We started out using the seasons as a metaphor for change and Lizzy outgrowing all her clothes. Then the story organically evolved as we came upon the ultimate change for our little Lizzy…being a big sister.
Children are often said to be very adaptable, however, any kind of change can be a big deal and most kids, from time-to-time, will experience a period in which they need time to adjust to a new situation. How did you use the analogy of the changing seasons to help showcase Lizzy’s period of transition?
Peter Trimarco: Although using the seasons was one of the first layers in creating this “little” book it proved to serve well in setting the timetable for Lizzy; waiting , along with her mom, for the arrival of her little sibling. Likewise, it allowed us to bring in the other key element (or character) in this book, the sapling tree, which Lizzy nurtures, as it grows through the seasons. So the use of seasons served us well as we hung the metaphors and adventures on this framework.
The story is not only told through the words and illustrations, but through the typography, too. How do you decide on the right blend of words, pictures, and typography to punctuate Lizzy’s feelings and to carry forth the story?
P: Sometimes the illustrations take the lead and we create the story in lyrical rhyme to suit the page. At other times the words simply start flowing and the illustrations take hold and play a supporting role. We try to make it so the book can be read as a picture walk for younger children and this is where the typography, the made-up words and the illustrations become crucial. We also try to make sure the books work as lyrical read aloud without pictures; ideally being pleasant to the ear and flowing like music. I am guessing that this is the goal of every children’s book author in wanting to create a book that works as visual art in storytelling but also works on the strength of the written word. Picture books are a balancing act.
As in the first book, you use many wacky words, which add bonus entertainment. How do you come up with the words like gigantonormous, chocolicious, and treemondo-mongous?
B: This is serious business. It can take weeks to come up with just the right word. We often start with a root word that fits that moment in the story and then add on parts of other words, while sometimes subtracting parts of the original word, then dividing it by two… or three, if it’s Wednesday (during daylight savings time)! Then it goes through rigorous inspection and consternation. Does it say what it needs to say? Does it enhance and not detract from the flow? Is it fun to say aloud? Does it inspire wild imaginings? These are just some of the questions asked during the process for each word that we’re considering. Then, of course, it must be kid-tested, because we adults think waaaay tooo hard!
Have you come up with any words that you are dying to use but haven’t been able to fit into either of the first two books?
B: Absolutely! But we’re saving those words for the perfecto-mentous moment.
Let’s talk about the artwork. How long does it take you to create each illustration?
P: Conceptualizing the illustrations often is one of the lengthier parts of the process, but the illustrations are done in several phases. The initial illustrations are done with my trusty arsenal of pencils on paper. It seems to work best when I do all the pencil work for most of the book first. As this is done while we write the book, it can take many weeks (OK actually months). Then I turn on the old light table and do the illustrations in ink on Bristol board. I usually devote a day to one or two illustrations. But keep in mind that we are only talking about the illustrations. Settling on the look of these books took quite a while and creating the Lizzy character was a process that took nearly two years. Her look is very simple…but she did not start out that way. I tried many looks until one day I took my pen for a little walk and her hair defied gravity and the character was ’just sooooo…Lizzy.’
Once I am (relatively) happy with the line art illustration, I get to work on the background. I paint these on canvas with acrylics. I then scan the line art and the backgrounds and bring them together in photo shop. There I do the final color work on the characters. So in a way I am building the illustration in much the same way 2D animators used to do their work; creating the line art and color work on one layer and backgrounds painted separately.
So the bottom line to your simple question is…hours or days… once you take those months and divide them by 30 illustrations.
Lizzy’s expressions really help tell the story, too—simple and subtle movements in her eyebrows and mouth have a Charles Schulz-esque quality. Would you say that the famous Peanuts characters have influenced your artwork?
P: I grew up on The Cat in the Hat, The Giving Tree and Peanuts…so yes…in part, as I was also a political cartoonist for several years. So I am guessing that editorial cartoonists such as Oliphant and Locher may have also played a part in how I illustrate characters as much as the ‘true masters,’ Schultz, Seuss and Silverstein. I was also a fine art student and really enjoyed painting, sculpting and the works of Picasso and Degas….so given that last bit of information there is no explaining why Lizzy’s hair looks the way it does.
Found in the fine print of the copyright notice in It’s Just So … Little, it has been noted that an Etch A Sketch was not used in any form. That’s funny! But in all kind-of-seriousness, it could be a pretty fun style to master for a picture book, don’t you think? Or, at the very least, the illustrations that are found at the beginning of chapters in kids’ novels?
P: You may be onto something…however I am guessing that a true master of Etcha-sketch art would not survive very long before succumbing to carpel tunnel syndrome…..turning those little knobs all day would be disastrous to one’s health.
What would you say is the most inspiring and the most challenging things about being wife and husband creative partners?
B: It’s interesting, as I try to answer this question, that “challenging” is not a word I would use to describe working with Peter. It’s just so… fun! Even when we’re stuck on something it’s exciting because we’re delving deep and pushing the boundaries. I am in awe of Peter’s illustrations and they often inspire what is written. I also love how we literally…
P: … finish each other’s sentences. It helps that we are dealing with humor in much of what we create. So that already makes a statement about not taking anything, especially ourselves, too seriously. It also helps that we are both really cartoons ourselves….ask anyone who knows us.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with us about It’s Just So … Little, the character Lizzy, or any upcoming books?
P: As we develop the next book we are also working with the team at Playing Forward in creating Lizzy’s World through animation for screens and augmented reality. In fact the first book has already been produced for augmented reality and a video book.
B: Playing Forward is also keenly focused on the SEL (social emotional learning) aspect to all of its content. So we will continue to take Lizzy on adventures through the printed page as we delve into creating a 3D universe for other educational games and interactive fun for Lizzy and her little dog…and her growing family.
Illustrated by Peter Trimarco
Publisher’s Synopsis: It’s Just So… adventurous for a little girl named Lizzy as she faces challenges of growth and change. She and her faithful puppy adopt a frail little sapling tree, taking on the job of protecting and nurturing their new, well-rooted ‘friend’ throughout the seasons. In the meantime, Lizzy is outgrowing all of her favorite clothes and watching as Mom seems to be outgrowing her clothes as well. Lizzy’s biggest change comes in welcoming the new baby as her family tree seems to be growing too.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Notable Kids Publishing | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0997085129
About Brenda Faatz
Brenda Faatz has an undeniable connection with children. Some say it’s because they instinctively know “one of their own.” A graduate of The University of Northern Colorado with a degree in Musical Theatre, Brenda is a professional singer, dancer and actor. Along with her husband, Peter Trimarco, she wrote the music, lyrics and script for the original Wee Noteables musical theatre live performance series for children. Brenda also founded and currently directs and teaches at the Notable Kids Arts Center in Denver, Colorado where she has the honor of interacting with and learning from children and their families on a daily basis. This is the second “It’s Just So” book Brenda has written because, as she likes to say… “no one ever told me I couldn’t.”
About Peter Trimarco
Peter Trimarco was a fine arts student who graduated from Lake Forest College with a degree in literature and went on to pursue a career as an editorial cartoonist…but drawing ‘grownups’ stopped being fun. Before being inspired by the opportunity to co-write and illustrate a children’s book with Brenda, he journeyed through life as an entertainment industry professional. From art director to executive producer to publisher of an international film magazine he found a good deal of success (awards and working with people who had entourages). But then came working with children and it became fun again. The words began to flow and with it, the paint, the ink and, most important, the orange hair on Lizzy’s head.
…and three simple words from Brenda put it all in motion” “It’s Just So…”
The Author Showcase is a place for authors and illustrators to gain visibility for their works. This interview was sponsored by Notable Kids Publishing, the publisher of ‘It’s Just So . . . Little.’ Discover more great writing and illustrating artists in our Showcase.