I am so impressed with this new picture book, Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow, by Gary Golio with art by Javaka Steptoe. It is about the late guitar player Jimi Hendrix as a boy, and it is just marvelous. The beautiful art and the story made me want to run and play some Hendrix. I was also intrigued as to how and why this story was told. I am so pleased to be part of the Jimi Blog Tour with an interview with Clarion editor, Lynne Polvino, who answered those questions and more. (Leave a comment for book giveaway raffle.)
Jimi Hendrix seems an unlikely subject for a picture book. What intrigued you about this story?
My mother is a music professor and I grew up surrounded by and loving all kinds of music, including rock, so it made sense to me that kids would be interested in a story about the childhood of one of the most famous and influential guitar players of all time.
But what really drew me to the manuscript was the more universal story that it tells, about a boy discovering his love of music, and hearing and interpreting the world around him in his own unique way. I knew that a story like this, about the process of creation--inspiration, hard work, determination, and vision--would resonate with readers who had no knowledge of Jimi Hendrix or his music just as strongly as it would with his fans.
Of course, when I presented the project for acquisition there was some concern about Jimi’s “bad boy” image and how we would handle his untimely death in a book for young children. But the story doesn’t focus on his adulthood. And I knew that Gary, as a counselor of young people who have difficulties with substance use, was exactly the right person to address these issues in an informed and evenhanded way.
When and why did you become a children’s book editor?
I’ve been at Clarion for my entire career in children’s books (hard to believe it will be twelve years in November!), and, like many people in the industry, I stumbled into it accidentally. As a shy kid growing up in a rural area where our closest neighbors were an apple orchard and a farmer’s field away, books were a lifeline for me; a gateway to a larger world. I studied writing in college and have always been a voracious reader, but it took me many years to figure out how to make a career out of my lifelong love of books. I started at Clarion as an administrative assistant, thinking of it as a day job that would allow me to reserve my creative energies for writing and playing music, but it wasn’t long before I was at my boss, Dinah Stevenson’s, door, professing my newfound desire to be an editor and asking for a chance at it. It just seemed the perfect way to combine several of my passions--for language, for art, for learning (I learn so much while editing nonfiction books, and even fiction!), and for a good story--into one wonderful job. Luckily for me, Dinah was willing to gradually give me more and more editorial responsibilities, even though she specifically told me when I interviewed with her that the job was purely administrative and not an entry-level editorial position! And the rest, as they say, is history.
With the possibility of many kids' picture books becoming interactive e-books, what advice would you give authors about writing them?
Don’t get caught up in trying to write a complicated, interactive text just because it’s supposed to be the next big thing; the story still does and should always come first. Of course, if you’re submitting to a house that publishes e-books exclusively, the usual rules do not apply, but I think most editors are still primarily looking for texts that will work as physical books (I hate the term “p-book”!). While the market is changing rapidly, physical books aren’t going away, and right now they still constitute the bulk of our picture book sales.
These days, editors are being way more selective about the picture books they acquire and publish in any edition, but I don’t think most of us are willing to declare picture books as we currently know them a dead medium. Houses continue to publish traditionally formatted picture books, and then explore how best to publish an electronic edition, sometimes creating the interactive elements (or asking the author and illustrator to do so) long after the original manuscript has been acquired. I think the possibilities for digitally enhancing picture books are really exciting, and will become even more amazing as the technology advances, but I don’t see these editions ever replacing the more traditionally formatted editions completely. For example, I totally covet the iPad, and I wouldn’t be adverse to reading a picture book on one, but I’d much rather curl up on the couch with my daughter and a good old fashioned book with pages that she can reach out and touch and that she can maybe even grab out of my hands and throw around a little without my having to worry about her destroying an expensive piece of technology. And I don’t think I’m the only parent who feels that way! So I would ask authors to continue to concentrate on writing solid, layered, fresh stories with characters that young readers will care about . . . and let their publishers worry about how best to make those stories interactive for e-book editions.
How can an author or illustrator help their house with promotion?
Create an online presence via social networking, blogging, and having a website. Also, make contact with your local schools, libraries, and independent bookstores and organize local events there to promote your books. It’s helpful, too, if authors/illustrators are willing and available to speak on panels and make appearances at conferences and other events that their publisher might suggest. Some authors and illustrators hire independent publicists, but this can be expensive and is not for everyone—it seems to be most effective for authors whose books have a very obvious media “hook,” or those who are already established and have more than one book under their belts.
What are you looking for in a manuscript?
Fresh ideas, vivid details and setting, and well drawn characters that interest me and that I can care about; writing that doesn’t just plod along from one scene or chunk of dialogue to the next, but sings.
What is your favorite dessert and why?
Purple Glaze(d) donuts, of course!