Today I’m happy to introduce you to my friend, Becky van Vleet, a children’s author and Courtney Smith, illustrator of Becky’s books. Becky loves to pass down family stories and traditions to her grandchildren, just as we saw the grandfather doing in my previous post about the painting, The Banjo Lesson.
In this interview Becky and Courtney tell a little about Becky’s books and offer advice for young writers and artists who might be interested in writing and /or illustrating books!
I love your 1st story about Talitha, a little skirt that over the years, travels to several little girls. And in the 2nd, Harvey, the Traveling Harmonica, about a boy, his dog, and a harmonica, also travels to several generations! Molly, my corgi, loves that there’s a dog in each book!
Q: Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.
A: Thank you, Kathy, for featuring me. I am a retired teacher/principal. My husband and I make our home in Colorado Springs where I enjoy spending time with my family, lap swimming, oil painting, hiking and biking, and eating cotton candy. I especially enjoy reading books to our grandchildren. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I never set out to do anything with it until retirement. With a little more time, kind of, I connected my ideas to my computer and ran with it which resulted in my first published children’s picture book in 2019.
Q: I understand this book is the second in a series. Can you tell us a little about the first book and any others you have planned?
A: Yes, Harvey, the Traveling Harmonica, is the second book in my “traveling” series. I was inspired to write my first book, Talitha, the Traveling Skirt, because we had a little skirt that had been traveling around in our family for three generations, for more than 70 years. This was such a fun project for me with many family memories attached.
That sounds like so much fun!
Q: Do you have a theme that carries through your writing!
A: My third “traveling” book is already under contract and the fourth one will follow. The common theme of all four of these picture books is that an inanimate object becomes the main character and travels through three generations.
Q: What inspired you to write your stories?
A: I would say it’s my passion to create and preserve family memories and traditions as well as sharing family stories. In fact, my website is devoted to this. Check it out! https://www.beckyvanvleet.com. If any of you who are reading this would like to share a family memory or tradition, please get in touch with me!
Q: How does your Christian faith encourage you in your writing and influence your stories?
A: My call to writing is just that. I have been called by God to write. I pray about my writing endeavors and I really feel that keeps me humble. When I write, I want to give back something to the reading community that is truth, noble, pure, lovely, and of good report. (Philippians 4:8 NKJV)
Q: I know you’re a mom, a grandmother, and a teacher like me. Do you have any suggestions to help parents enjoy your books with their children?
A: I have a very simple, yet profound, suggestion. Just read, read, read! I can’t emphasize that enough. Read books aloud, encourage independent daily reading. I believe in this so much that it should be like brushing your teeth—read every day!
“Read, read, read!” Yes!!! Molly and I agree with that!
Q: What would you like children to take away from your books?
A: I would like children to hear a message of working through conflict and coming out on the other side in a good way. All of my books have a theme of family life and traditions, so I’d like children to understand and appreciate these themes.
Q: What advice would you give young people who might like to become writers?
A: My advice for young writers is to write, write, write. (Does this sound familiar to read, read, read?) I would encourage the very young ones to write and draw and share their work with family members. For the older ones, I would encourage them to attend a writing conference, buy books about tips for writing, and share their ideas aloud with family members.
Q: Where can we learn more about you and your upcoming projects?
A: My website is: https://www.beckyvanvleet.com
Q: Where can our readers find your books?
A: On Amazon:
Talitha, the Traveling Skirt: https://amzn.to/3qpG1fI
Harvey, the Traveling Harmonica: https://amzn.to/3nUh7CL
Roxie, the Traveling Rocker: Stay Tuned!
Wally, the Traveling Watch: Stay Tuned!
Welcome to you, too, Courtney! The Illustrations are such an important part of picture books!
I love all the details you put in your illustrations, and my corgi, Molly, especially loves your illustrations of the dogs in each book!
Q: Please tell us a little about yourself.
A: My name is Courtney Smith. My husband and I live in Franktown, CO with our five children ages 16 down to 8. I am a full-time homeschool mom and a part-time Athletic Trainer mostly working with our USA Wrestling teams (when things are not shut down). I also breed Great Pyrenees puppies and love to draw and scribble.
Q: How long have you been illustrating children’s books?
A: Creating fine art was a passion which helped me stay sane throughout my college years. (I have a triple major in Math, Chemistry, and Computer Science and a minor in Fine Art). That background provided me with the opportunity to illustrate my first children’s picture book in 2019. Since then, I have finished 12 more picture books and devotions and have some in progress.
Q: What is your process when you receive a book project to illustrate?
A: The most important step I take is to ask the Lord for peace about the project and wisdom to know if I’m the best illustrator for the job. Then, I like to read the manuscript to see what images fly into my imagination without knowing anything of the author’s vision. Are the pictures created in my mind realistic, whimsical, or cartoon style? Are they colorful, dark, heavy or light? Most authors send their proposal with ideas for what the images on each spread could be. Does my vision or ideas align with the author’s ideas for their story?
Not only do I want to create a book I’m proud to promote, but I also want the author to love the images that will bring his work to life. Even if the author and I seem to be on the same track, I like to sketch out a spread so the author can see what my idea or vision is. I want my author to be entirely confident that my working for him or her is God’s will and provide the opportunity to either jump in with both feet or kindly decline partnering with me. If we both want to continue as a team, we will agree upon compensation, sign a contract, and begin the adventure.
Q: What part of illustrating do you enjoy the most?
A: I really enjoy working with the authors and am most gratified when they are excited about the images I create. I had the opportunity to work with Becky Van Vleet early on for Talitha the Traveling Skirt. We live close and were able to meet in person to chat about the book. Along with the two of us, the children’s book editor from Becky’s publishing house was there as well. Together, we were able to pare down the manuscript and tell much of the story with the images, which is always better when creating a children’s picture book. Because I was able to feel Becky’s passion for her story, I was able to shape the images to tell the story using meaningful tid-bits from Becky’s photos and memories.
Q: What medium did you use for the illustrations of this book?
A: Currently, I do all my illustrations on my computer using my Wacom tablet and Corel Painter’s software. Using this program, I can select many different mediums from pen and ink, to watercolor, and oils and acrylics.
Q: What advice do you have for young people who may be interested in art and illustrating?
A: Go for it! When I was contracted for my first project, I was terrified. But God is faithful and with each story, I have gained both skill and confidence. I would highly recommend a wacom tablet for beginners. The model I use is smaller than a sheet of paper but allows me versatility and convenience. I am able to choose canvas size from the beginning to make uploading or sharing more streamlined for the editor.
Q: Where can our readers see more of your work?
A: With the exception of one story, all of my projects are available through Amazon.
2020’s publications include:
Harvey the Traveling Harmonica by Becky Van Vleet,
I Hate Oatmeal by Jan Lis,
Benny Learns a Lesson by Cheryl Johnson,
Fairy Tales & Faith by Antwan Houser,
Mayflower Marty by Luann Hamill,
High-water Hattie by Shelley Pierce
Thank you, Becky and Courtney, for taking the time to tell about your work and these wonderful books that highlight the love and joy we have in our families!
Molly and I are looking forward to the next two books in the Traveling series!
Please join us for our next post that has a fun art activity to highlight the special things about Your family!