Tag Archives: picture books

Children’s Author, Becky van Vleet and Courtney Smith, Illustrator, Talk about Becky’s Newest Picture Book

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!

Welcome Becky!

 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!

Winter Picture Books to Read Aloud

Here are some wonderful picture books to read aloud during the winter. Most are classics—many Caldecott winners—so they’re readily available in your library or in many bookstores as well as on Amazon. It’s amazing how many Caldecott winners have been about winter!!

Two of these books have mice in them! So here’s a mouse reading a book!!

White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt, 1948 Caldecott medal. While adults work to shovel or continue their work through the snow, the children build snowmen and taste snowflakes on their tongues.

White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt,, wikimedia fair use

The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader, 1949 Caldecott medal. Forest animals prepare for a big snow.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, 1963 Caldecott medal. A young boy enjoys the first snowfall in the city.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Wikimedia fair use

Frederick by Leo Lionni, 1967 Caldecott Honor book. While the other mice gather food for winter, Frederick, a mouse artist and poet, gathers beautiful colors and stories for long, bleak winter days.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, 1988 Caldecott medal. A little girl and her father take a late night walk to see and hear an owl. Other forest creatures appear in the illustrations.

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, 1999 Caldecott medal. A nonfiction picture book about a Vermont farmer at the turn of the century who loved nature and with great patience and determination, learned how to photograph individual snowflakes.

Here’s a brand new picture book about winter that younger children will really enjoy.

Once Upon a Winter Day by Liza Woodruff, 2020. A little boy wants his mother to read a story. When she’s too busy, she suggests he take a walk. At first he grumbles, but soon is caught up in following a mouse’s tracks through the snow. He finds feathers, acorns, and other tracks that make him wonder what happened.

In beautifully illustrated 2-page spreads, the reader sees what happened—a flock of birds taking off, a herd of deer feeding, etc. Children will enjoy finding the mouse in each of these illustrations and following the boy and the mouse to their homes. When he gets home the boy tells his mother he has stories to tell!

Once Upon a Winter Day and The Snowy Day provide a nice contrast between a winter walk in the city and one in the country.

Make some winter memories! Go for a walk or build a snowman with your children or grandchildren, then come in to share one or all of these books around a fire while sipping hot cocoa!

Does your family have a favorite book about winter? Let me know in the comment section below!

Writing News:  I have 7 devotions in the Spring 2021 (March-May) quarterly of The Quiet Hour devotional available from David C. Cook. If you’re interested, you can enjoy 3 months of short, daily devotions by a number of authors.

Looking Ahead:  This month we’ll be looking at a painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Banjo Lesson. It shows a man, perhaps a grandfather, teaching a young boy how to play the banjo. Tanner was well-known for his realistic and compelling religious paintings, which I love, and I showed two in my Christmas blog—The Annunciation and The Angels Appearing to the Shepherds.

1st post will tell a little more about Tanner and The Banjo Lesson painting, as well as include a short kid-friendly devotion.

2nd post will have a related art activity highlighting the importance of family.

3rd post will be an interview with a children’s author whose work also highlights family and passing down traditions!

Molly and I hope you’ll join us for a great month of engaging hearts and hands to discover God in art!