In this story, even colors like gray, black and brown–colors not usually thought of as “pretty” or “favorite”–are presented as special and loved.
Today I’m excited to interview Lucky13 author Jessica Young, whose picture book My Blue is Happy is available NOW from Candlewick Press.
Jessica, this is such a beautiful story in so many ways! The illustrations are lovely, so it’s beautiful in the most obvious way, but the prose is lyrical and lovely, too. And beyond that, the concept of the story is a fresh new and intriguing one–that all of us don’t see colors the same way.
How did you come up with the idea for “My Blue is Happy?”
Thanks so much! It definitely evolved over time. I’ve always been fascinated with differences – how we each see the world through a personal lens, and what that implies. The book was shaped by my experiences as a child and observations and interactions with my own kids and the kids I teach.
Since I was young, I’ve responded to color in a visceral way. Looking at paintings from Picasso’s Blue Period and listening to the blues made me wonder how a child would feel upon discovering that other people have disparate associations to a favorite color. That got me thinking about subjectivity and diversity and how it’s natural – even good – for people to see things differently. As an art teacher, I’ve observed kids who are always looking for the “right” answer: How do you draw a tree? What shade of green is grass? They want someone to tell them the solution. It’s hard to understand that in art there isn’t one correct way.
After those initial ideas, the title came first and the rest followed. In the beginning, the story was set in a classroom and had a more traditional narrative structure with a poem embedded in it. Another author critiqued it and suggested that the poem, itself, could be the story. I revised again, and it became two siblings going back and forth with their color associations. Eventually it evolved into the current structure.
What has your road to publication been like?
It’s been fun and hard, and I’ve had a lot of help from supportive critique partners, as well as my wonderful agent and editor who took a chance on My Blue and helped bring it to life.
After my oldest child was born, I started reading picture books and realized how much I loved them. I wrote a poem for him, and it became the seed of a manuscript. Then, not knowing what to do with it, I sent it to the author of one of my favorite picture books. (Whoops!) Luckily, she was receptive, giving me feedback and encouragement, introducing me to the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), and referring me to her editor. I sent the editor my manuscript and got a nice, hand-written rejection. It was enough to make me think more seriously about writing. For several years, I submitted off and on, targeting publishers I thought would be right for my handful of stories.
In 2007 I went to my first SCBWI workshop, where an agent gave me feedback on several manuscripts, including My Blue is Happy (and where I met a bunch of other people also trying to do what I was trying to do, which was exciting!). After that, the agent and I kept in touch as I worked on revisions for several pieces. Ultimately, she wasn’t looking to take on picture book clients, but her encouragement was enough to keep me going until I found an agent who was perfect for me.
I felt like My Blue might be a good fit for my agent, Kelly Sonnack, so I submitted it, and she asked if I wanted to work on an exclusive revision. I was thrilled when she offered to represent me.
With her keen editorial guidance I continued to revise, and we submitted My Blue to two editors who had seen previous versions and given comments. One of them had positive feedback but passed on it. The other editor who had seen it at an SCBWI workshop offered some suggestions, and I revised accordingly, creating two new versions. Yet I couldn’t seem to get it to feel right. As I struggled with the revisions, the Midsouth SCBWI conference came up and I decided to submit My Blue for a critique. I got Candlewick editor Kaylan Adair as my critiquer. She gave constructive comments that resonated with me and made suggestions I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to execute. But I could see that she really “got” the essence of the piece. I sat in the lobby of the hotel after the conference was over and started pushing and pulling the text around. About a month later we submitted it to her and after some pre-contractual revisions, she offered me a contract. I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I still can’t!
Looking back, I counted eighty-nine revisions of My Blue, not including the ones I didn’t save. There were so many directions I tried taking it, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had the help of wonderful crit partners and my fantastic agent and editor to support me in getting to the final version.
What are you most looking forward to about launching the book now that you’ve actually seen it and held it in your hands?
Seeing it in other people’s hands! I hope it sparks some good conversations about color, diversity, and perspective, and makes readers think about color in a different way.
Since this community is “All For One and One Four Kid Lit” we’d like to know what books inspired you as a kid?
As a kid I loved a Helen Oxenbury-illustrated version of The Quangle Wangle’s Hat by Edward Lear; Ferdinand; a lot of Sendak, especially the Nutshell Library stories; The Golden Wings by Leo Leonni; and Dr. Seuss.
Jessica Young is an art teacher and has worked as a curriculum consultant. My Blue is Happy is her first book. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Jessica has generously offered a copy of My Blue is Happy as well as a tee-shirt as prizes for OneFourKidLit blog followers. We’ll randomly choose a commenter on this post to receive this special prize! So be sure to comment. And may your blue always be happy too!
|Gayle Rosengren loves story (and chocolate) in all forms. If she’s not at her laptop writing, she might be spotted at a bookstore, a stack of children’s books piled to her chin. She is endlessly fascinated by families–their quirks and their stories–as evidenced in her forthcoming book, WHAT THE MOON SAID (February 20, 2014, Putnam/Penguin).|