Friday, December 12, 2014

Interview with Anika and Christopher Denise


The DMS was lucky enough to interview Anika and Christopher Denise. Fairday reviewed their children's picture book Bella and Stella Come Home, and it was great to share our thoughts about it and hear yours! In the spirit of the season, we're giving away signed hardcover copies of Bella and Stella Come Home and Baking Day at Grandma's, plus a wooden mixing spoon, along with a set of gift tags and bags from this dynamic author/ illustrator team. Enter the rafflecopter form below for your chance to win this excellent book prize pack. We're excited to learn a little more about their story. So, without further ado... take it away, Anika and Christopher! 

What inspired you to write Bella and Stella Come Home?

Anika: Bella and Stella Come Home was inspired by our move out of Providence to the small bayside community of Barrington, Rhode Island. We weren't going far—only twelve miles from our old house—but for our daughter, Sofia, who was only three at the time, it was a world away from the only home she'd ever known. We brought her to the new house before any of the furniture arrived, and she explored the empty rooms, clutching her favorite stuffed puppy dog, Spot. Even after we were all moved in and we'd settled her in her new room, she asked me when we were going "home." It got me thinking about moving from a young child's perspective, and what a big deal it is for little kids. 

How long does it take you to put together a children's book? Can you tell us about your process as a team?

Anika: Picture book manuscripts can me take anywhere from a few weeks, to a few months. Bella and Stella Come Home went through several revisions. My editor wanted me to distill the story down to the key moments, the most important emotional beats, and it took a few drafts before I got it just right. For this book, we started with the text, and then Chris did character sketches and a book dummy, but it can work the other way around, too. He doodles and I craft a story around something he's drawn.

Chris: It really depends on the project. Sometimes the things that look very simple and pared down end up taking the longest. If a manuscript is in a final edit or close to it, I can usually create the finished artwork in six to nine months. Projects overlap so usually I am working on character drawings, sketches and book dummy for a book while I am producing the art for another.


What was your inspiration for the characters Bella and Stella?

Anika: Our daughter inspired the character of Bella, and in a way, she inspired Stella, the elephant, too. Sofia loves and takes care of her toys. Even now, at almost thirteen, she keeps her stuffies stacked on her bed and snuggles her favorites at night. She's a lot like the boy in Toy Story. She has a rich and wonderful imagination and her toys are her oldest friends. Stella in the book is an extension of Bella's imagination; a safe harbor. . . someone to whisper to under the covers with a flashlight at night. 


Chris:  Most definitely our daughter, as Anika mentioned, but also Anika herself. Hard not to be inspired by the author. I see so much of Anika in her writing.

What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors/ artists who have inspired you? 

AnikaI really loved Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are, and Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. I read Arnold Lobel's Owl at Home and Frog and Toad stories again and again. As I grew and read independently, I loved stories where the children were empowered in some way, to solve a mystery or time travel or invent. I liked imperfect characters doing precocious things like in The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, or Harriet, The Spy, or The Chronicles of Narnia


Chris: We were lucky enough to be surrounded by books and art while growing up. My mother was a teacher so had plenty of prints and books for us to look at. I didn't realize it at the time but art by N.C.Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and Howard Pyle were on the walls. I was also a huge fan of Winnie the Pooh-Disney version and Milne. Oh! And Curious George.


If you could live anyplace real or fictional, where would it be? Why?

Anika: I think Neverland would be pretty cool. There are some lovely white-sand beaches, and you don't grow any older. (No worries about applying sunscreen!) There's the small matter of pirates. . . but just sprinkle on a little fairy dust, think a happy thought, and you're good to go.

Chris: The Hundred Acre Wood. I love the countryside and the promise of unstructured time.

If you could befriend a character from one of your books, who would you befriend? Why?

Anika: Probably Grandma Bear—she'd bake for us and I'm pretty sure she babysits, too. 
Chris: Hmm. Tough question. When I am working on a book the characters inhabit my studio and become dear friends. The cubs from Baking Day would be great fun but would make a mess. I would say Jenny, the little mouse I drew for Following Grandfather by my friend Rosemary Wells. Such a sweet little character but strong as well.

Bella and Stella move into a new house, and they have many doubts about living there. What advice do you have for kids who have to move into a new home?

Anika: First, it's natural to feel a little doubtful and nervous about a move. It will take time to get used to the new place and that's ok. You might pack a little box of treasures, favorite things from your old room, and keep it close during the move so you can take those treasures out when you need them. You might even create a little memory book with pictures and keepsakes from your old house. Also, why not make the move a chance to do something you always wanted with your room? Maybe it's stars on the ceiling, or a big chalkboard on the wall, or a cool tent!
Did either of you have imaginary friends growing up? Can you tell us about them?

Anika: Yes! I was an only child so imaginary friends were big for me. I remember I had one I called Sam (short for Samantha) and she and I would solve mysteries together and sometimes we'd have super-powers like Wonder Woman. 

Chris: Imaginary friends...not that I can remember. I have two older brothers…they kept me busy. Though when they were off at school I spent most of my time with a fairly large (as tall as me) stuffed animal monkey/gorilla named George. Excellent company, good listener and a great sense of humor.

Are you currently working on a book? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Anika: I'm working on a new character-driven picture book series (can't give away the details just yet) and Chris and I are batting around a picture book about a middle kid. (Middle kids so need their own book.) I also have a Halloween picture book in the works called Monster Trucks, which will be illustrated by the talented Nate Wragg.

Chris: I have a bunch of fun projects underway. The Middle book (thank you for the reminder) is patiently waiting for me. Right now, I’m working on finished art for a book called Firefly Hollow. The project started as a handful of sketches and notes that I created before handing it off to the renowned writer Alison McGhee. She ended up writing a novel that will have both color and black and white illustrations. I have been giving away a few sneak peaks on my blog and professional Facebook page. When it wraps up, I jump right into a book already underway by Betsy Devany called Smelly Baby. Easily the funniest laugh-out-loud manuscript I have ever worked on, with a feisty young protagonist named Lucy.

A sneak peak at Christopher's next illustration adventure
From left: Anika Denise, Stephanie Robinson, Christopher Denise
We were excited to meet Anika and Christopher at the 2014 UCONN Children's Book Fair! Stop by the post to experience an arena where books are reunited with their creators. It's pure magic! ;) 
Read the reviews
Read the reviews

Enter to win Bella and Stella Come Home and Baking Day at Grandma's
1) Follow Fairday's Blog via GFC or Bloglovin
2) Leave us a comment: 
What is your favorite picture book?
3) Fill out the Rafflecopter form below 

Giveaway runs until December 18th
(Open to US and International )

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52 comments:

  1. The interview- fantastic- but I am completely & utterly enamored with the illustrations! Holy cow they are amazing! Am going back up to gaze at them now...

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    1. Back after salivating over the images some more.. really can't say how much I love them. My husband thinks I'm insane because I can't stop exclaiming about the shadows! The shadows!

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    2. Thanks for your comment, Raquel! Chris has a real gift for painting light in his illustrations, doesn't he?

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  2. It's amazing how easy PBs look, but they're really so hard and time consuming. I LOVE the illustrations - they're just gorgeous! Wishing Anika and Christopher much success with both the books! :)

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    1. Many thanks for the comment, Lexa! And I agree, picture books are hard work. But thankfully, it's a labor of love. :)

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  3. Ooooh. These are the books which create life-long readers. Love, love, love the concept and the illustrations. So very much. Thank you.
    My eldest brother was the only one of us to have an imaginary friend - and his was a stove. Which became part of our family, though strangers looked surprised to be asked not to sit on his stove when we were on a bus...

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    1. I love that! There's a book idea in there somewhere, I think! Thanks for your comment and kind words.

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  4. I checked out Grandma's Baking Day at the library for my kids and I thought it was adorable the illustrations are outstanding. I will definitely be on the look out for Stella. Thank you so much for sharing. Happy weekend.

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    1. So happy you enjoyed Baking Day! Thanks, Heidi!

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  5. I love the illustrations! They really just grab your attention.

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    1. I agree, Kelly! Thanks for your comment!

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  6. Awesome interview and yeah moving sure is a big deal for kids

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    1. Hi Pat, thanks for you comment. Change of any kind is a big deal when you're little, isn't it. Important for us big folks to remember. :)

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  7. Great interview. And I'm loving all the illustrations! Congratulations!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Romance Reader! I enjoy looking at artists' sketches. A little peep through the keyhole of their process.

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  8. What lovely illustrations. And a great interview. So interesting to see how you write and draw. Congratulations and best luck to you.

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    1. Thanks, Beverly. It's neat how it changes book to book, our process. I think that keeps it fun and interesting for us.

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    1. Thanks, Patty. I'm quite fortunate to have married such a talented illustrator!

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  10. Thanks for this fun interview and all the beautiful illustrations. My favorite picture book at the moment is Imani's Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell, but there are so many wonderful picture books it is hard to choose.

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    1. I just saw this comment Rosi! Thank you so much and Happy Holidays! xx

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    2. I love that book, Rosi! Imani's Moon will be under the tree for my daughters this Christmas. I'm hoping someday soon to have Hazel Mitchell sign it! :)

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  11. What ADORABLE books! I love the illustrations, too. Thanks for sharing this amazingly talented couple with us.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Stephanie. Our books are our second best collaborations. (The first is our three daughters! Who just so happen to inspire a lot of stories!) ;)

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  12. Wonderful illustrations. I love that you based your characters on your daughter.

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    1. Thanks, Cate! Bella's look and personality is definitely a cross section of our two oldest daughters. And here's a little fun fact: on the very last page before the end paper there's a spot of two original drawings done by them of Bella and Stella. :)

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  13. Wonderful interview! The illustrations are adorable, and the storyline sounds great. It can be hard moving to a new place, even if it's not far from your old one.

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    1. I find my kids don't even like when I move furniture in the house, at first! They are such creatures of habit. But the great thing is that they are also resilient and adaptable. Thanks for your comment, Cherie!

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  14. This sounds like a wonderful family project! I'd love to read the results and share it with the kids in my tribe.

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  15. Awesome artwork :) I read these at work and hey I do want pretty pics too

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    1. Thanks for your comment!! Glad you enjoyed!

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    1. Me, too, Carrie! Thanks for your comment. :)

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  17. What a totally awesome interview. The family aspect of it all just adds to the magic. The illustrations have transported me back to my childhood. Suddenly, I want to dress up like Rupert the Bear.

    Thanks for bringing such awareness of this marvellous couple.

    Gary

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    1. Rupert is an excellent name for a bear! Thanks for your comment!

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  18. The illustations are so lovely and this post so informative! I didn't know it could take that much time to write such a book. Wow. And it's cute that the characters were inspired by a real life one. ^^

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    1. Thanks, Lola! Picture books are like puzzles. Sometimes it takes awhile to fit all the pieces together… but it's worth it. :)

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  19. what a wonderful interview! i love the illustrations, especially the development of the characters - such personality in each image!

    and btw, the Secret Files cover is fantastic!

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    1. I really love Chris's character sheets, too. As I looked back at these, I remembered how in early sketches, Stella the elephant had a pink dress on. But then we realized it was distracting as she morphed from stuff-animal size, and life-sized, so Chris decided to draw her without them.

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  20. Wonderful interview. I LOVED the art work and the story line is excellent.

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    1. Thank you, Sandra! So glad you enjoyed it!

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  21. Oh I love the illustrations and this sounds delightful. Fantastic interview!

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    1. Hi Kimba- So glad you enjoyed it. W love the illustrations too! :) ~F and L

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  22. My God, the artwork is gorgeous. I'd be very interested in Anika and Christopher's middle kid book. (Yes, middle kids need their books!) My favourite picture book is Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. Thanks for the giveaway (and 2 books, too)!

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    1. Claudine- I love Miss Rumphius! What a beautiful book! Thanks so much for stopping in and commenting to our guests! The artwork is gorgeous and the stories are fabulous too. :) ~F

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  23. I love reading about the inspirations and creation of a book. Usually I notice authors are inspired by their kids when it comes to children's books which is the same case with the Denise's. It's funny that they both picked bears to befriend (:

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    1. Adriana- I love to read about what inspires authors to write their books too! When we saw Chris and Anika talk at the CT Children's Book Fair they did a "Newylwed Game" type question and answer at the end and they had many of the same answers there too! ~F

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  24. I can only imagine how scary it would be for a child to move. I love thee addition of Stella! It was fun learning how a picture book comes to be. I bet it was hard cutting the story down so much. I loved The Mixed up Files and Narnia as a kid too! Great interview! :)

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    1. Molly- So glad you enjoyed the interview and that you could relate to the favorite books from childhood! I always love hearing more about the writing and illustrating world. :) ~F

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