Monday, September 12, 2016

An Interview with John Allison

Good morning! Today I have for you an interview with author John Allison -- the one I promised in my review of the Bad Machinery books.

I've found this a very difficult interview to do because I keep having to go back and read more Bad Machinery and other interviews of John (you know, just so I'll "be ready") and then I find myself up past my bedtime, giggling quietly so as not to wake anyone.

By way of quick introduction, John Allison is the British author/illustrator of many books, including the Bad Machinery series currently being published in the USA by Oni Press. You can find out lots more about him and read massive amounts of his work on his website, Scary Go Round. I definitely think you should do that.

Without further ado, the interview:

So, one of the things I love about Bad Machinery is that the series does such a great job of capturing people in all phases of life. You've got the pre-teens (who age into their teens) as the stars of the books, but you've also got their younger siblings and older siblings and parents and teachers and even some of the elderly represented as the series goes on. I feel like all of the characters are spot-on. The fact that you're so good at representing all these different phases of life makes me wonder what your own life experience is like. To what do you credit your savvy? 

To be a half-decent writer, I think you've got to be such a vampire. I hear it over and over again when I read interviews with other writers. You've got to have your eyes open to the way people interact. And it's harder when you work from home, in quite a solitary job, because I don't actually see that many people. And you can't just transcribe people close to you, because they catch you out! It's easier with teens. They're all over the place, they're noisy, they make the place look untidy. So much grist for the mill.

I find books and TV series that are just about one narrow age group airless. I think I always have. The idea that the generations barely interact, or exist in these separate bubbles! Even if most of the interactions are built on misunderstanding, that's the good stuff that you want to get to. Every generation has something to teach the ones before and after it.

When I heard that Bad Machinery is coming out in a smaller format, I was both pleased and disappointed. I was pleased because the new size it will fit better on my shelves, but I quickly remembered how much I love sitting with the large format on my lap, sharing it with my husband or sister or kids. How do you feel about the new format size? Will it change the way you draw?

The large format will still be coming out, alongside the smaller reprints. I didn't design the comics originally to be reproduced so big, the reprint size is the size I originally pictured them, so there's no call to change how I draw. For the life of the series, I've heard divisive views about the size of the books - older readers struggle with them. I've also seen copies in a few bookshops that are really beaten up because they stick off the shelf.

Who inspires you, in your work or otherwise?
This is a tough question, because I don't sit down and think, I want to be like x or y or z any more, I internalised the people who I modelled my work ethic on in my twenties and early thirties, and now it's just me, a Frankenstein's monster of all these people I admire. I bought all three of IDW's huge Alex Toth retrospectives recently and just chewed through them. For me he's the ultimate comics artist, the ultimate storyboarder, the complete package. But not a great pers
on to the people around him. Still, that's the person who, recently, has inspired me to improve.

I admire the way you're able to make Bad Machinery fun and engaging for both adults and kids. Did you design the series with a multi-generational audience in mind?
Bad Machinery was a completely cynical creation, designed to be very generic, by someone who is completely incapable of steering the ship straight. Kid detectives! What could be easier than that? But I don't know if I ever wanted to write a straight kids' book. I might have thought I did, for a morning, but it was probably pretty mutated out of shape by the time I got to drawing the first page. I didn't like being talked down to as a young reader, so I tried to write in a way that reflected that.

Since you're British, I have to ask; how do you feel about American politics right now?
American politics is sad. The campaign finance, the graft, the pork, it's the cancer in your democracy. That a person would be elected to office, and then spend a considerable part of their time raising money for re-election on an endless 4-year cycle rather than working on behalf of their constituents, is furiously depressing. Candidates advertising on TV, endlessly attacking one another in person or by proxy through PACs, no wonder your government is in bipartisan ruins. The Citizens United ruling! What a disater! Trump is a sideshow, Clinton is a sideshow to a system of government throttled by money and special interests. I guess at some point that particular levee is going to have to break.

Yes, so I don't really have any strong opinions about American politics.

What is your favorite part of the writing/creating process?

Coming up with ideas is a lot of fun. When it's really working, I feel like I'm on the moon. I've trained my brain over nearly twenty years to fly pretty free, and probably broken it in the process. I need a lot of sleep, and I stopped drinking alcohol because (among other reasons) it kind of broke the ideas machinery for a day or two every time I did it. I also love drawing. I've always written just so I have something to draw. It's fun to be in charge of a little world.

What question have you not been asked in an interview, but think you should be asked? (Both the question and the answer, if you like.)

Despite the fact that I've published lists of my favourite albums every year that I've been doing comics, and have lists on the website going back to 1987, no one has ever asked questions about my love of musical list-making. No one has ever asked about my strict rules of best-of-all-time lists. I feel like I am an iceberg and the comics are the bit above the sea and my lists are the bit below the sea, vast and unknowable. Whether I could answer these questions is moot because I am not sure I should be asked them. I won't even put on a record I like when a friend visits any more. It's just for me now.

Haha! Thanks for the interview, John! And thanks for making great books.

Just for fun, here is a comparison of the large edition cover to the smaller edition cover.
This baby measures 9" x 12"

This one will be about 6" x  9"
More info about the new size can be found at Good Comics For Kids. The first 6x9 "pocket edition" will be released on March 17, 2017 and two will be released each year. More of my thoughts on the series can be found here, here, and here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Picture Book Giveaway!

Hurrah! Today I have a great picture book giveaway for you!

This giveaway comes to you from Candlewick Press.

If you sign up for my email list, you will be entered to win a prize pack that includes 1 hardcover copy of Journey by Aaron Becker and 1 hardcover copy of Quest by Aaron Becker.

The third and final book in the series, Return, just came out on August 2, and the publishers want to get you all excited, if you weren't slavering already. I mean, the illustrations are practically mouthwatering. Especially if watercolors make you drool.

All three of the books are wordless, no text at all, and they follow a girl with a magic drawing implement who enters another realm. Journey is a Caldecott Honor book. My kids love these, especially my boys, who are 8 and 5 years old.  Really I recommend them for any library, and think they'd be great coffee-table books anywhere.

On the back of the book Kirkus Reviews is quoted as saying "Picture books rarely feel this epic." I have to agree. Each page is beautiful, and together they tell adventure stories that just get better with re-reading.

If you want to win, put your email in the box in my sidebar over there that says "Get the Everead Newsletter." If you want to know more about the newsletter before you sign up, that's here. If you try to give me your email but it doesn't work, leave me a comment here or email me at and I'll get things fixed up for you.

Contest closes Aug 23, 2016 and the winner will be contacted via email.

Also, the images above are links to the books on Amazon, in case you want to read reviews, look inside, etc. (You do want to look inside. Just sayin.' But you can't look inside Return yet. Don't ask me why.) If you shop through these links, I earn a small commission.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Recommendations & Anticipations


Just thought I'd do a quick post about what I've been reading lately (besides Bad Machinery of course).

Library selfie! Book Nerds for life.
We had the happy experience this last weekend of visiting the Bairs! Some of you may remember back when Ashley used to post here on Everead more frequently. (Here are posts by Ashley.) Well, while we were visiting, I read some really good books, of course. Apparently she's been holding out on me.

The Here Comes the ... Cat Series by Deborah Underwood was a huge hit with my kids. We read three of them at the library. Yes, when we visit friends out of state we happily visit their local libraries. These just made us all laugh, and especially tickled Levi, who will be starting first-grade soon. We read The Easter, Valentine, and Tooth Fairy themed ones. I look forward to reading the others.

From the Bair family's personal library I read three Elephant & Piggie books I haven't read yet: I Will Take a Nap, Waiting Is Not Easy, and The Thank You Book. They were all fantastic, of course. I think my favorite of the three is Waiting Is Not Easy. If you have a child who could knock you over with their groans of agony, you will appreciate it. Sad to see the series end, but thankfully its full of great books, and I haven't collected them all yet, so I have some collecting left to do. ;)

I read Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant a couple weeks ago, and that was a fun one. A good adventurous graphic novel for the 12+ crowd. It looks like there is a second book, so I'll have to find that one and read it.

A few weeks ago we decided to fast from dairy as a family, to see if it would help our skin problems. Jacob, Jubilee and myself all had some itchiness we were hoping to cure, and my doctor recommended avoiding dairy. So when I delivered all of our cheese and milk and yogurt and so forth to my friend Tara, she let me borrow The New Moosewood Cookbook.Holy Cow it is beautiful! (Beef pun intended, it's a vegetarian cookbook.) It's all hand-drawn as far as I can tell. I feel kind of silly admitting we've only made one recipe from it, but I do not feel silly at all recommending it because lots of the recipes look really really tasty, the book is so beautiful to browse, and the one we tried, Moosewood Fudge Brownies, was delicious. After two weeks dairy free it was apparent that Jubilee's skin was doing better, Jacob's was doing equal or worse and mine was doing equal or maybe a smidge better. So. we're loosening up a little, and letting Benjamin have some of his favorite meals again, but still avoiding dairy because Jubilee is 3 and it's just impossible to take a bite of your preschooler's favorite food right after you tell them they can't have any. It's just heartless.

Along those same lines I also borrowed Disease Proof Your Child from Tara. I've read it before, but reading it again has been a good reminder to me to eat healthy. I tend to go overboard and feel like I can't eat ANYTHING after I read that book, but then I remember that I just have to start where I am (which is what Dr. Fuhrman says to do anyway) and then I end up eating more veggies and being happy about it.

Now for books I haven't read yet:

On our way to visit Ashley in NJ, I gave Benjamin a copy of The Egypt Game to read. I've never read it myself, I just bought a used copy of it because I had seen it recommended and it is a Newbery Honor. Benjamin told me I simply must read it. It looks suspenseful! So I'm looking forward to reading that and discussing with him.

I'm also looking forward to reading A Kingdom Far and Clear, which my brother Ransom got me. I didn't even know that one of my favorite books was part of a trilogy! But apparently it is and now I get to read more in the Swan Lake series. I wanted to read it aloud to the kids at first, so I tried that out, and they didn't bite. Hm. I think it was just a matter of timing and will try again. But I think in the meantime I might have to read it myself. I can't always just be waiting for them to be excited about a read-aloud, even if it was one of my favorites as a child. (More that I've blogged about this book here.)

Also looking forward to reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I dunno if I'll buy it or not. Do you think I should buy it? We have all seven of the series, but none of the other books in the Potter-verse. Are any of them worth it? I'm talking about Tales of Beedle the Bard, Magical Creatures, etc. etc. If you have opinions, please share.

What good books have you read lately? What books are you looking forward to? Don't hold out on me.

p.s. I almost forgot Tikki Tikki Tembo! The Bairs had it checked out from their library and we read it to the kids at least 7 times over the course of a few days. Jubilee especially loved it, but really we all did. I think maybe we need to own that one. It's even better than I remember.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Best New Series: Bad Machinery

Hi everybody!

Wow, what a month! We had family in town for Benjamin's baptism, then the computer monitor died. On the day we got a new monitor, the internet went down. Once that began to get resolved I left for a week of church Young Women's Camp (read:no internet) HA! So while I've had a lot of fun and some frustration, this blog has been a little neglected. How have YOU been?

Today I wanted to start telling you about one of my new favorite series. It is Bad Machinery, by John Allison.

Hopefully soon I'll have an interview with John Allison himself for you! And that is just so exciting to me.

But first let me tell you about the books. Five quick facts:

1. They are graphic novel/comic format.
2. They are a webcomic, originally published in England, and now coming to the USA in print via Oni Press.
3. They make me laugh a lot. (Think Calvin and Hobbes, The Office, and True Meaning of Smekday.)
4. They have appeared on this blog before, in my 2015 holiday recommendations post, in my announcement of the Cybils shortlist, in my guide for reading books that were first published outside of the USA, and in my post recommending books for teenage boys.
5. The basic premise is that six English pre-teens go about living life and investigating paranormal mysteries.

When my friend Ashlee asked me for a book recommendation recently, I thought long and hard about it and Bad Machinery came out on top. See, she's back in school and needed something fun to read, to relax with. Usually she loves non-fiction, but her textbooks were enough on that front. I know she loves the humor of The Office, and she loved The True Meaning of Smekday. If you like The Office and Smekday, Bad Machinery is on the right track.

I recommended that Ashlee start with book 2 in the series, The Case of the Good Boy. That's the book I started with, and I was hooked. I had my mom start with book one, The Case of the Team Spirit, and she wasn't immediately on board. I think The Case of the Good Boy is a little more cohesive? So now I recommend it as a starting place. It's the one I started with, and I treated book one as a prequel.

Here are all the books, in order.

Book 1: The Case of the Team Spirit

Book 2: The Case of the Good Boy

Book 3: The Case of The Simple Soul

Book 4: The Case of the Lonely One

Book 5: The Case of the Fire Inside

Book 6: The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor (pre-order until Nov 29, 2016)

Cases 6, 7, and 8 are available to read online (In fact ALL of the stories are available online, here) but like I say, the books are even better in print than online. Why? Because they're easier to read, there are extra pages, and the drawings have been re-worked just slightly to make them even better. In my opinion, the paper versions are worth it. In fact that's one reason I reached out to Oni Press and asked if I could work with them on promoting the series. I love that they're available online, and I love that the books are even better. The publisher sent me books 3,4,and 5 (Yay! it was SUCH fun to get that package.) and like I mentioned earlier, an interview with John Allison is in the works.

I hope you give these books a shot. I hope you encourage your library to buy them. More libraries need to have them, in my opinion.

Hit me with any questions you have for the author, or just any questions you have in general. See you soon!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Read It Wrong: One Tip to Make Reading Aloud Even More Fun

Hello friends! And Happy Father's Day weekend to you. Today I have another post for you from Bethany. You'll remember that she recommended some picture books about cleaning close to Mother's Day. Today, Bethany shares a story about her dad, (which translates into a great tip for us) and some good book recommendations.

When I was a little girl, whenever my Dad read stories to me and my siblings he always did it wrong. He would mix up the words, use a funny voice or just change the story completely. We loved it!

Now that my Dad is Grandpa, he reads to my kids the same way. One of their favorites is, The Pigeon Wants a Puppy by Mo Willems. Now this is a very funny book all by itself, but when my dad read it with a German accent it sounded like, the pigeon wants a "poopy." Oh, did my children roar with laughter.

Here are more picture books that are all about charismatic reading:

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak  

I was not sure about a picture book without pictures. Illustrations are usually my favorite part.
"Well, at least it has words," said my five-year old. That is pretty lucky and it's lucky that the words are entertaining, but you have to read all of them (also, this book is a little bit bossy). Sometimes the print is small, straight and black, other times it's large, colorful and bubbly. Even though there are no pictures, this book communicates graphically..

My kids love this book. I first read it to my daughter who was four at the time. This is my interpretation of her reaction to it:
That was a good try Mommy. You did a great job with the voices and the little song in there, but I think this book is broken. All the drawings are missing. Now here's a book with a pink princess on it. Put that pile of printed words down and read me something I can look at.

When my older kids came home from school (ages ten and seven) they read it together. They giggled and whooped. My youngest was intrigued. The next time we read stories, this was the book she picked and she knew all the right places to laugh. So unless you have someone to help out the younger kids, this book is probably for ages six and up.

I Stink! by Kate McMullan and Jim McMullan
My boys loved this book so much they had it memorized. Take a big breath before reading. This book needs gusto. The words are big because this monster garbage truck has a lot to do. It is also a great alphabet book.

The Sword in the Stove by Frank W. Dormer

This book was just released, but I got to read it before it hit the shelves. The author brought an early copy to share at my writer’s group. It is not a retelling of the classic tale of King Arthur, but instead a mystery of who would put a sword in a stove...and a helmet and a shield. The art enhances the silliness of this story and I especially like his exclamations...Holy Haddock! Add to the fun and read it Britishly.

Parents, I know your tale of woe. A child latches on to a favorite story, which must be read over and over and over again lest ye be punished with no sleep for a hundred years. It's exhausting!
So, if you can't stand to read Pinkalicious one more time, try reading Stinkalicous (all in good fun) and see if it's just a little more enjoyable.

Bethany lives in Connecticut with her brilliant husband and four creative children. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Brigham Young University and is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
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