A Brief Breakfast Chat with the
Creators of Bella & Bean

h1 April 29th, 2009 by jules

“I’m a poem!” shouted Bean.

Meet Bean. She’s tried so hard to get the attention of her best friend, Bella, who is a poet — and busy writing. “‘Yoo-hoo, Bella,’ said Bean. ‘See my new hat?’ ‘I don’t have time for hats, Bean,’ said Bella. ‘I’m writing new poems…I can’t think about rivers and moons when you are talking about hats,’ said Bella.” Bean really wants to go for a walk with her friend, and—even though Bella figures a walk to the pond would be lovely, indeed—she simply wants to finish her poems.

“And so she did.

She wrote words that reminded her of the river: bend, flow, gurgle, and rush.

She wrote words that reminded her of the moon: white, round, silver, and bright.

She wiggled just right in her chair and added: flower, bonnet, sun, and breeze.

Then Bella wrote this poem:

The river gurgles ’round the bend.
It rushes like the breeze.
The sun is a silver bonnet.
The stones are its flowers.”

Here’s Bean in yet another attempt to snag the attention of her friend: “‘I’m going to Spoon Pond to plant my most beautiful snow bush, and I’m inviting you.’ Bella shook her head. ‘I don’t have time for planting when I’m writing poetry…I’m thinking of words.'”

“Bella watched Bean drag the snow bush behind her like a summer sleigh. Then she finished her poem: Beautiful snow bush, / Loveliest I’ve seen, / This is my wish: / Bloom wild for Bean. And she stuck it on the bulletin board next to Bean’s picture.”

In case you want to read this for yourself, I’ll stop there, plot-wise, and let you discover yourself if Bella ever puts her pen down to meet up with the adventurous Bean. But here’s a hint:

“Bella stretched out on the blanket, and one by one,
read her poems to Bean under the starry sky…”

Bella & Bean, released by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in February, was written by picture book author, poet, and all-around children’s-poetry-promoter, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and illustrated by Aileen Leijten, originally from Belgium but currently living in Brooklyn.

I like this book. The very beginning of poetry exploration with the wee’est of children begins with word play and word-appreciation, and there’s an abundance of it in this title, as Bella finds Bean’s words, as well as other words that come to her that day, stepping into her poems (even if she does start out as one of those moody, cranky poets). The story becomes a “splendidly accessible exploration of the poetic process,” writes Publishers Weekly. I also like the way Leijten brings Bella and Bean to life, what with all their weirdnesses and even their offbeat looks, sharp buck front teeth and all. There’s also the sentence, “the sky poured stars like sugar.” Ah. Yes.

I invited Rebecca and Aileen to stop by and talk a bit about the book. I’ve got some good, strong, pipin’-hot cyber-coffee I extend to them, as we sit down at the breakfast table and chat briefly. Aileen also sent some additional art from other projects. So, let’s start with Rebecca; that way we can close with some more wonderful art. Many thanks to both of them for stopping by, and here they are, in their own words:

* * * * * * *

Rebecca: Bella & Bean is my first prose picture book. It’s very special to me. These two characters talked to me and to each other, as I wrote the story of their friendship. They both had such distinct personalities that it was quite easy to figure out who they were and what they would say. Their conversations (while writing the book) were in my mind as I did laundry or swept the floor.

Bella is probably more of who I am, yet the Bean in me comes out and I can get very silly. As my daughter always says, “you crack yourself up.” I think Bean cracks herself up. Bella is more serious. Dedicated. She loves playing with words. I keep many, many journals. Many are simply word journals. So I know that detail crept into the story.

I also have many Beans in my life, who come tapping at my window, and many times I get grumpy, like Bella, and say I’m busy thinking of words. Luckily, they understand. Most of the time. I like children to realize that, whether it is writing or sports or music, you do not have to have (and often times will not) the same interests or talents to be buddies. But it’s awfully nice if you try to share or take an interest in what it is they love.

I love writing dialogue. The ending came harder. Luckily, my wonderful editor and I brainstormed and came up with it together.

Aileen’s illustrations blow me away. Whimsy to dream of.

* * * * * * *

Aileen: I lived in Los Angeles for about twelve years, working as a freelancer for Walt Disney Imagineering (designing theme park rides) and teaching traditional animation at CalArts. (I have an MFA in Animation Film from CalArts.) In my graduating year, one of my teachers took us on a field trip to “Every Picture Tells a Story,” a children’s book art gallery. Right there, a whole new world opened up for me. I loved telling stories with pictures on film, and now I wanted to make picture books, too. That’s when the original idea for Hugging Hour was born. Hugging Hour was published in January 2009.

{Ed. Note: I haven’t read this book, but seeing as how it has a child protagonist named Drool and, evidently, features prominently an overalls-wearing house chicken, I’m going to be looking for it pretty flippin’ soon. Plus, I see it was met with good reviews, not to mention the story involves DOUBLE CARAMEL PANCAKES and WAFFLE COOKIES, people. There are recipes here. Jama, are you taking note?}

Five years ago, my husband and I decided to move to New York to seriously pursue a career in children’s books. Shortly after that, I got a call from Simon & Schuster, {asking} if I wanted to design some characters for Bella & Bean. The characters went from girls to geese and from frogs to mice, and finally they settled into the bodies you see in the book.

Illustrating Bella & Bean was a fabulous challenge; the whole story basically takes place outside Bella’s window. Luckily, Rebecca gave Bella the gift of poetry, beautiful words, and images, and I decided to illustrate what was happening inside Bella’s head, as well as what was happening outside Bella’s window…

For the moment, I am working on a secret new project about a little girl and her older sister. It’s called Flower Girl, and it takes place on the beach in Belgium. That’s all I can say.

* * * * * * *

Thanks again to both ladies for stopping by. Here’s Aileen’s blog, if you’re so inclined to keep up with her art, and Rebecca keeps an online journal here.

* * * * * * *

BELLA & BEAN © 2009 Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrations © 2009 Aileen Leijten. Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Images used with permission of illustrator. All rights reserved.

Images from HUGGING HOUR also used with permission of illustrator. All rights reserved.

9 comments to “A Brief Breakfast Chat with the
Creators of Bella & Bean

  1. Squee!! I’d seen other reviews of Bella and Bean, and have been very anxious to see it! “The sky poured stars like sugar.” *Swoon*

    And I practically passed out at the mention of double caramel pancakes and waffle cookies! Thanks for featuring Rebecca and Aileen today — the spreads are delightfully faboo!

  2. Ooh – I love BELLA & BEAN (as you probably already know from my review). And Aileen’s work is so, so stunning!

  3. This book looks great. Thank you!

  4. Oh, the cuteness! Looking these up in the library catalogue now . . .

  5. Love the artwork and the mini-breakfast interviews and, as always, all the linky goodness. Especially loved the teaser illustration from Aileen Leijten’s mystery upcoming book; the angular limbs of those two kids capture exactly the awkward physicality of their age.

    Bella & Bean also pretty cool. OTOH, when I read, “The characters went from girls to geese and from frogs to mice,” it rather set me off on a wild-goose (etc.) chase about order Rodentia and anthropomorphism. Through no fault of its own, I’ll add. I must’ve been on a hair trigger today for some reason.

  6. Love this post. I will be looking for this Bella and Bean. Poetry for tiny ones 🙂
    It really looks beautiful

  7. I love this book. But then I am a HUGE Dotlich fan.


  8. How many ways do I love Bella and Bean? I’ve used it twice now in teacher writing workshops. It works for all of us, any of us, who are engaged in the writing process.

    I think Rebecca and Aileen knocked the ball out of the park on this one.

    Thanks for the great interview.

  9. […] can have a play date and we can scheme new ways to make better books. Just the other day my wife, Aileen Leijten, and I had fourteen illustrators over for a pot luck dinner and p.r. discussion. Sophie Blackall […]

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