7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #309: Featuring Melissa Guion

h1 December 9th, 2012 by jules

Mrs. Santa

This morning, I welcome new-to-the-field illustrator Melissa Guion. She’s here to share some of her bright, gentle watercolors and talk about her debut title, Baby Penguins Everywhere!, a picture book as much for the parents and teachers of this world as it is for children (as Melissa herself notes below). It tells the story of a lonely penguin, suddenly visited by a gaggle of baby penguins. (Can penguins exist in gaggles? I’m going to pretend they can, even though I think gaggles involve geese.) Finding herself a bit frazzled by all the wee penguins in her care, she comes to understand that she needs a moment’s peace. (Ah, isn’t that the truth if ever the truth was spoken?) She needs, as Publishers Weekly put it in their review, time to recharge, though she comes to appreciate the company of the young penguins, even when it’s chaotic.

I’ll let Melissa tell you more about it — and her work. I certainly look forward to what she brings readers next. Also, please note that Melissa’s online portfolio is here, if you’d like to see more art.

* * *

Melissa: Thanks for having me, Jules. I remember discovering 7-Imp when I began thinking about making children’s books, which was not long after you launched. The Ann Patchett passage on your About page (“It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience”) struck me as such a loving statement of purpose.

My first picture book came out last week. I’ve always written and drawn, but I only began trying to make it my profession about seven years ago. I’ve been a businesswoman. I’ve been a photographer. I went to clown school. It took me a while to land on this work, but it feels kind of inevitable now, and I hope I get to keep doing it.


I grew up in the 1970s, and my house and local library were full of all the extraordinary picture books that had been made in recent decades, and were still being made, by people like Arnold Lobel, James Marshall, Maurice Sendak, the Provensens, and Tomi Ungerer. I also went to a progressive school where we did lots of creative writing. Kids were still being taught that creativity was an end in itself, back then. When I was eight, a bunch of us formed a kind of literary circle, called Aardvark Enterprises. (The name now belongs to a custom-cast bullet factory in Washington. Coincidence?) My first drawings and stories appeared in our magazine.

I worked very hard on my writing as I got older, and I got good responses to it. As an artist, I was more of an amateur. Here are two pieces I made for friends’ kids when they were born, before I was an illustrator. I used to make a lot of art for friends, which is what led to a literary agent friend suggesting I pursue books.

When I decided I wanted to illustrate books, as well as write them, I had to grapple with that. I signed up for drawing classes at the National Academy, including one taught by the artist Roger Winter, who turned out to be the husband of the great author/illustrator Jeanette Winter. Roger and Jeanette had me over to their house, and Jeanette talked to me for a long time about her work. Roger ended up being a rare kind of teacher, very positive, and with his help I found the confidence to focus on my strengths, such as they are, and stop worrying about what I can’t do.

“One day, she saw something floating in the water . . . a hat.”

“She was very, very busy.”

My first book, Baby Penguins Everywhere!, is a picture book for very young children and their parents (or teachers). It shows how quickly a grown adult can be overwhelmed by a handful of playful children no higher than her knee. I was starting a family when I began my illustration career, and I guess the book reflects my feelings about both activities.

The book took a long time to finish. I remember the day when I brought the dummy and some sketches into my daughter’s preschool classroom. I hadn’t met many fellow illustrators at that point, and I didn’t have any readers. I finally got to experience what I was doing it all for. It’s such a pleasure to share art with kids. First of all, they aren’t reliant on mental shortcuts, so they’re fascinating to talk to. They notice things and they volunteer their opinion, which can be scary if you displease them, but they’re also generally impressed when they see art, because they haven’t been looking at it in museums and books for so many years that they’ve forgotten how meaningful and hard-won each new creation is. Making things for them is a very, very satisfying activity. If only it weren’t so solitary.

“And more than a bit tired.”

The last thing I’ll say, while I have this nice platform, is that it felt like an eternity between when I decided to make books and when I actually finished one. I hope that encourages people who want to do it and aren’t there yet. If it’s a quick and simple process, wonderful, but if it’s not, don’t despair. Keep going!

BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! Copyright © 2012 by Melissa Guion. Published by Philomel Books. All images here reproduced by permission of Melissa Guion.

* * * * * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

Melissa Guion makes me laugh. She was supposed to visit last week, and it didn’t work out, which is fine. I told her I was easy like Sunday morning. So, she attached this video to the bottom of her email to me yesterday:

Okay, my kicks:

1) I got an email from a children’s (public) librarian about how she’s doing an interactive mock Caldecott workshop next month, how she was looking everywhere for information on the medium of a particular 2012 picture book, and how she found it at a blog post here (in which the illustrator visited and discussed the making of the book).

It makes me very happy when librarians and teachers can use the blog as a resource with their students. Really, could there be a higher compliment?

2) I love this Gap ad with my BFF Rufus and his new hubby. He’s not really my BFF, but it’d be fun if he were, ’cause I can now say I’ve seen him in concert, and he’s fun…

3) I discovered Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and it’s mighty fun. I wish I were a bajillionaire and could institute something similar in children’s lit. I’d be willing to drive around in various vehicles, pick up folks, and conduct interviews over coffee.

4) This is an excellent write-up at Library Journal and speaks so much truth.

5) I really love this Andrew Bird song, and to see him sing it here with Annie Clark of St. Vincent is lovely:

6) Angel Olsen. Hit that play button and see what I mean.

7) I love all the year-end best-of lists in music, like this one. So much to hear and catch up on.

7½) You all know I’m always totally up on my picture books, like a giant nerd, but I’m often slow with novels. Just this week I read the book below (which I didn’t realize got a Printz Honor—my library copy didn’t have that lovely Printz sticker you see below on this cover, and if I’d known it got an Honor, I’d promptly forgotten—until I was done reading it), and I absolutely fell for it. This is extra good, given that I’ve been underwhelmed by so many novels lately. I found this one really compelling, I couldn’t put it down, and I am still thinking about it.

7 and Three Quarters) Sufjan Steven’s multi-disc Christmas CD set (which you can hear at NPR for a while and which finally arrived in my mailbox this week) is, at turns, lovely and bizarre (he engages in some “loopy indulgences,” as that NPR reviewer put it) and beguiling, and all-around it’s pretty wonderful. “Christmas in the Room” may be one of his most beautiful songs ever.

NOTE: Please click here, if you’re so inclined, to read about a children’s book, called Off We Go For 80 Days, whose proceeds—100% of them—go to UNICEF.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

26 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #309: Featuring Melissa Guion”

  1. Baby penguins on a Sunday night, can’t get much better than that.

    Although there’s also nothing nicer than a great book after a stretch of underwhelming ones. I will note the title!

    I am falling asleep here, so have only 5 kicks but Jules’ extra kicks make up for that 🙂

    1. I just found out that we have BLUE BEES here in Brisbane. We had a very vibrant example visit the yard yesterday.
    2. Went to a free talk in the city library by a very funny science communicator from one of the national radio stations
    3. Then went out for dinner with some colleagues, and walked around the city enjoying the night time crowds
    4. My sisters (& partners & niece) went to visit Dad last weekend for an early Christmas weekend. Great fun! And my niece who ran away from me into a carpark (!!!!) survived fine.
    5. Home-made gyoza for dinner

  2. The big penguin felled, flat-out exhausted, by her charges is too funny. Reminded me of a time when I was in 6th grade and went to help out in my mom’s kindergarten classroom for a day. Whoa baby. I also like Melissa Gion’s water-color shadowing on the penguins bodies. Yes.

    Jules! Okay… I just had a very weird experience with your #3 link: I went to Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee; the one with Michael Richards came up. Jerry Seinfeld prefaces it by saying “certain things in this episode seem set-up. They were not.” So, I’m watching it, amused, and then Michael says “Can we turn off here?” when he tries, unsuccessfully, to find Sugar Ray Leonard’s house? And it’s MY street. (!) Well, it’s the street that T-ends into my street. I dunno, it was surreal. That WAS a very oddly coincidental episode.

    So, now I’ve blah, blah, blahed too much so I’ll just do two quick kicks:

    1. tangerines at Christmastime.

    2. The Landfill Harmonic:

    Have a good week all.

  3. emmaco — we passed in cyberspace. Those blue bees are beautiful! And I just like that name: blue bees.

  4. Penguins, how I love them and Guion’s art is fun. I love the same pic of Mama penguin as Denise.
    Jules, yay for the Library Journal article.
    Emmaco, blue bees, how cool and how beautiful they are.
    Denise, I agree, tangerines, so yummy.
    My kicks:
    1. Portland Tuba Christmas at Pioneer Square.
    2. Writing group.
    3. Friend’s gathering.
    4. My friend, Bridget’s book, Poison, on Netgalley.
    5. Creating cards and calendars for presents.
    6. Daily haiku.
    7. Gingerbread.
    Have a great week.

  5. Happy holidays, Imps! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Sunday.

    Hi Melissa! Thank you for sharing the penguins. They are so cute. I also like the lettering on Maggie’s name. Kudos. It’s great to get feedback from kids because they are so honest.

    You all have seen Cookie the Ticklish Penguin, right? If you haven’t, click here and watch this real-life penguin video.

    Jules: Yay for resources!

    The Andrew Bird song reminded me to encourage you all to check out the band Bewilderbeast – Download their songs for free or make a donation when you download: http://bewilderbeastmusic.bandcamp.com

    emmaco: I think you win best quote of the day for the line: “Baby penguins on a Sunday night, can’t get much better than that.” Now I have to look up pictures of blue bees…

    Denise: I love synchronicity.

    jone: Congrats to Bridget. Enjoy the music, the writing, and the treats!

    My kicks from the past week, in chronological order:
    1) Filming an intense piece with a fantastic cast and crew
    2) Leverage: The White Rabbit Job, which fairly subtly employed half a dozen Wonderland-related character names and had a really lovely scene for my favorite character.
    3) Recorded tracks for a musical and interactive book
    4) The cat that walked into the studio while I was recording
    5) Audition
    6) Singing gig
    7) First rehearsal for a holiday cabaret show

  6. Love the penguins, and also love Mrs. Santa, as I am trying to get into the holiday spirit but am a bit behind this year.

    Jules – I love that you picture Rufus as your BFF – and love that picture of him too. Thanks as always for the music links, I’ll be checking them out later. Also, so glad to hear you enjoyed Why We Broke Up – I’d given it as a gift based on reviews but always better to know someone who liked it!

    Emmaco – Blue bees!!!! Wow.

    Denise – love that little bit of synchronicity with the comedians in cars driving down your street.

    Jone – I love anything at Pioneer Square at Christmas – it’s just so lovely this time of year.

    My quick kicks:
    1. Survived a really intense week at work week before last.
    2. Making lists of books for presents for people on my Christmas list – always fun trying to pick just the right book.
    3. My first Portland TrailBlazers game last night. They lost but it was still fun, even though I am more of a football and soccer girl.
    4. Teaching a friend to play shuffleboard.
    5. Late night chicken and waffles.
    6. Cole getting excited about going to the dog park.
    7. Dragging up the decorations to start getting in the holiday spirit.
    7.5 Picked up my copy of Libba Bray’s The Diviners.

    Have a great week everyone!

  7. Jules: My post is stuck in moderation land. Help! 🙂

  8. Emmaco: What I Learned from You Today: Blue bees! Also, I’ll have to look up gyoza. … Thank goodness your niece is okay.

    Denise, thank you so much for that video. I did, indeed, like it on Facebook so that I can be informed as to when the movie comes out. … That is definitely bizarre about Michael and Jerry being so close to your street. Or, bizarre that you chose to watch that one first.

    Jone, a tuba Christmas sounds super fun.

    Little Willow, sorry about the stuck kicks. I released the hounds! … HOLIDAY CABARET SHOW! I wish I could see. The recorded tracks sound so fun, and was this just a random cat off the street that walked in?

    Rachel, I’m behind, too, but I’m making baby steps. … Enjoy your book, and if you read Why We Broke Up, let me know what you think. I won’t forget the protagonist for a long, long time. … I’m glad to hear the intense work week is behind you. One always feels better for having endured such things.

  9. I enjoyed looking at Melissa’s drawings, especially the jump-roping penguins. This week has been a bit topsy-turvy, so I’ll share the topsy bits:

    1. The family came out with me for a Jingle Bell Run 5k, and the girl and I wore our new SparkleSkirts. The husband says he’s glad we went, though at 5:30 am, when the alarm went off, he said, “Dear, this time you’ve gone too far!”

    2. I met my primary 5k goal of sub-10 minute miles. I had a little bit of worry over having put myself into a faster pace group than I could vouch for at the time, but when I saw people in my pace group walking during mile 2, I wondered, “What was I worried about, now?!”

    3. The family met up with another family for a lantern walk around Greenlake last night. There were some beautiful lights, including some in balloons trailing over boats steered by gnomes (hey, they were wearing gnome hats). The balloon lights reminded me of jellyfish.

    4. I did not win the Disney Princess Half Marathon grand prize, so the good news is that the family can see La Boheme that weekend, as planned.

    5. We have festive Christmas plans with friends.

    6. I don’t normally buy candles for people, but I found a glass candle holder that had a lovely viola clef etched upon it. The viola clef is the best looking clef, I think. (May we have a visual for that, Jules?)

    7. Coffee, baby. Coffee every day.

  10. Farida, congrats on #2! I’m sorry about the grand prize, but you will enjoy La Boheme.

    Kick #3 brings this to mind:

    Here’s the visual:

  11. Hi Imps!
    Busy Christmasifying the house today. Love everyone’s kicks. Jules, I appreciate the book reccomend. Maybe I’ll put it on my wish list. I read The Christmas Carol every year around this time.
    I’m raising a mug of cocoa to you all.

  12. Hi, Moira! Every year I say I’ll read The Christmas Carol. Maybe this year. I raise my mug to you, too.

  13. lovely kicks as always. Especially love the image of Farida’s jellyfish lights.

  14. Thank you for sharing your story, Melissa Guion. I am not an artist, but I felt like I could relate.

    1. Taking my two oldest kids to see The Nutcracker.
    2. Sitting in the front row.
    3. The Andrew Bird video.
    4. Dinner with my husband.
    5. The first big snowstorm of the year.
    6. Running into friends unexpectedly.
    7. Coffee.

  15. Amy, snowstorm? Jealous. It’s been about 70 degrees here, consistently. It’s weird to put up a tree when you’re slightly sweating.

    Did your children just love The Nutcracker?

  16. Hi everyone, thanks for the nice comments, I had such a good time meeting Jules. I will now do my first 7 kicks!

    1. my first book coming out
    2. being on 7 Imp!
    3. reading at Books of Wonder with a panel of amazing picture book creators & laughing a lot with/at Bob Shea
    4. the look on my daughter’s face when I read the dedication of my book out loud at my first public reading (it’s dedicated to her)
    5. Putting up our Christmas tree
    6. Remembering that my college roommate once received a bundt cake from Lionel Richie, which I had totally forgotten
    7. (Barely) learning Just Like Heaven on drums so I can play in my drum student showcase at tomorrow night!

  17. Melissa: OOH, break a leg on the drums. FUN.

    Bob Shea is just about the nicest guy ever, and this makes me laugh so very hard:

    Thanks again for visiting 7-Imp …

  18. Fly-by to say BREAK A LEG, Melissa! Congrats and kudos on the book, the drums, and all that goodness.

    Amy: YAY for Nutcracker! My favorite ballet. Hope they loved it.

  19. Beautiful illustrations – very interesting in every way. Love the Kicks. I’m very late, but so glad because I got to see this hysterical Bob Shea link that Jules put up – THANKYOU!!!!

    My Kicks:
    1. my parents moved to my neighborhood from Oregon last week! We are so excited to have them near us
    2. great phone conversation with one of my dearest friends who is also a children’s book writer.
    3. got some ideas for the author of the new book I’m editing.
    4. read ‘Gingerbread Man Loose in the School’ to 2nd graders this week and got lots of help reading it and spontaneous applause at the end. This is such a great book!
    5. finally found the perfect pair of boots – I’m the only person in LA who doesn’t have a pair. They were not on sale – I don’t think my hubby will be as pleased as I am.
    6. may have news on a baby (foster-to-adopt). Will know tomorrow.

    Have a great week everyone!

  20. Hi Jules!

    I am late to the kicking party but just wanted to say hi!
    And to tell you that I think Baby Penguins Everywhere might just become my new baby gift. What mom doesn’t need to hear it’s message?

    And to tell you that I am hosting a mock caldecott at the girl’s school this winter and will totally use your blog for all kinds of amazing information!

    And, I think I am going to read Why We Broke Up asap as I have been underwhelmed lately as well!

  21. Allison, isn’t it funny, though? Cracks me up every time. … So glad your parents had a good move and are THERE! And kick #6? Whoa. That’s heavy. And good. Keep us updated.

    Hi, Stacey! I agree about what a good gift it’d be. Also for teachers and school librarians. And oh, how I wish I could be a student at your daughter’s school to witness your mock Caldecott. JEALOUS. … Let me know what you think of Handler’s book. I talked to someone the other day who was underwhelmed by it, but I loved it and it keeps lingering in my mind.

  22. That Bob Shea video is hilarious! I’d seen the Randy the Lonely Unicorn one, but not this….

  23. Well now, I’ll have to go find the Randy one, ’cause I’m not sure what that is. (Is it related to his unicorn/goat book, coming out next year?)

  24. I’m not sure he’s planning to publish this one. http://youtu.be/5KU7NVK1UvI

  25. Well, that was funny.

    “Rain cupcakes” is a line from the new book, so perhaps this old draft inspired the new one.

  26. Jules, I love your close read of the video. Good detective work! I bet you’re right.

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