HAZEL AND TWIG: Interview with Brenna Burns Yu (+Giveaway)

Join me in welcoming author-illustrator Brenna Burns Yu! With one look at the book covers, I fell in love with Hazel and Twig – adorable mouse sisters who have cozy adventures in a woodland setting.

Here’s the rundown on both books:

HAZEL AND TWIG: THE LOST EGG – Hazel and her little sister, Twig, find an egg in the meadow and decide to take the egg home. One of my favorite parts is how the sisters sit on top of the egg to keep it warm until it hatches. Hazel imagines all the fun ways they will take care of their new pet. But is the egg theirs to take?

HAZEL AND TWIG: THE BIRTHDAY FORTUNE – Twig is about to have her first birthday. Everyone is eager to see what she will choose at her doljabi, a Korean first birthday tradition. For this tradition a child chooses from a collection of items, and the selections will reveal the child’s future. Will Twig pick a hammer and grow up to be a builder? Will she pick a lute and grow up to be a musician? What will Twig pick?!

Now let’s hear from Brenna!

What was your inspiration for creating Hazel and Twig? 

The idea for the first Hazel and Twig story came about in the days after my second daughter’s Dol party (the Korean first birthday tradition that is at the center of the action in The Birthday Fortune). Our family is bi-racial—my husband is Korean American, and I’m White, with a mostly Irish American family. So, we have some Korean, some Irish, and many American traditions that we try to keep alive in our family.

The Dol party is one of the most special ones because it celebrates that incredible first year of life! We had her Dol party at a Korean restaurant, where they create a beautiful setting for the celebration, including all the traditional decorations and auspicious objects.

They asked us for a favorite picture of the birthday girl, so I sent them a picture of my daughter trying to eat a dandelion. They made it into a huge poster and hung it in the party room. Through the whole celebration, my daughter was looming over us in a spring dress, eyeing this dandelion that she was about to take a bite of. Perhaps that was in the back of my mind.

About a month later, when we went to another baby’s Dol party….something about the setting, on a beautiful summer day, the color of the homemade desserts, gave me a moment of inspiration — imagining our daughter’s Dol in a woodland world where eating dandelions was a staple of mouse life.

How wonderful – I love it when inspiration strikes!

So, Hazel and Twig are characters based on my two daughters. And even though he hasn’t appeared in a book, my son has a mouse name that his sisters gave him. (It’s Pebble.) The two books feel very intimate and homey for me. The Lost Egg is a very different story, but the inspiration is still from my family.

There was about a year there when “Hazel” and I would brainstorm dog names (mostly food-based, like Mochi and Tofu and Dandelion) while walking to her school. I knew we couldn’t put off getting a dog much longer! That developed into a story about trying to bring home a pet and naming it. In the end, we got a dog and named it Wilbur, after the pig in Charlotte’s Web.

Charlotte’s Web is my favorite book from elementary school! Tell us about your book creation process – how did you approach this story and the illustrations? 

For me, text and art always influence each other. I can never decide if I was a writer or an artist first. I went to art school, but not for illustration. I got an MFA in fiber art from Cranbrook Academy of Art. And while I was there studying art, I started writing more.

I’m always flowing back and forth between the two. Sometimes an idea first begins as a visual moment I want to capture—I can sort of see something, but it’s still over the horizon. I might jot down some words to pin down that visual I can’t quite get at yet. And then by sketching a little here and writing a little there, a story emerges.

This happened with Hazel and Twig. I experienced a very visual moment of inspiration that led to a very bare bones story—only about 100 words. Then I realized I couldn’t draw a satisfying mouse. Many mice later, I had these little character sketches: Hazel wore a dress and two shoes; Twig wore bloomers and one shoe. Those sketches then gave me the idea for how to introduce the two characters in the opening lines of text, and it also crystalized some of the sibling dynamic that runs through both stories.

How was your experience working with your editor and art director?

I thought it was a very creative collaboration with Candlewick. When my editor, Andrea Tompa, first responded to me about The Birthday Fortune, she loved the characters, but she wasn’t totally convinced by the way I had handled the ending. We ended up working on it together quite a bit before getting to the final version.

This was even more true of The Lost Egg. It began with an early draft and some sketches, but we worked out the final text collaboratively. She has a great sense of story, so both books became better through this process of working together.

My designer, Heather McGee, had a creative influence on the books, too. She always tried to instill the idea of: How do we show more with simplified but more powerful composition? She also worked with me on The Lost Egg to achieve more vibrant colors in the printed book. I had to adjust the way I was using watercolor, because my aesthetic impulse was to go for a very transparent look, which didn’t always reproduce well. In the case of the greens (which are big in a meadow), we worked to figure out which specific watercolor pigments were reproducing more truly in print.

What are your top 3 tips for creating picture books?  

1.    Make sure that you really LOVE your characters. You will spend so much time with them!

2.    Read lots of picture books, from lots of different authors and cultures and points of view, and re-read your favorites a million times. (If you are reading to a kid, the last part is basically a given!)

3.    Be willing to re-write and revise sketches/artwork as many times as it takes. 

What’s new and exciting? 

I would love to do another Hazel and Twig book, so that’s one thing I’m working on.

Yes! Yay! Hooray!

One side project I’m looking forward to in 2021 is returning to my art school roots by exploring textile and surface design. I’m working on some ideas for children’s textiles. Things like bedroom curtains that teach you about Venn diagrams, and other ways to incorporate cool visual math into a child’s environment. Maybe these will just end up as a fun series of drawings!

Sounds interesting – I like the way you think. Also, it’s official – I want a mouse name!

Visit Brenna Burns Yu’s website and Twitter page.

***GIVEAWAY***

For a chance to win a HAZEL AND TWIG book, please leave a comment by March 8. I’ll announce the randomly selected winner in my next post.

Congratulations to Ashley Wolff for winning a copy of WISH from my last post.

Thanks for reading & see you next time!

Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows is the author of many acclaimed books for children. She loves dreaming up new projects and telling stories with heart. Connection, compassion, and family are common themes in Michelle's work. Michelle's latest books are FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles and BRAVE BALLERINA: The Story of Janet Collins. Her other books include HIBERNATION STATION, SUPER BUGS, and PIGGIES IN PAJAMAS. Michelle graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and literature. She is represented by literary agent Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio. Michelle grew up in Washington, D.C. She now lives near the beach in Delaware with her husband and son. To learn more about Michelle's books, visit her website: michellemeadows.com

40 Comments:

  1. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Awww, these stories look so lovely! Thanks for a great interview! I love hearing the inspiration behind books.

  2. Thanks for sharing this sweet story. Amazing Illustrations. Congrats Brenna!

  3. thank you for sharing your insights. Always great to hear the backstory.

  4. Book looks great, hope I can win this for my twins!

  5. Hazel and Twig! How adorable! I love it and can’t wait to read this book. It really gives me the cozy feeling of imagination, being a tiny animal (who can do all the wonderful things a child can do), and a make-believe world. Congratulations! I think the colors come through brilliantly, but it is interesting that some watercolors do not transfer well to print. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  6. These books are so cute and I’m going to love reading them. I also enjoy learning about new cultures to me and this Korean birthday tradition is very interesting.

  7. Those mice are so cute! And your simple art (although I’m sure it’s not so simple) is absolutely appealing. Hope that third books come through for you.

  8. I love this interview. because I love a good origin story. And as a math girl, too, I’m so intrigued by your idea of using children’s textiles to explore Venn diagrams etc. I’m working on bringing a series of math and storytelling conferences to life, so I’d love to be connected with you at some point, especially as you start making that idea a reality! And so glad you are working on another Hazel and Twig book – so beautiful.

  9. It’s great that the author and Candlewick worked together so well to produce these books! The illustrations are so beautifully colored and charming!

  10. Brenna, Hazel and Twig are adorable and I love the stories behind the stories. Can’t wait to get my hands on them. Congratulations!!!!

  11. I always love hearing about the creative process. Finding inspiration from family is fun.

  12. Congratulations, Brenna! I love your Hazel and Twig characters!! Keep those books coming!

  13. I LOVE Hazel and Twig. They’re adorable and your story sounds so interesting. I can’t wait to read it.

  14. I love these charming little mouse sisters! Thank you for sharing the inspiration and journey for your books. I look forward to reading them!

  15. Thank you all for reading and for all the lovely comments-it’s really brightened my day! Good luck in the book giveaway.

  16. Love the sibling dynamics. I wonder what will hatch!

  17. Thanks for the great interview, Brenda and Michelle! The books look lovely and I enjoyed reading about your experimentation with watercolor to get it just right. I am in the middle of an illustration unit with my HS classes and we are doing a lot of media exploration, so it really hit home!

    • Thanks, Mary! I’m so glad it made a connection with what you’re teaching. Wish I’d had an illustration unit in high school! 🙂

  18. Awww. This looks lovely, Brenna. I can’t wait to check it out.

  19. Captivating scenes and I’m most interested in the sibling dynamics. Thank You for sharing all your insights on picture books.

  20. I cannot wait to meet these characters.

  21. Both of these books look delightful! I look forward to reading them.

  22. We all want mouse names! Sounds like your children are as creative as you are.

  23. Thanks for sharing your story and Haze and Twig!

  24. Thanks for sharing your story and Hazel and Twig!

  25. These books look adorable. Thanks for an interesting post.

  26. What charming stories and the illustrations are Hazel and Twig are so delicately and lovingly drawn!

  27. Wow…. love also hearing about your other creative projects! I will want to see that line of mathematical designs when they are ready!

  28. Such cute characters! My kids also had the Korean 1st birthday. So fun.

  29. It doesn’t get sweeter than Hazel and Twig! What an amazing world Brenna has created for children to get lost in. I love how kids can learn a Korean tradition too! I know these books will be so well loved in my classroom.

  30. Breanna, I am so thrilled that another Hazel and Twig book is in the works! My daughters (ages 4 and 1) play Hazel and Twig for hours every day and I feel like they are part of our family! We love your books!!

  31. Such a great interview! Thanks for sharing!

  32. These books look adorable. Congratulations, Brenna! And thanks to you both for the great interview.

  33. These books are pure delight!

  34. What a sweet story! I especially like that author Brenna Burns Yu shares that her children are biracial, the various traditions they celebrate, and that her stories are based on those unique qualities! Thank you for sharing your journey as a writer!

  35. Hazel and Twig are so adorable. I can’t wait to meet them,

  36. This looks like such a beautiful book and a sweet story. I can’t wait to read it! Good luck on writing your next Hazel and Twig adventure!

  37. Meredith Fraser

    Hazel and Twig are great names for little mice. Can’t wait to read it!

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