I’m especially excited today because it’s PUBLICATION DAY for my newest book, Stinkbird Has a Superpower (Putnam), book #1 of a new series featuring animals with superpowers.
As you can see, this one’s illustrated by Bob Shea … still hard not to call him The Bob Shea, because that’s how I reacted when I learned he’d be doing the art for this one. “THE Bob Shea?!!!” Anyway.
The idea for this book came from working on another. About 10 years ago, I wrote four books in a series for National Geographic Kids called Angry Birds Playground. One title in particular, Amazon Rainforest, while extremely interesting to research, made me feel a little depressed. Seemed EVERY animal I researched was either predator or prey. And, ew, quick YouTube searches brought to colorful, gory life those food chain battles. Yeesh.
But then I stumbled upon the hoatzin, nicknamed stinkbird. What’s this? A bird that only eats leaves? A bird that smells so bad other animals leave it in peace? How refreshing! The more I learned about this quirky species, the more I wanted to tell kids about it … especially when I learned of a feature unique to its chicks. Like, unique in all the world!
Since many of you readers are fellow writers, a confession: My first “finished” draft of this manuscript is dated September, 2015. That one wins the prize for my most-rejected manuscript. (Shout out to agent Tricia, who always believed it had something special and stuck with it long after I’d have put it back in the drawer.) In most drafts, the chick wasn’t part of the book until the very end. And the chicks are the ones with the SUPERPOWER! (D’oh.) Anyway, after years of rejections, I took a long, hard look at the manuscript … and suddenly knew what was missing. When I brought the chick front and center, I suddenly had two very different characters (proud Papa and impatient toddler chick) who began playing off each other in all the best ways. WHEW! The very next time it went out, it sold. Revision magic is REAL, people. Also, some books can’t be rushed. Apparently.
Reviewers have been kind:
“This comical picture book about the Amazonian hoatzin swoops in to delight readers with funny facts, and Shea’s smooth and textural digital illustrations and eye for composition effectively creating a child-like stinkbird perspective … Educational narration pairs with bantering dialogue to portray a loving relationship between father and son.” –The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review
“Cheerful and humorous … This book would be a treat for nature-themed story time. A lively glimpse of a weird and wonderful bird.” – Kirkus Reviews
And now, a chat with Bob Shea:
Jill: Welcome, Bob! Obviously, agreeing to illustrate a picture book manuscript is a huge commitment. So … how often do you turn down manuscripts, and what typically makes you say no?
Bob: I don’t get offered many. I mainly work on my own books. Most of what gets offered I turn down. First off, I’m a big self-aggrandizing prima donna and other work is beneath me.
Okay, after I get over myself the decision process is pretty simple. Is the work appropriate for my style? Not everything is, and I know it. Does it fit my schedule? I am usually wrong about this answer. Would I like to draw this? Is my son still in college?
At the end of those questions is my answer.
Jill: Let’s talk color palettes. Is that a long process of thoughtful, pre-drawing deliberation … or does it come about more organically at this stage of your career?
Bob: It’s both really. It’s not completely intuitive but more experience means less experimentation. You don’t make as many mistakes. I still need to play around and find what works together, but I get to the answer more quickly.
After I do a sketch of the main characters, I put them on potential color backgrounds before I commit. That informs how I color the final character. In Stinkbird Has a Superpower, I made the Dad stinkbird mainly orange, and the chick purple. This gave me a range of green and blue colors for the background.
Jill: In Stinkbird, I was a little worried that the setting might be limiting, yet your illustrations are lively and beguiling and funny and never feel the least bit repetitive. Do you do a lot of back-and-forthing with editors/art directors about characterization and POV and layout choices before beginning sketches, or do you pretty much let it rip and then see what they have to say?
Bob: This was a very collaborative process with the editorial staff. I let it rip and then they rip it apart. That’s what that stage is for, black and white sketches to talk about.
I was initially concerned that the setting would be repetitive. Fortunately, the art director was happy with a stylized graphic solution. I’m a graphic designer by training, so turning the rainforest into big abstract shapes was really fun.
Jill: Fun for readers, too. The proud stinkbird dad speaks directly to the reader while keeping up a running banter with his interrupting chick. That could have been confusing but isn’t, thanks to the the color-coded voice bubbles and font choices. How was that approach decided?
Bob: I think we came to this very early on. The back and forth of the dialogue along with the dense setting made it a challenge to keep the speaker clear. If I remember correctly, it was decided right out of the gate.
Jill: I love a good page turn surprise, and you seem of the same mind. So … pagination. Is that a favorite activity, or a hair-pulling frustration?
Bob: Oh, I love it. It’s one of the most effective tools a picture books offers. I look for the dramatic page turn opportunities as I work on a story or read a manuscript.
Jill: Thanks, Bob, for taking the time to chat! YOU have made this book a must-have. In my opinion. 🙂
For all things Bob Shea, visit his website, here.
And if Stinkbird Has a Superpower appeals to you and your littles, know that book #2 in this series, Parrotfish Has a Superpower, is scheduled for Spring, 2024! Note: parrotfish’s superpower is a DOOZY.
GIVEAWAY! Putnam (PRH) is generously allowing THREE giveaway copies of Stinkbird Has a Superpower, so if you’d like a copy of your own, simply leave a comment below. U.S. residents only, please. Winners chosen June 2.
Meanwhile, winners of books featured in my last two posts are: Elise Derstine, who won Suzanne Slade’s Behold the Octopus; and Elizabeth McBride, who won Laura Purdie Salas’ Finding Family. Congratulations!!!
Jill! Bob! Congratulations! This looks amazing. Happy Release Day!
Oh wow, my kids would love this book! Right up their alley! Awesome!
Stinkbirds are amazing – I’m glad they are finally the stars of a book. Looking forward to reading this one!
Anything with both Stink and Super Powers peaks my kids’ interest!
This book has classic written all over it. I’m glad it’s out of the drawer and on its way to book shelves.
This looks amazing. Can’t wait to share it with my grandson & my Brazilian son-in-law. So happy this made it out of the drawer, Jill, and that Bob Shea was chosen to illustrate it. Congratulations!
This is so great!!’ Congrats!!!
Thanks for sticking with the stink bird story! Yay for revision magic!
I love birds! And facts and stories about them. This book looks and sounds amazing. Congratulations, Jill and Bob!
Another huge hit! No surprise from this author. What a great collaborative adventure.
Gotta get my hands on a copy of this. Congratulations Jill and Bob.
Can’t wait to read this one. Colorful pictures and I’m dying to know…….
Happy Book Birthday Jill and Bob! I love everything about this book! I can’t wait to find out what little Stinkbird’s superpower is!
What a fun read. Who would not like a book about a bird with a “poopy smell”!
Omigoodness! I love everything about this new book!
Your superpower is writing great books! Can’t wait to read this one. It looks hilarious (and okay, informative, too!). Congrats to you and Bob!!
Your books are always a hit in our house! We look forward to reading it. The pages are so colorful.
Thanks for sharing the backstory on this fun book! Loved your conversation with the incomparable Bob Shea, and now I can’t wait to find out the chick’s superpower (just like the perfect page-turn, we’re left with a tantalizing cliff-hanger😄)!
Congrats to you both!
Congratulations Jill and Bob! I think my grands would love this, actually the whole family. So glad you kept trying on this quirky and weird stinkbird!
What an adorable book! My grandkids will love it. The story looks fun and informative Jill. The illustrations are colorful and full of action Bob. Can’t wait to get the book!
THE Jill Esbaum AND THE Bob Shea? WINNER!!
Congratulations! Will rush right out for my very own copy!
Stinkbird, you are too cute!
I love this. I admire your stick-to-it-iveness that kept STINKBIRD out of the drawer.
This book looks like so much fun. I love the back and forth dialogue between parent and child.
I love the endearing banter between the dad and chick! Congratulations!
What a cliffhanger! Now I HAVE to read it to know what happens after the dip in the river! This sounds wonderful. Congrats, Jill and Bob!
So excited for STINKBIRD! Congratulations!!!
Congratulations! The book is beautiful and colorful, with a fun story and interesting facts. Can’t wait to read it!
Congratulations to both of you on a wonderful, whimsical book! 🎉
Congratulations, Jill and Bob! This is going to be a fantastic series!!
Congratulations, Jill and Bob. Your stinkbird is a charmer!
Looks like another great book
I’m so glad you pulled Stinkbird back out — that’s a good lesson for all of us! Welcome to the world, Stinky!
What fun! I love that you left us hanging. Now I have to know the little bird’s superpower. Congratulations on the new book!
The dad and his chick holding conversations is genius! How much fun with this be to read–kids of all ages won’t even realize they are learning facts while enjoying this book. I enjoyed this interview and the fact that this book idea was mined from research for another project.
Jill and Bob, happy book birthday!!! It’s so cute and you leave us with a cliffhanger? Thanks so much for sharing a bit of your process, both of you. I eagerly await learning more.
Adorable. Kudos for keeping at it!
Very cool, Jill! Congratulations on this fascinating new release!
I’m glad you found a way to revise it so that the rest of us get to read it. It looks perfect for the students at my school.
Congrats, Jill! Can’t wait to read Stinkbird! Bob’s illustrations look amazing, and I know your text will make us smile. 🙂
What an interesting backstory about his tale. Congrats on figuring it out.
And I FREAKING LOVE BOB SHEA!!
That last page you shared left me hanging on a cliff! I have to find that book and learn how the chick gets back in the nest!
Ahh…perseverance pays off!…And I’m off to find out what the superpower is!
Congratulations, Jill and Bob! A great story idea that you have pulled off with fun, tension, information, humor, and style! What a wonderful combination!
This looks amazing!! Congrats to both of you! Can’t wait to read it 🙂
My family loves birds and these illustrations are so fun!
Congrats Jill and Bob. A terrific story with such eye catching artwork. This will be a great series.
This book looks wonderful! The kids will really enjoy reading it and learning about this ‘superpower’!
Congrats, Bob and Jill! Looking forward to reading this book.
I’ve been excited about this one ever since I saw the cover, and now I MUST know the chick’s superpower! Congratulations on your newest book!
I need to know the ending!
HA! LOVE IT! Huge fan of Bob Shea’s art and paired with Jill’s hilarious text – perfection! ❤️😍🤞🏼
Congrats, Jill! I love hearing how you refreshed an older ms. Looking forward to reading!
Hi, Jill, So . . . you do have a thing with ‘stink’, don’t you?! Stink Soup . . . Stink Bird . . . can’t wait to see what other stinkers you come up with! Congratulations on the book. Bob did an amazing job with illustrations that are bright and engaging!
I would love to share this wonderful story with my students!
This looks so great! I can’t wait to read it! Congrats to you both!
What a fun and refreshing approach to story! Talk about RE-VISION.
This book looks so fun!!