Cover Reveal: Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry, ill. by Juana Martinez-Neal
I’ve changed my whole strategy when it comes to cover reveals these days. Gone are the days when I was content to just show you the cover itself. You deserve better than that. Therefore, from here on in, I shall accompany any and all reveals with interviews. And when you have a picture book as keen as today’s, a single interview seems paltry. Why stop with one when you can have TWO? So it is my supreme pleasure to introduce you to a charming picture book slated for 2020. Too early, you say? Nonsense. It is never too early to get excited by a book. Particularly when it’s coming from a recent Caldecott Honor winner . . . .
Betsy Bird: Juana, thank you so much for answering my questions here today. I think most people probably know you at this point for your 2019 Caldecott Honor winner ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME, but in 2019 alone you’ve done the art for Hayley Barrett’s BABYMOON and the jaw-droppingly good FRY BREAD. Which is to say, you seem to be a very very busy woman. Now we have the 2020 release of SWASHBY AND THE SEA. This begs a simple question: Do you sleep? Actually, a better question might be how you organize your day to create all this incredible art.
Juana Martinez-Neal: Hi Betsy! I’m so excited to be here with you today, and thank you so much for the kind words!
Answering to your question, I do sleep… although I’m a light sleeper. Maybe that helps a little?! Now, the perfect description of how I handle so many projects lies somewhere between constant panic attacks and hyperdrive mode. It is hard for me to transition between tasks or projects, so I prefer to work on one book at a time. When I’m working on one book, it focus by working on that one book only.
BB: Though you’ve done a wide range of books, none of them have been all that nautical until now. What was it about Beth Ferry’s book that appealed to you?
JMN: First, I loved the manuscript. It arrived shortly after ALMA was on submission, and I was SO taken by it as soon as I read it. I reached out to Stefanie (my agent) immediately to tell her that I loved it and wanted to illustrate it.
I grew up by the ocean in Lima Peru, and I love the beach. I hadn’t had the opportunity to work on a book with this setting before and the idea of painting sand, sea, waves, gulls and seaweed (!) appealed to me so very much. Then, there is grumpy, cranky, Swashby, the bouncy little girl, and her hippie grandma. This was the perfect manuscript for me and the exact type of book that I was hoping to work on!
BB: One of the things I love about the book is the colors you chose. Turquoise, in particular, gets its place in the sun to shine. Indeed the whole book appears to be a marvelous collection of white, brown, and turquoise. When approaching a new project, how do you decide what palette to select?
JMN: So great to hear that you like the palette of SWASHBY! I have to confess something. I LOVE turquoise! (Almost as much as I love yellow.) For, SWASHBY I could use both of these colors!
When I’m working on a new manuscript, the colors come early—sometimes earlier than the characters themselves. When I read the story the first couple of times, each manuscript gives me a strong, raw, primal emotion. My job is to understand that emotion, and pass it on to the reader. I do that using the palette, characters, setting, pets, and the size and proportions of the book.
SWASHBY was all about freedom and freshness. There was an aspect of something very natural, too.
BB: Is Mr. Swashby modeled on anyone in particular?
JMN: Swashby is many people. He is an introvert trying to enjoy his quiet time on his own. He’s also anyone who pushes people away because he’s been hurt before. He’s my dad when he’s grumpy and has no patience left. I think we are all Swashby at some point.
BB: Here’s an odd little question, but was water difficult to illustrate? You not only have to portray the ocean when calm but also when it froths and bubbles and crashes. Have you ever done anything quite like this before?
JMN: Some years ago, I painted a few underwater pieces but I had not painted the ocean until I began painting SWASHBY.
I opted to feel the ocean as I was painting. I splattered paint, made it build up, made it dry a bit before I plastered it down. It helped that I used gesso instead of white as it is thicker and heavier than liquid acrylic. It was SO fun to work on this book!
BB: Final question before I speak with Ms. Ferry: Would you consider yourself more of a Swashby, more like the girl and her grandma, or more like the sea?
JMN: I’m a little bit of each one of them. I’m Swashby when I’m cranky. I’m the little girl when I’m on my own. I’m the hippie grandma getting easily confused most of the time. Who are you, Betsy?
BB: Me? Oh, geez that’s hard. I wish I had the girl’s guts. I’m probably this odd amalgamation of Swashby and the grandma instead.
But enough about me. Beth? You’re up!
So you know what everyone loves? A good old-fashioned origin story! Where on earth did this story come from?
Beth Ferry: If I am remembering correctly, this story began in 2014 with the working title, Sea Words. The idea of the sea washing away words written in the sand was the premise from the beginning and that idea came from days at the beach watching the sea ‘clean the slate’, shall we say. There was something satisfying about watching footprints, shells, stones – everything within reach – just disappearing with each wave. The idea that the sea could wash away only certain letters in words in order to change a message led to the sea becoming a character. Once the sea was a character, I began imagining who her best friend would be and that’s when Swashby appeared and the whole idea solidified.
BB: I asked Juana this same question, but your answer might come from a different angle. Is Mr. Swashby based on anyone you know? Is anyone in this this story based on someone real?
BF: Swashby is pure fiction. A creation based on the epitome of someone who I believe would love the sea completely. And although none of the characters are based on anyone specific, the idea for the story is based on my family’s life at the beach – watching my kids build sand castles, dig holes, splash in the water, and of course, write their names in the sand.
BB: Were you aware of Juana’s work before she was attached to your project?
BF: I was not. When discussing illustrators with my editor, Kate O’Sullivan in 2016, she shared some of Juana’s art with me and we were both smitten.
BB: Do you think we’ll ever see the return of Swashby and Co?
BF: There are no current plans, but who knows? There may be a storm a brewin’.
Many thanks to Sammy Brown and the good folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the reveal. Now what was it I forgot to do . . . . ? Ah yes! Actually reveal the cover!
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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