I am so pleased to present my interview with the incredible Lauren Soloy here today! I talked to Lauren about her latest book I’s the B’y, the healing properties of artistic creation, and what she has coming up next (yet another book no one will want to miss!). Enjoy our chat!
"I’s the B’y" is a decades-old folk song that originated in Newfoundland but has been sung and danced to the world over. This gorgeous picture book honors the song and its birthplace with rich, captivating illustrations of bobbing boats, leaping humpback whales, violin-playing fish, dancing people, starry skies, and stormy seas. Full of undeniable energy and joy, this spirited picture book will have kids singing, dancing, and learning all about Newfoundland.
Peek underneath the dust jacket:
Let’s talk Lauren Soloy!
LTPB: Thanks so much for stopping by, Lauren! I’m so excited to talk to you about I’s the B’y!
LS: Hi Mel, thanks so much for having me on Let’s Talk Picture Books! I always love reading your interviews.
LTPB: Where did the idea for this book come from? What is your connection to the song, and why did you decide to illustrate it as a children’s book?
LS: The idea to make a book out of the folk song "I’s the B’y" came from the publisher at Greystone Books, initially. They approached my agent, Jackie Kaiser, to see if I might be interested in illustrating it. My first thought was, “fun! I’d love to!” and then I read the full lyrics (like a lot of people, I only really knew the first verse!) and thought, “Oh boy.” I didn’t know what a lot of it meant!
But I love a challenge, and I love, love, love Newfoundland, so I thought long and hard about what the song meant to me, and if I thought I could do it justice. I decided that if I could make it feel like going to a concert in a small community, while including as much of what I love about Newfoundland as possible, it could potentially be something pretty special.
Additionally, Greystone wanted this to be a diverse book, which I really liked. And it seemed to me that it was a great opportunity to make a book about inclusion, as well. One of the wonderful things about traditional circle dances (which I chose to feature in the book) is that everyone dancing is equally included. I loved using the rhythm of the song, and having everyone moving apart, and coming together again. Observant readers might notice that all of the characters appear once in each verse of the song (spread over six pages) and then all together again in every chorus spread.
LTPB: You visually adapted a song (going from sound to sight), so how did you work to include imagery from the song’s homeland of Newfoundland? What kind of research did you do?
LS: Another big part of the reason I said yes to this book is because I thought it would be a great excuse for a trip to Newfoundland! I’d been there a handful of times before, in my previous life as a wedding photographer, so I’d already had the good luck to see some amazing places, and enjoy some of the wonderful hospitality that Newfoundland has to offer. But I’d never been to the places that are named in the song, and I felt it was important that I do that. I called up my friend Angela, and we spent five glorious days touring around Twillingate and area. I took hundreds of photos – it really is one of the prettiest places on the planet, and full of rich history. A lot of the scenes in the book come directly from those photos. We’ve already booked another trip to go back this Fall!
I also leaned heavily on friends with Newfoundland connections, to make sure that my information was accurate, and culturally appropriate. I was lucky to be put in touch with Paul Kinsman, who is an expert on the folk music of the area, and was super helpful in talking me through what the song means. “Sods and rinds to cover your flake” what?! That was also why we felt it was important to include an Illustrator’s Note at the back of the book, to illuminate the meaning behind the words and pictures!
LTPB: What did you find most difficult in creating this book? What did you find most rewarding?
LS: I had a really strong vision for this book, so that helped a lot, any time it got difficult. Part way through doing the drawings, I received an unexpected cancer diagnosis. So most of the art was done while I was waiting for, or going through, cancer treatments. Happily, I am cancer free now, but I have to say it felt really good to hold this finished book in my hands for the first time!
LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?
LS: The illustrations in I’s the B’y were done digitally, in ProCreate on my iPad. My first two books (When Emily was Small and Etty Darwin and the Four Pebble Problem) were done with paint and pencils and paper, and I still really love working with all those materials (and making a mess!) and I initially had planned to do this book the same way.
But because of the cancer diagnosis, I had to move to the city two hours away from the small town where I live in order to get treatment. So the decision to go digital was mostly a practical one, but I enjoyed it so much that I am doing the next two the same way! (Haha! I really hate scanning!)
Every book definitely has its own language that I have to learn. Even when I am using the same materials, the feel of each book is, to me, unique. Sometimes that can be frustrating, when I’m trying to figure out what a particular story needs, but it’s also a huge part of the joy of making books!
LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?
LS: I have a couple of things on the go at the moment, but I can share an image from my next author-illustrator book. It’s all about gnomes. I’ve been drawing these little guys for years and years, so it’s been a total pleasure to finally give them their own book. My editor, Samantha Swenson at Tundra Books, asked me to do up some drawings – we were initially thinking it would be around 40 pages – but once I started I couldn’t stop! I had thumbnails for 150 pages of book, and we finally whittled it down to just under a hundred. (Oops!)
LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?
LS: I knew this question was coming, and it’s still so hard to answer! I’m going to be cheeky, and pick two! My not-alive choice would be Tove Jansson. I just love her and her work (my next author-illustrator biography is about Tove’s childhood – Tove and the Iceberg, coming in 2024 from Tundra Books!) And I can totally picture myself as a Moomin!
For contemporary illustrators, there’s so many amazing ones whose work I love! I think I’ll go with Sydney Smith, my fellow Nova Scotian! Everything he does is filled with light and beauty, and that’s how I’d like my life to be remembered, too. 🙂
A huge THANK YOU to Lauren for talking to me about this incredible book! I’s the B’y publishes TODAY from Greystone Kids!
Special thanks to Lauren and Greystone for use of these images!
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May 31, 2022 at 10:44AM email@example.com (Mel Schuit)