Barbara Jean Hicks is a beloved children’s book author from Port Hueneme, California. If you visit Barbara’s website, you’ll discover that she is not only a writer, but a lover of cats! I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara recently and as a tribute to her adorable book Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli my first graders created some very hungry monsters (full lesson tutorial below).
Patty: I love to read picture books to my students. They seem to like every kind of story. What sort of books did you enjoy as a child?
Barbara Jean: Love-love-LOVED Dr. Seuss! The silliness factor, both in the text and the illustrations, and the wonderful nonsense rhyme made me want to read them over and over. I also loved a picture book I can tell you a little about but not the title or author. Maybe somebody out there knows it? I’d love to find a copy! It was about a puppy named Timmy, and had as its refrain: “And there was Timmy—right spang in the middle of everything.” I still love that word “spang.” We also had a set of Childcraft books in our home when I was growing up, and I especially loved the poetry volumes. My favorite authors as a middle grade reader were C.S.Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle. I was very much a reader of fiction and poetry and didn’t read much nonfiction. I’ve always felt that good fiction is in some ways “truer” than nonfiction because it speaks to the heart.
Patty: You sound just like me! I adored reading as a girl. Is this love what inspired you to become a writer?
Barbara Jean: My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Green, started me on my writing path. We were studying westward expansion in social studies, and she gave us an assignment to pretend we were a child in a wagon train and write a diary of our journey on the Oregon Trail. I must have written 30-35 single-spaced pages, and I’d never had so much fun. Thank you, Mrs. Green, wherever you are!
Patty: Many people would love to write a picture book. I know I would! Can you describe your path to publication?
Barbara Jean: I was newly married and living far from home, my husband was working full time and going to school, and I was lonely! So I signed up for a “writing for publication” class at the local adult school. It was a good introduction to what it takes for a writer to become a published author. I met a friend there who had been trying without success to get a romance novel published. She liked the writing I was sharing in class and asked if I would help her revise her novel for a new market that was opening up. I did, and we sold it in six weeks. We wrote another book together, and she decided she wanted to write on her own. It took me several years, but eventually I too started writing romance novels of my own. That lasted until a particularly snarky reviewer said of one of my books: “Ms. Hicks really ought to be writing for children–no one else could appreciate such silliness.” Ouch! I crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head, and swore I’d never write again.
Then the light bulb went on. Maybe I SHOULD try writing for children. Maybe that’s where my best gifts lay. So thank you, Mr. Reviewer, wherever you are! It didn’t happen immediately, though. My first attempt, a story based on my cat, sat in my drawer for a long time and eventually, in a much different form than the original, became my fourth published children’s book, The Secret Life of Walter Kitty. My second attempt, Jitterbug Jam, became my first published picture book–but it took 22 rejections before an editor at Random House in London read it and fell in love. I sold two more books to her, I Like Colors and I Like Black and White, but she didn’t love Walter Kitty! I was fortunate to have Walter critiqued at an SCBWI event in Seattle by an editor at Knopf, and she invited me to revise it based on her comments and send it to her. She also became my editor for Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli. Sometimes it’s pure luck that a manuscript lands in the right hands–but we can improve our chances by taking opportunities and persevering.
Patty: You mentioned that you loved art and would like to illustrate your own picture book someday. What type of art do you like to create?
Barbara Jean: My style is more graphic than painterly and I really enjoy making what I call cut paper applique. I’ve created several images of the black and white cat who inspired The Secret Life of Walter Kitty that I use to market my school visits and student publishing services. I like bright solids and I also enjoy using wallpaper prints for my illustration work.
Patty: Is there an illustrator whose work you admire?
Barbara Jean: Many! Oldies but goodies: Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Quentin Blake. Current: Chris Van Allsburg, Brian Selznik and Shaun Tan’s pencil work is amazing–something I don’t think I could do in a million years! Then there’s Diane and Leo Dillon, Julie Larios, Kevin Hawkes, Laura Vaccaro Seeger–stop me! I’ve also been extremely blessed with the illustrators chosen for my own books–Alexis Deacon, Lila Prap, Dan Santat and Sue Hendra. Their styles are all extremely different but each is so well suited to the text he/she illustrated.
Patty: If you could spend an entire day doing just one thing, what would it be?
Barbara Jean: Traveling through the Tuscan countryside–which really is more than one thing because you have to stop so many places along the way to eat, drink and be merry! It’s a magical place.
Patty: Wow! Thank you so much Barbara Jean! I am so inspired by your writer’s journey.
To enter to win Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli, scroll way down past the Art Tutorial and leave a comment listing some of your favorite children’s book–vintage or new!
Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli Art Project
Monsters are a favorite subject for any art project but especially for first graders. I read Monster Don’t Eat Broccoli to the students and decided that skyscrapers would make a fantastic backdrop for our hungry monsters. Set aside three, 45-minute art classes for this beauty.
- 12″ x 18″ white drawing paper for background
- 12″ x 18″ colored construction paper for monster
- Oil pastels (black and colored)
- White, red and green tempera paint (or any color of your choice)
- paper towel rolls cut into sections
- Colored paper scraps
- Liquid watercolors
1. Squirt some colored tempera paint into flat trays and place on tables along with a paper towel roll section for each child.
2. After drawing a monster with a black oil pastel, dip cardboard roll into paint and stamp circles onto monsters.
3. If you have texture rollers, you can apply the paint in this manner as well. Some kids did both.
4. Place monster on drying rack. We’ll come back to him a bit later to add the details.
5. On the white piece of paper, draw skyscrapers with the oil pastel. Draw rectangles across the bottom first. Then, add a second layer of skyscrapers behind the first row.
6. Add squares and rectangles for windows. You can chose to color in some windows or leave them uncolored.
7. Fill the skyscrapers and sky with liquid watercolors. If you don’t have liquid watercolors, pan watercolors are fine. Set aside to dry.
Putting it all together
Cut out the monster and glue to the background paper.Now it’s time for some fun! Set out a tray of colored paper scraps and add eyes, teeth, spikes, extra arms and legs, stripes or anything else that you think would make your monster happy!
First Grade Monsters!
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