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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Cover Reveal & Interview: ARMADILLO ANTICS by Bill Martin Jr & Michael Sampson w/Art by Nathalie Beauvois

All right. This is a bit of a treat.

You know, I never had the pleasure of meeting Bill Martin Jr. Alas, he passed away in 2004, as I was just starting my first librarian job. Yet think how much poorer the field of books for kids would be without his contributions. No Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. No Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? And as it happens, he’s still producing (after a fashion).

Now as much as I would love to feature an interview with him today, that’s probably not going to happen. A wiser choice might be to speak with some of his (living) collaborators instead. Collaborators on what, you ask? Well, let’s see here. For one thing, I’m talking today with Michael Sampson, the fellow who co-wrote such picture books with Bill as Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3, Swish!, Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Waking Up?, and Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?, to name a few. And now, I am pleased to announce, we are providing an exclusive first look/cover reveal for ARMADILLO ANTICS, illustrated by Argentinian artist Nathalie Beauvois.

The publisher? Brown Books Publishing, located in Dallas. And the story behind that is interesting. Here’s what they told me:

“When Bill Martin Jr. passed, he left a small number of works behind unpublished that he’d worked on with Sampson. ARMADILLO ANTICS is one of these invaluable remaining works. The book/animal choice is special to Michael Sampson as a born-and-raised Texan and to Bill Martin Jr as Texas is where he decided to make his final roots. The armadillo is the state animal of Texas, and thus, they felt strongly that this book should go to a Texas publisher. And if that wasn’t enough about Texas… we’re hoping to also launch the book at TLA next year!

In lieu of Eric Carle’s passing this year, we were able to find a new Argentinian illustrator for this project that collage-style illustrates in the same spirit as the legend himself. When sharing early sketches on social media, they were liked and reshared by the Eric Carle Museum! The book is very much a dedication to the memory of Sampson’s friends (Martin Jr and Carle).”

But before we show that cover, let’s talk a bit with Michael and Nathalie about the creation of a new Bill Martin Jr book:

Betsy Bird: Michael, I cannot even begin to imagine the difficulty of collaborating with a writing partner who is unable to offer feedback. How much of Bill’s story is in this book? How much is your own contribution?

Michael Sampson: Writing with Bill was not a challenge or difficult at all — it was our great joy to work together. Bill moved from Manhattan to East Texas in 1993 to give us more time to collaborate. We bought property and built our houses 100 yards apart, which allowed us to meet every morning to write together over an 11-year period. We started each morning at about 8 a.m. and only stopped at noon for lunch. “Armadillo Antics” was even more fun as the setting was the southwest, and we frequently saw armadillos in real life! We worked on the story about six weeks and ran through about 20 drafts of the manuscript before we were satisfied. We were a great team because Bill was very tuned to the sounds of the language, and I’m very visual. The combination allowed us to create stories that look good in print and sound good too. In the end, the contribution was 50/50.

BB: Nathalie, when we think of Bill Martin Jr picture books, we often think of bright colors and, of course, a cut paper style. Whether it’s Eric Carle or Lois Ehlert, cut paper is sort of a Bill Martin Jr go-to. Were you aware of this going into the project, or did this style just come naturally to you? And why do you like to work with this form of media?

Nathalie Beauvois: When my agent and I first met with Tom (Brown Books Publishing) and Michael, they mentioned they had seen some of my collage-styled work from some years ago. It powerfully caught their attention, and they thought it would be a perfect match for this upcoming book. So yes, I was aware and as a matter of fact, wanted to use the cut paper resource at its fullest to create the illustrations for this book. I deeply admire both Eric Carle´’s and Lois Ehlert´’s work, and they have been a big influence on my love for this technique. I work a lot using digital media as well, so at first, I wasn’t sure how much handmade collage and how much digital I would use. That started to come out naturally as I dived into the work, which gave me the chance to be very versatile when creating each illustration. I find it incredibly satisfying to work with painted cut papers. It´’s amazing how it triggers your imagination! It is very gratifying to be able to work with such simple, honest materials. I think it’s such a beautiful, mind-fulfilling process.

BB: Michael, much like the word “Albuquerque,” the word “armadillo” is remarkably fun to say. This book really delves deep into the fun of saying “armadillo” on a repeated basis. Any theories on why the word is as satisfying to say as it is?

MS: That’s right — armadillo is a fun word to say, and it does just roll off your tongue! To say “armadillo” you simply have to smile and laugh … it’s such a fun word, and you can’t say it without visualizing the fun shape of the armadillo as well!

BB: Nathalie, have you ever had the pleasure of handling an armadillo yourself? What kind of research did you conduct for this book?

NB: Funny you should ask that! I haven’t had the pleasure to handle an armadillo myself just yet, but I look forward to doing so at our launch for “Armadillo Antics” at TLA 2022! We’re planning to have a LIVE armadillo there to meet and greet with librarians, and we are so excited for it.

Speaking to the illustration aspect, I did do quite a bit of research! First and foremost, I wanted to get acquainted with their shape. Armadillos have an armor-like body which makes them such unique and fantastic creatures. I felt the need to be able to understand how all that anatomy worked as accurately as possible before being able to deconstruct it and freely create all the colors and shapes that would eventually inhabit the pages of the book. I drew lots of armadillos, watched many videos of them walking, jumping, eating, and sleeping … I also investigated the places they usually live in and how they lived.

BB: Michael, this book has some serious “read-aloud-during-story-time” potential. Particularly when you take into account how much fun it is to chant. When writing a book of this sort, what’s your process? Do you repeat the words out loud as you write them to get them just right? Or is it all contained entirely in your head?

MS: The most important part of writing is prewriting, or research and daydreaming. We did a lot of that with this manuscript, and our research involved reading a lot of books about armadillos and their habits. But for Bill and myself, the key is to find the rhythm, which we can hum without words. Then we find the words that match the rhythm. It’s difficult because the words must not only sound good, but also be accurate to the meaning of the story.

The story is oral at first, and as we find good phrases, I jot them down. Each morning we read the story as writing, and then add to or edit it.

BB: Nathalie, I was delighted to find that the illustration style at the end of the book during the “Armadillo Facts” is different from those in the rest of the book. Why the choice to make them look so different?

NB: Oh yes, I’m so glad you mention this! I wanted to establish a clear difference between the illustrations of story and the spots used for the “Armadillo Facts.” There is also a practical reason, being that collage details don’t really look so good in such small sizes. I wanted them to be simple and lighthearted, while having a fun twist in them. Each small spot suggests a story in itself. For instance, take a look at the angry armadillo and the dog … what could they be so mad about? I thought the “Armadillo Facts” gave me such a nice chance of creating situations to trigger the reader’s imagination in a playful way.

BB: Finally, what are you two working on next?

NB: There are two more books to come by the same authors: “Ten Little Squirrels” (Fall, 2022) and “Bing! Bang! Chugga! Beep!” (Spring, 2023). I still haven’t seen the manuscripts — as we have been so busy giving our armadillo the final touches — but I believe that these will be two more equally awesome yet completely different projects. Working with Michael and Brown Books Publishing has proven to be such a delight! My main personal project right now is a book I developed with my husband based on a fun word game we made up to help our youngest with her reading-writing skills when she was six years old.

MS: Our next collaboration is “Ten Little Squirrels,” a counting rhyme and rhythm book which is a playful adventure in the forest featuring our cute little furry friends. In addition to the projects Nathalie mentions that we have coming that were co-written by Bill Martin Jr, I am also working on the exciting true story of a hero dog who survived not one, but two tornadoes. This dog saved the life multiple times of the little girl who owned him. Its story is filled with emotion — both laughter and tears — and I’m excited about the direction the manuscript is taking. I’m simply the scribe that writes the story down as it comes to me. Every day is a surprise!

And now… the cover:

Thanks to Amy Goppert and the folks at Brown Books Publishing for this reveal and these interviews. Armadillo Antics isn’t slated for release until 2022, so be sure to look for it then!

Author/Illustrator Bios:

Bill Martin Jr wrote for almost 60 years. He was the author of the classic text Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, which was illustrated by his dear friend Eric Carle, as well as dozens of other books for children. He was inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame by the International Literacy Association. He lived in New York until 1993 when he moved to Texas. Through the years he gave children some of their favorite books, including The Ghost-Eye Tree, Barn Dance!, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and many more.

Michael Sampson has recently been named a Fulbright Scholar! While earning his Ph.D. in Reading at the University of Arizona during the 1970s, he met and established a lifelong friendship and professional relationship with mentor and colleague, Bill Martin Jr. Over the years, Sampson and Martin have written 21 books together, including bestsellers such as Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3, Swish!, Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Waking Up?, Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?, to name a few. Sampson has additionally authored several of his own children’s books, including the classroom favorites: Caddie the Golf Dog, Trick or Treat?, The Football That Won, and Star of the Circus. Sampson has served as dean at the School of Education at St. John’s University in New York City. Sampson continues to do author visits and teacher in-services across the nation and the world.

Nathalie Beauvois is an illustrator living in Argentina. She has a graphic design background in advertising and has also studied industrial design. Nathalie started her career in the art departments of ad agencies and eventually transitioned into freelance illustrating. Since then, she has illustrated many books and magazines from countries all over the world. Her creations start the traditional way (pencil and paper) and then mix in techniques such as watercolor, collage, vector drawing and photoshop coloring. She also bakes great cakes!

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth 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.