So pleased to welcome author, illustrator and teacher Monica Wellington to the blog today. I’m sure you’ve shared many of her 40+ children’s books in your classroom, library, or with your own kids or grandkids at home. She has a knack for creating kid friendly books that make learning fun and interesting, books that beg rereading and soon become beloved favorites.
I confess I first learned about Monica from her foodie books (no surprise). Who would not love Apple Farmer Annie, Pizza at Sally’s, Mr. Cookie Baker, or Crêpes by Suzette? Naturally all of these picture books include delicious recipes. The simple lines and bright cheery colors in her art are pure, mouthwatering joy. And have you seen her Color and Cook series (Cookies, Cupcakes, Snacks, Tea Party!)? 🙂
Our focus today is on Crêpes by Suzette (newly back in print), and Dear Ballerina, Monica’s latest picture book, just released by Holiday House on March 19, 2019. These two books represent enduring threads in Monica’s life. She’s a devoted Francophile, has loved the ballet since childhood, and her daughter Lydia figures in both stories (Lydia currently dances with the New York City Ballet, and her childhood pictures pop up in Crêpes by Suzette ).
You may know that besides the new paperback edition, Crêpes by Suzette is also available as an interactive App – a veritable feast of French culture (art, language, music, food, travel) presented as a multimedia experience (formidable!).
Dear Ballerina, with its soft pastel palette, is not only a nice introduction to ballet basics, but also a touching story of mentorship that will inspire young dancers everywhere.
Monica lives and works in New York, where she teaches children’s book illustration at the School of Visual Arts. If, like me, you’re a longtime fan of her books, you’ll enjoy our conversation, which is flavored with a delectable taste of Paris and some lovely personal photos.
I see from your news blog that you and Suzette visited Paris again last summer. What were some of the highlights of your visit? What new places did you see?
When I visit Paris I love to do home exchanges – I stay in someone’s apartment while they stay in my apartment in New York. It is a great way to pretend that I am living in Paris and I love exploring a new area. This year I stayed in the 14th arrondissement. Historically a lot of artists lived in this neighborhood. I enjoyed discovering two small museums that had been the homes and studios of the artists Alberto Giacometti and Ossip Zadkine. And our Paris home was not very far from some of my favorite crêperies, which leads to your next question!
Who makes the best crêpes in Paris?
In the 14th arrondissement, in the Montparnasse area, just by the metro Edgar Quinet there are two streets with many crêperies: rue d’Odessa and rue du Montparnasse. How to choose?! I love Crêperie de Josselin at 67 rue du Montparnasse.
What are some of your favorite patisseries there?
I love exploring the many patisseries in each neighborhood I stay in. I try eclairs in one bakery, fruit tarts in another, pain aux raisins in still another . . . no one patisserie is my favorite for everything! Here are a few examples:
Jacques Genin (133 rue de Turenne, Paris 75003) Lemon tarts and chocolates
Du Pain et des Idees (34 rue Yves Toudic, Paris 75010) Pain aux raisins
Yann Chantrelle (57 Avenue du Dr. Arnold Netter Paris 75012) Eclairs
La Fournée d’Augustine (24 place de la Nation, Paris 75012) Fruit tarts
How old were you when you visited Paris for the first time? Is there a particular memory from your childhood visits (or visits you later made with your daughter) that stands out?
I was about 12 when I went to Paris for the first time, on a family trip in the summer. It was very hot that first night and the windows were open for fresh air in our hotel room and green bugs flew in and invaded our room. I have no idea what they were! I did not have a good first impression of Paris!
Luckily I have been to Paris many times since then. When my daughter Lydia was little we always went on a search for good gardens and playgrounds and museums. One time at the Musee d’Orsay when she was six years old, she choose a favorite painting, Seurat’s “The Circus,” and sat down with her paper and pencils and started drawing and was completely absorbed in what she was doing. That memory of Lydia’s favorite painting inspired the carousel illustration in Crêpes by Suzette.
Was Crêpes by Suzette the first book you made using collages of original artwork set against backdrops of real photos? What are three craft-related things you learned from working on this project? Any tips for those wanting to attempt something similar?
Yes, Crêpes by Suzette was the first book in which I used collage in this way. Some people have thought that I used the computer to create the pictures, but I didn’t. I used scissors and glue. There was a lot of trial and error in figuring out how to build up the layers. I had to be very neat and organized – not so easy when there are so many different parts. I have always liked to save ephemera, especially souvenirs from trips. Finally I could use some of those things in this book, such as maps, stamps, and wrappers.
My advice is to collect and save things that appeal to you and that hold good memories. Organize them in boxes or envelopes. Have fun cutting and gluing and using your bits and pieces in your projects when you are making artwork.
It’s exciting that Crêpes by Suzette is also available as an interactive app. What were some of the most fun and challenging parts of making that happen?
Making the app was a way to keep Crêpes by Suzette in print before self-publishing and print-on-demand became so economical. It turned out to be a really fun way to enlarge the experience of the book for readers.
For example, in the book there are some French words, but in the app you can hear those words spoken by French people and so you can learn to say them with a perfect French accent! I took a trip to Paris to record all sorts of sounds, voices, and music for the narrations, crêpe cooking demos, and videos around the city.
The most challenging part was learning how to do sound engineering with all the raw material in order to make the sound tracks for the app. The workshops at Apple with GarageBand were excellent. I really enjoyed learning those new skills to make the “sound collages” you hear in the app. But programming the app was beyond me – I handed over all components to a developer who did the technical part of getting the app up and running.
Based on the many years you’ve shared Crêpes by Suzette with American kids, what aspect(s) of French culture have they been the most curious about?
I keep hearing that the book inspires kids to want to cook crêpes. I am happy that by being curious about crêpes many kids are getting their first taste of French cuisine! Crêpes really are very easy to make, and so delicious to eat!
Please tell us about your newest book, Dear Ballerina.
In this book a young girl goes to ballet class, rehearsals, the costume shop, backstage and then she performs with her favorite ballerina.
Dear Ballerina was inspired by my daughter who is now a ballet dancer with New York City Ballet. I have always loved going to ballet performances and I first brought my daughter with me when she was three years old. Soon she wanted to start dancing herself. When she was young, attending ballet school and performing in the Nutcracker, she wrote letters to ballerinas she admired, and now as a company member, she loves to receive letters from young dancers. Those letters gave me the idea for this book.
Since I love to bake, I created some cupcakes to go with the book: Ballerina Kiss Cupcakes and the recipe is on my website here.
What did you like best about making it?
I loved having the chance to express my love and respect for ballet. I have been able to sneak a dancer into some of my books (there is a little dancer in Crêpes by Suzette!) but I have never had the chance to do a picture book completely about ballet. I really enjoyed painting the pictures in a completely new palette: pretty pastel colors such as pinks, blues and lavender.
What do you most want children to take away from this story?
I hope Dear Ballerina will inspire young children to pursue their dreams, whether it is dance or other activities they love. And like the young girl in the book, I hope they will write some of their own letters to people they admire and look up to, and I hope they will receive a letter back!
What are you working on next?
I am hoping to do another ballet book, but first I’m working on some nature projects.
Thanks so much for visiting, Monica!
CRÊPES BY SUZETTE
written and illustrated by Monica Wellington
Picture Book Paperback for ages 3-7, 34 pp.
written and illustrated by Monica Wellington
published by Holiday House, March 2019
Picture Book for ages 3-6, 40 pp.
*Check out the Ballerina Packages at Monica’s website: you can purchase a signed copy of the book with a pair of pointe shoes (danced in and autographed by Lydia!). You can also get both along with a My Ballet Journal Activity book if you prefer. Free shipping! What a fabulous gift for the little dancer in your life! 🙂
*Photos and interior art posted by permission of the author, copyright © 2019 Monica Wellington.
** Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.