Monday, March 21, 2011

An Interview with the Talented Children's Book Author/Knitter Joanna Johnson + a Giveaway!

When I was in NYC at VKLive, I ran into Joanna Johnson standing behind a pile of her delightful children's/knitter's books - Phoebe's Sweater and Freddie's Blanket. I had heard about Joanna from our mutual friend Karin Strom so it was a really nice end to my day to meet her in person. Joanna lives in Loveland, CO with her husband and three kids. I took a good look at her books because I hadn't yet seen them in person and was mightily impressed. The books are self-published by Joanna's family press but they look and feel like they were done by a real publishing house. A couple of weeks later, I received both books in the mail to my surprise. 

Both of Joanna's books carry the theme of family, knitting creation, and love through them. Joanna's husband Eric illustrated the books. What a talented family they are! I love the fact that not only are the stories about family and knitting, but at the end of both of the books there are patterns given for a knitted toy (Phoebe the mouse and Freddie the Platypus), knitted toy clothes, knitted children's clothes and in the case of Freddie, a baby blanket and baby envelope. Both the books would make a lovely baby shower gift for a knitter (or wannabe). 

I asked Joanna if she would do a interview for my blog and she said "yes." AND for all of you, Joanna and I are hosting a giveaway of BOTH of Joanna's books. Read through the interview below and at the end, I'll tell you how to enter the GIVEAWAY.

Phoebe, the Mouse, has her own blog here. You'll find Phoebe and Freddie on Ravelry here on the Slate Falls Press Ravelry Group. You can order signed copies of Phoebe's Sweater and Freddie's Blanket directly from Joanna and Eric at their Etsy Shop here.



Thanks to Joanna for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions. Read on! This interview may just bring tears to your eyes. It did mine!

KN: Joanna, you are the author of two fabulous children's books that are based on knitting. Tell me how you got involved in writing children's books…..
JJ:  Reading was my favorite hobby as a child, so a degree in Literature was the logical path for me when I went to college.  I studied Children's Literature along with the classics: Eliot, Austen, Milton, and so forth, but it was having children that really made my favorite genre of literature come alive for me.  My husband Eric and I have three children, and have enjoyed finding wonderful children's books and reading them as a family.  Eric has always loved to draw as much as I love to read, and we just always figured that this was something we would do together someday, although it took us a while to figure out how that would happen.  Our first book, Phoebe's Sweater, spent a lot of time in draft form in a drawer before we knew what to do with it!


KN: Your husband Eric illustrated the books. How do you find working together? Are there any tricks to keeping your relationship happy when you are also trying to make the business work?
 JJ:   It is really unusual for a children's book author and illustrator to work as closely together as Eric and I do.  I am really spoiled in that I am able to have a lot of input into the tiny details of the artwork, and, in a similar way, Eric has a lot of influence on the way the stories develop, too.  We both have really different strengths, and always approach our work with a common vision.  The fact that we each have our own studio helps, too!  We both understand the creative process, and how to step back when the other one is really in their stride and needs room to work, and we also know what it means to have good words of encouragement for each other when we get stuck creatively.  



KN: And your books are published by your family's press Slate Falls Press in Loveland, CO. I think that is really great that you and your family have started your own press. Do you have any words of wisdom for those that are thinking about self-publishing?
JJ:  The doors are certainly wide open these days for self-publishing.  That being said, it is not a "magic feather" by any stretch of the imaginaton.  To do it well requires a lot of time, work, and endurance.  I encourage people to read, research, and read some more in their intended genre, educate themselves about what work is already out there in that subject area, and practice and hone their craft, whatever it might be.  We have found it to be an incredible process, and very rewarding creatively and personally.  It is losing the stigma of "vanity publishing" as more and more high quality self-published books are being released as the months pass.

KN: I have always worked with traditional publishers, taking the easy way so that I don't have to warehouse my books, ship them, distribute them, and front the printing, editing, and desktop publishing end of the process. Is there one thing that really is key to making your press work?
JJ:  Eric and I do this as a team, and I just can't imagine going it alone.  That is probably the best thing we have, is each other.

KN: It seems that your business is a family affair. Do any of your three children help you with the story line?
JJ:  We spend a lot of time conversing about our story ideas, characters, and settings.  Our children love stories, art, animals, and our daughter is a talented "crafter" in her own right, so we do talk with the children about our ideas, they are a great resource!  We read to them, show them the knitting projects, and especially see what they think about Eric's sketches.  It is hard for us, as adults, to remember what things are actually important to children sometimes, and observing and listening to them is a great inspiration to us.

KN: Do you have any one awesome experience with a knitter who has read or gifted your book that you would like to share with my readers?
JJ:  I have so many amazing stories about the way these books have touched people.  A recent one that especially stands out to me is the story of a friend of my mother's who overcame cancer a few years ago.  My mom and dad recently went up to visit her, knowing that her cancer has returned and she will not recover this time around.  Our new book was recently out, and my mom brought a copy of each of our books to her friend.  "How did you know this is what I am doing?" she said to my mom.  She had decided that she would spend the last months of her life learning to knit and making things for her first grandchild, who will be born this summer.  Just last week she just sent my mom a "thank you" card and said she is knitting the Baby Envelope from our new book as a gift for this grandchild she may not be here to meet.  I feel very humbled to be a part of this brave woman's life, and to have made something that brings people together in such a personal way.


KN: In your most recent book Freddie's Blanket, you chose a Platypus as your main character. All the support characters are animals from Australia. How did you choose to feature Australian creatures?
JJ:  We talked about a few different animals for the Freddie character, but once we started talking about the platypus we knew he was the one!  They are just such interesting creatures, and once Eric researched their habitat and the other fascinating animals, plants, birds, and bugs of Australia we were hooked.  Even our kids want to go to Australia now!  I have a fellow knitwear designer friend who lives here in Colorado who is Australian, and she and a friend lent us wonderful advice and reources as we did our research, which was a great help to us.  I love it when I meet readers from Australia at book signings and they give us their approval on the details, because then I know we got it right.


KN: I love Eric's illustrations. They have such a lovely soft quality, similar to Beatrix Potter's lovely drawings. Did he train as an artist and has he done any other illustrating of children's books? What medium does he use for the illustrations?
JJ:  Eric has a degree in graphic art, but took as many fine art classes as he could fit in while he was in college.  He grew up helping his father run his graphics studio, and has always enjoyed drawing and illustration.  These are his frst books, and I do hope they are the first of many, because this is something he truly loves to do.  His illustrations are done in pencil, ink, and watercolor.

KN: Any new plans you want to let us in on?
JJ:  Well... we are busy at work on our third book, which we hope to publish in 2012.  It will include some new crafting patterns alongside the knitting patterns, and we are really excited about who we are working with on that.  I hope to start sharing peeks of it at TNNA in June...

    (Are you listening all you retailers out there? Another great new kids knitting book for your store!) 
PHOEBE'S SWEATER AND FREDDIE'S BLANKET GIVEAWAY
Here's what you do to enter. Answer the following question:  
What is your "go-to" knit or crochet baby gift that you make for a friend who is expecting or has just given birth?

Added 3/24/11: THE CONTEST IS OVER. THE WINNER IS SARAH K. Joanna will be sending her the books!




77 comments:

Hallie said...

My go to knit gift is usually toys... knit horse or little gnomes. I would SO love to win. Thanks so much for the chance! :)

wpooh_9 at hotmail dot com

Jessica said...

I am just hitting my stride with friends having babies... I have knit three toys, one sweater, and one blanket. I think the toys may be a winner.

Laura said...

My favorite thing has been baby blankets but after seeing the platypus I may change my mind. He is adorable!!!
beehiverugs@yahoo.com

stellamarys said...

Those books, patterns and all, look really appealing. My favorite thing to make for new babies are little stay-on maryjane booties, and they do really stay on! The pattern came from some magazine at least 30 years ago.

Auntie Shan said...

Blankets, Blankets, Blankets!! :-D

Tons of Them! I *need* more Babies to WRAP Them around and give Them good homes!

-- Checkout MY "Shameless Plug":

http://s290.photobucket.com/albums/ll272/HandmadeByAuntieShan

Years ago, I used to give "Gift Cards" as Baby Shower Gifts, but soon discovered that for the same Cost or less, I could give them something that was practical, Custom-made, AND lasting! -- Not to mention, 100% cotton and Machine-washable!!

BTW, Kristin, thanks for the great Interview with Joanna! Very inspirational!

Anonymous said...

My favorite go to baby gift is the Blue Sky's Alpaca eyelet baby blanket or any of the Debbie Bliss baby blankets. Always a hit at baby showers. karenlamber@cox.net

Anonymous said...

My go to gift is a colorwork hat, I have made many of these and no two are alike which makes them a wonderful personal gift. They like taking them to the hospital and putting them on their newborn babies. vst@virginia.edu

shortoldlady said...

Mine is The Radiating Star Blanket - always a hit!

mjknits said...

My "go-to" knit is a baby blanket. My 2 sons who are now 7 and 9 still sleep with their blankets every night and so I like to give them to new babies in the hope that they will get as much enjoyment/comfort out of them as my children do. I try to pre-knit and keep several on hand for the times when I need them:)

Bonnie said...

I do a simple baby blanket in yarn that can be machine washed and dried. I don't want to cause any more stress than is absolutely necessary!

Anne Paulson said...

I have 2 things I've made most frequently as baby gifts: Grandma Gray's crocheted frog (from a McCall's 1972 mag) and a knitted Bulky kids sweater - a zip-up jacket type sweater(pattern written by my friend Donna) -annegp on ravelry-

Dianna said...

My Mom taught me to make Loopy booties - they are crocheted and make even a tiny baby's feet look huge! But they are so sweet to open at a shower! If I have time I do a loopy hat too.

Suzanne said...

Relatives all get a baby blanket which has come to be known as a Suziblanket. It's from an old Learn to Knit book and is simple with knit/purl sections. My go to baby sweater is a top down Plymouth pattern. Since the birth of Ravelry, I have tried other sweater patterns also trying to find another favorite as the Plymouth pattern seems to play hide and seek with me and has almost fallen apart.

Kathy at Knitting Off The Grid said...

What a great interview. I wish Joanna and Eric oodles of success with their books.

I love to give little socks as gifts. In fact, I'm making a pair right now for a dear friend's next granddaughter that will arrive next month.

tehachapisockcompany@gmail.com

Joan and Kevin said...

I love to make socks as baby gifts. Thank you for the giveaway!

Susan said...

I love to make a cardi with matching booties. And if I don't have time for the cardi, it's just booties, maybe 2 pair since they are so fast.

Patty said...

If they know it is a boy I make a cute argyle hat and booties, and a white hat with flowers along the brim for girls. I make generic hats and booties for those who enjoy a surprise in the delivery room. I was lucky to meet Joanna at my LYS in Lakewood after she published her 1st book. Very cute, love the sweater pattern and what a nice and creative person!

Patty said...

pclark204@comcast.net I forgot to leave my contact info on my post above.

Leslie said...

My go-to gift for a new baby is Elizabeth Zimmerann's Baby Tomten sweater. I wish I had kept count of how many I have made.
bagatelle@comcast.net

PghCathy said...

I like to make a cardi for each newborn, changing the pattern I use so that each one has a unique cardi. And it keeps it interesting for me.

Thoroughly enjoyed the interview.

Cathy
jjkerratverizondotnet

Carla said...

A baby hat is my easiest go to baby gift- super cute and quick!

Barbara L. said...

My go-to gift would be a baby hat. I like the book, "Itty Bitty Hats" by Susan Anderson so I would pick one out of that book & knit it. I love the platypus so if I win the book, I'll knit one up to send along with the hat.

Barbara
wmzqlt@charter.net

Bonnita said...

I usually have a BSJ and hat on hand, or a blanket.

JFibers said...

I've knit a striped hat for every single baby that has been born during my knitting lifetime. In addition, within my knitting circle, we've jointly made a baby blanket for every baby born in our circle. Each member takes charge as the cruise director and is in charge of organization and seaming the pieces together. It's so much fun to see each blanket reflect the personality of the woman we gift it to... we've made some real beauties.... I'm excited to see these books! Can't wait to check them out.

Nora said...

You're right that interview did bring tears to my eyes! My go to gift is a bernat baby cardigan sweater (used to be a free pattern on their website - "baby layette")- no buttons and just enough lace to make it interesting to knit!!

nmconnor1@msn.com

Resident Squint said...

I like making Sarjee's booties, cotton stripy hats with a yarn that has little colorful bobbles in it, and cosy lil' socks. I also have a rattle pattern that's a great stashbuster after sockmaking. lindayoungatearthlinkdotnetTHANKS!

Gramma Phyllis said...

My go to gift for a new baby is a zip-up the back hoodie. New moms love them as they make it so easy to get a wriggling little one into a sweater, which is need here in the Finger Lakes region. If I have the time, I also make a baby blanket usually using the Grandmother's washcloth pattern in a blanket size. Many of these blankets become the drag around blanket when the child is a toddler.

pahelmes@rochester.rr.com

Martha said...

What a thoughtful interview. Great questions and sensitive answers. My go to baby gift is a knitted animal toy. These books look as if they'd be the perfect extra.

msaatjian@cox.net

Anonymous said...

I relatively new to knitting baby gifts. I have knit a couple of baby hats, a couple of bibs, and one baby sweater. I would say the baby bib is the great quick knit gift so far.

Donna G in VT
drgoad@hotmail.com

Lynn said...

I am currently makeing the Heart baby blanket by you Kristin from your Color book. I am on my 12th stripe as we speak! It is for my baby to be grand daughter (#5). I only taught myself to knit six years ago when my #3 and #4 twin grandchildren were born. I think the sweaters I plan to make from your Knitting for BAby book you wrote with Melanie Falick will be much better than my first attempts were. I can tell I am improving with each and every stitch!

Would love to win this giveaway too.
lynnc66@comcast.net should I be so lucky.

Lynn said...

PS. I think I finally decided on a solution for the fair isle back side of the nine hearts. I will do the hearts again and sew them to the back of the wrong side of the hearts on top, thus having a reversable blanket with no loose threads showing!!! I will yarn quilt the squares front to back like a little quilt. What do you think?

Franicia said...

For knitting, my gift is baby socks. I love using alpaca, merino blends as well as organic cottons. I love making them so much that I have a strong desire to teach others how to make the same gift. :-)

Franicia

You can write to me through the contact form at Franicia.com

Rosemary said...

I have knit a pacifier holder by Susan B Anderson; a baby blanket by Plymouth Yarns; and a baby sweater called Baby Kina found on ravelry bought from shop in France.
Rosevta@gmail.com

Kathy said...

I love E.Z.'s surprise baby jacket and tomten sweater a lot. Also, I often knit the bibs from the Mason-Dixon Knitting, and other than that, I look through all my knitting pattern books and select something that seems 'right' for the new mom: toys, hats, sweaters, booties, etc. I like variety, so don't repeat patterns all that often (except for the bibs and EZ sweaters). For my own grandchildren I make blankets, along with other things.
ksiemsen@lisco.com

Sara said...

The Big, Bad Baby Blanket from Stitch n' Bitch, in the Koigu that the pattern calls for. Each of my children and my nephew has one. they are gorgeous, so warm, and hold up wash after wash!

Turtle said...

i have only recently started the baby knitting, seems i finally know folks preggers! (and been putting a few things away for that someday grandchild... no rush!) So far Saarjeets Booties are my go to pattern. I love to make them two toned sometimes and really play with the buttons. So fun! I am trying to get friends out of the usual pre-made by me scrapbook or baby quilt as i got tired after years of making those, lol.

Jenny said...

I like to knit washcloths, usually with a lamb pattern, along with my handmade goat's milk soap!

P.S. Loved your interview!

JackieLemon said...

Bibs and kimono from Mason-Dixon knitting are asked for gifts from new moms. Love the books.
pjlemon@roadrunner.com

sricker said...

I like to knit a pair of booties with a hat to match, as well as a cute little bunny.

Jackie said...

There haven't been any babies in our family for awhile, but my older grandchildren are hitting their twenties and I am hoping to see some great-grandkids soon. Previously my go to pattern was a baby afghan.

onlyonce@ymail.com

Elaine said...

I usually make a "nest" of knitted and crocheted toys.
Elaine
eblim01@yahoo.com

Sue P said...

It would have to be the cute little hats and booties.
Sue
kysuep@yahoo.com

Laura said...

Baby blankets are my go to baby gift, but I'm also in love with Susan Anderson's Itty Bitty Toys, too. Love your books, Joanna and Eric! My LYS had copies and if I don't win, I will be purchasing them to keep at my house for my grandkids. Thanks!

d said...

I usually knit up a hat ... and try to find an accessory or two according to the time I have available.

Thank you both for this generous offer!

dianenorth said...

When I need a really quick baby gift I have chosen hat or bib patterns. I have not had any luck with booties because I knit very loose. I also try to keep an inventory of completed blue and pink cardigan sweaters in a variety of patterns--so I am ready. Our children are in their 20s and 30s so it seems like every month there is a new baby. Now isn't that wonderful!?!

andrea said...

My "go to" is a top down baby sweater in white with buttons to correspond to the sex of the baby. I've never known anyone to not want a little extra warmth for their little one, no matter the time of year.
Andrew W./ KnitAweigh (Ravelry)

Virginia said...

If I is a baby due near winter time I make the baby mittens in knitty without the stuffing. For all other times of the year baby hats from the purl bee.

SarahK said...

i think hats are the perfect new baby gift.
sbs791@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

I love the look of these books. My Kindergarten grandson is learning to read and I think we would both enjoy them. I like to make a top down, raglan, worsted weight cardigan. I think the original pattern came from a McCall's Needlework magazine many years ago. It goes fairly quickly and I can personalize it with stripes, seed stitch hearts or embroidery. A few years ago I went to visit a friend with cancer to take her some hats I had knitted to keep her bald head warm. While I was there, she pulled out the two sweaters I had knitted for her twins, who were then in their early 20's! I recently knitted one for a great niece. She wore it for over a year. The raglan shaping helps it fit longer. debbieamy, edatrium@aol.com

Sharon said...

i usually do booties/hats and sometimes blankets. Babies are way fun to knit for.

weavinfool said...

I make blankets.

billicummings said...

I've only made one baby shower gift so far. It was a beautiful garter stitch blanket with a wonderful pick up stitches all around and fold edge. The pattern was from the Whits knits at Purl Soho. The yarn was spud and chloe. I loved the yarn. My daughter bought the yarn and I knitted it for her best friend. It was well received and I was very proud. I have been wishing for Joanna's books for a while now. Maybe this is my lucky day!

Stoney said...

My favorite baby gift is a blanket done in seed stitch using white yarn. Simple, pure, easy.

Love the look of these books. Worth the effort to find them for purchasing....

Stoney Monte
spirit.in.stoney@gmail.com

lisa said...

i love to make baby socks for shower gifts. They are just too cute!

Barb Chio said...

My favorite "Go to" is baby slippers and caps. I have done a few blankets also. The books sound wonderful and I would love to win them. Thanks, Barb Chio

fracksmom said...

I whip up a blanket using crochet since it goes quicker, than knitting. I love to try new patterns and use bright colors. If they are special people I might also do a sweater that i will knit.

the books look so cute.thanks for sharing.

Fracksmom

"m" said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
"m" said...

What adorable books! My lil' grans would love them!
I've just started making the Presto Chango sweaters by Valerie Wallis. They are so fast and I switch out the colors, buttons, and design on the front panel to make them more personal. I'm getting plenty of practice since one daughter is having twins in June, and another daughter is due in Sept!

grngbls1@hotmail.com

Kate said...

I love to make make the bulky baby blanket from "The Purl Bee"


kristinfitzgerald on ravelry

Francie said...

Back when many of my friends were having babies, I knit at least a dozen baby cardigans from a wonderful pattern I found in Vogue Knitting called "The Best Baby Sweater". It wasn't until years later that I discovered that it was also known as "The February Sweater" from Elizabeth Zimmerman.

Thanks for the chance to win! The books look wonderful!

francieos@yahoo.com

Debbie said...

The book and the knits are the cutest things ever. I just love the book! My grandbabies would love it too.
My go to knit for new babies - the famous baby bibs and burp cloths from Mason Dixon Knitting. Everyone loves them and they get a lot of use - in coordinating colors of course!
Deb debnp03@hotmail.com

lisa said...

I usually do booties and matching bibs.
vivianos3@aol.com

Deb said...

I usually go with the latest cardi that has struck my fancy, though I have made a few blankets as well.

dlmca@stny.rr.com

Susan said...

I usually knit a little hat but for one special little girl I designed a little felted purse just big enough to hold her pacifier and maybe one other small toy.
susanknits@earthlink.net

Sara GL said...

My new go-to baby gift is Grumperina's Budgie sweater. It is the sweetest baby sweater I have ever made - a real heirloom pattern if you ask me!lockgu

Sara GL said...

Please ignore the "lockgu" in my above post - don't know how it got there!!!

Christine said...

I like to do the Norwegian hat for babies and sometimes booties...but the booties that I make are really not that fast.

When it comes time for my own children to have babies, it will be heirloom blankets and sweaters and all the labor intensive stuff!!

Chppie said...

I like to make that hat in the Stitch n Bitch book - the umbilical cord hat. It's easy and I can make it in a wide range of yarns. I try to churn out 3 or so to make a givt bundle. I'm too slow of a knitter to do true heirloom knitting!

Bonnie said...

It is just a simple circular baby hat. I try to find very , very soft yarn in a splendid color. IF it is a girl, I will make a baby doll blanket to match or if there's an older sister of the baby. What all knitters know is that you will always get comments from the MOM about how much the handmade gifts meant. Even years later. Worth the effort and sometimes down to the crunch! I love Joanna's blog and what I saw about the books.

Pat said...

I like to make a baby blanket in a basket weave stitch with a simple croceted edge.

The Chapman's said...

I either knit a baby hat or simple baby sweater for friends! REcently though I have found a patter for a baby sleep sack that I'm in LOVE with!
Amelia C
frau.chapman@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

hi from Shell ~
~ My favorite gifts to knit are baby hats ! I enjoy making each one unique, sometimes with a tassel top, decorated with artsy-folk styles, animal motifs, polka dots or classic tiny stripes. For inspiration I look at patterns by Debbie Bliss, then Kristin Nicholas's colors, textures & embroidery (of course ! :) and then geometrics of Kaffe Fassett, & voila', a great hat recipe just flies off the needles.
Thanks for a lovely give-away for nice children's books *
Sincerely,
Shell~
YarnSoup@yahoo.com

Karey said...

Lately my go to gift has been a baby blanket, but I may have to change to a knitted toy.

Anonymous said...

Blankets or hats, but I've made toys as well. I just love making stuff for new babies. I am in a prayer shawl group at church so I make baby blankets for that as well. I just love those books!!!

Laurie
grantsmom11@gmail.com

tjf said...

I like to knit blankets for gifts or a matching hat and booties. I like Morehouse Farm's or Knitting Pure and Simple's booties and my favorite hat lately is Little Turtle Knit's Rushty hat. The books are beautiful and I really like that patterns are included.

Tricia
thefankells@mesanetworks.net

Liz Suarez said...

My go to is the Tweed Baby Blanket by Jared Flood. It's a great little blanket that is good for both boys and girls. It's a fun knit and works up quickly. I knit one for my own daughter just after she was born. I'm knitting one now for my baby boy born two months ago.

Liz Suarez said...

Sorry, didn't leave my email address.

scraplounge@gmail.com