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!