The Backstory: BELLA & BLUE
Today we welcome author/illustrator Berrie Torgan-Randall and her graphic early reader, BELLA & BLUE (The Little Press, 2022). This sweet series is perfect for beginning readers and subtly addresses childhood anxiety through friendly and relatable characters. Read on to learn more about this book and for your chance to win a copy of your own.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind BELLA & BLUE.
1. First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Eight-year-old Bella has anxiety. Small things aren't so small for Bella. But with the help
of her colorful dog Blue and her grandma Gigi (who has a flair for all things French and
over-the-top hats), Bella can handle every day's twists and turns. Blue is the companion children dream of having. He's the therapy dog that plays paddy-cake to calm Bella's nerves and take away her blues.
This is such a sweet premise and approach. Many children are impacted by anxiety and worries and BELLA & BLUE is sure to help them not only see themselves in the story but is also a great starting point to overcome them.
2. What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did
the idea come from?
Originally, my publisher wanted me to write and illustrate an early reader about a young
girl and her pet monkey. I didn’t agree with this plan. Mainly because I had heard too
many real life disaster stories of owning a pet monkey! So I suggested to my publisher
that I would come up with a story about a girl and her dog. The publisher emphasized
that the book series should be a social/emotional story, so I created my character Bella
who is a spunky eight-year-old who suffers from anxiety. My character Blue is a dog
Bella adopts and helps calm Bella’s anxiety.
While monkey hijinks could have been hilarious, the choice of a dog was probably a better fit for the SEL topic you were going for. And having a common pet as a character makes your story all the more relatable for a larger audience of children. Perhaps a monkey could make a cameo later in the series?
3. How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now
BELLA & BLUE? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
Before I started writing and illustrating books, I practiced a lot with my cartoon
characters Lola & Louie. Writing a three-panel cartoon, you need a quick beginning,
middle, and end. Creating a comic also helped me practice drawing consistent
characters. Creating an early reader graphic novel is very much like my cartooning
process, but I had more chances to develop the characters and the plot more fully.
It is wonderful when our previous experiences can influence and positively impact our current work.
4. Did BELLA & BLUE undergo any major changes/revisions from the original
version? If so, what led you to make these changes?
Yes! Originally Bella’s grandmother Gigi was the type of grandma who enjoys baking
cookies with Bella. My publisher thought that she was too boring and needed to be
more eccentric. So now Gigi is a hat loving, thrift store shopping grandma who loves to
use French expressions. I also really wanted to draw a dog wearing a hot dog costume.
I created a chapter where Gigi and Bella try to find a costume to make for Blue and
realize that Blue gets excited when he hears the word “hot dog.” Bella and Gigi decide
to make Blue a hot dog costume and enter him in the Canine Costume Party at the town fair.
Those changes to Gigi definitely make an impact. So much personality is relayed through her new interests and it adds the perfect touch of humor.
5. Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
As a teacher/librarian and mother of three children, I have created and developed my
stories drawn from real-life experiences and my imagination.
I grew up in a family with three sisters in New Jersey. One chapter in Bella & Blue is
loosely based on my experience and my two daughters' experiences as young ballet
dancers. Bella loves to dance so she imitates ballet dancers she sees on tv and almost
knocks over Gigi’s prized plant. The next day, Bella begins a ballet lesson and has an
anxiety attack because there are too many ballet rules. At Gigi’s house, Bella is sad
about the class, so Gigi tells Bella to slip a tape in her boombox. Gigi teaches Bella and
Blue her dance moves – Disco, Boogie Woogie, and The Bump. Bella is excited to show
off her dance moves in ballet class and causes a domino of dancers during the floor
exercises while showing off “The Bump!”
I tell the students during school visits about a ballet teacher I had who had a rule about
keeping your ballet uniform neat and orderly. If you had your underwear showing, she
would put a sticker on your underwear line. My older sister never had stickers placed on her bottom but I sure did.
What a great example of pulling inspiration from real life. The students must love this story and I am sure it elicits plenty of giggles.
6. What does your creative process look like as an author/illustrator? Do you
begin with words or illustrations? Does it vary by project?
Each project is different but I approach it the same way. I set my timer for six minutes
and brainstorm ideas for the story. I circle an idea or two from the brainstorming session and think about what idea(s) would make a good story. I begin with really rough
thumbnail sketches to get those ideas on paper. I write out the story like a script with art notes so that my editor can get what the story is about and send these notes along with my rough sketches. If it’s a magazine feature, I will send the Art Director a couple of refined sketches of my ideas. My final story is much different from the original
thumbnails. It’s a long process of sketching, rewriting, new sketches, rewriting, to final
art and manuscript. I signed my contract in 2020, and Bella & Blue: Bella Meets Blue
was launched in October 2022!
Thanks so much for sharing your process. It is always so interesting hearing how others approach their creative work.
7. What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
One of my favorite books from my childhood is Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and
illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham. The humorous adventures of this adorable dog
helped me shape Bella & Blue’s story. Originally, my publisher wanted me to illustrate
the story in black and white, but I convinced her to include one more color–blue. Much
like the three colors in the Harry books which are black, white, and yellow.
Oh, that was one of my favorites! I love that this story had a direct influence on your creative choices for BELLA & BLUE.
8. What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration?
Podcasts. My favorites are mysteries, docudramas, swindlers, and sci-fi.
9. Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
Be real and be honest. Kids don’t want you to fluff over the hard stuff. You can talk
about hard stuff and still make kids laugh along with the characters in your book. If you
have a book idea inside you, write it down (it’s very therapeutic). Join organizations like
SCBWI (Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators) and 12x12 to learn how to write
for children. It can be a long road to publication, so enjoy the process and hang in there.
Great advice, Berrie! Kids can handle the hard stuff and books are one of the best ways to help them understand and process these difficult topics.
10. Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with
Because Bella & Blue is a series, I am kicking around ideas of what adventures and
challenges would be fun to write about and be appealing to young readers. The next
book is dedicated to my son Kellen, so I am going to try to weave in board games, trying out different sports, and camping into this new adventure.
Those sound like perfect topics for Bella's next adventure! I look forward to reading it and I hope your son is excited to be the inspiration.
11. Where can people connect more with you?
Email me at Berrietr@gmail.com
You can follow me on Instagram: blue.berrie
You can view my portfolio: https://www.berrietr.com
Readers give Berrie a follow on her social media to stay updated on all of her creative endeavors. And while you are at it, be sure to pick up a copy of BELLA & BLUE (The Little Press, 2022).
Berrie, thank you so much for joining The Backstory and giving us the scoop on BELLA & BLUE.
Berrie is generously offering a copy of BELLA & BLUE to one lucky reader. (US only)
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT BERRIE TORGAN-RANDALL
Berrie Torgan-Randall has been passionate about children’s literature since she was a little girl and has fed her desire by becoming a children’s librarian and by pursuing a career as an illustrator and writer of children’s books. Berrie studied at Syracuse University earning a BFA in Media Arts and Surface Pattern Design. Pursuing her desire to work with children, she returned to school and earned a Masters Degree in Information Studies at Drexel University. As a teacher/librarian and mother of three children, Berrie has created and developed her stories drawn from real-life experiences and her imagination. Berrie is the Illustrator Coordinator for Eastern Pennsylvania Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) where she coordinates events and classes for illustrators. “Bella & Blue” is Berrie’s debut early reader graphic novel.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew Hacket is a teacher by day, parent by night, and writer in the nooks and crannies of life. When it comes to his books, Andrew aims to create stories that tickle the funny bone and hug the heart of readers both young and old.
Andrew is the author of the early reader, CURLILOCKS AND THE THREE HARES (The Little Press, 2024) and the picture book, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024). Additionally, his short story, THE TUNNEL, has been chosen for inclusion in the SCBWI anthology, The Haunted States of America.
Andrew lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three young children, and puppy, Gus.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.