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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Hacket

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?

Reference materials?


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

us?


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

Twitter: berrietr

https://www.pinterest.com/btorganrandall/


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.


 

GIVEAWAY!


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!

or

2. Leave a comment on this post.

or

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.

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7件のコメント


carmelasimmons
2023年1月28日

This series sounds like such fun! I live that you found inspiration in Harry The Dirty Dog, one of my all time favorites.

いいね!

buschman.deb
buschman.deb
2023年1月28日

Congrats Berrie. This looks like such a cute and fun series.

いいね!

seschipper
2023年1月28日

Looking forward to reading your books, Berrie! 😊

いいね!

Stephanie Maksymiw
Stephanie Maksymiw
2023年1月27日

This looks really cute. Love the grandma character.

いいね!

inthevine7
inthevine7
2023年1月27日

Congratulations, Berrie! It's an adorable book and fun read!

いいね!
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