Author and illustrator Marie Boyd joins The Backstory today with her debut, JUST A WORM (Greenwillow Books, 2023). This beautiful book, illustrated in quilled paper, is the perfect fit for families and classrooms. Keep reading to learn more and for your chance to win a 20-minute virtual classroom visit from Marie.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind JUST A WORM.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
First, thank you so much for having me on The Backstory! I’m so excited to share the inspiration behind JUST A WORM.
In JUST A WORM, after being called “just a worm” by two children, Worm embarks on a journey through the garden to prove them wrong. Along the way, Worm encounters several insects and other creatures, each of which has important qualities. But what can Worm do?
I want to know! I want to know! Marie, I love this concept and the way you weave the high-interest topic of nature and bugs with the social skills of empathy and collaboration. You have more than enough entry points to engage readers both young and old.
Can you tell us about your art style?
Yes, I’d be happy to! I illustrated JUST A WORM using quilled paper. I took colorful paper and cut it into narrow strips, which I coiled, curled, glued, and layered to create the illustrations. The illustrations were then photographed for the book. If you are interested in learning more about quilling, the backmatter in JUST A WORM includes a butterfly quilling craft for kids and I share more craft ideas on my website at www.marieboyd.com, including a video tutorial for easy quilled snails.
The dimension and style you accomplish through the quilled paper technique is so inviting and eye-catching. The potential it has to inspire kids is wonderful. I can't wait for you to start getting pictures sent to you from classrooms trying out this technique after reading your book.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
When my son was younger, I’d tell him “It’s just a worm” when we saw worms on the sidewalk after the rain. One day I started thinking about how a Worm might feel and respond if it could understand my words. That question eventually led to JUST A WORM.
What great proof that you never know where an idea will come from! It is amazing to see how that "what if" wondering led you down the path to eventually create this book.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now JUST A WORM? 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?
I sat with the story that eventually became JUST A WORM for a while before I wrote it down. After I started thinking about how a Worm might feel if it could hear me say “it’s just a worm,” I began exploring that question in bedtime stories for my kids and varying the animals that Worm encountered. Eventually I wrote the story down in a note on my phone.
Throughout the process of developing the story I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted the illustrations to look like. Whenever I imagined Worm’s garden, I imagined it made out of quilled paper.
I like how your various ideas almost had a trial run orally before making their way to the page, or phone I should say. This seems like a great, low risk way to test various options and get a bit of reader feedback based on your kids reactions.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
I look for inspiration in my life. I have two young kids and I try to write stories that I think would appeal to them. Often ideas come to me, like the idea for JUST A WORM, when I am walking or spending time outside. Many of the illustrations in JUST A WORM were inspired by plants in my and my parents’ yards.
I was curious about how you chose what plants to include. Knowing that they are inspired by your own yard and your parent's yard must be a nice little gift for them and your children. I can imagine them reading through the book making comments of all the familiar plants they notice.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
I loved reading as a child and some of the books I read as a child continue to inspire me including books by Leo Leonni, Eric Carle, and later Lois Ehlert.
Oh, you have chosen such classics! I love how these books from your childhood have stuck with you and provided inspiration into your adulthood. I bet if we polled other creators we would find the same is true for many of us.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
Light is incredibly important to me and I try to work using natural light whenever possible. I frequently use noise blocking and/or canceling headphones when I’m writing because I find noise distracting. All that being said, however, I have a full time job as a law professor and two young kids who have lots of places they need me to take them, so I often end up writing on my phone while waiting for them at appointments and other afterschool activities.
Quilling is for me what I imagine knitting is for many others. I admire knitters who always seem to have a project in their bag that they can pull out when they have a few minutes. Quilling is perhaps a little less portable, but I aspire to that with quilling and try to keep a quilling tool, a small pair of scissors, quilling strips, and glue in a container that I can grab on my way out the door.
I feel seen with your ideal workspace conditions versus the reality of writing with a job and family. When it comes down to it, all we really need is an idea and a phone or a piece of paper. Quiet and nice lighting just enhance the experience.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors and illustrators?
I have found critique groups to be really helpful on my writing and illustrating journey so I often encourage aspiring authors and illustrators to join a critique group if they haven’t. I very much value the community and feedback that the critique groups can provide and I have learned a lot from mine.
For far too long I let all of the things I didn’t know and hadn’t done stand in my way. I wish I had realized earlier that the only things I really needed to do were to keep writing and making art.
Both such wonderful pieces of advice. Critique groups are the best! The advice and camaraderie are absolutely necessary in this industry. And the reminder to not let the unknowns stand in our way of getting started is so true. If we wait to know it all we will never begin.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
Yes! If you are looking for a fun way to celebrate the Earth this month, join me and seven other kid lit creators for a virtual picture book party and celebration of the planet we call home hosted by the Red Balloon Bookshop on Tuesday, April 25 at 6:30 pm CST. Tickets are free, but pre-registration is required. I’d love to see you there!
Such a fun event! I hope many of our readers are able to sign up and attend.
Where can people connect more with you?
The best way to connect with me is via my website, www.marieboyd.com. I’m also on Instagram @artistscholar .
Readers be sure to connect with Marie via her website and social media to keep up to date with all things JUST A WORM.
And while you are at it, check out JUST A WORM (Greenwillow Books, 2023) written and illustrated by the fabulous Marie Boyd.
Marie, thank you so much for joining us and sharing the story behind your beautiful words and art. It was a pleasure learning all about JUST A WORM and your process.
Marie is generously offering a 20-minute virtual visit for one classroom!
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
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Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT MARIE BOYD
Marie Boyd is a writer, illustrator, artist, educator, and scholar. She creates quilled illustrations and art. She collects colorful paper and then cuts it into narrow strips, which she uses to create modern, bold, colorful images that literally come off of the page. She was one of four artists selected to participate in the Columbia Metropolitan Airport's 2022-2023 Art in the Airport Program. She loves spending time outdoors and draws inspiration from the natural world.
She has a degree in Chemistry from Harvard and a law degree from Yale. She is a law professor. Her scholarship focuses on products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. She is particularly interested in the regulation of food and cosmetics.
Originally from Salt Lake City, she lives in Columbia, South Carolina with her husband and two young children. She is a member of SCBWI.
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.