Thursday, March 30, 2017

Author-Illustrator Interview: Chieu Anh Urban on Developing Interactive Board Books

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Congratulations on Color Wonder: Hooray for Spring! (Little Simon, 2016) This is your third novelty book. 

Cynsations readers may remember your debut Raindrops: The Color of Showers (illustrated by by Viviana Garofoli, Sterling, 2010) and the creative process you described then.

Thank you for having me back; it's hard to believe seven years have gone by. I'm excited to still be working on novelty books, and appreciate the opportunity to share my process with you and the creative children's book community.

Tell us about the Color Wonder series. How did this idea develop? What was your inspiration?

This story was a dream come true. Every fall, I begin working on my holiday card to send to publishing editors and art directors. My cards focuses on a special interactive format, and each one is hand-assembled.

A few years ago, I sent out a holiday card featuring sea creatures, embracing the holiday spirit with an interactive wheel format that showcased the concept of color-mixing. The editor at Little Simon was very excited about it, and that is how Color Wonder became a series.

Holiday card with interactive wheel format.
Were there things you learned working on your previous books that helped you with this project?

I am always working on my craft and developing ideas. I've learned to be patient and let my designs slowly evolve, until I feel they are ready for me to start layering format and concept together.

My color-mixing wheel format was sketched out in my art book over four years ago. Every now and then I would return to the drawings to improve the design, and develop story concept ideas that would compliment the interactive experience.

Interior spread from Hooray for Spring!
When you're thinking about an interactive novelty board book, what are the top priorities for creators to keep in mind?


Chieu's art work space
My goal is to develop a format that will provide fun learning, interactive story-time experiences. I want my novelty format to serve a purpose that works with the story and concept. The interaction with format and story should be fun and satisfying to the child and reader.

My biggest challenge is to keep printing production and cost in mind. Often times, I develop a project that I'm very excited about, but is cost-prohibitive, or difficult to manufacture.

You wear a lot of hats in creating these books: author, illustrator, graphic designer and novelty format designer. Can you tell us more about these roles and the creative skills you call upon to make interactive novelty board books?  

I have a background in communications art and design. I think visually first, with my designer hat on.

I often start my projects with a concept idea, for example, colors. I begin with sketches of how I envision the layout, format, and design to look. From there, the art and story starts to play a role. I work in all these pieces and see what transpires.

How does being a novelty format designer make your work stand out?

Chieu's computer work space
I focus on creating a format that is inventive and unique, a design that is fun and fresh.

I also think about reinventing common novelty elements, such as die-cuts and wheels.

Being a designer helps me approach art and story in a different perspective.

What are you currently working on?

I've been busy preparing art for my upcoming novelty books. This fall, Winter is Here! (Little Simon, October 2017), the second book in the Color Wonder series with color-mixing wheels will be published.

Quiet as a Mouse, and Other Animal Idioms (Sterling, 2017) is a fun guess-who novelty book with die-cuts, that will also be available in the fall.

In 2018, 123 GO! will make its debut. It is a number and counting novelty book with sliding vehicles on every page. I currently have a few novelty projects I am developing. Hopefully they will come together nicely.

Cynsations Notes

Chieu Anh Urban holds a BFA in Communications Art and Design from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Arts in Richmond. She began her career as a graphic designer and now works from her studio in suburban Maryland.

Activities, coloring pages and party collections associated with Hooray for Spring and Away We Go! are available on her website and her blog includes pre-school appropriate crafts related to her titles.

Chieu and her daughter at Hooray for Spring Launch Party

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