The Read Balloon: Jennifer A Bell, Illustrator Extraordinaire

Lately we’ve been reading the adorable Too Shy For Show-and-Tell over and over, and discussing it at unexpected times. “Why did Otto say ‘weaf’?!” Harper will demand out of nowhere, requesting a millionth read.

I was shy as a kid, so I know there’s nothing worse as a shy kid than having someone order you not to be so shy. It’s basically a guarantee that you won’t be able to speak for at least 15 minutes. So I respect Harper’s occasional bouts of bashfulness, and was relieved to find Too Shy For Show-and Tell, which offers a gentle way to discuss the idea of shyness. Sam, sweet giraffe, bends his formidable neck and goes silent when faced with the prospect of… dun dun! SHOW AND TELL. Shivers.

too shy for show and tell, jennifer a bell

Too Shy For Show and Tell, Illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, my friend. And written by some lady too.

But let’s get real here. What we love most about this book are its incredibly cute, amazingly expressive illustrations. And not just because they were done by my dear friend Jennifer A. Bell.

Some facts about Jenny:

1. She was my husband’s friend from high school who I stole when we all ended up living in Minneapolis at the same time. I had moved there for grad school and didn’t know anyone so I forced her to be friends with me. We spent many a snowy Minnesota night over at her family’s apartment, eating her freshly baked cookies, drinking wine, and getting into winding debates about I have no idea what with her intellectual husband.  She also taught me to knit. They were good times. And really good cookies. I miss those guys so much! The people that is. Okay, and the cookies.

2. Jenny has a son who is now a man of 11, but who used to be our child-crush before we had our own. We still say “Not idea!” all the time, which was his way of disapproving of things when he was 3.

3. Jenny has the prettiest eyes in the world. I know that’s not relevant here but thought it might be interesting to note.

and, to get back on task here, 4. She can draw anything at all. Truly. I’ve seen her artwork and it’s all great. In recent years she’s focused on illustration, probably because she has an uncanny knack for drawing animals that are so cute they make you want to die. See more of Jenny’s eyeball-exploding work here.

Harper was very intrigued by the fact that I know the illustrator of this book which she so adores, so she told me to ask Jenny some questions that had been on her mind. I transcribed the questions verbatim, and Jenny’s lovely, patient responses are below.

H: Why did you make David a turtle instead of a crocodile?
J: I thought that since David brings his socks for show-and-tell that he needed to be a turtle because honestly I’d love nothing more than to see a real turtle wearing socks. I think that would be ridiculously cute. It’s funny too because David is the only animal who never has clothes on!

H: Why does Sam have a striped shirt instead of no shirt at all?
J: Why not? If I were a giraffe I would always wear stripes.
H: Why does his mama have a long neck and also a cup of coffee?
J:Mama giraffes always have long necks. I also thought it would be fun to make her neck really long so it could stretch all the way across the page. I gave her coffee because most of the mamas I know (including myself) like to drink a lot of it.H: How did you get the words for the book? I think it’s because you’re so smart. [Ed. Note: I tried to explain that another person wrote them and probably emailed them to Jenny or something, but Harper figured we should go ahead and find out from the source.]
J: I wish I wrote this story! A lady named Beth Bracken wrote it.

H: Why is the back of the book different from the front? [Ed. Note: meaning the covers]
J: When the back is different than the front you get more pictures to look at.
H: Did you make the dots [on the endpaper]? Why are they different sizes?
J: I did make the dots! The giraffes have different size dots on their necks too so I wanted copy that pattern.
I asked Harper if she was sure she didn’t want to ask something like how Jenny does her illustrations. She shook her head and said, “I think she does them on a computer.”
And there you have it! Check out all of this prolific lady’s books: the complete list is on her website.
I’ll leave you with this ridiculous display of adorability:

An illustration by Jennifer A. Bell, for your squealing pleasure.

3 responses to “The Read Balloon: Jennifer A Bell, Illustrator Extraordinaire

  1. Love the interview! Harper asks very insightful questions. I do often wonder why I am wearing a striped shirt instead of no shirt at all.

    And thanks for turning me on to Jennifer’s sweet work.

  2. Pingback: Interview with What Will Hatch? Illustrator and All-Around Awesome Lady Susie Ghahremani | household words - amy shearn and her blog.

  3. Pingback: Some Things I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You About | household words - amy shearn and her blog.

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