May 9, 2017

Tags: JABARI JUMPS, Gaia Cornwall, Candlewick, 2017

Illustrator Gaia Cornwall's work has been featured online, in interactive games, in films, as murals, and in various forms of print. But today is her book birthday! Let's celebrate with the #firstpicturebook Q&A of JABARI JUMPS—"A terrific seasonal storytime read-aloud that’s perfect for one-on-one sharing." (Starred review, School Library Journal)

Q. Was JABARI JUMPS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Ah no! I've written tons and tons of picture book manuscripts. I don't remember which was the first one exactly. Though I just re-worked and submitted a book idea that originally I had written and illustrated almost ten years ago. It never felt quite right, so I put it aside. I really like this version of it!

Q. What inspired JABARI JUMPS?
A. Originally, I started writing when African-American Olympic medalist swimmer Cullen Jones was winning tons of medals and awards. He's really amazing and now works with a swimming initiative "Make a Splash", that teaches kids how to swim. But personally, I've always loved to swim and remember clearly learning to jump off the diving board. I try to write stories about moments that are relatable to kids and that one stuck out for me.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
Once I had the name of my character-- Jabari-- adding "Jumps" seemed like a natural fit as that's the book in a nutshell. I feel like naming books is usually trickier, but in this case it came pretty easy.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Hmm. Well I tend to gather ideas mostly in a notebook-- a sketch, or a phrase I like. I've also started using my phone for this. But then I do a lot of typing on the computer. And then more scribbling. I guess I go back and forth a lot!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is when he looks out on the city and whispers that he likes surprises. Technically, it wasn't in the first draft of the book-- though that was a very different book. Once I overhauled that and created the version that became this book, it was in the first draft of that for sure.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. The only character that's named is Jabari. I'm not totally sure where I first heard it. But it means "brave" in Swahili, so it seemed perfect for him.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I did versions of it in first person and in the end I liked the rhythm of how it sounded out loud in third person. But also it let the dad be a character in his own right as opposed to seeing him through Jabari's eyes-- as you would in first person. I think this way, adults will find him relatable, just like the kids will see themselves in Jabari.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing JABARI JUMPS?
A. The first versions were very simple--basically a visual gag of a kid putting on more and more gear before he jumped off the diving board. I still think that idea is funny, but I'm happy it developed into something more than that.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I think in this case, I mostly wrote it first. Though it started with the basic image of a boy on the diving board. This is actually hard for me to answer--I think visually too, so even if I'm not actually drawing first, the images are there. If that makes sense.

Q. Did JABARI JUMPS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I think eight. --Which is not a lot by any means! But honestly, that's because it took me literally years to submit it and I had some good contacts when I finally did. I just checked and I had drafts of this in 2010. Which is ridiculous. Don't do that.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on JABARI JUMPS.
A. I was nursing my son who was a baby at the time. I burst into tears and then the laughing started. So lots of tearful laughter.

Q. How long did JABARI JUMPS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I signed a contract in 2014 and originally it was slated to come out in June 2016. It got pushed back to May 2017, which at the time was disappointing, but in reality worked perfectly as I ended up having another baby in the Spring of 2016. So a human baby last year and a book baby this year. One baby at a time!

Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. One version compared how Jabari was feeling to different animals. In the end, I took them all out because it kind of diluted the story. It was a good call, but its always sad to take animals out-- they're so fun to draw!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Hmm I have two:
1. READ. Read, read, read all the picture books you can get your hands on. Old ones are great, but if you want to submit your work to traditional publishers, you should be reading current books. Someone once said you should read 100 books in whatever genre you want to write in. So at least that many for picture books!

2. And find a critique group to show your work to. This is not easy to do--you have to trust them, value their judgement and you know, they have to be able to critique your work--not just tell you it's great. But don't give up! It doesn't matter if its online or in person, once you find them, those people are so invaluable.
My group offers great technical notes and ideas, are amazing cheerleaders, and also hold me accountable to my personal writing goals. I sincerely would not be where I am today without them.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Join SCBWI and then take advantage of the smaller workshops and conferences. Personally, I've gotten way more out of weekend writing workshops and state/regional conferences. People tend to just get excited about the national conferences, but for me the smaller events are where its at.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm finishing up a first draft of a middle grade novel, working on a few different picture book manuscripts and kicking around a YA idea.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. You can find me at www.GaiaCornwall.com
Thanks for having me!