Thursday, September 10, 2020

Q&A with Corinne Demas and Artemis Roehrig

Corinne Demas
Corinne Demas and Artemis Roehrig, a mother-daughter writing team, are the co-authors of the new children's picture books Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter? Amazing Sea Creature Facts and The Grumpy Pirate. Corinne Demas is professor of English at Mount Holyoke College and a fiction editor of the Massachusetts Review, and has written many books for adults and for children. Artemis Roehrig is a researcher in the Elkinton Lab at UMass Amherst.

Q: How did you end up writing children's picture books together, and how do you collaborate on the books?

A: Artemis grew up as Corinne’s test subject for her books, so it was a natural progression from reader to editor to co-author.    

We collaborate in different ways, depending on the book. For some of them, like Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter? Amazing Sea Creature Facts  or Do Doodlebugs Doodle? Amazing Insect Facts, we split up the research and then came together to write the text.

Artemis Roehrig
Others, like The Grumpy Pirate, or Are Pirates Polite? we start out writing together, then split off to edit different sections, then came back and work together on the whole. By the time of the final product, we usually can’t remember who wrote what.

Q: What inspired Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter? Amazing Sea Creature Facts and how did you choose the sea creatures to include?

A: We spend several months each year on Cape Cod, so we’ve always been interested in marine life. We compiled long lists of sea creatures that kids would have fun learning about and spent hours discussing which names would work best for the question/answer format. We also wanted to make sure we had a wide array of creatures and a good selection of awesome facts.

Q: You both have another new book out, The Grumpy Pirate. How did you come up with your character Gus and his parrot?

A: Artemis had a toddler at the time, so we had lots of good source material on grumpiness!  Of course many people (grownups included) have good reason to feel grumpy these days!

Fictional pirates often have a pet parrot, and we realized it was a perfect tool for our wise pirate queen to use to help cure Gus’s grumpiness.

Q: What do you think the illustrations--by Ellen Shi and Ashlyn Anstee respectively--add to the books?

A: As in all picture books, the illustrations add another dimension to the text, and it’s always exciting to see what the artists will come up with.

Both Ellen Shi, who illustrated Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter, and Ashlyn Anstee, who illustrated The Grumpy Pirate, captured the playful tone of these books and did a brilliant job conveying the energy and humor of the story.

We’d worked with Ellen on a previous title, Do Doodlebugs Doodle? Amazing Insects Facts, and we admired the way she distinguished between the imaginative and factual pages in the book. Ashlyn delighted us by making the pirate crew in The Grumpy Pirate truly diverse, and she added a cute crab to the cast.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: In addition to other projects, Artemis has two novelty books coming out in September in the Tattoos That Teach series: Super, Strong Tattoo Sharks and Roaring, Rumbling Tattoo Dinosaurs. 

Corinne is working on both a middle grade novel and an adult novel.  Her newest picture book, The Perfect Tree, will be published by Cameron Kids.

As always, we have a dozen collaborative projects brewing.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Both of us have been doing what we can to help teachers and families who have been coping with schools being closed. Visit our websites, and for videos of us reading our books and for material useful for remote learning. We’re both looking forward to doing virtual author visits this school year. 

Corinne has made her new picture book, Remember Me, about children dealing with social distancing, available as a free download that kids can illustrate themselves. Check out the great art kids have sent in already. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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