Sunday, October 16, 2022

Q&A with Claudia Friddell and Jeremy Holmes


Claudia Friddell



Claudia Friddell is the author and Jeremy Holmes is the illustrator of the new children's picture book Road Trip!: Camping with the Four Vagabonds, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs. Friddell's other books include Saving Lady Liberty. She lives in Maryland. Holmes's other books include The Eye That Never Sleeps. He lives in Pennsylvania.


Q: What inspired you to write Road Trip!?


Claudia: Great question! This happens to me a lot…I was researching another book idea and decided to take a left turn and go down a completely different road when I learned about the summer camping trips of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. I loved the idea of showing a different side of these American icons whose inventions changed the world.


Looking through the files of vacation photographs, reading the journals, and watching the documentaries about these busy innovators exploring nature, sleeping in tents, gathering around campfires, and exploring the back roads of rural America was a lot of fun, and I imagined a fun picture book for young readers.


I loved learning that Ford invented a truck with a kitchen and Edison invented string lights for their camping trips. These four Vagabonds, as they liked to call themselves, were the pioneers of recreational camping—something that millions of people enjoy every year—so I thought people of all ages would be interested to know the history of one of America’s favorite pastimes.


Q: Can you say more about the relationship among the four figures—Ford, Edison, businessman Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burroughs—you write about in the book?


Claudia: Road Trip! is really a friendship story, and while these four men varied greatly in age, they had a lot in common.


All four men shared simple upbringings, either on farms or in small towns, and after years of working to modernize our world, Edison, Ford, and Firestone longed to get away from their busy lives and get back to nature.


When Ford met his childhood hero, Thomas Edison, at a convention, he was inspired by Edison’s encouragement to continue working on his motorized engine—even though Edison thought electric power was the future.


Later in life, the two inventors developed such a deep respect and friendship that Ford bought a vacation home next door to Edison’s in Fort Myers, Florida—now the Winter Estates Museum.


Henry Ford became friends with Harvey Firestone, who made the rubber tires for his cars. Firestone’s warm and curious nature, as well as his thoughtful organizational skills, made him the perfect traveling companion.


Most people wonder how John Burroughs, the oldest of the group, joined the vagabond travelers. In some ways, he was the glue. Even though he is unknown to most Americans today, Burroughs was an extremely famous and popular nature writer.


When Ford learned that Burroughs was vehemently against the idea of automobiles taking over the roads, he sent Burroughs a Model T and convinced him that cars could more easily transport folks to distant destinations to explore and enjoy the wonders of our country’s undiscovered natural treasures. Burroughs was revered as the group’s nature guide.


As lifelong learners, they all respected and inspired one another, and as friends, they loved spending time together on the road, in the mountains, and around the campfire.


Q: How did you research the book and did you learn anything especially surprising?


Jeremy: Fortunately, the available resources for Road Trip!’s characters were plentiful due to their popularity. I read a few biographies and multiple articles about each person and any materials they might have written.

Jeremy Holmes

This helps me establish each character's personality, which I hope to visually incorporate into their drawings. It also guides me in visualizing the world they lived in. What did they wear? What were their habits? Where did they live and where did they work?

One of the most fascinating things, to me, was Edison’s creative process. He would go days without sleep or food to work through an idea. This explains the numerous photos I saw early in my research of him napping in chairs, under trees, and just about anywhere.


At first, I thought Edison was narcoleptic, but come to find out, he was just overworked and in need of a vacation ... aka ... a Road Trip!


Q: Claudia, what do you think Jeremy’s illustrations add to the story?


Claudia: Well, I could talk about this all day! As a picture book writer who is not an artist, one of the most exciting parts of the book-making journey is seeing how the illustrators’ creations bring my story to life.


I have been so fortunate that every one of my illustrators has done a beautiful job in finding just the right style to help tell my true stories.


Jeremy’s fun, quirky, colorful, cartoonish style is absolutely perfect for Road Trip! He has cleverly added visual details for the readers to discover—details that I couldn’t always add in the text. His ticket-shaped bubbles full of humorous comments add so much fun to the journey.


I wish, more than anything, that every reader could see each of Jeremy’s original illustrations. I was fortunate enough to go to his art show to see these amazing three-dimensional hand-cut creations. I hope Jeremy takes his inventions on the road because it is an extra-special treat to see them in person!


Q: Jeremy, how did you create your artistic style, and what inspired the style you use in this book?


Jeremy: I adore cut paper art. I have been experimenting with cut paper in my sketchbooks for years. What excites me about the medium is its tactile qualities and its endless playful possibilities. You can cut a texture into paper, or stamp it with glitter, or fold it into infinite forms.


I had always hoped that someday I could incorporate my passion for cut paper into one of my books, but the process is beyond tedious and time-consuming, which isn’t ideal for publishing deadlines.


While researching the characters of Road Trip!, I had a moment of inspiration. Ford, Edison, and Firestone embraced technology to improve their processes and products ... why couldn’t I? Is there technology available that would allow me to cut thousands of pieces of paper in mere weeks instead of months? The answer is yes, and it’s called a Cricut paper-cutting machine.


Don’t get me wrong, the entire process is still incredibly time-consuming and tedious, but now, it was actually doable. So I got to work.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?

Jeremy: I hope a book like Road Trip! sparks a kid’s curiosity and gets them asking questions about and researching everything in their orbit. Who invented the toilet? Why is a sneaker called a sneaker? Where did the word Tuesday come from?


Q: What are you working on now?


Claudia: I have just finished a whimsical, rhyming book called Cool Off and Ride! about folks riding streetcars before there was air-conditioning to get a cool breeze on hot summer nights. Jenn Harney is the amazing illustrator for this project that comes out next summer.


I am also working on a book for older readers about Virginia Hall, an American woman with one leg who was considered the most dangerous spy by the Gestapo in World War II, due out in 2024.


I have treasured the guidance of Carolyn Yoder, my amazing editor at Calkins Creek, for these two forthcoming books, as well as four books already on the shelves—Saving Lady Liberty, Grace Banker and Her Hello Girls Answer the Call, To the Front!, and Road Trip!


Jeremy: I recently finished the final art for Sheryl Haft’s next book, Mazie’s Amazing Machines, due in the fall of 2023 (Nancy Paulsen Books).

I am currently working on the final art for Beth Anderson’s book Thomas Jefferson’s Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose!, also due out in fall 2023 (Calkins Creek).


And I have begun the research and concept sketches for Vicki Conrad’s book, Introducing Sandwina: The Strongest Woman in the World! (Calkins Creek).

When I am not in the studio making art, I can be found teaching Art and Design at West Chester University or, like Edison, napping in chairs, under trees, or just about anywhere.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Claudia Friddell.

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