Thursday, December 1, 2022

Q&A with Jenn Bailey




Jenn Bailey is the author of the new children's picture book Meowsterpieces: A Cat's Guide to Art...and Life!. Her other books include A Friend for Henry.


Q: What inspired you to write Meowsterpieces, and how did you decide on the works of art to include?


A: I actually call this my “Backwards” book because the illustrator came first. Nyangsongi is very well known for her chubby cats, and she had a desire to put them in famous artworks. The publisher then approached me to see if I could come up with a rhyming text to tie all those illustrations together.


It was a fun and interesting exercise in crafting a story in reverse…and sideways…and across centuries and artistic styles. I definitely stretched creative muscles but once I landed on the idea of “the art of being a cat” it took off in my imagination.


And I loved getting to write about these celebrated pieces of art that I have long admired. When the project was first proposed to me the list wasn’t final, so I got to suggest a few like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and Katsushika Hokusai’s Under the Wave.


Did I mention I have three cats of my own? Bertie, Tayla, and Irene. This project combined a number of passions for me and was a blast to do!


Q: Given that the book focuses on art, what do you think Nyangsongi's illustrations add to the book?


A: I think Nyangsongi’s illustrations add accessibility and whimsey! We’ve been conditioned to hold these artworks in such esteem that I find it delightful how she has captured the postures and expressions of the humans in the works and put them on the most charming and frisky kittens.


Who wouldn’t want to pore over these paintings now that they contain such adorable subjects?


I feel Nyangsongi’s art brought playfulness to this book. Then I did my best to bring some humor alongside.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from Meowsterpieces?


A: I hope kids find a love of art. And a desire to see more. I hope kids really look at the paintings and photographs in this book and use their grand imaginations to find the emotional core of what the artist tried to capture.


That may sound rather ambitious, but kids are all about seeing and knowing truth. They’re so much more aware of feelings than we jaded adults are, and so I hope this book will start some conversations, maybe even inspire a trip to an art gallery.


When my kids were young, and even now that they are older, we go to galleries all the time. It’s fascinating to find out what pieces inspire and move them and why. So, invite your small person to go to a gallery.


And when you are there, staring at that Winslow Homer or that Frida Kahlo, delve into their curious minds by asking them to share what they think and what they feel.


Q: How did you first get interested in writing for kids?


A: I’ve always written stories, even when I was a kid, so to keep writing is very natural. I do prefer writing for children though, and it’s because children are so very authentic – with their emotions, their ideas, and their motivations. They are figuring out their world and how it works, and our stories help them with that.


When you read, you get to live different lives and experience different situations. You get to try on adventures all from the safety of your favorite reading chair. Being someone who helps create those adventures, helps to spark imagination, is the greatest thing I could ever wish for.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve got four more books coming out in the next two years. Two of them are picture books – The Twelve Hours of Christmas with Little Brown in 2023, and a project yet to be announced with Levine Querido in 2024.


And I have two Henry chapter books with Chronicle coming out in ‘23 and ’24 – Henry, Like Always and Henry and the Something New. I’m super excited to share these new stories and working on final edits is keeping me very busy.


Then, like every other author I know, I’ve got a bunch of other projects going, some on the computer, some on submission, and some are still just sparks of ideas that keep me up at night.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Not really. I’m grateful you asked me to join you today on the blog. This has been super fun! If anyone has other questions or is looking for an author visit, I’m available! You can find me at my website:


Thank you again, Deb!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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