Ada Children’s author and illustrator Hannah E. Harrison joins this year’s DoubleR Author Tour on October 18 in Tishomingo. Harrison, who received the 2015 Oklahoma Book Award in Illustration for the book Extraordinary Jane, will be visiting schools and public libraries in Tishomingo, Antlers, Stratford, Duncan, and Pauls Valley during her two weeks on the road.
In addition to her Oklahoma Book Award win for Jane, she was also a 2016 finalist in the children’s category for Bernice Gets Carried Away. Both books, plus her latest—My Friend Maggie—will be available for sale at all of her DoubleR events.
Prior to her Reading Roundup debut, we had a chance to talk with Harrison about her illustrative art, her writing, and how the two fit together.
ODL: Congratulations on your Oklahoma Book Award, Hannah. You discovered a talent and a passion for art at a very young age. Are there other artists in your family? Were you inspired by others to pursue your talent?
Harrison: First of all, thank you—it was such an honor to win the Oklahoma Book Award! And secondly, yes, I’ve loved to draw and create art for as long as I can remember. I was blessed with very creative parents—Dad was always building, inventing, or fixing something, and Mom was always doing needlework, sewing, or quilting. Watching them make things made me want to make my own things, and they were always very supportive of that. Come to think of it, my grandparents were all pretty crafty, too. And my grandfather, after watching numerous episodes of Bob Ross’s The Joy of Painting, decided to try his hand at painting one time. I remember spending several wonderful afternoons oil painting with him as a kid. I think it wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be, though, and he abandoned the hobby pretty quickly. I, on the other hand, was hooked!
ODL: You also discovered you had a talent for storytelling, and even started to create children’s books while you were in elementary school. Are there storytellers in your family? Did books you were reading as a child inspire you?
Harrison: I don’t know if I would say that there are “storytellers” in my family…but I will say that my mom is very good at recounting events in interesting and entertaining ways. I love hearing her tell stories about her childhood, or about her latest shenanigans at the grocery store for example. And my dad, well, he’s always had a knack for making up silly songs. So I think they taught me to see stories, and whimsy, and interesting characters all around me.
I was definitely inspired by books as a kid. For example, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe transformed my snowy front yard into Narnia. And The Velveteen Rabbit confirmed what I already suspected, which was that my stuffed animals had feelings. I was also inspired by the illustrations in books. I really spent a lot of time studying them, trying to figure out how in the world people made pictures like that. I wanted so badly to be able to hop into the pictures and walk around in them. It inspired me to create my own worlds on paper.
ODL: Every author/illustrator probably gets this chicken/egg question. What comes first, story or art? For Extraordinary Jane, did you have the story first, or did you see images of a cute dog doing circus tricks which led to the story?
Harrison: That’s a very good question, and I’m afraid I don’t really have a definitive answer for you! All I can say is that I picture what I write, and I write what I picture. The advantage that I have in doing both is that as I write, I know what parts of the story will be told in the illustrations, and so I can adjust the words accordingly. But I honestly don’t know which comes first—the story, the art…or the chicken!
ODL: Wth the publishing industry going through so many changes, we hear it’s harder for authors to break into the business. How did you get your first book published? Do you have an agent?
Harrison: When I first set my sights on being a children’s book author all those years ago, I had no idea how difficult it would be to break into the business! Fortunately, I knew that making books was what I was supposed to do with my life, and so I never gave up. I took all the feedback I could get very seriously. I practiced. I evolved. I submitted over and over again (and got rejected over and over again). I practiced some more. Revised. I entered every contest I could. I built up my portfolio. I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and paid to have professional critiques…and I practiced some more. I did that for ten years!
And then I got my agent. It kind of happened in a roundabout way—I met her at a SCBWI conference when she was still an editor—but once I hitched my wagon up to Abigail Samoun at Red Fox Literary, things began to happen! It was time. I was finally ready! Extraordinary Jane was Red Fox’s first project to go to auction.
Harrison: My Friend Maggie is a story about friendship. It deals with topics like peer pressure, bullying, and fitting in, and addresses some pretty unfortunate universal experiences.
The book stars Paula, a beaver, and her friend Maggie, an elephant. They’ve been friends forever. But when mean-girl Veronica opines that Maggie is too big, Paula’s loyalty is put to the test. She knows that she should stick up for Maggie, but she plays with Veronica instead. Fortunately, Maggie shows Paula what true friends are made of.
ODL: What’s next for author/illustrator Hannah Harrison?
Harrison: I’m happy to say that I’ve signed another two-book contract with Dial Books for Young Readers! I’m currently working on the illustrations for the first of these books, and it stars boy characters for a change—a rhino and a tickbird. I’m really excited about this one—I think it has a good combination of humor and heart. It should be out in the Spring of 2018.
ODL: We certainly look forward to seeing that! Thanks so much, Hannah.