Five Questions for T2 Artist, JANET McDONNELL

1.) How did your career as a children’s illustrator get started?

Well, I took a zigzagged path to illustration.  I started out as an editor and author at a small educational publisher called The Child’s World.  I was drawing and painting in my free time and taking classes at The American Academy of Art on the weekends.  (I had minored in art in college.)  Eventually a larger company bought The Child’s World, and we were all laid off.  The former head of The Child’s World decided to start up a new imprint, and she asked me to write some books for her.  I showed her my art and asked her if she’d let me try my hand at illustrating too.  Much to my delight, she said yes!

 2.) What is your favorite illustration project to date?

 I’m not sure if this counts because it’s not a completed project yet, but I recently totally reworked a book dummy for a story I wrote called “Miss Chicken and the Noisy Nuisance.”  I tried it out on a 1st grade class, and they really yukked it up in all the right places.  It was so rewarding!

 3.) Name two of your favorite children’s books.  One past.  One present.

 I love everything by William Steig, but especially “Brave Irene.”  My favorite new book is “Dogs Don’t Do Ballet,” written by Anna Kemp and illustrated by Sara Ogilvie.  Hilarious.

 4.) Who and what influences your artwork?

 I recently watched a very inspiring video of an interview with the brilliant illustrator, Pascal Campion.  He talked about trying to capture a moment of emotion, how that motivates all of his illustration.  That’s my ultimate goal.  I think of the kids who will be looking at my art and what I want them to feel.

 5.) Describe your perfect Saturday night.

 Chicago is such a great city – so much to do!  One Saturday night we took our kids and a couple of their friends into the Portage Theater, one of those beautiful old movie palaces, and saw some Buster Keaton movies accompanied by live music.  Then we had ice cream.  That was pretty perfect.

Illustration by Janet McDonnell


Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review for “Why Do I Have to Make My Bed?”

Illustrated by our own Johanna van der Sterre, “Why Do I Have to Make My Room” (Tricycle Press, 2011) was given a glowing and starred review by Publisher’s Weekly. 

Why Do I Have to Make My Bed? Or, A History of Messy Rooms
Wade Bradford, illus. by Johanna van der Sterre, Random/Tricycle, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58246-327-8
Why is it that, throughout the ages, kids’ chores are never considered complete unless they also make their beds? Bradford, a children’s playwright making his book debut, and van der Sterre (Feivel’s Flying Horses) have compiled a terrific people’s history, moving backward in time with generation after generation of child asking the titular question. “Me already clean cave!” says a prehistoric boy to his harried, leopard-skin clad mother. “Me hunt mammoth! Me dust stalagmites. Me make fire! Why me have to make bed? It just get messed up again!” But centuries of pleading have clearly done no good, because the irrefutable reply is always the same: “Because I said so.” While playing up the timelessness and universality of the human condition (at least as far as chores are concerned), the text and pictures underscore the evolving demands and trappings of domestic life. With its clever premise, keenly observed visual comedy, and easygoing pedagogy (an excellent afterword draws more directly on scholarship), this book deserves a place on the shelves next to the Magic School Bus series. Ages 4–7. (Feb.)

Coming in February 2011 from Tricycle Press

“The Months” on Anastasia Suen’s “Six Traits” blog

Prolific children’s writer Anastasia Suen’s blog “Six Traits” (Picture Book of the Day) has posted on my book “The Months” for her blogs’ weekly “Poetry Friday”. The post offers a couple of ideas on how the book can be used in lessons. Pretty cool!!

Something for your pocket?

So I had this outstanding invoice, the second and final payment on a book project for a medium-sized publishing house.  It was well past 90 days overdue.  My emails to the assigning editor were forwarded on the accounting department.  But I wasn’t gettting any response from the ‘accountant’ – my calls went unanswered, my emails not returned. 

Another week goes by and I decide I need to be a bit more proactive.  I call, and I call, and I call.  I leave messages with reception, I leave messages on the accountant’s voice mail, and I go ahead and phone the President and Publisher of the house and leave her a message detailing my frustrations.  A late-paying invoice, unfortunately, isn’t altogether uncommon these days, but the fact that I was being ignored was both unprofessional and annoying.  In addition to the call to the Publisher, I sent an email to eveyone I knew at the publishing house including the editorial director, the assigning editor, and the creative director.  Call it a cheap shot, but I let them know that I’d put that probing call into the Publisher.  I was, for the first time in my career, a bit worried I might not get paid….so I got serious.      

Less than an hour later I was contacted by both the accountatnt and the editorial director.  This entire publishing house is full of sweet, smart, and genuine people, but they’d dropped the ball with my invoice and my probing, and they excused themselves.   They tried to make it clear to me how they would fix things.  I’d be given a check number in two days.  And the check would release two days after that.  “What exactly has been the problem?,” I asked. 

The clearest response to my query was given to me by the Publisher of the house the next morning when she phoned to apologize for all the trouble.  I’d like to report on the highlights of this conversation because it helped me make sense out of everything I’d been hearing.  And it’s always helpful to know and understand the market news and how the trickle-down affects us…and our pockets. 

The Publisher detailed for me the history of AMS (Advanced Marketing Services), an entity that for over 20 years led the publishing industry in book wholesaling and distributing.  They were responsible for shipping over 100 million books each year.  AMS distributed books to the big box stores like Sam’s Club and Costco as well as Amazon to name a few.  The technology AMS harnessed was able to capture book sales at every location, allowing the book publishers to track books and book stock in real time – a real plus to the warehouses and book publishers as they maximized their profits.  AMS also captured a propreitary system called ACUPAK – which allowed them to handle less-than-full cartons of materials/books.  AMS serviced hundreds of publishers thoughout the US and abroad.

But executive corruption plagued AMS as early as 2003.  Their funding by Wells Fargo was pulled in 2007 and they filed bankruptcy.    Baker + Taylor, another big name in book publishing, bought the assets of AMS and formed BTMS in late 2007.  The sale agreement has been tricky as both companies are fighting to moderate their cash flow.  The details and paperwork are still being untangled – millions of dollars is held up in this quagmire.  The bigger publishers have had a much easier time stomaching the holdup of $$ while the mid-size and small publishers are hurting.  Random House is rumored to have 10 million dollars in assets held up this mess and the small publisher I was dealing with had “100’s of thousands of dollars” they were waiting on.  BTMS is decidedly confident that everyone WILL reclaim their book stock and money.  Definitely.  But the quesiton of WHEN remains uncertain.

(Please note here that I have indeed been paid by this publisher and I don’t have ‘overdue’ invoices out anywhere else – seems most if not all of the affected publishers are making it work, somehow.)  

The Publisher, making light of this tough time during which she sees her house struggling to make timely payments, optomistically went on about other current issues hurting bookmakers:

  • Changing labor laws in China directly affect our cost of printing.  The changes, speaking from a human standpoint, are for the BEST, obviously, but they will drive printing costs up.
  • Natural disaster and increasing oil prices drive printing costs up as well.  The Publisher suggested a 30% increase in printing costs in 60 days this spring alone. 
  • Decreasing sales and restructuring at Borders weakens the market: smaller sales = less demand. 

So what does this all mean for all of us?  And how can freelancers help themselves in this tough publishing climate? 

Well, the Publisher I was speaking with went on about how it would take innovation and creativity on behalf of the book publishers to look for and create books that ‘make sense’ in the current market.  Books, perhaps, that could work on many different levels – interfacing with web platforms and social networks, for instance.  And, yes, these sorts of books just might call for an illustrator(s) that have experience in all areas of this ‘interface.’  Illustrators for these concepts are likely to require not only digital submissions but vector art creation, basic knowledge of web development, animation, etc.  Are you all ready for that?   

I’ve spoken with some illustrators who ARE very excited about growth in this new direction.  It IS exciting, new, and different and several publishing houses are setting precedents with their new projects – check out Scholastic’s 39 Clues, and Harper Collin’s which is still gaining momentum.  There is plenty of artistic opportunity – albeit not altogether traditional artistic needs – in this emerging genre.  And that’s how I like to think of it, as a genre of children’s publishing.  

And welcoming this genre doesn’t mean that we’re closing the door on traditional picture books.  Just the other day my husband spoke to an editor at Harpers who said she was trying to bring back ‘the classics’ – whether in a new format with new illustrations or re-telling of the classics, either way, she thought kids were losing touch with those classic stories because of all the NEW licenced and branded characters they were being inundated with.  Hmmmm, what a concept!     

Additioanlly, in the past six months alone, I’ve seen a slew of new imprints make headlines – in the wake of the Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin merger, Allyn Johnston has started work on her own (as of yet unnamed) imprint at Simon & Schuster.  David Macaulay has been given his own collaborative “studio” with Roaring Brook Press.  Haper Collins has welcomed Donna Bray and Alessandra Balzar (from Hyperion) for a new imprint, “Balzar & Bray.”  And there’s more…Bowen Press (Brenda Bowen) at Harper Collins, growing lists for publishers like Sterling and FS&G.  This all means NEW titles and the need for picture book illustration.

The turbulence in children’s publishing – form AMS/BTMS to the restructuring, mergers, and layoffs we’ve seen over the past six months to a year (in both trade and educational publishing) – cannot be overlooked.  All combined, it IS making for a currently slow and uncertain market.  But what comes out of tough times – the new genres, the new topics of interest, revisiting how old stories are told – it’s all EXCITING.  And I encourage you all to embrace and think about this.  Let it fuel your work and your passion for this business. 

Optimistically Yours,



Related Article (and better written!) that was pointed out to me just minutes after my blog post:  Proof that like rhetoric is circling. 

Reflections Of…The Way Life Used To Be

After months of, hats, gloves, and snow covered streets followed by quite a chilly spring season, the long-awaited sizzle of summer is upon us here in Cleveland.  And I couldn’t be more pleased.

The air conditioning units are back in the windows.  The ceiling fans have been dusted and turned on.  A few of my planted seeds are actually sprouting, and outdoor home and garden improvements are currently being debated.   

This is “Year 2” for us in our first home; a petite Queen Anne Victorian built way back in 1897.  The house is generally in good shape but still needs a lot of love and attention.  Our ‘project’ list has gotten seriously long and we have become very good friends with our plumber.  The work is never-ending, a labor of love, and though it has tried my patience over and over again, the home stands for everything we believe in – family, integrity, history, creativity, hard work, doing it right, originality, the American dream.  

Proudly, the Tugeau 2 Agency operates from the 3rd floor office, and much to our delight (and the delight of others) the business of children’s books thematically agrees with our purple and red dollhouse-like home.  The office bathroom was originally a crinoline closet!   But it’s so hot that the wood sweats up here in the summertime.  Somewhere near the bottom of our house project list, we have made a note to ‘install a central air system’ which will likely cost a small fortune, so, for now, I stick a bulky AC unit in the office window and crank the cold air.  The unit emits a constant medium-to-high-level din and it will isolate me not only from the heat and humidity, but from the sounds of summer – the rustle of trees, the mowers and blowers preening the neighborhood, and kids screaming by on their bikes.  It’s sort of like a hotel room without the bed or cheesy art prints. 

Yesterday was our first real taste of summer – 89 degrees and soupy.  We had the air conditioner in the window and on full blast by 9:30am.  As I went about my day in the office, I was happy and comfortable in the cool air, but constantly fighting a sentimental urge.  There was something about the light, the heat, and the artificial coolness that made me yearn for a day from the past.   

I wanted to call my friends, meet on bikes at the corner, ride to the pool, enjoy hours on beach towels laid out on the concrete deck (kids weren’t allowed to use the lounge chairs) put on pink lip gloss and tons of coconut smelling tanning lotion, and read teeny bopper magazines in between swimming in the deep end a reading a few paragraphs our required summer reading (Pygmalion?).  And I wanted to spend some time spinning wildly and laughing on the carousel of the pool playground, next to the bike rack, while listening to the sounds of tennis being played on the nearby city courts.  I wanted to get back on our bikes, stop for a slice of Little Ceasar’s pizza, and shout nonchalant goodbyes to each girl as she rode in a different direction home.  I wanted to enter the back door of my family’s home, sunkissed and exhausted, hair still damp, go down into the cool cool basesment of my youth, plop down on the couch covered in thin worn gingham fabric and close my eyes.  No anxiety about project lists or resurfacing the driveway, no knowing the plumber’s phone number by heart, no seedlings to care for, no business to run, no work at all…only the quiet and peaceful end to a perfect summer’s day.

I came out of my daydream, though a bit reluctantly, and went back to paying our first-of-the-month bills with a smile.   

Welcome to Summer, everyone.  May it be filled with lots of enjoyable work and fond memories!



Knitting quietly…

I’ve been working on some mini-pieces. They are called ACEO’s, which stands for Artist Cards – Editions and Originals. The size is always 2.5 x 3.5. Here is one of my most recent pieces. I picture this particular  knitting doggie listening to (and sometimes looking up to watch a snippet of) the old TV show “Murder, She Wrote”. Do you get that mood from her, too?
Hope you enjoy!

Hello everyone!

Hello everyone! my name is Natalia.  I am one of the artists who Tugeau2 represents, and it’s great!. I live in Lima, Peru, with my boyfriend -who is photographer and graphic designer- we both workfreelance so we are always at home. I started working as illustrator when my painting studies at the Fine Arts School ended and instantly liked it!

Nicole asked me how my country was, so i’ll tell you a little. Peru as many countries in South America, has a mixture of Catholic and native culture. Most of the people are Catholic and we celebrate a lot of holidays related with that belief. About food, we love our traditional cuisine, is very particular and really diverse, it’s based on corn and several different kind of potatoes (we have a variety of over a thousand!) on the highlands and on fish all over the coastal cities. i particularly love the latter and use to go on summer vacation (january) to a city nearby where you can find a lot of fish based dishes. unfortunately this year my boyfriend and i had some health issues and had to spent that time at home, so we used those weeks to check some really nice illustrated books and such.

i’ll be sharing with you more details of my culture soon!

on the picture: my father had a brief trip to the U.S. about 3 weeks ago and brought me some wonderful books: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Pop-Up Book”, “Frida” by Ana Juan, “Wolves in the Walls” by Dave McKean and “The Wizard, The Ugly, and the Book of Shame” by Pablo Bernasconi … “The Night Eater” by Ana Juan never arrived!…oh, and he also brought me some acrylic inks that in Peru are almost impossible to find!. 🙂