This month my Q&A is with Texas illustrator and author Beth Mills. Beth’s debut picture book, Ella McKeen, Kickball Queen, was published last month by Carolrhoda Books. School Library Journal summed up its review of the book by saying, “Emotions ring true in this relatable story. A good read-aloud choice to spark discussion.”
I’m giving away a copy of Ella McKeen, Kickball Queen to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want that winner to be you, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on October 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.
In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Beth Mills.
Chris: There’s an attention-getting, epic freakout at the center of Ella McKeen, Kickball Queen, but I think readers are also going be intrigued by something much lower-key: the ending, which has a sort of itchy, unresolved feeling, as things don’t get entirely squared away between Ella and her new kickball rival, Riya Patel.
Was that always how you envisioned concluding this story? Were you ever tempted — or pressured — to wrap things up a bit more neatly?
Part of my motivation was wanting Ella and Riya to stand out from the plethora of “enemies to friends” characters out there, but I also wanted to reflect real life. While there certainly are rivalries that grow into friendships, it generally takes more than one kickball game (and possibly more than one freakout) to get there. I wanted to leave some space for the reader to think about Ella and Riya’s relationship and imagine where they might go from there.
I was lucky enough that both my agent, Claire Easton, and my editor, Carol Hinz, liked my ending, so changing it was never brought up. I don’t think the story could end any other way — Ella and Rita are both way too competitive!
Chris: Readers of this Q&A may not know that in most picture books, typically on the copyright page, there’s a mention of the medium that the illustrator used. For Ella McKeen, Kickball Queen, it says, “The illustrations in this book were painted digitally.” What’s the appeal to you of working in digital media, and when do you prefer not to work digitally?
Beth: I work from home where I also have a two-year-old and a five-year-old, so I love the “pick it up and put it down easily” aspect of digital media; I don’t have to worry about dry times, mixing colors (and then matching that mix when I invariably run out of paint), cleaning brushes, or scanning and formatting final art. I can jump into a piece and do a little work in the small increments of time I might have during the day.
That said, I don’t like doing my preliminary sketches or character designs digitally. If I work on them digitally, I tend to get too locked into a concept too early. Honestly, I would love to go back to mostly traditional work – it’s what I did in art school, and I miss it a lot! I think there’s often something in my work that’s lost when I do everything digitally; the finished piece can look too slick to me. I am currently exploring a work process that combines digital and traditional tools and am excited with some of the effects I’m getting.