“Bee-Wigged” is at the top of my wonderfully crazy picture books of the year list. About a bee who wears a toupee and is mistaken for a boy, “Bee-Wigged” is a funny, well executed tale about first impressions and being yourself. Author/Illustrator Cece Bell was kind enough to stop by and take part in the 100 Scope Notes “5 Questions With…” series.
Scope Notes: On the flap for “Bee-Wigged”, you explain that the story owes much to your childhood. Did you set out to write about “seeing beyond the weirdness” of others, or did the idea of a bee who’s mistaken for a boy come first and remind you of those past experiences?
Cece Bell: Actually, the idea came first, and it wasn’t until I showed the proofs to a good friend of mine, that I realized that the story was a bit autobiographical. My friend (Kelli, the one to whom the book is dedicated) read it and said, “Jerry Bee is YOU!” And when I re-read it, I realized she was more than right. But really, I like to think that everybody has some Jerry Bee in them, though, because just about everybody has some element of weirdness to them (a good thing), but still yearns to belong.
SN: I recently heard an interview with Lauren Child where she explains that writing a kid’s book is akin to writing haiku. Do you find the restrictions of writing picture books (short sentences, few words, limited vocabulary) difficult?
CB: First let me say that Lauren Child is A+ in my book. I love her writing and her pictures. My kids love her books, and so do I.
Sometimes I find the restrictions of picture book writing difficult. In my earlier drafts of any given book, I tend to go off a bit on wordy tangents, and use words or expressions that are a bit too adult. Luckily my husband, Tom Angleberger (you know him as Sam Riddleburger, author of The QwikPick Adventure Society
) is a terrific editor and helps me streamline and fine-tune some things. However, when faced with the task of writing something longer, like a novel, I cringe. I really enjoy the the economy of the picture book. The limitations really free up the creativity.
SN: You are also the author and illustrator of the “Sock Monkey” books. What are the pros and cons of writing/illustrating a series?
: Well, one of the main pros for me is that your color palette stays the same throughout a series. And I really struggle with color, with finding the right colors for a book. I really pull my hair out over color, it baffles me so much. I really wish I understood it better! (Coincidentally, the Sock Monkey palette is closely based on the deck of cards from the Milles Bornes
French card game. Awesome!) Another pro is I enjoy trying to get each book to fit a bit of a pattern, story-telling wise.
The main con is that it is sometimes difficult to keep the stories fresh. Hopefully I’ve done that.
SN: You find the following message in a fortune cookie: “You may pick one children’s book written by someone else to claim as your own.” Which book do you choose?
CB: Oooooh, that’s the hardest question in the world. It’s tempting to pick something that has done outrageously well, like the Mo Willems books (which are also A+). But just for sheer quality and beauty and fantastic writing, I will have to go with my old favorite, Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen. That book is an absolute work of art and is totally transcendent in every way. I wish I had the Provensens’ ability to create something so emotionally affecting, but I guess my mind is genetically wired to be goofy.
SN: Are you a “create as you go” author, one idea at a time, or do you have a stockpile of ideas that you hammer away at? This is also known as my “what are you working on?” question.
CB: I think I do a bit of both. I keep a big ol’ pile of ideas on slips of paper in my desk, and I go through them often as I’m thinking up new books. But when I’ve finally figured out a story from all the slips of paper, I generally focus on just that one book. Right now I am focusing on just one book — working up the dummy to send out. And I’ve got three other potential books “out there,” waiting for news, hopefully good. We’ll see!
SN: Thanks, I’ll be looking forward to your work in the future.
CB: Thank YOU! And while you’re enjoying Bee-Wigged, start thinking about Itty Bitty, out in June 2009, from Candlewick Press. It’s my attempt to write something a little less goofy, a little more Provensen-style sweet.
Many thanks to Cece Bell for taking the time to discuss her work. Look for more “5 Questions With…” in the future.
Check out Cece’s other blog tour stops: