Word Play, Bird Play with Author and Illustrator Bethanie Murguia

Bethanie Murguia is an award winning author and illustrator of a number of children's books. Her latest book, "Cockatoo, Too," comes out this week. "Cockatoo, Too" received a starred review from Kirkus, is an Indie Next Pick for Winter 2016, and is on the January best books of the month lists from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Join Bethanie at DIESEL, A Bookstore in Larkspur on Saturday, January 9th at 11 am as she reads her latest story. Enjoy crafts, costumes, snacks, as well as an elementary ukulele band singalong, and a live cockatoo that will delight children!  I am extremely excited to share an exclusive interview with best selling author, Bethanie Murguia.

Tell me a little about yourself and your journey as an author.

I grew up outside Rochester, New York. I graduated with a psychology degree and moved to New York City. However, I always had a pull towards writing and illustration, and after working in publishing and graphic design for a few years, I enrolled into the illustration program at the School of Visual Arts. It focused on both writing and illustration and helping students to find their own personal viewpoints. I realize now how important that was—even if you have all the technical skills in the world, if you don't know what you want to say, it doesn't matter. I eventually moved to Sausalito in 1999.

Did you know what your voice was back then? 

No! I hadn't figured that out. It began to crystallize when I had my first child. I started reading picture books to her every day, and that's when I realized that I had stories to tell. One of the many gifts of becoming a parent is being able to see the world through someone else's eyes. 

What gave you the confidence to take that leap?

I have always loved making books. From the youngest age, I was taping pages together. Then, when my first daughter was born, I stopped working full time. I was reading books to her, and that experience of reading aloud gave me a whole new understanding of how picture books work. It was my second graduate school. 

Your most recent book, "Cockatoo, Too,” is due out on shelves this week. Can you briefly tell me about it?

'Cockatoo, Too' uses only the sounds in the words 'toucan' and 'cockatoo' to tell a simple story. It's filled with wacky dancing birds and wordplay.

What was the genesis of the book?

I was working on illustrations for another book that's also coming out this month (Violet and Victor Write the Most Fabulous Fairy Tale). It was late, I was scanning images of cockatoos, and when I named the second cockatoo scan, "cockatoo, too",  it made me laugh. I saw the possibilities for wordplay with "cockatoo" and the many forms of to-two-too. I enjoyed working with limited parameters; it was like a puzzle. 

It's a very clever story.

I love picture books where both words and images are integral to the story. When read aloud, the words on their own are almost nonsensical, but when combined with the images, the simple narrative unfolds. 

Word play is so important to learning language. Language is meant to communicate, but at the other end of the spectrum, language is totally absurd. It's just sounds—sometimes sounds are silly and sometimes one sound has multiple meanings. That's what makes jokes, tongue twisters, and playing with homonyms fun. And when we learn to play with words, language and reading and writing all become sources of pleasure.

Did you ever meet a children's author that inspired you?

Yes, I've met many. At the School of Visual Arts, I was very lucky to have the award winning children's author and illustrator, Peter Sís, as my thesis advisor. I was able to go to his studio, see his books in progress, and ask him questions. Even though I was still finding my way, he always encouraged me and introduced me to editors. 

What advice would you give to others interested in writing children's books? 

1. It's important to look at the differences in picture books from 20 years ago. The word count has dropped drastically. Familiarize yourself with what is being published now. 

2. Just sit down and write. Don't worry about what comes out, because you can always revise a draft. 

3. Join SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), the professional writers and illustrators organization for children. They have chapters all over the world, hold fantastic conferences, and have great resources online. In SCBWI, you'll learn the nuts and bolts of the publishing world, the submission process, and meet editors and industry professionals. 

4. Form a writers group. My group meets monthly. We're all accountable to each other. We critique each other's stories. The simple act of reading out loud to other people always helps me to recognize the weaknesses in my drafts. 

Bethanie Murguia is an award winning author of many celebrated children's books. Her latest book, Cockatoo, Too, is out on shelves now. Join Bethanie on Saturday, January 9th at 11 am at DIESEL, A Bookstore in Larkspur, to celebrate the launch of her new picture book. For more information, visit Bethanie on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Other Bay Area appearances include:

January 23 - 24, Children's Picture Book Writers & Illustrators Conference, Book Passage (Adult event) 
February 3, Books, Inc., San Francisco (Children's event)
February 7, Book Passage (Children's event)