Monday, November 21, 2011

Interview #14: Charise Mericle Harper

Today we are happy to share our recent conversation with author/illustrator Charise Harper (portrait by Gracie).  Charise is the creator of a gazillion books, including the "Fashion Kitty" series and the "Just Grace" series which we reviewed last year.  She has 5 (yes 5!) new books which came out in just the last 4 months alone.  We spoke with Mrs. Harper over Skype about one of these new releases "The Power of Cute."  Thanks for taking the time to visit with us, Mrs. Harper!

Dad:  Okay guys, tell us about "The Power of Cute."
Isaac (age 13):  It's about this baby superhero guy.
Elijah (age 6):  He's a little kid wearing a bear hat.  He met this big monster.  I love monsters.  They look cool.  The little kid wearing the hat was like "I'm not scared of you because I have a superpower!"  Then the monster was like, "Ha, ha, ha, you don't have a super power."
Lily (age 8):  The monster said, "Do you have super strength? Are you faster than a speeding train?"
Isaac:  The little superhero says, "I've got the power of cute!"  So he turned him into a baby monster.
Elijah:  The power of cuteness turns monsters into cute people.
Gracie (age 11):  After the monster gets shrunken and all cute, the kid takes him -- it doesn't say the kid's name, so I'm just going to call him "Bob" -- Bob takes the monster to a little house.  Cute little monster house!  There's a bunch of cute little monsters all over the place.
Elijah:  They dance!
Gracie:  This book has "lift the flaps."  So when you lift the lid of the house, it makes the little baby monsters dance.
Isaac:  You pull tabs and things happen.
Gracie:  There are flaps and spinners.  It's cute and interactive and funny.  And she is one of my favorite authors and illustrators.
Dad:  She's very diverse.
Gracie:  Charise Harper does graphic novels, lift the flap books, picture books, fact books, fiction books, chapter books.
Isaac:  I thought this book was funny.  I'm probably the only teenager who likes this book.
Dad:  I don't know... I like it, and I'm an old man.
Isaac:  It's good for little sisters and brothers.
Gracie:  It's super.

And now, here's our interview with Mrs. Charise Mericle Harper:

Dad:  It's nice to meet you!
Charise Harper:  Yeah, it's nice to meet you guys too!  So you read a lot of books, huh?
Gracie:  Oh yeah!
Dad:  And we've read a lot of your books lately.
Gracie:  All of them.
Isaac:  We have all your books spread across the floor right now.
Charise Harper:  That's great.  So you know all about my brain then, right?  It's a strange place.
Gracie:  We noticed that in your books you have all these patterns and bright colors.  You can't be like, "Here's a table... gonna color it brown."  Nope!  "Here's a table - it's got stripes on it!"
Charise Harper:  Yeah, I can't leave stuff alone.  That's the problem.
Isaac:  I don't think it's a problem.
Charise Harper:  I have to stop myself.  When I'm drawing, I want to fill up every little space with something.  It's really hard for me to leave white space.
Lily:  How did you decide what the monster in "The Power of Cute" was going to look like?
Dad:  Did you make a whole bunch of monsters and pick your favorite?
Charise Harper:  I didn't.  I had one monster that I drew over and over a bunch of times.  I knew at the end of the story he had to be cute.  So that determined how scary he was going to be at the beginning.  I couldn't make him super horribly scary.  Because then, even if he was small, he would still be just a small scary monster.  But I wanted him to be cute, so even at the beginning he had to have parts of his face that would look cute later on.
Dad:  So you work backwards sometimes.
Charise Harper:  I worked backwards.  And you know how the end of the book has all those other monsters, right?  Well, I like to sew stuff, as you know.
Gracie:  Oh yeah.
Charise Harper:  I really wanted to sew some monsters.  So I got some fabric, and made up all the monsters as I was sewing.  I sewed them first, and afterwards I drew them into the book.
Gracie:  The Power of Cute is a "flap" book.  What came first?  Did you think, "I want to make a flap book -- what should I make it about?"  Or did you think, "I'm going to make a book about this little cute guy -- maybe it should be a flap book."
Charise Harper:  That's a really good question.  I thought of both of those things together.  I wanted to do an interactive book because it's fun to figure out how all those pieces move.  I like to do stuff that's fun -- who doesn't!  And I did have a character that I had drawn a long, long time ago.  After holding things in your brain for a long time, finally the pieces come together.
Isaac:  That's a long process.  Where did you get the inspiration in the first place?  From seeing something?  Or from another book?
Charise Harper:  You know, I'd forgotten all about this story until just now when you asked that question!  I was trying to sell a different book.  I made this huge presentation to an editor who does lift the flap books.  I always try to make my packages look really interesting... like, wrap them up with string or add little things to make them more colorful.  I thought this package needed more color.  So I ripped out a comic I had done for a kid's magazine and put it in front of my proposal as a little bonus.  It was a one-page comic called "The Power of Cute."  When the phone call came, the editor said, "I'm really sorry... I don't think this book idea is right for us."  So I was disappointed.  Then two weeks went by, and she called me again.  She said, "You know that comic you sent me?  I taped it to the outside of my door because I really like it.  Everybody comes by and they really like it.  How would you like to make a book about that comic?"  And guess what I said?
Gracie:  Yes!
Charise Harper:  So that's the easiest book I ever sold!  And I sold it by not selling another book.
Gracie:  What was the other book you were trying to sell?
Charise Harper:  My gosh, do I even remember?  It was... a book about feelings.  Maybe I'll have to rework that one.
Dad:  Just put that in front of the submission for another presentation.
Charise Harper:  Exactly!  Just piggyback them all the time!  There's an idea.
Gracie:  In your different books, you have a whole bunch of superpowers.
Isaac:  Yeah, in the Power of Cute, the kid can turn things cute.  And Fashion Kitty has the Power of Fashion.
Gracie:  And "Just Grace" has Empathy Powers.
Charise Harper:  I'm obviously drawn to the superpower thing as a reoccurring theme, definitely.
Gracie:  But they are all, like, not usual powers.  Not like, "we can turn invisible" or "we have the power to fly."
Charise Harper:  Right.  They are unusual.  Unexpected superpowers.
Isaac:  Is there a special reason why you pick untypical superpowers to write about?
Charise Harper:  I...  I don't know.  I could probably go to therapy, and they could tell me why I do that.  I think I just like unusual things.  I like things that are expected, but in unexpected places.  Or things that are not expected, but in everyday places.  I like that mix of things.
Dad:  Do you have an example?
Charise Harper:  Like, if somebody made something cool out of a plain old cardboard box.  To me, that is as amazing as a fantastic painting.  Things that anybody could do, but done in an unexpected way.  So none of these superpowers in my books are huge.  Maybe somebody could have the power of Fashion.  It's just a little power... but it could change everything.
Lily:  Do you have a superpower?
Charise Harper:  Ha ha ha, no...  not yet.  I might!  But I haven't found it yet.
Gracie:  If you could have a not-so-typical superpower, what would you have?
Charise Harper:  You guys are asking super hard questions!  I think if I could have a power... a not-so-typical superpower... I would like to have the power to... be calm in situations that were emotionally stressful.
Dad:  Ahhh.
Charise Harper:  So, if someone came up to me and said something really mean...  Or if I read a terrible review of my book - which does happen - and they say, "We don't like your book, and we don't think you can draw very well, and I don't even know why you made this book."  If someone said that, I'd love the power to be like, "Huh. That's nice. That was their opinion..." and then be okay with it, and not get upset.
Gracie:  WHY would somebody say that?!?!?
Charise Harper:  People are allowed to say all sorts of things.  They have different opinions.  But I would like to have the superpower of not getting upset.  Calmness.
Dad:  So if you would like to get that power, does that mean you do not yet possess that ability currently?
Charise Harper:  No, ha ha ha ha!  I get kind of wound up.  But that would be a nice thing to strive for.
Gracie:  While I was reading your last Fashion Kitty book, I noticed it had fewer panels and pictures and has more words.  It wasn't as much like a graphic novel.  I was wondering why you made a switch?
Charise Harper:  Two reasons.  The first reason is because it takes a HUGE amount of time to make a graphic novel.
Isaac:  You have to make alllll those pictures.
Charise Harper:  Yes, and it takes forever to do.  I like doing it, but it takes a really long time.  Second, when I was looking back, I noticed that the first Fashion Kitty book was the skinniest and has the least amount of words.  The second Fashion Kitty book has more words, and the third has even MORE words.  So I thought... the first Fashion Kitty book would be pretty easy to read for someone just starting out.  And wouldn't it be cool if by the time they got to the fourth Fashion Kitty book, having taken all those steps, they would feel really confident, and they could be reading sections of a book.  So if I ever do a fifth Fashion Kitty, I wonder if I could make it into a whole chapter book without comics at all.
Dad:  So the series grows with the reader.
Charise Harper:  I think that might be kind of fun.
Dad:  So the 20th book in the series will be like a big textbook.
Charise Harper:  Yeah - like an encyclopedia, he he hah...  Or probably by then, there will be technology to just wire the stories into our brain.
Gracie:  I hope you don't mind me saying this, but I think I like the graphic novel Fashion Kitty best.
Charise Harper:  Can you tell me why?
Gracie:  It's not that I have trouble reading, but graphic novels are easier to read.  And I like that they have more pictures.
Dad:  These kids' favorite books are graphic novels anyway.  It may just be the format.
Charise Harper:  My daughter is exactly the same as you.  Graphic novels are her favorites too.
Dad:  When we go to the library, they head straight for the graphic novel section to see if there's anything new there.
Gracie:  And unfortunately, the graphic novel section isn't that big.
Charise Harper:  So you know what -- you guys asked me if I could have a superpower...  Can I tell another one?  If I could have a "job" superpower, it would be to draw graphic novels as fast as you guys can read them.  That would be the most amazing superpower ever.
Gracie:  You could be done with the whole book in an hour!
Charise Harper:  I love comics and graphic novels too.  They just take a long time to draw.
Dad:  Gracie, is Fashion Kitty your favorite of Mrs. Harper's characters?
Gracie:  My favorite is Just Grace.
Charise Harper:  Because you are Gracie.  Perfect.
Gracie:  "Just Grace" and I have a lot of similarities.  I have empathy powers like her.
Charise Harper:  Those are good powers to have.  And you are both very creative.  She likes to draw.
Gracie:  I like to sew too.  We also knew that you liked to sew.  So this morning I sewed something that I wanted to give to you.
Charise Harper:  Oh, my goodness, you made that today?!
Gracie:  Yeah.
Dad:  She was very hard at work all morning.
Charise Harper:  That's fabulous!  That is the coolest Fashion Kitty ever!
Gracie:  You can tell it's her?
Charise Harper:  She's adorable.  I can't believe you made that in one day!  That is so great.
Gracie:  I wanted to send it to you.
Charise Harper:  Seriously?  You are going to give it up?
Gracie:  Yeah!  I made it for you!
Charise Harper:  I would love to have it!  Thank-you.  That's so nice of you!  It's so good.
Dad:  I think we hit all the questions we had prepared.  Thanks for chatting with us!
Kids:  Yes, thank-you!
Dad:  We had fun talking with you!
Charise Harper:  It was nice to meet you!  Thank-you so much!  It was great!

super baby and the big monster, by Elijah

super baby makes a cute monster, by Isaac

showing off the power of cute, by Gracie

cute monsters, by Lily

Author/Illustrator: Charise Mericle Harper
"The Power of Cute" published 2011: Robin Corey Books
Like it?  Here it is



Ok, I don't know if authors are allowed to comment here, but I have to say that those drawings you did are amazing!!! You guys should be illustrating my books!
Fantastic job!
I'm inspired.
Thank you.


Alysa Stewart said...

Super cute interview! And I love Fashion Kitty, too!

Anonymous said...

What fun! I love her illustrations!

Anonymous said...

You guys did such a nice job with the interview! Great questions!

Brimful Curiosities said...

My daughter recently started reading and is very much enjoying the "Just Grace" series. Hadn't heard about the Fashion Kitty books. I'll have to look them up. I'm sure she would LOVE them. Gracie's Fashion Kitty is incredible! Superb sewing powers!

Heather Kelly said...

This is my favorite interview EVER! You guys are great, ask great questions, and really brought out Charise's personality, and so much detail about her books and style! I'm so impressed! you guys rock!

I can't wait to go back and read some more of your posts!

Thank you so much for making me love an artist who I had never even heard of before!

Great job!!

Linda Knoll said...

I love your interview format! So fun. And now I'm going to go check out Charise's books.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

I am inspired by you interview format. Also great interview

A Journey Illustrated said...

Wow! I've had a very difficult day and you just made it all go away. That's the best interview I've ever read/experienced. Thank you so much. I will be looking for these books. You all rock!

A Journey Illustrated said...

...AND the illustrations and sewn Fashion Kitty are phenomenal!

Playing by the book said...

I've just in the last couple of weeks discovered Charis Harper - one of her just Grace books has been shortlisted for a Cybils prize in the category for which I'm a second round judge. I'd never heard of her before (I don't know how many of her books, if any, are available through regular channels over here in the UK), so I came to her book completely fresh... and I LOVED it. I loved that the superpowers are unusual but real, they are super powers that really make a difference. So it's great to read your interview today, giving me some more background. I do hope her work becomes better known here in the UK.

:paula said...

My kids' reaction to the new Fashion Kitty was that they liked the more-text format. Just wanted to add a supportive note for Charise. Fashion Kitty #20 will have to come with its own wheelbarrow! :)