Bird Meets Worm Interview
Tuesday, November 1, 2022
Super Star Interviews: Berrie Torgan-Randall
Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.
This month I'm pleased as apple cider punch to be catching up with the lovely author-illustrator-librarian, Berrie Torgan-Randall! Berrie's new graphic early reader series, Bella & Blue, launched this fall. She's always been passionate children's literature, which inspired her to become a children's librarian alongside pursuing children's book and freelance illustration work. She is also the Illustrator Coordinator for the Eastern PA SCBWI. You can enjoy more of Berrie's work here!
What a sweet pair!
Q: Your new early reader chapter book, Bella & Blue, just released this fall! (How exciting! Congratulations!) Give us the full scoop on this adorable new children’s book—from inspiration to words & pictures to publication.
A: Every Monday (sometimes Tuesday) I participate in a day of portfolio and dummy book marketing. Oftentimes I get a polite, “After careful review, your submission has not been selected...” or something along those lines. Then one day at the beginning of the pandemic, I got a “yes! I love your portfolio and let’s talk some more.”
Originally my editor, Michele McAvoy at Blue Bronco Books Jr., wanted me to write a story about a girl and her pet monkey. I don’t want to encourage kids to have monkeys as pets, so I proposed a story about a girl and a dog. Since this publisher is geared toward social emotional books, my character Bella suffers from anxiety. Her dog Blue and her grandmother Gigi, help her get through her most anxious times with love and humor. At first, Michele wanted me to use only black and white illustrations for this early reader graphic novel, but knowing kids like to have color in their books I convinced her to add a pop of blue. I chose a “Tiffany Box” blue because good things come in blue boxes from Tiffanys.
The story has changed a lot for the better with editing and brainstorming with my editor’s help. We made Bella’s grandmother more lively with her love of anything French and hats, made Bella get anxious then calms down with Blue’s help (he plays patty cake with her when she is sad), and made Bella come up with her own fun solutions when things don’t always go as planned.
(Psst! You can order your very own copy here:)
The story begin!
Q: You are a professional children’s librarian! (Fun fact: my mom was, too!) Dish with us a bit about how your experiences as a librarian have influenced your path to writing and illustrating children’s books.
A: My mom, who is also a librarian, would take my sisters and me to the library in Riverton, NJ at least once a week. In the library I would admire the illustrations and read about distant worlds. The books I enjoyed took me along the banks of the Charles River to ride a swan boat and through a magic wardrobe to meet a talking lion named Aslan. After working odd jobs after art school that weren’t very gratifying, I reconsidered my career options and remembered the joy of my time spent in the library. I went to grad school to become a librarian.
I love being a librarian, however, my true passion is illustrating and writing children’s books. With hope in my heart, I started attending conferences to achieve my dream of illustrating books for children. When I began, I would shyly present my portfolio. The other illustrators intimidated me. They were published and had beautiful portfolios and websites! Despite my own fears, my family encouraged me to continue, and my husband suggested that I be inspired, not intimidated. Also an artist friend told me after receiving many rejections that every time you get a rejection it is only that person’s opinion and to keep trying because art is subjective.
Dance party! Hooray!
Q: What are your top 3 most beloved children’s books? Why?
A: If I can only choose three…
Growing up I really enjoyed Harry and the Dirty Dog books by Gene Zion and Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham. Harry was so funny and relatable. I loved how Harry doesn’t want to take a bath—a situation very similar to a kid’s perspective and that the family didn’t recognize Harry when he was dirty. The kicker comes at the end when Harry is seen burying the scrub brush so he never has to take another bath.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Illustrated by Patrice Barton is a book that really got to me. Even though I was tall for my age (5’8” by sixth grade) I felt invisible. I had a hard time fitting in at school because I was not one of the super smart kids or athletic and was super shy. But like Brian in the story, I had a wild imagination and I could express my feelings through my drawings. Patrice’s illustrations of black and white invisible Brian are stark and stunning then turn colorful and lively when he finds friends.
I really love all the Mother Bruce stories by Ryan T. Higgins. Bruce the Bear would rather be left alone and eat eggs until one day his goose eggs hatch and the goslings think he is their mother. I know a few friends and family members like Bruce who didn’t appreciate children until they met a child or children who changed their minds about being parents. Ryan’s illustrations are rich and expressive and also have a cartoony style that is very relatable to kids and their adult readers.
Getting creative & crafty together!
Q: From your perspective as both a librarian and as an author-illustrator, what advice would you give fellow kid lit creators about: A) doing book events with libraries, B) how to engage with their community, and C) how to create a must-buy book for the library market.
A: Librarians are very knowledgeable about their collections and want to be asked, “Can you help me find a book about…” Librarians would love for you to come and read to a group of children—it’s a great way to practice for school visits. It’s important to reach out to librarians and libraries to let them know about your book. If you are enthusiastic about your book, that enthusiasm can be contagious motivating librarians to recommend your book to other libraries and patrons. Many libraries have book fairs, and you know how much work it took to make your book, so go promote it so that you can share it with the world. I’m happily busy attending many book fairs this fall.
Q: What adventures are next for Bella & Blue?
A: The plan with Bella & Blue is to make it into a series so there are more adventures to come for these adorable characters.
Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.
A: Going on a hike with my family during the fall or winter months. I love the cool crisp air during these seasons. Coming home to a home-cooked meal and warming my toes by the fire while I’m wrapped in a down comforter and reading a good book. Oh, and something chocolate for dessert.
Thank you, Berrie, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congratulations on Bella & Blue!