Today, it’s my great pleasure to be chatting with author-illustrator Cristina Lalli about her debut picture book, Nola’s Scribbles Save the Day, releasing from Page Street Kids on June 23rd, 2020.
Congratulations on your brand new book! Give us a taste of what Nola’s Scribbles Save the Day is all about.
My story follows young Nola, who loves to scribble and doodle in her own way to brighten her world with her imagination. Frustration comes when others around her don’t understand what she is doing and why. She struggles with the idea of whether to change her scribbles into something others can understand and appreciate, or to be true to her own self and celebrate her work just the way it is. She stumbles into a “big, boring blank” but in the process realizes that she is not alone in this dilemma. There are many other creators who have fallen into the same void. The only way out, they have all realized, is to collaborate with all of their own, unique ideas.
How did the idea of Nola’s Scribbles…come to you? What can you tell us about its journey to publication?
Nola’s Scribbles began as my own scribbles and a vague idea about a young girl and her difficulties with the creative process. You could say it’s semi-autobiographical. The initial concept began about 5 years ago, while I was living and working for a few years in the UK and completing the Masters of Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. It was an amazing program, but I felt inadequate compared to my peers, as it had been several years since I had been able to focus on honing my drawing skills. That struggle to find a balance between what I wanted to express, and how I was going to approach it, was my own parallel narrative.
From what age did you consider yourself an illustrator? A writer? What spurred you to pursue
this path professionally? What other fields have you worked in?
I knew from at least Kindergarten that I wanted to do something involving drawing, and I was often hand-making cards, poems, and little stories to give to my siblings or parents as gifts. I have taken a very winding path to where I am now, but I started my creative career straight out of college as a greeting card designer in Cleveland, Ohio. Following that, I volunteered in the U.S. Peace Corps in Tanzania, then worked various freelance design and illustration jobs upon returning home. I struggled with whether to continue in design or to follow my interest in education, leading me to New York to complete a masters and teaching fellows program at Teachers College, Columbia University and subsequently taught special education in New York City Public Schools, and then in London. It was there that I decided to finally take the risk of combining together my interest and experiences with education, literacy and my own creative pursuits to focus on writing and illustrating children’s books.
Can you describe a pivotal moment in your career? “The Call ”or “The Email” or whatever
moment you knew that your dreams were about to come true?
I think I had several “false alarms” as probably most authors and illustrators can tell you- I think it’s really rare that you get one call and then those dreams quickly come to fruition. But if you do, that’s great! For me, it’s been a long and slow road to publication, with many rejections or really promising interests that either faded away or didn’t get picked up in a publisher’s list for one reason or another. I was really excited when an agent approached me and we signed a contract, but then I didn’t renew after a year because we didn’t gel as well as I expected we would. I do, however, feel really grateful to have been able to send out my work to publishers and agents who were taking open and unagented submissions- this is how I was able to submit to Page Street Kids. I remember the thrilling feeling when I knew they were serious about taking a chance on me, and they patiently worked with me to get my first book to where it is
What subject matter do you like to write about/illustrate most?
I actually prefer to draw animals and nature scenes over human characters- I could ink this type of
stuff all day, but it was my idea of the “Scribbles” that was very persistent, and people really seemed to respond to- I think it’s relatable to most people who struggle with what they want to make and how to communicate it. In addition, whenever I get stressed out and don’t know what to draw or write, I make these almost meditative scribbles and doodles- so it lent itself perfectly to Nola’s character.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I have no typical days at the moment, as my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world 5 months ago, but it’s a joyous kind of upheaval. I’m still struggling with the balancing act of work plus baby and trying to squeeze in creative/work time, but I am finding inspiration in observing how she is already interacting with the world– and books! Early visual learning is fascinating to me, so I’m hoping to use this “research period” to inform some later work.
What feeds your creativity as an artist? Or helps you when you come up against that creative “block”?
All the walks, hikes, and coffee! I miss city living for the constant inspiration from overhearing a conversation on the subway, or observing interactions on the street- but living in Portland has offered me the kind of quiet, contemplative nature walks I’ve longed for since a kid. I’ve always been the kid who sometimes needed to sit in the backyard alone or talk to herself in the bathroom, just to get some time with her own imagination. I’m a daydreamer, basically.
What tips do you have for other creatives?
Persistence. I have to remind myself that there are no good days and bad days- just good minutes and bad minutes- just keep going and get really comfortable with rejection and “ghosting.” Also- patience, and this often means supplementary income while you’re getting your work off the ground.
Your dream of publishing your very first picture book is about to come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?
It is both an amazing and terrifying feeling- the idea of my work finally getting into the hands of children! What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t understand it? But that is exactly the lesson Nola is giving in the book. I’m just going to continue making what I feel I connected with as a child, or observe other children connecting with, and there will no doubt be some children out there who will relate.
A great philosophy to have! Will there be any promotional events where we can look forward to meeting you, Cristina?
So many author events and book launches have been cancelled due to the current pandemic. Help author-illustrator Cristina Lalli today by ordering her book at any of the links below.