Today’s Book Birthday celebration is for EMET’S BOX: A Colorful Story About Following Your Heart, by #debut author/illustrator Jeni Chen (Little Press / 4.1.22). LOOK at this gorgeous cover!
Award-winning #kidlit author Danna Smith
gives EMET’S BOX Five Stars:
Cheers to INSPIRATION and CREATIVITY
After her son was born, Jeni Chen says she was inspired by how EXCITED he is about living life. Chen created EMET’S BOX because, “He inspired me to pick up my brushes and started drawing and painting again. Working with children has also reaffirmed my belief that kids are born creative. They all have this spark, brilliance or light radiating from them.”
We’re excited to ask Jeni some questions!
Q 1. Since you are the author/illustrator of EMET’S BOX, and everyone’s creative process is different, which came first—the story or the illustrations?
Jeni Chen: Hello Erin, thank you for having me here. Great question! My first reaction was that the story came first but thinking back, I remember seeing in my mind a little boy in a turquoise colored shirt with white stripes and he likes colors so much that he would wear a different color shirt every day. I asked my publisher if I could change Emet’s shirt throughout the book but we limited that to a minimum for clarity’s sake.
Discoveries & Challenges
Q 2. What was one of the most surprising discoveries you made in creating EMET’S BOX?
Jeni Chen: IT IS A LOT OF WORK! I changed the direction of my story so many times that I almost gave up at one point. I thought I could finish the illustrations for my dummy book in a couple of weeks but it took me six months. Thankfully, my publisher gave me enough time (12 months) to finish my final illustrations. It’s definitely more work than I’ve expected but it’s a labor of love.
Q 3. Do you have a favorite spread –or one that was most challenging?
Jeni Chen: Oh, I have several favorite spreads! (Laugh) I really like the one with a bunch of kids in the classroom. Some of the kids were based on my son’s classmates and I tried to incorporate kids with different ethnicity. I posted this spread on Instagram and just the other day, a person pointed out that he saw a Punjabi kid in the illustration and he’s Punjabi too. It’s a joyful spread and I am glad to learn that someone else is enjoying it too.
Q 4. On your blog, you share a helpful Book Launch check list. Since this is your debut picture book, what are three key tips you highly recommend for others just learning about the marketing side of things?
Jeni Chen: There are so many moving parts to publishing a book. I don’t know how my publisher does it. Writing that checklist is a way for me to get clarity on what to do next.
I am no expert at book marketing but I tell myself that if I can inspire one kid then it’s worth it. Sharing my book with more children is my motivation to get the book out there. I am just telling everyone I know and come into contact with about Emet’s Box!
How to GET Started!
(Yes, YOU, pre-published friends.)
Q 5. Any tips for those who say, “I’m going to write a book someday.” but can’t seem to get started? What was the catalyst for you that began the process which resulted in EMET’S BOX?
Jeni Chen: That’s a great question!
Step 1: TAKE A CLASS.
Jeni Chen: I had the idea for Emet’s Box in 2016 but didn’t work on it until I took a picture book illustration class at a local university in 2018. The first critique I got for the manuscript was in that class.
Step 2: JOIN SCBWI
Jeni Chen: The teacher also told us about SCBWI and I joined our local meetings with a classmate who’s also working on her picture book.
Step 3: ATTEND AN SCBWI CONFERENCE
Jeni Chen: Then we decided to go to one of the big SCBWI conferences in the coming year (2019) and we had to come up with something to show at the conference. Setting a deadline like showing our work at a SCBWI conference definitely gave me the motivation to do the work. Taking the class and joining SCBWI enabled me to meet other like-minded people. I couldn’t have done it without the encouragement of my kidlit friends!
Step 4: DON’T GIVE UP!*
*See Jeni’s answer to Q 2.
Q 6. What have the young artists you work with, as a teacher in community arts programs, taught you about the creative process?
Jeni Chen: What I’ve learned is that we were all born creative! In my art classes, I tried to give the kids a general direction but not telling them exactly what to do. (This was the influence of one of my art teachers.) I really enjoy seeing all the different artworks the kids came up with themselves.
Jeni Chen: I’ve also learned that there are different approaches to the creative process.
- Some children need more detailed directions.
- Some will just go on their own and create things the way they wanted to.
I am trying to find a balance between saying enough and not enough. In addition, some kids may like painting more than drawing, so I am trying to give them a taste of different modes of creating. Sometimes I invite performance artists to give the kids more experience.
We are ALL creative.
Q 7. How does your previous job as a research scientist influence your creative process (besides the incredible chart you created to help with your social media plan!)?
Jeni Chen: (Laugh) We had to write everything down in our lab books so we could repeat the experiment.
I think we are all creative in our own unique way. Creativity is not limited to the arts. Many of the scientists I worked with were very creative. One of them compared doing experiment with cooking: you try different ingredients and see what comes up.
I think an important ingredient to creativity is passion. If you love something, you are more open to new ideas, more willing to try different things and making mistakes or failing are not going to stop you from doing what you love.
Q 8. What do you hope readers–young and old–will take away from EMET’S BOX?
Jeni Chen: My hope with Emet’s Box is that the grown-ups can encourage this creativity and aliveness in children. And for kids, I hope they will always hold on to this spark of brilliance that they were born with. But even if they lose it like me or Emet, that’s okay, as long as they look for it again.
Happy debut picture book Birthday, Jeni Chen!
Want to learn more about Jeni Chen and her work?
Check out her website: JeniChen.com
and follow her on social media–
and FB: JeniChenArt
*BONUS: To read the full story of how Jeni Chen came to write EMET’S BOX, see this blog post.