I am thrilled to have children’s book author and illustrator Mary Zisk to talk about her debut middle grade novel THE ART OF BEING REMMY. I had the pleasure of reading this delightful time travel adventure back to 1965 and will share my review at the end of this post.
Mary will talk about the art she created for the book and her inspiration for writing it. Here’s Mary:
The Art Behind The Art of Being Remmy
The most exciting event of my junior high life inspired my new middle grade novel, The Art of Being Remmy. When I was 13, I won a Draw-the-Beatles contest and tickets to a Beatles concert. The BEATLES! My best friend and I could barely hear the Fab Four singing with all the screaming, but the event was electric and so memorable.
When I decided to write my novel, I used the pride and thrill I had felt from winning the contest to mold my main character, Remmy Rinaldi—a twelve-year-old girl who dreams of being an artist in spite of the objections from her father, the rivalry with a knucklehead boy, and the possibility of losing her best friend to a rat fink. I also reconnected with the remembrance that there were unwritten rules keeping girls in their place in the mid-sixties—sports are for boys, limited career options with the preferred being homemaker, dress codes, etc.
During draft number six, I came to a realization: how can I write a novel called The Art of Being Remmy and not have any art in it? I first drew an illustration that helped me define the premise of the book and create a possible visual direction.
As I continued rewriting drafts, I drew more cartoons—Remmy’s Wow Wall, best friend Debbie’s bedroom with matching canopy twin beds, and Suzanne The Rat Fink.
But as my text drafts got deeper into Remmy’s emotions, I put myself in her place and felt that any artwork in the novel would be most meaningful and impactful if Remmy did all the illustrations from her point of view in her Super Secret Sketchbook—like illustrating in first person, instead of third person.
But what if readers of illustrated or graphic novels expected to see Remmy and all the characters acting out the narrative in scenes? I could be taking a big risk. As an experiment, I illustrated Remmy’s dream of the Beatles in NYC, influenced by her favorite painting, The Starry Night, by Vincent Van Gogh. Creating that illustration felt so right and natural to Remmy’s inner feelings and to my artistic process, I knew that was the direction I had to take.
I continued by doing a full-page illustration for each of the 35 chapters of the book (plus a small spot illustration for each chapter opening).
It has taken nine years to bring Remmy out into the world. I hope her story will now entertain middle grade girls as well as give them inspiration and feelings of empowerment as they create their own life journeys. Follow your Spark!
Mary Zisk is a graphic designer (mostly of magazines), an author/illustrator, and an artist with a passion for capturing foreign destinations in watercolor. She is the author and illustrator of the picture book, The Best Single Mom in the World: How I Was Adopted, and the illustrated middle grade novel, The Art of Being Remmy. Mary lives in New Jersey with her daughter and four white fluffy rescue mutts.
As promised, here is my (Darlene’s) review for THE ART OF BEING REMMY:
The Art Of Being Remmy by Mary Zisk is a delightful time travel trip back to 1965 when the Beatles reigned supreme. Remmy Rinaldi and her best friend Debbie ADORE all things Beatles and make a plan to one day meet their idols. Remmy also loves art and has a second secret plan to develop her Spark as an artist, even though it means going against her father’s wishes. Girls in the 1960’s need to know their place and follow the path men have set for them. A path that includes being housewives, mothers, maybe teachers, nurses , secretaries or stewardesses. But artists? NEVER!
Remmy is determined to prove her father and everyone else – including her once friend Bill – that she can be a great artist. Good enough to win a contest. She keeps her drawings in Super Secret Sketchbooks and earns her own money to take painting lessons so she can enter the Art Awards Contest.
Lots of challenges get in the way of Remmy’s plan, including problems with her best friend and a devious French Rat Fink. Along the bumpy road of 7th grade, Remmy learns that some rules are worth challenging and fairness for girls in all aspects of life is one of them.
This illustrated middle grade book is a funny and charming peek into the days when the Beatles took the world by storm and the force of female protest was at their heels. An entertaining read that celebrates creativity and girl power.