It's hard to believe that one month from tomorrow (April 4th) my next picture book, IF I WERE A KANGAROO will be in stores! It seems like yesterday that I was researching sleepy baby animals, such as otters, bats, and wolf spiders.

Earlier this week, generous kidlit ambassador Mr. Schu (Mr. Schu Reads) premiered the trailer I made (also seen above), and shared an interview between author Mylisa Larsen and myself. The two of us have yet to meet in person, but this virtual meeting was a terrific way to start. You can read the interview here. We talk a bit about our creative processes, and I shared my most hilarious bit of art direction, ever.

If you'd like to pre-order a copy of IF I WERE A KANGAROO, click here, or here. It arrives in time for Easter, Passover, and Mothers Day! Nudge, nudge, wink, wink...

Cocktails to Wring Out 2016

To say that 2016 was a difficult year for a lot of us is perhaps the understatement of the year. What better way to ring in the new and wring out the old than with some custom-made cocktails? Here are a few of my suggestions. Click on the images below for all 5 "recipes."

You Are Not a Cat! is an Undies Finalist

UPDATE: YOU ARE NOT A CAT! won an Undies Award in the "Best Cliff's Notes Version". Thanks to everyone who voted! Check out the other winners here.

Several months ago, librarians extraordinaire, Carter Higgins and Travis Jonker, decided that case covers—the oft-hidden jewels of art found underneath book jackets—deserved greater attention. In a stroke of creative brilliance, they created The Undies Case Cover Awards and asked creators and fans of children's books to nominate their favorites. I'm thrilled to share that YOU ARE NOT A CAT! is a finalist in the "Best Cliff's Notes" category, and is listed among some of my favorite picture books of the year. If you're curious for more information, and to cast your vote for your favorites, you can do so until 5pm on Monday, November 28, 2016. Just click here for a ballot.


You Are Not a Cat! You Are a Book Trailer!

I love making book trailers. I say that knowing that some people simply hate them—and truth be told—there are some really bad ones out there. But in the bookmaking process, they’ve become a great way for me to exercise different problem-solving and story-telling muscles, and serve my upcoming books.

Anyone who has written or illustrated a book recognizes the time it takes between pen-first-to-paper to bound book seems endless. Working on something so intensely over a long period of time is exhilarating, but also exhausting. You are worn out toward the end of the process—then you realize that is actually part of the process. You turn in final art, get some proofs, discuss a couple more things with your publisher, and then you wait. And you wait. And you wait some more, until one day, several months before the book releases, you get an advance copy. If you’re like me, at this stage you think, “Hey, I really had fun with this, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.” But then…you remember, you have to wait some more. While I’m in this last part of the waiting phase, is when I’m ready to dive into a book trailer.

There are several reasons why I enjoy making trailers. On a personal level, I get to revisit work that I might have been beating myself up about a year ago, and now realize—fingers crossed—is pretty good. I can see that perfectionist in me did her job, and if she didn’t, I learn how to do it better going forward. Because I’m trying to reinterpret the content of the book for a trailer, I start to look at it from a different angle. In short, I’ve got fresh eyes even with something I was involved in so intently, and can now see it clearly since time has provided some distance.

I also love sharing stories through my limited capabilities as an animator—emphasis on limited. I made my first trailer using iMovie, only to realize, that it wasn’t good enough for me—so I redid the entire thing in After Effects. By that I mean, I had to teach myself how to use After Effects—within limits, of course. Luckily, there are a bunch of great tutorials and forums online that got me through. Maybe this means I’m a dabbler, but I know I only have so much time to devote to trailer-making.

I got my start in children’s publishing a few decades ago as a designer in the Marketing Design Department of a major New York house. It was a terrific gig creating promotional materials, back when there was a little more money to throw around on such things. This was also the era of web 1.0, so needless to say we weren’t doing much with video or animation. But I did observe a lot of smart people, and see how great marketing works. As with social media today, if I can nimbly draw a little more attention to my books through a trailer, that’s a good thing.

Back to those limited animation skills—for me, part of the problem-solving in making a trailer is showcasing a book through what I can do, rather than what I can’t. I’m still pushing myself to learn new skills, and I’m surprised at how much new stuff I can incorporate each time I make one. That may be the biggest payoff personally in the long run. I’ve always loved visual problem-solving, and my career as a graphic designer—now as an illustrator—are natural extensions of that.

I really thought (and maybe you did too!) this post was going to be about the making of one trailer in particular, for my newest collaboration, YOU ARE NOT A CAT, written by the wonderful Sharon G. Flake, to be published October 4th by Boyds Mills Press. So here’s a bit of my process…

First, I reread the book several times, since it may have been many months since I’ve done so. Then I sit around and think…a lot. Then I take walks and think. I choose touchstones within the book that I want to be sure to hit: what’s clear, eliminate what’s too complicated, etc., In short, find what conveys the story without giving it away. With YOU ARE NOT A CAT, the plot centers on a conversation between the two characters, Duck and Cat who aren’t seeing eye to eye.

I sketched out a bunch of thumbnails and wrote down a bit of the text to see how much dialogue should to be included. The more I thought about it and sketched out a few scenarios, the more I realized this trailer could be very concise and still convey the humor of the characters’ relationship. I realized it should be made up of four parts: an introduction of Duck, an introduction of Cat and their conflict, then Duck just not really caring, and zoom—here’s the book. That’s it. 

AnnaRaff_NotACat-trailer stage.png

Then I went into Photoshop to adapt my art and create a stage for Duck and Cat. I started by setting up a pastoral background, as is seen throughout the book, and created a simple animation in After Effects of clouds passing by. I did the same for the two characters and their exchange, and added the final sequence with information about the book.

Around midway through my brainstorming process, I start to research royalty-free music and, if needed, sound effects. I find music really helps me with pacing and animation details. It also sets a mood as I tie up all the pesky animation details. While I finish, I play the music on loop (as long as I can stand it) to keep me in the same groove.

So here’s the finished trailer, and guess what? I really am a dabbler!

If you’d like to check out some of my others, here’s a link. Thanks for reading, and if you’d like to get a copy of the book, click here.


If I Were a Kangaroo Cover

Ta-dah! I'm pleased to share the cover of my first collaboration with the lovely folks at Viking Children's Books, If You Were a Kangaroo: A Bedtime Tale, written by Mylisa Larsen. It's due out in early April 2017, just in time for Mother's Day, and is now available for pre-order

This was a really fun book to illustrate, and gave me a chance to paint a whole slew of animals getting into sleepytime mode. I look forward to sharing images from the interior in a few months. A big thanks to Editor Tracy Gates and Art Director Denise Cronin for thinking of me for this one!