Shelley Johannes is the author-illustrator of the Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker chapter-book series. A former architectural designer, she has a fondness for tracing paper, process, and accidental discoveries. She and her family live in Michigan with two feathered friends, Max and Alex, who make every day sunny and birdy. More Than Sunny is her debut picture book.
Hi Shelley! I love how you describe all sorts of weather days in your new picture book More than Sunny, so I just couldn’t pass up a chance to share Rain Day with you! Rainy days have their own special fun, and you certainly celebrate that in your book! Of course, when the sun comes out, rainy days also bring rainbows – those beautiful symbols of optimism, something we can all use every day and which shines on every page of More than Sunny. Can you talk about what inspired the story?
Thank you, Kathy! And thank you so much for having me here today. Optimism is always in season, but metaphorical sunshine definitely feels even more precious these days.
More Than Sunny was inspired by my son Matthew and a first-grade weather project. I’d viewed his daily weather chart—the kind with columns for sunny, cloudy, rainy, windy, snowy—as a mundane task to check off our list, but on the first day, he looked outside and enthusiastically declared, “It’s sunny and birdy today!” When he called the next day “windy and squirrelly”, I knew it had to become a book someday. He turned a routine assignment into something fresh and exciting, and made me pay attention to the beauty I’d forgotten to see. That’s always book-worthy.
In More than Sunny, you describe days with nuances that delight in everything a day can possess. Using your story structure, what would your favorite day have been as a child? How about now as an adult?
I love this question! As a kid, I loved rainy days, and any excuse to curl up with my dog and our special Rainy Day Art Book. So maybe I’d say . . . Dreary and Doggy were my favorite kind of days back then. Rain is so relaxing.
As an adult, it’s a tough call between Springy and Birdy (because May is the most cheerful month, and we are huge bird nerds around here) and Autumn and Squirrelly (because the crisp, colorfulness of fall makes me happy, and we’re huge squirrel nerds too!).
Before writing children’s books, you worked as an architect. Can you talk about that a little? Do you think being an architect influences your writing and art in any way? If so, how?
There was a time I felt bad about my winding path to making books. I felt bad that I didn’t have the guts to go after my dreams sooner. But these days, I’m so grateful for each part of my life and how it shaped me into the person I am today. My years in architecture helped me find my voice and gain the courage to use it. I also learned so much about my love for creative process and collaboration, and the type of people who inspire me. The desire to create, and to make something meaningful, is the motivational underpinning of both fields, so the transition to books felt very natural. The process of designing a building and building a story are surprisingly similar.
There’s also a direct connection in the way I work. I fell in love with tracing paper and felt-tip pens in my early days in architecture, and I’ve only fallen more in love as time passes. I’ve always loved how a loose sketch or a stray line can capture an idea on paper, and that wonder continues to bring me joy in new ways.
Your son Nolan narrates your wonderful book trailer and his pride and love for you and the More than Sunny really shine through. How great is it to share your writing journey with your kids?
Aw, thank you! We loved making that trailer together! And it was so special to capture his sweet voice just before it shifts into a grown-up one. It’s been so wonderful to share each step of the journey with my kids. I first realized I wanted to make picture books while reading to them as toddlers. They’ve been there for all the ups and downs and in-betweens of the creative process ever since, and enjoyed LOTS of celebratory pizza along the way! So much of each them—and they joy they bring into my life— is woven into everything I make. They inspire so many book moments, and are my most treasured critics and art buddies. I hope being part of this process empowers them to go after all the things they dream of doing, too!
What was your favorite place to read (or write or draw) as a child? What is your favorite place now and why?
As a kid, I loved to read and draw in the quiet privacy of my room, because it was personal and I was shy. These days, I like to mix things up. I write best in a crowded place, with headphones on and music blaring, because it’s easier for me to concentrate when I’m surrounded by stimuli and happy hustle-and-bustle. I also enjoy writing on the go as ideas randomly come to me, and use my Notes app like it’s another piece of my brain. I read anywhere and everywhere, and love listening to audiobooks while riding my bike around my neighborhood!
Though I doodle in sketchbooks all over my house, my studio is still my favorite place to make art. Having a place that’s dedicated to being creative, and filled with my favorite things, makes getting into the zone a bit easier.
What is your favorite season and seasonal activity?
I’m torn between Fall and Spring. It’s hard to beat a cider mill on a crisp Autumn day, especially here in Michigan. Fresh donuts. Crisp apples. Bubbling steam running through the colorful trees. It’s pretty perfect. But then this Spring, we found a nature trail at a local park where wild birds fly down and eat out of your hands, and now we’re addicted to the wonder of that experience too.
Will you be doing any book events this summer that you’d like to tell readers about?
It’ll be a fairly quiet summer (see the answer to the next question!), but I’m doing a virtual event with wonderful Belmont Books on August 26th at 6:30pm ET, and I’d love for everyone to join us! We also had an amazing virtual launch event for More Than Sunny as part of Literati Bookstore’s At Home with Literati series. Jarrett Lerner and I talked about creative process, seeing the world with fresh eyes, and the making of the book. You can watch our conversation here anytime:
What’s up next for you?
This week I am starting the final artwork for my second picture book! I can’t wait to start experimenting with materials and see where it leads me!
Thanks for this wonderful chat and for sharing so many insights. I wish you all the best with More than Sunny and am really looking forward to your next book!
National Rain Day Review
About the Holiday
Today, we celebrate rainy days—but not just any rainy days. Rain Day commemorates an odds-busting record that began in 1874 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania when one resident remarked to William Allison, the pharmacist at JT Rogers & Co drug store, that it always rained on his birthday—July 29. After that, Allison began keeping an annual record, and all eyes have been on Waynesburg to see if the remarkable run—115 years out of 147—continues. Now weather reporters around the country keep track of this remarkable statistic and broadcast “yes” or “no” to their audiences. As for the people of Waynesburg, they celebrate their notoriety with a huge festival that includes live musical entertainment, arts and crafts and food booths, kids’ games, and, of course, an umbrella-decorating contest. To learn more visit the Rain Day Website. And don’t forget to watch the skies!
More than Sunny
By Shelley Johannes
A girl knocks on her brother’s door and, before he’s even fully awake, she bursts in and announces with exuberance that this spring day is “sunny.” Yawning and rubbing his eyes, her brother adds “and early.” But his big sis pulls him outside to show him all the birds at the feeder and birdhouse. It’s not only sunny, she tells him “it’s sunny and birdy!” They head down to the pond, where the siblings have different ideas of what the day’s like. Little brother finds the day “sunny…and mucky!” But his sister, with feathers in her “wings,” states, “I say it’s sunny and ducky!”
On another day, these two compatible siblings head outside to discover what summer brings besides heat. The sunny day takes them to a field, a tree, and a dock, where they explore, relax, and use their imaginations. But not all summer days are sunny, and that’s okay because being inside when it’s “stormy” these kids make it cozy. And when the storm tapers off a bit, they grab their raincoats and big umbrella and go outdoors, where the girl exclaims, “it’s rainy and wormy!” and her brother inspects the mud and greets a small worm, “Hello squirmy.” The rainy day brings lots of fun with Mom and their dog too.
But summer days turn into autumn days with wind and squirrels and piles of leaves to jump in. The kids read and make paper snowflakes, waiting for winter to come. And, finally, the flakes fall. They taste so good. “Can we? Can we?” the siblings ask, eager to be out in the snow. “But I’m warm and socksy,” says Mom. But her kids, tiptoeing and playing, lure her out with “Let’s be snowy and foxy!”
They take a walk in the woods and, while sledding, see Daddy coming home. “Are you ready and sleddy?!” they ask, but there’s shoveling to be done. That’s all right; there are other ways to have fun in the snow. Tired out and chilly, the family goes inside for bedtime. Now there’s a knock at the sister’s door. Yawning and rubbing her eyes, she goes to see who it is. It’s her brother, and he has something magical to show her.
Shelley Johannes’s exuberant call to play and explore is a perfect jumping off place for kids to look at and interact with their surroundings with new eyes, imagination, and creativity. Hopping from season to season, Johannes touches on moments of freedom and wonder and those happy discoveries so formative in childhood. Her playful rhymes and bouncy rhythm echo kids’ delighted banter, and her sprightly adjectives invite readers to come up with their own descriptions of their day.
Johannes’s bright, energetic, and cheery illustrations dazzle with lively depictions of the siblings playing outside in all weather. Her smile-inducing portrayals of the siblings mirror real kids and each page is loaded with details readers will love lingering over. Mom and Dad make warm cameos to create a book the whole family will enjoy.
More than Sunny is a generously sized picture book that kids and adults will find themselves joyfully sharing throughout the year. For teachers and homeschoolers, Johannes’s storytelling provides a spark for writing prompts, grammar lessons, and observational skills. Sure to become a quick favorite, More than Sunny is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.
Ages 4 – 8
Harry N. Abrams, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419741814
Discover more about Shelley Johannes and her books on her website.
You can download More than Sunny activities from the Abrams website!
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Picture Book Review