It’s around the World in 50 weeks Monday and today we spotlight a region from the USA, the State of New Jersey, in a new picture book released last week.
HIDDEN NEW JERSEY, is written by Linda J. Barth and Illustrated by Hazel Mitchell. This stunningly illustrated book gives a look into the history, sites, flora, fauna and unique facts about the state of New Jersey in the USA. Aside for a field trip, this is probably the best way to teach young children about the state and get them inspired about learning history and a love for their locality.
Linda J. Barth clearly knows and loves her native NJ. Her research must have taken a long time and she offers a captivating, fun and fascinating experience for children to learn from. I found myself immediately caught up in the fun of finding the hidden objects on each page. The amount of factual information and illustrative detail on each page almost challenges a high school history book, but oh, so much more fun! My favourite double-paged spread is about Delaware, where you need to search for: a horseshoe crab egg, East Point Lighthouse, a horseshoe crab, an eel and a teapot (Hazel, being British, just couldn’t resist slipping in the teapot!). The accompanying rhyme for these pages is:
Hungry Birds have flown a long, long way
From way down south to the Delaware bay.
They carefully land on their spindly legs
To chow down thousands of horseshoe crab eggs.
Hazel Mitchell’s fabulous illustrations could each be a painting. They bring alive the nuggets of facts and the rhyming stanza on each page, and entice the reader to pore, observe, find and turn the page eager for the next colourful discovery. This isn’t a picture book to read to a class, but I can see kids lying in twos and threes on a library rug looking at this book for hours.
Hidden New Jersey is a history lesson bathed in beautiful art, a place to learn some common and rare facts about America’s fourth smallest state.
Hazel Mitchell, the illustrator is not native to New Jersey, nor, indeed, to the USA. She was born in the equally attractive northern county of Yorkshire in the British Isles, but appreciates the beauty of the coastline in the NE of the USA, amongst other things! I felt I wanted to share a little more with you about the illustration of this book, so I asked Hazel a few questions about developing the artwork for this project and put in a request for some extra illustrations from the book to slip in here for your delight. I shall be doing an extended interview soon with Hazel on my Wednesday Illustrator’s post.
Could you share the process in brief?
When I received the manuscript from the publisher I then went through and made written notes on what I would draw, which I sent back and we talked about. Then I went online and looked at hundreds of photos and made some initial sketches. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to visit all the places! Luckily my hubby is from NJ, so he helped :-). The sketches were approved by the publisher and then I drew the finals in pencil at about 150% larger than the finished size. Then I scanned them in at high res, and coloured them digitally in photoshop. I also had to produce the cover art, the title and verso page art and all the hidden objects (which I also had to hide). I got to choose what would be hidden, so that was fun!
Did you talk at all with the author in this process or just the art editor?
No, I worked solely with the art director.
What gave you the idea of hiding items in each illustration?
There were 2 books before this one (Hidden Ohio and Hidden Michigan, so this book followed the same theme.)
What was the greatest challenge in this book for you?
Researching all the different places! I didn’t know that NJ was SO diverse.
What was the most interesting new fact for you that you learned in the text?
I was amazed to learn that the coast of New Jersey has the most American Holly in the USA.
Do you think this has national as well as local appeal? And are there plans to do other regions?
Absolutely – all USA school children have to learn about each state as part of the curriculum, so it is totally relevant. I am sure there are more plans, but each book so far has been by a different author and illustrator, so it may not be me. I would definitely like to do Maine though! Watch this space.
Now I know you are all keen to rush out and buy the book, but for one lucky, random commenter on this post (before Friday 10th Feb. 6:00 PM EST), Hazel will be sending you a signed copy of Hidden New Jersey. I wish Linda and Hazel great success with this vibrant, education children’s book!