Jennifer Holm Is “Sunny Side Up”

Click below to see clips of Maxwell’s interview with Jennifer L. Holm.

Acclaimed children’s book author Jennifer L. Holm has won Newbery Honors for Our Only May Amelia (HarperCollins, 1999), Penny From Heaven (Random House, 2006), and Turtle in Paradise (Random House, 2010). Babymouse for President (Random House, 2012), won the the 2013 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Early Readers. But that’s not all—she can also do swing flag!

Acclaimed children’s author Jennifer Holm and Max

Max with acclaimed children’s book author Jennifer L. Holm

Holm’s upcoming title, Swing It, Sunny (Scholastic, September 2017), is a sequel to Sunny Side Up (Scholastic, 2015). It’s 1976, Sunny is back in Pennsylvania, and she’s starting middle school. Like Holm, who was in the marching band as a kid, Sunny learns how to do swing flag. (A swing flag is like a baton with a flag on one end.) How does Holm remain sunny side up? “A lot of chocolate,” she said, laughing.

I got the chance to talk with Holm at the American Library Association (ALA) 2017 Annual Conference and Exhibition, which was held in Chicago last week. She even taught me how to do swing flag! Here are highlights from our conversation:

How does it feel to have I’m Grumpy (Random House, 2016) nominated for the 2017 Eisner Award?

I’m not feeling grumpy about it. The Eisner Award is like the Academy Award of comics. It is such a huge honor, and I’m so excited. They have a Comic-Con red carpet, and I’ve already picked out my new dress.

How did you and your brother start creating books together? My brother Matt was always a doodler, and he was always drawing comics. I was his biggest fan. Our bedrooms were right across from each other, and he used to put his comics on his bedroom door. When I came out in the morning, I could always see what he was drawing. Many years later, I came up with the idea for a baby mouse, and I asked him, “What do you think about drawing it?” And he said, “Yes!”

What were you like as a kid?

I have four brothers, and I’m the middle child and the only girl. When I was kid, I pretty much did what the boys did. I traipsed after them.They were playing kickball, hanging out in the woods, climbing trees, and building forts, and so I did the same things.

What is the most challenging part of being a children’s book author?

You generally work alone. Although I’m lucky in that respect because I get to work with my brother Matt. He does all of the art, and I do most of the writing. Sometimes writers get stuck. We get stuck a lot. Now when I get writer’s block, I doodle my ideas instead of trying to sit down and write them out.

What are your favorite children’s books?

My favorite book when I was a kid was The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander. It’s a fantasy book. In terms of comics, I loved all the classic strips like Peanuts [by Charles M. Schulz] and Calvin and Hobbes [by Bill Watterson].

Do you have tips for kids who dream of becoming a writer or an illustrator someday?

For illustrators, doodle every day. When you meet illustrators, that’s what they’re doing. When you’re sitting talking to them, they’re doodling. If you want to be a writer, write every day, but more importantly, just read. Read everything—fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, the back of the cereal box. It’s all good.