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John Rocco – 12 X 12 Featured Author April 2015

John Rocco – 12 x 12 Featured Author April 2015

BlizzardThis must be some kind of record because this post published before I was even finished with it! I guess that’s sign enough that the lateness had gotten out of hand.

HOWEVER, I am “jumping-up-and-down” thrilled to announce that Caldecott Honor-Winning author John Rocco is our featured author for April!

I had the pleasure of meeting John in person last October at the Southern Book Festival, where I coerced convinced him to be a featured author for us–an invitation he graciously accepted. Last month we spent almost TWO HOURS doing a video interview. Part of the reason it took me so long to put this together is I edited that down to 40 minutes. Talk about killing your darlings! But don’t worry. All the best of John’s generous nuggets of wisdom are here.

AND, John has agreed to provide comments on one lucky 12 x 12 member’s picture book manuscript as the monthly giveaway. *swoon* Please welcome John!

Blackout by John Rocco


John Rocco studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is the author of four acclaimed books for children: Wolf! Wolf!, winner of the Borders Original Voices Award for best picture book; Moonpowder, part of the Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators; Fu Finds the Way, and Blackout, a New York Times Best Book of the Year and winner of a 2012 Caldecott Honor.  Rocco also illustrated Whoopi Goldberg‘s Alice and the covers for Rick Riordan‘s multi-million copy internationally bestselling series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Kane Chronicles, and The Heroes of Olympus. Most recently, Rocco illustrated the fantasy fairy tale, The Flint Heartwritten by Katherine Paterson and her husband, John.

Looking for help with your picture book submissions? Grab this 7-Step Checklist!


This Post Has 211 Comments
  1. ooh, and “blizzard”! exactly how i remember at least one storm every winter ever in illinois when i was a wee one.

  2. This was great, Julie and John! Would love to know more about how John has managed to keep up his range and different illustration styles withn the industry. Thanks again – well worth the wait!

  3. WOW! Excellent advise for writers both technical and emotional. I felt a weird connection for a few bizarre similar facts about our lives: I too worked on a commercial fishing boat starting at the age of eleven and worked creating art for the amusement business.
    Great interview! Thanks!

  4. What a great interview! I am proud to say that John, himself, and his daughter put the Caldecott medal on my copy of BLACKOUT at an SCBWI Conference shortly after he won. It was the first pb I added to my library when I decided to become a writer. So special. Also, I received a sneak peek at BEEP BEEP GO TO SLEEP! this past November when Todd Tarpley shared it with me. Adorable! You guys are going to want to get it! xo

  5. Terrific interview! Thank you for sharing your journey with us, John. I loved hearing about your breakthrough when you treated picture books as a stage with the characters always exiting stage right and that picture books are a sliver of a story… a moment that is extended to 32-pages.

  6. When I saw this was 42 minutes, I almost didn’t want to take the time, but it was so worth it! Thank you Julie and John. I found the ideas of theater vs cinema fascinating and I too, am heading to my files to see if I have any postcard worthy first lines.

  7. Thank you so much for the wonderful inspiring interview. The way you quote favorite lines and story lines proves your point of read, read, read and then read some more. Can’t wait to get my hands on BEEP BEEP GO TO SLEEP! John thanks so much for taking time to give a glimpse into what is possible. Children authors and illustrators are the most kind and giving individuals; they truly want to help others. Thank you again for the interview. Julie, great job with you questions.

  8. This was an awesome interview — thank you! I loved that John talked about picture books in terms of stage and the character moving left to right as the reader turns the pages and I also loved how John and Julie talked about making your first and last lines postcard worthy (wish I was an illustrator, but since I’m not, I’ll have to keep working on my postcard worthy lines!).

  9. I really love the opportunity to hear the thoughts and advice of other writers like this – it make you almost you feel like you know them. Thank you, John!

  10. The 40+ minute commitment was daunting, but I enjoyed every minute! It made me wish again that I was an illustrator (sigh) but also energized and excited to continue the journey. Thank you, Julie and John!

  11. What a wonderful interview! Thank you both for providing insights and expertise to keep us all learning and moving forward. On a side note, I appreciate the sincerity, humility, and approachable manner you always demonstrate, Julie. John came across in the same way. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  12. Julie and John, thanks for this honest, inspiring interview. I will forever hold my first and last sentences up to the “postcard” test. 😉

  13. Inspiring…. follow your heart and trust…. and make sure you grab them on page one, and leave a lasting impression…. the post card test will always be with us from now on!!

  14. What fun to hear John tell about his newest book illustration and robots and then to have him suggest writing your first line on a postcard and sending it in to see if it will hook anyone. Makes writing hooks sound easy not as hair pulling as I have found them. Fun to listen to illustrators and their worry about the next project and getting rating stars, too.

  15. Amazing insights and advice. I was especially drawn to the comments about the perfect match of text and art, and the earlier discussion of the process of writing the text, (imagining) the art, then eliminating the words that are (can be) shown in the visuals. Thank you, John.

  16. Thanks for the inspiration (to write and read and write and read) as well as the memories (of frigid cold of rural PA winters – brrr!).

  17. Wow! This is a great interview! Thanks Julie and John, there is so much to learn here. The picture book as a stage, the rule-breaking (left to right direction, even when going back! word count, quiet books!). This deserves another watch! So inspiring! Thanks again.

  18. WOW! What a gracious interview by Julie and John. It is so refreshing to hear someone talk about breaking out of that box. I hope John succeeds 🙂 John, thank you for sharing your experience and telling us your procedure for your projects. Looking forward to your new book!

  19. Thanks for the great interview! Loved hearing about how Blackout started as a wordless book…Blizzard was especially meaningful to my Boston students this year. Will try John’s suggestion about typing some text from a much-loved book to see how it reads on a blank page.

  20. FUNtastic interview – so much info and loved the discussion regarding the length of PB’s. Maybe we should start a postcard campaign!

  21. Thanks for the great video. I liked the idea of looking at a PB as a play with the characters coming onto the stage and then exiting to the right. I appreciated John’s idea that we should not wait to hear about a submission but should push on to the next manuscript and stay true to ourselves.

  22. Thank you for the interview, John. As a writer, it’s interesting to hear some illustrator perspectives as well. I’ll be revisiting this interview again, I’m sure!

  23. John, Thank your for the ideas of a sliver and pure essence of a story. Love Blizzard. Looking forward to Blackout!

  24. Such talent, John! And talent shared is talent treasured. Thanks for taking time to let us get to know you and your writing/illustrations.

  25. This interview with John was so engaging. I could easily listen to this several times, because his knowledge is valuable, his enthusiasm is encouraging, and his humility is, well, humbling. Some of my favorite take-aways are how a book is just a moment, a “sliver of time”; to look at the pages and the unfolding of a story as a stage; that “ideas are precious”; and to study what is out there. I’m going to schedule in my calendar to watch this interview again in another couple of weeks.

  26. I am gobsmacked by this interview. Lots of terrific take-aways, insightful moments, golden nuggets—whatever you want to call those glorious moments that resonate with the viewer/reader.

    Thank you!

  27. Such a cool art style. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t seen your picture books yet. I did see your illustrations for Percy Jackson. Those are great. Your “Three Fates” picture has so much personality. Glad you could share your insight with the group!

  28. What a fun, inspiring interview! Worth revisiting in times of rejection funk. I loved Blackout and will have to look for his others. The most helpful piece of advice for me was seeing our stories as more of a play and less as a film. Teaching reading/literacy skills for so long, I definitely have that mindset of creating a movie in your head as you read/write. Thanks to both of you!

  29. Great to hear about your process in becoming a children’s book writer and artist. I really liked your take on the cinematic qualities of picture books. Lots to think about. I love your books and I can’t tell you if I love Blackout or Blizzard more because they are both so evocative and both take me back to my childhood! Who could ask for more?

  30. Loved this interview, in fact I even watched it twice – can’t believe that then I forgot to post a comment! Thanks for taking the time to “talk” with 12×12 and I’m looking forward to reading Blizzard.

  31. Wow thanks guys. Every time I start to get discouraged you manage to pick me back up. This was such an inspiration to read.

  32. Thank you so much for taking the time. I ran right out and grabbed Blizzard at the local library. And loved it of course.

  33. Fantastic interview–thanks so much for all your hard work, Julie, in putting this together. And thanks, John, for your inspirational books and the time you dedicated to helping us out.

  34. Fascinating interview! I thoroughly enjoyed all of it, hearing about your process, how you made 8 wordless dummies, and your advice to simplify. Your advice to aspiring authors is excellent too. Thank you Julie and John.

  35. I loved Blackout and Blizzard! It was so helpful that you mentioned your focus and willingness to do the work.

  36. I love hearing that you interview people to generate ideas. I’ve never thought of that. I also like that you have a cat on the cover. For me, every good book has a kitty in it. Thanks for sharing with us.

  37. This was a terrific interview, and just what I needed to hear! I’d love to hear from even more author/illustrators and their process of creating a picture book. Thank you Julie and John. 🙂

  38. Glad I didn’t miss this! Well done, Julie, securing the interview with John. It’s great to get a peak “behind the curtain” and find that most award winning authors are writers/illustrators just like us. He worked really hard for his success — no surprise. What a nice person too!

  39. I also love the challenge when creating pbs of boiling everything down to its pure essence and (hopefully) finding some magic in what remains 🙂 Thanks for a great interview!

  40. BLACKOUT is so thought provoking for my students in the ‘burbs! Such great conversations ensue after presenting that book

  41. Such a fun interview, John! Thanks for being real in sharing your journey. So, you balance multiple manuscripts too? I like your idea to read reviews of your favorite PBs . . .and printing first and last lines on our business cards. Oh, and your illustrations are fantastic (of course!)

  42. Wow! I knew about some of these as your work, but not all. Thanks so much for sharing your journey and your art. Blizzard is on my list for a next order.

  43. My son, a very reluctant reader, was instantly drawn to Percy Jackson. He read them all, then went on to Kane Chronicles and the Olympians. I know the cover art is what drew him to the books!

  44. Thanks both of you for a great interview, plenty of food for thought. I especially liked John’s comments about saving ideas, and how you never which idea is going to be the one that catches on. (btw I *love* the sound of “Beep Beep Go to Sleep”, looks like it’s going to be so much fun!)

    PS My kids also love “camping” when there’s a blackout–in fact they still say (at ages 9 and 11) that they’re hoping for a blackout. And my daughter always requests that Trader Joe’s pea soup whenever there is a power failure 🙂

  45. What a great interview and what fabulous insight! Thank you! I’ll be paying extra attention to the last sentences after watching this.

  46. Thank you for the great interview. Love your books and I like the idea of sending your first line. Very funny from Charlotte’s Web.

  47. Better late than never. Truly! So glad I found the time to finally sit & listen to this interview. Think theater pacing not film; staying true to MY Voice; are my first and last sentences postacrd worthy. Such insights & such sharing. Thank you John & Julie!

  48. Thank you John, I love your sense of humour and really value your advice. And thank you Julie for asking just the right questions. (I had a brainwave half way through the interview on how to fix a manuscript I’ve been stuck on for a while – it happened when you talked about distilling the idea down to it’s most simple form – thank you).

  49. Thank you so much for your insights! I have always ‘viewed’ my books in my head as movie shorts, without making the leap to stage. I’m excited to see what this shift does to my storytelling. By the way, I LOVED “Blackout”. As a child I always hoped the power would go out during storms because it made everything seem so other-worldly. It helped a lot that I was an avid reader of the “Little House” series, I could go straight into being Laura.

  50. I loved Jon’s advice about looking at a picture book like a play rather than a movie. That really helps me to pace the story, keep it moving, and include great page turns/ending scenes!

  51. I loved Jon’s advice about looking at a picture book like a play rather than a movie. That really helps me to pace the story, keep it moving, and include great page turns/ending scenes!

  52. Thank you for this great interview. Our “connected” technological culture evolves so fast that we notice differences in the way people relate to one another, but we barely have time to assess it and choose a path to follow. It was terrific to open the discussion with this topic and how childhood is a such a very different experience than a generation ago. Thanks again.

  53. Great interview! Wow! Thanks for sharing Mr. Rocco. Technology does make it seem very personal, and nice to get a glimpse of your work and thoughts.

  54. I learned so much from Jon in this interview and enjoyed it from start to finish. Thank you both! It would be great to see even more author-illustrator interviews in the future!!! 🙂

  55. What a brilliant interview! I love John Rocco’s books and I loved hearing his thoughts about creating books. I think I will always picture the pages of a book as a stage now. Thank you, John!

  56. I also come from a theatre design background. I love that you were talking about the books as theatre because that is similar to how I see it. Acts, scenes, beats, through lines. Every time somene says “What does this character want more than anything…”
    I’m not sure if it’s because the books are meant to be read aloud or if it’s because they are so short that you have to be so particular in your choices? But it makes sense.
    I’m also inspired that you came to creating childrens books later in your career. Cheers, and thanks!
    Mishka Jaeger

  57. What a great interview! Very informative and inspiring! Thank you for the encouragement to keep writing. 🙂

  58. I’m appreciating the analysis of the picture book from a staging perspective! Thanks for the conversation and insight.

  59. This is one of the best posts of the year. It’s great hearing tips directly from John. Thanks for your generosity and willingness to share!

  60. Wonderful interview! Thank you! I had never thought to look at the scenes in a PB as staging or to read the reviews of books as a learning tool. Great ideas!

  61. What an enjoyable and informative interview John and Julie! Thanks John for the wonderful insight into the world of picture books!!

  62. John, thank you for sharing your feelings on being a writer-illustrator. For me, the story comes easily I know the characters they are very real. I see them, well not really “SEE” as in some kind of vision. No wait, that is exactly what happens. Finding time for the drawings and getting all of them done in an appropriate style to work with the story is a huge task. Hearing your comments helps me feel a bit more “normal.”


    1. Here’s the missing comma [ , ] If I could only make it fly up and into my comment, all would be well.

  63. Thanks so much for sharing this great video interview with us! John, I enjoyed hearing about your journey, your process, and your observations. (Nice questions, Julie!) Such wisdom! Thank you!

  64. This was great! So fun to have an author/illustrator video interview. When we lost power earlier this year, I went straight up to my art room to grab “Blackout”. Such a great story 🙂

  65. Love all those covers! As a graphic artist I can truly appreciate the illustration and design work that it takes for a successful piece of commercial work to become an object of art! Awesome!

  66. What a treat! John’s enthusiasm is contagious. Now I’m off to see if my first and last sentences are postcard worthy 😉 Thanks for another wonderful interview, Julie.

  67. So wonderful to hear nuggets of picture book truths from John. I am a new fan, John, after hearing raves about the book BLIZZARD, and now I know that you have stormed (pun intended) the children’s book market because you are so talented. Thank you for sharing. It inspires and informs writers like me to forge ahead and learn and use all the good things we glean from the gurus like you. Write on, John!!

  68. Thanks John and Julie! Such a wonderful interview. I love hearing John talk about his journey. I was
    so excited when Blackout came out with a theme close to my heart. Just like Blackout, my family came together during the NYC blackout of 2003. We have some great memories.

  69. I love that you are also an Illustrator. It is great to watch a video about someone who is doing both. Thank you.

  70. I also come from animation and your observations on the cinematic differences between picture books and animation/film were eye opening for me. Thank you!

  71. What an interview. This amazing author reaffirmed the kinds of books I love and try to write. I will watch this over and over. Thanks, John, for your frankness. Thanks, Julie, for arranging the interview.

  72. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I’m looking forward to hearing more at the SCBWI Midsouth fall conference this year.

  73. That was a great interview! So interesting to hear about his journey- Thanks for the inspiration!

  74. WOW! I’m so glad I finally made time to listen to this interview. Great job, Julie. You should publish a “director’s cut” – I want to see the outtakes! 🙂 I really liked what he had to say about reading reviews of current books, which I never really do. I’ll make it a habit from now on! Thanks again for posting this.

  75. What a great post. So much to take in it’s going to take a couple times through, but I particularly liked the comparison of the picture book to a play. Thank you

  76. What a great interview. Loved hearing about his writing process and his childhood adventures. Thanks, Julie!

  77. Blackout is one of my all time favorite books! I was also jumping up and down when I saw John was the featured post this month. Thanks you for the awesome!

  78. I loved this interview for so many reasons. It struck me as both helpful and encouraging, and though I already expect that I’m going to remember tons from it for a very long time, I would also bet that I’m going to revisit it (and potentially more than once). 🙂 Thank you so much! 🙂

  79. Great interview – thank you! Many of my 12×12 drafts are just ideas waiting to happen. Nice to hear my process is not a dead end.

  80. Thank you, John, for showing us the essence of picture books, not just the writing but the text and the illustrations coming together. Explaining the use of flat and deep space started a movie in my mind. Most of all, I was inspired by your determination: “I’m gonna do it.” Taking that to heart this week.

  81. How inspiring to hear this author’s thought and to think i was just in a book store in E Lansing MI looking at a copy of “Blizzard”! Very inspirational author and seems so humble!!

  82. Super interview. Here are my take aways…
    1. First page -last page side by side . Can you get the flavor of the story in just these two pages?

    2. Let one idea “cook” and work on another idea.

    3. Read read read!!

    4. Keep writing- it will help you take your mind off of waiting!

    Thank you John and Julie!

  83. Wonderful interview…thank you, John…we are so lucky to be able to reap the benefit of the experience of successful authors and illustrators!
    I felt really badly because I had not commented earlier this month…and actually zoned out and didn’t get to the Rafflecopter in time…but I guess I shouldn’t feel too badly…there are a ton of others who commented today also. 🙂 Too much to do…too little time to do it. 😉

  84. Better a year late than never. Great interview. I think I’ll try his method of trying different genres and projects.

  85. Very personable conversation–thanks, Julie, for your good questions. Felt like a visit to the ‘inner sanctum’ I’m striving toward–hey, it does exist! Loved the practical suggestions for viewing how the magic was made (in PB’s we love).

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