Science Book a Day Interviews Andrea Menotti and Yancey Labat

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Special thanks to Andrea Menotti and Yancey Labat for answering 5 questions about their recently featured book – How Many Jelly Beans?

Andrea Menotti: I grew up in Maryland and have lived in Singapore, New York City, San Francisco, Oakland, and Ithaca, New York. I now live in New Jersey and work in New York City. I’ve loved to write my whole life, even before I knew how to spell. (My first book was “wrint” by Andrea Menotti.) I’ve written novels, short stories, screenplays, poems, and many species of nonfiction. I’ve worked as a writing teacher and as a children’s book editor, and I’ve made games, toys, apps, and web sites, too. – From Andrea’s Homepage

Yancey Labat: I got my start at Marvel Comics where I trained under “Jazzy” John Romita in the art corrections department. My responsibilities included updating superhero costumes, redrawing “wonky” arms or legs, and doing whatever other fixes the editors or art directors asked for. I also had to redraw entire panels sometimes to match the style of the rest of the book. After that I started penciling entire books myself. After many years of comics, I went on to work for book publishers. My biggest client has been Scholastic. I’ve worked on their books for the past 8 years, creating original art for their home-grown series and matching style-guide art for their licensed publishing. – Adapted from Yancey’s Homepage

Andrea’s Homepage: http://andreamenotti.com
Yancey’s Homepage: http://www.yanceylabat.com

#1 – What was the impetus for How Many Jelly Beans?

AM: I had wanted to find a way to make the quantity of 1 million accessible to kids in an at-a-glance way. I had looked at ways of doing it in books, and I had even developed some of my own ways as a children’s book editor and digital product developer. But I was never satisfied, because they usually didn’t lay out the full amount so kids could take it all in at once. For example, one book I worked on had a page with 25,000 stars and kids were supposed to imagine 40 of those pages. It just doesn’t have enough wow power. I also saw another example that involved really tiny dots that you almost couldn’t distinguish, so you came away with the impression that a million wasn’t that big. I was looking for something that would give you a visceral sense of this big number, with units you could see— so the gatefold was a great way to do that. We first designed the book with a notebook and lots of tape in our living room. Then we worked with a paper engineer and the publisher to work out the best way to achieve it in print. It’s more complicated than it might appear to fit that much folded paper inside a bound book!

#2 – What is it about counting that kids enjoy so much?

AM: I think the reason for the fascination changes as they grow, but it does stay with them for many years. Our toddler loves to count. She is especially fond of the numbers two, eight, twelve, and eighteen. And when we get to twenty she jumps up and down. For her it’s a little song and a game we play together. When our older daughter was four she loved to count to a hundred. Getting into bigger numbers was something she felt very proud of, like the higher she could count, the more grown up she was. She was proud of herself for figuring out how the system worked, and for being able to count by tens. As kids get older, they hear about thousands and hundreds of thousands, millions and billions and trillions…  They love to use those fun words to exaggerate. Being able to understand them conceptually and work with them mathematically is like playing in the big leagues, so there is a lot pride that comes with having that fluency.

#3 – Reviews highlight the black and white drawings to the brilliant colour of the jelly beans. Was it hard to fit in SO MANY jelly beans?

YL: I would say it was more tedious than anything else. Individually moving around tens of thousands of jelly beans to fill in gaps coupled with the slow computer speeds due to the massive file size had me a bit on edge worrying my computer would crash. And it did. Quite a few times. This really only applied to the million page, and yes, believe it or not, there really are one million! I eventually had to get a new computer to finish the job. My trusty iMac gave all it could but the twenty minute save times and frequent crashes forced me to upgrade. Heh.

The process to get to one million started with a rectangle of ten thousand jelly beans, then it was copied ten times and pieced together to make a rectangle of one hundred thousand jellybeans. Each time I had to move individual jelly beans around to fill in the gaps. Then the same process was used to get from the one hundred thousand shape to half a million then onto the million spread. The intent was to make one giant seamless field of jelly beans. I also had to lasso the jelly beans behind the characters and find homes for them. So yep, it was quite an undertaking.

The real fun was creating all of the scenes leading up to the gatefold. I had a few pages that were pretty fun to do but they really didn’t make sense like a space scene!

#4 – What feedback have you both received about the book? From kids? From parents?

We love sharing the book with class groups and getting a “whoa!” reaction from the gatefold. Later, we hear that kids will open up the book on the floor and study the quantities of jelly beans, which is great! We hear from adults that they gave it as a gift (often for Easter) and that it fascinated the kids. From teachers we hear that they love to share the book. The only negative we’ve heard is that the digital version is not a good experience— which is not surprising— this is really meant to be a physical book. To offer this as a digital experience you’d have to do a lot more than is currently possible with our ebook technology. It would have to be an app.

#5 – Are you working on any new projects/books you can tell us about?

We are working on a new book on fractions! We also have a reading app that is coming out soon. We are always working on something!

[Image Credit: http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1357879713p5/1981437.jpg ]

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