Izzy and Frank by Katrina Lehman, illustrated by Sophie Beer

Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Katrina and Sophie.

Your new picture book Izzy and Frank (Scribble) is a thoughtful and refreshing tale for young children about the friendship between a girl and a seagull and how life changes.

Where does your lovely introductory image of Izzy’s island home without corners and a “a staircase that twirled high into the sky” come from?

Katrina: Growing up on a farm but bringing my own children up in the city has created a lot of reflection about the very different types of play that city kids are exposed to. I worry about my children losing the wildness and chaos that childhood should be about and in both my picture books I explore the idea of unstructured creative outdoor play versus urban play, as well as adaptability and change. Living in a lighthouse on an island was the wildest most natural childhood that I could imagine and the greatest contrast to city living. 

Sophie: Katrina’s words describing Izzy’s home are so gorgeous and evocative! I tried to do them justice by creating a world that seemed out of time, both vintage and modern, like the island was one step aside from reality, a little Bermuda  Triangle!

The setting is very sensory. How did you both create this atmosphere?

Katrina: I have always been very sensory and I think children are naturally so much more aware of the small things. Growing up on a farm was all about the beauty (and harsh reality) of nature and I lived and breathed it. As life gets busier and busier, it’s so easy to forget to stop and smell the roses. I try and recreate that in my books for adults and children, to try and trigger a memory or an emotion through language. Sophie’s images are so full of detail and humour and give the story that extra depth.   

Sophie: Being from Queensland, I grew up on beaches, specifically Noosa, so I tried to recall the grittiness and saltiness of my beachy youth. I knew this story, with such poetic words from Katrina, had to have a bit more grain and texture compared to how I usually illustrate.

How have you incorporated humour into the story?

Katrina: I find that the best humour in a picture book comes about through the contrast between the words and the story. For example, where Frank is ‘waiting patiently’, he is quite obviously not! I tried to leave space for Sophie to interpret the story and her intuition and ability to inject humour into the small details is what makes this story so special. I laugh about the crabs stealing lunches and the magic realism that is on every page.  

Sophie: One of my favourite things about illustrating stories is being able to tuck small jokes into illustrations! While the book is bittersweet, I hope it will also make kids laugh, especially Frank’s shenanigans!

How did you both work together to further the story without always using explicit written text?

Katrina: I am so lucky to have an illustrator who is so intuitive about how illustrations can tell a ‘second story’ and give another whole level of meaning to a story. I would make very broad suggestions about where I saw the illustrations telling a totally different story to my actual words, and Sophie just took this and ran with it. She is so incredibly talented.

Sophie: Katrina always has wonderful ideas about the subtext of stories and and intimate knowledge of how pictures and words can work in tandem to say something new. I took my lead from her fabulous imagination!

How have you shown the contrast between the island and the city?

Katrina: Sophie and I discussed how I wanted Izzy’s view of the city to be very skewed by her emotional mindset. She only saw the negative in the surrounds: hard walls, dark streets, concrete backyards. But as she adapted, she began to see the beauty in it. Sophie captured this emotional landscape so perfectly with her colour palette.

Sophie: I definitely wanted the city to be more grimey and industrial. The first half of the book uses intense greens for the sea, yet I tried to pare that intense green back for the second half of the book which is set in the city. Or else, I muddied the green with oranges so it made a brown-ish colour.

How have you shown some similarities?

Katrina: I wanted to show children that moving house does not mean you have to give up your lifestyle as you know it, but you have to be innovative and open to new ideas. I wanted it to be about her adapting and growing, rather than changing. The best way to do this text-wise was to show a direct correlation between the activities that Izzy did on the island and how she had adapted them to her new landscape. I also wanted the other children to change and grow and learn something from her as well. 

Sophie: When Izzy starts to recognise that she too can have a good life in the city, I start to bring the intense green back again, as well as bringing in more natural artefacts like plants, as opposed to shells and seaweed!

Sophie, why did you choose this colour palette?

Sophie: I went through a lot of palette ideas. Initially, it was a really bright, primary palette, but that didn’t feel right. I wanted something that felt retro, timeless, and bold, but would give me the range to illustrate nature softly, like the book calls for. Nothing seemed to fit! It was so frustrating! Then I came across the work of Jan Goeting, a Dutch mid-century illustrator who worked with lithography, and it clicked! Opposing reds and greens! Everything flowed much more smoothly after I had found the book’s colour ‘voice’!

What does it mean when it says on the imprint age that the illustrations are made with traditional mark making?

Sophie: I incorporate inks, roller textures, paint, and anything I can lay my hands on into my digital illustrations as layers. Any texture you can see has been digitally applied from a real life paper which has been scanned in.

Which details are you particularly pleased with?

Katrina: Oh there are too many! My favourites are probably the ways in which Izzy adapts her old games to her new environment: the wall that they draw on, the concrete backyard in full bloom, Frank stealing chips in the park. 

Sophie: In trying to find a way to communicate that Izzy has evolved to like her new home yet was still the same person, I made her switch out her feather in her hair for a flower!

To you both, what does a strong friendship mean or look like to you?

Katrina: At some stage, your lives are going to take different paths, but a good friend will always be there if you need them and it will be as if you were never apart. 

Sophie: Being able to pick up where you left off, even if busy lives keep you apart.

What other books have you created?

Katrina: This is only my second picture book. I’ve been very lucky to edit a number of incredibly talented authors such as Gus Gordon, Marc Martin, Aaron Blabey, Isobelle Carmody and Rebecca Johnson and my small part in their journey has really influenced the way I write and work. 

Sophie: I’ve been fortunate enough to work with talented art directors, writers and editors in the US and UK as well as Australia! I’ve had books with Hardie Grant Egmont, Scholastic UK, Scribe Publications, Penguin Random House Australia and New York, Nosy Crow, Simon & Schuster New York, Quarto Group, Hachette, and other.

Thanks very much for your enlightening responses, Katrina and Sophie, and all the very best with Izzy and Frank. It will no doubt become a favourite book for many children.

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