Dual Interview- Jeanette Larson and Adrienne Yorinks- Collaborating on HUMMINGBIRDS: FACTS AND FOLKLORE FROM THE AMERICAS


Jeanette Larson, Mark G. Mitchell, Julie Lake Chris Barton, Tricia Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, Donna Bowman Bratton


Found only in the Americas, hummingbirds weigh no more than two sheets of paper, yet they have held the the fascination of people for centuries. HUMMINGBIRDS: FACTS AND FOLKLORE FROM THE AMERICAS (Charlesbridge, February 2011,) co-authored by Jeanette Larson and Adrienne Yorinks and illustrated by Adrienne Yorinks, offers a comprehensive look at the world’s smallest bird species. The 64 page book may be targeted to 9-12 year-olds, but adults may prove to be an even bigger audience. The nine chapters, written in expository style, indulge the reader with generous scientific and practical facts: diet, plumage, courtship, flight, habitat and so much more. The book offers extensive curriculum tie-ins that would be appealing to teachers and students, aided by the ample back matter containing an index, glossary, bibliography, resources, and art notes.
But the book isn’t merely an educational introduction to these iridescent creatures. Each chapter concludes with a tale, legend, or story about hummingbirds, originating among native peoples across North and South America. The Ohlone, Hitchiti, Maya, West Indies, Yamana, Aztec, Navajo, and Taino cultures are represented. These tellings are further distinguished by the narrative change in voice and by the dramatic color variations of the pages.
Visually, the book is stunning thanks to Yorink’s artistic illustrations, depicted entirely on quilted fabric. A fabric artist by trade, Yorinks captures the intricate details of the hummingbird world with finesse. One can’t help but be captivated by every stitch.
Jeanette Larson is the author of several professional books for librarians, and contributed to and edited the children’s book, QUILT OF STATES (National Geographic, 2005.) She lives in Pflugerville, Texas. Read more about Jeanette at her website, Larson Library Books. And read my January, 2011 interview with Jeanette, titled Behind the Scenes of Public Libraries here.
Adrienne Yorinks is the illustrator of several children’s books including QUILT OF STATES (National Geographic, 2005), which she co-authored, and MY TRAVELS WITH CAPT’S LEWIS AND CLARK (Harper Collins, 2006) by George Shannon. She lives in Short Hills, New Jersey. Learn more about her by visiting Adrienne Yorinks’ website.

Learn more about the collaborative process behind HUMMINGBIRDS: FACTS AND FOLKLORE FROM THE AMERICA’S by enjoying this dual interview.

Jeanette Larson and Adrienne Yorinks

How involved was the editor in planning the book’s content?

JL Initially the original editor, Judy O’Malley, was involved in our discussions about the content. After Judy had health problems, the book was re-assigned to Randi Rivers. She came in to the project after many decisions had been made but she offered a lot of great ideas for clarifying parts of the subject matter, rearranging information, and overall making the book’s content better. I love editors!

AY Judy O’Malley was our first editor. She and I had a wonderful meeting at the Javitz center by now several years ago where we talked about the book, writing, illustrations, and design. Jeanette and I were so upset and disappointed when she got ill. Randi Rivers took over as editor and Diane Earley as art director and they were lovely to work with. Our book is unusual and I thought Charlesbridge came on board with us.

What was your time line from initial idea to contract offer and actual publication?

JL It seems like forever! Adrienne and I had wanted to work together on a book after we worked together on QUILT OF STATES. Judy O’Malley at Charlesbridge knew both of us and wanted to work on a project we would do together. I’d say it took about a year for us to find the right project–something I was passionate about and that had a unique angle plus would benefit from Adrienne’s textile art. We sent an outline in summer 2005 so, gosh, five and half years from start to finish. The book was delayed a bit by Judy’s health problems and the economy but really we bypassed the submission, rejection, submission part so that helped the time line.

AY This has been the longest gestation period for any book I have worked on but looking at Hummingbirds now…well worth it!

What inspired you to choose hummingbirds as the book topic? 

JL As I mentioned, I was looking for a topic that would work well with Adrienne’s fabric medium. We had talked about primate sanctuaries and stingrays but nothing was clicking. I couldn’t find a real passion (in the case of stingrays) or a good angle (in the case of primates). My husband and I happened to be in Rockport, TX during their annual hummingbird festival weekend. I came out of the hotel and was surrounded by the birds! I started thinking about them and remembered stories I had heard from the Navajo and other cultures so I wondered if I could put facts and stories together.

AY Jeanette and I were keen to do a book together since we have hit it off as colleagues and friends for so many years. We first met when the original art for, Stand For Children, went to Texas. We both love animals and when Jeanette brought up a book on Hummingbirds, I was immediately charmed. My first experience with seeing a hummingbird was about twenty years ago. I had never seen one before and it buzzed me on my deck in North Salem, NY. I had planted many beautiful flowers and the hummingbird flew right into my face hovering near my eyes as if to say, thank you….very delightful. I thought the hummingbird looked just like Tinkerbell.

Tell us about the co-author/illustrator collaboration-

JL We pretty much agreed on content in an outline and then we each began to look for information, interesting facts and such. Adrienne combined our information into a first draft, and we both again worked on additional information, revising, reformatting, and correcting material. I researched and retold the stories. Then Adrienne worked on the art. My input on that was limited to sharing some illustrations and art from native cultures (like the Nazca lines) and suggestions on what might be illustrated. I have almost no artistic talent! All of the content was complete before Adrienne started to work on the art.

AY Jeanette is a wonderful friend and colleague. She was so helpful to me when I was working on, Quilt of States. It seems like she knows a million librarians and when I decided that it would be special to have a different voice speak about his/her state in all fifty states, Jeanette knew at least one in every state! Jeanette would of course be my Texas librarian. I  wanted to celebrate librarians because they have been so important to me in my research for books as well as promoting the book when it is published. It was a pleasure to work with Jeanette on Hummingbirds. We seemed to divide the book up well and also contribute to editing and smoothing out the entire manuscript together.

The scientific and practical information about hummingbirds is extensive. How did you approach the research process?

JL Well, I am a librarian! I did a lot of research, often trying to answer a specific question like “Were there really no hummingbirds outside of the Americas?” I looked at scientific information about fossilized hummingbird remains, what they eat, and why the colors look the way they do. I used interlibrary loan a lot along with online databases to find scientific articles. Adrienne has some great contacts with the Audubon Society so she was also checking facts. The copyeditor also was great, questioning things that didn’t make sense to her.

AY I love libraries and spent a good deal of time in my local library. I also borrowed some books from my friend, Wayne Mones who has a fabulous library on bird books! When I research a subject, I read everything I can find lots of times to really familiarize myself with the subject.

The book has terrific curriculum tie-ins that include nine legends and folk tales about hummingbirds from different cultural heritages. Did you have specific curriculum in mind when planning the book?

JL Not really. My undergraduate degree is in anthropology and I’m a children’s librarian so I loved the stories. When I realized that the hummingbirds only exist in the Americas it made sense to tie in stories from different cultures in the Americas to add to the science. Actually I was a bit concerned that the mix of topics would make the library catalogers mad at me! Where do they classify the book?

AY I wanted Hummingbirds to reflect the way I study a subject that I am interested in. I like to know facts as well as the stories behind them. To me, that makes the subject interesting and easier to feel that you understand your topic. I was just speaking to a friend who teaches the Montessori method who saw the Hummingbird book. She said that our book is a perfect example of the essence of Montessori learning. Our book speaks about the subject of Hummingbirds as a whole and also discusses its parts. When you do that it covers all disciplines. Just as with my art, which I believe covers all the disciplines as well,  that is how I learn best and how I hope others will feel when they read and explore our book. I was thrilled to hear that our book exemplifies Montessori’s teachings, because intuitively that is what Jeanette and I wanted to accomplish with our book—a blending of facts and stories–a celebration of our subject–these remarkable creatures.

Was there a fact or story about hummingbirds that most fascinated or surprised you during your research?

JL Oh, a lot of them! It’s amazing to me that such a tiny bird can be such a fierce fighter. I love that the largest of these birds (the giant hummingbird) is still miniscule at 20 grams compared to other birds. The bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in existent, is only 2 grams. Not a huge gap between smallest and largest! In the stories I loved how many had similar story arcs to stories from other cultures. The story, “Why the Hummingbird is Attracted to the Color Red” is a Romeo and Juliet type of story and “Why the Hummingbird Drinks Nectar” will remind readers of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” I think seeing these story connections reminds us that we are all more alike than we are different.

AY There are many facts about Hummingbirds that astound me. The first one that comes to mind is that a teeny tiny bird can fly 500 miles across an ocean by itself…Not in a flock. Can you picture that? A being weighing the same as two sheets of looseleaf paper soaring through the air by itself? The second fact is that hummingbirds can see ultraviolet color. We cannot see this. That is how they can see which flowers have the most nectar as flowers when most fertile appear with ultraviolet patterns. (I wish I could see as well as they can! Just imagine the fabrics!)  And the third is that even when migrating 2,500 miles, a hummingbird will remember where every feeder is that they visited the previous year. I have the worst directional sense so this is completely astounding to me!

Do you have any research tips or advice for writers?

JL Get to know your librarian! Regardless of how much information is available on the Internet, a good reference librarian will be invaluable in finding good material or in tracking down elusive bits of information. Also don’t be afraid to ask questions. Experts want to help.

AY I always tell adults and kids this story when I lecture. When I was doing research for Quilt of States, I checked out secession on the internet. The one site that kept coming up first and primarily was a site that believed the South had actually won the war. I think I was so horrified that a lot of kids go to the internet and believe that the first site is actually the best site and that their research may stop there. I urge kids to use the internet as well as the library and bookstores. I also tell them that wandering in the library and finding books that are out of print or forgotten has always been a joyful experience to me. It is interesting to see what was published twenty or forty years ago on a topic of interest. Sometimes that knowledge is better than a book published today or at least interesting to see what someone from forty years ago was thinking about the subject you are interested in.

A Foreword by National Audubon Society Vice President Wayne Moss is included. How did that come about?

JL He is a friend of Adrienne’s and was very interested in the project. Birding is a growing hobby for young people and of course the Audubon Society encourages that so Wayne was eager to help with the book.

AY Wayne Mones is a very good friend. He and his wife Holly, ( I dedicated this book to them) have shared their bird watching expertise with me and my husband. They are both excellent birders and I have learned a lot from them. They are such good friends that when I was asked to be in the Florence Biennale, they came to Florence to see the Biennale and eat lots of fabulous food with us! Though it was December and not many birds were around, we had a great time viewing the art of artists representing over 70 countries.

Adrienne, the quilt illustrations are exquisite. Please tell us about your illustration process for the book.
AY Thank you so much. Creating the art for Hummingbirds was truly a labor of love. With this book, I did travel to Arizona with my husband to view and photograph Hummingbirds. We spent a lot of time at the Sonora desert museum in Tucson where they have a wonderful hummingbird aviary. I used some of these photographs to create photo-transfers on fabric and some as models for the fabric collages that you see in the book. In this book I used fabric markers, fabric paint, and Glitter! as well as photo transfers, silks, cotton and fabric blends. I never got to use glitter before in any of my book illustrations. It was a lot of fun. I had several friends who also let me use their images of hummingbirds  in this book. They are: Alan and Suzanne Arkin, William Vining, Charles D. Winters, and my husband, Douglas Schoenberg.
I  particularly wanted the illustrations to reflect the complexity of the text. I wanted the factual sections to be accompanied by very different types of illustrations from the myths. This was also further delineated by creating double spread bleeds for the legends compared to single spread bound illustrations for the factual information. That was one of the things I had discussed with Judy and later with Randi and Diane. I always try to excite my readers so that each page is a surprise.
All of the illustrations were then photographed by D. James Dee who photographs my large work as well. He is a terrific photographer and worked really hard to capture my illustrations. I was most insistent on having the end papers that you see in the hard cover copy. End papers are special to me and a lot of publishers have stopped doing interesting end papers because they are expensive. From the beginning, Judy agreed they were important and Randi and Diane also decided it was an important expense for our book. The end papers are actually a photograph of a fabric I did for a fabric company in a line called Aviary. I loved this particular design and color way. ( When designing fabric, there is a pattern and then the pattern is created in different color ways.  Imagine if you fall in love with a striped pattern blouse and it comes in Blue and white, as well as green and white, and maybe even pink and orange. These are called color ways.) So the end papers are actually a fabric pattern in my favorite color way of that pattern.

Adrienne, what inspired you to become a fabric artist? 

AY I have always loved fabric. When I was a kid, I made doll clothes for all my dolls. I love manipulating fabric and creating collages from them. I love fabric because it happens to be the biggest palate of them all! I use fabric from as many countries that produce it, to as many time periods as I can find, and every color and pattern that I can find. I also like to buy fabric that I may find “ugly” because you never know when that piece that seems ugly one day, may reveal itself to be perfect to portray an idea or feeling in a large work or illustration. I love vintage fabric, even its smell and texture. When I go into schools I bring some of the fabrics that I have designed as well as fabrics from Africa and Japan so the kids can see them and touch them. In The Alphabet Atlas I called the embassies of the countries represented to see if I could get fabrics from those countries.  A lot can be learned by the fabrics of countries in what is depicted, to the colors and feel of the fabric.

Do you have release parties or book signings scheduled?

JL The book release party is Saturday, March 5 at noon at BookPeople and everyone is invited. I’ll also be signing at the Corpus Christi Public Library on Monday, March 14 and at Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard on South Padre Island during Spring Break (March 15). I’m also thrilled to be signing at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on July 24 (during their Tribute Day when admission is free) and to have been invited to the Princeton Children’s Book Festival in New Jersey.

AY I am actually lecturing tomorrow and signing books at the Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit, New Jersey. They are so excited about the book and will be displaying all of the illustrations (there are 39) from May 16 till the middle of August. The original art is all framed now and I am thrilled that the entire book will be featured this Spring at the Arboretum.  I look forward to doing some local signings and of teaming up with Jeanette in New Orleans in June. I will be in Canada next Fall lecturing and hope to sign some copies there as well.

7 Responses to “Dual Interview- Jeanette Larson and Adrienne Yorinks- Collaborating on HUMMINGBIRDS: FACTS AND FOLKLORE FROM THE AMERICAS”

  1. Mary

    Wow! This sounds like an amazing book by two extremely talented and professional woman. i can't wait to see it. Out here in the trenches submitting books and waiting through rejections, it is always so interesting to hear stories about how books come to be. Don't we all DREAM about an editor working with us on an idea like this and bypassing the whole submission process?

  2. Robyn Hood Black

    Thanks to all three of you for a wonderful interview! [So wonderful I just ordered the book.]
    I can't wait to read it and savor those illustrations.

  3. Peter Taylor

    This sounds so wonderful. I hope copies are soon available in Australia. Many thanks too for your 'Librarian Interview'.

    All best wishes


  4. Donna

    So glad you stumbled upon my blog, all the way from Australia!
    I hope you'll find copies available to you soon.