Author Illustrator Spotlight: Ruth Chan

© Ruth Chan



March 25, 2016

Today we have the pleasure of spotlighting Ruth Chan, whose debut picture book, WHERE'S THE PARTY? is in stores now! 

Be sure to enter her giveaway for a free copy!



Tell us about your background and how you came to write and illustrate for children.

I grew up in Canada, where I was surrounded by ice rinks, beaver dams, and, of course, picture books. I loved Richard Scarry the most (and the Cat in the Hat stressed me out to no end!).  

In college and grad school, I studied education and photography, and then went on to teach for a few years, before moving onto managing youth development programs in underserved communities.  So, basically, I was constantly surrounded by picture books. 

I’d always love picture books because they seamlessly encompass some of the most beautiful things in life: A good story, beautiful language, incredible art, humor, wit, tenderness, and truths. I’d amassed a huge collection of them, but never allowed myself to really consider making them. While I doodled here and there, I had no formal illustration background, and, in my mind, there was no way I’d make it in such a competitive industry.


© Ruth Chan


Then in 2012, a number of really difficult things happened at the same time and I found myself alone, jobless, and, quite honestly, depressed.  I remember sitting down in the mornings and drawing because I didn’t really know what else to do, and then— as things sometimes unfold— that aimlessness led to more illustrations, which led to taking a few SVA continuing classes, and then to attending an SCBWI conference.  

Returning from it, I gave myself a year to work on illustration, and attended the 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference with a new portfolio.  The portfolio ended up receiving a Runner-Up award at the Portfolio Showcase, and within six months, I had signed with an agent, and had a two-book deal! It was insane.  

Wow, what a story. Congrats on your debut, WHERE'S THE PARTY? What inspired it?

Thanks! Georgie the cat is my actual real-life cat and is best friends with Feta, my actual real-life dog. (They have an actual real-life blog).  




They are so weird and quirky that making them major characters was inevitable. As for the plot, one day a few years ago, I watched an employee from Balloon Saloon carry about 50 helium balloons around my neighborhood, looking for this one address while trying to wrangle all these balloons.  It was a great visual, and there was something classic and universal about someone traipsing through a neighborhood desperately looking for a party.  I made a few versions of this story, and from there, along with a lot of help from my agent, Rebecca Sherman, and editor at Roaring Brook, Connie Hsu, WHERE’S THE PARTY? was born.


© Ruth Chan

© Ruth Chan

© Ruth Chan

© Ruth Chan


Your style is so fun and whimsical. Who or what inspires you?

I love silliness. Life’s not much fun without a little— or a lot— of silly. The real-life Feta and Georgie remind me of this constantly.  I also keep a list of hilarious, or sweet, or weird things that I see on any given day, and will go back to it for ideas pretty regularly.

In terms of book makers I love, as I mentioned, I’ve got a special place for Richard Scarry. As a kid, I loved finding all the odd little details he had in his illustrations, and loved that his characters were sort of endearingly awkward in their own way. No one’s perfect.  And some of those imperfections are the best opportunities for making a character lovable and someone we’d care about.

© Ruth Chan

What projects are your working on now?

I just finished illustrating a hilarious book written by Colleen AF Venable called MERVIN THE SLOTH IS ABOUT TO DO THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD with Greenwillow.  I got to draw about 25 different kinds of animals, which is so much fun. It comes out September 13, 2016.

Right now, I’m wrapping up the second 'Georgie and Friends’ book (WHERE’S THE PARTY? is the first of the series).  This book’s called GEORGIE’S BEST BAD DAY and is, quite obviously, about having a bad day.  I’m also just starting on a sequel to MERVIN THE SLOTH.  Which means more animals!

© Ruth Chan


What has surprised you about the publication process?

What's surprised me and keeps surprising me is how incredibly supportive and collaborative everyone is— from my agent, to editors, art directors, designers, marketing folks, fellow authors and illustrators, librarians, bloggers, families, and other members of the kid lit community.  Everyone is cheerleading everyone else, and, having come from some pretty aggressively unsupportive work environments, this sort of blows my mind. That’s not to say there isn’t an ‘ugly’ side to publishing, but on the whole, it’s not too shabby!

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators or writers?
  • Work through the self-doubt, and keep gunning at it. Everyone has moments of crippling self-doubt (almost daily over here), but if you want to do this, then just keep working at it.
  • Learn the industry, everything you can about it— how it works, what makes a good picture book, who’s who in the industry, etc.  Read blogs and sites like this one, follow key people on social media, listen to podcasts, attend book launches, take some classes, read picture books incessantly.  
  • Join SCBWI. 
What is one thing most people don't know about you?

I lived in Hong Kong (where I went to a German school)-- and Beijing during my middle and high school years.

I despise ham sandwiches and am afraid of feet. 

Where can we find you online?

You can find my work at ohtruth.com.
Instagram, Twitter: @ohtruth
But most people like photos of Georgie and Feta, which is at georgietales.com



Before Ruth began illustrating full-time, she spent much of her Canadian childhood tobogganing, another chunk of time studying art and education at Wellesley College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a decade working with kids in schools, after school and summer programs in underserved communities in Boston, DC, and NYC. She has since become a full-time illustrator, spending her time creating children’s picture books, freelance illustrating, and doodling on the train. 
Ruth now lives in Brooklyn, NY with her cat, Georgie, and her dog, Feta, who share their imaginary adventures in her debut picture book, Where’s the Party? (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) and their real life adventures at georgietales.com.




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30 comments:

  1. What a wonderful story...keep gunning it.....love that attitude! Would love to see your silly things list someday...that in itself is a book, my dear! Keep doing what you do. PBs make our world a good place to be.

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  2. This is such a hopeful story for us pre-pub writers, Ruth. Congrats on you debut and thank you of your work with the underserved kids who need great educators and literary lovers in their lives.

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  3. Your wit, humor, and tenderness come through here. Just like your books, I bet!

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  4. Your wit, humor, and tenderness come through here. Just like your books, I bet!

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  5. Ruth, you are so talented, and I am very excited to hear about your journey and successes! I can't wait to pick up a copy of this adorable book!!

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  6. The book looks great - love your illustration style! Pets are the best! I really enjoyed reading your path to publication story. Thanks for sharing. - Amanda Sincavage

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  8. It's always so amazing to see how the creative process unfolds! Thanks so much for allowing us to see yours, Ruth! I can't wait to read this book. It looks fabulous!

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  9. Love this post! Ruth - did we ever cross paths at Wzly or HGSE? Can't wait to read your book and congratulations!

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  10. Such a fun post, Ruth! Looking forward to reading WHERE'S THE PARTY? Congrats!

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  11. Love this post and love your drawings. Very kid and adult friendly. I have to win that book. I, too, loved Richard Scarry.

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  12. I really enjoyed your story of how you began illustrating & writing PB. Love your little guys Georgie and Feta. Thanks so much for your encouraging words to aspiring writers/illustrators.

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  13. Always great to meet someone who not only has an illustration connection with me but also a Hong Kong and Canadian one, too! Wishing Ruth continued success in her career!

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  14. Thank you for sharing your journey to publication. I look forward to reading Where's the Party and Georgie's blog posts!

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  15. Congratulations! The book looks and sounds precious!

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  16. Congratulations! The book looks and sounds precious!

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  17. Thanks for sharing! Just curious, why does the Cat in the Hat stress you out?

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  18. I am in love with your art! Your illustrations are so cute, great lines and colors. Wow! You have a new fan here.

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  19. Wonderful to learn about your process Ruth and so inspiring to learn about your journey! - Lotus Ivak

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  20. Enjoyed your art very much. Keeping a journal of funny/strange things is a great idea. And the potential for imperfections to make a character more charming is a good thing to keep in mind. :-)

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  21. Thanks for sharing your journey, Ruth! Love your work, especially that adorable hedgehog with the party balloons! And Georgie and Feta are very cute! So looking forward to reading your books!! Congrats!!

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  22. loved reading about your process, Ruth! Looking forward to reading your books!

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  23. Your illustrations are charming! Looking forward to reading your debut :)

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  24. I love the story of your journey to publication. Look forward to reading Where's the Party? Congratulations!

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  25. I really like your art process. Truly inspiring. :) Guess I'll have to learn how to draw! :)

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  26. Love the story behind the story. Thanks for sharing and wishing you much luck with your beautiful, fun book!

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  27. An inspiring interview. The life journey of the author will add a dimension to her books, more than "just for kids". Terence Lau

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  28. Where's the party? I want to go too. Congratulations, Ruth. I love how your pets inspire you.

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