Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Jen Betton

© Jen Betton

June 15, 2018

Today we are pleased to feature Jen Betton and her debut as a picture book author-illustrator, HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers June 19, 2018). Be sure to enter to win a copy!




Congrats on your new release, TWILIGHT CHANT and your upcoming debut as an author-illustrator, HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG! Tell us about each of these books. What inspired HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG?

TWILIGHT CHANT, by Holly Thompson (Clarion Books March 2018) is a picture book about a journey home at the end of the day and all the animals who emerge at twilight. I got do paint a lot of clouds, sunsets, and fireflies, which was a lot of fun.



HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG (G.P. Putman's Sons Books for Young Readers June 19, 2018) is the first book I’ve written as well as illustrated! It is about a Hedgehog who feels down in the snout and droopy in the prickles and so goes looking for a hug, but other creatures don’t want to get close to his spines! Fortunately, he finds someone else who is feeling the same way. 

I was brainstorming story ideas that involved animals who have a physical characteristic that is at odds with what they want. One of the first ideas was – what if a hedgehog wanted a hug?

What is the biggest difference between illustrating a book written by someone else and writing and illustrating one? How do you approach the project differently?

Well I’m a very slow writer! Writing is hard - it is a much faster process when I can develop the imagery from a story that is already expressed in a manuscript. I really enjoy getting inspired by and playing off of someone else’s work, but there is something really fun and special about balancing both the words and the pictures together, too. 

© Jen Betton


When I met you five years ago, you were unpublished as an illustrator. What were the one or two key things you did to make the jump from seriously pursuing illustration to getting published?

The first thing was that I targeted my portfolio – I needed more kids in my portfolio, and more series of images (which seemed super obvious once someone pointed it out to me!), so I focused on trimming out images that weren’t really kidlit related and creating new ones for the areas I needed to emphasize more. 

© Jen Betton


The second thing I did was start attending more SCBWI events – I’d heard of them before but thought they were only really for writers. I went to my first conference in LA in 2012, and that was career changing! (you can read about that here) It was incredibly helpful to have a strong community of like-minded peers to encourage me.

© Jen Betton


The third thing I did was start writing. I’d always imagined myself writing in the future, but figured I’d concentrate on the illustration first. One of my mentors, Cecilia Yung, suggested I start creating dummies. She said that then I wouldn’t have to wait for the perfect manuscript to come across an Art Director’s desk – I could basically “give myself a job” by coming up with a story that suited my art. I don’t think writing is for every illustrator, but it was something I’d always wanted to pursue and so I started creating manuscripts and dummies. Those dummies made it possible for me to find my agent, and eventually publishers. 

© Jen Betton


What projects are you working on now?

I’m working on a new story, which is about a little girl who wants to grow flowers. It’s still in rough form, but hoping to have a dummy ready to submit soon. 
© Jen Betton



I’ve also been working on some goodies for HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG: coloring pages, an activity kit, bookplates, etc. There is also a teacher’s guide by Marcie Colleen. You can download them from my website.

What advice would you give to aspiring author-illustrators about preparing their dummies?

Don’t get too tight too quickly with your drawings – showing composition, expressions, is important to the storytelling, so it’s important to have your dummy reach a certain level of legibility, but it can also take a lot of time to clean up a drawing that you are just going to have to change again later. It’s a mistake I’ve made before and now I really try to work small and rough for as long as possible. 

© Jen Betton


At each stage it’s good to look at your story in manuscript form, storyboard form, and dummy form – with each one it’s easier to spot certain issues. I find it’s easier to make pacing decisions when I look at the story in a couple different forms. 

If you get stuck, work on another story – you can never have too many! And don’t get discouraged if the dummy you’re working on isn’t the one that gets you published – you’ll learn something from it and make a better one next time.



Where can people find you online?

Twitter & Instagram: @jenbetton 


Jen Betton loves to draw and write stories for kids! In Kindergarten she got into trouble for drawing presents on a picture of Santa, and has been illustrating ever since. Her picture books include, HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, her debut as an author-illustrator, published with Penguin-Putnam, and TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion. She lives in Dallas with her family, and you can see more of her work at www.jenbetton.com
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48 comments:

  1. Hi Jen: Love your illustrations and truly enjoyed your book trailer for Hedgehog. Thank you for sharing. :) Would love to win a copy of your bebut picture book.

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    1. Thank you Gayle! I'm so glad you enjoyed the trailer!

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  2. The illustrations are precious! I can't wait to see this book in person and read it! Congratulations!

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  3. The illustrations are absolutely fantastic!!!

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  4. Love hedgehogs! My girls would love this book!

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  5. I love these illustrations. Simply beautiful.

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    1. Thank you Anitha - so glad you enjoyed them!

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  7. I just LOVE how much emotion are in the illustrations!

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  8. One thing I LOVE about HEDGEHOG is how Jen balanced the space for text within the illustrations in varied and interesting ways. Makes such a difference to the look and feel of the story! There's a lot more to love too, but I'll practice some restraint. Wonderful book!

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    1. Awwww, thanks Cathy :) It's so hard for me not to fill up the page sometimes!

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  9. Love Jen's illustrations. I also had the wonderful opportunity to take a couple workshops with Jen at this year's New England SCBWI conference. Thank you, Jen, for sharing your process!

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    1. Thanks Abi! I had a blast at those workshops!

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  10. Sweet! I love hedgehogs. I've even had them as pets.

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  11. Your illustrations are incredible. Foxes are beautiful when drawn by you.
    And I love hedgehogs.

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    1. Thank you! And I do have a soft spot for foxes!

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  12. I am loving these illustrations. Great interview :)

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  13. All of these critters are so memorable and beautiful!

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  14. I love the illustrations! Amazing talent. Thanks for sharing.

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  15. I love your fabulous illustrations! Can't wait for your book to come out!

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  16. Gorgeous colour and composition.

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  17. Beautiful illustrations! Thank you for sharing, Jen!

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  18. So much hedgie love!! Can't wait to read this gorgeous book!

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  19. Great compositions in HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG. I can't wait to read it.

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    1. Thank you Kyle - I'm glad you like the images!

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  20. And I love the expressive faces.

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    1. Thank you Robin - it was a lot of fun to draw his worried little face.

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  21. Jen, congrats on Hedgehog! Love that little guy and can't wait to read about him. Much success to you!

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  22. Congratulations on your new book. I loved learning about your process. Wonderful illustrations!

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    1. Thank you Claire - I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

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