Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Cindy Derby



March 15, 2019

Today we are pleased to feature author-illustrator Cindy Derby and her debut picture book, HOW TO WALK AN ANT (Roaring Brook Press March 26, 2019).

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

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to create stories. The way I expressed this passion was in many different forms throughout my life. First, it was trying to be the class clown. But, nobody really got my jokes. The second way was through theater, where I was an actor, director and puppeteer. My puppetry led me to building puppets and touring one-woman shows in Scotland. The third way was through painting. Painting was a major force that interwove itself through all my odd jobs in my twenties.




The moment things came together was when I was teaching at an afterschool arts program in Los Angeles. I let the kids run with their wild ideas, and I supplied the material and guidance. We built Robot Restaurants, did performances, and created Tiny Towns out of paper. The students had the funniest of ideas. And they were so unapologetic about them too. They gave me the confidence to write my own stories.




I discovered that picture books became a perfect stage for me to express all the characters, jokes, and worlds I had in my head. Picture books is a theater show that you can fit into your backpack.

Congrats on your picture book, HOW TO WALK AN ANT! Tell us about it and what inspired you.

HOW TO WALK AN ANT follows Amariyah, the expert Ant Walker in her very own Nine-Step Guide in the crucial task of walking ants. I’m super stoked about this book. And it comes out March 26th!

I owe it all to the main character, Amariyah. She was my muse in the process. She took the reins (leashes, rather) to help me figure this story out.


© Cindy Derby


The inspiration behind this character came from one of my students at the school. She was very protective of all the insects on the playground, and if there was an injured insect, she would create barriers and signs to direct the playground traffic around the insect.
When I was developing story ideas, I created a character with a similar spirit. I named the character Amariyah. And she walked ants.

Was your road to publication long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?

Hmmm...I would say sweet and windy.

I was working on building up my portfolio with more narrative art, as well as work on my very own picture book. I joined the SCBWI, and entered my portfolio in the showcase at the summer conference. And, I won the grand prize. I was in utter shock. The SCBWI set up meetings with art directors in New York, where I received some amazing guidance towards my next steps. I went back home, and went back to work. I worked diligently for the next two years improving my body of work and getting my stories ready for submission.


© Cindy Derby


HOW TO WALK AN ANT knocked on the door to my mind. Repeatedly. I had about 50 different versions of the story. And created many, many,many book dummies. But I kept revising. I would send it out, get rejections and carry on. I was told the story was too dark. But I wouldn’t let it go. I believed in this character too much. I believed in my stories too much. And Amariyah, she needed to be out in the world.



© Cindy Derby

At the time (back in 2014), I was living back at my parents house— and helping take care of my niece in her first year. We pulled out many of my old toys for her to play with and I remember it being really nice to be back in a crowded house full of memories. In those moments of doubt, that is what helped me. And to survive this, I had to turn down some other noise (like people giving me unsolicited advice, or my mom worrying I would be a birthday clown the rest of my life). And instead, turned up the volume of my own voice and vision, that was uniquely mine.

After much work, HOW TO WALK AN ANT evolved into a story not only about walking ants, but also about about friendship. Somewhere, out there, there are other weird people like you, and they also may be walking insects.

After I discovered this important facet in the story, shortly after, I found my rad literary agent, which then led me to my editor for this book.

Who or what inspires your art?

I go on walks everyday with my dog, Banjo. Banjo and I wander around the neighborhood and observe random things. I find people really fascinating, too. The best part is when two strangers witness something strange, look at one another and laugh. I love catching little moments like that.


© Cindy Derby


Aside from observing dogs all day, I love to look at stage design. I go back to my roots in theater, and remember all the visually dynamic shows I experienced while living in Scotland— and that keeps me rooted.

What projects are you working in now?

I am currently working on a picture book called OUTSIDE IN by Deborah Underwood (HMH, 2020). I am also illustrating a picture book about a boy coping with the loss of his mother called THE BOY AND THE 800 POUND GORILLA by Jackie Azua Kramer (Candlewick Press, 2020). (And I have been visiting the San Francisco Zoo, and observing a sweet gorilla named Oscar).


© Cindy Derby


In the pipeline I have my second book I am working on as author/ illustrator with my editor at Roaring Brook Press, and I will speak about it very soon!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors and illustrators?

Experiment with mediums you aren’t comfortable with. And use unconventional art-making tools. Whenever I do this, it helps me get out of my standard routine and rediscover my child-like spontaneity.



© Cindy Derby

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

In elementary school I used to roam around the playground with a tree stick and pretend I was an old lady. One day I got so carried away, I accidentally poked someone in the eye and got detention.


© Cindy Derby


Where can people find you online?

www.cindyderby.com www.instagram.com/cindyderby www.twitter.com/cindyderby



© Cindy Derby



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17 comments:

  1. Amy, I absolutely love your art. Good for you for sticking to your vision.

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  2. This sounds like my kind of book!

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  3. I'd love to sit next to Cindy at a dinner party. I think we would never run out of things to talk about!

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  4. Interesting interview! Can't wait to find out how to walk an ant!

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  5. I can't wait to buy your book! ��

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  6. I LOVE your work. Just read a review elsewhere of HOW TO WALK AN ANT. It's on order at the San Francisco Public Library, so I may have to go rogue and buy a copy. Very exciting that you're illustrating one of Deborah Underwood books. I think you two are a good match, from what I can tell from your interview. And I love all the work you've done with kids. Letting them run wild is a good thing. Cheers on your success!

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  7. Such childlike energy in your illustrations! I'm looking forward to reading!

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  8. This was a delightful interview. I cannot wait for all your books, Cindy!

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  9. I love your artwork! I also find it comforting that it took you so many tries to get How To Walk An Ant just the way you wanted. Persistence. We all need to hear that again and again. Thanks for a great interview!

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  10. I enjoyed the interview, especially how you and Banjo take walks and observe the world and its inhabitants. This book sounds like it has a character I will love and empathize with very much.

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  11. Love the interview, very interesting

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  12. It was great to read about your writing/illustrating journey. Thank you, Cindy!

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  13. I love the idea of this story and the illustrations are so original. I'd love to win a copy. Thanks!

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  14. I was that little girl on the playground helping injured insects! Still am! LOL. Now I'm an aspiring children's book author who hopes to win a copy of your clever PB "How To Walk An Ant." Love your illustrations! Thanks for the opportunity, Cindy!

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  15. Love your illustrations! Can't wait to read your new book. Ants!!! Congratulations and thanks for sharing your story!

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  16. So happy to hear the buzz about How to Walk an Ant is building! What a lovely article.

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