by Lou Mancinelli
A good book can be a lucrative project. After scrambling between working as a wedding singer, telethon fundraiser, short-order vegan cook and more, local author and illustrator Amy Ignatow pitched her “The Popularity Papers” series to publishers. Their successful reception enabled her to go from a small center city apartment ($450 a month), where she had lived since college, to purchasing a Mt. Airy home with her husband.
Amy will release the fourth book in her series, “The Rocky Road Trip of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang,” (Amulet Books) this month. The story finds the two girls driving across the country with Julie’s two fathers, Papa Dad and Daddy, the summer between sixth and seventh grade.
There are thousands of children’s books, but how does an adult write in a child’s voice that actually resembles how a child might think? “Oh,” said Ignatow, in between talking baby talk to her six-month old daughter, her first. “Because I’m not that mature.”
“The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang,” (Amulet Books, 2010) the first book in the series, published in the spring of 2010, began by introducing the series’ characters and following the two girls’ quest for popularity as they prepared to enter middle school. It received positive reviews from the New York Times, and Ignatow was featured on NPR’s “Goodbye From Listeners,” saying goodbye to her old apartment and hello to her new home.
Amy will be hosting an author’s event at Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy, on Friday, April 13, 7 p.m., followed by a pizza party and book signing to celebrate the release of the new book. Amy’s appearance is part of the store’s Mt. Airy Kids’ Literary Festival.
With each book, The Popularity Papers chronicle Lydia and Julie’s days as they pass through their formative preteen years. The second and third books, both released last year, saw the two girls through middle school.
Ignatow’s children’s books are different from most. The Popularity Papers are laid out like a scrapbook a preteen girl might keep, complete with its hand-passed notes. Ignatow found inspiration in the collection of notes she still has from her grammar school days, and she consulted with many of her friends from that time to develop scenes and dialogue. “It’s sort of easy to access those memories of what it was like to go to middle school,” said Ignatow.
The entire text of each story is handwritten, and a youthful style permeates Ignatow’s drawings which accompany the text. It is clear the 34-year-old mother is as in touch with her inner-child as the writers and animators at Pixar must be. If speaking baby were a measure of the flexibility of one’s psyche, she’d be an acrobat.
Amy finished her most recent book during her pregnancy, and when her water broke, she figured she had an extra 15 minutes to make the final edits, a tedious Adobe Photoshop process. Ignatow said she has plenty of ideas for more books, is writing the fifth in the series now and suggests she will be writing for years to come.
After leaving SUNY Oneonta, the Long Island-raised girl went abroad to the Middle East and Europe. She began her college career studying English literature thinking perhaps she could write or possibly become an academic. But she wasn’t sure. When she returned to the U.S., she knew she wanted to be an illustrator and enrolled in art school. In 2002, she graduated from the Moore College of Art & Design, where she would later teach, with a degree in illustration.
After school she lived in Philly, played in bands and began an internet-based web-cartoon, “Ig City,” a sort of adult web comic. “It’s very easy to not practice your art, especially if you’re not making money from it,” said Ignatow. “[‘Ig City’] was something I could point to and say, ‘I can do this.’”
But as Amy approached her 30s, the reality of paying bills and her desire for health insurance and such became more apparent. In 2005 she contacted Daniel Lazar, a literary agent at the New York-based Writers House. “Ig City” appealed enough to Lazar to take a keen interest in Ignatow’s talents and sell-ability. While he thought “Ig City” would not sell, he worked with Ignatow and later found writing children’s books lent itself to Ignatow’s playful character.
“It’s kind of who I am,” she said. “I’m not a very serious person.”
A few years later, “The Popularity Papers” were born, and they earned her a two-book deal with a financial advance. “Popularity is relative,” said Ignatow. “If you have friends who love you, who think you’re cool, then who cares if people think you’re popular? Your friends should be the coolest people you know.”
More information at www.abramsbooks.com/popularitypapers or www.bigbluemarblebooks.com/kidslit12.html. Books in the “Popularity Papers” series are available online at Amazon.com and at Blue Marble and other bookstores.