Q&A with Jane Smith

Chloe Zoe is a sweet young elephant who loves celebrating the holidays and trying new things! Along with her friends Mary Margaret the crocodile and George the giraffe, Chloe Zoe learns important lessons about getting along with friends, enjoying new experiences, and most of all, having fun! Join Chloe Zoe on two new adventures this season, It’s Halloween, Chloe Zoe! and It’s Thanksgiving, Chloe Zoe!

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We were lucky enough to sit down with author-illustrator Jane Smith to chat about inspiration, holiday celebrations, and the Chloe Zoe series.

Q: What was your inspiration for your title?

A: It’s Halloween, Chloe Zoe! is inspired by the classic childhood experience of being “scared of the creepy house down the street.” I know I certainly had a house like that on my block growing up! I was too creeped out to knock on the door during Girl Scout cookie selling season, let alone in the dark on Halloween night!! Chloe Zoe is braver than I was! (But, of course, it always helps to have awesome friends like Mary Margaret and George!!)

It’s Thanksgiving, Chloe Zoe! is inspired by a favorite family Thanksgiving memory. When my nephew was very small—about 2-3 years old—he really, really, really wanted to decorate the holiday pumpkin pie with rainbow sprinkles. And so, my sister let him go for it! The pie looked super gross, covered in melty sprinkles, and tasted kinda funny, too, but it was super awesome nonetheless. Just as Chloe Zoe and Grammy Ella discover, it’s all about just being together, making funny, happy memories.


Q: What makes your books stand out?

A: The whole Chloe Zoe picture book series, including the two newest titles, It’s Halloween, Chloe Zoe! and It’s Thanksgiving, Chloe Zoe!, stand out because they speak directly to kids’ very real experiences in the world and honors their emotional reactions to those experiences. This is so meaningful to young kids as they grow and begin making sense of their world and their place in it.

Q: What comes first—text or art?

A: For me, it depends—sometimes a manuscript comes first and sometimes an illustration of a character does and sometimes they kind of just happen together.

In the case of Chloe Zoe, she and her friends began as collage spot art paired with a very short story about the first day of preschool, originally designed as a novelty board book! The creative team at Albert Whitman saw this and was inspired to envision a whole picture book series—Chloe Zoe!


Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A: For me, the easiest part of creating a book is coming up with ideas and characters. Those always come out of playing with art materials and enjoying everyday life. (I’m pretty much inspired by everything from a walk at the beach to hanging out with my kiddo to eating out at a fabulous restaurant to traveling to new places to everything else in-between).

The hardest part, for me, is the sketch stage. This is when the manuscript is really solid and it’s time to make the plan for the whole visual experience of the book. It requires a lot of thinking and paying close attention to details, working to really enhance the narrative that is in the text and being diligent about consistency. And often it also includes a lot of erasing and stopping and starting all over again!!

But it’s all worth it, because when the sketches are fully thought out and are as solid as the text, it makes creating the final art so much more fun! The pressure is off because there is a plan that you can trust!


Q: What was the process of working with your editor like?

A: It has been a dream! Over the course of creating the Chloe Zoe series, which currently includes six titles, I have had the pleasure of working with two different, but equally fabulous, editors and the superstar art director, Jordan Kost. All of them have given me a lot of freedom to bring my vision of Chloe Zoe and her world to life, all the while providing support and direction along the way.

With each title, my editor gave me a holiday or a big moment, like the first day of kindergarten, from which to begin. I would draft a manuscript with loose, rough thumbnails and we’d noodle it from there. Sometimes, a book came together quickly, while others required a lot of back and forth. Through the process, the manuscript would get tighter and more concise, while the art would become realized first through sketches and then through final art. It was amazing to see how each title finally came together as one complete, exciting package!


Q: What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?

A: I loved reading as a kid! My favorite book when I was little was Watch Out for Chicken Feet in Your Soup by Tomie de Paolo, and my second favorite book was the Russian folktale, Baba Yaga. I was lucky enough to have a librarian for a mom, so our house was always filled with books, books, books!

These days I love scary, creepy books and read a lot of mysteries, thrillers and horror stories! And I am also obsessed with magazines—National Geographic, Yoga Journal, Vegetarian Times, and more!


Thanks so much Jane! Find out more about the whole Chloe Zoe series—and download fun activities to go along with each book—over at our website. Join Chloe Zoe for fun adventures this Halloween and Thanksgiving!

Q&A with Jane Smith