If you are looking for that spark of silliness that touches your heart and makes you smile, look no further than the author and illustrator of the Peep and Friends series. Ms. Stevens looks at life with unabashed joy and believes in living in the here and now. It is her belief that by doing so leads you onto a path of happiness. She will readily admit that she is very good at daydreaming and isn’t afraid to get up in a crowd and do the funky chicken. Is it any wonder that she is a children’s writer and illustrator? A lifelong artist, Ms. Stevens has always dabbled in writing as well, and her desire only grew stronger when her daughter came along. She found that sharing stories with her daughter, reading picture books, and creating memories deepened her passion for writing. It is not surprising that the values she ﬁnds in relationships has found its way into her writing style. She is extremely inﬂuenced by the bonds between children, children and adults, children and animals, the way animals interact, and even our own personal relationship with the Universe. Ultimately, it is about how to be happy in the moment, something children are so naturally predisposed to.
Q. Why were you inspired to create “Peep and Friends” (the series of interactive book apps)?
A. Some years ago when my daughter was very young and sick in bed, I was reading poetry to her from “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein. It was Spring break and our house had sweet Easter decorations around. The combination of Shel’s playful poetry, the decorations and my desire to help my daughter feel better, all conspired to have me peep out “Peep!” She giggled! Pretty soon a natural rhythm fell into place as I began each stanza by saying “Piper, Penny and Peep.” The ideas really started forming then and the stories grew. The Peep stories incubated for years! The characters went through a few different looks before I settled on the illustration style you see today. The inspiration for creating interactive book apps came to me in 2009. I was inspired by the movement, narration, music and sound capabilities that an interactive app can provide the reader and the appeal of the reader engaging with an interactive app. I set out to ﬁnd a way to create my own book apps.
Q. Brilliant! So glad you did. Which was the most difﬁcult – writing, illustrating or building the book apps?
A. Every part of creating the series has had its own challenges. First of course, was the writing. I had already set a certain level of difﬁculty by limiting myself to words that rhyme with peep. There just aren’t that many that are a true rhyme. Also I wanted the stories to be fun, repetitive in the structure, and have simple early word recognition. The stanzas needed to be in a logical sequence in order to make sense as individual stories. Illustrating the Peep and Friends stories is a long drawn out process, especially so when it comes to creating all the individual graphic elements that are required for an interactive app with frame animations. I paint with water color on paper and edit in Photoshop. I’m currently working on the second app and it is much more involved in the illustrations and animations then the ﬁrst app “Peep’s Spring Surprise!” Building my ﬁrst book app, especially in the beginning, had a deﬁnite learning curve. I use the InteractBuilder. Like any new software, there is the time spent in understanding the language and getting to know your way around. Fortunately the InteractBuilder is a design tool so I didn’t have to learn coding. It is very rewarding to see my characters moving around, interacting with the reader and each other. While I’ve had my “moments” building the apps, all in all it is a lot of fun to see my ideas taking life. Out of the three, I’d say illustrating is the most difﬁcult because of the volume of illustrations required.
Q. That’s so cool…thanks for sharing! Switching gears, what kinds of trials and tribulations must Peep undergo along the way?
A. Since the stories are for ages 2 to 5, the trials are very mild. “Peep’s Spring Surprise” is absolutely free of any difﬁculties. There’s a tiny amount of drama that shows up in the second story of the series, “Piper, Penny and Peep”. Peep gets himself into trouble by climbing up stairs that are too high for little Peep. But don’t worry, he has help to ﬁnd his way back down. Also, in the same story there is a bit of crankiness between Peep and his friends Piper and Penny, because they need their milk and naps! In the third story, “Bo and Peep”, Peep and his friends ﬁnd themselves consoling Bo Peep, and it’s not because she lost her sheep!
Q. LOL! Does Peep get a lot of help from his friends?
A. My answer may be a bit of shock, but no he doesn’t! My books are basically little adventures of Peep and his friends. The trio are always together. While Peep is small in size and only has one word to say, he is right in there with his friends. There aren’t any morals or lessons to be learned.
Q. Nice! I’m sure many readers will appreciate that, too. So, who are Peep’s primary “anipals?”
A. There’s Piper, who is a boy dog. He likes to be ﬁrst, but he’s not pushy about it. Piper’s not as brave as he thinks he is. He’s a sweet one. Penny is a girl cat. She’s smart and adventurous. Penny is independent but kind. Supporting background anipals are what I call “The Stormy Sheep.” That’s because of how their wool looks and has nothing to do with their disposition. They are in all three of the stories and are a big part of “Bo and Peep.”
Q. Awesome! Speaking of pals, how has being part of the KLA community helped you get the word out?
A. Kid Literature Authors is a very supportive FB group, website and twitter community for kid lit authors and illustrators. KLA was founded by Karen Emma Hall. This community helps to get the word out because it is a community. Everyone does their best to support each other. I’ve met many wonderful friends through KLA. I had largely stayed away from social media because it was overwhelming, but along came Karen and here I am! KLA has been a huge blessing in my life, otherwise I would be sitting all by myself and nobody would know about Peep and Friends.
Q. I couldn’t agree more: love Karen and the community! Now, obviously chicken nuggets make Peep shudder, but are Peep’s friends “veggies” too?
A. Absolutely! Except that they do drink organic milk from happy cows when it’s nap time.
Q. Are you currently working on the second book? If so, then what can readers look forward to?
A. All three stories in the series are written. Currently I’m in illustration and animation mode as I build the second story app “Piper, Penny and Peep.” The second story takes place in their playroom and they are busy playing with their toys. Their imaginations take them on different types of transportation; train, tug boat and car, which are interactive frame animations. Peep has a very special toy that also keeps watch over him and helps him out when he gets in a bit of a pickle. After such a full day of play, the trio are in deﬁnite need of a nap. The story ends with blissful sleep.
Q. What’s on the horizon for the remainder of 2014?
A. A big push to complete the “Piper, Penny and Peep.” When that is completed I will also release an updated version of “Peep’s Spring Surprise.” Both book apps then will have text highlighting, which I’m very happy about. Also, I’ll be submitting the Peep and Friends series to publishing houses as I’d like to see the stories in print.
Q. Where can readers go to connect with you and your wonderful work?
A. If you would like to learn more about my work and how I have blended the “traditional” story book with technology, explore my interactive book app, “Peep’s Spring Surprise!” on iTunes. Hereʼs all of the links to all things Peep and Friends: http://www.peepandfriends.com/
https://www.facebook.com/PeepandFriends https://twitter.com/PeepandFriends https://www.youtube.com/user/peepandfriends123 http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/peeps-spring-surprise/id547074449? mt=8 http://www.jamiestevensillustrator.com