By Melissa Arnold
Jonny Hamilton of Greenlawn has a gift for visual arts and creative work. After becoming a father and reading one too many poorly-written children’s books, he decided to try writing his own. Hamilton’s second book, The Snowbaby, follows a just born snow-pal as he explores the world for the first time. The simple story and sweet characters are enhanced by Hamilton’s captivating and textured illustrations. The book was a hit with his own children, and will surely capture the eyes and imaginations of little ones during this especially snowy winter.
Do you write for a living, or is this a new undertaking for you?
For the past 15 years, I’ve worked as the creative lead for an advertising network, but I’m an animator at heart. I went to school for digital media production and found myself drawn to the graphic design side of things. I started working professionally in Portland right out of school in a few boutique production and animation studios with some truly inspiring talent. On a personal trip to NYC, I decided on a whim to send my reel around. I ended up getting a job offer and moved east two weeks later.
Writing is a relatively new undertaking — I drew comics for my friends in grade school and wrote absurd short stories in high school (very much inspired by Monty Python sketches and Steve Martin’s short stories), but I never really thought of myself as a writer. I suppose I sort of backed into it more as an illustrator looking for a story.
Did you read a lot when you were younger? What books inspired you?
I didn’t read a lot as a kid. I was and still am a slow reader, so it’s hard to make time. I do have very fond memories of the books of my childhood that are probably standard for my generation. Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, and Arnold Lobel really resonated with me both visually and from a storytelling standpoint. And now that I have kids, I’ve become a big fan of Mo Willems, Adam Rubin & Daniel Salmieri, and Dav Pilkey.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always been interested in creating children’s media in general. I grew up with Sesame Street, the Muppets, Mister Rogers, etc. I had a deep love for all that stuff, and was a fan well past the age when most kids outgrew it. As an adult I did some freelance work making animated educational shorts for preschoolers and enjoyed it so much I started making some on my own.
When I became a parent, I was exposed to this whole world of children’s books. The thing is, for every great book you get your kids, you somehow also end up with three terrible books. So after a few years, I thought, ‘I should give writing a kids’ book a try.’
My twin sons were 5 and our youngest was around 1, so we had a new baby around. The twins loved anything that had to do with babies, so I thought that was fertile ground to start with. I wrote my first book, What Babies Do at Night, and then The Snowbaby, and gave them to the twins as Christmas gifts.
My kids loved the books, partly because they recognized themselves as the characters, but mostly because I nailed their favorite subject. It was the reaction from other family members that got me to publish. Everyone seemed genuinely impressed if not surprised that it was actually a decent little book.
What is the ‘The Snowbaby’ about?
The Snowbaby is the story of a curious and good-natured newborn exploring an entirely new world. He is fascinated by everyone he meets including a fox, rabbit and cardinal, and eventually finds just what he needs: his family.
How long did it take to write?
My first book took almost three months, and I really struggled to get through it. I think I was trying too hard to get everything in, as if it were the only book I would ever write. With The Snowbaby I allowed it to be much simpler. I started with the illustrations, and the story just emerged.
Tell us more about the illustrations.
Each of my books has a different illustrative style, but I’ve received the most positive feedback about the artwork in The Snowbaby. I’m a huge fan of the background artwork in the Peanuts animated holiday specials, so that’s where I started with The Snowbaby. I used watercolor washes throughout to create an atmosphere of winter and then added bright splashes of color here and there with the cardinal, fox, etc.
Did you publish in the traditional way, or did you self-publish? What company did you choose and why?
I spent about a year sending out query letters for The Snowbaby, and my latest book The Annual Elf. As expected, I received many “Thank you, but …” responses. I finally decided to google “Self-Publishing Children’s Books” and I found a great video that showed how to do it “in 10 minutes” on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing.
Well, it took quite a bit longer than 10 minutes, but it wasn’t too difficult. There are pros and cons of publishing through this service. There are limited options for sizing, so I had to rework the layout. The color in the printing varies from batch to batch, and paperback is the only option for a book as short as The Snowbaby. The biggest benefit is you don’t have to order a bunch of copies. You just make it available, and they print them as needed per individual order.
Is there a particular message or lesson you hope to share through this book?
I hope they experience a feeling of love and kindness that everyone deserves.
What is the target age for this book?
From ages 2 to 7 seems to be the sweet spot. One of my sons brought it into his kindergarten class and the class sent me a poster where every student drew their favorite scenes. It was an incredibly touching gift (Thanks, Mrs. Gutheil)!
Jonny Hamilton’s books are available for purchase at www.amazon.com/author/jonnyhamilton. View an animated version of The Snowbaby by searching for “Jonny Hamilton The Snowbaby” on YouTube, and keep up with Hamilton on Instagram @jonny_hamilton_author.