Zibby Owens & Holly Hatam, PRINCESS CHARMING

Zibby Owens & Holly Hatam, PRINCESS CHARMING

Zibby is joined by #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator, and illustrator of their new children’s book Princess Charming, Holly Hatam to celebrate its publication day!!! Zibby tells the story of how this book came to be and Holly shares how although she always knew she wanted to be an illustrator, it wasn’t until her son was born that she finally committed to making her dreams come true. The two discuss the ways in which their kids inspire their work, what Holly does to create her signature collage-style illustrations, and how they plan on celebrating the publication of Princess Charming! Buy your own copy here!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Holly. Thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” We are basically interviewing each other now for our collaborative project, Princess Charming, written by me and illustrated by you.

Holly Hatam: So excited. Thank you.

Zibby: I’m so excited too. It’s so cute. Listeners can’t feel it, but this children’s book, Princess Charming, has glitter all over the stars and the little castle in the background and Princess Charming’s outfit and headband. It’s just the cutest. Holly, you did such a phenomenal job with these illustrations. I should maybe say for people listening who don’t know what Princess Charming is about, it’s about a girl named Princess Charming who can’t seem to find her thing. She keeps trying everything and not doing a good enough job and wondering what to do. Then this famous movie star, Stella Sparkle, comes to visit the palace. She realizes through something that happens that maybe what she’s really good at is not giving up and perseverance. Then there is a little twist at the end about who Princess Charming really is. That is the story. Now you go, Holly.

Holly: I had so much fun with this because she reminded me a lot of my little boy. Every day, he’s trying something new and being someone new. It was just fun. We always try to teach him that failing is not really failing. He has such a hard time with that. He thinks it’s the worst thing in the world. He won’t try anything unless he knows he’s going to be good at it. This book was amazing to be a part of.

Zibby: This was sort of inspired by one of my kids also. It’s hard to be a kid and just keep trying things and wanting so badly — I feel like there’s all this pressure to have a thing when you’re really, really young. You know what? I just found my thing. I’m forty-five years old. Sometimes it doesn’t happen right away.

Holly: I didn’t become a children’s book illustrator — it feels like seven years now. I don’t feel like it’s that long. I kept changing and changing and pivoting for so many years when I graduated.

Zibby: Wait, how did you become an illustrator for children’s books?

Holly: It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, but I never found the courage to do it. I went to school for graphic design because I didn’t think I was good enough to apply to illustration. My teacher told me I was strong in graphic design, so I followed that route. I hated it. I got two jobs out of school. I hated it. Then I kept freelancing. I started my own company doing wedding invitations for a while. Hated every minute of it. Then I got pregnant. I said, okay, if I don’t do it now, I am never going to do it. That was in 2013. I got scared that I would never do it, so I just did it. I thank my son for that because being pregnant with him pushed me to finally do it.

Zibby: Awesome. Your son is now motivating this entire project. He should be on here with us. I love it. It’s the opposite when you’re a child. It feels like there is an endless amount of time and an endless amount of things to experiment with and be good at or just to enjoy. It’s really crazy when you think about it, that you’re born, deep down, with all of these tools and tricks and skills, and you don’t even know where they’re going to come out. It’s crazy.

Holly: I miss that. I miss watching my son every day — he’s like, “Today, I’m going to be a train conductor.” I’m like, “What happened to an astronaut?” He just says, “Well, I can do both.” I wish we still had that mentality.

Zibby: Totally, yes. It’s so true. I also feel like all this pressure to specialize in a sport really early really backfires. I feel like I was an anomaly among the moms at my school a little bit because my son kept trying different sports. A lot of their sons knew early on that they were going to be soccer players. It was a whole thing. They were in the travel soccer in the first grade. I’m like, how could I already be so behind? I’ve already ruined his life. That’s how I felt. Oh, well, so much for that. I guess he’ll try a different sport. I kept saying to people, I played lacrosse for a long time. I was pretty good. I didn’t start playing lacrosse until high school. Everyone keeps saying, that’s not the way it is anymore. I’m like, are you sure? Are you sure it’s not?

Holly: I feel like it’s not the kid that really wants to start early. It’s the parents that feel they should start them early. We’ve never pushed our son to play a sport. He likes it, but he doesn’t show such a deep interest for it. I see the value of working in a team, but I don’t ever push him to do something that he doesn’t love to do.

Zibby: I don’t mean to say anything about these moms. They’re good friends of mine still. It’s just that they seemed so clear. The kids loved it too, but now none of those kids play soccer. My son’s finally figured out what he likes, but he’s 5’7″ or something. He’s old now. He’s almost fifteen. It’s cute. Anyway, back to Princess Charming, I think that she is falling victim to that pressure a little bit of, how come I’m not that good? In truth, we are not all good at all sorts of things. I am good at my couple of things that I’m good at. If you ask me to park a car, I will probably crash it. Nine times out of ten, I hit something. I’m so grateful for those beeps. We all have our areas of strength. What are you not good at?

Holly: Same as you. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was thirty-eight. I was terrified of it. It’s been four years now since I’ve had it. I still have not parallel parked or backed into a space since I took my test. I hate it. I hate math. I’m really, really horrible at math, really. It’s bad how bad I am.

Zibby: Yet with your illustration, it’s all about spatial design. Look at how you’re doing that. It’s not that you’re devoid of that skill set. You’re figuring out what fits where. All of that can be perceived as math, all the spatial relations, sort of math-adjacent.

Holly: Creative math.

Zibby: It’s so true. I feel like you did such a cool job because not only did you illustrate Princess Charming to be the adorable girl that she is, who I just am obsessed with, but you interspersed your drawings with some — clip art’s probably the wrong term — with some images that look like photographs. I don’t know even what that’s called or why you chose that, so tell me both.

Holly: It’s my style. It’s what I’ve been doing for almost seven years. I just think it adds such an element of surprise. I love the collage-y look of it.

Zibby: Collage, that’s probably the word.

Holly: Collage.

Zibby: When you were doing this book, for instance, I know there was a trunk with a brown bear who’s sort of hanging over the edge and other little things. Did you just find that in your wanderings?

Holly: I have a few public domain photography sites that I use, so I know where to go. If I can’t find a picture that I have in my head that I’m envisioning, I’ll go and take the photo myself so I can use it. That one, I found on a stock website.

Zibby: Did you take any of the photos that are in this book?

Holly: I think so. A lot of subtle textures, like the gold that you see everywhere in the furniture and in the windowpanes, I’ll just take a close-up photo of something gold that I have around my house. Wall textures, I’ll make my own sometimes if I can’t find a pattern. I just make my own and create a brush out of it in Photoshop.

Zibby: That’s so neat. For instance, in the scene — here, I’m just holding it up. I love this double-page spread with the castle dining room all set up and ready to go. These little pillar-looking things look like photos. Maybe even the gold too, right? How did you do this page?

Holly: The gold and the wall is actual photo. The gold, I took a picture of it. The wall, I made it look like plaster by taking a picture of watercolor paper.

Zibby: No way. Oh, that’s so cool. See, I never would’ve known. All right, I need another secret. Let’s see. I’m looking at the plaster. This is a lot of watercolor paper. Tell me about designing the earrings.

Holly: For Stella Sparkle?

Zibby: Yeah.

Holly: I am obsessed with moon and stars. That’s just how it came out of my brain. The hair clip is an actual photograph of a clip, and so is her necklace.

Zibby: Wow. It’s so neat. Holly, not only have you done this book, but you’ve done a lot of other best-selling books, including all of the ones which I couldn’t believe you’d done when I was like, yes, I would love her to do this children’s book, please. Hair Twins with Raakhee Mirchandani, which I adored. Raakhee was on this podcast and has been over here and everything. Then Dear Girl and Dear Boy with Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal, and Dear Teacher and Dear Baby. Happy Right Now, Cranky Right Now, Maxine and the Greatest Garden. You’re amazing. Then there are so many more about unicorns. Tree Song; What Matters, which is beautiful. Mermaids Are Real, you not only illustrated, but wrote, and a couple others. Tell me about all of it. Tell me about the writing ones and the illustrations.

Holly: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I actually got a scholarship to go study literature, but I declined it to go for graphic design. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Illustration is still my strong suit. I have been writing a manuscript for a picture book for four years. It’s still not right. I wanted to ask you how long it took you to do Princess Charming.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, you should show Margaret.

Holly: I have.

Zibby: Okay. Margaret’s the editor, for people listening.

Holly: She’s amazing.

Zibby: Margaret Anastas is my editor for Princess Charming. She’s the one who connected us. I think you know this story, Holly. Margaret came over for lunch because a friend recommended her and asked me if I would be interested in writing a children’s book. I was like, “Yes, I would. Thank you very much.” She came over for lunch and showed me a picture not of this Princess Charming, but of a totally different-looking Princess Charming and said, “This is Princess Charming. If you were going to write a book about her, what would it be?” She’s like, “Do you want to take a stab at that?” I was like, “Yeah, sure, I would.” We went back to eating our lunch. Then I looked up two minutes later. I’m like, “Okay, here’s what I would do.” I told her my idea, basically, including the ending, which I came up with actually in a cab a few minutes after lunch. She was like, “Perfect. That’s it. We’ll do it.” I was like, “Really?” At that point, I’d been trying to sell a memoir for almost twenty years or something and slaving over so many other projects. This one just sort of fell in my lap.

Holly: So the idea came within a couple of hours?

Zibby: It came within a couple minutes, really. I will say, the one she showed me was Princess Charming looking a little bit messy and disheveled with a sign that said “Tryouts” at the top. Then there were all these other animals. She was the only little girl.

Holly: Interesting.

Zibby: I was imagining her failing at the tryouts, which is how this whole thing .

Holly: That’s so cool. I didn’t know how the story came about.

Zibby: That’s what happened. Then of course, Margaret is so awesome. I brought my laptop into the Penguin Random House offices surrounded by eighteen million books and just thought it was the Disney World of the literary universe. We polished the text. She was like, “I feel like this is enough for you to go on, right? You can just take this and finish it at home.” I was like, “Why don’t we just finish it? This will take ten minutes,” which is sort of how I approach most things. If I can do it now, I would rather that than wait because by then, other things will come up. She laughed. She’s like, “Okay.” We just finished it. Of course, there was some polishing later.

Holly: That’s amazing.

Zibby: My first attempts on my own, apparently, were for much older kids. I’m like, oh, they’ll get my sense of humor. No, not when they’re three or six. Then my kids who — now my little guys are seven and almost nine, but still seven and eight. They’re very offended that this book is billed for three- to six-year-olds. They’re like, “What? It’s for us.” I’m like, “Well, it’s not really just for three- to six-year-olds.” Of course, picture books can extend to when you’re much older. It is really exciting, especially both of us having kids, to have a picture book come out when we have kids who can still enjoy it. It’s very special.

Holly: I know. My son’s also almost nine. I’m surprised that he still, once in a while, picks up a picture book. I’m going to be so sad when that is fully over.

Zibby: My daughter, as I said, came home sick. She really wanted to read this book. I was like, well, if she’s going to be in bed all day, I’ll just get her this book on the way home. There were all these other children’s books. She’s like, “I still love children’s books.” Of course, then as soon as we got home, she’s like, “I’m going to just watch the iPad.” I was like, “We just got all the books. Remember books?” She’s like, “How long do I have to read?”

Holly: Is this book inspired by her, Princess Charming?

Zibby: No, my older daughter, actually.

Holly: Does she think that’s cool, that it’s really about her?

Zibby: Yes, she thinks it’s amazingly cool. Then there was a whole fight because I dedicated it to her, my older daughter, and not the other kids.

Holly: Oh, no.

Zibby: Now I have promised each kid that I will dedicate a picture book to them, which is really overpromising here.

Holly: You do have to keep writing them.

Zibby: I know one more is guaranteed, but I don’t know if I can eek out another two after that for Margaret. We’ll see. It sure was fun. It’s very exciting to join the canon of all my favorite children’s book authors and illustrators and all of that.

Holly: We’re a fun group. Everyone’s so welcoming in children’s book publishing.

Zibby: It’s true. Amazing. You’ve been through this before many, many times. Do you have advice for me? What should I expect? This book is now coming out. It’s April 19th as people are listening to this. By the way, listeners, please, if you only buy one book today, make it this book, Princess Charming.

Holly: It’s sparkly and pretty.

Zibby: Support a local indie. Buy it anywhere. Give Princess Charming to a little loved one in your life. Donate it to a local library or a little free library or a shelter.

Holly: I’ve already done that.

Zibby: Awesome. I am going to give it to all my kids’ schools, doctors’ offices. Give it to your pediatrician. I’m going to put it in the pediatrician’s office.

Holly: It will be everywhere.

Zibby: It will be everywhere. Seriously, do you have any advice now that this is kicking off?

Holly: My advice would be to really just celebrate it, especially the day that it comes out. I never do this. I always tell myself I will. Really just take the day to celebrate. That day that it’s coming out, treat it as the book birthday. Just soak it in. I love it, but I don’t take the time to soak it all in. It goes so quickly. That would be my advice.

Zibby: It’s great advice. That’s good advice for life in general, just taking time to soak in the good moments. Awesome. I have to say, Holly, it’s been so fun collaborating with you. Also, for people listening, you and I, tonight on April 19th at seven, will be doing a virtual event with BookHampton and RJ Julia and also with authors Karyn Parsons and Kerry Docherty. The four of us will have a great live conversation. Anybody the around the country, if you can tune into that, go to bookhampton.com or RJ Julia. Sign up. Come watch us at seven. Thanks for listening. If you haven’t already, buy some Princess Charmings for anybody in your life.

Holly: Yes, please.

Zibby: Yes, please. Thanks, Holly. I’m so excited to do this with you.

Holly: Thank you. Me too.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Holly: Bye.

Zibby Owens & Holly Hatam, PRINCESS CHARMING

PRINCESS CHARMING by Zibby Owens and Holly Hatam

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