Iza Trapani is an inspirational multi award-winning children’s book author and illustrator. Among her list of achievements, she is a recipient of the Rip Van Winkle award (presented by SLMSSENY- School Library Media Specialists of Southeastern NY) for her contribution to children’s literature. Iza is the creator of over 20 published Children’s books and in 2013 she currently celebrates 20 years since the publication of ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’. This was the first book she wrote and illustrated in her Nursery Rhyme Extension series, which has sold over a million copies already. What a tremendous achievement and that’s from only one of her books!
About Iza Trapani:
Iza Trapani was born in1954 in Warsaw Poland where she spent the first six years with her Mother, Father, Paternal Grandmother, brother and sister in a tiny apartment. Then at the age of seven she travelled alone with her mother to America. Under Communist rule, entire families were prohibited from travelling abroad so her mother took her (the youngest child) hoping to bring the rest of the family soon thereafter.
Tragically her mother died before this happenned then her father died several years later and it was 27 years later when Iza finally returned to Poland where she was reunited with her siblings. When she first arrived in the United States Iza could only speak Polish and she learned to speak English through reading a big book of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes that was given to her by relatives.
Picture Book Dreams
Iza went on to study art at the State University of New York in New Paltz and while studying she worked as a nanny, short-order cook and waitress to support her studies. After graduation she worked in various careers and jobs such as; a rock climbing guide, real estate broker, caterer and freelance illustrator. But all along she held dream – a dream that she had held onto since she was that little child reading those nursery rhymes – to make picture books.
This what Iza says about her start into children’s book illustration, ” I have always loved children’s literature – from the wacky brilliance of Dr. Seuss to the timeless, love-filled classics of Margaret Wise Brown and a slew of others in between. My portfolio bulged with art for children and I just hoped for that lucky break. The break came one day in 1990 as I rode my mountain bike and a turtle crossed the trail in front of me. The serendipitous encounter inspired a poem which led to the publication of my first book, What Am I? An Animal Guessing Game.
My career blossomed with the release of The Itsy Bitsy Spider, an extension of the original rhyme, which is still going strong after an amazing twenty years. Positive response from early educators encouraged me to retell and illustrate more nursery rhymes, and I am delighted that my books are used in schools nationwide and abroad. ”
Iza now lives in her dream home on a farm with her husband Rob who is also an artist, sculptor and furniture maker. Rob built Iza the gorgeous writing desk and drawing table that you can see in the images here. Iza’s stepson Gabe is a Doctor of Physics living and working in the San Francisco area. Rob and Iza are so proud of him. Their family is complete with their dog Jambo and Sneak the cat. Iza loves animals-especially dogs, and especially big dogs. Her favorite color is periwinkle blue. She loves singing, cooking, gardening, hiking, biking, skiing and sailing. Most of all Iza loves writing and painting books for children!
Interview with Iza Trapani:
Question: Can you tell us all about the time when you illustrated your very first book ever ‘What Am I’. For example were you working in another job at the time and creating the book in your Pyjama Time™
Answer by Iza Trapani: Thank you, Cindy. Yes, that’s exactly how it was- working in my jammies into the wee hours of the morning, while holding a day job as a real estate broker.
I immersed myself in children’s literature, spending hours in the local libraries, taking out tons of books and studying them. I researched books on the craft of writing and illustrating children’s books, attended workshops, signed up for an illustration course and took Continuing Ed watercolor classes at my local college. Then I put together a portfolio of children’s art- scenes from fairy tales and various anthropomorphized animals.
How The Storybooks Began
At the time, I had no stories to go with my art. Though I wrote adult poetry and prose and had taken every writing class I could in college, children’s stories eluded me. Then one day, when I was riding my mountain bike, a turtle crossed the trail in front of me and changed my life. I had made up a little riddle about the turtle and that spurred an idea for my first book, What Am I? An Animal Guessing Game.
Q: How long did it take you to write and illustrate your very first book?
A: Well, it took me 36 years to write the story! But really, once the idea came to me, I had the story written within a few days. But then I fine-tuned it over a two or three week period, and then, of course, made more revisions after my editor reviewed it. As for the illustrations, it took me about six weeks to do the dummy sketches and about four months to do the final watercolor paintings. Some books, with more complex and detailed scenery, take me about eight months to paint.
First Storybook Publication
Q: How did you approach your publisher the very first time you asked to have your work published, did you receive any rejections at all, or was it easy to have your book published?
A: I had sent my story to two or three big publishers but they all passed. No, it did not feel good to be rejected, but I knew it was part of the process and stayed determined. A friend who worked at a major publishing house submitted my story and illustrations , which I had put into dummy form. It was turned down.
When I was working in real estate, one of my clients was an editor at another large press. I showed her my book dummy, plus another story I had written (also in dummy form). She liked them and submitted them to another set of editors. They went through yet another set of editors but eventually were rejected.
Picture Book Luck
And then, I was lucky to get an agent to represent me. She was introduced to me through a husband and wife author team who wrote self-help books. Seeing some brochures which I had illustrated for a local hotel, the authors liked my style and asked me to illustrate one of their books. They were just a few black and white cartoony illustrations, but it was my first step into the publishing world. The agent, who at the time was only representing writers for adults, wanted to break into the world of picture books. She felt my work was promising and, after a few more rejections, found me a publisher. I guess you could say I got lucky, that I was in the right place at the right time, but, had I not done lots of homework up to that point, the outcome would not have been the same.
This is the first of a two part interview with Iza Trapani.