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Look Up!: Fontaine the Pigeon Starts a Revolution by Britt Gondolfi and Amanda Romanick

Britt Gondolfi and Amanda Romanick share Look Up!: Fontaine the Pigeon Starts a Revolution (Paw Prints Publishing), the story of Fontaine, a small pigeon who is fed up with the world's addiction to technology.


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About the book: Look Up!: Fontaine the Pigeon Starts a Revolution by Britt Gandolfi, with art by Amanda Romanick. Published by Paw Prints Publishing.


Fontaine, a small pigeon, is fed up with the world's addiction to technology. In response, he rallies a cohort of birds and, with their help, leads an ICKY revolution that forces people to put down their phones, look up, and connect with nature and each other.


Told in lyrical verse and with quirky, poignant illustrations, Look Up! Fontaine the Pigeon Starts a Revolution is a humorous blend of cautionary tale and storytime fun that'll spark conversation and delight readers of all ages.



Episode Transcript:


INTRO


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.


I am a teacher, a librarian, a writer, and a fan of kids. 


So many things have the potential of going wrong in the process of crafting a picture book. It’s what, for me, makes it so special when you come across a picture book that works so well. When the art feels framable and the color palette feels wearable, the text feels singable and the message… when the message feels palpable. When it all comes together and works in tandem and just… works. That’s some picture book magic at play. 


Today I welcome Britt Gondolfi and Amanda Romanick to the podcast.


Britt and Amanda’s debut picture book, Look Up!: Fontaine the Pigeon Starts a Revolution (Paw Prints Publishing), tells the story of Fontaine, a small pigeon who is fed up with the world's addiction to technology. 


Let’s step into my conversation with Britt Gondolfi and Amanda Romanick. 


Ready? Here we go.



INTERVIEW


Britt: So hi, I'm Britt Gondolfi. I'm a mom, a recent law school graduate, and the author of Look Up!: Fontaine the Pigeon Starts a Revolution. 


Amanda: Hi, I'm Amanda Romanickk. I am an illustrator. The illustrator for Look Up!: Fontaine the Pigeon Starts a Revolution And I am also a mom and a part time barista. I'm a coffee mom.  


Matthew: I would love to dig in a little bit more about, Britt, your background as an author, Amanda, your background as an illustrator. But first, why don't we give folks a chance that haven't encountered this book yet to know a little bit about what it is.


Britt, how would you describe the story? of look up to a new to this book reader, whether they are it or grown up. What is look up? 


Britt: Look up is a story about a small pigeon trying to make a big difference. It's a classic Aesop's fables for our urban landscape about birds being really mad at us for being on our cell phones and for being so distracted.


And so one particular pigeon decides to rally a cohort of birds and they reach out to humanity the only way they really know how. And, uh, they have a special day of action with the intention of waking us up and getting us to live more in real life. 


Matthew: Good night! Can I ask, are we keeping “The Only Way They Know How” as spoiler territory, or out of it?


I'm comfortable, I'm comfortable with both. 


Britt: We're just poop on the phones. I mean, like, spoiler alert. Oh yeah, there is, there is poop?


Matthew:  Yeah, there is poop in this book. 


Britt: It's a poop joke book that's a Trojan horse for a conversation about screen use. 


Matthew: Ooh, that is such a great tagline. It's a poop joke book.


That's a Trojan horse for a conversation. I love it. That's fantastic. It's an urban legend.


Britt:  It can come into your house and pretty soon your children will be telling you to put your phone away or a bird is going to poop on your screen. Because that's what's happened in my home, at least with my child, you know.


Oh, she threatens me regularly. She's like, you see that bird, mom, that bird wants you to get off your phone. So we invite you to bring this urban legend to your, to your home and see what happens with screen use conversations. 


Matthew: Did you create the book with, with readers in mind? Were you thinking about your.


You said you were pregnant when you met. Were you thinking about your, your, uh, soon to be housemates in that way? Um, or, or, uh, often sometimes we also just create books for us. I don't, I don't know. Were you thinking about specific readers and you were making and when you were illustrating Amanda? 


Amanda: It was both.


It was both. Um, when I was illustrating it, I was thinking about, um, just really creating a world that would be immersive and fun for the readers. And I knew those readers would be both parents and children. And I really wanted them to kind of be reminded of how wonderful it is to go outside and play. to be a part of the world.


And, and so that's, that's kind of what I was thinking about when I was illustrating it. 


Britt: I wrote it for me because I was a mom totally addicted to my screen. Like Amanda and I would do like Netflix with our kids and show, you know, we'd sit there, we'd hold our babies, you know, we'd be feeding our babies.


And. We would have a phone in the other hand, and Amanda and I both grew up in the 90s and born in the late 80s, and so we didn't get smartphones until our late 20s, so when we were moms in our late 20s, I don't know why I never calculated for the fact that technology would become a part of my parenting world.


 I never imagined feeding my baby and looking at a screen. You know, the juxtaposition of being a new mom and then simultaneously realizing, Wow, I'm addicted to checking my phone. became a weird issue for me and I remember bringing it up to Amanda because she was also a new mother and we were laughing about the irony of holding our babies and then looking at photographs of our babies while we're holding our babies.


And she said, I just wish a bird would just come and poop on my screen and then I would wake up. and I would never stare at it unless I needed to again. And I was like, Amanda, what if all of the birds are furious at us? What if all these birds on this power line are just all waiting to poop on all of our phones because they think that we need to wake up?


And we went home after a walk and I wrote the book on my notes app on the phone. Um, as like kind of a song for me, um, and we've been singing the song in our house for like six years. Yeah. Yeah. 


Matthew: Do you, you have the book in front of you. Do you mind sharing the, the, it is a sing songy rhymey text. Do you mind sharing an excerpt of it just to give us a sense of what you mean, Brett?


Britt: Um, Everyone was looking down, all around, faces faced the ground. People tried to look up, but when they did, their heads got stuck. Do you have your guitar? Oh no, we can't. Well, there's a song coming out on April 30th that we're getting produced by a local country band down here that will be a fully mastered, fantastic Louisiana country track.


It's the Brits version.  


Matthew:  Could we include an excerpt from that? 


Britt: It's actually going to be in the email inbox by tomorrow morning. So yeah, we can. 


Matthew: Oh, that's amazing. 



EXCERPT OF SONG


Matthew: Listeners? Through the magic of editing, I now present to you an excerpt of the “Look Up!” song.



INTERVIEW CONTINUED


Britt: Yeah. So it is, it is a poem, but it started off as a song and it'll live as both a poem and a song, music is a big part of our family and yeah, it just, it's funny.


It was a. Well, I'm about getting off your phone. That was written on a phone, but live with Amanda's incredible illustrations, which is just more than I could have ever imagined it being. 


Matthew: So, so if you don't mind, let me make a personal connection to you in the way that this book was, was created in that way, or, or rather the way that you were just of the right age that Phones, phones became, smartphones became what they were at the same age that you were becoming.


Moms. I, uh, was born in the early 80s. I was born in 81. And, um, as a librarian, school librarian is my job, um, we have seen Our profession changed with every single generation. Librarians are radically different. When I was in school, um, you went to the library to do research because that's where the answers were.


And as a librarian, my kids, all of us, have access to all of the answers. And my job now has shifted to helping sift through all the noise to find what's relevant. Does that make sense? 


Britt: Oh yeah. 


Matthew: I love that in this way then, You had this meta creation of a book that you're writing a book to say, we're wasting time so much on phones.


This is a, it can be a potentially really bad thing, but. Your method of creating reinforces why these are great tools for us to have. The problem is that they're the greatest distraction tool at the same time of being the greatest creation or access tool. I love that you shared that. I'm really grateful you shared that.


Britt: It's an ironic point of it, but I mean, I hope that this book inspires millions of conversations about what are the pros and the cons and how can we use these tools, uh, for the things that we need to use these tools for. I mean, we've never been so connected, we've never had so much access to information, but Are we using it to improve our planet and our community and to create healthier and happier lives for ourselves and the ones we love?


Or are we using it because we're feeling isolated or lonely or disconnected from our community? Like, are they bringing us closer together? Are they pulling us further apart? And I wrote Fontaine at a time where I knew that if I didn't immediately address my screen use, that my phone was going to pull me apart from my own child.


And so It's a joke because I think we all suffer with some level of digital distractedness and I'm a big believer, you know, we don't change things, you know, by being shameful or judgy. So a joke about birds pooping on our phones maybe is the icebreaker we need to kind of talk about how much they have changed us.


Matthew: I think also giving us readers a chance to imagine that for all we think about other animals and what is going through animals minds, that there might actually be something going through their minds about us is a really fun thing to play.


Amanda, we got to talk about you for a minute or for maybe more than a, more than a minute because your, your art in this book is gorgeous and, and not just your line work, but your palette is. Oh, it's fantastic. You know what it looks like to me? It looks like, um, again, I'm, I, I work in a school and it looks like. Wonderful setup, like a well worn set of oil pastels. Do you know what I mean?


Like, can you picture the box that are worn? They're all like different nubs. That's what it looks like to me. It's a really wonderful, uh, again, color palette that you used for this book. I'd love to hear a little bit more about where you come from in terms of illustration. You called yourself an illustrator, which I love that you're not just an artist.


You have this focus of how you like to make art. Tell me a little bit more about. Being an illustrator, and in particular, what it meant for you or what it means for you to make art for children. Because that's a different audience than, than what, what most people make for. 


Amanda: Um, well, I started drawing when I was very little, as most people do.


Humans, we all do that. I think we all draw when we're little. But, um, my teachers, when I entered kindergarten in public school, just saw that the level of detail I was putting into my work was different. They wanted to see if I could. test into an art program that we have here in Louisiana, um, called the St.


Tammany Parish, uh, Talented Art Program. And at the time, I was the youngest to ever test into the program. Um, now there have been kids that were, that were in kindergarten who have gotten in the program since, but I kind of, I was the first person to open the door. It's cute. It's funny that you said that the color palette looks like oil pastels because that was my first medium was oil pastels when I was a little kid.


Yeah, so I had all these like little oil pastel, um, drawings, illustrations, paintings, whatever you'd like to call them, uh, that I won awards for in my, um, when I was in second grade, I did a piece that won the award at the school art show and it's still framed and hanging up in the principal's office to this day.


Wow. Um, but I, I've been doing, I've been actually illustrating books since I was a little kid, not published books. But I had been doing this for a while. I did my first one when I was, I think in kindergarten, then I did another in second grade. And then I did a book in fifth grade that I literally sewed together, made the card cover, everything, had the book jacket printed, the whole shebang.


And right before I illustrated this book, Brit has not heard this story. But I had just moved to my parents house in Folsom, Louisiana. And this was, I don't, what year was it? 2020? 22? 22? No. 23? No, I moved here in. Oh, 2020. Yeah. So it was right at the pandemic. And I opened up my closet and in my closet was the book that I had made in fifth grade.


And Brit had just been asking me, Amanda, we have to illustrate this book. We've got to do it. And I was telling her. Now's not the right time. It would be kind of tone deaf to put this out during the pandemic, but I picked up that little book that I had made and I was just like, yes, I am. I need to do this.


I, at the right time, of course, but I need to illustrate this book. People say, well, what do you want to be? And I guess I was going through a little bit of a, um, reassessment of what I wanted to do for a living because I had been working as a graphic designer and I had been working as a fine art painter and then I was just a stay at home mom for a really long time and you kind of go back you say well what did I want to do when I was a child and and they say it's it's the thing you're supposed to do is the thing you do without even realizing it's special.


Sitting in my closet surrounded by all these books I made when I was a child. I was like, okay, I went to school for illustration. I went to school for sequential art, which is comic books for sequential art. 


Matthew:Yeah. 


Amanda: And I went to school for illustration and because I had done so much work in both of the majors, I have a degree in visual communications from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Um, but that was kind of like the backstory to how I've been doing this for so long, and it's always kind of, I don't know, been the thing that I did that I didn't realize was I was doing that I didn't realize was special and that I didn't realize was, was unique.


Matthew: That's great. 


Britt: Moral is don't give up on your dreams, kids. You never know, you know, the dream that you had as a child, maybe published, you know, maybe it was that you've all, you always were, always are, always 


Matthew: were, 


Amanda: but 


Matthew: we are our dreams. 


Amanda: But when I was in the book, Oh, go ahead. 


Matthew: No, I was just going to say, you talk about, um, sequential art and comics, but in, in the library, we also talk about sequential art and picture books because what is a picture book, but a page turned is just a panel in that way.


You're just talking about 32 panels, or I guess in some cases, some picture books actually are paneled, but yeah, that background, it didn't surprise me as you were sharing that story to have that background in making books means that, you know, about. pacing a story or spreading the text across, you know, 32 pages in order to, uh, make sure that you can capture the right moments through illustration and also tell the story with art alongside words.


We always are watching for, you know, the books that make a picture book exceptional in its format are the ones where the The art is essential and the words are essential and together they tell something that neither does on its own. 


Britt: Well, what's unique about Amanda and I as creative partners is that we conceptualize this idea of a book together.


And while I wrote the poem and Amanda's definitely got some lines and you know, edits that, you know, have made it to the final rendition. By the time we were, you know, lucky enough to find a literary agent and have the book you know, purchased from a publishing company. We had been talking and dreaming about this book for about six years.


Amanda already had ample amounts of character sketches and designs. I had already had the entire poem broken down into story blocks with illustrator notes that we had collaborated on. Yeah. So we really came to the publishing process is like, thank you for finding us. We were out in the cold with this masterpiece.


And thanks to you, it will live on, you know, and, you know, it's rare. I feel like it's rare for someone to write a children's book, for it to be published, and then for their best friend and creative partner to be the artist. 


Matthew: Yeah, 


Britt: but because we have that personal relationship, we were really able to have a very robust, creative dialogue over what was the best presentation for Fontaine, you know, 


Amanda: right?


Like when I created Fontaine's character design, um, you know, the, the red, the little red, orange hat is a throwback to the French revolutionaries wearing the red hats. There's little things like that. Yeah. His personality is actually kind of like Britt's personality when I draw him, because the poem doesn't talk about these characters and their personalities, so I tried to put it into the illustrations.


And, um, so they all have their own little personalities, they stand out. And then the color palette for the book was actually inspired by the city of New Orleans. Most of the color is inspired by the sunsets here. Um, and every, pretty much every page, if you look at it, it's the color palette is trying to show you something about the time of day that you're seeing in the story.


So on the first page, it's the early morning. Um, then it's, it kind of goes through the day a little bit. The colors get a little brighter. They get, um, they start to turn kind of like golden and green as the day goes on. They become more peach tones as the sun is beginning to set. Um, so that is also, uh, that was part of where the color palette came from, um, in the book.


It's, I'm showing you the time of day. Um, I'm trying to show you, I want you to kind of like imagine what it feels like to be there. I want you to look at and go, Oh, I can tell what temperature it is outside. Um, I want you to feel like you can hear the buzzing of the, the lights in the tree or just little things like that.


Matthew: Well, 

and also Amanda, that we are on our screens from sunup to sundown as it, as it is. Right? 


Britt: Right. Yeah. There's also a nod to the blue light. There's a couple of depictions. There's a couple of stories with that blue. I remember watching 


Matthew: that blue. 


Britt: that that glow that glow you get on your face when it's a little you know dark outside either early morning or at night you get that glow from the from the from the from the mirror of the phone yeah 


Amanda: yeah we've got a lot of blue light stuff when you see a person with blue or teal on their face like in this picture that's the phone blue light 


Matthew: the blue light from the phone 


Amanda: There's a lot of, there are a lot of little things like that in the book.


Matthew: Got on, on, there's another spread where you just have like a lot of glowing blue faces. I know this is a, 


Britt: yes, audio 


Matthew: podcast, but, um, 


Britt: that's my favorite spread. Yeah. I like that 


Matthew: bizarre scream. 


Britt: Yes. Oh yeah. That's me with the guitar. Amanda drew me in. 


Matthew: Hey, Brit, can I ask you what, what's the, the significance of the name Fontaine, just the name that.


Felt like the right name or is it related to something? 


Britt: There's a couple things. First of all, Fontaine was Amanda's idea. She said, we need a character named Fontaine. It's a French name. It's French for fountain. You know, I like to think of Fontaine as, you know, not your average pigeon. He's a fountain of compassion.


And he wants to find his place in the larger society. He's not just concerned with making sure he, he gets enough to get by. Fontaine's really thinking about what kind of part he wants to play. Okay. And, you know, the book is set in New Orleans and we have a huge influence of French culture, but also Spanish culture.


If you'll notice, Viva la Revolution is Spanish and it's kind of a nod to our French and Spanish colonial history in Louisiana. But Amanda came up with Fontaine and I was like, Like, great. I love Fontaine. He should be a pigeon that starts a revolution. And then we tried to figure out what that revolution would be.


And then a couple of days later, Amanda was like, a bird should poop on my phone. I was like, Fontaine the pigeon should poop on your phone and poop on all of our phones, in fact. It was 


Amanda: that because we were like, what's Spontaneous Revolution going to be? And, and it happened. Well, it's obvious. 


Britt: I was going to go for single use plastics, but then we realized that the screening a little bit more pertinent.


Matthew: Well, another animal, another day, 


Britt: another animal, another 


Amanda: revolution, another 


Britt: day. 


Amanda: Yeah, so Fontaine came from, um, our connection to the city of New Orleans, um, our memory, and we were, this all comes right back around to the phone thing again, where we were sitting around talking about how, what we expected our children's, like, childhoods to be like were more like ours. And we both have these fond memories of going out into the city, and there was music on every corner, and dancing, and it was magical to be there. And we were talking about this and how the city, it's not the same anymore. It's a little different. It's very different from the way that it was when we grew up, and we kind of also wanted to capture that magic that we experienced as children and put it back into the book, and a lot of the local people here that have read it pick up on those things, and it's really heartwarming for them.


They, they just, I had some, a family of local New Orleanians look through it, and they were, They were just in love with it. They were like, Oh, I know exactly where this is. Oh, I can remember being here and it's bringing those memories of just connecting with one another and having a good time when we weren't so distracted.


I feel like that's a. One of them and one of the important 


Britt: little tricks of the book. Well, one of the good things about being from the South is that we are a very open culture, you know, like in terms of being like polite and kind. I mean, of course, we have some really deeper issues down here beyond our surface level Southern hospitality.


But. I was really dead set on making sure the book was set in New Orleans to sort of reinvigorate a conversation around why aren't we making small talk in the grocery store? Why are we in an elevator of crowded people and nobody wants to make eye contact with anyone around them? Because I imagined and remembered being a child growing up in Southeast Louisiana and in New Orleans, and it's a very genial, like, Hey, my baby.


Hey, honey. Like we are, we are all like in your personal business. Reins have taken over, uh, there's more of a feeling of isolation in the public sphere, you know. Sure. You know, we're at a march or, or like, or a second line, you know, the things that we do as Louisianians that take us outside. 


Matthew: Well, I would even argue that if we, you know, kids are growing up on devices because that's the world that they're growing up in, that's what, that's what technology looks like now.


So it really, in that way, maybe unfairly, puts a pressure on them to pressure us to get off our phones. Where if we can take that turn, we adults can take that turn and, and connect more and, and be distracted less and be present more, um, then we can help. raise a bunch of kids too that know, like, no, it feels good to connect with people.


Totally great to be on your phone. You can write books on your phone and record music on your phone. Do all these great connect on your phone in ways that we wouldn't be able to connect, uh, from such great distances. Uh, but also look at this beautiful city we're in. Look at these beautiful people that are around us.


Look at the beauty of each other. Uh, where we are and in the way we connect. That's good. I like, it's good. It's a good thing to write a book for, for, uh, young readers and their grownups alike for the people that will read to them. Uh, it's a really great thing you both have done well done. I'm glad. I'm glad look up came across my desk.


Britt: I'm so glad it did too. It's definitely for the parents. People are like, what age group is this for? Everyone.


Matthew: It's for everybody. It's a picture book. It's for everybody. 


Britt: Publisher says it's for five to seven. However, if you are someone that knows anyone who might be looking down too much, or, you know, if you have someone that has a child in their life and you're like, hmm, wish that kid was a little less on the screen, a little more outside.


This is a great little gift. to just send a subtle message to anyone you love. that you want them to look up and we should all try to look up more. And like the last line in the book says, you know, keep your phone in your pocket and your eyes up and wide. 


Matthew: Yeah. Thank you both. Thank you both so much for your time.


I want to ask you, I close every episode by asking this, that I'll see a library full of children tomorrow morning. Brit, I wonder if there's a message that I could bring to them from you.


Britt: I would love for you to ask them to imagine what we did before we had phones. and to talk about whether or not they were having more or less fun. Draw, draw lines in the cosmic sands of time. Pretty smart. Take the children all there on your magical school bus and ask them to imagine what the playgrounds were like.


Matthew: We'll do that. And Amanda, same question. I'll see a library full of children tomorrow morning. Is there a message I can bring to them from you? 


Amanda: A long time ago, um, I was told that all of us are artists and that one of the things that makes us artists is that we can find beauty in everything. So I would say to look around and talk about what you see that is beautiful in your surroundings, what little things around you are beautiful to you, because we all have that ability to see beauty in everything.



OUTRO


Matthew: Thank you to Britt Gondolfi and Amanda Romanick for joining me on The Children’s Book Podcast. 


You can pick up your own copy of Look Up!: Fontaine the Pigeon Starts a Revolution (Paw Prints Publishing) wherever books are found. Consider supporting independent bookstores by shopping through Bookshop.org. You can also use my affiliate link by clicking on the book’s name in our show notes.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/). 


Our music is by Podington Bear. 


Podcast hosting by Libsyn. 


You can support the show and buy me a coffee at www.matthewcwinner.com.


And on that note…


Be well. And read on.



End Of Episode

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