season 2, episode 7: cece bell & lauren castillo


FIRST, A NOTE FROM CECE: So…the following is probably going to be the least introspective conversation between two illustrators you’ll ever read on Number Five Bus Presents. I guess when I talk to illustrators, I want to know more about what they’re doing when they’re not illustrating. As I was putting our correspondence together, I noticed that Lauren and I come across as total middle-schoolers, but nevertheless, it was a genuine conversation between two illustrators who really don’t like to talk about themselves that much.

Anyway, Lauren Castillo and I first became friends on Twitter in August of 2014, when I began referring to her as “DJ LC.” We soon became an exclamation mark-filled two-member Mutual Appreciation Society, as seen in these actual direct messages from Twitter (during the 140 character days). I didn’t edit out the “tween speak” (abbreviations and OMGs and stuff), but I did make some changes for privacy reasons…

Conversation started 24 August 2014

CB: Can we be friends, for reals? My email address is xxxx. Would love to send you crazy non-twitter stuff sometimes!

LC: Yes! Let’s be friends :) my email is xxxx. Thanks for yours! You live in the DC area, yes? I just moved to xxx from NYC…

And now off to SoCal for three months… It’s been a strange year!

CB: Naw, I’m in the southwestern part of VA, near xxx. Mountains! DC about 5 hour trip… I’ll write you soon! Thanks for all the good vibes

LC: Oh wow! Don’t know why I had it in my head you’re in DC. Working in the mountains sounds lovely! Ive visited xxx but haven’t been in yrs

Is that where you’re from or did you relocate?

CB: That’s where I’m from (and where El Deafo takes place–a nearby town called xxx). Tom’s from Shenandoah Valley. Are you MD native?

LC: I was born in NY, but we moved to Harford Co, MD when I was 5. Then I went back to NY for grad school &stayed 11yrs. Its nice to be back tho

Ahh. I know I keep saying this, but I’m sooo excited to read El Deafo! I’m very happy it’s out soon

CB: Thank you!!! I hope you’ll like it. Doesn’t Nana come out on same day? Are we twins separated at birth?

LC: I know I’m going to love it! Yes, our books share a birthday!! Hooray for sept 2nd!

CB: Yay yay yay!!! We will be celebrating each other and our books very soon, then! Very fun.

LC: Very excited! :)

CB: Send me your address! I can get you a book before your trip. You could read on plane!

LC: Aww, what a sweet offer! I would LOVE that! But only if you’re sure u can spare a copy. In return I’d love to send u a Nana, if you’d like

CB: That sounds perfect! I’m at xxx, VA!

LC: Yay! My address: xxx Ferdinand Drive, MD

Thank you, Cece!!

CB: Thank YOU!

Your street name! Ferdinand the Bull! Lucky duck.

LC: Haha. It’s actually the Kentucky Derby race horse. But I pretend it’s Ferdinand the Bull :)

LC: Cece! I started reading El Deafo last night (even though I was supposed to save for my trip) and it was SO hard to put down. Man,

I just love little Cece so much, I want to jump in to the book and hug her. Cannot wait to get back to it tonight. Thank you again ♡

Ohh, also, my brother had a Bunn-Bunn that he carried around with him everywhere. Love that you had a Miss Bunn :)

CB: :) :) :)! I don’t normally use emoticons but your messages made me so happy! Glad to hear your brother had a Bunn as well. Safe travels!!!

(I can’t find a thank-you note to Lauren for the copy of Nana she sent to me around this time—good grief, I hope I thanked her! Maybe I did over regular Twitter? Nana is AMAZING—carefully planned but so spontaneous. Vibrant. Yummy all around.)

LC: :-D Thanks, Cece! I leave in 12(!) days. Hope you’re having a lovely weekend. I’m rejoicing over these cooler temps!

I stayed up late last night to finish reading El Deafo. Really love it, Cece. Just wanted to congratulate you again on such a lovely book:)

I can’t imagine completing such a massive book, btw! Just out of curiosity, how long did the art take you?

(I’m a super slow drawer…a GN would take me YEARS prob!:))

CB: Oooh, I’m super slow at drawing, too. Thank goodness I’m not the only one! THANK YOU for reading the book; I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

And oh, yeah…all told, it took about 5 years, with 1.5 years HARD CORE all the time getting up early staying up late…ugh…

Those people who think that drawing is fun don’t know the half of it. It CAN be fun…but it can be a pain in the ass, too! Language!

LC: No, you are definitely not alone! I’m the slowest. Wow, 5 years is a long time to work on one project. But I’d say it was well worth it!!!

Did you work on other books during that time, or mainly just focused on El Deafo? I’ve tried juggling bk projects, but

it’s so hard for me to switch back & forth. I agree, drawing *is* a pain in the ass lots of the time. But so rewarding to see final result:)

my favorite is when people say “ohh, I wish I could just sit around and draw all day. That would be so fun!” HA. Yeah, it’s that simple :)

CB: Hi again! I did work on other projects in that 5-year span, including Rabbit&Robot and CrankeeDoodle. 1.5 years was no other projects…

I too have a hard time changing gears. I wish I COULD sit around and draw all day. Ha ha ha ha ha….yeah, right. It’s harder than it looks!

I was surprised to hear you are “slow” at drawing bc your work looks so spontaneous. It’s gorgeous. Mine often looks overworked, I think.

No matter it is ultimately the greatest job on earth! Have a safe trip to CA! You’re driving with brother, right?

LC: Morning! I agree, we have the best job ever:) without the drawing challenges it wouldn’t be as fun and rewarding. I welcome the difficulty!

Thank u so much for saying that my art looks spontaneous. That’s the biggest challenge of all — trying to keep the energy of my sketches

Your line is lovely! Does not look overworked at ALL!

Not sure if I mentioned before, but I’m a huge fan of Rabbit & Robot:-)

Thanks for the safe trip wishes– I’m doing the cross country trip with my bro! Have a great weekend down there. Xo

CB: Thanks, Lauren! And I’m so glad you like R & R. I’m working on a second…not sure if I can keep up the momentum of the first, though…

Have a great trip! I am jealous!

LC: Thank you, Cece! I’m a little nervous for the drive–never done a trip like this before. SO excited for another R&R! Your gonna rock it!!


CB: Your, you’re, tomato, to-mah-to…let’s call the whole thing off! The drive is going to be the best part. I LOVE long trips like this…

Colby Sharp and John Schu paired us up for their January 2015 SharpSchu Book club…


LC: I’m so excited Nana and El Deafo get to hangout together at next months Sharpschu

CB: SO happy SharpSchu paired us together…that warms my heart. “See” you on the 28th!

LC: Hi Cece! I wanted to surprise you with a little mash-up of our red caped heroes. But after I posted it I thought I prob should have asked u

if it was okay to share. Please let me know if you want me to take it down!

And good luck w/ #sharpschu! I’m actually a little worried here cause my internet is AWFUL, & I don’t really have anywhere else to go. Eek!

CB: Oooh I love love love it!

LC: ok. PHEW! I never mess w/ other peoples art. I got really nervous that maybe i shouldnt have done this! hah. Glad you’re fine w/ it.

promise I won’t print and sell it! :-)

CB: Sell it and we split $$ and then road trip without Thelma & Louise ending…

We discover we work with the same editor, the marvelous Jennifer Greene from Clarion…

LC: I can’t believe you also work with JenG!!! What an awesome coincidence! :) Is this your first book together?

CB: 3rd! Bug Patrol w/ Diane Mortensen, Crankee Doodle w/ Tom, I Yam a Donkey w/ me. She lets me be weird and I love her…how many for you?

LC: Ah, can’t believe I didn’t know you worked with Jen on those!! I have also done 3 books w her

One called Buffalo Music back in 08. Then my 2 new author books Troublemaker and Nana. And working on Lisa Graffs sleeping story w/her too:)

(heart) JG and Clarion.

Happy school visiting over there!!

CB: I (heart) her, too! She really lets you be freeeee…great school visit but I am too pooped to pop

LC: Glad the visit went well!! I’m the worst. I rarely do school visits. I get really freaked out leading up to them. But then once

I do it I realize how rewarding it is. And say “I should do these more!” Then months and months go by and the cycle begins all over again…

My biggest fear = public speaking!

CB: I know EXACTLY what you mean. Even harder b/c comes so naturally to Tom and I can’t measure up (in MY mind, at least). They are rewarding

But they take a lot of time away from drawing and writing,which is what I got into bizness to do!

LC: I’ve heard Tom is an awesome presenter/performer! Can see how that would made it even more difficult. BUT, bet he’s the best cheerleader &

Can give you the perfect advice when you’re prepping your presentations! I always think I should sit in on some author visits so that I have

A better idea of what the heck I should be doing :)

And you’re totally right, they do take a lot of time away from drawing and writing. I’m sure teachers and librarians get that. They want us

to keep making books, so I’m sure they understand if we don’t want to tour so much :)

And then, all of a sudden, it was the beginning of 2015, and Lauren and I both got some amazing news: I had gotten a Newbery Honor for El Deafo, and Lauren had gotten a Caldecott Honor for Nana in the City.

CB: OMG OMG OMG!!! You did it!!! So proud and happy for you!!!

LC: I’m in absolute shock, Cece. Thank you so much. And HUGE HUGE HUGE congrats to you!!! The Newbery!!! So freakin amazing!!!

CB: I screamed when your name was called…right into Tom’s ear…SUCH a wonderful book you are amazing!!!! I am freaking out!!!

LC: Awww! Thank you again so much. And Tell Tom I’m sorry! Where are you guys?? Were you there for the announcements? I’ve been freaking out for

YOU all day!!

CB: You you YOU!!! We got stuck in Chi and had to stay another night. So we were in hotel room when they called/texted. Didn’t go to ceremony

But watched on phone and so that’s why I screamed in ear. OMG! When did you find out??? SO happy for you! It’s the Big One for sure!

 Soon after this conversation of wigging out on each other, I got a note from Phil Stead asking if I would be interested in conducting an interview with someone for Number Five Bus. I asked to interview Lauren, of course. The following is that “interview,” which really turned out to be me circling around Lauren like an email buzzard, trying to figure out the best way to feature Lauren and her work.

CB: So…Phil and Erin Stead do this blog (which I’m sure you know), Number Five Bus. And this year, illustrators (that Phil and Erin interviewed last year) are interviewing other illustrators this year. Phil asked me if I was interested in interviewing someone—it’s more like a back-and-forth discussion that gets published on the blog—and I said I’d love to interview YOU.

What do you think? We could make it all loosey-goosey/lovey-dovey and write to each other when we had the time to do it. I found it really cathartic to respond to Phil’s questions and it was fun to spend some time just chatting online about the biz.

Let me know what you think. And if you’re just too busy for this, do say so. No feelings would be hurt at all. At all!

LC: Thank you for thinking of ME to interview for Number Five Bus! Ohmygoodness. I’m so flattered that you want to interview me. You sure? I might be kind of boring! If you don’t mind that, then I’m totally in! It’s going to be a hectic couple months here, but I assume the Steads are cool if we are a little slow getting this to them?

THANK YOU again. Hugs, thug!

CB: Hoping to keep all of this loose and fun….

What I thought it would be fun to do is to play some kind of doodle game. I’d send you a squiggle, and you’d turn it into something—an animal, an object, whatevs, and then you’d send me a squiggle with your picture, and I’d turn that into a something…we could go back and forth and create one big picture together that we could post with the interview. Does this make a lick of sense? I could also put together a video of the drawing’s progression…we could color code it, like I only draw in blue and you only draw in red…something like that.

Turns out that my original idea of communicating thru private messages on Twitter will no longer work, because now there are no limits to number of characters. Also because I have been needing to avoid Twitter so I can focus a little more.

What do you think of the idea of LISTS? I love lists. Lists help keep my head on straight.

LC: Doodle game sounds great, too! Already know, I’m gonna suck at it!

CB: I KNOW you won’t suck at it, no way! we’ll keep it loose…

Meanwhile, let’s work on the lists. What are your BEST work habits?

LC: Drawing on the floor

Drawing outside

Drawing in cafes

Drawing in bookstores

Drawing anywhere besides my work desk :)

coffee in hand

wine in hand

snacks and sketching go together!

CB: What are your WORST work habits?

LC: drawing at my work desk where it feels too, um, worky

drawing within ten feet of a computer…where interneting might occur

How about you, Cece Friend??

CB: My worst work habits are:

saying YES to almost EVERY festival and school visit (getting better about that)

not drinking enough water while working

not keeping a sketchbook


My best are


getting up early in the morning and working before anyone else has woken up

walking to sort through ideas

writing ideas on slips of paper and storing them in a drawer for future use


What are some recent kids’ books that you love?


LC: So many! But I will limit my list to five:

  1. The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi
  2. Float by Daniel Miyares
  3. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall
  4. Waiting by Kevin Henkes
  5. Lenny & Lucy by Philip and Erin Stead

CB: what were your favorites as a kid?

LC: Again, so many! Here are five standouts:

  1. Imogene’s Antlers by David Small
  2. Norma Jean, Jumping Bean by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
  3. Oh, So Silly! by Susan Schmeltz, illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
  4. Henry’s Awful Mistake by Robert Quackenbush
  5. Moving Day by Jane Carruth, illustrated by Tony Hutchings

CB: What’s cool is that I hardly know most of the childhood books you mentioned. But I DO love Quackenbush! Now I can hunt them down!

Next list: Rank your OWN books from your most favorite to your least favorite. (I find others’ self-criticism really interesting).

LC: I’m going to rate them on the quality of my illustrations. Nothing at all to do with the texts (because most I did not write):


Yard Sale

The Reader

City Cat

Melvin and the Boy


Christmas Is Here

Happy Like Soccer

What Happens on Wednesdays

Alfie Runs Away

Buffalo Music

That’s Papa’s Way

Big Cat Pepper

CB: Adjectives to describe how you felt during, and right after, the call about the Caldecott Honor for Nana.

LC: silent






CB: Also, a list, in order, of all the places you’ve lived!

LC: Smithtown, NY

Bel Air, MD

Baltimore, MD

Sorrento, Italy

Manhattan, NY

Brooklyn, NY

Havre de Grace, MD

Oceanside, CA

Sherman Oaks, CA

Harrisburg, PA

CB: You’ve lived a lot of places…so cool. What a brave adventurer you are.

I think we have a lot in common.—but one of the ways we are very different is that you are a lot braver than I am. You see, Tom and I got married when we were just 22. 22! Babies. But all during our marriage, we’ve both felt like we could fall back on one another, both mentally and financially, when our choices weren’t exactly panning out. For example, Tom worked as a reporter and was the main money maker/benefits provider, and that made it feel safe when I quit my full-time job to become a freelancer (and dip my toe into Lake Kidlit). When Tom quit his job as a reporter—well, that was scary—but we were both working on projects and even though money was really tight, we were careful and we looked out for each other.

With you, at least from the outside, it seems like you’ve made this amazing career ALL on your own. I mean, WOW! To me, that seems like the bravest thing of all, to just up and move to NYC (or California or Pennsylvania) and just DO it…and you’ve totally rocked it!  I never really got a chance to be Mary Richards and throw my hat up into the air in my own personal opening credits, but you surely have. I don’t think I would have become a children’s book author and illustrator without Tom…and here’s you, who did it all on her own. Can you talk a little bit about that? Is it ever scary?

Was it fun heading up to NYC all on your own?

LC: Oh, I definitely didn’t do this all on my own! So so so many people to thank for helping me get to where I am today. Ha, this sounds like the start of an Academy Award acceptance speech or something. But seriously, without the encouragement of family members, teachers, friends and editors at different times in my life, I am pretty certain I would not be a full time bookmaker now.

The brief series of events and people that led to me making picture books:

High school art teacher, Kurt Bittle…who happened to also be an illustrator…who happened to also encourage me every day and help me get in to art school.

My parents…who have always been oh so supportive of my crazy dream to be a full time artist, but were especially supportive of me doing a summer semester abroad in Italy during my junior year of undergrad.

Italy…the breathtaking country that helped inspire the illustration work (a picture book, of course!) that then got me in to graduate school in NYC.

My graduate school classmates at SVA…who challenged me to make the best art I possibly could…who walked alongside me to publishing houses to drop off our portfolios and anxiously wait for editors and art directors to return them with hopeful (and sometimes not so hopeful) comments.

Frances Foster…a incredible, legendary editor with an imprint at Farrar, Straus & Giroux…who just happened to come by my little graduate program to conduct a class critique…who saw my work and thought there might be a chance I’d be ready one day to illustrate a book…who kept in touch and on August 11, 2005 sent me an email with an attached picture book manuscript that then changed the direction of my life.

What Happens on Wednesdays…the lovely picture book written by Emily Jenkins, that I had the amazing honor of illustrating…a first published book! with my name on it! A book that is responsible for introducing me to an editor named Jen at Clarion Books/ HMH…

Jen Greene (OUR dear editor and friend:) who noticed that first book about a little girl’s Wednesday, and who then offered me a second book to illustrate with Clarion…who listened to the ideas and dreams I had to write my own books, and who believed in me enough to publish them. First The Troublemaker…then Nana. Thank you, JG.

YOU, Cece…who I first met through the books you published with Jen at Clarion…who I finally got to meet in person, hug, and cheer for at ALA last summer…who has been so sweet and comforting and encouraging during the craziest year of my life. Thank you.

Every day support system…best brother, Mr Schu, the Nerdy Book Club peeps, and on and on and on…

So. Life. definitely not doing it on my own.

Grateful. Thankful. Blessed.

Well..! That was kind of long-winded.. Thanks for not cueing the music and kicking me off stage, Cece Friend ❤️

Then the conversation took a turn for the much more interesting…

CB: Did you know that you share a name with a famous cheerleader??? A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, no less!

LC: lol yes I do!

CB: She is hotttttttt but you are hotttttttttter.

I wonder if she has googled YOUR name and thought, wow! I got a Caldecott Honor AND I’m great with the pom-poms!

LC: Ha!!! Riiiiiiighhhht. Now I just need to practice my pom-pom skillz! #DJLCtimesTWO

CB: It’s so cool that you have this double life. You must be super fit AND well versed about the rules of football. Most impressive.

More lists! TV shows you watched as a kid?

LC: Looooooved Rainbow Brite

Punky Brewster!

Reading Rainbow

Sesame Street

Full House

Who’s The Boss?

Saved by the Bell

The Golden Girls


CB: It’s fascinating to see how much difference a decade (I’m guessing) or more makes to your childhood list of TV favorites. You’re one of those 1981 (or 83?) babies, right? This ol’ chestnut was born in 1970.

I too watched Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, Who’s the Boss (you were probably watching it in syndication—Oldie Goldie here was watching it in REAL TIME!). I watched a little bit of Punky (in real time, too), but more to make fun of it. (Soleil Moon Frye, my sincere apologies. You look to have grown up to be a lovely person.)

LC: Yes you’re correct, I’m a Team81er. With Schu and Jonker and Sharp :)

And Team70ers are definitely not old, btw.

CB: TV shows now? (I love TV but try not to watch too much. If I find out you’re not watching ANYTHING then I am going to put on my hair shirt and crawl into a hole feeling oodles of shame.)

LC: I actually don’t have TV right now! But I’ve been streaming these online:


Downton Abbey


Parks and Rec

Mad Men

CB: I LOVE Nashville and am thrilled to know that you are watching it, too. I’m currently obsessed with Empire, too. Gracious. If we just could Rayna James and Lucius Lyon together, what kind of music would THAT be? Probably awesome.

Loved Mad Men. Just about wept when it ended with my favorite commercial ever. Had to give up Downton Abbey after what happened to Anna. :(

Had to look up OITNB. Thought it was a show about pigs or something! I’ve never watched that but maybe I should try. What I should really try is NOT WATCHING TV AT ALL THERE IS WORK TO BE DONE OMG

LC: I’m SO happy to know you also Love Nashville! Yay! I’m such a huge Connie Britton fan. Before this show I was obsessed with her in Friday Night Lights. She’s the best. If only I could get her to collaborate on a kids book with me…;)

CB: And oh yeah, Tom and I are entrenched in old Dallas episodes, as we were just a little too young (yes, we were young once) to enjoy it when it was actually “a thing.” Who shot JR? Do YOU know, sweet Lauren?

LC: Dallas huh? Sadly I do not know who shot JR. Maybe I should netflix and binge watch over the holiday break!

So…after this enlightening conversation about our love of the tube, I realized that Tom and I could not go to NCTE as planned. We needed to stay home to watch Dallas, ha ha (not really). I was bummed for a lot of reasons—and especially because I would miss an opportunity to catch up with Lauren there. But Lauren asked me a few questions before she headed off to Minneapolis:

LC: Any pro advice on how to handle anxiety leading up to presentations? One of the events I’ve been prepping for this weekend has me feeling pretty nervous. Hope these things get easier some day. . .

CB: Blurg to anxiety. I know it well. I bet you are better about public speaking than you think. Just remember, folks are there to see YOU in any way they can get you, and they will be happy even if all you do is say, “Squeak!” Seriously. People already LOVE you and your work. The NCTE folks want to be there—it’s a great event for one’s ego. Just be yourself and wear your Cowboys uniform (the one with the silver trim, you know the one), and it’ll be fantastic.

It WILL get easier. But if you’re like me, and the main reasons you got into this line of work is because you enjoy being by yourself, making things…then it never quite feels natural. Tom is lucky because he was born to entertain AND be by himself, making things…there’s nothing harder than following Tom Angleberger after he’s presented a book. It’s tough. So that’s my other bit of rah-rah: at least you’re not following Angleberger!

LC: Thank you for your sweet pep talk, Cece Friend. It really helps. I WISH I could just “squeak” :) That would be so much easier :)

I am VERy glad I do not have to present after the amazing Tom Angleberger! Or the incredible Cece Bell! I do however have to present with a few other pb heroes. But I’m trying to remember that this is FUN! and not freak out too much.

CB: Back to the lists! Art materials you love?

LC: ink!

any kind of markers and colored pencils

watercolors (specifically Japanese pan WCs)

And thank God for Photoshop to make quick (and sometimes not so quick) fixes

CB: Art materials you loathe?

LC: I like experimenting with just about any materials. My least favorites would be oil based paints and pastels.

Of course, this non-Caldecott winning illustrator had to turn the conversation back to television (there’s a reason for that “non”)…

CB: I’m watching Nashville for Deacon Claybourne. That actor actually went to the same college as we did (we missed him by about 2 years). When I found that out, I couldn’t believe it. He had me totally fooled that he was an actual Nashville backup musician or something that the show’s producers just happened to find. And what a find! So much fun. And Juliette! Gracious.

Dallas totally worth it. I had no idea that it would be as fun as it’s been.

Fortunately, Lauren was kind enough to oblige this old lady with the following…

LC: So cool Deacon Claybourne went to the same college as y’all!!


LC: Hi Cece, Happy 2016!!

Just back from Boston, and excited to begin a new year of work.

How about you — how has the start of your year been??

CB: Hey Sweet Stuff!

Glad you’re back from Boston. Weren’t the winners great! I was excited about all of them. And a picture book winning the Newbery! SWEET.

The start of my year has been good! I’ve spent a lot of time getting my studio clean and reorganized, a task I love because the results are so worth it. Also spent a good amount of time getting my HOUSE clean and reorganized, which I don’t like doing, but I like the results there, too. So now I’ve got my fingers and thumbs in lots of pies and I’m trying to stay on top of things as best I can. Hmmm…

Thanks for adding more to the illo AND for answering that one last question.

Our interview is gonna be entertaining, if nothing else. I think it gives a good view of how busy an illustrator’s life can be. It also gives a good view of how much I love television, a fact that isn’t always the best fact about me…

Love ya! Thanks so much for participating in this!

Conversation ended 18 January 2016


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