Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Summer Fun: ESCAPE TO PLAY: Becky Gehrisch and Independent Publishing by Kathy Halsey

Book Review

Summer time! Wouldn't you like to be with these adorable pups and escape and play? Doesn’t that bubble bath look perfect on a hot summer’s day? Escape to Play is a summer treat that combines three mischievous dogs who create loads of unsupervised fun while the farmer is hard at work. 

Author- illustrator Becky Gehrisch ’s charming art and bouncy rhyme combine with an “Easter egg” in the character Norman, a mouse. Add the surprise elements of classic paintings such as Van Gogh’s sunflowers and  Munch’s The Scream, and you have an engaging, interactive read. This picture book has a great “re-readability” factor, too. I give this one "four paws up."

Craft Chat with Becky and Kathy

 Kathy:  How did ESCAPE TO PLAY become the book it is now? Did you at one time think of legacy publishing as opposed to independent publishing? 

Becky: Escape to Play was a fifteen-year process—your writing audience might know how that goes! It can sometimes take a while to see an idea to fruition. I spent years writing and illustrating while I worked at home raising kids. In that time, I joined SCBWI and studied the art of picture book making and storytelling. I am glad that I took the time to research so that my story and book was as polished as possible.

After graduating from the Ohio State University with a degree in art, I was burned out. Escape to Play came about organically. I had started with a painting of my dogs in a bubbly bathtub. This painting was the first painting in a year after graduation where I decided to have fun and make art for myself. Each page was a 40-hour painting that followed the dogs’ day on the farm while the farmer left for the day. If you look closely, the clocks on the wall have the correct time of day!

Originally, I had submitted Escape to Play to over 40 publishing houses. During this time, a different publishing house approached me to illustrate for them, but I looked at the contract and decided I wanted to have complete control over my work. More importantly, I wanted to retain full intellectual rights over my creations. Because of this, I stopped my submission process. I slowly began planning and eventually started my own publishing company, Bookling Media. 

Kathy:  What’s the best thing about being the publisher, art director, author/illustrator of your book? What’s the hardest part? 

Becky: Bookling Media was designed to be an independent publishing company so I am thankfully not wearing all the hats that a self-published author might wear. I hired an art director/typographer, editor, and used off-set printing (as opposed to print on demand). I do not have all the skills as an individual to produce a high-quality book on my own. I created the publishing company not to do things myself, but to control the publication of my book and give others the same opportunity to keep the full rights to their books.

Having two businesses, Bookling Media (publishing company) and Gehrisch Arts (artist and author company) has been challenging. When I am ready to take on author-illustrators through Bookling, the process will be straight-forward: They are the author-illustrator, and I am the publisher. The hardest part currently is knowing when I am publisher and when I am the artist because the lines get blurred. Two sets of accounting, two sets of inventories, two of everything to keep separate. Now that I’ve done it once, these details have fallen into place for future book productions. 

Can you name these classic paintings? They're in the book!

Kathy: I love the added book elements you created: back matter, the art that kids discover, and Norman, the mouse. All add interactivity to the book. How did they come about?

Becky: Thank you! I am thrilled that I took the time to add these elements. The educational addition is a wonderful way share my love of art history. Fun fact: I almost had an art history minor! Having the backmatter section explain art styles in a simple but not in a patronizing way, was important to me. I feel that kids can handle big concepts as well as detailed illustrations. I love details, as evident in my illustrations! Having a reason for the reader to go back and absorb the details as they search for the artwork on the walls has been very rewarding for me.

Norman came about for the similar reasons as the real-life artwork. The inspiration for him came from books I read as a kid where you could find something again and again throughout the book. However, instead of just Norman being on each page, I wanted the reader to know to find him. On the title page, Norman invites the reader to find him.

Kathy:  What’s your biggest takeaway you’d like to share with those who may want to start their own publishing company?

Becky: Great question! It is important to decide if you want to self-publish or start an independent publishing company. Starting an Independent publishing company has meant that I have a team of long-time industry professionals working together to produce a book. The intention of Bookling Media has always been to publish other author-illustrator’s work. If you want to start a business, it requires investment and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Kathy:  Tell us about your upcoming events and what you’ve learned re: author visits.

Becky: I will be at several summer author-events around Ohio from libraries to bookstores to teaching at the Thurber House! The author visits I’ve done this spring have taught me to continue to have fun with the kids. They have great questions and love interacting with my Norman puppet. In preparation for my visit, kids get to use art to color images from the Escape to Play Coloring Book. This has been a great asset to author visits.

Something for author/illustrators to consider is to have a good visual presentation. I include my childhood artwork, original drafts of the story, and art process videos. The kids realize that art can sometimes take a while to make but just like a puzzle, the challenge is rewarding! At the end of the day, encouraging students to enjoy art and reading is what it is all about for me!

Folks can see my upcoming events here.

Kathy: What are you working on now?

Becky: In my author-illustrator role, I am working on lesson plans for teaching art and writing classes this summer. I have several picture book ideas, but they are on hold as I do book events and build up Bookling Media. In my Bookling Media role, I am working on marketing and distribution for Escape to Play and preparing to open submissions for author-illustrators to submit this fall.

Becky’s Bio:

Becky Gehrisch is the founder and Executive Director of Bookling Media, an independent press redefining the kidlit publishing industry, book by book! Bookling Media focuses on picture books created by author-illustrators. Becky has an art degree from The Ohio State University. She has served as the Illustrator Coordinator for the Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI chapter. Since Bookling Media’s start in 2020, Becky has built and led the team through the publication of their premiere title and is now focusing on maturing the company’s supply chain and distribution capabilities.


Becky's social media handles and website:


@Booklingmedia (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)

@GehrischArts (FB, Instagram, Twitter)


  1. Lovely interview. This looks like a cute book. Congrats!

  2. I enjoyed reading about Becky, her book ESCAPE TO PLAY, her creative illustrations, and Bookling Media.

    Suzy Leopold

  3. This book sounds delightful -- and how fascinating to learn about the way Becky developed Bookling Media. Kudos to Becky and thanks to you, Kathy, for introducing her to us!

    1. Thank you Beth! I appreciate the warm feedback!

  4. Loved hearing the story behind this book and interesting to see the process behind creating a new publisher.

    1. Thank you Jianne! This has been a roller coaster ride!

  5. What a fascinating interview. I loved hearing about your independent publishing venture. This book sounds like so much fun!

    1. Thank you Julie. I have enjoyed learning along the way!

  6. Wonderful interview! This books looks great! Yay!

    1. Thanks Angie! It has been a wonderful journey!

  7. Terrific interview! Becky, you encourage and enlighten. Congratulations!