Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Jannie Ho Talks Chickens and Art

by Sue Heavenrich

I was introduced to Jannie Ho through her Chickengirl comics. I love them – and there’s a whole alphabet’s worth.

And then I read her very funny book about a bear who finds a chicken frozen in the winter snow. Being a kind bear, he brings it home to thaw – I mean, warm up. As he’s waiting, Bear begins slicing and dicing. He tosses carrots and potatoes and a sprig of basil into a soup pot. A pot which, Chicken realizes (as he begins to wake up) is just the perfect size for a chicken! Bear wants company for lunch – but is Chicken the company? Or lunch?

She’s illustrated lots of books by other authors, including the new picture book, Mitzi and the Big Bad Nosy Wolf (written by Teresa Bateman and released last fall). It’s a small book about a big topic: digital citizenship. Mitzi is one smart lamb, and when a wolf asks for her personal information she refuses. But in a nice way: “Would you like to dance?” she asks. Maybe she can figure out how to escape while tiring the wolf out with the Charleston and the Tango. 

So I just had to ask Jannie a few questions about illustrating. 

Sue: Hi Jannie, and welcome to the GROG. I’ve noticed that even when Chicken is not a main character in a book, you’ve managed to sneak in a chicken somewhere. Do you put them in every book you illustrate? And what's with the chickens?

Jannie: Thanks for noticing! I do try to sneak in a chicken or so, but only if it works for the story. It doesn’t work for every single book, but I think it is fun for the reader to enjoy some “Easter eggs” in the illustrations. Whether it is a little bird in every spread, or some squirrels hiding in the bushes, my job is to create visual delight to the reader.

I actually get that question a lot- what’s with the chickens, ha ha! I don’t know when it started but I had a chicken alarm clock growing up that clucked when it went off. Perhaps it did something to me subliminally. Chickens are fun and I started drawing them in art school. They showed up a lot in my artwork and people started calling me “Chicken girl.” The name stuck with me ever since. 

Sue: Chicken story or not, what goes into your determination of how to portray characters (including secondary characters) in a book? Do you add gratuitous chicken characters to see if the art director is paying attention?

Jannie: A good art director is always paying attention! I don’t add random chicken characters for the sake of adding them for my own amusement. It must support or add to the story in some way. I enjoy creating animal characters and I love thinking about the personalities they represent.

Sue:  Please talk about the media do you use in creating your art.

Jannie: My picture book art is mostly digital. I use to hand sketch with paper/pencil and scan them in, and work digitally on top of it. But now I skip that step as it is more efficient to do the sketching directly on the computer, too. For my board and picture book art, they are mostly vector art created in Adobe Illustrator. My comic art, which has a different look and line art heavy, is created using Procreate on the iPad, with an Apple Pencil. So it is a mixture of all of these techniques I use when creating my art.

Sue: How do you (or do you) decide which projects to take on? What is it about a manuscript that grabs you and makes you know that "I have to illustrate this one"? And once you've taken on a project, what is your creative process?

Jannie: I absolutely love when a project comes my way and I know the art director or editor has been paying attention to what kind of art I enjoy doing and it just feels in sync. The best projects are the ones where there is an ease but also a good challenge to push outside of what I’ve been doing. The same sense of humor is really important to me too; I want to get what the author is trying to do, and vice versa!

The creative process- it is a little different for each project. I always like to explore the character designs first. Once I have the characters worked out, I like to explore the environment design further. For Mitzi and the Big Bad Nosy Wolf, for example, it takes place in the meadows and forest with lots of greenery. So I like to start looking and collecting references on Pinterest and also think about the color palette of the book. I usually do thumbnail sketches for the entire book, and then work on each spread individually later to refine the sketches. I like to hop around and can’t work chronologically, but it all ties together in the end!

Sue: Do you get feedback from authors on your illustrations? And does the art director ever ask you to revise something?

Jannie: I don’t get much feedback from the authors during the process; usually it is very minimal. I am happy when authors put their trust in me. I receive nice notes from authors when our books come out though! It is always a great feeling.  And I do get feedback from art directors and revisions are part of the process. I always appreciate great art direction to make the book even better.

Sue: I love Bear and Chicken. Do you have any more chicken adventures coming out? What books do you have coming out in 2023?

Jannie: Thank you! I have other chicken stories, but not the same chicken. Super Chicken and Shelly is regular comic feature that I write and illustrate in Highlights High Five magazine. So please do read their adventures there! Books that are coming out in 2023 are both graphic novels that I’m excited about. The Lost Mitten, written and illustrated by me, is an early reader graphic novel about a rabbit and a mouse that follows tracks in the snow to return a lost mitten. Fry Guys, written by Eric Geron and illustrated by me, will be about my other favorite thing to draw: anthropomorphic food!

Another book I’ve written and illustrated which is dear to my heart is a board book called Happy Chinese New Year, A Festive Counting Story. I’ve always wanted to write a book about my Chinese culture and this book took years in the making. It is about the Chinese zodiac animals getting ready for Chinese New Year and also a counting book that teaches the numbers in Mandarin Chinese. Funny enough, this book also has a chicken (rooster) in it!

Sue: And there’s still a few days of celebrating the New Year – so definitely time for folks to get a copy! Thank you, Jannie, and Happy Chinese New Year!

If you want to learn more about Jannie Ho and the books she writes, check out her website ( Here’s where you can find her on social media:

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