Inspired after volunteering to help struggling readers at a local elementary school, Julia Glen and her sister Nancy created their Glen Creations business, publishing children's books focused on specific cities and regions. Their "City Adventure" series has, so far, focused on Oceanside, Encinitas and most recently, Carlsbad.
"I thought it would be nice to pull together a book that taught kids about the history of their own community," she says. "I reached out to my sister, Nancy, to help with the research and writing. I did the illustrations. It has been fun to include our family members as characters" and donating a portion of the proceeds to local literacy programs.
The goal is to help kids improve their reading skills, learn about where they live, and help them navigate friendship, family and inclusion.
Glen, 56, lives in Oceanside and is the co-owner and author/illustrator for Glen Creations (with Nancy, who lives in Washington state). She took some time to talk about their books, her relatively recent shift into a visual arts career, and her love of all things do-it-yourself.
Q: Why was starting this company and book series something you wanted to pursue?
A: Creating these books has become a real passion. However, initially, it was a simple idea I threw out there. Seeing the reaction to my work has been really satisfying. The work itself has pushed me to grow in many areas: my art is better; I have learned about graphic technology, timelines, and public speaking; and every aspect of how to run a business. It has been exhilarating, but exhausting.
Q: Your "City Adventure" children's book series focuses on cities in Southern California. Why did you and your sister decide to focus on this region, as opposed to the state of Washington, where Nancy lives?
A: Starting in Oceanside made sense because the conversation first started here. I wanted to show family at home how different the landscape and lifestyle was here. After three books focused on SoCal communities, we are headed home (where I grew up, in Tacoma, Wash.). Our "Tacoma Adventures" book will be out in a few weeks, and it has been emotional for me to paint the northwest landscape. Our goal is to do a three-book series up north and come back to focus on Vista, Escondido and San Marcos. We will see how it goes.
Q: So far, you've published books on Oceanside and Encinitas (winning a recent award for best published children's fiction from the San Diego Book Awards for the former), with your latest focusing on Carlsbad. What is "Carlsbad Adventures" about?
A: In "Carlsbad Adventures," we follow a sweet lamb, Evie Jo, as she attends math camp in Carlsbad. We brought out the history of the city, but added the theme of math and how kids use it in their everyday lives. Evie Jo and the other animals in the story learn about how math is used at the beach, library, bakery, and even in sports. Carlsbad has such inspiring beauty, it was an honor to do the illustrations.
What I love about Oceanside ...
I live just east of south Oceanside, and I love it. The community is really involved and supports each other. Oceanside was the first book in our series, and it was fun to learn even more about what there is to do and sharing that information in our book. I love the (First Friday) Art Walk and the farmers' market on Thursday evenings.
Q: What do you want kids to learn about their communities through your books?
A: There are so many lessons in each of our books. With "Carlsbad," the first few pages show Evie Jo working hard to earn her tuition for camp. As the campers travel through Carlsbad, they learn about the rich history of the city. They learn about the sacrifices made by early residents and how this has shaped the culture and the traditions that still thrive there. Also, we wanted to really inspire families to get out and explore, which is why we have a list of all of the locations featured in the book, with check boxes next to each one. This is to encourage families to experience the places themselves and to check them off as they go. So many of us, including me, don't know the cool events and activities available to us.
Q: How do you go about helping kids understand how to celebrate differences in your book(s)?
A: With each book, we have a character that is challenged in some way. Our "Oceanside" book has a dog with three legs. Our "Encinitas" book has green pigs from outer space. "Carlsbad" has a wombat in a wheelchair. Differences are acknowledged and everyone moves on. In our first we write, "Wouldn't it be boring if we were all the same?"
Q: And how to find common ground?
A: The characters find that common ground is found easily when time and effort are put in. A good example is in our "Encinitas" book: alien pigs land on Moonlight Beach and surfing goats show them around town. They all find that they love surfing, music and books, along with a groovy ride in a convertible. Our "Carlsbad" book shows a common love of math, regardless of their abilities or background.
Q: What do kids learn about the history of, and main attractions in, Carlsbad?
A: Campers are led through an extensive tour of Carlsbad. They visit Magee Park, which has restored many of the original buildings of the early city. They go to the Barrio Museum to learn about the Mexican immigrant experience. They visit the amazing Museum of Making Music and the beautiful library. Along the way, they meet important residents that teach them about math. We introduce an actual math teacher from Carlsbad High, and the characters meet a local banker, and a marine specialist and former zoo director, all of them real people. It was fun to bring these real-life specialists into the book as the animals of their choice.
Q: Can you walk us through the creative process for the way you and your sister work on these books together, working long distance?
A: Because Nancy lives up north, it is not always easy or convenient to communicate. We started out co-writing, but now she writes the bulk of the book, and I do the illustrations. Nancy will come up with an outline, and we decide where we want to go from there. There are a lot of emails back and forth, with late-night phone calls. I would say it has worked out well so far. We usually seem to be on the same page. We decided that she would have the final word on the writing portion, and I have the final say on the art.
Q: When did you first begin painting?
A: I began to paint about three years ago. I was working on another project that required illustrations, and I wasn't finding what I needed, so I tried my hand at it and found that I really enjoyed it.
Q: What is it about this medium that appeals to you more than another art form, like photography or dance?
A: I am a visual person by nature. When I paint, I am able to express myself through color. Watercolors are luminescent and express so much as the colors are layered to develop detail and depth. When I later look at my paintings, I am transported to the feeling that I had at the time that I painted it.
Q: What inspires you in the artwork you create for your "City Adventure" series?
A: I want the people that are in the stories to really love the painting that I did to represent them. Our story characters are family, friends or people from the location that is in the book. When they read the books, I hope they love the characters that represent them.
Q: What are some children's book series/illustrators you loved as a kid?
A: The illustrations that I loved to stories when I was young, are still my favorites because the illustrations brought the stories alive with their color and detail. Series like "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter, "Winnie-the-Pooh" illustrated by E.H. Shepard, and "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" illustrated by John Tenniel. When I see these pictures, I can easily feel the stories that they represent.
Q: What is the best advice you've ever received?
A: To this day, my parents gave me the best advice, which is to do the best you can at whatever you do, and to enjoy what you are doing.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: That I am a die-hard DIY-er (Do-It-Yourself), from basic plumbing to building a murphy bed to repairing my washing machine.
Q: Describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: My ideal weekend would include sleeping in (if my cats don't wake me to feed them), a nice lunch at Los Olas or Anita's Mexican restaurants with friends, followed by time with family.