Celebrating the supportive relationship between a child and her dog, this story shows how we can all be brave and achieve things in our own time.
Billie prefers playing quietly, but the beach is a noisy place. Her energetic dog, Bean, is happy to explore the sand and water. When Billie does try going for a swim, she has a painful surprise and heads back to shore. But Bean digs up something that can help Billie get back in the water where she soon discovers a whole world of quiet solitude and spectacular color beneath the surface.
In this Q&A, author Julia Hansson shares the inspiration behind her new book, Billie and Bean at the Beach, and talks about having her book translated into English and her experience creating her debut picture book.
Describe Billie and Bean at the Beach in three words.
It’s a bit more than three words, but: Curiosity, being brave and a small mystery.
What inspired you to write this story?
I spent my childhood summers by the sea and remember being both fascinated and a bit scared of it. Most of all, I was inspired by the memory of my mom going into the water and removing the jellyfish so that I could swim — a real hero!
Your characters, Billie and Bean, make such an adorable pair. Can you tell us more about them?
Billie is a very careful child and is a bit stubborn about what she wants and doesn’t want to do. I think she needs someone like Bean — a very excited and forward kind of friend to help her come out of her shell a bit. I very much based Billie on my own childhood memories — I was reluctant to try new things too — and I think what helped me most was someone letting me discover the fun in things for myself, rather than telling me what to do. That’s the kind of friendship I had in mind when creating Billie and Bean.
Have you ever had a dog like Bean?
Yes! Bean is based on my parents’ dog Bessie. I went to study abroad in Japan when she was only six months old and started making the book while I was there. I missed her a lot and I think I included her almost subconsciously. She also loves running around and rolling in sand so I had a lot of pictures to use as reference for Bean.
What came first, the story or the illustrations? Can you walk us through your process?
I always start with a vague mental image of what kind of story I want to make, and the mood I want it to convey. For this book, I remember imagining a somber somewhat mysterious summer story, and I had a clear image of what I wanted the underwater scenes to look like.
For me, it’s usually easier to imagine the visual part, so I tend to start with that, but recently I’m trying to be more aware of the story from the beginning as well. I usually make a few key images so that I can try to capture the visual mood that I’m looking for, and then start working on a storyboard for the entire book. It’s a lot of back and forth, redrawing and rearranging pages and a lot of the time I feel like I can’t tell what kind of story I’m making until it’s done, but it’s so rewarding when it starts to come together!
What was the most rewarding and/or challenging thing about writing and illustrating this book?
This was my first book, so it was challenging in a lot of ways, naturally. I had no idea about how I should plan my work or what my process was (I’m still working on it!) so I remember feeling like I was just endlessly remaking the book over and over again. I got so much help and guidance from my publisher though, so all in all it was a great experience. The most rewarding thing was receiving the physical copy, and then hearing from children and parents who enjoyed the book. That was, and still is, very surreal!
Do you have a favorite spread? Which one?
My favorite spread is the one where they are preparing to go home from the beach. I think I somehow managed to capture the warm evening light and the fuzzy feeling of being tired after a long day by the sea.
Your book was originally published in Swedish as Billie, Korven och Havet. What is the most exciting part of now having your book available in English?
The best part for me is being able to share my book with more people. Especially with English also being a global language, it feels like a very big and exciting milestone. Many of my friends and acquaintances don’t know Swedish or the other languages it has been published in so far, so I’m excited for my books to become more accessible!
What language would you love to see your book translated into next?
Right now I live in Japan, so of course I would love to see it being translated into Japanese and be able to see it on the shelves here sometime.
You have written another delightful book featuring the same dynamic duo; Billie and Bean in the City (coming May 2022). Are you working on any new projects featuring these two?
Yes! I’m in the midst of making a third book. It’s still early days so I can’t say too much about the plot yet, but I can tell you that Billie and Bean are going somewhere very snowy and cold!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julia Hansson is a children’s book author and illustrator from Stockholm. She studied at Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm and Tama Art University in Tokyo. She currently lives in Japan, where she has spent many years studying both illustration and the Japanese language.
Photo by José Figueroa.