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NEPM brings you interviews with New England authors of books young people may enjoy.

In Diane deGroat's latest release, a bored hero climbs out of his comic book

A page from "The Adventures of Robo-Kid" by author and illustrator Diane deGroat of Amherst, Massachusetts.
A page from "The Adventures of Robo-Kid" by author and illustrator Diane deGroat of Amherst, Massachusetts.

"The Adventures of Robo-Kid" by Amherst, Massachusetts, author and illustrator Diane deGroat is about a child living in the real world who encounters a comic book character.

DeGroat, who has worked on more than 150 books, tells Connecting Point that — from early on — she was always focused on art.

Diane deGroat, author and illustrator: I was always that kid in the classroom that was the artist growing up, because I always loved to draw and that was my thing. I loved to draw and paint and art. And, even at a young age, I knew that I would be an artist when I grew up, in some way, shape or form. So that's it. All my life, like I say, even since I was four, I've been drawing. Yes.

Zydalis Bauer, NEPM: And so what made you so sure that you are going to be an artist at such a young age? I think that's amazing when you're able to have that confidence in yourself and you actually fulfilled that dream.

Well, I didn't have that much confidence. I just didn't have any other ideas of what I wanted to be! I think my second bet would have been maybe an art teacher.

One thing that I thought was really ironic about your story is that you didn't grow up as much of a reader. You didn't really read too many books.

Yeah, I do tell the kids when I visit schools that I did not like to read. I was a pretty good student, but I only read what I had to read. And I was even one of those kids, when I had to write a book report, I would open the flap and read the synopsis and then would write ... No, kids don't do that!

No, I didn't like to read. I liked looking at the pictures. I loved books and I just loved turning the pages and looking at the pictures and the art and saying, "Wow, I wish I could do that." So no, it was only until much later, even as a grownup, where I became a reader. And I learned that I had to become a reader before I could become a writer.

And that's really interesting because after doing 20 years of illustration, you decided to try your hand at writing.

Yeah. I thought I knew so much about books and had read so many other authors books to illustrate their stories. I thought, "Well, how hard could it be?" Well, I found out it was hard and I found out I was not a very good writer.

So I did all the right things: I took classes, I practiced, I joined a critique group, but most of all, I started reading and reading good books. And that's how you learn about good writing is reading good books. So I really worked at it to become a writer and it wasn't easy. Illustration was really easy, but writing ... And it's still hard. It's not natural for me, so I have to work at it.

Well, and here we are, though, with your latest book, "The Adventures of Robo-Kid," which has a completely different look, by the way, than your previous books, such as your award-winning Gilbert and Friends series. So this book takes us on an inspiring journey where a real boy's life is intersected by a comic book hero. So tell me more about the book and some of the adventures we will go on within it.

Well, it starts out with Henry is the boy and he has some self-esteem issues and is afraid — without giving a lot away, it's about swimming in the deep water. Also, at the same time, the comic book character we see ... what his life is. And he needs a break. His life is boring. So he climbs out of the comic and ends up right in the boy's backpack. And [he] comes just at the right time so that Henry feels that — even though he's just a little robot — if he's with him, he could do anything.

So it's a matter of, I think, having the right attitude and feeling you could do something with a little encouragement if you didn't have that before. So I think it's positive thinking, that would be the lesson in the book.

Author and illustrator Diane deGroat used a combination of charcoal and digital coloring in her recent book, "The Adventures of Robo-Kid."
Connecting Point
Author and illustrator Diane deGroat used a combination of charcoal and digital coloring in her recent book, "The Adventures of Robo-Kid."

So you've mentioned that when you're illustrating a book, you are always learning something new. And being that this style of book was a different kind of creation for you, what did you learn about yourself through this experience?

Well, it was a totally different medium. The boy's part is a very soft pencil drawing, and the comic book part is a line drawing. It looks like an ink drawing. But really it's not pencil, it's charcoal. And it's not a line drawing, it's digital art in the computer.

I love using Photoshop and I love charcoal as a drawing medium. I do a lot of figure drawing and I just love it. So I combined the two things and I figured out, well, this is very different because everyone's telling me I have to come up with a fresh style and I was really getting tired of watercolor.

So I was able to combine the charcoal drawings, scan them in, put them in the computer, and then color it in with digital color. And combining the two, and there you have it.

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