Juliann Law has been a part of two world records so far. When she was an intern in New York, she was strolling through Central Park on a beautiful spring morning when someone handed her a hula hoop and asked, “You wanna be part of a world record?” She then got to be part of the Most People Hula-hooping Simultaneously in One Place. And one summer, she got to be part of the World’s Longest Line of Root Beer Floats. Juliann is based in Salt Lake City, where she lives with her family, and is actively involved in SCBWI. Throughout the creation process for The World’s Longest Sock, she’s been knitting a long sock herself. You can see more of her vibrant work on her website: juliannlaw.com
This is such a fun and creative story. Where did the idea for this book come from?
After playing in the snow, my daughter and her friend came inside and started taking off all the cold, wet layers. . . coats, gloves, scarves, snow pants and then socks. Her friend had knee-high socks that wouldn’t come off. My daughter started to help, but as she pulled and pulled that long wet sock just stretched out more and seemed to go forever. They fell over laughing and exclaimed it was The World’s Longest Sock. That phrase (and their giggles) stuck with me and was the spark that ignited this book.
Knitting is obviously one of the main features of this story. Are you a knitter? If so, how did you get started knitting?
I love arts and crafts of all types! I do knit, but I’ve never actually finished anything! I get easily distracted and enticed by the next new project or hobby. I’ve started to knit more scarves than I can count. When I finished the rough draft for this book, I thought I’d better try knitting again to make sure I got things right. I researched how to knit a sock from the toe-up (most socks are knit from the top down which wouldn’t work for my story!) and started knitting my own long sock! It’s now about 6 feet long and still going!
You are both the writer and illustrator for this book. Can you tell us a little bit about that process? Which came first, the story or the imagery?
This one was unusual. The title came to me first, The World’s Longest Sock, and with it a very clear image of what is now the last full-spread of the book. I could see it so clearly and I just had to write the story to get to that perfect ending!
Even with this being a fun competition story, there are underlying themes of unity and cooperation. Can you speak about the underlying, teachable themes you’ve incorporated into this book?
You’re right! This story is about community and coming together to achieve an enormous goal. When I felt the story slipping (should there be penguins? a child astronaut?), I went back and focused on the two characters and their communities. Illustrating and rendering each scene takes a long time. Within the pictures, I included a couple things that would strengthen and reinforce these themes, even if no one else sees it, the symbolism is there and meaningful to me. I thought every time I drew a long or dangling piece of yarn (or in some cases long cables and chords) it shows how we are all connected. These strings and threads tie us together. . . the electrical cords connect us with the rest of the world. When you devote time to a project, you include some of you, some of your heart. Chuck and Nina both put their hearts into their knitting, so when I drew the stitches I drew them in the shape of little hearts! It’s my way of including love on each page.
You’ve been an illustrator for a long time. Can you talk about your transition into writing?
I’ve always considered myself to be an artist. I studied Illustration in college. I’ve worked in illustration and concept art full-time in the educational market and taught art and design for many years. When I began writing stories, I felt like a poser, a fraud! It took me some time to learn how to write. I’ve read many books about writing for children. I did all the workshops. I’ve practiced and improved, but still didn’t feel legit. Recently, I was helping my parents move out of the home I grew up in and had to go through all the old stuff I’d collected and kept over the years. . . and you know what I found? Boxes and boxes full of hand-written notes and letters and journals. Pages and pages of written papers. . . Yes, I’ve always been an artist, but this made me realize that I have always been a writer, too! I love writing!
The characters in this book are so vibrant and their personalities really shine through. How were these characters developed? Were these characters inspired by anyone?
Again, this is a little backwards. I knew where my characters had to live–New Zealand and Chile– to make my final page work. From there, I thought, who would be knitting in each of these places and why? Their backstories and personalities emerged little by little. I wanted them to be very different from each other, but also somehow similar in that they’re working towards the same goal. I sketched out the page where they are facing each other looking like they’re ready for a fight. I needed them to have a lot of contrast, because we’d be bouncing around between locations, they had to be visually different. If Nina’s hometown is bright and colorful and full of people, Chuck’s had to be the opposite: gray and muted and lonely. He’s tall and she’s short. Even their clothes contrast, like a checkerboard on this spread. The color red is the same (one little thing that ties them together) but his red is on top and hers is on bottom. Unity and variety, I needed both in the picture and in their characters.
What do you hope children take away from this book?
I want kids to love the surprise at the end. I want them to feel a very satisfying “a-ha!” and walk away not feeling tricked but feeling like now they’re in on it and want to share the joke with someone else. But I guess more than that, I also want kids to know that competition can be healthy and fun, driving you to new heights (or lengths, in this case) and ultimately should build unity and community rather than anger, jealousy or resentment.
Just for fun—are you a competitive person?
I’m only competitive at card games! Nertz anyone? I love to win! Other than that, I’m a cheerleader. I love to see the people in my life succeed and meet their goals. I do my best to support and encourage my family and friends and students and critique partners. My daughter would probably be embarrassed to know I cheer on all the other mountain bike racers on the course almost as loudly as I cheer for her. There is plenty of room for everyone to be awesome.
Do you have anything fun in the works? Where can people find you?
I have some really fun things I’m working on. . . several picture books at various stages of development. They all include lots of puns and even more animal side characters!
People can find me on Instagram and Twitter @juliannlaw and see my work at juliannlaw.com