About the Author: “Brittany Long Olsen is a cartoonist, writer, and illustrator with a deep love of storytelling through comics. She lives near Portland, Oregon and creates journal cartoons at comicdiaries.com” (Bio from the author).
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Brittany Long Olsen: I have always loved reading comics. I remember from a very young age taking the comics section from my dad’s newspaper and enjoying the way pictures and text together told more of a story than either one alone could. As I grew older and graphic novels became more popular and widely available, I loved discovering all the different styles and genres of stories that could be told in comics. Naturally, I wanted to create my own!
BLO: I’ve always been an avid reader. I was a total bookworm growing up, so I started writing stories from a pretty young age and just never stopped. I studied creative writing for my undergraduate degree, and around that time was when I really became interested in improving as an artist and drawing cartoons, so it made sense to combine my passions for storytelling and comics together.
BLO: I love how accessible comics are for readers of all ages and reading skill levels. Not every kid wants to sit down and read a prose novel, but all the dynamic pictures of comics to accompany the text make it easier to get absorbed in a story. I think there’s been a huge boom in middle-grade comics over the last decade for that reason—comics make it easy for kids to enjoy reading! I also love reading and creating comics for this age because, so often, the themes center on friendship, bravery, creativity, adventure, and learning how to love being yourself. Not that you can’t find those themes in books for readers of any age, but, overall, I find that middle-grade graphic novels are full of optimism and heart and magic, which I personally am drawn to! That age is often about discovering that the world is bigger than you thought, learning how to find your place in it, and building relationships that matter. I love stories that explore those ideas.
BLO: Darcy’s story is based very much on my own experience of moving to a new country and having a hard time adjusting at first. What helped my family during that time was making friends who had similar interests. We researched places nearby where people were gathering who liked the same things we liked and that helped us meet new friends who introduced us to all the things they loved about their home country. We also tried to have a sense of adventure by planning new foods to try and new places to travel to. We wanted to make good memories, so even when we were feeling homesick or lonely, we would have something to look forward to on the calendar.
BLO: The nugget of the idea for this graphic novel was about being able to bottle up very specific, small moments of joy, like finding money in an old coat pocket or being able to finish a whole popsicle without any of it sliding off the stick. (I was thinking about all those internet memes circulating around captioned “That feeling when…”) If those feelings could be captured and held onto, I thought, what would you do with them? Sell them to other people? What kind of place would sell them? What kind of people would run a store like that, and why? I then thought of the idea of someone accidentally stumbling upon the store and discovering this magical part of the world that teaches them to appreciate little joys.
BLO: In my author bio accompanying the print book, I write that my favorite happy jar would be watching videos of unlikely animal friends. I am so grateful for people all over the world who capture videos of their pets being cute and sharing those videos online, especially when they’re of animals we wouldn’t normally think of as getting along with each other!
BLO: What Darcy comes to realize over the course of the book, and the change she brings to the shop, is that happiness comes from appreciating what you have. I think gratitude and happiness are connected in a lot of ways.
BLO: While working on this book in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the thought that I kept coming back to was, “We need each other.” Darcy’s isolation in a new place is alleviated by connecting with other people, and the shop eventually connects more with the community around it. It’s easier said than done, of course, to form meaningful connections in a community, but Darcy shows that it can start by reaching out to the people around you and trying to improve each other’s lives.
BLO: I would recommend keeping a notebook or folder of all your story ideas. (I have a folder on my phone for this, and it works great to jot down ideas no matter where I happen to be.) Maybe it’s a dream you had, or a snippet of conversation you overheard, or just a random idea that’s only a sentence long. It may not turn into anything yet, but holding onto it and letting it percolate in your mind can help you build onto it later. Most of my notes are short and complete the phrase “Wouldn’t it be interesting if…?” I also recommend talking about your story ideas with your loved ones and being open to their feedback. I do this with my partner all the time, and he points out things I might never have thought of that help make my stories better. Rejection is tough, no doubt about that, but I find that having someone to talk to about my ideas keeps me excited and motivated to keep working on them.
BLO: My current work in progress is another middle-grade comic, but this time a nonfiction book! It’s about the history of the most popular dog breeds and why they look/act the way they do. (Hint: it’s because humans bred them that way!) I have always loved dogs, and getting to make a comic book about them is a dream come true. (Why Are Dogs? is coming from Andrews McMeel in 2025, with a planned sequel about horses.) I hope to continue making fiction middle-grade graphic novels in the future as well, much like The Happy Shop, featuring our world infused with a little magic.
Emilee Ceuninck, Pine Reads Review Lead Writer & Editor