The Story of Diva and Flea + a giveaway


by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi (Disney Publishing, 2015)

These duos, both Diva and Flea and Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi: true friends.

I love a good young chapter book, and this one is a real treat. Friends in Paris, small animals that shouldn’t be so sweet to one another, ribbons and shaggy hair and flâneur-ing.

From the publisher:

Diva, a small yet brave dog, and Flea, a curious streetwise cat, develop an unexpected friendship in this unforgettable tale of discovery.

For as long as she could remember, Diva lived at 11 avenue Le Play in Paris, France. For as long as he could remember, Flea also lived in Paris, France–but at no fixed address. When Flea flâneurs past Diva’s courtyard one day, their lives are forever changed. Together, Diva and Flea explore and share their very different worlds, as only true friends can do.

I’m so excited to bring you an opportunity to win both a copy of this book and a friendship bracelet kit, because all great pairs need to wrap their love on their wrists. This prize pack is courtesy of Disney Publishing.


Comment below by midnight PST on October 13th, which is The Story of Diva and Flea‘s book birthday, and you’ll be all set to celebrate your very best friend.


Mo Willems, a number one New York Times best-selling author and illustrator, has been awarded a Caldecott Honor on three occasions (for Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity).Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! was also an inaugural inductee into the Indies Choice Picture Book Hall of Fame. The celebrated Elephant & Piggie early-reader series has been awarded the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal on two occasions (for There Is a Bird on Your Head! and Are You Ready to Play Outside?) as well as garnering four Honors (for We Are in a Book!, I Broke My Trunk!, Let’s Go for a Drive! and A Big Guy Took My Ball!).


Tony DiTerlizzi, a number-one New York Times best-selling author and illustrator, created the middle-grade series The Spiderwick Chronicles with Holly Black, which has sold millions of copies, been translated into more than 30 languages and made into a feature film. He won a Caldecott Honor for illustrating The Spider & The Fly, and in 2014 he teamed up with Lucasfilm to retell the original Star Wars trilogy in a picture book featuring artwork by Academy award-winning concept artist, Ralph McQuarrie. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with his wife, daughter and dog, Mimi.

Bonne chance!


Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney Publishing.

Beyond the Pond + an interview with Joseph Kuefler


by Joseph Kuefler (Balzer + Bray, 2015)

Settle in for snippets of story so goosebumpy you’ll think the pages just paper-sliced your soul in two. It is an honor to introduce you to Joseph Kuefler and his gorgeous debut, Beyond the Pond. I love every single word he’s spilled out to us here.


Can you talk about where this book came from? 


My dearest childhood friend lived across the street from a picturesque pond — one of those charming bodies of water with just the right mix of long grass, cattails and critters. Early mornings almost always found its surface blanketed in a magical fog. In winter months, we would skate on its surface. That pond filled me with such wonder as a boy.

So many years later, the wonder of ponds came back to me when I found myself telling my son, Jonah, stories each morning as I drove him to school. Our route took us past a smaller but no-less-magical pond, sandwiched between a row of houses, almost as if it was forced there, like it didn’t belong. We both imagined what fantastical creatures lived beneath its surface. And so, an idea for a picture book was born.

In hindsight, I absolutely see the connection between these moments of inspiration in my life.

And what was your process like for creating it? How did you turn an idea for a story into a completed picture book?

One advantage of being an author/illustrator is that my words and images can reveal themselves together. I begin with a loose story skeleton and single completed illustration that captures the atmosphere of the book. Small thumbnails get created as I’m improving and iterating on the story. Sometimes a posture or scene in my thumbnails will inspire a change to the text, sometimes it’s the other way around. Once the story is tight, I return to my thumbnails and create much tighter pencils, focusing more on composition and type placement.

Joseph-Kuefler-Cover-Sketch Joseph-Kuefler-Panel-Sketch Joseph-Kuefler-Thumbnails When it comes to final art, I work digitally, more out of necessity than choice. At the moment, picture books aren’t my day job, so I need to work from anywhere and everywhere. I was traveling a lot for work in the early stages of illustrating POND. Much of the book was illustrated from airplane seats and hotel rooms, cramped rides on bus benches and stolen moments in the office.

As someone formally trained at art school, I long for the day I can rely solely on traditional materials. In some ways I still feel like I need to apologize for using a computer, which is silly, I suppose, because digital doesn’t save me time and is no less difficult. The only thing it affords me is more mobility and greater access to my creative process.

Joseph-Kuefler-Beyond-the-Pond-Pg-12 Joseph-Kuefler-Beyond-the-Pond-Pg-14

I read on your website all about Hum, and I’m so interested in that. Not so much as a musician myself, but because I think picture books function the same way a song does, as a complete and full narrative that can transcend that small space. What do you think?

I love this question because I absolutely agree. Prior to moving into my career as a creative director, I spent years working as a serious musician playing in an indie rock band. Songwriting and record producing is core to who I am and informs so much of all of my creative processes, both personal and professional.

Writing a great song begins with two questions: What do I want them to know? And how do I want them to feel? Nostalgia? Fear? Melancholy? Vulnerability? Defining the emotional arch predetermines so much about your palette—key, tuning, scale, effects, chord progressions, even mixing decisions. Once that’s defined, you need to reduce all of it, your whole vision, into between three and five minutes of music. It’s such a challenge.

This is true of great books. The books we love tell us a story, but they also tell us feeling. They teach us, adults and children alike, what it feels like to experience something, and they do it in 32 pages, give or take. A songwriter has chords. A picture book maker has paints and pencils. A songwriter has a small collection of seconds or minutes. A picture book maker has pages. Both artists curate their palettes to breathe the right mix of mood into whatever it is they are making.

More than any other mediums I’ve explored, children’s books and songs are the most related.

Like you suggest, great songs and picture books transcend their small spaces. They live on in your mind and heart and come to mean or represent so much more long after the final chord has rung and last page has turned.

Reviews have called this debut reminiscient of Maurice Sendak, Jon Klassen, and Wes Anderson, all huge story heroes. Who are your own story heroes?



I know this is a picture book blog, but my greatest passion is cinema. I love movies and have my whole life. My dad encouraged me to explore the classics, with a particular emphasis on the defining films of the 60s and 70s. Many of my story heroes are filmmakers. I am a huge fan of Jean-Pierre Melville because he found a way to steal the best parts of Hitchcock and blend it with that kind cool only the French possess.

As a child, I loved Spielberg and the wonderful films Amblin would produce because they seemed to understand children in a way few other films did. I do love Wes Anderson for his vision and wit but also for the expert way he handles melancholy. When I begin a new picture book, I typically dive into the films that I feel share a similar atmosphere or message. It’s intentionally obvious I’ve included a few homages to Anderson’s films and style in POND—I wanted to thank him for inspiring me, and I wanted to give moms and dads something of their own to discover within the book.

Animation is also a huge source of inspiration for me. Words can’t describe how much Miyazaki inspires me. His films are somehow massive in scope and incredibly intimate and personal.

gallery-myneighbortotoro-2 gallery-spiritedaway-1

I can’t say that I have any specific story heroes in the picture book space. I love the Steads and Klassen and Jeffers and all of the other usual suspects, but I don’t look to picture books to inform my own work as much as I do film or literature, even photography. I’m not trying to suggest that other picture books don’t influence my work—they most certainly do. They’re just not my primary source and I typically look to them much later in the process to help me work through a very specific problem.

I would, however, be remiss if I didn’t mention JK Rowling. Sometimes I close my eyes and hope that when I open them I will have somehow grown a scar on my forehead and transformed into Harry Potter. Rowling succeeded in revealing a hidden magic in our own world, something tucked away just around the bend, something you hadn’t realized was there all along. I love that so much about those books. Turning a pond into a portal seemed to transform the everyday and reveal a hidden magic in a similar way.

Can you tell us a little about the trailer for Beyond the Pond and how you created it? It’s such a perfect piece, and I always think trailers that feel like short films are some of the best!

Thank you for the compliments. I am a creative director who has spent many years in the branding and marketing industries working for clients we all know and love. Making films and telling their stories is a skill I’ve developed over time. When I began considering my own trailer, I knew it needed to feel a little more like a movie trailer than a “book” trailer. It was the only way I felt I could capture the spirit and scope of the book in such a short period of time.

Some are surprised to learn that the voice actor is me. The trailer simply HAD to be narrated by an old, English gentleman because, well, old, English gentlemen are the most magical of men. I didn’t have any on hand, so I put on my Dumbledore hat and effected one.

I love animating. It’s something I don’t get to do as often now, but I was thrilled to be able to dig back into After Effects for this little piece and am pretty happy with how it turned out, all things considered.

What do you remember about picture books from your childhood?

I remember my school library and, Ms. Geese, the world’s crabbiest librarian (if you’re reading this, Ms. Geese, I’m sorry, but you really were frightening). She demanded that we extract library books from the shelves with such expert precision you’d think they were Fabergé eggs. But since we were all so afraid of her, we would hide away in corners with our books. In some ways, her terror forced us to have a more intimate relationship with our books, and for that I am grateful.

I remember the pictures and wishing I could draw like those artists. Like all boys, I was so in love with WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. I would try to replicate the wild things over and over and wondered how in the world anyone could ever draw like that. All these years later, I am still left wondering.

What is your favorite piece of art hanging in your home or studio?


I have two favorite walls in my home. One is a quiet corner of my house filled with family photos and texture studies I made over this last year. The family photos feature some of our favorite memories and experiences. It’s something we will continue to grow and add on to over the years.


The second is a Banksy print hanging in my dining room. It’s big and bold and probably doesn’t belong in a space where people are meant to enjoy meals, but I like that about it.

What’s next for you?

A nap. Honestly. Between my day job, working to support POND’s release, welcoming our third child, Augustine, into the world four months ago, and breathing life into a new picture book, this year has been full, so incredibly, exhaustingly full. But it’s been a good kind of full.

Alessandra Balzer and Balzer + Bray were kind enough to buy two more books from me immediately after we finished POND. By the time this feature runs on your blog, I will have just completed final art for my next book. Then, it will be onto the third. I’m also developing a middle grade book and young reader series.

Beyond that, what’s next is experiencing what it feels like to release my very own picture book into the world. This whole thing continues to be so surreal. One of my lifelong dreams is in a state of becoming, and I couldn’t be happier.


That story about Ms. Geese is one of the greatest library stories I’ve ever heard! Joseph, thanks for the music and the glimpse at the pond and beyond it all.


A big thank you to Joseph Kuefler for the images in this post.

Young Charlotte, Filmmaker

Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viiva

by Frank Viva (MoMA Publications, 2015)

So this is a super cool book. It’s part MoMA history, part this funky young visionary’s story. Look at her camera perched by her side! Her confident gaze directly into the reader’s eye! A nearly animated cover where the bittiest blocks of color almost blink!

Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viiva

One of the things that I always look for in books for kids are stories that honor their realness. Their hopes and dreams and fears and feelings that sometimes grownups have forgotten all about. Charlotte always carries that slim smile, even when the nun tells her none of that. I’d imagine this isn’t the only place she’s heard that she might be a bit unusual.

Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viiva

That’s because Charlotte prefers black and white to color, and when kids have a preference, it’s usually a pretty strong one. Kids don’t generally go around only sort of caring about something.

Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viiva

And here’s a beautiful example of that. Charlotte’s safe world is black and white, a stark contrast to that of her parents. To the left of the gutter, a home, and to the right, something unfamiliar and loud.

But her parents know this and they understand.

On Friday nights they take her to see black and white movies. And Charlotte is happy.

And on Sundays, they go to the Museum of Modern Art. And Charlotte is happy.

Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viiva

That’s where Charlotte meets Scarlett, an aficionado of black and white too, and how it clears away the clutter. And that’s where Charlotte’s smile returns.

Here’s a kid, wholly in love with something that might seem unconventional. But she has parents who get it, a trip to an art museum that seals it, and a cat who is always willing to play a part.

So that’s what Charlotte does: makes a film in black and white. Scarlet calls it dazzling and genius, but the colorful people?

Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viiva

Only that was their reaction at the beginning, before Young Charlotte, Filmmaker had finished telling her story.

Be sure to check out Young Frank, Architect as well. These two are a perfect pair.


PS: Over on Instagram, a bunch of us teamed up to share one book on a particular theme each month. This was Michelle‘s brilliant idea, and we’d love it if you followed along. Check out #littlelitbookseries! Janssen of Everyday Reading shared another favorite Frank Viva book as part of that series, which is the same one that I wrote about once upon a time for Design Mom!

And thanks to Frank Viva for the images in this post!

All the Wonders



All the Wonders

Have you ever read a book and wanted to squeeze every ounce of celebration out of it you could? Talk about it, sing about it, read it over and over, learn about its creator, make stuff?

We did too.

We’re launching soon, but in the meantime watch this space. Or join us on Facebook and Twitter!


Get to know the rest of the team behind All the Wonders:

Danielle Davis + This Picture Book Life

Emily Arrow

Matthew Winner + The Let’s Get Busy Podcast

Blake Hamilton

Mike Ciccotello

Brian Won

We are looking forward to this journey, and hope you will join us for the trip! More soon.



Rabbit Seeds

Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord

by Bijou Le Tord (Four Winds Press, 1984)

Did you know I am a school librarian? I’m in my third year, at my second school, and have done it for about a decade with a break for graphics in between. Hashtag old.

And speaking of old, that’s what my current school is. That’s great for things like traditions and history, but it’s really great for things like stories. I’ve had a bit of a triage situation on my hands, and the thing that has taken the biggest chunk of time is massive weeding and collection development. (And undoing the work of the packiest rat that ever packed.)

I’ve been brutal in nonfiction and biographies because poor old Pluto has had better days and a 1970 biography of Peggy Fleming isn’t triple-lutz-ing off the shelves. But then there are picture books. And I haven’t tossed a single one. I need to, for reasons of both space and sanity. But when your library is old, there’s a lot that sparkles under all that dust. And I want to be careful because of things like early, early editions of the Nutshell Library.

Here’s one I found that I’d never heard of before, and wow. If you can get your hands on a copy, it would be a great pair with The Little Gardener.

Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord

This is the story of a rabbit, a gentle, shaky, line of a thing.

And it’s the story of his garden. He bids adieu to the snow and ice, and welcomes the warming sun.

These beginning spreads are so simple, so uncluttered, so spare. Those black lines on white, framed by spring’s pastels.

And the words! So unfussy. So beautiful.

Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord

When the day cools, he waters his seeds. The sun and the earth begin their work.

Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord

He patiently waits, and watches for a first ripple or a crack on the ground.

Rabbit Seeds by Bijou Le Tord

He patiently sits, until the first seedlings shoot up.

That last spread has a surprising detail, one that fits perfectly into the rabbit’s world but one that is unusual for this particular sequence of images: that star. The sun has been a small circle, hovering over the garden, doing its work. But while the rabbit waits, a star. It must be night. He’s taken his picnic basket and he’s patiently sat, and when the sun dropped, the star showed up.

The seasons take over, as they do, and soon it’s time to welcome back winter. The last time we see the rabbit, he is happy. His work is done.

This rabbit and his work are both sweet and slow and dear, and this book is a quiet little wonder.


Coco and the Little Black Dress

Username or e-mail: Password: CREATE NEW ACCOUNTFORGOT YOUR PASSWORD? Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen (available 10/1/15, NorthSouth Books)

Here’s a fun book: a stylish story both in look and in theme.

That cover, the signature shape of Chanel No. 5, juxtaposed not-so-glamourously with a girl scrubbing floors in a raggish kind of dress. The title, a crash course in fashion.

Coco Chanel.

This book was originally published in the Netherlands, and coincided with a museum exhibition of some original Chanel designs. Yet even apart from that collaborative effort, this book is a beautiful glimpse at the life of a girl who saw things a little bit differently.

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

First up: endpapers. From beginning to ending, from scraps to something refined.

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

Coco, fragile as an eggshell, a mistake, a nothing, an orphan.

But the nuns saw her talent for sewing, and Coco was happy.

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

When she grew up, she surrounded herself with fancy ladies in crazy hats. How can you think with a dead pigeon on your head?

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

Coco was a problem solver, and when she saw these fancy ladies riding sidesaddle in complicated skirts, Coco figured out how to sew trousers.

But when you sew trousers and are invited to the races, you need a fancy hat. One without a dead pigeon on your head.

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

So Coco created a hat shop. She created comfortable, easy clothing for women.

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen

And the women tossed out their corsets.

With her little black dress, Coco figured out how to celebrate what a woman looks like, when it’s the woman you look at and not her clothes.

Her angel-like sewing skills, her observation and celebration of women, and her style: iconic.

Though if you want biographical information on Coco Chanel, you might want to supplement this book–it’s quite literally a lovely place to start, but there is no author’s note or bibliography of sources available for the reader aside from a small paragraph on the back cover.

But for everything this book is, it’s a luxurious simplicity.


I received a review copy from NorthSouth Books, but all opinions are my own.


Ghosts by Sonia Goldie and Marc Boutavant

by Sonia Goldie and Marc Boutavant (Enchanted Lion, 2013)

If you listened to my conversation with Matthew Winner and Julie Falatko on the Let’s Get Busy podcast this week, you might have heard me say something like, “the books keep coming.” 

It’s true, and this book is a perfect example of that. I’m a big fan of the books Enchanted Lion makes, and this one is two years old in America, and I just stumbled across it recently. Better late than never, right?

So, these ghosts.

The front endpapers here show a small spot illustration of a sheeted, ball-and-chained spook. On the title page, another ghost confronts him with disbelief in his ghost-ness, and the story is off. The two, a self-proclaimed ghost and a maybe-ghost, star in a series of pictures where the real ghost explains the reality of ghosts.

They don’t only inhabit creepy places, and they don’t drag around the old ball and chain.

And they definitely don’t go around saying, “Boo…Boo…Boo” all day.


These ghosts are different.

Ghosts by Sonia Goldie and Marc Boutavant

They live in your kitchen. See the name of this ghost, spelled out by the items on the shelf? The Ghost of the Kitchen is clumsy, spilling poofs of flour and traipsing through spilled milk. And he really likes angel food cake and creamed rice. He’s up there on your light, judging you as you snap some peas.

Ghosts by Sonia Goldie and Marc Boutavant

This one wakes at night, scatters your clothes around, and makes your toys sing. He’ll slither into your teams and nightmares, and disappear in the morning.

Ghosts by Sonia Goldie and Marc Boutavant The Ghost of the Parents’ Bedroom does not like messes as much as his nighttime friend. But I don’t think he’s as intimidating or successful either.

(Also, I do think that’s a dirty magazine under the bed, no?! Maybe something worth hiring a ghost to protect? Maybe the first I’ve ever seen in a picture book!)

Ghosts by Sonia Goldie and Marc Boutavant Ghosts by Sonia Goldie and Marc Boutavant The Ghosts of the Attic and Gray Days are my favorites. The one in the attic is ‘wrinkly yet twinkly’ and ‘likes to spend his time remembering the good old days.’ He smokes a ghost pipe, reads old newspapers, and listens to scratched records. He scares spiders away by wearing silvery scarves.

And the Ghost of Gray Days is a lumbering fellow, joined by a driving slug and an elephant carrying a plate for an umbrella. Of course.

The details in these pictures is astounding. Each spread has quirky spooks and spooky quirks, and each of these ghosts has enough character to erase that old, boring ball and chain.

Perfect for anyone who likes mini-stories, visual feasts, and the fun of being scared.


Best Books Ever + Instagram

File Aug 30, 3 03 49 PM

Guess what?

I love many more books than I have blog posts here, so join me over at Instagram for more books, snaps, and snippets.

And! It’s time for another round of Best Books Ever! It’s always an honor to be invited to Matthew Winner’s Let’s Get Busy podcast with Julie Falatko, and this conversation is a fun one.

Meet me back here on Thursday for a slightly scary and slightly silly book, one that will make you rethink the nooks and crannies of your home.



The Little Gardener + an interview with Emily Hughes (part ii)

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

I can’t stop thinking about the line Emily left us with yesterday, this one:

They are stories coming from a place of trying to understand, rather than a place where it is understood.


Welcome back, Emily! Hope you enjoy the rest of our conversation. (And a reminder, click to enlarge any images.)

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

Can you tell us about the design of the art and the text? I love that your pictures don’t have text on them anywhere, and the page turn with the flower is the only time there’s text away from the bottom. What went into those decisions?

There wasn’t much decision making- that was the problem! Often times I like to work with only a bit of text because type is a whole other ball-park in terms of aesthetics. I have a hard time compromising my space for words- text and fonts and size, all that jazz has to mesh in with the artwork, and it’s hard finding the right voice to match the looks.

My work gets pretty dense, so I find it a lot more difficult to find something that is legible, but still yields to the art. In university I preferred to keep my lines simple and punchy and give a whole page of text to one image- it makes you read everything slower, more thoughtfully. However in the world of big print-run publishing, it is a luxury to use up so much paper! I work on the pacing, but the designers at Flying Eye made a lot of the technical decisions and all the book designing- I think they’ve done beautifully.

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

What is your favorite piece of art hanging in your home or studio?

I work at home, and my favourite art piece is this ceramic self-portrait bust my Dad made when he was a kid in school. It’s got hair that looks like it was squeezed through a garlic presser- he forgot a bit of hair on the back though, and he made his nostrils with a pencil eraser. It’s a bit creepy, bit primitive cool. Very seventies. Still trying to find the best place to display it.

What are some of your favorite picture books? Both for writing and text and whatever inspires? What is your favorite picture book from childhood?

My favourite old school book is Munro Leaf’s Ferdinand. It is a beauty in text and image- what a fantastic story about the happily peaceful bull. Didn’t want to fight, didn’t want the fame, just wanted the simple pleasures of everyday life. You come across the message of being unique quite a bit in children’s books. Oftentimes it’s a feeling of ‘you’re different’ therefore special, therefore better. I don’t get that passive aggression or hypocrisy with Ferdinand.

For modern, I love Michael Rosen/Quentin Blake’s Sad Book. It isn’t sappy or over the top, it is perfect. No melodrama or silver-linings, just honest. The book feels like it is quietly listening to it’s readers own blues. It brought me real comfort. It is really a gem.

ferdinand-cover sadbook

In terms of illustration, I love everything that is Blair Lent. Dreamy.

What’s next for you?

Lots of good things in store at the moment! I have finished a bunch of projects recently, and am still catching my breath.

I just finished A Brave Bear with Walker Books, and Brilliant with Abrams, and I’m now moving on to a book series with Chronicle for easy readers called Charlie and Mouse which is written by Laurel Snyder.

Oh, and did I mention the ever lovely Everything you Need for a Treehouse by THE Carter Higgins? 
I am excited about it all, and slowly getting better at juggling everything- at the moment I am trying to doodle personal work (if you don’t maintain this, everything goes bad, you don’t evolve!), little brothers, and treehouses. For boys, I’ve been creeping around my high street and local parks to get inspiration, for tree houses I fondly think of the ones my neighbours and I repeatedly built unsuccessfully. Now I can build one without the necessary requirements of having lumber readily available, knowing how to saw wood, and basic physics!

Exciting, busy, new!

Thanks, Emily! It was such an honor to have you here, and I am so, so excited about our future!

Huge thanks to both Emily and Tucker Stone at Flying Eye Books for the images in this post!


The Little Gardener + an interview with Emily Hughes (part i)

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes by Emily Hughes (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

Friends, I am beyond awe with this conversation with Emily Hughes. If you aren’t familiar with her work yet, I guarantee you will fall in love with it, with her, with a storytelling brilliance that is out of this world. Here, she lets us know both where stories come from and why they do.

And a note, you’ll definitely want to click on all of these images to enjoy them at their full resolution.


The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes Can you talk about where this book came from? And what the process was like for its creation?

Lots of things were swimming around in my head when The Little Gardener was being made. 
I was back home rereading a book I love, The Growth of the Soil, about a simple self-sufficient man dealing with societal pressures that seem unnecessary. He was the symbol of The Little Gardener, he’s not the personality powerhouse Wild is, he is really just a symbol for the everyman, the underdog, you, me, (my brother thinks the 3rd world) our place as a human. It’s not about him, it’s about his vision, his hopes.

There are a lot more nuances to that, but that is what it is in a very small nutshell. 
The process for Gardener was an outpouring, I drew and drew and drew. Because the images are so dense it was a meditative book to make- almost like making a mandala. The story process took a while, but with the images I worked on steadily through, and luckily they worked out with little drafting. That isn’t the usual, but this one felt natural to make, intuitive.

brainstorm001 gardeny 1

Why do you think your stories are best suited to the form of the picture book? What can you do in this form that you might not be able to in another?

If you look at my bedroom, my backpack, my email inbox, my general manner, you would be able to figure out a good deal about me. Totally scatter-brained.

It is an affliction that makes it tricky to get work done in general.  What makes children’s books an appealing medium for me is that there is text to dance with. There is the written skeleton to adhere to- oftentimes my stories have layers that I have built up depending on where I am or what I’ve been thinking of while I work. There is not just one story being told in The Little Gardener. Having text keeps my brain focused when there are other ideas floating about. Because I also draw, I am able to tell the other story lines as well- they are quieter, but are still present for others to interpret if they have patience. It is a good compromise for me.

Narrative has always been an interest, I think telling stories is what I like to do- so the things I’d compare it to would be film, theater, animation, etc. I like doing illustrations for picture books because it’s 2D and doesn’t move. However, if you are really invested you can move them within your head and expand it’s boundaries to a world you truly are interacting with. The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

One of my favorite things is the cola can that says MADE IN HILO, HI on it. I know that’s where your roots are, and I wonder how that home has shown up in the work that you do? Or if there are other easter-egg-y things that you stick in your work?

Good spotting! Hawaii is always present in my work. I left home for university in England when I was 17, and at that time I was eager for new experiences. Nevertheless, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I miss the Big Island always. Drawing things from home is indulgent for me- it is time spent reminiscing, it is a means for me to keep connected, grounded.

The cola can was initially modelled after a local company- Hawaiian Sun. The label looks nothing like the original (and I used the non-existent ‘cola’ because I thought it would be easier to translate), but the sun made a symbolic appearance. Those cans are always around- refreshments after soccer games, trips to the beach, the park with cousins. It reminds me of happy outings. I’ll add this bit to my advertising resume…

The house that the humans live in is based on my family home. It’s a plantation-style house that my Grandmother grew up in, as my siblings and I have also done. It’s a special place.


The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

In the scene where the gardener is chasing away the snails, there’s a ‘rubber slipper’ (you guys would call it ‘flip flop’- Hawaii’s preferred footwear of choice) strewn about. It even has the ‘Locals’ tag on it which is the same kind you get at the grocery store. There’s lots of little things from home hidden. I like having the sentimentality there, even if it’s for my own benefit.

It seems like the girl in Wild and this little gardener have some sensibilities in common, like the hope and comfort in this un-tapped-into nature. Are there big-picture-stories you are drawn to creating, both in text and in art?

There are a lot of stories I’d like to tell. I think I start off with a general character and theme and it evolves- the writing is the last part, I think the feeling needs to be understood first. 
In my journal these are a few themes I’d written that I want to explore:

Does ‘evil’ exist? Really?

You can, will, should feel every horrible emotion and that’s fine

Kindness trumps all

Looks vs Expectations

It’s all chance for me I think- I might read something, or watch something, or sit blankly staring at the wall even, and most times it is nothing but a murmur. But once in a good while something speaks up.

As for Wild and Gardener, nature serves as a backdrop because it is an ideal to be in sync within our most natural of habitats. Something we all still strive for- a place where we’re needed.  Wild is about acceptance and tolerance, issues I was trying to practice myself. Gardener was about keeping hope alive when I was faltering with my own.

They are stories coming from a place of trying to understand, rather than a place where it is understood.

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

Carter, here.

You guys. I keep reading these answers over and over and feel like it’s such a gift to get this glimpse into a storyteller’s heart. Because Emily is fascinating and brilliant and our conversation gave me so much to wrestle with and enjoy, there’s more! Come back tomorrow for the second part. More pictures, more process, more book love.

Whatever you do, get your hands on this book as soon as you can, for hope and home and heart.

Huge thanks to both Emily and Tucker Stone at Flying Eye Books for the images in this post!