This House, Once + An Interview With Deborah Freedman


by Deborah Freedman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017)

When friends come visit my blog, I always ask them who their story heroes are. Deborah Freedman is one of mine. Here’s why.

Your picture books are all lovely meditations on deeply important things: creativity, friendship, books, home. How do you turn a big idea into a small story?

Well thank you for this extremely flattering description of my books, Carter, although I’m not sure that it’s earned! It’s an interesting question.

I’ve never really thought of the themes in my books as “big ideas,” because they have all come straight from my small life, and often feel, to be honest, more self-indulgent than important. For instance, BLUE CHICKEN was inspired in part by my own messy and often fraught process of creating; BY FROG & MOUSE is about the challenges of collaboration, like on a book with my editor, or on a life with my husband; with SHY, I was thinking about how scary it is to put a piece of myself — each book — out into the world. And so on. Sometimes I have a specific theme in mind when I begin; other times, themes emerge while I’m writing.

So, turning the “big” idea into a story? See above re BLUE CHICKEN! Imagine drawing a huge scribble and then trying to find the beginning and end of the line— you know they are there somewhere, but all those squiggles, all those knots, and which end came first? I really don’t know how to explain how I get from big or small idea to story and which comes first. Because although I do begin with some sort of idea or concept, it’s often visual (like, hey, wouldn’t a book full of water be cool), and the storytelling part does not come naturally to me at all (uh, ok, but what is it ABOUT?). I’m pitifully plot-challenged.

snow-1000 This House, Once

Used with permission of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

What’s the background of This House, Once?

The background to the background is that my agent, Stephen Barr, understands this anxiety of mine about crafting plots, and so we had been chatting for a while about the possibility of my trying non-fiction — not that non-fiction is easier, and not that non-fiction doesn’t require some sort of narrative arc, but perhaps it could give me a break from the character development/plotty part of writing. So I was thinking about that when, one day, a few lines of a non-fiction-ish idea called “This House, Once” came to me. I nervously sent them off: “This door was once a colossal oak tree, about four hugs around and as high as the blue…

Stephen immediately prodded me to continue. It took me a couple of months to wrap my arms around the bazillion different directions this vague idea about a house could go in, but compared to my other books, it poured out. Maybe it had been incubating for years in my former-architect self without my being fully conscious of it? I don’t know. In any case, Stephen and I were both passionate about the little dummy I’d made, but he had just sold SHY to Viking, so we agreed to put THIS HOUSE, ONCE on the back burner for a while. Then my daughter, who is an (amazing, talented, etc. ) editor at Atheneum, just happened to come home, and just happened to casually ask what I was working on…

Well, Emma fell in love with it immediately. And the rest… well, working on a book about home with my daughter — I can’t begin to express how special that’s been.


Used with permission of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Can you tell us about your process?

Emma was moved by the text from her first read, and really didn’t ask for significant changes there. We did, however, revise the pacing of it; with Ann Bobco, Atheneum’s brilliant art director, we carefully adjusted the placement of the words to maximize the impact of each page turn, and we added a couple of spreads to the book. This involved going back and forth with thumbnails and sketches for a while, until everyone was happy. Then they both gave me a lot of input as I worked on the final art — really pushing me, which I truly appreciated.

house-thumb-1 house-thumb-2 house-thumb-3

Who are some of your story heroes? (Fictional or creators!)

A few Fictional favorites (among many) are Russell Hoban’s Frances, Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, Ezra Jack Keats’s Peter — imperfect, conflicted, funny, endearing. Their creators, of course, are my heroes. Also, William Steig, Ruth Krauss, Maira Kalman… I could go on all day.


from Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life, by Maurice Sendak, 1967

What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

Yikes, choosing favorites — not my favorite thing to do! Ben and I have a lot of art and art books (including picturebooks) in our house, and objects from all over the world. And our house is full of children’s art, made by our kids when they were little, and now our small grandchildren, and I have a wonderful collection of art from my readers… Inspiring, all of it.

What’s next for you?

The next official thing, assuming I make sense of the mess eventually, will be another picture book for Viking. And I always have a few things simmering, so we shall see…

df-studio Lovely, right? Thank you, Deborah!


© Deborah Freedman 2017


Pax and Blue and an Interview with Lori Richmond


by Lori Richmond (Simon and Schuster, 2017)

I’ve been so fortunate to get to know this fabulous author, illustrator, and human this year, and I’m so pleased to introduce you to her today. Unless you also know her, and aren’t we lucky?*

Meet Lori!


When, how, or why did you get into picture books?

I came to love picture books through art. Ever since I was a kid, I loved to draw. My professional career has always been related to art or design — for 20+ years I was Creative Director at various corporate media companies. But the nature of my industry shifted, and design, especially digital product design, became very data-driven and technical. While there were some things I liked about it, I found that my daily tasks at work were no longer aligning with my personal goals. This was a tough thing to go through, because so many of us conflate our own identity with what we do for work.

Out of frustration and fatigue, I went shopping for art supplies. Oh man, is there nothing better than the smell of new art supplies?! I began drawing and painting again late at night after my kids went to bed, and I felt so refreshed and joyful. I took some continuing education classes at School of Visual Arts (SVA), where my husband teaches as an adjunct professor, and one of those was a picture book class. Thinking about making a picture book was so magical to me. To have something you made, and can hold in your hand and share with children — it was the piece I was missing in my professional work. I fell in love with the process and knew I had to pursue it.

Pax_Proofs Lori_Studio_table

How did PAX AND BLUE originate?

We live in Brooklyn, so my kids are used to taking the subway everywhere. My then 3-year-old told me a story about when he was out with our babysitter, and that there was a pigeon stuck in the station. My son was so worried about the bird and talking about how frightened it must have been. Pigeons are certainly not the most revered urban animal, so it struck me how the child’s perspective was so sweet and innocent. My son was little, just like the bird, and could empathize with it. I knew it was a good seedling for a story, so I went from there and started on it while I was at SVA, and also workshopped it at Pat Cummings’ Bootcamp at Highlights. Originally, the title of the book was PAX AND THE PIGEON. In my mind, it kind of still is!


What was it like to be both the author and illustrator for the first time?

I had no idea what I was doing, and still feel like I don’t. But I LOVE being the author and the illustrator, because you have the power to have the art do so much of the talking. I find that as I draw, more and more words go away. My editor, Paula Wiseman, and I edited a lot of text out of the book. The drawings were doing all the talking and left more room for the reader to discover the story and emotion on their own.

Can you tell us about your process? (And if you have any pictures of your studio or PAX-in- progress, that would be excellent!)

I usually begin with the words first. I may not have the entire narrative or all the character nuances laid out, but I need to have some kind of foundation for the story before I start thumbnailing. I admire artists who draw characters for years and get to know them, and their story comes out. That has never happened to me. (Maybe one day!!)  I do love the thumbnailing part of the process — the loose scribbles and the thinking part. Everything feels so malleable at that stage, and it is very free flowing. I like to challenge myself to come up with multiple solutions to the same problem. Sometimes I think of something way better, and other times it helps me validate my first thought as the strongest.

PAX AND BLUE looked really different in the initial submission to Simon & Schuster. It always had a limited color palette, but it wasn’t until about a year after the submission and we began to work on it, that I revisited the art. I created new character studies for Pax and expanded the palette while still staying true to the original feel. I wanted to be like a modern version of LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE (by Bernard Waber) where the backgrounds and environments recede and the characters really stand out on the page. I love books of that era! This also led to me asking (ahem, begging?) my editor for a 3-piece binding. That was a really special touch that helped give the book a vintage feel.

Pax_LyleComparison PAX_old_submission Pax_Sketches pax_new_artinbook Pax_Binding
What’s your studio like?

I am part of a co-working studio in Brooklyn called Friends Work Here. We are an eclectic mix of all types of creatives, including writers, photographers, designers, and video artists. And we even have an indoor swing, people!! I like having a separate workspace and the community that comes along with it. The studio is very conveniently located to my home, too, which is helpful when I have to be home for my boys.

Who are some of your story heroes?

I absolutely love THE CARROT SEED by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson, and SNOW by Uri Shulevitz. Both are such simple stories about a child’s belief in themselves, and persistence in those thoughts no matter what everyone else says. I love these kind of universal messages that stand the test of time.  As for modern books, my current favorite is LIFE ON MARS by Jon Agee. It’s one of those books I wish I had thought of! So well done, and the pictures say so much. And it’s so funny!

What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

This is a classic case of the shoemaker’s children having no shoes. I make books, and my husband is a photographer, and we have no art on our walls. We also don’t have too many walls, because we live in a city apartment! I do always let my children hang up their work, though. I never get angry about tape or adhesives on the walls. It’s really fun to see them feel pride in their creations. My younger son has completely covered the wall surrounding my bed with love notes. So, those are definitely my favorite right now.

What’s next for you?

2018 is going to be a crazy year. In March 2018, my next author-illustrated title, BUNNY’S STAYCATION (Scholastic), will hop into the world. This is an incredibly special book about a parent who travels for work. I can’t wait to share! Then in Spring 2018 comes a super-cute book I illustrated called OOPSIE-DO (HarperCollins), written by Tim Kubart. And, finally, in Summer 2018 comes SKELLY’S HALLOWEEN (Henry Holt), written by David Martin. Whew!



*This is a recurring line in my novel, A Rambler Steals Home, and it pops into my head so many times I just use it as much as I can. Cool, right?

Thanks to Lori for the fantastic pictures in this post!

Happy Dreamer + A giveaway


by Peter H. Reynolds (Scholastic, 2017)

Hi, all! I’m popping in this week with a quick bookdrop thanks to Scholastic, who is giving away a copy of Peter H. Reynold’s latest. This book is a hefty dash of hope for children living with ADHD. Children with minds that are different and delightful and a gift.

Check it out:

You can learn more about Peter’s book here, and listen to him speak about it here.

Comment on this post by Friday, April 28th at 11:59 PM PST for a chance to win. US addresses only.



Congratulations to Annette Bay Pimentel for winning the Vampirina prize pack, and Manju Howard for winning The Book of Mistakes. Please email me your addresses. Everyone else: keep an eye on my other social media channels this week. I have some more copies of The Book of Mistakes that need homes!


The Book of Mistakes + an interview with Corinna Luyken

Mistakes final cover.indd

by Corinna Luyken (out TODAY from Dial Books)

I’m so excited to introduce you to my friend Corinna. How lucky am I to know her? Very. How lucky are we that her voice is in the world? Even more so.

Stay tuned all the way to the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of The Book of Mistakes, thanks to Dial.

Meet Corinna!

2 CL portrait

When, how, or why did you get into picture books?

I grew up in a house filled with books. Perhaps more importantly, my mom, stepmom, dad, and grandpa all took me to the library. So I read a lot.

3 CL Shel

From reading I learned to love the sound of language, but I also learned something about looking deeply. Many of my favorite bookmakers— Shel Silverstein, Quentin Blake, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, the Petershams, Edward Lear— did incredible things with ink and line.

I also learned quite a bit from Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting on PBS. Important things, such as “We don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents” and “They say everything looks better with odd numbers of things. But sometimes I put even numbers — just to upset the critics.”

Also, there was Matt Groening’s Life In Hell (we had the box set) which I read over and over.

4 CL life in hell

But it wasn’t until after college, when I was handed George Saunders’ and Lane Smith’s The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, that I knew making picture books was what I wanted to do.

5 CL gappers 1 6 CL gappers 2

Which was seventeen years ago. During those years I waitressed (a lot), taught art to kids, and eventually, became a mom. I sent stories to publishers and collected a nice pile of rejection letters. (Even one from Dial, who is now the publisher of The Book of Mistakes.) And then about four years ago, I realized that if I didn’t give all of my attention to making books, it might not happen. So I stopped knitting, I stopped going to garage sales and re-purposing old furniture. I stopped almost everything creative that wasn’t about making picture books or being a mom. I joined the SCBWI, started going to conferences, and meeting people outside my small community. And that has been an incredibly important part of my journey. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the SCBWI.

How did THE BOOK OF MISTAKES originate? Can you tell us about your process?

7 CL sketch

The Book of Mistakes took two years, and fourteen dummies, to make.

8 CL dummies

The very first dummy, which I sent along with a query to my (now) agent, Steven Malk, was half the size the book is now. In that version, the story ended with a girl, a party, and a pink-petaled tree.

9 CL pink petals

Steve said he loved the beginning, but he thought the ending needed work. It took me a year to find a more satisfying ending. During that year, the book doubled in size. And I learned some very important things about my process as an illustrator-writer, including how to listen, how to trust the work, and ultimately, how to find my way out of the dark.

There’s an interview with Kate DiCamillo on All The Wonders, which I listened to multiple times while working on this book. In it, she says:

“It’s that thing, always, of getting out of my own way. I feel like the story knows more than I do. The story is smarter than I am. And wiser. And so I can’t make the story conform to me because it would ruin the story. The story shapes me. Every book that I’ve written has changed me and deepened me. So then I’m in different territory entirely than I anticipated. But I’ve been doing it long enough now to know that I want to be in a different territory than I anticipated. Because that’s where all the wisdom is, in this story that wants to be told, as opposed to me telling the story.

For me that process, of listening to the story that wants to be told, looked a bit like this:

First, the old ending had to go. And with it, some images that I loved, such as this boy with the extra-wide fingers.

10 CL fingers

I don’t know if I would have been able to take this spread out of the book on my own. But Steve suggested that with these images (which he also loved) I was beginning to repeat myself. And as soon as he said that, I could see it was true.

From there, I began to experiment. For me, this means drawing… a lot.

11 CL sketches 12 CL sketches

I tried different ways of drawing the tree. And different ways of drawing the girl.

13 CL cupcakes 14 CL parasail

I knew she needed to be carrying something, so I gave her a basket, a cart, cupcakes, a pitcher, a tool-belt, even a parasail. But nothing was quite right.

So I drew more trees.

15 CL so many trees

Every time I got stuck, I drew another tree, hoping for a clue in the drawing to help me find my way forward.

16 wheelbarrow 17 CL ramp

Some of those trees came with wheelbarrows and rocks, some with umbrellas and flags, one had a giant cliff, and another a skateboard ramp.

For a while, there was even a gatefold reveal of the tree.

18 CL gatefold

But it was all getting too complicated.

So I went back to the girl.

19 CL girl reverse faces

And I re-drew the entire book with her coming from the other direction.

20 CL other way

But it still didn’t work.

At times, I wondered if the solution was in the words.

21 CL text

But mostly, I had a sense that it was the images that would help me end the story. So I went back to sketching.

22 CL more sketches 1 23 CL more sketches 2

Slowly, I was getting closer.

24 CL getting closer

And then one day, I realized I was protecting the girl.

25 CL girl with basket

I had fixed her. I liked her. I didn’t want to mess her up again. And as soon as I realized that, I knew she needed a bigger mistake.

At that point I came across a few early sketches I had made. They were of a girl on skates with a shadow that looked like wings. At the time, the drawings felt important, but they never seemed to be going anywhere, so I’d let them go. But sometimes I’d still think of that image.

26 CL shadow girl 1

Once I realized the girl needed another mistake, I pulled out the ink and some old sketches and began to experiment.

27 CL ink play

And as soon as I started to play with ink on a larger scale, I could see how it all fit together.

28 CL ink and balloons

The rest of the story came pretty easily after that.

BoM 40-41

Who are some of your story heroes?

The makers of these books are all heroes of mine:

30 CL heroes

(Though as I write this, I see favorites that are missing— Suzy Lee’s The Wave, The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, Last Stop on Market Street, All In A Day, The Gardener, almost everything by Kate DiCamillo… it’s impossible to make a complete list!)

I’m also a huge fan of poetry— Carl Phillips, Issa, Basho, Mary Oliver, Yehuda Amichai, E.E. Cummings, Galway Kinnell, Naomi Shihab Nye, William Stafford… I’ll stop before that list gets too long as well!

What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

It changes from week to week, but it’s often something my daughter made. Right now, I’d say it’s this:

31 CL Quinn art

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a second PB with Dial right now. It’s about the heart— and how it can open, close, and open again.

I’ll also be illustrating a MG novel for Candlewick (Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi) due out spring 2019.

32 CL studio

Friends, isn’t this an incredible story? Take a look at how Corinna’s process evolved into these beautiful spreads from the finished book.

BoM 24-25 BoM 36-37 BoM 44-45 BoM 54-55

The fine folks at Dial are giving away a copy of this book, and I guarantee you will want to keep this one on your shelf for all time.

Comment here by 11:59 PM PST on Friday, April 22nd. U.S. addresses only, please.

Need more mistakes? See this post for more of Corinna’s work.


Thanks to Dial for providing final art for use in this post, and to Corinna Luyken for use of the other images.




Vampirina At the Beach and a Giveaway!


by Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)

One of the best parts of making books is meeting other book makers. And since I’m lucky to know these two, I was extra excited when the folks at Disney reached out about celebrating this book. It’s brand-new-just-released one week ago on April 4th, 2017. Happy Birthday to you, Vampirina!

The books in this series are fun and funny and sweet and empowering. Because of that, they are never on my library’s shelves. They are total hits.

Here’s your chance to win this super prize pack so you can meet Vampiric Ballerina for yourself! That’s all three books starring this dancer plus some gear for a day at the beach. Storytime on a beach blanket? Perfect.


To win, comment on this post by Thursday, April 13th, at 11:59 pm PST.

You can also follow Disney-Hyperion for all the fun on Twitter and Instagram, using the hashtag #VampirinaBallerina.

Good luck!


Open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Sunday Morning


by Judith Viorst and Hilary Knight (originally published in 1968; Atheneum, 1992)

Okay. Do you know this one? It had escaped me for far too long until a recent trip to Books of Wonder. I’ll never look at 9:45 on a clock again.

I’ve been asking a lot of authors and illustrators recently about their story heroes, whether they are fictional or creative inspirations. If I were to ask myself that same question, Judith Viorst would top the list.  Here’s why.

(And after a little more research on Hilary Knight, I’d consider him a hero as well. Do I still want to be making books for kids at the age of 90. Yes.)


I am a fan of picture books in first person, because if you have ever spoken with a kid, you know that they are natural storytellers. And on top of that, they speak with an urgency and expertise that is unique to them.

Grownups don’t do that. Grownups wouldn’t think of a story starting with something as un-interesting as a knock to their routine.

Kids do. Judith Viorst captures that.

The parents in this book directed these boys to not come out of their room until 9:45. Presumably, they’ve been out on the town which is why they were late in the first place. Sound familiar to grownup-you? But what about kid-you?

IMG_6133 IMG_6134

There is a lot to do. The text throughout this passage of time is one-hundred-percent-perfect.


I love how these comic-style panels add to the passing of time, to the excruciating tasks that have to be done as the big brother. And Hilary Knight’s silhouettes, save for that striking blue and two expressive pairs of eyes, allow any of us to picture ourselves in the middle of this slapstick and simple sequence.


This entire page.


This pillow sentence is one of my favorites, and I love the cutaway of Mom upstairs, wondering about the time and the morning and the cat and the boys. It’s both everyday and tense, all at once.

That’s what I love in a picture book, a sort of heightened normalcy. A storytelling immediacy that is also timeless. And pictures that welcome you right into the book.

I love Sunday mornings at 9:45.


A Book Launch!

Carter A Rambler Steals Home Event 1

(Photo by my friend Michelle Sterling, the brains behind the #littlelitbookseries. You can find her here and here.)

My debut middle grade novel has been in the world and on shelves for a couple of weeks, and it has been such a special time. There was a reading and a kid-party and shiny gold pens and baseball cookies and Cracker Jacks and cool Insta-shots with baseball gloves.

20170304_155722 Littlebug copy Kgray autograph cart bookmarks

I even made the front page of the paper!

February Gazette

But most importantly, there was this.

littlebug2 copy

And this.


Aren’t I lucky?

For more information about the book and links to order it, click here.

And Richmond-area-folk! I’ll be at bbgb on April 1st. Not a joke! Mark your calendars for 4pm. More info ASAP.

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Egg + The Happy Egg


Last weekend I made my first ever stop at Books of Wonder in New York. And what I said on my Instagram Stories that day is still true: that place is my dream house. Have you been?

Here are a couple of the books I walked out with, unintentionally yet perfectly themed. Both celebrate the magic and surprise of something so fragile and small and not-yet-flying. Both are brilliant for the preschool set and the grownups who remember.

Both are absolutely perfect.

IMG_5627 IMG_5628 IMG_5629 IMG_5631 IMG_5632 IMG_5620

Is there anyone better than Ruth Krauss? If so, maybe it’s Kevin Henkes.

IMG_5633 IMG_5634 IMG_5635 IMG_5636 IMG_5637 A lovely pair.


PS: My book-egg is about to hatch! If you are local to LA, please join me for a launch party at Once Upon a Time. I would love to see you!


A Rambler Steals Home


(available February 28 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)

Three weeks from today, this book for middle graders (and the rest of us!) will be out in the world!

Have you heard? Here’s what you can find inside:

Garland, Derby, and Triple Clark spend each season traveling highways and byways in their Rambler—until summer, when small-town Ridge Creek, Virginia, calls them back. There they settle in, selling burgers and fries out of Garland’s Grill after each game the Rockskippers play in their battered minor-league baseball stadium. Derby’s summer traditions bring her closer than she’s ever been to a real home that isn’t on wheels, but this time, her return to Ridge Creek reveals unwelcome news. Now the person Derby loves most in town needs her help—and yet finding a way to do so may uncover deeply held stories and secrets.

A big shout out to Brandon Dorman, the cover illustrator. I love this image so much. You’ll see this scene for the first time in the text on page It’s kind of a thing.

And here’s a bit of what you’ll find in the Acknowledgements of my book, a few sentences that celebrates this story’s beginning:

The first thing that showed up in my  heart was Garland’s Grill. It didn’t budge for a while, thanks to some busted wheels. But then there were some sparkling Christmas lights. There was a stadium, a turtle, and a Rambler. And then there was a girl.

That’s how stories start, from watching a bunch of small things. This bunch of small things became a story about the triumph of community and teamwork and finding families that look a little different than you’d imagined.

If you love books and parties and cookies shaped like baseballs, won’t you join me?


If you can’t make that party, but would like a personalized and/or signed copy, head here for all the details. Preorder links for other outlets are all here.

I’ll also be in Richmond, VA on April 1st at bbgb. Details to come.

Thanks for helping me celebrate this book! I’m looking forward to seeing it find its readers.


The Unexpected Love Story Of Alfred Fiddleduckling + An Interview with Timothy Basil Ering


by Timothy Basil Ering (Candlewick, 2017)

One of my all time favorite picture books is The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone, which I wrote about here. That’s Timothy’s! I’m so excited to have him here today and to give you a peek of his latest book, a total delight, The Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling.

Check out this synopsis and see what I mean.

Captain Alfred is sailing home with new ducks for his farm when his little boat is caught in an unexpected and mighty storm. Everything aboard the ship is flung to the far reaches of the sea, including the very special and beautiful duck egg he had nestled safely inside his fiddle case. But perhaps all is not lost: the little duckling stumbles out of his shell and discovers Captain Alfred’s fiddle, floating not too far away in the waves. And when the duckling embraces the instrument with all his heart, what happens next is pure magic. Through an enchanting read-aloud text and beautiful artwork, award-winning author-illustrator Timothy Basil Ering shares a thrilling and fantastical story of a farmer, a gentle old lady, a dancing dog, and one brave, tiny duckling that will warm the heart.

Welcome, Timothy!

How did you get into picture books?

The foundation to my career as an illustrator was The Art Center in Pasadena CA. I don’t know where I’d be without that amazing training from a melting pot of truly amazing teachers. One of the biggest starts for me just before I graduated was when I caught word that an art director was visiting Pasadena for a day to look at student portfolios. Making that appointment to show my portfolio, which was a soup of all kinds of stuff, was one of those “OMG, I’m so glad I did this!” moments.

The art director, Lynette Rushchak, showed particular interest in the textures I was creating, and in my figure and anatomy drawings. She told me that she was looking for an illustrator that could create aged, distressed, anatomical figure drawings that were reminiscent of old DaVinci drawings. When my eyes lit up with curiosity, she asked me if I’d be interested to illustrate an exciting manuscript she had that was written by author, Roscoe Cooper. Of coarse I was thrilled about the opportunity and was all in! That project was The Diary Of Victor Frankenstein. After lots and lots of drawing, DKink, NY published the book and it was released in 1997. It was the 1st book I illustrated. The project was fantastic fun!

Trying to manipulate paper to give the appearance that the paper was hundreds of years old was part of the project that I really enjoyed, and creating pen and ink, and charcoal drawings of strange experiments and macabre anatomical illustrations was a blast. What’s more is that I illustrated that book on a small 30-foot boat! I had at that time also made a commitment to a 5-month sailing voyage alone with my father on that boat from Florida to Guatemala and back. It was an adventure that I will never forget! Creating art for that book hooked me deep with interest to illustrate more books!

And more books came.

After illustrating 3 more books by different authors, including a children’s pop-up picture book, I became more and more excited, interested, anxious, and determined to see if I could write and illustrate my own book. After hours, days, weeks, and months of writing and re-writing and scribbling and sketching and re-drawing, I was ready to show the work and I pulled off what seemed to be the impossible- getting in the door of a publisher to have a meeting to show the work and my ideas! It was a meeting with editor and publisher Karen Lotz in NY that launched the beginning of a dream. It was a meeting that I thank my lucky stars for every day! With Karen Lotz and Candlewick Press, my 1st book, that I both wrote and illustrated, was published in 2003, and this was the beginning of my ongoing, magical, and SO appreciated adventure in making books with Candlewick Press!

9780763664329 (1) 9780763664329 (2)

Where did Alfred Fiddleduckling’s story come from?

I had bits and pieces of dead end ideas for a story that I was trying to write around two characters I had imagined. The two characters had great potential that I did not want to give up on. One character was a duck named Alfred that played the fiddle. The other was a duck dog that did not like duck hunting but loved to dance, and in particular, he loved to dance to the fiddle! So, whenever I imagined my two characters interacting out in a marsh somewhere, it made me laugh, but the story just wasn’t going anywhere.

Whenever I hit a wall over and over again when I’m writing or art making, the way I clear my mind from frustration is to go fishing. Lots of ideas come to me when I’m out on the water fishing. So one day, during a “getting nowhere writing day,” I grabbed my fishing rod and hit the beach. I waded across the shallow flats through the water until I was about a ¼ mile off shore standing in waist deep water casting and thinking and relaxing and doing what I love to do when unexpectedly a huge thick white fog bank rolled in off the ocean right to me. I was locked in fog. I love the ocean, and extreme weather, so watching this fog was awesome but more so it got me thinking about a new element in my story! Fog! I had been lost and struggling in my story, and oddly enough, as I stood offshore, in waist deep water, in the fog, things became super clear to me! The fog made me think of mariners from long ago getting lost at sea in the fog, and it made me think of widows. Wow! 3 new ideas! The fog, a sea captain, and the sea captain’s wife were new ideas that immediately began to thread themselves into my dead end ideas and I knew just what to do with Alfred and the dog!

Normally I stay in the water until I catch fish but that day was a day I couldn’t get to my sketchbook fast enough! I jogged through the water, across the beach, up through the woods to my truck and sat in it dripping wet, writing so fast it looked like chicken scratch!

Can you tell us about your process?

I like to experiment with lots of different art making mediums. Which mediums I choose to use depends on the project. For The Unexpected Love Story Of Alfred Fiddleduckling, I used acrylic paint, charcoal, and pen and ink on paper for the interior art. I used acrylic paint on wood and canvas for the book cover. For most of the illustrations I worked on 19” X 24” paper. I created charcoal drawings first, and then painted on top of the drawings. However, some of the illustrations were started with paint first, then drawing over paint, then paint again.

Whatever mediums I use for my art, there will be several layers applied and mixed before I finish a piece. I like to start an image by loosely rubbing, scribbling, smearing, or washing the medium all over the surface that I’m drawing or painting on. I’d say I use my hands to move the mediums around as much as I use brushes, especially when using charcoal. I use charcoal pencils, and graphite pencils but I also love to grind pigment from the pencils or sticks onto the surface I’m working on so that I can rub the pigment, or smear it, and make shapes and forms and marks with my hands.

I’m definitely very inspired by the way children apply art-making mediums. At the beginning of a drawing or painting, I like to move the mediums around quickly to increase the potential for mistakes that can lead to unique things that happen to shapes and forms and colors. I’m always keenly watching for interesting visual things to happen and when they do, I stop to look and react to their beautiful possibilities. To me, mistakes show positive possibilities that I might not have imagined were there when I started. There’s a lot of trial and error, lots of mistakes, and different reactions to my mistakes. If something doesn’t work visually, it’s fun to deconstruct it by erasing or painting over it, and then to reconstruct it again with different color, or value, or size, or whatever it takes so that it does visually work. I also like to glue more paper, or canvas, or wood if needed to make room for more imagery rather than to start over again on a new surface. Sometimes I cut pieces of art from a piece to move it somewhere else in the piece or collage onto a completely different piece.

Below is an example of starting with a charcoal drawing. The paint was applied over the drawing.


Below is the beginning of the application of paint over a charcoal drawing.


Below is an example of starting with a loose painting.


The two drawings below of the gentle lady wearing a gray wool coat are examples of developing a charcoal drawing over a wash of paint, and they show how much my drawings change while I’m developing them.

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Below you can see how much my scribbled drawing of Alfred shrunk in size before I started painting him.


The next two drawings below are examples of experiments with paint, ideas, textures, and composition during my process of figuring out these illustrations.

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Believe it or not, the image below of this beautiful glob is actually my kneaded erasure that I pinched into a quick reference sculpture of Alfred Fiddleduckling playing his fiddle. I used it to help myself envision and draw the following illustration of Alfred playing his fiddle.


I used pen and ink to create the title text.


Who are some of your story heroes?

When I was in high school, I had a hard time finding books that captured my interest quick enough to keep me pouring through the pages until I read White Fang by Jack London. I love the outdoors, nature, wild animals, and adventure, so I really enjoyed that story, so much so that when I finished that book I remember wanting to see what else Jack London wrote. It was easy to find Call Of The Wild and I loved that story too. Again I searched for another story to read by Jack London and chose Sea Wolf and loved that one too! So, one of my story writing heroes is Jack London.

Another story writing hero of mine is Irving Stone. It only took one book of his to make him a hero of mine. It’s a big book entitled The Agony And The Ecstasy. What kept me into every page was Irving Stone’s wonderful descriptions of the life and times of my favorite artist, Michael Angelo. It was awesome! And Kate DiCamillo is not only a story writing hero of mine, but she also created a story book hero of mine- Despereaux.*


*Which Timothy illustrated! What a pair.

What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

A single-haired paint brush painting of an owl by an artist from India who paints masterfully with a tiny, tiny, tiny one haired brush!

What’s next for you?

I am working hard on my next children’s picture book, but its waaaaaayy too early to say anything about it except that I’m struggling with fighting the good fight and I think I need to go fishing!


Thanks, Timothy! I can’t wait to see how that next fishing trip turns out.


THE UNEXPECTED LOVE STORY OF ALFRED FIDDLEDUCKLING. Copyright © 2017 by Timothy Basil Ering. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.