The Rabbit Listened

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by Cori Doerrfeld (Dial Books for Young Readers, February 2018)

Here’s a book that you need to know about.

I read a lot of books. A lot. And this one nearly took me down. It’s a breathtaking look at grief in a few simple gestures. It’s stunning.

I got to chat with Cori Doerrfeld about this book, and I think you’ll enjoy her immensely.

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

I have always loved to draw, even as a small child.

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I grew up wanting to be an animator for Walt Disney Studios. I loved how animation literally made drawings come alive. Right when I was about to go to college, however, computer animation began replacing traditional hand drawn techniques. Instead of studying animation, I went to small liberal arts school.

For a long time I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but the more art classes I took, the more I realized that I still loved to draw. My professors began pointing out that my art always told a narrative and began suggesting a career in illustration. With this in mind, I decided to continue my education after graduating by taking some courses at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It was there that I met my husband, Tyler Page. Now as much as I hate to admit it, he is really one of the main reasons I got into picture books.

Tyler was creating and self-­publishing graphic novels when I met him. To promote his books, he would travel around the country to various comic conventions and sometimes I would go with him. During this time, I was working as a nanny and a teacher at a daycare center. I read SO many picture books at these jobs, and worked with SO many different kids that I started to get my own story ideas. I had never really written or illustrated a book, but I thought I would try it.

I made teeny tiny paintings, Tyler helped me lay the books out on the computer, and then we printed them ourselves as little stapled paperbacks. From then on, I had something to sell whenever I went with Tyler to comic conventions.

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It was at these conventions that editors first discovered me. One of the editors that bought my little books worked for Harper Collins and because she brought the books back to the office, I got my first job illustrating a book for a big publisher. That editor also became my agent and together we went on to pitch and sell the ideas behind two of my original little books.

All of this happened about 11 years ago, right before I got pregnant with my first child. I have juggled being a full time stay at home mom with my career in picture books from day one. I sincerely believe that what is behind my career and what has kept me going is that love of drawing I have always possessed. It has been incredible to see what I love to do come alive in the picture books I create.

Can you tell us about the history of this story and how it came to be?

At some level, I feel like this book has been with me for many, many years. I was a senior in high school when I first learned about the rabbits. My boyfriend at the time was a year older and often wrote me letters from college. One of his letters described what it was like for him after his older brother died in a car accident. He wrote about how important his pet rabbits were in helping him cope with his grief because they were a quiet, peaceful presence he could turn to.

Even after we broke up, the story of his rabbits was something I thought about from time to time. I made art and stories over the years about rabbits. It wasn’t until more recently, however, that I really began to understand why those rabbits were so helpful to my high school boyfriend.

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Cori made this piece for her high school boyfriend

In the past few years, I had two friends go through the experience of losing a child. As a mother myself, I couldn’t begin to wrap my head or heart around their pain and emotions. I felt very helpless when it came to how to be there for my friends, and it was clear many of the people in their lives felt the same way.

Seeing how frustrating it was for my friends made me realize how lacking so many of us are in terms of our emotional intelligence. It is hard to know what to do in these kinds of situations, and even the best intentions can complicate things.

As I struggled with what to do or say, I once again thought of the rabbits and for the first time I truly realized the power behind their story.

When my high school boyfriend was an eight-year-old boy trying to face the loss of his brother, he didn’t need anyone telling him what to do or feel. What he needed and found in those rabbits, was a calm, reliable presence that was simply willing to listen. The more I thought about it, the more compelled I felt to do something.

I remember going on a long walk with my dog and the idea for a picture book began to form. Once I got home, I began sketching and writing and it all poured out. I have never had an idea flow out so quickly or so complete. At first, I wasn’t even sure if I should show the book to anyone, but I decided to at least share it with my critique group. Their responses were immediate that I needed to pass this book on to my agent, so I did.

With my agent’s support, I submitted the book for publication and could not believe when it not only received interest from multiple editors, but that the story was already resonating at a personal level with others. It is almost hard to describe the entire experience because it happened so quickly. I think a part of me still cannot believe that the book actually exists!

What are you most hopeful to see in this book’s readers?

I have many hopes for anyone who reads The Rabbit Listened. First and foremost I hope the book becomes something people of any age can read, give, or turn to as a starting place when those moments in life come along when it seems like there is nothing you can say or do to help.

I hope it is something people who are in pain can pass on to those around them to remind their friends and family to just be patient and to listen. I also hope it is a book supporters can offer someone they know who is hurting as an open-ended invitation and promise that they will be there for them no matter what. I also hope the book is something readers can absorb even if everything is just fine, so when times do get difficult they are more capable and confident about how to cope.

I hope if nothing else, the book starts conversations about grief, emotions, and about what people need from each other. Last, I truly hope this book makes people feel that they are not alone in their pain or in their struggle to understand how overwhelming emotions can be. You are not alone!

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All of my books start as a nagging idea, something I just can’t stop thinking about. I find I do my best thinking on a walk, laying in bed at night when I can’t sleep, or early in the morning. (Whenever it’s most likely I’ll forget.) It usually becomes clear pretty quickly if I can turn an idea into a full story. Sometimes the words and images simply begin to emerge like puzzle pieces all fitting into place. This was definitely the case for The Rabbit Listened.

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Once I have a solid idea, I try writing a really rough draft that just covers the basics of the story to see if I can get all the way from the beginning to the end without any major roadblocks. I almost always type my rough drafts on the computer. I use this rough draft to do a really quick tiny layout of the entire book using thumbnail sketches of the spreads.

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When I make a picture book the visual story is just as important to me as the text, so the thumbnails are essentially another rough draft of the story. I draw with a pen or pencil on paper spending no more than a minute or so on each thumbnail. I will re-­sketch the most at this stage trying to get just the right loose concept for each page in the book.

With most books, including The Rabbit Listened, I have already decided what the characters will look like in my head so however I draw them in the thumbnail is typically how they will look in the book. After I thumbnail the entire book, I scan all the drawings into my computer. I use a Wacom pen and Photoshop to turn my thumbnails into larger sketches.

Again, I do this relatively quickly. As I mentioned before, I have always had to split my time between being a stay at home mom and my career, so I have become really efficient with my time!

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Thumbnail (top); Sketch (bottom)

After I’ve made a sketch from every thumbnail, I place them in an InDesign document where I can add the text and consider how the book should be laid out. When I am done I essentially have something that looks like a picture book made of sketches. This is what I send to editors for feedback. My favorite part of the process is making the final art.

Making art is something I have done my entire life and nothing makes me feel more challenged, satisfied, or at peace. Unlike the earlier stages of the book, I can make final art listening to music, podcasts, or audio books. I used to create all my final art with acrylic paint on paper, but I eventually became curious about digital art making.

It took a lot of practice, but I eventually taught myself to use Photoshop to create digital paintings. All of the art for The Rabbit Listened was created with digital ink, a Wacom pen, and Photoshop. I work in my studio in our basement. It is nothing fancy, needs a dehumidifier and a space heater…but at least it has a door so this mama can work!

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Who are some of your story heroes? (Fictional characters or real-­life creators)

In terms of fictional character heroes, when I was younger I loved the odd characters who never quite fit in. I loved Barbapapa, Charlie Bucket, Matilda, Dickon Sowerby, Ebenezer Scrooge, Pee Wee Herman, Edward Scissorhands, Jack Skellington, and the Iron Giant.

Most of the creators I looked up to then were in animation-­-­Chuck Jones, Bill Peet, and Adreas Deja but I have always loved Jim Henson. And while I still hold many of these characters and people dear to my heart, now most of my story heroes are women and their creations.

Back when Tyler and I were going to comic conventions, we met Raina Telgemeier. She was inspiring to know way back then when she was also selling stapled together copies of her work, and she is beyond inspiring to know now as the accomplished graphic novelist she is today. I relate a lot to her character in Smile and Sisters having been an awkward art kid myself. Her books helped my daughter fall in love with reading and gave my daughter and I some of our first mutually loved stories.

Another story hero of mine is author Kelly Barnhill. Her work is pure magic, and the cast of various female heroes in her book The Girl Who Drank the Moon spoke to me on so many levels. This book celebrates the simple power of love but also how complex the bonds between women, mother and child, and our inner and outer selves can be.

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

Picking the favorite piece of art in my house is tricky. My kids create art almost daily that astounds me. I do love a print I made from one of my grandma’s drawings. She passed away when I was only four. She loved drawing and animals as much as I did. But then again I also adore my Leo Lionni prints from Swimmy!

What’s next for you?

I’m always wondering what’s next for me. This industry is not always the easiest to navigate. I feel so proud that my career has evolved to a point where I am making books that have the potential to influence or help people, but I’ve also learned you cannot force those books.

I would love to create more books that deal with emotional topics like fear or anger, but will have to wait for the right idea to click. In the meantime, I do have three more books coming out soon that celebrate things like loving someone no matter what, goodness, and how wild parenting can be!

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Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

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by Vashti Harrison (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2017)

If you spend any time in kids’ books or illustration circles on Instagram, you may remember Vashti Harrison’s brilliant project last February: an illustrated series of remarkable black women. She posted once a day during Black History Month of 2017, and it was such a remarkable project, perfect for a book, that here we are. (Aren’t we lucky?)

You can find all of the original little leaders from Instagram here.

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The leaders in this book are both familiar and unsung. Each page is accessible, celebratory, and just plain lovely.

Today is its book birthday, and this volume of extraordinary women would make a great holiday gift for any little leader in your life. There’s something especially powerful about seeing them as young people–we learn how their stories end, grateful for their contributions. How exciting then, to be a young reader of this book, knowing that the whole world is waiting for their work?

Bold, yes.

Beautiful.

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Personalized Preorders available now!

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This book hits shelves in less than a month, and I cannot wait for you to see this small gift Lucy and I have made for you. And for your kids! Your teacher! Your best friend! This book is perfect for anyone you love, truly.

Over the weekend, on Small Business Saturday, I spend a couple hours at one of my favorite indie bookstores, giving out book recommendations and helping customers browse. It was such fun! I hand-sold Who Was Alexander Hamilton? and Race to the Bottom of the Sea, talked with a kid about the Wonder movie. The best part was seeing a family from my school, and the dad asking me if it was in my life contract to never be more than five feet from a book.

Pretty much.

This magical store? Diesel, a Bookstore–right in the heart of the Brentwood Country Mart here in Los Angeles. It’s a great stop if you are in the area, but if you aren’t, here’s something I’m so excited to offer: signed and personalized books, shipped straight to you!

Click here to preorder This Is Not a Valentine.

Click here to preorder Everything You Need for a Treehouse.

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Preorders are very helpful for authors, but even better, you get an unexpected surprise in the mail when the books are ready. Everyone loves surprise book mail, right?

Happy (in just a few weeks and just a few months) reading!

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Life + An Interview with Brendan Wenzel

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by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel (Simon and Schuster, 2017)

This book is a showstopper, and this duo is so very right. Life takes a look at just that: the hopes and hardships of living things. It’s a sophisticated idea rendered with exquisite simplicity.

I got to chat with Caldecott Honoree Brendan Wenzel about books and making this one in particular. Meet Brendan!

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

I had the good fortune of being raised by two artists. My dad is the illustrator David T Wenzel, probably best known for his graphic novel adaptation of The Hobbit, and my mom Janice Wenzel was an art educator for 25 years until she retired in 2013. As a kid, artwork hung on most walls in our house, and my family of course had a huge picture book collection.

Seeing both my parents work on their own projects and my dad create book after book made me realize early on how exciting and gratifying the art and bookmaking process could be. That interest continued through high school and college and eventually led me to a career making books.

How did Life come to you as a manuscript, and what were your first thoughts about the text?

I recently had a conversation with another illustrator about how a manuscript occasionally lands on your desk that seems to synch perfectly with where you are in life, how you’re feeling, and subjects you can’t stop thinking about. Life was one of those texts for me. Cynthia Rylant’s words—which were originally sent by my editor Andrea Welch through my agent Steven Malk—absolutely captured the feelings I had experienced while interacting with nature and connected them in beautiful and unexpected ways.

I knew instantly I wanted to illustrate the book, and the icing on the cake was the chance to collaborate with Beach Lane Books, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working on several projects, including Angela DiTerlizzi’s Some Bugs, which was the first book I illustrated for a publisher in the US.

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Can you tell us about your process?

I knew I would need to approach the book a bit differently than some of my past projects. Much of my previous work has been very playful, but Cynthia’s beautiful words seemed to pull in a slightly different direction. After reading the manuscript many, many times, I began to take long walks in the parks near my house. I would jot down notes and take photographs of anything I crossed paths with that reminded me of the text. This included things like patterns made by bark and soils, pathways through the forest, and the shapes left behind by melting snow.

I continued to think about the elements that combine to create life and how to incorporate them into the book. Originally I had toyed with creating the illustrations from materials found outside—soil, twigs, and plant matter. But after a day of experimenting in my tiny studio, I moved away from this direction. I experimented a lot before finally beginning to create images that felt right. I laid down thick, chunky brushstrokes of acrylic to create the rocks and earth, and I used watercolor and pencil to create the dense foliage that grows throughout the book.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

Probably the two people who I’ve admired for the longest are Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. As someone who is passionate about wildlife and conservation, their work has been very inspiring and motivating. This is for many reasons, but especially because they have both found creative ways to share their interest in and enthusiasm for the natural world.

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

A couple years ago I worked with Fauna and Flora International on an educational initiative to raise awareness about the critically endangered Siamese crocodile, whose wild population has been estimated to consist of fewer than 1,000 individuals. Toward the end of the project I was able to go to Cambodia, meet the team I’d been working with, and see their crocodile breeding center.

While in Phnom Penh, the project’s very kind leader presented me with a set of footprints from a big female crocodile. The image, which at first glance looks almost like a scaly human hand stamped in green paint on watercolor paper, was created during a veterinary checkup. I was thrilled with the gift and hung the framed image at the entrance to my studio. The footprints serve as the perfect daily reminder of all those rare and fascinating creatures going about their business in wild places around the world. I don’t know if this falls under the traditional definition of art, but it’s my favorite thing hanging in the house, hands down.

What’s next for you?

I just submitted final artwork for a book I wrote and illustrated called Hello Hello. The project, which uses a sequence of related animals to take a look at the ways in which we relate to the world around us, will be out with Chronicle Books in Spring 2018. Aside from that, I have a sketch book filled with preliminary work for a few new projects that I am really excited about. I will be going to Maine next week, where I will be gleefully fleshing them out under the close watch of a few thousand pine trees and probably a porcupine or two.

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His Royal Highness, King Baby: A Terrible True Story + an interview with David Roberts

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by Sally Lloyd-Jones and David Roberts (Candlewick Press, 2017)

Do you see that pantyhose hair? And big sister’s expression? And her no-nonsense-ear-pencil and toe about to tap?

And the gold on this jacket sparkles with its spot gloss situation, and the whole book from the very beginning is just a yes.

So when Candlewick asked if I’d like to chat with illustrator David Roberts, I was on board. You might also know him from his work with Andrea Beaty on Iggy, Rosie, and Ada? I’m sure you do.

Meet David:

How did you get into picture books?

I got in to picture books after working as a fashion illustrator and milliner. I had gone to work in Hong Kong after graduating from Manchester Polytechnic. I had a degree in fashion design, but I knew I didn’t want to work as a designer. I had always loved drawing, and so picked up some work doing fashion illustration for magazines and newspapers. When I returned to the UK , I tried to find work as a fashion illustrator, but with not much luck. My other passion was millinery and I was extremely lucky to get a job working as a couture milliner for Stephen Jones. I did this for about six years, and in that time I had found an agent to represent me, not as a fashion illustrator but within the world of children’s books.

On seeing my portfolio, my agent, Christine Isteed remarked that I drew characters well, and expressed a wish to push me in the direction of kids’ literature. I was thrilled, as this had been a long held ambition of mine after I shared a house while at college with two amazing children’s book illustrators Gillian Tyler and Dominic Mansell. I had been completely captivated by their work and secretly desired to do something similar myself, but without the confidence to really try, but then Christine (my agent) came along, and all that changed. I have never looked back and feel privileged every day that I get to do this as my job.

When you first read the text of His Royal Highness, King Baby, did you immediately have a look in mind? How did you arrive at such a fabulous period piece?

When I read the text, I instantly loved the irony. I loved the drama and the fantasy that the little girl builds in her imagination. I wanted to try and capture a sort of fantastical traditional fairytale world with castles and horses and unicorns, but within an ordinary domestic home setting. The text left it open to be set at any time period. Being a child of the seventies, I often revert to the decade of my childhood when visualizing clothing or furniture or surface pattern; it was a very rich, bold, and brightly decorative time.

I also love the fashion of the designers Bill Gibb, Ossie Clark, and Zandra Rhodes–they were all exploring fantasy and romanticism in their designs, and it just seemed the perfect approach to use for this text.

I also needed a ‘throne’ for the new ‘king’ to sit on, and those high-backed, peacock style wicker chairs are so reminiscent of seventies interior design, that it all fit together nicely. It was enormous fun to be given the freedom to visualize the story this way.

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Can you tell us about your process?

I read and re-read the text to make sure I fully understand the story. And I do a lot of research, mainly through books but increasingly now with the aid of the internet. I start by thinking about the size and shape of the book, and whether the story would fit best in a landscape, portrait, or square format. When I’ve established the book’s physical size, then I begin drawing ideas onto layout paper, plotting and composing the images around the text, and thinking about how the pagination should flow. I might find inspiration for composition in pieces of art I’ve studied or admired. For example, David Hockney’s work has been a huge inspiration for me, as has Michael Leonard’s work, and Edward Gorey’s work. I recently saw an exhibition on Russian art from the Soviet period, which was fascinating, and I know that has got right inside my imagination and will no doubt find its way into my own work in the future.

I also find that I am inspired by old photography; I love how static it is, and how perfectly and precisely the pictures are composed.

Music or radio conversation is my constant companion while I work, and I do find that certain songs can help me create the mood and atmosphere I am trying to achieve in my artwork.

When I am happy with the composition, pagination, and content, I will share the sketches with the publisher and the author to let them comment and make their own suggestions. When we are all satisfied with the sketches, I begin the final art. This is when I make decisions about color. I don’t work digitally at all so all color decisions once painted in are usually final, unless I can scratch them off with a razor blade. I paint into heavy 300grm hot pressed paper, so it can take a bit of a scrape, but not too much.

I then send it or take it to the publisher, who has it all scanned, and puts the book together with the text.

Who are some of your story heroes?

I was thrilled and privileged to be asked to illustrate The Wind in the Willows a few years back. Having never previously read the book, I was intrigued and excited to see how I could approach it. One of the things I was most keen to capture was the loving, caring, and gentle relationship between the characters of Ratty and Mole. I fell completely in love with them, particularly Ratty and his little blue boat.

I am currently writing and illustrating a book for children about the suffragettes. One very real life character has become a hero of mine since embarking on this subject. Her name was Muriel Matters. She was Australian but lived in London in the early 20th century. In a bid to spread the word about the fight for women’s suffrage,  she hired an 80ft air ship, decorated the side with the slogan “Votes for Women,” and sailed high above London, scattering leaflets about the “Women’s Freedom League” down to the streets below on the day of the King’s Parade to Parliament!

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

I recently got married, and while on honeymoon in Japan my husband and I discovered this wooden sculpture. It’s called a kokeshi, which is a traditional Japanese wooden doll, usually beautiful painted, but in the 60s and 70s some artists started to create them in a more simplistic fashion. These are called “creative kokeshi.” We fell in love with this one which was designed by Yamanaka Sanpei, and love her startled expression.

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What’s next for you?

I am so lucky to have a lot of fantastic stories that I’ve been asked to illustrate lined up. I am currently finishing my own book about the women’s suffrage campaign, and then I have a new project with Julia Donaldson, with whom I did Tyrannosaurus Drip and The Troll about a king and his cook. Then a book set in the time of the Great War written by Sally Gardner at the start of next year. Along with more stories about the Bolds for Julian Clary, and more from Andrea Beaty who I did Rosie Revere, Engineer with, to keep me busy!

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HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS, KING BABY. Text copyright © 2017 by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by David Roberts. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

The Journey Trilogy

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by Aaron Becker (box set to be released November 7, 2017, Candlewick Press)

I’m so excited to bring you this glimmer of good news today. Aaron Becker’s stunning wordless trilogy is being released as a box set by Candlewick just in time for the warm winter holidays, or any time your soul needs a boost.

Here’s a look at the magic.

I asked Aaron a little bit about his incredible past few years in publishing. Here he is!

So, how does it feel to know there’s a box set for the Journey Trilogy?

I am more than thrilled! I’ve always loved this sort of thing in the series that I follow, but I never imagined when I wrote Journey that it would grow into something like this. It’s such an honor and I’m so excited to see it come together.

Had you always planned a trilogy?

When I was editing Journey, the one thing I didn’t have room for was a resolution for the girl’s initial (and significant) disconnect with her family. Instead, she finds a way out of her loneliness through her imagination and the adventures and friends she makes along the way. This felt closer to life to me; that the things we desire deep down don’t always pan out the way we might hope.

At the same time there was this nagging question when the layouts were finished – What about the girl’s family? Will she ever be seen by them? Well before Journey published (as you know, it’s a long process from completion of artwork to final publication) I talked to my editor at Candlewick (Mary Lee Donovan) about extending the story into a trilogy to help finish the larger arc of the girl’s journey. At that point, I wrote out a synopsis of the final two books. It was important to me that the story not turn into an ongoing series, but end as a succinct story with three purposeful acts, where Quest delves us deeper into the worlds of Journey and Return comes full circle to resolve the girl’s initial rift.

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Journey was your debut and landed in the book-world like a meteor. Was it hard to follow up on that kind of success?

Luckily I avoided any of that pressure – the paintings for Quest were finished by the time Journey published! Return was harder to figure out, but mostly because the story needed to work both as a stand alone story and a book end to the trilogy – in 40 wordless pages!

Your book trailers are amazing. How do they get made?

Thanks! I used to work in the film industry, so when the time came to promote Journey, I took what I knew of animation and film making and put it to use. It’s a really fun part of the process for me, and I wanted to do something special to celebrate the release of the box set that was different than my animations from the trilogy. I filmed the lanterns and books in our back yard with some fancy new camera equipment. It was a blast, though waiting for the perfect sunset took some patience!

For the music in all of my trailers, I work with Jacob Montague, a composer from the band Branches. Jacob takes my temp track and scores original music based on the timing of the edit. Books are a relatively solitary process, so it’s nice to have the chance for some collaboration.

Now that the trilogy is complete and the box set is coming out, do you have plans ever to go back to the worlds from Journey?

I do have an idea about the girl’s father when he was a boy. It’s the back story of it all that explains the crayons and the mythology of the kingdom. Actually, if you look carefully, a lot of it is already there on the cave painting in Return. I think I prefer keeping it there instead of elaborating too literally for the reader. There’s such a large part of these stories that belong to the readers themselves and I’d hate to take that away by explaining it too much!

I’ll have to take a look at that cave myself! So what’s next?

I have an entirely new wordless book coming out in Spring of 2018, A Stone for Sascha. It’s hard to explain in words how lucky I feel to be doing this job of telling my own stories. Now if only I had more time! I have so many I want to tell.

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Robinson + an interview with Peter Sís

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by Peter Sís (Scholastic, 2017)

Here’s a special thing for you that was a huge honor for me.

Meet Peter Sís. You might know him from an incredible stack of books like Starry Messenger, The Wall, and The Pilot and the Little Prince. His latest, Robinson, is a sort of mashup of Sís’s own childhood and the adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Surprising, refreshing, and familiar.

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

Growing up in Czechoslovakia I loved to illustrate stories that my father and grandfather told me as a child, but I never thought about becoming an illustrator while in art school. I was thinking about a future in fine arts and fell in love with animation. I won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival with my short film “Heads.” I got invited to Hollywood in 1982 to work on an animated film project for the summer Olympic Games in 1984. Animation takes a long time so I was still working on the film when the Soviet bloc countries pulled out of the Olympics, and I did not return home.

I was trying to figure out my future as an artist in America when Maurice Sendak came to the rescue. “So, you want to be in children’s books?” he said. He gave me such a lovely introduction to publishing that I have been in the picture book world ever since.

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Can you tell us the story of how Robinson came to be?

Robinson is a memory from my childhood which came back to me when my sister found an old photograph of me dressed up in furs as Robinson Crusoe for a school costume party. It was a flashback to a moment when I felt ridiculed by my friends. I loved the book Robinson Crusoe. And my creative wonderful mother made me an outrageous costume of the brave castaway, for which I won the top prize for the most imaginative character. But all my friends made fun of it.

I remember very well how mortified and foolish I felt. Yet I loved the book so much that somehow it made it all worthwhile. My new book, Robinson, is about the power of books for a child.

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What does it mean to you to be a recipient of the Hans Christian Anderson award?

It means one is recognized by one’s peers all over the world for lifetime achievement. That is wonderful and also alarming because it means you are getting old. But I love that it creates a connection to my teachers and mentors: Jiri Trnka, Maurice Sendak and Quentin Blake.

One of my favorites from your backlist is Madlenka. Do you have any favorite stories in your catalog? And why?

For many years, I was inspired by my children. My son gave me the idea for Fire Truck because we lived across the street from a fire station, and he was passionate about them. I discovered life in America and the colorful, multicultural world of my new country through my daughter, Madeleine (or Madlenka), who is very curious and creative and had many adventures on the block where we lived in downtown Manhattan. This global diversity was so inspirational for me because I came from a country where everybody and everything looked the same. Now my children are grown, but I still have many stories from their childhood that have yet to make it into a book.

I also value the story about my father, Tibet Through the Red Box, and a book about my childhood hero, Jan Welzl, A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North. The Three Golden Keys brings back special memories of Prague for me.

Who are some of your story heroes?

Robinson Crusoe, Antoine de Saint Exupery, Czech president, Vaclav Havel, Swallows and Amazons, Charlie Chaplin, Milos Forman (I created the poster for his film Amadeus), John Lennon and the Yellow Submarine.

I also had unique heroes as a child since my grandfather worked on the design of train stations in Cleveland and Chicago in the 1930’s. He collected comic strips from the Chicago Tribune and got them bound into a book which was bigger than I was. Unlike other Czech kids, I grew up with Little Orphan Annie, Mutt and Jeff, and Crazy Cat. I loved that book so much that the newsprint slowly fell apart.

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

My favorite piece of art is by Lane Smith. We did a picture exchange, but I still owe him his! Sorry, Lane, it is coming!

What’s next for you?

Ha, good question. I am inspired by the story of Nicholas Winton who saved 669 children before the Nazis arrived in Czechoslovakia in 1939. He organized trains that took them to England. I am also thinking about a story of a little refugee of today who faces all kinds of dangers before arriving in the free world. And how I met the Beatles and worked on the cover for Sergeant Peppers. There are amazing stories happening all around us every day. Now I need to focus and choose the right one.

 

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PS: Thank you to Scholastic for the images in this post and connecting me to Peter Sís.

Moon: A Cover Reveal

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by Alison Oliver (Clarion Books, April 17, 2018)

I’ve been a fan of Alison Oliver’s work for a long time. (Proof.) And now, look at this stunning cover of her debut as both author and illustrator. Gorgeous, right?

I asked Alison to tell me a little about Moon, and here’s what she said:

Moon is a story about a little girl with too much to do. She wonders what it would be like without chores and homework and lessons. What it would be like if she could be herself. Late one night, Moon meets Wolf and goes on an adventure to the Great Forest where Wolf teachers her all the wolfy ways—pouncing, playing, hiding but also, stillness. In that stillness Moon finds her true self—and that is wild!

From the publisher:

Like most children, Moon has a busy life. School is followed by homework, followed by piano practice, followed by chores; and the next day it all begins again. And then, one night, she meets a wolf.  This wolf takes her to the forest, away from the endless round of things-to-do. In the forest Moon learns to howl, to hide, to be still, and how to be wild.  And in that, she learns what it’s like to be free.

Preorder Moon here.

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How to Make Friends With a Ghost + an interview with Rebecca Green

How to Make Friends with a Ghost

by Rebecca Green (Tundra Books, 2017)

Here’s your fall storytime favorite! It’s already mine. Author and illustrator Rebecca Green stopped by to answer a few questions about this book and her beautiful work.

Welcome, Rebecca!

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

I’ve only been doing picture books for the last two years or so. Before, I was doing editorial, gallery work, and older chapter books. I signed the contract for How to Make Friends with a Ghost right when I was signing on with my children’s publishing agent, and I just sort of got launched into the industry. I absolutely love working in this field, from the broad possibilities for illustrations to the people – everything’s been great.

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How to Make Friends with a Ghost is your debut as an author, right? How was the experience of both writing and illustrating for the first time?

Honestly wonderful. Because the story is mine, I still feel enthusiastic about it – I still feel just as excited about the characters as I did the day I started writing the story. It’s gone through such a change from that first day and it’s been an amazing learning opportunity. I also get to do a lot more in terms of promotion and marketing and that’s very fun for me.

Can you tell us about your process?

I usually do sketches with a black colored pencil on paper. Those are then sent to the client and we go back and forth with revisions or changes. Once I am ‘good to go to final’, I then redraw the illustration on Bristol paper and use either gouache, colored pencil, or a mixture of both to do the final painting. I then scan the illustration, taking it into the computer and I use Photoshop to clean up the illustration, making the background clean and white.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

Maira Kalman is definitely one of my biggest real life art heroes. I absolutely love her work and her writing. As far as fictional characters, I’ve always admired Jesse from Bridge to Terabithia. That book is one of my all-time favorites, and he is a such a strong and compassionate character.

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

A painting by Nashville artist, Harry Underwood. It’s a small piece, maybe 8×10″ and it portrays a woman who remarkably resembles by mother. In sloppy pencil, it reads “Life goes on”. His work is quite sad and eerie and I love it.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently illustrating a memoir, and another picture book, both for other authors. In coming months though, I am hoping to carve out some time in my schedule to work more on personal work and writing.

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Z Goes First: A Cover Reveal

Z GOES FIRST_FINAL COVER
by Sean Lamb and Mike Perry (Imprint, 2017)

How great does this look? Thanks to Macmillan for this good-looking cover reveal!

Illustrator Mike Perry is new to children’s books, but you might know him from his work on Broad City. How great are these animations?

But now, books:

This is your first time illustrating a picture book. What about Sean Lamb’s text inspired you to take on this project specifically? 

I love the idea of breaking with conventional wisdom. Who was it that said Z had to go last in the first place? This is a story of rebellion wrapped up in a fantastic journey.

This is a new audience for you! What are you hoping young readers will take away from Z Goes First? Are you excited to have your art in front of kids specifically? 

I wanted to make a book filled with color and texture, something natural and fun while retaining the elements that allow for an easy understanding of the alphabet.There are a lot of alphabet books out there, but none quite like this.

How did you approach bringing each letter to life? Any letter in particular that was your favorite to illustrate? 

It speaks to the excitement that all learning should possess. I knew right away what Z should look like. Z of course being my favorite creation out of the group. The rest I drew in multiple variations until we found the right one for the story.

And a note from the book’s author, Sean Lamb:

Z’s story isn’t one you’d find in a typical alphabet book. It’s more of a quest, one which I hope parents and kids will love as Z takes them on a journey through the alphabet.

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Sean Lamb, photo by Steve Hyma

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Mike Perry

Can’t wait to see this one on shelves!

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