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.

Enjoy!

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.

homesweethawaii

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!

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Edmund Unravels

Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb

by Andrew Kolb (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin, 2015)

A book cover nodding to old travel postcards feels like a good place to end up, right? Also, study that thing closely as you read, because I’m pretty sure you’ll find each of those locations in the letters inside the book.

There’s a moment in this book where Edmund’s parents reel him in and roll him up, and I relate so much to this right now. I’m about to bounce over to the other coast, from vacation and back to school, and I feel like my tangles are going to take a lot of reeling and rolling.

But like this book says, the end is actually a beginning, and like Edmund, I’ll try my best to keep it together.

This little ball of joy, Edmund, is yarn. And when Edmund grow bigger, he can sally forth to farther spots.

(click any images in this post to see them larger.)

Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb

This book’s shape is expertly constructed in order to explore what happens when the edge of Edmund is far from where his heart is, and a rectangle is perfect to fit so much of that journey. Note all the horizontal lines and the compositions that highlight that stretch.

And the shapes within that shape are simple, but tell such story. The cats are particular favorites of mine, how the slightest line adjustment for eyebrows soaks story into those black circles. Do you see?

Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb

A tomato pincushion! A bust! An unfolded map and some modern art, all made up of shapes.

This book is bouncy and cheery and playful and brave, but it’s tender and bittersweet too. There are two sides to adventures: the one who leaves and the one who’s left behind.

Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb

Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb And here, even the endpapers make us feel that. On my first read, I thought, “Oh, Edmund is heading into this book, into the pictures.” And at the end, he’s going back towards the book, back towards his travels. Perhaps this is what the team behind this story intended, but isn’t it also about going forward and returning home? There’s something especially beautiful here about the tug of home pulling you back.

Heading off to college soon? Get this for your parents. They might unravel a little at the sight of it.

This is Andrew Kolb’s first picture book. I hope he makes more.

PS: Speaking of yarn, have you heard about The Yarn, a new podcast from Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp? They are in the middle of an 8-episode season right now, investigating Sunny Side Up from the many hands who made it possible. Check it out!

And thanks to Penguin and Andrew Kolb for the images in this post!

Pool

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

by JiHyeon Lee  (Chronicle Books, 2015)

Hello to you! And you! And you!

Here I am, ready to flip my g o n e  f i s h i n g sign back around.

First, have you had a nice summer? I have been away from the grind, sitting on a deck, writing books and reading them, and it’s been so very nice to be off the grid for a while. But I do miss my books.

You might have seen today’s floating around this summer, and I can’t think of a better one to celebrate the season.

Pool. The word itself conjures up both serenity and splashing chaos, and both of those things exist inside this book.

At its heart, this is a tale of a friendship. Even as grownups there’s a dance to the early moments of togetherness, and this story is that thing in book form.

A boy at the edge of a pool, all the hope of his day before him. A crowd, scary with its wacky floats and almost-tentacles.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

(click to enlarge)

That’s when he dives, under it all and to the quiet, and that’s when he meets his friend. And that’s when things get weird. Isn’t that how it is with friendship? You see new things together, you name the new things together, you create a new kind of community together. The fish and plants and the world under the crazies is bizarre to us, but is it to them? Perhaps not.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

(click to enlarge)

That’s the beauty of finding a friend in the quiet places, whether or not you were looking.

And at the end, when the crowd is exiting to the left, the friends leave to the right. Those two, going forward. Together.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

(click to enlarge)

This is one of those books that I fell in love with when I first saw the cover. And it’s worth wondering why.

I love that the face could belong to either the girl or the boy. I like to think it’s after the magic, both because of the sweet smile and the still-dreamy fish, reflected and real. And I love that by staring at us, it’s almost an invitation. To play, to swim, to step away from the crowd at the edge of the pool.

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Can’t get enough of this book? Me either! Here are some other places I loved reading about it. Danielle at This Picture Book Life paired it with the most adorable pool floats (ice cream sandwich!), and there’s still enough summer left to make that dream a reality! JiHyeon Lee is over at Picturebook Makers talking about the story behind the story and shares some process pictures, which I can’t ever get enough. And you can download some free Pool wallpapers at Chronicle’s happy home online. Enjoy the swim!

Thanks to Chronicle for the images in this post!

The Skunk

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell

by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell (Roaring Brook Press, 2015)

The Skunk is a book I’ve been wanting for ages but I had no idea that I was.

I’m going to spoil this podcast interview for you, and you should still listen to it anyway, but when asked where he got the idea for this book, Mac said it was a writing prompt on an old poster in a school library:

A skunk won’t stop following you.

A fun thing is knowing Mac, and hearing his booming and contagious laugh, and picturing his long, lean self hunched over a desk with eight-year-olds hunched over their desks, writing about a skunk who won’t stop following you. I think Mac would love that too, because there’s a thing that resonates in all of his work for kids, which is a true and uncanny understanding of kid-ness, and a willingness to give them stories that grownups can’t observe in their own natural habitats.

(Sidenote: I wrote a whole thing about this recently, about honesty as a necessary thing in picture book writing and a necessary part of understanding the audience. Check it out here!)

I’m also going to spoil a big design piece of this book, so if you like to read things untainted, unspoiled, and fresh, bow out now. You’ve been warned!

But: the skunk and his man. A story you didn’t know you were dying for.

Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell didn’t collaborate on this book; rather, in publishing’s traditional sense, Mac did words and Patrick did pictures, and they didn’t speak of it until it was finished. In that same podcast, you’ll hear them speak of what an honor it was to work with lumps of clay the other had thrown down.

That, of course, is the very nature of a picture book. The text is incomplete without pictures; both parts are needed for the dance. 100

Here’s how I read a book.

First the endpapers.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell Then the case cover. (Have I told you how angry my students get when a book does not have a secret underneath?! Also, see Travis Jonker’s latest post on this for more. A treat for sure.)

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell And the title page.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell This is so interesting to me, this differently styled skunk here. His etched-ness gives me pause, and is a little bit dizzying. Because here’s the thing: this small moment gives the whole story true plausibility. This skunk, this real skunk, did all of the things in this book. But I’m seeing it through an artist’s lens who might have represented it in a way that I can understand, that I can see.

Curious.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The color palette here is a smart choice. It maintains this noir experience, but also serves to connect the duo physically: the skunk’s red nose, the man’s red bowtie. The skunk’s black and white tail, the man’s tuxedo tails. (Both of those with a flip and a flourish.)

There is no other color, save for a muted peach, a brightness in the shadows.

Soon, the man understands what’s really happening. His eyes speak fear.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell This standoff is one of my favorite parts. The offerings here–an apple, a saucer of milk, a pocket watch–are of no interest to a skunk. But it’s a moment of connection, the first time the man has turned to face his follower. That’s some bravery.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell Then things get dire and the pace quickens, and if you haven’t felt it by now, we’re talking some serious Twilight Zone stuff.

This man moves to a different part of the city, buys new things, and perhaps breathes a bit easier.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The man misses the skunk, because things like that worm and weasel and skunk their way into your routine, and all of a sudden, the missing it part is very real.

And here’s what else you probably noticed. The color!

Without the skunk, in a new house, with new things, the man is different. Transformed? Suddenly aware? What’s happening?

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell

As he searches for his skunk, the colors mute. The world returns to whatever that normal was before.

My skunk.

And the endpapers again. Bookends, that duo.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell

There’s a thing that happens with books when your eyebrow wrinkles and you’re not quite sure where you are anymore. Those are the best kinds of stories–the honest and the daring ones and the ones that make you look at your own world with a mix of wonder and skepticism.

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Thanks to Mary Van Akin at Macmillan for the images!

A Lion in Paris

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna by Beatrice Alemagna (Tate, 2014)

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

First of all. This book opens the wrong way. I mean, it’s completely right, but it is unusual in all of the most wonderful ways.

Also, it’s huge. It’s the size of a cookie sheet or a throw pillow, which is also unusual in all of the most wonderful ways.

After all, how else can you contain a lion?

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

He was a big lion. A young, curious and lonely lion. He was bored at home on the grasslands, and so one day he set off to find a job, love and a future.

This is such a perfect picture book setup. We meet our leading man and instantly understand what’s he like and what he wants. Succint, confident, and interesting in both visuals and voice.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna Something about the massive white space for the text and the intricate illustrations on opposing sides of the gutter. It’s cinematic almost–reminiscient of that silent movie era where a title card precedes the action. The frame on each side of the gutter even approximates the golden rectangle of today’s high definition aspect ratio.

They are pleasing boundaries for storytelling. The pictures don’t need to leave physical layout space for the text, and the text gets a chance to stand alone and confident as well.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

The people were hurrying around with a strange kind of sword under their arms, but nobody thought of attacking him. That surprised him.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

When he went out into the street, it started to rain. That made him think of his lovely sunny grasslands and he felt sad. He turned all grey and shiny like the roofs around him.

So off course, things will get strange and sad for our gentle giant before his journey is through. But isn’t that true of many lionhearted luminaries?

This is a book for anyone who wrinkles a forehead and grins a little at smart design. It’s also a book for anyone who feels a little lost, a little rainy, a little roar-y.

It’s for anyone who is looking for that perfect place to be still and happy.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

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PS: Tate is a British publisher, not to be confused with the notorious scam-ish publisher in America of the same name.

Once Upon a Cloud

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane

by Claire Keane (Dial Books, 2015)

Here’s one to hand to any kid that still can’t get enough of Frozen. And when you do, give them a little wink-nudge that this book’s creator worked on what Elsa and Anna’s world looked like. And she worked on Tangled. And then they will see the lush purple cover anyway, and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane

(click to enlarge)

Meet Celeste. She wants the perfect gift for her mom. Big eyes. Big dreams. (Sweet bear expression. And do you see those little shoes she’s kicked off? Even sweeter.)

Celeste is stumped. When she’s about to fall asleep, the Wind carries her away.

She sparkles with the Stars and then meets the Moon and the Sun.

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane (click to enlarge)

There’s something musical about the pace of the pictures here. Sweeping and epic and enchanting. The colors wash over Celeste’s celestial quest, slowly spinning one into another.

And then, she’s home again. But her heart is new and her eyes are fresh, and the same things that have always been there shine a bit more than they did before once upon a cloud.

Simple in story. Arresting in art.

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane

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Review copy sent by the publisher. 

Enormous Smallness

 

Enormous Smallness

by Matthew Burgess and Kris Di Giacomo (Enchanted Lion, 2015)

This book is the author’s debut picture book, and as a poet and creative writing teacher he found a perfect venue for these words. And here’s a great look at the illustrator’s work over at This Picture Book Life. (If you haven’t seen Brief Thief, RUN to the library. Now.)

Then there’s Enchanted Lion. Smart, beautiful, well-crafted books. This small Brooklyn publisher is fresh off a huge and deserved recognition in Bologna.

So. Let’s take a look.

Enormous Smallness

Layers of letters and piles of words make up some of the best endpapers I’ve seen this year.

Before I flip another page, I’m keenly aware of this texture. What an exceptional way to visualize the poetry of E.E. Cummings. It makes perfect sense. A jumble of words and sounds and feelings are the foundation for E.E.’s work.

Words as art themselves.

Enormous Smallness Enormous Smallness

Here’s a simple sentence, spare but lovely, stating facts and straightening out his family tree. Understated, but lively is for sure in that ensemble. Can you see rambunctious Uncle George there, turning a cartwheel or just plain standing on his hands?

The handwritten labels, the cattywampus text layout, the warm texture. All so inviting.

Enormous Smallness

A happy home for spilling words.

Enormous Smallness

A poet, catching words like a bunny through a hoop.

An author, echoing exactly what young E.E. loved.

Estlin looked around

as if his eyes were on tiptoes

and when his heart jumped,

he said another poem.

Enormous Smallness Enormous Smallness

An illustrator, wrapping it all up in carefully crafted texture that smacks a bit of haphazard beauty.

It’s pretty. It’s intentional. It’s rich and wonder and a treat to take in.

Enormous Smallness Enormous Smallness

A remarkable slew of back matter includes a timeline, additional poetry, a fascinating author’s note, and another really great elephant illustration.

Magic.

Lots to see and learn and celebrate here.

Out today.

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I received a copy from the publisher, but opinions are my own.

In

In by Nikki McClure

by Nikki McClure (Abrams, 2015)

In by Nikki McClure

This is one of those books where the cover convinces you that you’ll love it. It’s both bright and cozy. Spare and warm.

A teensy giraffe peeks out of this boy’s hiding spot and you can see its smiling face, but only eager anticipation in this boy’s eyes.

Open.

In by Nikki McClure In by Nikki McClure

This is my kind of kid. It looks like a grownup is over his shoulder, offering an open door and a pair of shoes. But he’s got a tower of bricks, a colander kingdom, and the very best pair of pajamas.

In is best.

Until out is.

In by Nikki McClure In by Nikki McClure

In by Nikki McClure

And when out is cold and wet, in you go.

In by Nikki McClure

Nikki McClure’s paper cuts are intricate and exquisite, but they are also all-embracing. Not common artwork, but a reminder of the universal comforts of childhood and play and home.

A stark black and vibrant yellow are perfect patches of color to explore these opposing wishes. They balance, they tug, and they leave enough room for us to journey with him. By day and until nightfall.

In and out.

A perfect choice to celebrate curiosity, imagination, and the way we explore our world.

Another Nikki McClure favorite is here!

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There’s This Thing

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon

 

by Connah Brecon (Philomel, 2014)

I fell hard for this book. Heart-itching, squeal-worthy, big time bulging-eyeballs-love.

The title is perfect, right? An ode to the impossibility of putting all of the teensy intricacies of a crush into words.

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon

A girl. A hunt. But she doesn’t really know how to grasp this thing.

Because it’s all . . . 

and . . .

Picture sparkles streaming out of a bottle and a warm kitty snuggle. Impossible for words. Only colorful bursts of feeling.

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon (click to enlarge)

I love her green dress/red hair combo. Strong complementary colors for a stronger girl. She says she’s not brave, but she’s doing just the opposite.

She leaves a trail of crumbs. Sets a trap. And waits.

It doesn’t work.

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon (click to enlarge)

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon (click to enlarge)

Good question, little girl. (I love that her love parade is marching down Hope Street.)

So when the rain drips down the sign and the marching band has marched on, she is sad. So sad.

I really want to share my heart but I just can’t find the right way to open it.

The thing is, she had. She did. This whole time. And that’s worth a bang-up ending. You’ll see.

Here’s a fun look at Connah and his creative process, and if you haven’t given the Let’s Get Busy podcast yet, start here.

This is a perfect thing for any Valentine of your very own.

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Just One Apple

Just One Apple by Janosch

by Janosch (NorthSouth, 2014; originally published 1965 in Switzerland as Das Apfelmänchenn.)

I love a good pen name, and Janosch has one. His real name is Horst Eckert, and he is one of Germany’s most beloved children’s book authors and illustrators. He was new to me until NorthSouth revived this classic in late 2014. I’m so glad they did.

This is Walter’s story. He was the poorest man in the entire kingdom and he only had one single apple tree. A strong and beautiful tree, a nice home for a solitary cardinal. But no fruit. No blossoms. No bending branches.

Walter wishes for an apple. Just one. And when you wish with all your might, things change.

And his wishes came true, as wishes sometimes do.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

The art is loose and fiery. Full of motion and an eery calm.

But I love how this book breathes.

A page of art, a page of text. A page of text, a page of art. The contrast between Walter’s colorful (and worrisome) world and the spare white space of the words sets a comforting rhythm to a familiar story.

And the apple grows. So Walter goes to the market.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

The very worst feeling in the whole world is when other people don’t believe in your wishes.

Walter loses interest in his apple and in his wishes and in his life.

Until the dragon comes to town.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

Here’s where the breathing hitches and the white space/art space tempo gives way to one glorious spread of Walter’s wish saving the kingdom. It’s startling and ridiculous and wonderful.

And after that, Walter was careful what he wished for.

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