Beyond the Pond + an interview with Joseph Kuefler


by Joseph Kuefler (Balzer + Bray, 2015)

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


Can you talk about where this book came from? 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

gallery-myneighbortotoro-2 gallery-spiritedaway-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you remember about picture books from your childhood?

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

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

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


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


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

What’s next for you?

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

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

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


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


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

Blog Tour: The Water and the Wild

The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee

by K.E. Ormsbee, illustrated by Elsa Mora (Chronicle Books, 2015)

From the publisher:

A green apple tree grows in the heart of Thirsby Square, and tangled up in its magical roots is the story of Lottie Fiske. For as long as Lottie can remember, the only people who seem to care about her are her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things are happening on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless—until a door opens in the apple tree. Follow Lottie down through the roots to another world in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.


I’m so excited to be a stop on the blog tour celebrating the release of The Water and the Wild, which includes a chance for you to win a copy of this beautiful (literally and figuratively!) book.

First, let’s hear from K.E. herself. Welcome, K.E.!

K. E. Ormsbee

Visualizing Limn: The Real-World Inspirations Behind Lottie Fiske’s World.

In The Water and the Wild, twelve-year-old Lottie Fiske travels through the roots of an apple tree into the magic-soaked world of Limn—a land filled with bustling cities, dense woods, magical yew trees, and giant spider webs. World building Limn was one of the most fun and challenging aspects of writing The Water and the Wild, and my inspiration for the look and feel of the fantasy landscape came from very real places.

Today, I’d like to share some of those inspirations and take a moment to gush about just how perfectly artist Elsa Mora captured the magic of Limn in her cover art and illustrations.

New Kemble – York, England

I’m a huge anglophile, and one of my favorite places in all of England is York. The city is rich with layer upon layer of history, as evidenced in its walls, its giant cathedral, and its winding streets. I remember first setting foot in The Shambles and feeling certain that something ancient and magical was at work there.

When I first drafted The Water and the Wild, the story actually took place in York. Over time and a number of subsequent revisions, York became New Kemble, a fictional island town off the coast of Massachusetts. But the inspiration for New Kemble remained thoroughly English. I still envision The Barmy Badger—home of Lottie’s best friend Eliot—on a street similar to The Shambles. And Lottie’s home in the boardinghouse on Thirsby Square is based on the real St. Paul’s Square in York.

St Paul's Square - Personal Photo

Iris Gate – The Biltmore Estate

When Lottie first arrives in Limn, she stays at the home of the Wilfers—an old money family with royal connections and a fair share of secrets. The Wilfer family home is called Iris Gate, and Lottie is overwhelmed by the size and grandeur of the place. When describing Iris Gate, I tried to capture the intimidation I felt upon first walking into the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

The Biltmore is an imposing mansion even to full-grown adults, and I was ten when my family visited. I remember gaping at the soaring ceilings, ornate decorations, and sprawling gardens. Though Iris Gate is nowhere near as extensive as the Biltmore, its architecture and landscaping were written to resemble that of the Biltmore Estate.

Biltmore Estate - Taken From Biltmore Official Website

Wisp Territory – Springtime in my childhood neighborhood

I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. The city is surrounded by rolling green hills, black fences, and horse farms. It experiences four distinct seasons, and the springtimes there are lovely. In my neighborhood, there were many dogwoods, magnolias, and Bradford pear trees. When all of those trees were in bloom, white petals would blow loose into the wind, and everywhere I turned the world seemed awash in white. I called it my Warm Winter.

I never shook those springtime images, and when I was creating Wisp Territory—home to the mysterious will o’ the wisps—I wanted to convey a similar aesthetic. The world of the wisps is, by and large, colorless. The grass, the trees, and the leaves are all white. The royal home is made entirely of glass. This wintry appearance does not vary with the seasons, and it’s my homage to the Warm Winters I experienced as a kid.

* * *

Clearly, I have some very distinct ideas about how the world of Limn looks. What I was most nervous and excited about during the publication process was seeing how an artist would render a world that had for so long existed only in my imagination. As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. When Melissa Manlove, my fabulous editor at Chronicle Books, first gave me Elsa Mora’s name, I of course went straight to Google to do some major image stalking. After only a minute, I knew I was in the best of hands.

Elsa’s papercuts are pure magic. There is so much detail, care, and whimsy in each of her creations. The cover of The Water and the Wild conveys not only the fantasticalness, but also the danger of Lottie’s journey. The way in which the characters and their natural surroundings blend so effortlessly captures my own attempt to make the world around Lottie as much a character as she is.

Inside the book, you’ll find a papercut plant accompanying each chapter heading. These illustrations reinforce the importance of the natural world throughout the book. And, you know, they just so happen to be GORGEOUS.

It’s been almost seven years since I first wrote down the image of a magical green apple tree. Now, as Lottie Fiske’s story officially hits bookshelves, I couldn’t be happier with the way that image and others came to be realized in the art and text of The Water and the Wild.


If you’re anything like me, you’re dying to read more about Lottie and Limn. So! Tweet this post anyway you’d like on Twitter, and include the hashtag #dpb for a chance to win a copy! I’ll be in touch with a winner in a week.

Check out The Water and the Wild’s teacher guide here, and a sneak peek at its beginning here.

And be sure to check out tomorrow’s stop on the tour at Green Bean Teen Queen, where K.E. talks libraries!



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.


Lots to see and learn and celebrate here.

Out today.


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

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

by Greg Pizzoli (Viking, 2015)

I’ve read lots and lots and lots of books for kids. I’ve read lots of questionable ones and I’ve read lots of spectacular ones. And then I’ve read a handful that are simultaneously spectacular and fresh and inventive and completely honor how smart kids are.

This is one of those.

You might know Greg from that burping crocodile or the hound with a need for speed, but did you know a book about an impossible con is exactly what the world of kids’ books needed? Meet this Greg.

Actually, meet Robert Miller.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

(click to enlarge)

A normal kid, one who leaves home to become an artist despite his parents’ best efforts. A normal kid with a penchant for billiards, poker, and gin.

A grifter known as Count Victor Lustig.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

(click to enlarge)

This liqour induced pow-wow below the Totally Legit delivery truck might be one of my favorite moments in this thing. It’s accompanied by a sidebar of Totally Legit information about the Prohibition. This blend of grit and truth and history hangs right in the suspense of Vic’s story. It feels like Saul Bass made one of those The More You Know PSAs right there on the page.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

(click to enlarge)

One of the greatest tricks in this whole book is how we see the silly, unsuspecting faces of Vic’s marks, but never his. Only a thumprint. Both the clearest and fuzziest identification.

Mixed-media collage always yields great texture, just by its very nature. But Greg adds custom-made rubber stamps, actual photo texture from the floor of the Eiffel Tower, and like we’ve already seen, his very own thumbprint. This approach is as layered and grungy as Vic himself. This book can’t be slick and clean and soft–it needs depth and dirt and intrigue. That’s what it’s got.

That’s no con.

Check out these endpapers. Brick wall, posted bills, danger, and suspense.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

(click to enlarge)

Why does that not look like the full width of the book, you ask?

Because then there’s this:

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli In the best of places, that sneaky space under the dust jacket, where unsuspecting grownups don’t dare peek. Kids do. They know where the good stuff is. And this is the good stuff: The Ten Commandments for Con Artists by our hero.

I think 8 is my favorite. Or 5. Or 10.

And now, don’t miss Greg and Julie’s chat about this book over at Seven Impossible Things. Lots to digest. Commandment 2 will be an impossibility.



I received a copy of Tricky Vic from Viking, but the comments are all my own. And speaking of Viking, huge kudos to the publicity team that sent the book like so:

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

The Mouse Mansion

TheMouseMansion_cover by Karina Schaapman (Dial, 2014; originally published in the Netherlands in 2011.)

This book.

This book is massive and mini all at once.

Its press release calls it Beatrix Potter meets I Spy. A fitting description, that one, but I might call it George and Martha meets The Ultimate Alphabet meets a craftier Cardboard Challenge.

This is the Mouse Mansion. The Mouse Mansion by Karina Schaapman Karina Schaapman spent years creating this architectural wonder, dreaming up more than 100 rooms and passageways and outdoor spots to explore.

She also dreamed up Sam and Julia, the teensy mice who live in its walls. Here they are. (Click to enlarge.) The Mouse Mansion by Karina Schaapman The Mouse Mansion is oversized and so is its book. It holds the best of treasures to look at and imagine. Sam and Julia have seventeen chapters of adventures together. They are small stories with big trouble, small creatures with big heart.

Sam and Julia don’t have enough pennies for the white chocolate with rice bubbles, so they buy broken cookies.

They smile about it.

Sam plays the violin and gives Julia the shivers.

But she’d never tell him how terrible he is.

They burn pancakes and make powdered sugared messes, but agree that pancake day is the very best day. The Mouse Mansion by Karina Schaapman That’s what best friends do.

My favorite of all of their escapades is their interaction with Sam’s grandpa, down at the fish market. Julia is shocked to see the pictures of an anchor on his arm and a pirate on his tummy.

Julia is very curious. “Why do you have all those drawings?” she asks. “What are they?”

Grandpa smiles. “They are not drawings,” he says. “They’re tattoos. And each one tells a story.”

Yes, you do. You need this treasure chest of a picture book. You need to see these two critters overload the washing machine and hoist barrels of lemonade up to the loft.

Just try not to squeal too loudly. The triplets are sleeping.

For more pictures of the Mouse Mansion’s bitty charm, check out this post by Julie Danielson at the smorgasbord that is Seven Imp.


Thanks to Amanda and Caitlin at Penguin for the images and a review copy of the book. Thoughts my own.

The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone

The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone

The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone (Candlewick, 2003)

by Timothy Basil Ering

I have a feeling this is one of those books that you either adore to hyperbolic proportions or is completely off your radar. 

I’m in the hyperbolic proportions camp, but it’s still a book I forget about. And then when I remember, I wonder how I forgot?!

So this is an origin story, one that starts in Cementland and ends in gritty beauty.


Oliver’s Tree

Olivers Tree by Kit Chasewritten and illustrated by Kit Chase

published 2014, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase I’ve always had a soft spot for elephants, ever since I had a sweet stuffed one as a kid. He played ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ so of course, Sunshine was his name. And I don’t know who I’m kidding with the kid thing, cause Sunshine still lives with me. He’s a dear.

And lately, I’ve had a tender thing towards trees and how much they give us. Some are big enough to hug, and some snap at the landing of a songbird. All are homes. Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Add a little Beatrix Potter-esque art, and a story that stays endearing without dipping into the saccharine side, and I’m completely charmed. The dust jacket says it best: ‘there’s a reason we don’t see elephants in trees.’

I love this elephant, Oliver. I love that when all he sees is despair, he takes a nap. Spectacular coping skill, Oliver! Thank goodness that his friends aren’t defeated, and they get to work searching and gathering. Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase I’m adding the spread below to my inner rolodex of perfect picture book spreads. The words and the illustrations balance each other and don’t compete for attention. It slows down the action, builds suspense, and gives the reader a chance to predict what happens on the other side of the page turn. And the twig frames are just plain lovely. So: pretty perfect. Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase I hope this isn’t the only story Kit Chase is brewing with Oliver, Charlie, and Lulu. I feel like they have a lot to say and share.

Want to see more of her art? A dash of dear and a pinch of perfect? All of the pieces below are in her Etsy shop, trafalgar’s square. Huge thanks to Kit for sharing these with us!


Review copy provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend written and illustrated by Karen Stanton

published 2014 by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan

When I first saw the art for this book, a teeny jolt of whoa hit me right in the heart. I mean, look at the endpapers! The calendars sprinkled throughout! The swirls of smells and thoughts and words! Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonThen I read the story and the teeny turned into titanic. This is a tender tale of love and home and broken families.

Henry Cooper lives in two houses. So does Pomegranate, his dog. Mama and Papa are two and a half blocks and worlds away. At Mama’s they dance, and at Papa’s they sing. In both, there is love and warmth and safety. Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonWhen Pomegranate goes missing, Henry Cooper knows exactly where he is – right at the big yellow house where the family once lived together. Home.

And then Henry becomes the hero, leading Pomegranate back to where the love lives. There’s a lovely ambiguity of which house it is. Because really, does it matter?Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonKaren Stanton’s art is layered, rich, and colorful. And is there a better art choice for brokenness than collage? I doubt it. Thank you, Karen, for sharing these spreads with us! Click any image to enlarge. Enjoy!


Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (and an interview with illustrator Christian Robinson)

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson written by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

(Published 2014 by Chronicle Books.)

Have you seen the buzz flitting about this book yet? Allow me to flit a bit more. It’s a spectacular collaboration, a spotlight on an unforgettable lady. I have to believe that Patricia Hruby Powell’s dance background fueled the sparkle in her words, and Christian Robinson’s connection to Josephine is electric in his art.

Have you seen the trailer? (The music is by Patricia’s husband’s jazz band!)

breaker Before you enjoy my chat with Christian Robinson, be sure to check out this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Initial cover and color sketches? Yes.Christian RobinsonAnd this interview at Seven-Imp from 2012 is where I first fell for Christian Robinson. Also, more swooning over at Design Mom, where I covered Harlem’s Little Blackbird.

Perhaps you saw his art at Google last week in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?Christian Robinson's MLK Google DoodleGorgeous.

Here he is. So happy to have him visit. (Click any image to enlarge.) breaker Hi, Christian! Can you tell us a bit about your process, both the physicality of creating and it’s origins?

I like to do my research. I’d describe the start as cultivating curiosity for the characters and setting in the story. I go to the library and absorb all the visuals and facts that will influence and inspire the work.

Then I start sketching, sometimes rough concepts; other times, more polished work. I basically work on creating enough art to share my vision with the art director and editor.

Then layout sketches — I like to use Post-its. These are great, because I can easily switch out sketches that aren’t working.

Then, once approved by the editor and art director, I create images in Photoshop, tying down shapes and colors. Then, final art collage and acrylic.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonHow would you describe your studio in three words?

Sunny, quiet, magical.

Now how about a little more. It seems like it would be a magical place to capture the spirit of your work. What do you think?

The creative process in general is pretty magical. I imagine that magic must rub off on any space ritually used to make stuff. Josephine was illustrated in my studio/bedroom. It’s a sunny, warm and small room in a big San Francisco Victorian home built in 1891. I like creating in bright spaces, with lots of natural light, I also like being able to look out a window and take in any inspiration the city has to offer in the moment. Now I work in a larger shared artist studio, which is also nice. Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonI am crazy about your short, What is Music? Can you tell us about the inspiration behind that? Could you ever have anticipated those golden kid-responses?

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! Well, I was inspired by the work of John and Faith Hubley, who created animations to home audio recordings of their daughters playing together as children.

(Moonbird is one of the many award winning shorts they made together.)

I could only cross my fingers and hope the questions I asked would get such responses!

The story about Josephine Baker being in your early awareness of art is remarkable. What does the magnitude of that feel like?

It feels unbelievable, like I’m I might wake up at any moment. This was a dream project for me, but it also carried a lot of self-imposed pressure, this is Josephine Baker we’re talking about! I had to constantly remind myself to just trust the process, and not have a panic attack every time I couldn’t illustrate something as well I would have wanted.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonWho are your creative heroes?

Honestly, Beyonce – ha! Kind of true though. Josephine Baker, Ezra Jack Keats, Hayao Miyazaki, Ray and Charles Eames, Sade, Yuri Norstein. Pretty eclectic list, but it’s what’s coming to mind at the moment.

What memories of picture books do you have from your much younger years?

As a child I struggled learning to read and write and needed a little extra help to keep up in class. I remember being intimidated by reading and not being very attached to books without pictures. My love for books came later. Although I totally remember feeling like a champ in elementary school if I was able to get to Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar first during reading time.

If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, and across form or genre, who would it be and why?

Picasso, because he’s Picasso! I’m sure I could learn some things from one of the world’s most celebrated and inspiring artist.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonWhat’s next for you?

Currently illustrating a picture book loosely based off my childhood experiences of riding the city bus with my grandma. Written by the amazing Matt de la Peña.


Raise your hand if you’ll join me first in line for that collaboration? Seriously. And Beyonce! As if I needed one more reason to be crazy about this guy. Thank you, Christian! And thanks, too, to Patricia Hruby Powell for writing words that dazzle. This one is spectacular. Check it out!


Thanks to Chronicle Books for the images in this post, and also for a review copy of Josephine. All thoughts (and gushing) my own.

Abe Lincoln’s Dream

abeLincolnsDream_coverby Lane Smith

published 2012, by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan

Check out this trailer. It sets up the book’s mood and pace with flawless grace.

breaker Lane Smith has done something really special here. It’s an evocative look at a legacy. A look back and a look forward. Steps taken and hope to go.

I love that a curly haired girl with brown skin is his host. Perhaps that was an obvious choice, but I think she’s more than an art direction. Her today is because of his past.

She is his recurring dream that he just can’t shake.DPB_Stack_AbeLincolnsDream1This is history and beauty, wrapped up in the whimsy that only Lane Smith can do. His textures add life to an already rich history. They are layers, individual parts to a whole life and a whole story.

Roses and lightning and cherry blossom branches frame panels of their journey. Different type for her thoughts and his. Different times, balanced and bridged. Lane Smith’s art is restrained and curious and playful all at once.  DPB_Stack_AbeLincolnsDream2  I can’t think of another storyteller who could handle this story with greater elegance. Art that both delights and informs, and words that are both playful and serious in tone. A masterpiece!