Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

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by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall

I love this book for its words and its structure and its illustrations and its history, and I love that I got to stick a golden Caldecott Medal on its cover.

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From the Caldecott criteria:

The Medal shall be awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the picture book except that the illustrations be original work. Honor books may be named. These shall be books that are also truly distinguished.

Let’s look at this book’s distinguished pages. And a note: these are my opinions. It’s clear that the Calde-committee found many reasons to love this book, but there’s no way to know what the overlap is. That’s ok! But here’s what I find remarkable:

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A simple, striking case cover, reminiscent of Pooh-and-friends’ silhouettes in the A.A. Milne stories.

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An invitation to the (hundred acre?) wood on the endpapers. And see if you can spot the real-life owl and rabbit on the title page, a maybe-nod to the wise and spirited friends to Pooh himself.

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The way safe and tucked-in stories at night blur the line between awake and in dreams.

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The passage of time. (And an intriguing and evocative line of text by the author here does not hurt an ounce!)

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The way the real-life storytelling lives in black and white spot illustrations, juxtaposed with the full-bleed illustrations of the past.

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The emotion and pacing of decision-making, the kind that happens when your heart makes up your mind.

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This whole spread, which I loved for the daunting, fierce red of war, and then even more for the details of maritime flags which Sophie talks about here.

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Shifts in perspective that slip you into battle and hang on the edge of your seat.

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A second story, flawlessly entered. I love how this Bear and his boy are on the right-hand side of the spread too, and how it echoes a bear-to-boy lovelock from a few pages earlier.

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The return home, not as bustling as the crew that left for the war. An understated, powerful picture.

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This album, that’s been on the modern boy’s bedside table the whole time.

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The back cover, a mirror of the front. Bookends to the beginnings of a beloved story.

It is an exquisite book.

For more on Winnie, check out my post on All the Wonders. And don’t miss Sophie herself talking about the making of Winnie here, here, and here.

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Last Stop on Market Street

 

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A picture book won the Newbery.

A picture book won the Newbery.

A picture book won the Newbery.

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You must have heard. You must have seen. You must have read.

It wasn’t me that you heard, because the me in that room that morning was a silent bucket of tears. That room that morning was an electric place, full of hoots and hollers and hows and HOLY YOUKNOWWHATS.

It was so wonderful.

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When I chatted with Matthew Winner and Julie Falatko on the Let’s Get Busy podcast last April, here are some things I said about Last Stop on Market Street, (after I expressed some worry that books published post-holidays and pre-ALAYMA-time get lost in the shuffle. Ha.):

This book came out early in January and I have loved it since I set eyes on it. (We spoke in April!)

It’s one of those books that I knew before I even read it that I would love it.

There’s not a word that is out of place.

Every single syllable of this book is total perfection and Christian Robinson’s art is like a hug.

It is absolutely the definition of a perfect picture book.

Some stay with you.

You can listen to minutes 10 through 14 here for more of my audio take on this book’s brilliance.

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And the thing that’s so sock-knocking-off about this, is that picture books are rare beasts to the Newbery table. But they are deserving, they are eligible, they are thirty-two pages of plot and character and emotion that some books don’t quite capture in three hundred and thirty-two.

I still can’t quite find words to write about how it feels to be a part of this brave, new, picture book-honoring world, so these three tweets from fifteen minutes of that morning will have to do.

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And of course, of course, Christian Robinson’s pictures here are outstanding. Intimate but reaching, somehow both old-fashioned and brand-new-brilliant.

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If you haven’t read Last Stop on Market Street yet, you are in for a treat. And for more on this book and its picture-book-Newbery-ness, read this, watch this, listen to this, and soak this in.

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PS: That first picture is what it looked like as I stickered this sucker. First the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, then the Caldecott Honor, and then the Newbery Medal. That was fun.

 

 

Cloud Country + an interview with Noah Klocek

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by Noah Klocek and Bonny Becker (Disney Press, 2015)

It was hard to not to picture these sweet characters on my holiday flights recently, peeking out the window at clouds that were beautiful but not quite as vibrant as the ones in Cloud Country. I chatted with Noah Klocek about it, and welcome him here today!

Where did this story come from?

The original idea for Cloud Country came out of daydreams of my own. For a time, my day job was located right on the edge of the San Fransisco Bay. This unobstructed view allowed me to watch giant thunderheads forming on distant hillsides and I would often wonder what it would be like to be one of those clouds going through the process of formation. Eventually, I began to write and draw around the edges of Cloud Country, attempted to wrangle my loose concepts into a compelling story. While this lead to lots of great ideas, a few dummies and tons of learning, Bonny Becker’s ability to distill and write remarkably compelling characters allowed all these unresolved ideas to finally coalesce. With a bit of writing back and forth, all of this became the story that is Cloud Country.

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What are some of your picture book memories from childhood?

My childhood was all books. I was raised by parents who were teachers by day and artist all the rest of the time. This meant that there was no TV or video games in our house, but the shelves were packed with books of every kind. When other kids watched Gremlins, I was reading Where the Wild Things Are and when other children where watching Stars Wars, I was reading Saint George and the Dragon. A working knowledge of pop culture in the eighties was replaced with an unquenchable passion for picture books. Almost every story I remember as a child came in the form of a picture book. While I was not a great reader as a child (due to a good dose of Dyslexia) I would spend hours and hours looking at picture books. I must have spent a cumulative year looking at Barbara Cooney’s wonderful illustrations in Ox-Cart Man. All these years later I can still remember almost every page.

What surprised you about the picture book process as compared to making movies?

For me the difference between making movies and making books lies in the process of collaboration. Filmmaking is an aggressively collaborative creative process. There are directors who make filmmaking as personal as possible, but making animated films at Pixar is all about collaboration. Picture book making on the other hand, I find a very solitary, personal, creative process. The process is so solitary at times that I have found myself looking for ways to show my work to other people, just to have a conversation about it.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

I’m not a fan of putting people on pedestals, but I have always gravitated toward people who tell stories visually, even in writing alone. There is a saying that I’m fond of that is used an awful lot at Pixar, “Show Don’t Tell.” For me this means show your characters suffering or experiencing joy, don’t tell your reader that they are suffering or filled with joy. So I would have to say, I really respect the gifts and craft of these visual storytellers: Maura Stanton (Poetry), Garrison Keillor (Spoken Word), Hayao Miyazaki (film), David Wiesner (Picture books).

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

I have a lot of great art, but honestly my favorite piece right now would have to be the painting my daughter did when she was 6, of our house on a rainy day. It’s really inspiring.

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How do you balance a creative professional life that exists in both the day job hours and the nighttime ones?

My Mom was a kindergarten teacher for twenty-five years and she always told me that “rhythm replaces strength for children,” and adults are just big kids. So I spend a lot of time trying to build a rhythm in my life that attempts to find a balance between my daytime work, my nighttime work and my family. Honestly, it comes down to a bunch of rules and structures. If I don’t do personal work at night, I’m not as effective or productive at my day job, but my day job allows me to work with and learn from some of the most talented creative people on earth, along with paying the bills. On top of that I have two kids and a wife who come before my nighttime picture book work, so I have a steadfast rule that I don’t work on picture books while my kids are awake, but I work almost every night after they go to sleep. All this rhythm and structure allows me to be very diligent. So I work from 8am to 6pm for Pixar, then five nights a week I work from 8 to midnight on picture books and the other two I spend with my wife. Now that I’m writing all this out, I feel like I’m going to come off like a bit of a crazy person, but I must say, I could’t be happier.

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What’s next for you?

I’m continuing to Art Direct for Pixar and I have a bunch of picture books in the pipeline. Some of them I will collaborate as an illustrator only and the others I’m writing and illustrating. Right now I’m focused on trying to grow as a writer and illustrator. I think I have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but hopefully, I will be able to make picture book that move and inspire kids the way picture books inspired me.

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Thank you, Noah! This is such a timely chat as we move into the new rhythms of 2016. And no, you don’t sound at all like a crazy person, or we are all in trouble.

You can find Noah around the internet here and here, and make sure to listen to Noah chat with Nick Patton on the Picturebooking podcast (now hosted at All the Wonders!)

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Lenny and Lucy

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by Philip C. Stead and Erin Stead (Roaring Brook Press, 2015)

I have favorite books and then I have favorite books. This is a favorite. This is a stick-to-your-ribs kind of book, one that you didn’t even know you were missing and there it is.

There it is.

The story begins on the cover. A car, stuffed to the brim and on the rooftops too. A dog, a man, and a boy inside, driving through the forest to somewhere probably new.

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But don’t go too quickly. Slow down here. (It’s scary out there anyway.) Bright endpapers, reddish orange for love and newness. A gold-embossed case cover showing hints of some friends. An owl, waiting in the treetops.

And then we’re back to the put-put-ing car, and the terrible idea.

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The new house wasn’t as good as the old one, but Harold was as good a dog as ever. Of course he was.

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When things are scary and you have your best friend by your side, you get really good ideas. And you make stuff. That kind of creating is problem-solving and comforting and navigating a world that is unfamiliar.

Peter (and Harold) made Lenny, the Guardian of the Bridge. Lenny, stitched-up safety.

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This is what’s always so remarkable to me about kids: their capacity for love, their endless empathy, and their foolhardy belief in things grownups are too big to understand. Even stitched-up-safety needs a friend.

A pile of leaves and some just-right blankets. A friend.

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All of them watch the woods and wonder about what’s out there, out past what they can’t see. And then there’s Millie, giving a voice to those wonders.

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The art in this book is mostly dark with flickers of bright. The story in this book is mostly dark with flickers of bright. That’s what life is sometimes, right?

Keep an eye out for that owl. Keep an eye out for your friends. Keep an eye on the last illustration of this book, where shiny spots from flashlights make a heart. The dark is still in there, but so are Lenny and Lucy.

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Thanks to Macmillan for the two illustrated spreads in this post!

 

12 Days of Picture Books with Penguin Young Readers

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Well, don’t ask me twice!

I’m excited to join forces with Penguin Young Readers to celebrate one of my favorite parts of the season: more time to read. Check out what they’ve come up with here, a site where you can create custom lists of favorites for all ages of readers. I’m a huge fan of this one, this one, and this one. And whoa, check the cover on this one!

And the good news for you is that Penguin is running a pretty spectacular series of giveaways over on Facebook. Go see!

Today’s feature (and Facebook giveaway!) is the wham-bam-what-just-happened Robo-Sauce, by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri.

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Now, I’ve seen lots of books. And lots of design elements in those lots of books. And I have never ever ever seen something like this.

Here’s a thing that’s true: robots are awesome. Kids love robots. Now, if only there was something that would allow said kid to turn anything they see or touch or smell or feel into a robot. Good thing there is that something, and it’s called Robo-Sauce. (Recipe included.)

B A N G !

F L A S H !

B O O M !

It works.

It works so well that everything our hero touches turns into a robot. Everything, including the very book that he’s a part of. Really.

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Crazy, chaotic, and the most wacky and original thing I’ve ever seen inside (and outside) a picture book.

Don’t miss it! (Or the 12 Days of Picture Books with Penguin Young Readers!)

And for more behind the scenes of Robo-Sauce, check out Matthew Winner’s interview with Adam Rubin on the Let’s Get Busy podcast.

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Waiting

waiting by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 2015)

Usually towards the end of the year I have trouble picking a favorite picture book from that year. It’s this one! No, this one. Oh wait, that one too. That might sound familiar if you are a picture book person. It happens. But this year, without a twitch or a doubt or a no, but wait, it’s this one. It’s so perfect it hurts.

Waiting.

It’s one of those things that happens this time of year, which is why this book’s fall release feels like such a good decision. Tis the season, after all.

The cover, a window to the world beyond the sill where these five sit. It takes a real genius to smoosh so much emotion into one small dot of an eye and a pink dab for a cheek, but do you see that bunny? So much hope and wonder while he waits, right? Only Kevin Henkes.

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The colors here are beautiful. A muted pastel palette brought together by the richest brown endpapers, a brown that’s the color of his line throughout. It all feels both lush and spare and inviting.

Each one had their thing, and each one was happy.

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Their faces, looking on these gifts with such curiosity and tenderness. So much so that it feels like these figurines are entirely real. That’s what the lack of art in context does. The rest of the room falls away so that all of our eyes look out. Nothing else matters but the waiting and the friends.

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The pacing is swift but sweet, and this moment is the height of some hushed anticipation. The owl’s reverence, the rabbit’s concern.

They were happy while they waited. They saw the things they loved.

And then.

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This is the first time we’ve seen this rose dawn color through the window. A sign of something new.

And what was this dear cat waiting on? Something wonderful. Something surprising, spectacular, and incredible.

All of us are waiting on something. Here’s hoping you’ve got some room on your windowsill for friends.

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PS: If you have a few minutes to spare, listen to this NPR piece about Waiting. It’s so nicely done and such a treat.

Whatever Happened To My Sister?

IMG_1226 by Simona Ciraolo (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

Heads up, picture book people: I got to be a guest blogger for Picture Book Idea Month, hosted by Tara Lazar. Have you heard of it? Hope so. It gives all of us something to crowd around and celebrate while all those novelists are cranking out buckets of words. Check it out here.

I wrote about a question my agent asked me recently: what is this thing about about? Not a synopsis of plot points, but on a soul-level, what’s it about about?

That connected with me as a writer big time, but I think it also reveals what I find so compelling about books by other folks as well. This book, Whatever Happened To My Sister? is about about what you lose by growing up. In this case, it’s not that your clothes get smaller or you outgrow some toys. No. In this case, it’s that the very thing that defined your childhood is missing. And that is heartbreaking.

This opening spread.

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Here’s a small girl, cheeks all ruddy and knees all scraped up. She’s leaning over a scrapbook of sorts, proof that once upon a time, she had a sister. Not this someone who looks a lot like her, but isn’t.

Using snapshots here lets us into their world, those warm memories, that nostalgia. A smile that’s not quite there anymore.

Throughout, Ciraolo uses muted oranges and blues which is such a lovely combination, both for its complementary-ness and its emotion. Those blues and grays feel cool and sad, while the oranges feel like frustration. Like newness.

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And here, the scenes are just different enough to cause a chasm, but so close at heart. The little’s pumpkin costume mirrors the poofy couch of the older. It’s beautiful and tender and heart-clutch-y all at once.

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Same red cheeks, just older. But a slam that swooshes the little’s dress and hair.

And then time.

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Time turned back.

A lovely, lovely book. The illustrations have so much charm and life in the lines, and this is a beautiful picture book for when you’ve grown out of the bringing-home-baby ones. Because those babies grow up, and childhood changes.

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PS: Another Simona Ciraolo favorite is Hug Me, and if you head over to This Picture Book Life, Danielle has an adorable cactus craft you could make!

Louis I, King of the Sheep

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by Olivier Tallec (Enchanted Lion, 2015)

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Here’s a parable sort of story, one that reads like a cautionary tale but also has a richness to it that’s full of heart and angst and absurdity. 

Because here’s a sheep, just like the other sheep except for the windblown crown that lands at his feet. Once stuck atop his head though, he is unlike the others. He alone is Louis I, King of the sheep. That is what an unexpected crown means, right? 

A mark of a great picture book is its recognition of truth in the world, for all readers, from kids to grownups. And while grownups might see complex themes here, this is not unlike daily goings-on at recesses or on playgrounds all across everywhere. 

With his newfound leadership and gumption, Louis I makes all kinds of rules and procedures for himself and his subjects. There’s the one about carrying a scepter at all times, occupying a throne, and addressing his people.

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It doesn’t matter to Louis I that his scepter is a branch and his throne is a crook in a tree. By the time he addresses his people, he is fully engulfed in his daydream. The art has gone from fanciful to fantastic, and it is a funny stretch of pages.

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And then from fantastic to downright ridiculous. The reader can see so clearly through this poor sheep’s façade, and we are equal parts play-along and patronizing. 

But then Louis I goes a tad too far with his power, a power that has taken a turn to the oppressive. A blue crown whooshed in on a whim created this kind of leader.

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Where this book is a nod to playfulness, there’s some real hurt that can happen when we claim power that doesn’t belong to us. All of that, packed into a picture book about a sheep and a gust of wind. A gust of wind that ultimately blows that blue crown back out into the ether. A gust of wind that turned this despot back into plain old Louis the sheep.

Don’t miss the very last page here. A killer ending!

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All the Wonders + #littlelitbookseries

4 Well, hello! Happy Friday!

My blog had a bit of a scraped-knee-and-bandaid-situation over the last week, so no new posts from me this week here. I’ll be back next week with a look at a blue-crowned ruler, a real thinker of a picture book.

For now, how about some other stuff I’ve written around the web? Okay.

A big C H E E R S to the launch of All the Wonders! Hope you’ve joined our party over there. Here’s a look at a series I’m doing called Then and Now, pairing well-loved and modern classics. This week we looked at different kinds of bravery in two beautiful books.

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And on Instagram, check out the #littlelitbookseries! A collective of bookish Instagrammers gather up picture books on a theme once a month, and today we’re taking a look at food. Take a look for some new books to add to your stack and some new folks to follow.

Happy weekend!

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Tough Guys + an interview with Keith Negley

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by Keith Negley (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

Heads up, email subscribers: my blog took a bit of a tumble so I’m reposting what was lost in the shuffle. Apologies, and thank you for reading!

The kind folks at Flying Eye sent over a preview of this book, thinking it was right up my alley.

It’s right up my alley.

The theme: yes. The design: yes. The snappy, bold, in-your-face look at tough guys plus the snappy, bold, in-your-face look at feelings: yes.

I chatted with Keith Negley, and learned a lot about this debut effort. I hope there’s more from him, and I hope you enjoy this peek into the brain of a picture book creator.

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Hi Keith! Can you talk about where this story came from? And what the process was like for its creation?

It all started when my son Parker who was 6 at the time stole a soccer ball from a friend during soccer practice and his friend got upset and they fought over it. Parker was angry at first, but then felt embarrassed and ashamed because he knew he did something wrong. I could tell he was struggling with how to handle all these new emotions that were happening to him at the same time. He walked away from the group and sat down to be by himself because he didn’t want anyone to see him cry. Later that night, I explained to him that it was totally natural to cry and that everybody does it. I told him sometimes even I cried, and he looked up at me and asked, “grown ups cry too?

It blew his mind that even adults cried because he thought it was something only kids did. I wished I had a book I could read to him that let him know that frustration and crying is a natural thing not to be ashamed of. The next day the idea for the book popped into my head.

You’ve done a lot of editorial illustration, but this is your first children’s book. Can you tell us the how and why you got into books?

I always liked the idea of making picture books for children, but it wasn’t until I became a parent and started reading a ton of picture books to my son did I realize there was a lack of the kind of books we enjoyed. Honestly the books I’ve been working on were born out of necessity because I wanted to read them and no one else had made them yet.

Your tumblr tag line is spectacular: part man, part negative space. Can you explain where that came from and why it represents you so well?

Ha, I find tragedy to be the greatest muse. The subjects I enjoy working with the most are the ones that break my heart. It’s cathartic somehow, and I feel like I really get to put a piece of me into the work. What ends up happening is I have a portfolio of rather depressing subject matter. But I’m always striving to create beautiful images with it. That juxtaposition is challenging and rewarding for me.

Add to that I tend to utilize negative space as a compositional tool fairly often and so I thought it tied the content in with the image making nature of the blog.

toughguys-9 Who are some of your story heroes?

I’ve been a huge fan of Lane Smith for years and years. Jon Scieszka is another one. Ezra Jack Keats. Jack Kent’s Socks For Supper is one of my all time favorites as a kid and it still holds up today.

What do you remember about picture books from your childhood?

I remember my mom reading them to me and how she would make different voices for all the characters. I try to do that for Parker but he’s not into it at all unfortunately.

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

Not sure if this counts, but I like to make music in my spare time and I’m a huge nerd for vintage synthesizers. I currently have a 1979 Korg 770 sitting in my studio and just looking at it makes me very happy. I consider them works of art.

What’s next for you?

Trying to schedule some reading events for the fall/winter and I’m in the middle of working on my second book for Flying Eye which should be out in time for Father’s Day next year!

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Thank you, Keith! And vintage synthesizers totally count as works of art.

PS: Congratulations to the winner of the The Story of Diva and Flea giveaway, Ashley! And thanks to Flying Eye for the images used in this post.

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