Return + a video premiere and visit from Aaron Becker

return-cover

by Aaron Becker (Candlewick, 2016)

It’s an honor today to welcome Aaron Becker to this space. He’s here to talk about the close to his sweeping trilogy, the design of Return, and to premiere a beautiful short film about its creation.

Take a look. Be inspired.

And here’s Aaron:

One of my favorite parts of making books is figuring out the final bits of design for the dust jacket, the endpapers, and the book’s cover. Even when I pitched Journey years ago, I decided to build a cloth-bound, hand-stitched dummy. I wanted to make sure that if we did get an offer, if would be from a publisher that was serious about the details of book making!

In Return, I needed the design of the book to support what I had set out to do. For one, this third part of the trilogy needed to stand on its own, apart from the story it was ending. At the same time, Return needed to pay homage to the book’s predecessors and immediately feel a bit more weighty. After all, this was the final act.

The cover had to evoke something from the trilogy but also speak to the fact that we were no longer in the realm of the young child. In Return the girl has grown up a bit and its story brings up more pressing questions: What are the limits to the imagination? When is it time to grow up? And can we hold on to wonder when we chose to move on from our escapist fantasies? Clearly, I was dealing with some bigger themes here, and so I knew the jacket illustration had to reflect this. We see the girl running back into the lantern forest from Journey, but now the mood is noticeably darker and more mysterious. The lanterns glow red instead of the comforting blues from Journey. And there’s an urgency to her movement – she’s no longer just passively observing the world around her.

jacket_sketch

The embossed design for the cover for each book was also something I carefully considered. I had to match the spirit of the book in one image. For Return, I chose the symbol of the kite – this is, after all, the visual link between the girl and her father; a symbol not only of the rift between them that starts out the trilogy, but of the connection they eventually find by the stories’ end. In wordless books, these visual symbols take on even more meaning than a book with words.

These symbols have to carry the themes and ideas of the story without the support of the written word, and to this end, you’ll also notice on the back of the jacket the girl’s crown – a symbol of her attachment to the imaginary realm – now sitting at the bottom of the sea as a relic of an adventure that has run its course.

kite_sketch
crown

And lastly, we come to the endpapers. When I’ve presented the story of Return to children and adults alike, this is the part of the presentation when I start to get choked up. (In the endpapers of all places!) And though I won’t spell it out for you here, if you look closely you might just see something significant within the differences between the front and back ends papers.

return_endpaper_design
endpaper_layout
I believe it’s our duty when making children’s books to make them with care. They are objects that we share with our children that can have lasting effects on their lives. I for one, as an author and illustrator, don’t take their creation lightly. My hope is that some of this attention to detail will make the difference, even if on a subconscious level, for a child as they begin to build a connection to the stories that move them.
ch1

Lucy + An Interview with Randy Cecil

lucy

by Randy Cecil (Candlewick, 2016)

Oh, how I loved this book. It’s unusual: not quite a picture book, not quite a chapter book, innovative and entirely perfect for the story inside. This is the story of a dog named Lucy, a girl who loves her, and another someone this girl loves. This is a story of lost things and found things, routine, and stage fright. It’s a story about love.

I chatted with author/illustrator Randy Cecil about what he’s made here, and am so happy to bring this conversation to you.

I’m particularly interested in the three main characters, and how their intricacies overlapped. Did any of them come first? Can you talk about that a bit?

Years ago, I sketched out a rough draft of a wordless book about Lucy (the dog I had recently adopted). In that story, Lucy lived with a girl that looks very much like the character that would become Eleanor. In the wordless version, the unnamed girl that looks like Eleanor loses Lucy, who ends up boarding an ocean liner and never sees her again. But all works out okay in the end for Lucy, as another child on another continent finds her and takes her in.

Most who read this story, understandably, felt sad for the girl who lost her dog. This wasn’t at all what I was after, I put the manuscript aside for a while to think.

Then one day, a few years later, I had the idea of a juggler with stage fright, who lived in a sort of vaudeville world. And I could see how it might fit together with the Lucy story, especially if I switched Eleanor from being the one who loses Lucy to being the one who finds her and takes her in. And suddenly all the pieces fell into place.

9780763668082-int-1  Lucy is an unusual picture book in terms of its form, and benefits from feeling fresh and unique. Did it feel like you were breaking rules or was there some freedom from the usual structure?

Thanks! At the start I definitely felt like I was breaking the rules, and that was a lot of fun. But as I figured out what I was doing, I realized that this story and format came with its own set of rules that needed to be followed. So in a lot of ways, it wasn’t so different.

Can you tell us about your process?

I first wrote a sort of outline for the story, which was really more of a detailed summary of the plot, broken up into scenes.

outline

Then I sketched out each scene to figure out the pacing.

sketches

Then I wrote the more finished text, which I assembled, along with the sketches, into a digital dummy, and sent it off to Candlewick Press. They reassembled the text and pictures into a much more polished dummy, with the proper design and font and trim size, and send it back to me (along with lots of editorial notes).

dummu

And after going back and forth in this way many times, I finally painted the finished illustrations.

finals

9780763668082-int-2

Who are some of your story heroes?

My heroes are the authors and illustrators of my childhood—Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Edward Gorey, Uri Shulevitz, Gahan Wilson, Mercer Mayer and many, many more!

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

I have always been a fan of folk and outsider art. This beautiful thing was given to me by a friend.

art

What’s next for you?

I am currently trying to convince Candlewick to publish a companion book to Lucy (same universe, new characters)!

ch1

LUCY. Copyright © 2016 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Thank you to Candlewick Press for connecting me to Randy, and also for a preview copy of Lucy.

House Held Up By Trees

IMG_3109

by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klaassen (Candlewick, 2012)

IMG_3110

Above, the endpapers. A subtle hint at the both the hope and the loss inside: the green, the growth, the time.

House Held Up By Trees is one of my most treasured books. It was published around the time that Jon Klassen was racking up accolades (well-deserved!) for I Want My Hat Back and Extra Yarn, and it was written by a Ted Kooser, a Poet Laureate from about a decade ago.

That is a powerful team. And they captured a quietly powerful story.

There’s a house. It doesn’t look like much. But a dad lives there. Two kids. The dad is particular about his lawn and the kids run off to play in the trees and scraggly underbrush on either side of the house. Their yard, after all, has no secret spots or shade.

IMG_3111 IMG_3112 IMG_3113

These opening spreads are beautifully cinematic. Sweeping and grand. We are spinning around this house, this focal point, seeing it from the perspective of a homecoming, a hiding spot, and a thing with fur.

If you are a picture book author of text only, you’ve probably heard the advice to make sure you have x number of illustratable settings. Well. This book has a house. And a lawn. And characters that come and go. It breaks some of the ‘rules,’ but to heck with those things. Write something beautiful. 

Something important. Something that has to be told and illustrated or else it will be scattered away with those twirly-whirly seeds.

The words are not spare in this text. In fact, there are many. But because of Kooser’s text, lyrically floating around a solid foundation, Klassen gets to explore all angles of this environment.

Page after page after page. It’s a case study in composition. And it is beautiful and important and elusive.

IMG_3114 IMG_3115

The children leave. The father leaves. The house stays.

It is bittersweet. Time goes on, but trees do too.

What once was vast and open and contained is now crowded by branches and forceful new life. And again, Klassen’s compositions tell the story of an unbridled wildness.

IMG_3116 IMG_3117

First there was a crack of light beneath it, and then . . . 

ch1

PS: Do you know this blog, 32 Pages? Here’s a look at House Held Up By Trees that is beyond beautiful, and in a funny twist of small-world-ness, I worked on the television show she mentions in her post. 

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press, 2014)

You know Mac and Jon. You love Mac and Jon. Now meet Sam and Dave. You’ll love Sam and Dave.

Don’t rush into the pages just yet. This is one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long while. If we weren’t so aware that Jon Klassen (that insta-recognizable style!) is a contemporary illustrator, I would wholeheartedly presume that it was some vintage thing in a used bookstore. A find to gloat about, a find that makes you wonder just how you got so lucky.

The hole. The space left over. The words, stacked deeper and deeper. The apple tree whose tippy top is hidden. Two chaps, two caps, two shovels. One understanding dog.

Speaking of two chaps, two caps, and two shovels, check out the trailer.

(I’ll wait if you need to watch that about five more times.)

The start of their hole is shallow, and they are proud. But they have only just started. Sam asks Dave when they should stop, and this is Dave’s reply:

“We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.”

Dave’s voice of reason is so comforting to any young adventurer. It’s validating that your goal is something spectacular. (Do we forget this as grownups? To search for somthing spectacular? I think we do.)

Perhaps the pooch is the true voice of reason here, though he doesn’t ever let out a bark or a grumble. Those eyes, the scent, the hunt. He knows.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

(click to enlarge)

And this is where Sam and Dave Dig a Hole treads the waters of picture book perfection. The treasure, this spectacular something, is just beyond the Sam and Dave’s reality. The reader gets the treat where Sam and Dave are stumped. Do you want to sit back and sigh about their unfortunate luck? Do you want to holler at them to just go this way or that way or pay attention to your brilliant dog? Do you root for them? Do you keep your secret?

The text placement on each page is sublime. If Sam and Dave plant themselves at the bottom of the page, so does the text. If the hole is deep and skinny, the text block mirrors its length. This design choice is a spectacular something. It’s subtle. It’s meaningful. It’s thoughtful and inevitable all at once.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

(click to enlarge)

And then – then! Something spectacular. The text switches sides. The boys fall down. Through? Into? Under? Did the boys reach the other side? Are they where they started? Is this real life? Their homecoming is the same, but different. Where there was a this, now there is a that. Where there was a hmm, now there is an ahhh.

Spectacular indeed.

I like to think that the impossible journey here is a nod to Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s collaboration, A Hole is to Dig. That’s what holes are for. That’s what the dirt asks of you. It’s not something you do alone or without a plan or without hope. Sam and Dave operate in this truth. They need to dig. There’s not another choice.

AHoleIsToDig

(image here // a first edition, first printing!)

Sidenote: I’m pretty thrilled that these scribbles live in my ARC.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Look for this one on October 14th.

SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen.Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

ch

The Tiny King

The Tiny King by Taro Muiraby Taro Miura

first U.S. edition published 2013, by Candlewick Press

Here’s a sweet and funny story. Candlewick sent me a review copy of The Tiny King in the waning weeks of 2013. My eye was already eager for it thanks to this Calling Caldecott post about international illustrators, so it was a bit of postal perfection. (Speaking of, are you counting down the days to January 27th?)

And then for Christmas, my mom sent me a spectacular selection of picture books – including The Tiny King! She always says I’m tough to buy books for, like “purchasing jewelry for a jeweler.” Maybe that’s true, but I think she did a pretty darn good job. (The others were a Poky Little Puppy Christmas edition and an autographed Jon Scieszka, so. And all came from bbgb in Richmond, VA. Shop indie!)

There’s no moral to this story. Just an extra copy of The Tiny King for you! Stay tuned for how to snag it.

So, this book. It’s this crazy mashup of charming fairy tale and quirky collage. The result is exquisite and mesmerizing, and you get a taste of that from the cover alone.

A sword-gripping hand is strong and fierce but nothing more than a circle. His distinguished white hairdo dripping out from under his crown – a small stack of white, curved lines. A leg made up of newsprint, which on careful inspection is a snippet of the tiny King’s wedding announcement. Foreshadowing. Spoiler. Clever and adorable.

Did you see the mini-note at the bottom of the cover, too? (This is the actual size of the Tiny King.) What a little delight! DPB_Stack_TheTinyKing Now that you’ve met him on the cover where you’ve seen him smash end to end, flip open to the first page and see that stature in context. This split in scale made me laugh out loud and drop my jaw. It’s so stunning, and so easy to fall in love with this little dude – small and alone and swimming in it.

He has a massive colorful castle, an army of tall soldiers with spears, and a feast fit for a bigger king. The spreads that introduce the reader to his lavish and lonely lifestyle are dark and looming, despite his kooky, whimsical posessions. DPB_Stack_TheTinyKing2 And then one day, a big princess shows up. The light! The expanse of bright space! The Q on her triangled gown! I went all out gaga and giddy for our tiny hero.

Everything changes in tone and in mood. The story takes place on washes of pink, blue, and yellow. The babies arrive, the soldiers are sent home to their families, and the empty castle is filled up with a bunch of love. DPB_Stack_TheTinyKing3 Happily and beautifully ever after.

I’d love to send a copy from my castle to yours. Just comment here by Thursday night at midnight PST. I’ll announce winners for this giveaway (and The Mischievians!) on Friday, and head to the royal post office this weekend.

Good luck!

ch

Review copy provided by Candlewick Press.