Everyone + an interview with Christopher Silas Neal


by Christopher Silas Neal (Candlewick, 2016)

I’m happy to introduce you today to Christopher Silas Neal, a picture book creator I am a big fan of. He’s got quite the illustration portfolio, but this spring’s Everyone was his debut as both picture book author and illustrator. Here’s hoping he makes many more. Enjoy!

How did you get into picture books?

Over and Under the Snow was my first experience making a picture book. I had been an illustrator for about seven years, making art for magazines, posters, and book covers before Chronicle Books called with Kate Messner’s manuscript. Kate’s approach to writing about nature was more lyrical and unexpected than a typical science based picture book and Chronicle was looking for a non-traditional artist. Even though many of my biggest influences were classic picture book makers, I hadn’t thought I would be one myself.

Narrative illustration felt overwhelming and daunting—character building wasn’t something I had ever tried and building scenes was certainly not my strong suit. I had previously worked as a graphic designer and my approach to image making is more flat and simple than what I thought readers expected from picture book art. The industry wasn’t as visually diverse as it is now and at the time, most books about nature would have featured fairly detailed and rendered paintings. I just didn’t see me having a place in that world. But, I loved Kate’s writing and the folks at Chronicle Books are so nice and very design oriented, so I thought if there was ever a chance, this is it.


My pictures are often quiet and still with a lot of space—the fact that this book was set in wintery woods was reassuring.  A big challenge was figuring out how to add depth without using the things that traditional painters rely on like lighting and perspective—visual tools I typically don’t use. I like to think the personality in the art comes from me trying to fit a painterly peg into a graphically flat and naively drawn hole.

Where did the beginnings of Everyone originate?

When I first met my agent Stephen Barr at Writer’s House I had a few book ideas floating around, but Stephen was more interested in an animated gif I had made. It was based off a drawing I did for the New York Times about a boy whose parents were deported to Mexico. It’s a simple image of a boy crying and his tears turning into two birds. Stephen thought the idea had promise as a book and I spent the next year turning it into a manuscript and book dummy. In the end I think I had made fifty versions before sending it to publishers. Eventually, we sold the idea to Liz Bicknell at Candlewick.



Can you tell us about your process?

The writing process happened organically. I started with that original New York Times image and tried to think of other visual metaphors that involved nature bending and morphing to reflect our emotions. After a bit of sketching, writing and playing with ideas, a theme developed—when we feel something, the world feels it too and reflects those feelings back at us—and I illustrated three emotional expressions: crying, laughter, singing.


It took a lot of patience for the words to develop. I had one version where I spelled everything out in the text i.e.”…the boy’s tear turned into a bird and flew into the sky. The bird whispered to the clouds and soon the clouds were crying, too,” but my editor, my agent, and I all agreed that the story was better left simple and open ended. After many, many revisions I pared it down to the few words that appear in the book.


I was listening to a lot of John Lennon—he uses these wonderfully simple, repetitive phrases—and I tried to put some of that influence to the words of this book. I can almost hear a John Lennon melody when I read from Everyone, “When you cry you are not alone. When you laugh happiness grows. When you sing everyone listens.”


9780763676834.int.2 I wanted the art to match the simplicity of the text so the illustrations are made using just three colors. My process starts with pencil sketches and then digital mockups where I think about color and composition. The final art is created in layers or separations very similar to print making. Each color is drawn and/or painted separately and then scanned as a black and white image. Then I add color to each separation—one is colored black, one blue, one tan—and they are layered on top of each other to make a complete image.

04-everyone-cover-seps 05-everyone-colorseps

What does a picture book text need in order for you to feel excited about illustrating it?

The words should be poetic or simple or surprising and there needs to be room for me to add to the narrative. If the text is too descriptive, there isn’t really much for me to add.

Who are some of your story heroes?

One of my favorite books is Frederick by Leo Lionni. It’s a simple, emotional book about four field mice storing food for winter. Except one mouse who gathers sun rays, colors, and words. I love how you can see the process within the final images. The reader can mentally pick apart the textures and scraps of paper like a puzzle.


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

Leanne Shapton paints wooden blocks to look like re-imagined book covers. The art is all typography and shapes. I have one of her blocks painted as Jaws by Peter Benchley.

What’s next for you?

I have a third book with Kate Messner coming out in Spring 2017 called Over and Under the Pond. In Fall 2017 I have another book with Candlewick about a hungry cat. In Spring 2018 I have a series of board books about shapes and colors and animals. Beyond that are books with authors Jennifer Adams and Barb Rosenstock.


Thank you, Christopher! Your readers have lots to look forward to, and I am so very glad you are a part of the world of picture books.


EVERYONE. Copyright © 2016 by Christopher Silas Neal. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Grandad’s Island


by Benji Davies (first published in the US by Candlewick, 2016)

This is a book about a boy named Syd. And if you go through the backyard and past the knotty tree, this is a book about Syd’s Grandad.

He’s a Grandad who has a big metal door in the corner of his attic. A metal door that leads to the deck of a very tall ship. A ship that steers on choppy seas to an island. An island where Grandad leaves his walking stick behind.

That’s the thing with this book. We see the heartache coming. We feel the loss inevitable. And yet, even if you experience this story fresh in life, far from loss—it’s still a lovely sentiment about the way we carry people in our hearts.

It’s beautiful.


These two—white hair under a smile, red hair curled on top—read like the bookends of a life well lived and well loved. I love this small but might design detail in these characters. Very subtly but with a sophisticated sleight of hand, Benji Davies gives us a life cycle.

A legacy.

A now and then and now again.

It’s sweeping in scope, and something Benji Davies does so well is frame his pictures to match. Full bleed illustrations are few and far between, but the scenes he chooses to extend to the pages’ edges are the ones that need the most room to hold their riches.

It’s their home, their shared backyard.

It’s the ship, docked and hopeful.

It’s the island, ready and waiting.


It’s the wonders of it all.

It’s the goodbye.

It’s a hello.

Check it out. You’ll see what I mean.

And like any Candlewick book, it’s printed on gloriously heavy paper and pages that smell like the best kind of story. Always.


GRANDAD’S ISLAND. Copyright (c) 2015 by Benji Davies. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Home by Carson Ellis

Home by Carson Ellis

by Carson Ellis (Candlewick, 2015)

It’s a great honor to give you this first look at Carson’s own farmhouse in Oregon where she lives and creates, and some of the art and inspiration inside. Home is in stores today, so bring it to yours and enjoy.

There’s plenty more to ponder in this volume of homes, and I can’t wait to talk more about it. For now, settle in and enjoy this treat.


Thanks to the fine folks at Candlewick for sharing this with us first!

The Promise

The Promise

by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin (Candlewick, 2014)

The Promise is on this year’s New York Times Best Illustrated Books list and I’m so glad it captured a spot. I imagine weeping and gnashing of teeth to pare down a year into a handful of notables, but they got this one so right.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Here you have bleakness. Bare and raw. And a girl who doesn’t have much but the desolate things. The words themselves pierce the brightness.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

The people, too, dry and dusty.

And then.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Some seeds and a promise and a reluctant okay.

 I pushed aside the mean and hard and ugly, and I planted, planted, planted.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Everything works in this book. The text is exquisite. The pictures haunting and heartbreaking and hopeful. The paper is luxurious. The case cover differs from the jacket itself. Dig in. Look around. Don’t miss the endpapers that start as stone and end as spring.

There’s a little Frog Belly Rat Bone here, in this fragile world in need of color and life.

(Also, there’s a lot of great stuff about this beautiful book here, and this post is so, so lovely as well.)


And PS! Add a comment by Wednesday, December 3rd to this post for a chance at winning all ten of those books from Chronicle. Don’t forget your pledge to #GiveBooks this year!


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.


We Believe in Picture Books

Have you seen Candlewick’s yearlong celebration, We Believe in Picture Books? Here’s my friend Julie Falatko, who has an eye and heart for fantastic picture books and writes ones that are ridiculously offbeat but perfectly in tune.

And her kids are four of my favorite strangers on the planet.



And speaking of Candlewick, my Twitter friend Anne Moore Armstrong (@childbookart) sent me the FRENCH version of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. I think you can imagine my reaction.  MonChapeau!


One more thing. Remember Raymond McGrath and his AMAZING music video for his book, It’s Not a Monster, It’s Me!?

It’s a FINALIST in the New Zealand Children’s Music Video Awards!

How great is that? Excited for you, Raymond! Thanks for sharing your unreal talent with us.

And thanks to the rest of you, for going with the flow this summer. Things have been bananas in the best way possible. Did you catch my Twitter and Facebook screaming about signing with an agent?

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 9.57.22 AM

But in actual, physical, real books, my FAVORITE 2013 book is coming up soon, and I can’t wait to share it. Let’s talk design again!


Robot Zombie Frankenstein!

by Annette Simon

I am kookoo crazy bonkers for this book. Like, we’re talking nuts.

When I opened this book at the Candlewick Booth at ALA this summer and saw THOSE ENDPAPERS, I did this move: slam the book shut, say ‘no.way.’ about a billion times, and make my eyeballs about five times their normal size. True story. {You can probably ask Dianne de Las Casas, although at the time I think she was ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the lovely Tammi Sauer‘s Princess In Training!}


I love this book. I love its unpredictability, its wacky pace, and its larger than life robots who have larger than life imaginations.

{And its author, Annette Simon — I love her, too!}

And I love, love, love the smorgasbord of shapes. Even the shape of the book itself is a big blocky square. Well, maybe it’s a slightly squished rectangle.

I’m not busting out the ruler on a holiday weekend!

You can’t tell me that his expression isn’t absolutely hysterical, can you?!

Remember those endpapers? They are a breakdown of all of the various robot parts. So brilliant. You could make this: (!!!!!!)

(image from this fun post!)

And I don’t want to give away the ending, but there’s a treat involved that makes this book an extra special read this tasty time of year. Read this book. Prepare for a zany adventure. Make that robot above, too!

P.S. — A huge heart shaped thank you to Candlewick for sending me this book. All thoughts are still my own. 


Speaking of robots — congratulations to LAURA S.! Did you win the Boy + Bot giveaway? AFFIRMATIVE! Email me your address, and these goodies will hit the road!