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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | illustrator

Pinkerton & Friends

I had a “Why in the world….?” moment the other day. It was unexpected and a little strange and it was this: When I imagine picture books that I am writing and/or thinking about writing, I imagine very specific illustrations. From a very specific illustrator. Even though I admire the work of many illustrators. (I admire this one, too, of course.) But always, always, in my first imagining, I “picture” the illustrations by Steven Kellogg.

I love Mr. Kellogg’s work. But I love the work of a lot of illustrators and would aspire and hope for many (very different) illustrators to make art to help tell my stories. I can switch my imagination to other illustrators if I think about it, but without thinking about it…it’s Steven Kellogg’s art. When this realization came to me I pulled some of his books off the shelves in my office with the question: Why is Kellogg my default, the first one whose work I imagine?

All I can think is that the years 1999-2002 were what I think of as The Pinkerton Years. You might think it strange that I can pinpoint the years, but I know we were less involved with Pinkerton (and by that I mean not reading Pinkerton stories on a daily basis) by the time Darling Daughter came along late in 2002. Prior to that, we could hardly leave the house without a Pinkerton story with us.

These were also the first of the allergy/asthma years—#1 Son was critically ill too much of the time, and with his doctors we were struggling to figure out what was causing such severe reactions. The only clear allergens were pets, and he came to understand first that he could not be around puppies or kitties, or anything else furry and cuddly and fun. A terrible sentence, of course, when you are three and wheezy.

So we read a lot of books about pets, and before we read Ribsy and Because of Winn-Dixie we read Pinkerton stories. A lot of Pinkerton stories. #1 Son adored Pinkerton. Pinkerton, a Great Dane, is possibly the most hilarious dog to ever be featured in a book—he is huge and ungainly and always getting himself in a fix. His expressions, his “knees and elbows,” his giant floppiness, and his curiosity and giant heart make him quite a character.

Very quickly we learned to spot Kellogg illustrations from across the library/bookstore, and pretty much wherever there are Kellogg pictures, there are animals. Not just great danes, but boa constrictors, mice, cats, pigs, ducks in a row, horses, spaniels….. And wherever there are animals, there’s a fair amount of chaos—at least in a Kellogg book. (Articles and interviews suggest he has lived the fun and chaos in a home we could not have entered and lived to breathe—lots of pets!)

The detail in Kellogg’s illustrations is tremendous, the hilarity aptly conveyed, and the sweetness and rollercoaster high emotions of kids and Great Danes alike comes alive on the page. I could read stacks of the books in one sitting to my wheezing boy. We used them to get through nebulizer treatments, and to “push fluids,” and to encourage rest for a kid all amped up on steroids. They were magical and we poured over the illustrations long after the reading of the story was done. The medicine could go down without much fuss as long as Pinkerton was along.

Those were exhausting, worried years, and all I can think is that I somehow absorbed Steven Kellogg’s art in my sleep-deprived anxious state…and it’s now in my bones. Thank you, Mr. Kellogg, for your stories, your art, and your presence in our family’s life. You are the default in my imagination and I’m grateful.

 

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Trailblazing Illustrator, Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elizabeth Shippen Green

Younger readers may not fully appreciate how difficult it was for women to break into the highly competitive field of illustration. For many years, men were routinely hired for advertising art, newspaper and magazine illustration, and children’s book illustration. 

Elizabeth Shippen Green, born in 1871 and dying in 1954, was one of the earliest female illustrators to win high regard, helping to open the door a little wider for the women who followed her,

Her father was an artist-correspondent during the Civil War. He encouraged her to study art, supporting her as she attended various art schools.

Elizabeth Shippen GreenShe studied with Thomas Anshutz, Robert Vonnoh, Thomas Eakins, and Howard Pyle. “She credited Pyle with teaching her the importance of visualizing, then realizing, the dramatic moment key to illustrating a narrative text.” (Library of Congress)

While studying with Pyle at the Brandywine School, Elizabeth met Jessie Willcox Smith and Violet Oakley. The three of them became fast friends, supportive of each other’s careers in illustration. They moved into The Red Rose Inn in Villanova, Pennsylvania, with Henrietta Cozens as their housekeeper.

The Five Little PigsLater, they moved to Cogslea in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. Because of their residence together, they were referred to ever after as The Red Rose Girls. These three and several other women formed The Plastic Club, meant to encourage one another professionally. 

Elizabeth was one of the most recognized illustrators in the country because of her assignments for St. Nicholas Magazine, Woman’s Home Companion, The Saturday Evening Post, and a 23-year exclusive contract with Harper’s Magazine. In 1922, she illustrated a beautiful edition of Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb.

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Read more about Elizabeth Shippen Green:

The Red Rose Girls: an Uncommon Story of Art and Love, by Alice A. Carter

By a Woman’s Hand: Illustrators of the Golden Age, ed. by Mary Carolyn Waldrep, Dover Fine Art

National Museum of American Illustration

Library of Congress, “A Petal from the Rose” exhibit

Some of her work in the Library of Congress’ collection

American Art Archives, showing some of her advertising art

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Marsha Wilson Chall and Jill Davis

I recently had the honor of interviewing Marsha Wilson Chall, the author of the new picture book, The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo, and her editor, Jill Davis.

Marsha Wilson ChallMarsha Wilson Chall grew up an only child in Minnesota, where her father told her the best stories. The author of many picture books, including Up North at the Cabin, One Pup’s Up, and Pick a Pup, Marsha teaches writing at Hamline University’s MFAC program in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lives on a small farm west of Minneapolis with her husband, dog, barn cats, and books.

Jill DavisJill Davis has been an executive editor in children’s books at HarperCollins since 2013. A veteran of children’s books, she began her career at Random House in 1992, and worked there at Crown and Knopf Books For Young Readers until 1996, after which she worked at Viking until 2005. After that, she held positions at both Bloomsbury and Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She is the author of three picture books, editor of one collection of short stories, and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University

Secret Life of Fiiggy MustardoMark: The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo came about in a different way than most picture books. You were asked to write a story based on illustrations of a character. Could you tell us about this process and a little about the story?

Marsha: You’re right that this story evolved differently than my others. My amazing editor, Jill Davis, sent me Alison Friend’s thumbnails of an adorable canine character she had named Figgy Mustardo in a variety of human-like poses and costumes. For me, it was love at first sight! So I set about the process of creating Figgy’s story based on my impressions of him through Alison’s art and then, via Jill, Alison’s written notions of his characterization and story ideas.

Alison FriendAn imaginative, spirited fellow, Alison visualized Figgy zipping through many adventures on his scooter. In the book, I took the liberty of changing the scooter to a race car and also cast Figgy as a rock star and a pizza chef who organizes and stars in a neighborhood rock concert, pizzeria, and stock car race with his animal friends. Lots of Figgy fun, but this did not a story make. I needed to know why these activities mattered to Figgy and how he grew as a character.

Secret Life of Figgy MustardoI also had to think about the nuts and bolts of how Figgy might transform from dog to dilettante. I was fairly certain of my own dog’s boredom and loneliness while our family is away, so I started my story exploration there. We all know that dogs, as social creatures, dislike being left alone and are often fraught with anxiety leading to certain not-so-flattering behaviors and/or the escape of sleep. A story with a sleeping dog would not be too interesting, so I chose the much more exciting, destructive route. What if Figgy ate things–any things–in his frustration, fell asleep, and dreamed about himself as a manifestation of what he ate? We all know “you are what you eat,” so in Figgy’s case, for example, he eats Mrs. Mustardo’s Bone Appetit magazine, falls asleep, and dreams of being Italian Pizza Chef Mustardo serving Muttsarello and Figaro pizzas to adoring gourmands. When he wakes, he knows his dream is a sign, so he makes a real one of his own, “Free Pizza,” and serves his entire animal neighborhood at Figgy’s Pizzeria.

Most importantly, I needed to develop a motivation for Figgy’s adventures; how were these events connected to him? What did they mean? How would they affect Figgy’s world outside and inside? The answer arrived in the form of loss; every animal neighbor came to Figgy’s concert and pizzeria and car race except Figgy’s family, the Mustardos, especially George (his boy). In desperation, Figgy creates the sign “Free Dog” to find a family who will talk and walk and play with him like all the other families he sees through his window. Where are the Mustardos? The family Mustardo arrives in time to show Figgy how much they care with a promise to take him wherever they can and to provide him companionship when they can’t in the form of new pup named Dot. Figgy and Dot go on to enliven the neighborhood with Free Shows nightly.

Mark: What kind of revising/editing process did you and Jill go through?

Marsha: Once I knew my character and his problem, I dashed off the story, sent it to Jill who loved it at first sight, then sat back satisfied with a good day’s work.

Ha! Not the way it happened, but I did write a first draft within a few days that Jill found promising. So many drafts later that I can’t even recall the original, Jill exercised plenty of patience waiting for the story she and Alison hoped I could write. I know she’ll protest my tribute, but I have never worked with an editor so open to my trial and error. Her abundant humor carried us through the process that I think would have otherwise overwhelmed me.

Mark: Will there be any more books with Figgy and his further adventures?

Marsha: Figgy hopes so and so do Jill, Alison, and I. For now, I hope Figgy wags his way into the hands and hearts of many human friends where he belongs.

WOOF!

Mark: How was this project different having a character first and then having to find a writer to tell his story?

The Secret Life of Figgy MustardoJill: It was kind of hard. The illustrator had invented this little dog who she wanted to be an adventurer—yet she wasn’t sure how to make the story happen. When I saw the dog, I thought of Marsha’s One Pup’s Up—and I knew how talented she was. Seemed like a slam dunk! But all of us—Marsha, myself, and the illustrator, Alison Friend, had  to share plenty of feedback, edit, and revise a bit before Marsha was able to tell both the story she envisioned as well as the story Alison had in mind. Marsha pictured Figgy at home, and really loved the idea of using signs. Alison seemed to feel Figgy was some kind of James Bond. So how were those two visions going to meet? They finally did when Marsha realized that Figgy would go to sleep and dream about his exciting alter-ego. And we all loved the idea. The book may seem a little bit sad because Figgy is always being left at home, but Marsha told it in such a great way that Figgy showed his grit! If he’s hungry, he eats what’s there—but then the magic happens and he goes to sleep and dreams of something related to what he ate. It’s so fun and so imaginative. I love what Marsha did with Figgy’s story, and Alison did, too.

Mark: What was it like to work with Marsha in this new role as editor after being her student in the MFA in Writing for Children program at Hamline University?

Jill: It felt very wonderful and natural. Marsha does not use intimidation as a tactic in general. She’s the rare combination of brilliant and super silly. That’s one reason she’s so loved at Hamline and in the continental United States, generally speaking.

There were times when she should have been frustrated or wanted to spit at me, but she was cool as a cucumber in the freezer in the North Pole. So professional and what I loved also about working with her is how much I learned. I learned how she makes use of repetition, alliteration, and very careful editing. I can be sloppy, but Marsha walked straight out of Strunk and White. She’s exact and wonderfully detail-oriented. She was also involved at the sketch stage. Actually at several sketch stages. We worked on the phone, we worked at Hamline, and we worked until we thought it felt perfect. And she loved it because she could use it in her teaching! And I just loved working with Marsha!

Mark:  Thank you Marsha and Jill for taking the time to tell us about your collaboration on The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo. The book is now available at everyone’s local independent book store.

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Francis Vallejo

Francis VallejoWe are pleased to share with you our interview with Francis Vallejo, the illustrator of Jazz Day: the Making of a Famous Photograph, our Bookstorm™ this month. This book is so rich with visual images that stir readers’ imaginations. You’ll feel like you’re standing on the street with the other onlookers!

The title page says that you used acrylics and pastels to create this art. Are those familiar media to you? Did you use any other media or digital manipulation?

I developed this technique for Jazz Day. Before this book I had extensively used acrylics, but had not used pastels very much. As I was working on the early sketches and thinking about how I would paint the final images, I discovered the illustrated books of John Collier. He used acrylic and pastel (although sometimes gouache instead of acrylic). Also, my friend and incredible artist Jane Radstrom has been creating beautiful pastel works for a while. Her work kept experimentation with pastel fresh in my mind. So combining a wet medium (acrylic) and dry drawing medium (pastel) seemed like the best of both worlds. I could create large washes and make big decisions, and then detailed mark making using drawing.

I also generally like to develop a new finishing process for every project I work on, so the next book will assuredly have a radically different look. I think it keeps me fresh. Finally, yes, I used a little digital manipulation in post to add a few details I may have missed in the physical stage.

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copyright Francis Vallejo

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copyright Francis Vallejo

Before you begin creating art, do you make sketches? Do you keep those sketches to refer to throughout your illustration process?

My process before creating the final image is borderline obsessive—scratch that—it IS radically obsessive! My process is based on that of Norman Rockwell. I spent 3 years working on the art for this book. 2.5 was spent on the sketching and research and studies and photography to prepare for the final painting. My publisher filmed this video of me going over my process:

Grays and blacks are predominant in this book. There are some alluring uses of bright color, such as the yellow taxi, the gold cornet, and the hot pink on the cover. Can you share with us some of the decision-making you did while you thought through your illustrations? Or is trying a bit of this and a bit of that?

An important part of designing the pages was to look at them as a whole, in one big group, on one sheet (or screen). Since books are sequential projects, the images have to work in sequence and not just by themselves. The colors, values, and mood, has to flow with the emotions of the story. I referenced color keys from movies, particularly Pixar movies, in how I designed the overall color keys for individual paintings, and made a strong effort to group together pictures that took place in front of townhomes and separately images of the musicians at their venues.

Your “perspective” changes throughout the book. You look at scenes from different angles, sometimes from above, sometimes from street level, sometimes from far away, sometimes close up. When do these perspectives enter into your planning process?

Right at the very beginning I knew that that idea was going to be challenging. Most of the pictures were going to be set in front of the same set of stairs. I had to create 15 illustrations all set in the same place and not make it repetitive! So using unique and varied perspectives was one of my very first priorities. Believe me, I was very excited when I was able to take a break from the street scene and move into the jazz clubs for a few pictures.

Do you choose the fonts that will be used in the book? Why did you choose a sans serif font?

I didn’t choose the font outright, but I was involved in the discussion. We thought sans serif was appropriately modern and avant garde – just as jazz is.

Did you know from the beginning that there would be a fold-out of the original photo? Did you make the decision to include the word “click” as a direction to open the fold-out?

That was an editorial decision that was planned out before I was even involved with the project. It is everyone’s favorite part and I do think it was a smart design and pacing decision!

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copyright Francis Vallejo

When you plan an illustration, do you consciously leave room for the poem that will go with it?

Absolutely. The text is just another shape on the page, so it is integral to plan for it from the very beginning. It is among my favorite things to do actually. I am a nerd like that. I love the puzzle of figuring out how I can design a scene to organically allow text to fit so that it seems like the negative shape the text is placed in is actually a shape that fits into the picture. Many of the most forward-thinking illustrators from the 1960’s would really explore this idea (Al Parker is king at this) and they were a big influence.

Did you always know the order in which the poems would be included in the book? Did that change how you thought about these illustrations?

I did. The order was given to me at the beginning and is incredibly important to consider. As I mentioned prior, the images have to work sequentially. There were numerous individual images that I was very fond of that I had to scrap as they did not fit the overall flow.

Was there an illustration that challenged you the most?

Yes! There is an image of a girl looking out of a window (appropriately titled “At the Window”) that took maybe 60 hours to sketch out then maybe 10 more to paint. In order to capture the poem I had to capture a profile shot of the girl from the side, as well as the top of the people’s heads. To do this I had to use a fisheye warped perspective. Figuring that out involved a lot of head scratching…and erasing!

Which of the illustrations in the book gives you the most pleasure when you look at it now?

The one I just mentioned. I battled that picture to get it right. I don’t always win those fights, but this one turned out well and the painting of the girl might be one of my very best!

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Eileen Ryan Ewen

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to share with you our interview with Eileen Ryan Ewen, the illustrator of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Bookstorm™ this month. This book is a perfect example of the text and illustrations enhancing each other to make a picture book biography that is more than the sum of its parts. Have the book open near you when you read Eileen’s responses. With our interview, we hope to help you look more deeply at the illustrations.

In the first few pages of the book, when Harriet is walking through the door, why did you decide to draw her with one foot poised on the threshold? And was this picture always like this?

Yes, as I look back through my early sketches, Harriet’s foot is always on the threshold. Little is known about Harriet’s personality (though a bit comes through in her logs), and I was trying to imagine what it must have been like for her on that, her first day at the lighthouse. I tried to think about what it must have been like to be a woman in the 1860’s. How many women would have stepped away from a job as demanding as a lighthouse keeper? How many women (and men, for that matter) would have voluntarily stayed on for as long as Harriet did, as well as completed the job so thoroughly each day? I have to imagine that most women of that era never would have entertained such a livelihood. Yet Harriet, a former music teacher and typesetter, didn’t step away. She stepped up.

Miss Colfax's Light

You have many period details in your artwork, from a five-panel door to a log holder to changes in clothing styles. How do you do your research?

I love history! My father was a historian, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the subject. As far as research, I had the good fortune to visit the actual Michigan City Lighthouse, where wonderful docents gave me a tour, and provided great information about what the lighthouse looked like back in Harriet’s day (it wasn’t as large!), clothing from her era, and the tools she used. Combined with that information, I used the good old internet to make sure the fashions I was using were appropriate. For instance, if you search women’s clothing from the mid-nineteenth century, very formal ball gowns will be the most likely results. Harriet would have worn no such thing. So then a more refined search is needed, often with trips to the library to scour books that might fit the time period I’m trying to capture. I know some illustrators who look to period movies, and will study the costumes and sets for inspiration. In the end, I usually have loads of information about the time period, and only end up using a small fraction of it in my illustrations—just enough to hopefully give the piece an authentic feel, and accurately capture the era. The research side can be tedious and time consuming, but because I find it so interesting, it’s a lot of fun as well!

Are you in charge of deciding where you have two facing pages with different scenes and where you’ll have a two-page spread? What determines this for you?

It’s probably different for each Art Director and publisher. I have great appreciation for the trust that my Art Director at Sleeping Bear Press showed me. She gave me the manuscript with the text somewhat arranged on each page, and let me loose. I was allowed to move text if I wanted to, in order to fit my illustration ideas, and I had free rein to chose vignettes, full-page illustrations, or two-page spread illustrations. Now, all that said, I had to run all of my ideas and sketches by the Art Director, Editor, and Publisher, as well as a few other people, before I could start the final art. Sometimes they approved my decisions, and sometimes I had to tweak something small, and other times I had to do an entire illustration over. The cover of Miss Colfax’s Light was done twice.

Miss Colfax's LightIn the scene where Harriet is filling the lantern with whale oil, the light is shining up from her lantern on the floor. How do you determine where the light will originate, and where it falls, in your illustrations?

If I have to be honest, this is something I’m still working on—lights and darks. For the illustration mentioned above, I guessed. I reverted back to my figure drawing days in college, remembering studies of the planes of the face and folds of fabric, how subtle angles can be thrust into complete darkness, while a slight curve can create a sharp, bright contrast. Looking at illustrators and artists who’ve mastered lights and darks also helps (and intimidates!). I know of several illustrators who actually make models of their characters, and then place lights to mimic the lighting of their piece, and draw from that. This is something I hope to try in the future.

Miss Colfax's Light

In the double-page spread filled with small vignettes of Harriet working, how did you think how to lay out that page?

This was a challenging one for me! A lot of important information is being revealed, and all deserving of a visual component. One illustration per page just wouldn’t cut it. Add the fact that Aimée is describing the typical work Harriet would do in any one day, made me want to capture the feeling of what it was like for Harriet from sun up to sun down. For this reason, I chose to arch the vignettes around the words, starting with Harriet tending the light at the first crack of dawn, to Harriet lighting it again at dusk. But until I came up with that solution, I struggled with this spread quite a bit. I’m not sure why the solution came to me when it did, but it sort of popped up as I was walking my daughters home from preschool. I immediately had the image of clock hands, the passing of time, how the hands (and sun) arch and rotate from Point A, to Point B. It dawned on me to try to use this movement in the piece. Just goes to show that sometimes ideas pop up at the strangest moments. I wasn’t thinking about the problem that fall morning, or so I thought, but apparently some little part of my art brain was still churning, unbeknownst to me.

I love how woeful the postmaster looks when Harriet is reading the letter telling her she’s being replaced. When you begin an illustration, do you have in mind what the expressions will be on various characters’ faces?

Yes and no. Sometimes, I feel like I know the character right away, and other times I really have to sit back and let the scene marinate in my mind, create a few really awful sketches before I start to feel the true spirit of a character, even a minor one, like the postmaster. I remember reading Harriet’s obituary, which described the people of Michigan City as absolutely loving her, and holding her in high regard. So while there were some naysayers at the beginning of Harriet’s career, it seems as if almost everyone felt she was a beloved, stalwart fixture by the end of her career. The latter feeling is what I was trying to capture in the postmaster’s face.

You begin and end the book with that doorway. When did this idea for framing the story come to you in your process?

I think it came fairly naturally, and the framing is largely in Aimée’s writing, which made my job easy! And of course, doors make such nice analogies, don’t they? Comings and goings, beginnings and endings. I almost feel like this aspect of the storyline was a gift. It just made sense to me to start and finish the book with that door.

What did you want readers to know from the pages of illustrations you created for this book?

History can be such a dry subject. Until we realize that it’s all just a series of stories, made up of real people doing extraordinary things. So I hope that when people read Miss Colfax’s Light, they see a person who was courageous, and tired, and determined, with calloused hands and a smile for a friend or a cat who’s chasing the chickens again. I hope that I helped to make Harriet’s world a real, tangible place for readers, especially children. I hope to inspire someone to try something that might be out of their comfort zone, or to not back away from something they want to try just because someone says it’s not meant for them. There is so much to be learned from Harriet and her life. In some ways, her story is a small one, historically speaking. In other ways, it’s huge, and absolutely deserves to be told. It has been such an honor to be entrusted in helping bring her story to life!

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Aimée Bissonette

Aimée BissonetteIn this interview with Aimée Bissonette, author of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Bookstorm™ this monthwe asked about writing and researching this nonfiction picture book biography. 

Aimée, thank you for sharing your experiences and discoveries with our readers. We’re excited about this book that showcases an Everyday Hero, one of America’s female lighthouse keepers.

Miss Colfax's LightWhen you were writing this book, do you remember editing to include fewer details so the illustrator could do her work?

Yes, indeed! In fact, that’s half the joy of writing picture books — knowing the illustrator will fill in so many details. Eileen Ryan Ewen’s  illustrations in this book provide wonderful factual material. Harriet’s clothing and household items in the book are just like the things Harriet would have worn and owned in the late 1800’s. I did not need to include descriptions in the text. Eileen included so much historical detail in her illustrations.

How did you learn that some people in the city felt Harriet “got her job only because her cousin was a U.S. Congressman”?

In writing the book, I did a lot of research. There were several written accounts of Harriet’s life and the docents at the Lighthouse Museum had a treasure trove of information about Harriet. My favorite source of information was Harriet herself. She kept a daily journal, called a log, starting in the 1870’s. The idea that Harriet’s cousin, Schuyler Colfax, a U.S. Congressman who later became Vice President of the United States, helped Harriet get her job was mentioned frequently in my sources. Specifically, it is mentioned in a 1904 Chicago Tribune newspaper article by a reporter who interviewed Harriet right before she retired.

Miss Colfax's Light log book

The author and illustrator chose to include depictions of Miss Colfax’s log book throughout the book.

There are short segments of entries from Harriet’s journal included throughout the book. Did you have to get permission to use those? How did you know who to ask?

Those short segments are entries from the “log” I mentioned above. Harriet maintained that log as part of her official lighthouse keeper duties so the log technically is “owned” by the U.S. Government. Her log is kept in the National Archives. I did not need to get permission to use it because it is not protected by copyright. Keep in mind, though, much of the material a writer uncovers while doing research for a nonfiction book is protected by copyright. Writers need to be aware of this and ask permission when they use other people’s copyrighted work in the books they write.

Did you have to research the Lighthouse Board and the Lighthouse Inspector before you could write this book?

The references in the book to the Lighthouse Board and Lighthouse Inspector are based on Harriet’s log entries. There are many more log entries than are included in the book — 30 years’ worth, in fact! Reading them was tremendously eye-opening. Harriet referred often to the Board and the Inspector in her entries. I did additional reading about the Lighthouse Board and how lighthouses were managed in the 1800’s, but mostly relied on Harriet’s own words when writing about the Board and Inspector.

Other than “I can do this,” there is no dialogue in the book. Why did you choose to leave out dialogue?

That’s a good question! I think the main reason is that, although I had Harriet’s log entries and her letters and I had a sense of what she might say and how she might say it, I didn’t know exactly what she would have said in a conversation. I felt if I made up dialogue, it would take away from the factual accuracy of the book. We can’t even be 100% certain that Harriet would have thought or said “I can do this.” But given all I learned about Harriet — her drive, her intelligence, the hardships she faced — I felt it fit and I allowed that one exception.

Miss Colfax's Light

What do you want readers to know that they didn’t know before from the text you wrote?

I want readers to think about Harriet and others like her — the everyday heroes whose work makes life better for all of us. We don’t often think of lighthouse keepers as “heroes,” but the work Harriet did was critical to sea captains and sailors and the people of Indiana who depended on the goods brought in by ship. I also want readers to think about how Harriet and many other women of that time defied the restrictions placed on women and did incredible things — all without the cool technology we have today.

Would you have chosen to do Harriet’s job if you were alive then?

I like to think that I would have, yes. I think there is a little bit of me in Harriet. Like Harriet, I love a good challenge!

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Skinny Dip with Eric Rohmann

 

Today we welcome author, illustrator, and Caldecott medalist Eric Rohmann to Bookology. He agreed to give us the skinny on several topics of vital importance.

Which celebrity, living or not, do you wish would invite you to a coffee shop?

Darwin, Newton, William Blake … and so many others I’ll need a big coffee shop.

Which book do you find yourself recommending passionately?

The Lost CarvingLately, The Lost Carving by David Esterly.

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

Popcorn.

Favorite city to visit?

Vienna, New York, Paris, Madrid, Singapore … still gonna need a big coffee house in each one.

Most cherished childhood memory?

Traveling in the American west.

First date?

Sometime in the fog of High School.

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

Like a person could name just one!

red mug of coffeeTea? Coffee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Coffee.

Favorite season of the year? Why?

Autumn. Clear, cool, and colorful.

What’s your dream vacation?

The next one I have planned … so many places to see!

What gives you shivers?

Good shivers: watching dogs run, Bad shivers: conservative talk radio.

Morning person? Night person?

Morning.

Painting you could look at again and again.

Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights; any Rembrandt self-portrait; Cezanne’s apples; Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanopolus … lots of wall space in the coffee shop!

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Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

What’s your hidden talent?

I can cook well, a little.

Milk DudsYour favorite candy as a kid …

Milk Duds.

Is Pluto a planet?

Is Brontosaurus really just a big Apatosaurus?

What’s the strangest tourist attraction you’ve visited?

Haw Par Villa in Singapore.

Har Paw Villa

Har Paw Villa

Brother and sisters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

Brother and sister. Good: I was never alone. Bad: I was never alone.

Best tip for living a contented life?

Be curious.

Your hope for the world?

Wishing for anything but peace would just be selfish.

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Skinny Dip with Michael Hall

Red: a Crayon's StoryWhat is your proudest career moment?

Several months before the publication of my book, Red: A Crayon’s Story, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial bemoaning the “gender industrial complex,” “cultural warriors,” and books—including mine—“that seek to engage the sympathies of young readers … and nudge the needle of culture.” I had written something good enough to provoke the wrath of the WJS editorial page. It was a proud moment, indeed.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

The first thing that comes to my mind is baseball. But there are problems.

First of all, baseball isn’t an Olympic sport. (It became an official Olympic sport in 1992, but was ousted after the 2008 summer Olympics.) Nevertheless, since we’re talking about fantasy—and since I have a rich fantasy life—this is relatively easy to overcome. Let’s face it, if I can imagine the balding, pot-bellied, sixty-something me gracefully climbing the wall in left field to rob a batter of an extra-base hit (to the thundering approval of the crowd), I can certainly imagine that baseball has been reinstituted as an Olympic sport just in time for the summer of 2016.

Michael Hall sports fantasyBut there’s a more difficult problem: Having spent much of my life imagining myself as a star left fielder for the Minnesota Twins, my status as an amateur is clearly in doubt. If it came down to it, I wouldn’t sacrifice my imaginary Twins baseball star status in order to imagine winning an Olympic gold medal for the United States Olympic team.

So I’m going with table tennis.

What is your favorite line from a book?

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”

What keeps you up at night?

These pesky creatures called should’ves. I don’t know how they get into the house, but at night, they crawl into my bed and whisper in my ear.

“You should have done this, Michael.”

“And frankly, you should have done that as well, Michael.”

This makes sleeping difficult.

It’s well known that should’ves tire easily. If you ignore them, they’ll fall asleep. So I thought I could just wait them out. But it’s less well known that they snore loudly. So, even while sleeping, they keep me awake.

One night, after the should’ves fell asleep—and were snoring horribly—I picked them up, put them in a shoe box, and took them out the back door. I went back to bed and was dozing off, when I was visited by five angry shouldn’t’ves.

“Michael, you should not have done that!”

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

It's an Orange AardvarkThe book with the most crisply drawn characters is probably It’s An Orange Aardvark, a book about five carpenter ants who awake to a noise outside their dark nest in a tree stump. One ant tries to get clues as to what it is by drilling holes in the stump. As each new hole reveals a different color, a second ant, who is convinced that it’s a hungry aardvark, twists the information to fit his preconceived belief, even as his version of the truth becomes more and more absurd.

For me, this was always a book about scientific method. The hole-drilling ant is a wide-eyed, dedicated, idealistic scientist. I think someone like Toby Maguire would be perfect for the role. (There is no love interest here. It’s a picture book after all. But I’m sure a talented screenwriter could fix that.)

The second ant, the one who’s convinced an aardvark awaits, is sort of a cross between Dick Cheney and Cliff Clavin from Cheers. I could suggest someone like Willem Defoe, but I don’t want to play up the sinister part too much (it’s a picture book, after all), so I’ll go with John Ratzenberger from the Cheers cast. 

 

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Stephanie Roth Sisson

Stephanie Roth SissonThe first Princess Posey book was published in 2010. How long before that were you asked to illustrate the book? And were the plans to have it be a single book at that time or were there already intentions to publish more than one book about Posey?

Susan Kochan and Cecilia Yung at Penguin contacted me in November of 2008 about the Princess Posey series. If I am remembering this right, there were two books planned initially. The first book was well received, so I think that’s what expanded the series out.

Knowing how important it is to have characters in books look the same no matter how they are standing or sitting or moving, how did you begin to create Posey’s look?

Princess Poeey and the Tiny TreasureStephanie Greene’s text created Princess Posey through her approachable and clever text. After reading the first manuscript, I thought that this is a real and relatable kid- someone we all know. As an aside, I loved that Posey’s family situation is not explained. We don’t know why her father isn’t in the picture. This isn’t a divorce book or a book about why dad isn’t there—her world is not about the absence of someone. Posey has her family, her neighbors, friends, and a teacher who are loving and nurturing and that’s enough.  

What type of drawing materials and papers do you use when you’re illustrating the Posey stories?

The Princess Posey illustrations are done traditionally with watercolors and paper. I do a little cleaning up digitally, but 90% or better is traditional media.

What do you think of differently when creating the black-and-white drawings and spot illustrations for Posey as opposed to creating the illustrations for your newest book: Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos?

Star StuffWhen I was working on the illustrations for Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos, I was preparing for a life outside of the U.S. on this little island called Mauritius. On Mauritius the air is humid (paper buckles and molds) and quality art materials are difficult to find,  plus shipping original artwork is an act of faith in an incredibly unreliable service at best. I can’t even count on a letter mailed within Mauritius with clearly printed addresses to make it to its destination. For Star Stuff, I used mostly digital media working on a Wacom™ tablet with some scanned art—mostly for backgrounds. I needed to teach myself a method that I could use that could be uploaded to an FTP server. I uploaded the book shortly before we moved to Mauritius and it worked!

Do you keep a file of images, either on paper or digitally, that helps you with ideas?

Yes, I have files for all of my books. I am also a big fan of Pinterest. Whenever I find images that I think I can use I collect them. This is a great way to create a book.

Posey has three friends, a teacher, Miss Lee, and her mother and grandfather as main characters. Do you organize your information about each of them in a particular way? What form does those records take?

Princess PoseyI keep a file with images of Posey’s world. It contains maps of her neighborhood, drawings of her house, a floorplan of her house and drawings of each room. I do a bit of the same for the other characters, noting what sort of clothing they wear. For example, Nikki wears a lot of tunics and wears a headband, Posey likes her bling.  I have scans of the characters in various positions and have a “line up” drawing with their heights relative to one another.

Do you feel that you know Posey and her world quite well now? Does it feel like a real place to you?

Yes, definitely. Her world sits as a complete place in my mind.

On your website, you wrote that Tomie dePaola was the first illustrator who made you realize that you could have a job writing and illustrating children’s books. What kind of training did you go through to make you confident in your work?

Tomie dePaolaYes, I was lucky to have met Tomie dePaola when I was in elementary school. I haven’t received any formal art training. My collection of books for children grows by the year and includes most of my favorites from childhood. I study those books. I love everything about them from the feel of the paper,  how the story is laid out, the theater of this thing we call a book. I began drawing (like most of us) as soon as I could hold a pencil, I’ve just never stopped.

What books would you recommend to budding illustrators?

Show Me a StoryStudy the books you love  and ask yourself why you like them. Study how the story unfolds, how we meet the characters in the book, and what we can tell about the characters from the pictures. I’ve noticed that many successful illustrators come from a film background. Watch movies and see what kind of lighting is used to set a mood, how scenes are framed and how things are paced to heighten the emotion of the story. As a storyteller, my number one focus is always the emotional connection between the reader and the characters and the story. As far as books go, there are so many! Leonard Marcus has written some gems about childrens’ literature, I love reading biographies of illustrators and writers for inspiration, too. My first stop though in this process of becoming a creator of content for children is the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).    

Stephanie, it has been a joy to come to know Posey through the visuals you create. Many of them show tenderness, humor, and joy … all of which young readers appreciate. Thank you for sharing your talents with us.

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The Classics, Galdone-Style

by Vicki Palmquist

Folk Tale Classics Treasury GaldoneAre you looking for a shower or baby gift that will be appreciated for a long time? A good birthday present for a young child?

The Folk Tale Classics Treasury, interpreted and illustrated by Paul Galdone (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013), is a good place for parents to start with retellings of western European folk tales. The stories included here are important for cultural awareness. Throughout their lives, children will hear references to the Three Little Kittens (“and you shall have no pie”) and Goldilocks and the Three Bears (“that porridge was just right”) so it’s good to introduce them to these stories early.

The Three Little Kittens

In his Little Red Hen, wonderful depictions of the cat, dog, mouse, and an alarmed and frustrated hen add insouciance to the story that both children and adults will enjoy. Delicious details in each drawing make it fun to read with someone by your side.

Little Red Hen

In his version of The Three Little Pigs, the big, bad wolf is wily but Pig No. 3 is even smarter, in a satisfying way that will have you cheering.

The bears in his Goldilocks tale are handsome and smart. We see their tale from the point of view of a family who is wronged by a mischievous little girl with golden locks who is both unthinking and careless. Where are her manners?!

The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Gingerbread Boy round out the stories included in this volume. These are tales that have been passed down for generations, remembered fondly, but also understood.

Pig No. 3 was cautious and clever, the little Red Hen industrious and just, and the biggest Billy Goat Gruff proves that you should be careful who you challenge.

Paul Galdone was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1907, but after 1928 lived in New York and Vermont where he illustrated more than 300 books. His first illustrated book was Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars in 1951. In the second half of the last century, his work was ubiquitous, and much loved. Reissuing this volume will create a new generation of children who picture these stories with his illustrations. Mr. Galdone died in 1986. You can find more information about him at the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, where a good representation of his original art and working materials is preserved. You’ll also find a good deal of information on his memorial website.

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“I’m not ready for school!”

Dad's First DayI minored in theatre in college, where I crossed the street from Augsburg to attend Arthur Ballet‘s legendary history of theatre class at the University of Minnesota.

Lessons learned in that class came rushing back as I savored Mike Wohnoutka‘s Dad’s First Day because it struck me how well this book would play as theatre of the absurd.

Mike is a keen observer of behavior, knowing what will delight kids … and their parents. Turning that first day of school on its ear, showing that, truthfully, parents are just as worried as the child is, provides good fun, discussable emotions, and a natural lead-in to conversations.

The dad’s behavior is drawn in friendly, realistically comic style with a varied palette of gouache paint. His reactions are absurd. Kids will recognize that and whoop with acknowledgment. Dad is endearing and so is the little boy who nonchalantly, even displaying confidence, can’t wait to experience his first day at school. 

Word choices make this a good read-aloud while the illustrations make this a good side-by-side book. And you must find the references to three of Mike’s previous books in the illustrations. I found six … can you find more?

Highly recommended for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and preschool educators.

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Chris Van Dusen: Illustrating Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

 

Chris Van Dusen

Chris Van Dusen

Leroy Ninker first appeared in Mercy Watson Fights Crime as the criminal. Did you consciously change his appearance for Leroy Ninker Saddles Up to make him a more sympathetic character?

I’m not sure that I consciously changed his appearance. I tried to make him look like the same character. In the original series he was wearing a robber’s mask which gave him a slightly sinister look. Since he’s now a “reformed thief” I removed the mask which made him a warmer and more likeable character which is more fitting for the story.

Your palette for the Deckawoo Drive books has a retro feeling. What do you think decided you on working with the colors you use in those books and now Leroy Ninker Saddles Up?

The original Mercy Watson Series definitely did have a retro feel. The colors I used were similar to those that appeared in the picture books I grew up with – colors that were popular in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. The new series has BW interior art but I ended up painting the pictures in the same method using gouache.

Cover Sketch

Sketch of a rejected cover idea for Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

When Leroy runs through the neighborhood to rescue Maybelline, you use a fluid line to indicate his rapid motion. For young readers who’d love to draw their own stories, how did you learn to convey action in this way?

Motion lines are a classic cartoon way of showing movement. I probably picked this up from my early interest in comic strips and animation.

How is illustrating a chapter book different from illustrating a picture book?

In a picture book there are fewer words, so the illustrations have to tell more of the story. Also, picture book illustrations are usually larger, often a full spread. In a chapter book, the illustrations support the text rather than tell the story.

What words of advice would you share to encourage young illustrators who’d like to follow in your footsteps?

 You can do it. But you have to keep drawing. Good drawing skills are the basis for any career as an illustrator, animator, cartoonist, painter, etc. 

interior sketch

A preliminary sketch
for the spread on pages 86 and 87.

 

 

 

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The Scraps Book

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life

Sometimes I want to walk right into the pages of a book, know everything the author knows, share their lifetime of experiences, and be able to emulate their creativity. Scraps: Notes from a Colorful Life makes me feel that way. I’ve even enjoyed the feeling and texture of the paper because I want in! For […]

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bk_arlo_cover.jpg

Gifted: Arlo’s ARTrageous Adventure!

Arlo’s ARTrageous Adventures! written and illustrated by David LaRochelle Sterling Children’s Publishing, 2013 If you’re considering gifts for the holiday season … (book #1 in our series of Gifted recommendations) … No matter how uninteresting Arlo’s elderly relative insists on making their trip to the museum with her warnings to be serious and quiet and […]

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