HOME IN THE WOODS

I’m beyond thrilled to introduce you to my new book!

From the publisher:
This stunningly beautiful picture book from New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Eliza Wheeler is based on her grandmother’s childhood and pays homage to a family’s fortitude as they discover the meaning of home.
Eliza Wheeler’s gorgeously illustrated book tells the story of what happens when six-year-old Marvel, her seven siblings, and their mom must start all over again after their father has died. Deep in the woods of Wisconsin they find a tar-paper shack. It doesn’t seem like much of a home, but they soon start seeing what it could be. During their first year it’s a struggle to maintain the shack and make sure they have enough to eat. But each season also brings its own delights and blessings–and the children always find a way to have fun. Most importantly, the family finds immense joy in being together, surrounded by nature. And slowly, their little shack starts feeling like a true home–warm, bright, and filled up with love.

Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House
AGES: 5-8,  40 pages

Available to order now:
Buy HOME IN THE WOODS at your local indie bookstore
-or-
Order from Barnes and Noble here
Order from Amazon here

PRAISE

“Wheeler’s evocative fullbleed illustrations . . . draw readers completely into each page, creating a sense of personal involvement. The detailed imagery allows for the incredible efficiency of her poetic prose, which always finds the right note—striking a careful balance between melancholy and hope as the family rebuilds their life. Based on the childhood of Wheeler’s grandmother, the story feels warm without being sappy or overly nostalgic, successfully making a bygone era meaningful today.”—Booklist, starred review

*
 “Wheeler shares a poignant tale, based on her grandmother’s childhood, of a Depression-era family’s hard times. . . . Lovely ink-and-watercolor double-page spreads, in somber grays, sunlight yellow, and meadow green, evoke both the period and the family’s stark poverty. . . . Delicate visual details abound, from the sparkle of evening raindrops to Mum’s side-buttoned apron. Marvel’s ruminative narration takes occasional poetic turns. . . . A quietly compelling look at an impoverished family’s resourcefulness and resilience.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred revie

“Based on the memories of Wheeler’s grandmother, the story follows six-year-old Marvel, her seven siblings, and their mother. . . . The family’s ability to make do helps them survive the winter and greet the spring. . . . Wheeler’s story champions initiative, self-reliance, and familial closeness.”—Publishers Weekly

Work Spaces and Places

4th grade teacher Jennifer Keller sent out this fun tweet:


As I searched for a pic of my workspace to share, I saw many photos I’ve snapped of places I’ve written (or illustrated), so I pulled together a bunch more to share here! I’ve written and illustrated in so many locations over the past 7 years, usually due to traveling while under pressing deadlines, or at best, due to having a creative burst at some random time and location.

First workspace of note: my desk in the corner of our tiny 400 sq foot apartment in Los Angeles. We downsized from a 1 bedroom in order to allow me to go full time into illustration. Even though we out-grew it, I loved that little place…all my books before WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE and HOME IN THE WOODS happened there! 

Desk in the corner of my Los Angeles 400 sq ft studio apartment

Then there are the classic alternate work-day locations: Coffee shops (must have good Hygge) and historic library spaces (also must have good Hygge). Apologies to the architects in the room, but The Muse has a harder time visiting in new modern spaces…

Coffee shops! [left] Beautiful library rooms [Right: LA Central Library]

Speaking of modern spaces, when absolutely forced (i.e. on deadline) I’ve written and illustrated in airports, on airplanes, while waiting for delayed trains in train stations in England, and even in the car while moving across the country from Los Angeles to Minnesota.*

Planes, trains, automobiles

When I was doing visual research in England for the picture book art for JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS: STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN, I was also on deadline for another book project, so I spent the days collecting visual research and the nights working in hotel rooms.*

Hotel rooms in England (2015): The Plough and Harrow in Birmingham, and The Randolph Hotel in Oxford

*this business of working while traveling might look romantic, but I should be honest in saying that in reality it’s quite difficult to get real work done, and it’s downright exhausting

Possibly the most incandescent place I’ve ever worked was at Scotch Hill Farm, owned by the late Maurice Sendak, for the month-long Sendak Fellowship Retreat. Once of the desks in my studio space there was the same one on which Maurice illustrated ‘Where The Wild Things Are’!

Scotch Hill Farm 2017: desk in bottom-left pic was Maurice Sendak’s work table

Last summer I spent a week collecting visual reference in the Brule River state forest—close to where I grew up in Northern Wisconsin—for my book coming out on Oct 1, 2019, HOME IN THE WOODS. I camped and hiked the North Country Trail, writing and sketching along the way.

While house-sitting at my brother and sister-in-law’s lake home recently, we had a great thunderstorm so I set up a work spot in front of the windows.

While it’s been helpful to learn to write anywhere, I have to admit I never feel as creative or productive as when I’m in my own designated workspace. These days I have my very own room for a studio space, with an open and closed sign to signal welcome or unwelcome interruptions (very important for co-habitants!):

I get to watch the seasons change from our 3rd floor windows. Things get super messy when deadlines get intense. But I can close the door on the mess and the work and keep it separate from the rest of life, and that’s a luxury I appreciate more for not having had it for so many years.

I live up the street from two beautiful lakes in Minneapolis—Lake of the Isles, and Bde Maka Ska—which are these gems of nature right in the middle of the city. They call me down to work by the water often when I feel breezes coming in or the light of a sunset glowing in the distance.

ALA Conference 2019

I’m headed to the American Library Association conference this weekend to meet librarians and sign give-away copies of books. Maybe I’ll see you there?

Sat JUNE 22, 2019:
—————————-
9-10 am Signing my not-yet-released pb HOME IN THE WOODS (+art prints!) at the Penguin Random House booth (#1805)
12-12:30 pm Signing the board book of WHEREVER YOU GO at the Little Brown Books booth (1137)

Interview on Picturebooking Podcast

It’s a rainy spring day in Minnesota–very good for podcast listening.

I love the in-depth conversations with children’s book makers on Picturebooking Podcast, so I was extremely honored to be invited on! Nick Patton and I have a long talk about WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE, my coming second self-authored book HOME IN THE WOODS, and, always my favorite topic, process. Listen here>>
https://picturebooking.libsyn.com/eliza-wheeler-living-in-your-illustrations

And if you’re like me and like to listen to a few in a row while you drive, work, or clean, here are two more:
1. Another great Picturebooking podcast episode with a dear pal of mine, J.R. Krause. Listen here>>
https://picturebooking.libsyn.com/jr-krause-dragon-night

2. This interview with author Pat Zietlow Miller and Matthew Winner on The Children’s Book Podcast is so lovely! And I’m not being biased (even though they pay me some sweet compliments), I really enjoyed this conversation.
Listen here>>
https://lgbpodcast.libsyn.com/pat-zietlow-miller

Picture Books Are Not Easy To Write

I recently attended a wonderful opening exhibit at the University of Minnesota’s Andersen Library, The ABC of It , which has hundreds of children’s book treasures—original artwork from Poky Little Puppy, Millions of Cats, Goodnight Moon, Maurice Sendak, Tomi dePaola, Beatrix Potter…oh, and an 18 foot replica of the Goodnight Moon bedroom (!)—on display. If you have a chance, I highly recommend visiting the exhibit (going on through 6/14/19). 

The event included a talk with curator Lisa Von Drasek and renowned children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus. I wished it could have gone on for days. When talking about the art of making picture books, Marcus said:

“Everyone assumes that writing children’s books is easy. Picture books are just as hard as any book to write…because they aren’t simple, they’re distilled.”

That statement resounded in my head over and over, and it summed up, for me, something about picture book writing that I’ve been mulling over for years. There’s this relationship between pictures and words in children’s books that is 100% unique to the form. They tell a story and convey an experience TOGETHER; words and visuals taking part in a dance . . .


As an illustrator, my job is to look at a text and figure out parts of the story that are NOT included. Here are a few of the questions I ask myself when planning an illustration…
What’s at the emotional heart of this part of the story?
What’s the mood of the character/s at this moment?
What happens before and after these text moments? 
What’s happening elsewhere in the story?
What time of day is it?
What’s the weather like?
Could any other senses be involved? Smell, taste, touch, sound…
Who’s the viewer of this scene? Is it seen from a story character’s POV, or is it seen from the POV of the reader?

These questions help me to infuse the illustrations with all sorts of details that add to the story world. Instead of simply showing what the text is saying (which is repetitive, and can treat the characters and readers like they’re dummies), the illustrations have the potential to immerse the reader in a rich world that feels expansive and real. The sheer possibilities of this is what gets me excited to run back to the drawing table every day. 

I’ve illustrated two picture books, WHEREVER YOU GO and WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE, both written by Pat Zietlow Miller, that I see as companion books. They’re created by the same writer/artist/publisher team, the physical books are the same trim size, and they are both about journeys (one explores an outer journey; the discovery of people and places, and the other explores an inner journey; the discovery of bravery from a place of uncertainty). You can see on these covers that I’ve mimicked the placement of the main character and ground curve. 

These two books are examples of the potential of the symbiotic relationship between words and pictures. Pat does something in her writing that appears simple but is incredibly hard…which is to know when to step aside. She’s written these two texts that make no mention of characters, give no stage directions for the scene, and even have no specific instructions for drama or action. What that does is, it says to the illustrator, “Here, I’ve done my part…now you tell the story. Build the world. Own it.” 

(You can hear me talk more about this art here)

It’s a selfless creative act that takes trust and gumption. I don’t encounter this often from picture book writers (with all those illustration notes…humbug!). Over-writing is probably at the heart of what most often makes me turn down manuscripts to illustrate. And it’s also at the heart of what I aspire to do as a picture book writer; create picture books that aren’t simple…but distilled.

It’s not easy to do. 

Goodnight Moon is a classic that fits that description of ‘distilled’ so well. And Where The Wild Things Are. Ooo, and how about Caps for Sale? Or one of my favorites The Little House. 

What others? 

 

WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE released!

An inspiring picture book affirmation about having courage even in difficult times, because some days, when everything around you seems scary, you have to be brave.

Saying goodbye to neighbors. Worrying about new friends. Passing through a big city. Seeing a dark road ahead. In these moments, a young girl feels small and quiet and alone. But when she breathes deeply and looks inside herself, a hidden spark of courage appears, one she can nurture and grow until she glows inside and out.

New York Times bestselling author Pat Zietlow Miller’s uplifting words join New York Times bestselling illustrator Eliza Wheeler’s luminous art to inspire young readers to embrace their inner light–no matter what they’re facing–and to be brave.

Buy WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE at your local indie bookstore
-or-
Order from Barnes and Noble here
Order from Amazon here

 

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New Book Release by Arthur Yorinks and Maurice Sendak

 Last week was the release of Arthur Yorinks’ new book, PRESTO AND ZESTO IN LIMBOLAND, which is his lost collaboration with Maurice Sendak. The book launch held at the New York Public Library looked fabulous, one worthy of the author and illustrator. I so wish I could have made the trip in person to celebrate with the Sendak Fellowship family! 

In May 2017, I had the honor of spending a month on the former farm of Maurice Sendak, attending the Sendak Fellowship retreat, hosted by The Maurice Sendak Foundation; Lynn Caponera, Dona Ann McAdams, and Arthur Yorinks. The experience was, in one word, incandescent. 

The Fellows (Terry and Eric Fan, Rashin, and I) were given a sneak peek of Maurice’s orginal art for PRESTO AND ZESTO IN LIMBOLAND, and were able to hear the story of this artwork, which was lost for many years, and then found in Maurice’s archives. Arthur had written a story to go along with Maurice’s artwork many years ago, but both the author and illustrator got busy with other things and the project fell by the wayside.

Photos by Dona Ann McAdams

Here’s a Newsweek article written about the project: 
A New Book From ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ Author Maurice Sendak, Six Years After His Death

And here’s an interview with Arthur on NPR. 

Arthur served as a mentor during our time at the Sendak Fellowship Retreat, and gave inspiring talks to us about books, film, art, and writing. Living in and amongst Maurice’s belongings and hearing the stories about him from Dona, Lynn, and Arthur made it feel as if we had spent time with Maurice himself. 

There are so many more things I want to, and have been meaning to, share about that experience, but for now, I’m sending all my best wishes and congratulations to Arthur Yorinks and the Maurice Sendak Foundation on the release of this amazing project!

 

 

My SCBWI LA National Conference Keynote

 Last month I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators summer conference in Los Angeles, and was invited there by Lin Oliver to give my first keynote speech for one of their national conferences. It was an incredible honor to be invited, and it marked a big milestone for me as an SCBWI member (and also as an introvert).

I recall years of sitting in the audience at these conferences and while listening to keynotes thinking, “I could NEVER do that!” 
Haha! says The Universe. 
What I didn’t know then was that, by now, I would have something to say and something to be excited to share from my experiences over the past 5 years of working full-time as a children’s book artist.

For my presentation, I was able to share about my experience of getting published quickly, and that the difficulties and the learning curve started, for me, after I’d published my first picture book, MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS. In the early days, I approached creative work as though it was a straight line from idea to final painting, and my process was built around a search for the quickest way from point A to point B. I spent years struggling in my approach to the work, focusing on productivity and the end goal, and found that instead of enjoying creating this beautiful work for books that were a dream to be hired for, I was finding myself chronically stressed and creatively burnt out. 

Creativity is not a straight line.  

With each book I worked on, I learned new things about working as an artist, and found that 
#1. Creativity does not work like a straight line. My focus on productivity and getting to the end product as efficiently as possible was the nail on my creative coffin. So…

#2. In order to enjoy the work, I had to focus not on the end product, but on the process of creating the work itself. 

   By shifting my focus onto the creative process, and how to make that daily process more enjoyable, I found stages of the work where I encountered resistance on a regular basis. This can be summed up best by this blogpost I wrote from a few years ago, which is a creative condition I call “THE ‘I SUCK’ DILEMMA”. 

Post about the creative “I Suck” dilemma

There are lengths of time—days, months, years—where the work we’re doing doesn’t look good, and it’s during this time that we experience the most resistance to doing the work. Not only do we not need to resist sucky work, but we can use it and embrace it as an important (and fun!) part of the process of getting to the better stuff.

I’ve been spending the past few years evolving my own creative process, and also reading about how the body, brain, and creative mind work together. This led me to break down a creative process for myself into 7 1/2 Stages, each that have a unique mindset and important function in our work as writers and artists. These phases don’t need to happen in order, and we move organically around them: 

1. DIG for ideas inspired by your childhood interests and your current interests. Ponder them, journal about them.
2. INSPIRE with reference photos, inspiration from other artists, research and information. Study the work of your heroes.
3. COLLAGE together quick thumbnails, studies, sketches, pieces, color swatches, paint tests, lists. This is about quantity over quality. Move quickly, and don’t judge, edit, or analyze. Think later.
4. SIMMER: Let it rest. Put it away. Go do other things and let your brain make connections on it’s own.
5. IGNITE: Moments of insight, clarity, inspiration often come at times when we’re not actively in the work…be ready at all times to capture these ideas. 
6. REFINE the work. Bring your thoughtful, discerning, honing eye. Here’s where you can think and edit. Pull the pieces together. This is about quality over quantity.
7. ASSESS: Step back and look. Share it with people and get feedback. Go to your critique group or an honest friend.
½ step: CHECK in constantly, while in the midst of each stage, to see if you are pushing, straining, angsty, or feeling bored. If you aren’t flowing, then you may be in the wrong phase and probably need to go back to inspiring, collaging, or simmering. 

After my presentation was over, it was awesome to hear feedback from so many writers and illustrators about what resonated with them. 
For those who weren’t there, I’ll share more about my 7 1/2 steps in more detail in an upcoming post. 
I also talked about our creative brain, and shared some really fascinating science that explains how we get ideas, which I’ll also share more about in another post as well.
Stay tuned!

To share a few other personal highlights from the conference: 

This kidlit group from Utah came dressed as Miss Maple and her seeds! Ahhhhhh!!!  ♥♥♥ Amber Alvarez as maple seed, Cari M Lee as Miss Maple, Heidi M Rogers as bluebird, Kristen Shelley as a pea, Elizabeth Child as the acorn

Doing a breakout session for illustrators with my agent, Jen Rofe. (Photo by Debbie Ridpath Ohi; debbieohi.com)

Hearing the legendary author Lois Lowry share stories about writing and her books (Photos by Alan Baker)

Gathering with art director, Cecilia Yung, and several of her illustrator clients for drinks and sharing

Watching Debbie Ohi give a presenation at the Illustrator’s Intensive

Visiting with fellow faculty Lynda Mulally Hunt, Bruce Coville, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and Greg Pincus at Lin Oliver’s staff party

All of my love and thanks to Lin Oliver, Steve Mooser, and the SCBWI for everything they’ve done to build this amazing community, and for all the opportunities they give their members, myself included. Of the hundreds of people who have asked me “How do I start out in children’s books?” my answer is always the same…join SCBWI.