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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Amazon Best Books 2017

THE POMEGRANATE WITCH  made the Amazon’s ‘Best children’s books of 2017′ list — and to make it extra sweet, it sits alongside illustrator friends’ books; THE ANTLERED SHIP by The Fan Brothers, and THE BOOK OF MISTAKES by Corinna Luyken. Congrats to all!

Check out the full list here: Amazon.com: Best Children’s Books of 2017 

 

 

THE POMEGRANATE WITCH…new release!

 A new book that I illustrated, written by Denise Doyen, came out last week; THE POMEGRANATE WITCH. It’s here in time for the fall season coming up, and is such a fun romp between a group of neighborhood kids from the suburbs, and the old Pomegranate Witch who guards a legendary pomegranate tree.

This release kicked off with an awesome starred review from Publisher’s Weekly!

“Luscious rhymes and an atmospheric eeriness immerse readers in a neighborhood battle: five children versus the witch who guards the tempting pomegranates that hang from a tree on her property: “Its unpruned limbs were jungle-like, dirt ripplesnaked with roots,/ But glorious were the big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruits.” Wielding tree branches, rakes, and badminton racquets, the children mount an assault in what is quickly dubbed the Pomegranate War, but hoses blasting water, a scattering of walnuts, and the thrashing tree itself foil their efforts. On Halloween, the witch’s sister, the Kindly Lady, invites the town’s children over for cider and celebration—but could the two women be one and the same? Working in ink and watercolor, Wheeler (Tell Me a Tattoo Story) contrasts the rich red of the pomegranates with washes of pale, sickly green, saturating the pages with a sense of otherworldly magic. And yet: Doyen (Once Upon a Twice) leaves many hints that the Pomegranate Witch is less a malevolent presence than a woman who happily plays that role in the children’s imagination-fueled games. Delicious. Ages 5–8. Agent: Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary. (Aug.)”

Some peeks into the book: 

Delight yourself with a copy of your own, or ask your library to order one!

Buy THE POMEGRANATE WITCH at your local indie bookstore
-or-
Order from Barnes and Noble here
Order from Amazon here

Research Travel Tips

“Sir Adam’s Amazing Maps”

 

Over on the Picture Book Builders blog, I shared some highlights about illustration research I did for three weeks in England in 2015 for the new picture book biography JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS: STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN, by Caroline McAlister.

I had a great question come over Twitter recently about traveling for research, but couldn’t seem to limit my answer to few characters, so I’m sharing those here!

The most helpful thing I learned overall is to prepare as much ahead of time as possible, but leave some time and flexibility in the schedule for the unexpected.

Timeline at the Tolkien Museum in Sarehole Mill, Birmingham.

Here are some other key tips:

  1. Print out maps, bus/train schedules, and directions ahead of time. Phone and internet service can be unpredictable and at times unavailable (usually in the moments when you need them most). Luckily, my super amazing husband/travel assistant, Adam had foresight and prepared printouts to guide us, and they were indispensable.
  2. Call ahead. We discovered that dates and times for exhibits or opening hours were frequently inaccurate online.
  3. Balance travel with rest. When paying out-of-pocket to travel for research, you can feel pressure to maximize every minute there. But filling every minute will make for a miserable trip, and you’ll want time off for rest and recovery. We spent the weekdays researching, and chilled with relatives of Adam’s who live in England on the weekends.
  4. Keep your receipts! These trips are tax-deductible, so keep a detailed travel journal and all your receipts for filing at tax time.

We did a pretty great job of maximizing time and enjoyment. If I could have changed one thing, I would have added some extra days for returning to locations just for sketching on-site, which we didn’t end up having time for. But we took hundreds of photos to make up for it!

A few pictures: Mosely Bog, Sarehole Mill, Tolkien’s childhood cottage, Oxford tour, The Eagle and Child pub.

If you’d like more info on the book:
JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS: THE STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN
March 2017, Roaring Brook Press/MacMillan
AGES: 4-8,  48 pages
ISBN 9781626720923

Buy JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS at your local indie bookstore
-or-
Order from Barnes and Noble here
Order from Amazon here

THIS IS OUR BABY BORN TODAY book birthday!

My new picture book, with author Varsha Bajaj and Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Books, came into the book world today! THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY celebrates the birth of a baby elephant. Over the course of one day the jungle family and friends rejoice the baby’s arrival. The book is set in the lush wilds of India and is a tribute to all little ones getting their first warm welcome into the world.

I’m so excited to share more about this book, its author, and the process of creating the illustrations later this week on the Picture Book Builders blog.

OURBABY_box_web

A box of real books arrives!

So far the reviews have been lovely:

Kirkus Reviews
When a baby elephant is born, “wrinkled and gray,” not just the herd, but the whole world rejoices, from morning to night. From the proud Mama to the grand Aunts, from the “fertile and firm” Earth to the ancient Banyan tree, everyone and everything around the new baby elephant joins in celebration and care for the Baby “who warms the hearts of the world today.” Glowing with warm golds and greens and shadowed with deep blues and greens, the gorgeous artwork lushly illuminates the day of an elephant’s birth as it is cared for by its family and surroundings. The expressions on the elephant faces are sheer joy to behold; the elephant smiles are realistic and yet radiate affection. Seemingly simple, this gentle rhyming story works on two levels: the playfulness of the young elephant and its friends ensure that young children will be able to see themselves in the story, and given the depiction of the natural scenes, at least some young readers will become fascinated with the lives of elephants as well. An author’s note at the end provides background from the Indian-American author’s own life and also draws attention to the present-day need to protect elephants from poaching and the loss of habitat. The soft cadence of the rhyming verses and the joyous pictures of the elephants will make this a bedtime favorite. (Picture book. 2-5)

Publishers Weekly
Bajaj (Abby Spencer Goes to Hollywood) traces the first day in a baby elephant’s life, an event celebrated by family members, other animals, and even elements of nature itself. The soft, gently repetitive text quickly establishes a soothing message of love and acceptance: “These are Aunts,/ caring and grand,/ who circle the Baby/ born today.” (There’s a hint of “The House That Jack Built” to the episodic structure, minus the cumulative aspect.) Bajaj focuses on a female-centric cast of elephants, subtly referencing their matriarchal societies, and glancing mentions of monkeys and peacocks give a fuller look at the book’s Indian setting. Working in pen, ink, and bright watercolors, Wheeler (Wherever You Go) evokes a lush environment of towering banyan trees and dense vegetation, helping create another personified character in the setting (“This is the Lagoon,/ calm and waiting,/ to bathe the Baby/ born today”). It’s an intimate and celebratory look at the early days of an elephant’s life, and a reminder that human births are pretty special, too.

9780399166846Buy THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY at your local indie bookstore
or
Order from Barnes and Noble here.

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Published by Nancy Paulsen Books
Aug 02, 2016 | 32 Pages | 9 x 10 | 3-5 years | ISBN 9780399166846