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? 

 

Happy Book Birthday WHEREVER YOU GO and THE UNMAPPED SEA

Today was the official release of not one, but two books that I worked on over the past two years:

The first book is WHEREVER YOU GO, written by author Pat Zietlow Miller.  I’ll be traveling to Madison, Wisconsin to celebrate this book’s release in May. For those in the area please join Pat and I on May 15th at Books & Co. Bookstore, and/or May 16th at Mystery To Me Bookstore.

A special thank you to Pat for creating the words, Connie Hsu and Leslie Shumate for editing and story directing, and Patti Ann Harris for art directing.

If you missed the book trailer for WHEREVER YOU GO, check it out HERE.

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To order a copy of WHEREVER YOU GO, visit your favorite Indie Bookseller, Barnes and Noble, or online retailer, such as Amazon.com.

 

INC 5_coverThe second book is THE UNMAPPED SEA, the 5th book in the INCORRIBILE CHILDREN OF ASHTON PLACE series by Maryrose Wood. I had such fun working on the cover and interior illustrations. Maryrose is truly a talented writer — these books are witty, playful, and lovable. I will admit that in each of my several readings of this manuscript, I got a little weepy at the end.  I wish I could have been in New York for the book launch to celebrate with Maryrose.

A special thank you to Maryrose for her writing, Donna Bray for her editing, and Dana Fritts for her art directing (and incredible patience!).  This is a dream team!

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“No party is complete without a dance. Tonight we shall be doing the Sea Sway.”

Along with THE UNMAPPED SEA, we’re also celebrating the release of this series in paperback (which sport my new cover illustrations!).

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Today I came home to the absolutely sweetest and totally unexpected surprise:

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AWWWW — Maryrose, thank you!!

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To order a copy of THE UNMAPPED SEA, visit your favorite Indie Bookseller, Barnes and Noble, or online retailer, such as Amazon.com.

 

 

 

CODY Book Birthday & WHEREVER YOU GO Trailer

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Page 1 of CODY AND THE FOUNTAIN OF HAPPINESS

Today!
In the life of children’s book creators, many things are beautiful:
A book’s birthday.

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Happy Book Birthday to Tricia and Candlewick!

If you’re looking for a positive book with sweet writing and diverse characters for a 7-10 year-old, this is your book!
MORE INFO

A brand new book trailer.

My husband, Adam, created this beautiful video for a new picture book I illustrated, WHEREVER YOU GO (coming April 21, 2015), by Wisconsin author Pat Zietlow Miller. Thank you, Adam!

MORE INFO ABOUT THE BOOK

Some New Things

It’s hard to imagine two months have already passed in this new year of 2015! With a new year comes new things. Here’s an update on what a few of these things are for me:

Picture Book Builders Blog

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I’m excited to join a handful of children’s book writers and illustrators on new blog that’s solely dedicated to discussions around picture-books. For each post, the blogger chooses a picture-book or a quality of picture-books to discuss. DSantat_Beekle_CoverWe cover a range of picture books, from new to old, well-known to little-known.  So far I’ve written about: ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier‘ (Andersen/Rylant/Corace), ‘The Little House‘ (Burton), ‘The Spider and The Fly’ (Howitt/Diterlizzi), ‘The Arrival’ (Tan), and Dan Santat’s newly Caldecott Medal-donned book ‘The Adventures of Beekle: an Unimaginary Friend’.

Check it out at picturebookbuilders.com

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On April 21, 2015 the picture-book I illustrated comes out called WHEREVER YOU GO (Little Brown), written by Pat Zietlow-Miller, author of SOPHIE’S SQUASH (which received SCBWI’s Golden Kite award last year!). We were thrilled to get a star and absolutely sweet review from Kirkus:

“A rabbit’s cross-country bike excursion introduces the open road . . . through an animal kingdom of forests, treehouses, country cottages, bustling seaside villages, glimmering cities and mountain overlooks. The sunshine-hued, delicate artwork embraces both the panoramic vastness of the countryside and the definitive details nestled in its valleys, meadows, towns and treetops. Each double-page spread invites readers to stop and look closely at the lichen hugging the tree, the bending roses, the bouncing musicians, the twinkling carnival, the romantic dinner parties, the ships’ many sails, the cactus’ sharp needles, the wisps of clouds on a mountain ridge . . . Children, thanks to captivating artwork and rhyme, will want nothing more than to ride his handlebars, bouncing and merry.”

Here’s an interior spread from the book:

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Another book coming out in May 2015 sporting my illustrations is an early middle-grade called CODY AND THE FOUNTAIN OF HAPPINESS (Candlewick), written by Tricia Springstubb, which is the first in a series.

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For whimsical Cody, many things are beautiful, especially ants who say hello by rubbing feelers. But nothing is as beautiful as the first day of summer vacation, and Cody doesn’t want to waste one minute of it. Meanwhile, teenage brother Wyatt is moping over a girl, Mom is stressed about her new job as Head of Shoes, Dad is off hauling chairs in his long-distance truck, and even camp has been closed for the summer. What to do? Just when all seems lost, Cody bumps into a neighborhood boy named Spencer who is looking for a runaway cat. With a new friend and a soon-to-be-found cat, Cody is on her way to the fountain of happiness.

Tricia Springstubb’s writing is playful, musical, and endearing. Through the process of illustrating this book I found myself grown attached to lovable Cody and her friends and family. There are over 30 black and white interior illustrations in the book. Here’s one of them:

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After over a year in the making, I’m eager for these new projects to go out into the world and be shared with everyone!

 

Project News: WHEREVER YOU GO

Exciting news! I’ll be illustrating a new picture-book
by Pat Zietlow Miller called “Wherever You Go”, with Little Brown Books!

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When I saw this announcement in Publishers Weekly Rights Report yesterday, it was extra exciting to scroll down to see illustrator friend and fellow mentee Brian Won’s picture sitting right there next to my own. Awesome, Brian!

I’ve just learned that Pat Zietlow Miller is from Madison, Wisconsin; it’s so cool to be working on a fellow Wisconsinite’s story. She has a new book coming out in a couple weeks, SOPHIE’S SQUASH with Schwartz & Wade (Aug 6, ’13), illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf.

Over a year ago, in January 2012, I went to New York on the SCBWI prize trip to meet with publishers. There, I met editor Connie Hsu and art director Patti Ann Harris at Little Brown Books. After our meeting I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to work with these amazing women, and I’m really thankful to them for choosing me to work on this sweet book.

Outside the Little Brown offices in January 2012

Outside the Little Brown offices in January 2012