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Our vision for this blog is pretty simple: we're going to talk about the books we read. We read lots of different kinds of books: picture books for toddlers, memoirs, young adult fiction, graphic novels, Man Booker Prize-winning high-art metafiction, whatever.
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1. A Moment with the Art of Lisbeth Zwerger


I’ve got some art here at 7-Imp today from Austrian illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger.

First up are Zwerger’s illustrations—originally created in 2009, I believe—from The Pied Piper of Hamelin, an edition of the story retold by Renate Raecke and translated by Anthea Bell. This was just released in September by Michael Neugebauer Publishing, a.k.a. Minedition. The Kirkus review writes: “This strange and unsettling tale is made all the stranger and more unsettling by Zwerger’s spare, isolated figures in their pale interiors and landscapes.” Today feels like a good day to share such a story, as it seems the entirety of the U.S. feels unsettled — given the news, that is, leaving us heavy-hearted.

Also from Minedition is Zwerger’s vision of The Night Before Christmas. This was released last month, a book with a small, cozy trim size and Zwerger’s take on Clement Clark Moore’s famous poem, first published in the 1800s. Zwerger’s illustrations were originally created in 2005. Pictured above are Dasher, Dancer, and part of the rest of St. Nick’s crew. Pictured right is the man himself, trying to cheer us up.

I’m glad, in both cases, that Minedition has released these new editions. I’m always pleased to see Zwerger’s artwork. She’s one of those illustrators who made me want to study children’s literature. In fact, if you’re a fan too, you may be happy to know this has been released. The copy I ordered finally arrived. In the Foreword, Peter Sís writes: “Her art flows and shines.” Yes, what he said.



From The Pied Piper of Hamelin:


“At first only a few rats came, enticed by all the delicious things to eat in the houses
of Hamelin, but soon there were more and more of them.”

“One day in the year 1284—so the old legend says—a strange man appeared in Hamelin. He was a striking figure, wearing a parti-colored or ‘pied’ robe
such as the townspeople had never seen before.”

“All over town he went, up streets and down alleys, and wherever his music was heard the rats came scurrying out of kitchen and cellars, storerooms and stables,
to follow the Pied Piper.”

“The sorrowful parents hurried out of town to search for their lost children.
All the mothers and fathers were weeping and wailing. …”


From The Night Before Christmas:


“The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow /
Gave a luster of mid-day to objects below …”

“He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot …”

“He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work …”



* * * * * * *

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. North American edition published 2014 by Michael Neugebauer Publishing Ltd., Hong Kong. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

THE PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN. North American edition published 2014 by Michael Neugebauer Publishing Ltd., Hong Kong. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

7 Comments on A Moment with the Art of Lisbeth Zwerger, last added: 11/26/2014
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2. Indies First Day

See this?

It’s IndieBound’s list, by state, of which authors and illustrators will appear at their local indies as volunteers on Saturday, November 29, for Indies First Day. Nashville folks, I’ll be volunteering at Parnassus Books from 10 to 11, and I’ll do story time during that hour with my friend, author Jessica Young. Bring your wee ones to us!

Sherman Alexie started Indies First Day last year, encouraging authors to work a shift in their local independent bookstore on Small Business Saturday. This year, Indies First is being spearheaded by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.

Hope to see you there!

1 Comments on Indies First Day, last added: 11/24/2014
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3. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #407: Featuring August Hall

“Foxes, wolves, deer nest too. Forest knows waking, opening up.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


I always look forward to new picture book releases from Kentucky novelist and poet, George Ella Lyon. I reviewed her newest picture book, What Forest Knows (Atheneum, November 2014), illustrated by August Hall, for BookPage. That link is here, if you’d like to read more about it. And today I’m sharing some spreads from it.

While we’re on the subject of Lyon, I’m also currently reading this wonderful book, which she wrote with J. Patrick Lewis and which was released by WordSong last month:

There’s more about the book here, including several starred reviews, and here’s an interview with Lyon at Sylvia Vardell’s site.

Here are two more spreads from What Forest Knows:


“Then forest knows snow. While Earth travels round the sun
Forest knows each season, each creature, needs the others.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


Sniff. Forest knows everything belongs.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


WHAT FOREST KNOWS. Copyright © 2014 by George Ella Lyon. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by August Hall. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) Naomi Shihab Nye. One of my favorite writers, and this interview from this week is wonderful. Also, I’m excited to start her new book, which I just got.

2) While we’re discussing Naomi, she wrote my favorite poem.

3) This made me laugh:

4) Gantos has a Tumblr!

5) I have ordered this book and am really eager to see it.

6) Ditto for this one.

7) My 9-year-old’s second-ever piano recital.

BONUS: A friend told me to check out Gravity Falls. It’s a hoot and makes everyone in the family laugh. Also, I love Mabel.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

8 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #407: Featuring August Hall, last added: 11/23/2014
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4. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Alexis Deacon

(Click to enlarge)


This morning over at Kirkus, I write about Bárður Oskarsson’s The Flat Rabbit, released by Owlkids Books in September. That link is here.

Last week, I wrote about Russell Hoban’s Jim’s Lion, which has been re-imagined as a graphic novel (Candlewick, November 2014) with the illustrations of Alexis Deacon. That link is here, and above and below are some spreads from the book, as well as the cover of the 2001 picture book with art from Ian Andrew.


(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


* * * * * * *

JIM’S LION. Text copyright © 2014 by Russell Hoban. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Alexis Deacon. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books London.

3 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Alexis Deacon, last added: 11/23/2014
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5. Hook, Heidi, and Hendrix

“Though she couldn’t tell for certain from her vantage point, Jocelyn did not expect to find a single corset on the entire island. She was utterly charmed. Even so, the girl knew that somewhere down there, amidst all the wonder, a terrible beast was waiting. Reminds me a bit of my first wedding day.”


Just last week, dear Imps, I chatted over at Kirkus with author Heidi Schulz about her debut novel, Hook’s Revenge (Disney-Hyperion, September 2014), illustrated by John Hendrix. That link is here, but I wanted to follow up with some art from Hendrix today. Above and below are some of his interior illustrations from the book.



“‘Don’t die,’ he said. ‘What fun would that be? For me, I mean?’
She reached over and gave him a little shove. ‘This is serious.’
‘Oh yes. Serious. I can tell.’ He arranged his face into mock gravity.”


“If you have ever felt a bit nervous about a task before you—such as walking past a snarling dog on your way to school, confessing to your mother that you broke her favorite Royal Family commemorative plate, or needing to dig up and rebury a body on a cold, dark night—you may have an idea of how Jocelyn felt
as she seated herself in the little boat.”


“The beast looked confused. It snapped its jaws in first one direction, then another.
A third attack followed, then a fourth. Though no blood flowed, the archers finally succeeded in driving the monster away. It hissed at Jocelyn once more before lumbering off through the jungle.”


“‘So you took up the challenge.’ His deep, rich voice held the edge of a sneer.
‘I didn’t expect you would.’ Jocelyn spoke past the lump forming in her throat.
‘You asked me to. Your letter said it was my inheritance.’”


* * * * * * *

HOOK’S REVENGE. Copyright © 2014 by Heidi Schulz. Illustrations © 2014 by John Hendrix. Published by Disney-Hyperion, New York. Illustrations used by permission of John Hendrix.

1 Comments on Hook, Heidi, and Hendrix, last added: 11/20/2014
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6. Sci Fi Before Breakfast: A Visit with Tony DiTerlizziand Some Bonus Art from Ralph McQuarrie

An early sketch of Otto from DiTerlizzi’s WondLa trilogy
(Click to enlarge)


Ralph McQuarrie’s art from
Star Wars: The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight by Tony DiTerlizzi


Caldecott Honor illustrator and author Tony DiTerlizzi is visiting 7-Imp this morning for an in-his-own-words type of piece, meaning I’m going to hand the site over to him to share some art and talk about his new books. I asked him about wrapping up his WondLa trilogy, which he just completed; Book III,

The Battle for WondLa, was released in May. In this third and final installment of the illustrated science fiction fantasy trilogy, Eva Nine is on the run — yet is the only one capable of bringing peace to the humans and aliens of Orbona.

I also asked Tony what it was like to be asked to adapt the original Star Wars trilogy into a picture book for children, which is precisely what Lucasfilm asked him to do. The book, Star Wars: The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, features the existing artwork of concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, who was the artist behind the original Star Wars trilogy, and was released by Disney Lucasfilm Press in October.

Tony shares some process sketches and final art from WondLa, as well as some spreads from the Star Wars picture book adaptation. Here’s Tony in his own words, and I thank him for visiting.


* * * On WondLa * * *


The WondLa trilogy was a tale I’d had in my mind for over a decade. It came to me in the late 1990s as I was developing The Spiderwick Chronicles backstory. In Spiderwick, I was fascinated by the idea of a story from the past coming forward in time to the present. As I pondered this notion, I explored in the other direction and asked myself, “Could I also pull a story from the future back to the present?”


Characters in development: Eva Nine, Rovender Kitt, Muthr, Besteel
(Click each to enlarge)


Over the years, as I mulled over the plot and characters, several momentous events happened in my life: I tasted success, turned 40, and my daughter was born. WondLa soon became more than just a futuristic fairy tale –- it became a window to my thoughts, joys, and concerns as a parent. Consequently, the story asks a lot of questions: Are we the best caretakers for the planet? Are we alone in the universe? What happens when we die? In the end, the story offers no answers. For me, those are the stories that stick with you long after you read the last page.


“By dusk, a heavy fog had fallen upon the land, concealing it as far as Eva could see. From her vantage point atop Otto, she thought the mist below looked like a dark treacherous sea, and her mount was her faithful ship, The Mighty Otto.
Even in the dense murk she could still see Muthr, for the pale light of the Omnipod illuminated the robot’s form as she rolled alongside them.”
– From Book I,
The Search for WondLa
(Click to enlarge)


“With great force Rovender Kitt pushed the time-forgotten door open. A dank, musty smell greeted the explorers as they peered into the pitch-black room. Rovender nodded, then went in. Eva followed and found herself in an expansive round room.”
– From Book I,
The Search for WondLa
(Click to enlarge)


I thought I knew what WondLa was going to be about when I set out to pen the first book, but throughout the six years it took me to write and illustrate the trilogy, experiences in my life shaped the story. I am thankful for that. It may be skinned in a slick science-fiction veneer, but underneath the theme of WondLa is very tangible: Where is home and what defines family?


“…It was like looking into a warped mirror. Aside from the shorter hair, Eva Eight looked like an older version of Eva, complete with perfect porcelain features.”
– Sketch from Book II,
A Hero for WondLa
(Click to enlarge)


“A gawky alien in a flight suit stood on four thin rubbery legs
watching Eva’s every move.”
– From Book II,
A Hero for WondLa
(Click to enlarge)


“The rider entered the campsite, a young Caerulean seated in the munt-runner’s saddle. His mount’s wild scarlet eyes dilated as they neared the firelight.”
– Sketch from Book II,
A Hero for WondLa
(Click to enlarge)


“‘Before you go, I want to give you something.’ Rovender pulled off the frayed cord from around his waist. ‘Your cord from the council?’”
– From Book II,
A Hero for WondLa
(Click to enlarge)


Classics such as Peter Pan & Wendy, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz inspired me. Like those fairy tales, WondLa centers on a female protagonist, Eva Nine, who leaves home and ventures into a wonderworld of strange characters. The story also draws inspiration from the fantastic science fiction genre seen in films, such as Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.


Cover art from Book III, The Battle for WondLa
(Click to enlarge)


“‘Will he be okay?’ Eva ran her hands over the scorched claws of the fallen guard.”
– Sketch and final art from Book III,
The Battle for WondLa
(Click each to enlarge)



“‘You are a mother with eggs, aren’t you?’”
– Sketch from Book III,
The Battle for WondLa
(Click to enlarge)


Because it is an imaginary setting, I relied heavily on my talents as an artist to illustrate Eva’s adventures. The intense world-building I had created in character and plot now continued on a visual level. From the design of the main characters and the places they visit to the artifacts they use, everything in Eva’s universe help convey the concepts and themes of the story. This is where my background in working on the Dungeons & Dragons game paid off. For D&D, I was required to do all sorts of world design, while I illustrated the various adventure modules and monster manuals. I had no idea then how invaluable that experience would be for me as an aspiring author and illustrator for children’s literature.

[Tony talks in the above video about the WondLa books,
if you'd like to see even more art from the trilogy]


* * * On Star Wars * * *


Last year, I was contacted by Lucasfilm to adapt the original Star Wars trilogy into a picture book format for young readers, using the existing artwork of concept artist, Ralph McQuarrie. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity (after I picked myself up from the floor).

As I mentioned, WondLa—as well as other stories I’ve created, including Spiderwick—were inspired by the films of George Lucas. To be asked to retell the tale of my childhood hero, Luke Skywalker, was an incredible honor for me. It validated me as an established storyteller for children.


“The Imperial fighters blew apart as the Millennium Falcon
fired on them from overhead. …”

(Click to enlarge)


I approached the project as a parent who grew up on these films and as a kid who may be enjoying them for the first time. Of the film’s many themes, I had to find one that would work best for a picture book. Like WondLa, I focused on the importance of family.

As it is with many classic protagonists, Luke Skywalker starts out an orphan. Through his intergalactic journey, he transforms from farm boy to Jedi knight, but he also reunites with his sister and saves his father. That is powerful stuff when you stop and think about it. I believe Luke accomplishes this by remaining optimistic throughout his adventure. And not just in his own situation but also in how he views others: he’d rather try to turn his father, Darth Vader, to the good side of the Force than strike him down. That’s a story I want to share with young readers.


“…Unclipping himself from the harpoon, Luke dropped down to the soft snow below. The walker continued on its mechanical march.”
(Click to enlarge)


I wrote the first draft of the book from memory, while looking at Ralph’s incredible images. I remembered that, as a kid of the 1970s, Star Wars didn’t establish its hold on me through repeated viewings of the film. In fact, it wasn’t released on VHS tape until the mid-1980s. Instead, it captured my imagination through play. Whether I was dressed up as Luke Skywalker or having an adventure with my Kenner action figures, the Star Wars universe was a place I frequented many times.


“…The next morning, Luke arrived at the palace. With weapons drawn,
Jabba’s gang surrounded him. …”

(Click to enlarge)


I tapped into that childhood memory while writing the text for this book. By highlighting favorite lines from the film and through the use of onomatopoeia, I tried to recapture the excitement felt when I first traveled to a galaxy far, far away. I hope readers, young and old, feel the same way.



* * * * * * *

All artwork above is reproduced by permission of Tony DiTerlizzi and Disney Lucasfilm Press.

1 Comments on Sci Fi Before Breakfast: A Visit with Tony DiTerlizziand Some Bonus Art from Ralph McQuarrie, last added: 11/19/2014
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7. My Chapter 16 chat with G. Neri …


Over at Chapter 16 today, I talk with author G. Neri about his new picture book biography, Hello, I’m Johnny Cash, illustrated by A. G. Ford.

That Q&A is here.

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8. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #406: Featuring Alex Barrow

“This tale begins with Samuel Drew, wherever he goes, his dog goes too.
The day is fine, the sky is bright, as Sam and dog stroll into sight.
Look there he is, the little boy with dog-on-wheels, his favourite toy.
Let’s watch and find out where they go … But hurry up — we can’t be slow!”

(Click to enlarge)


This week over at BookPage, I have a review of Gabby Dawnay’s A Possum’s Tail, illustrated by Alex Barrow. The two have worked together on stories and poems for the UK’s OKIDO magazine, and this is their first picture book together. It was published this month from Tate Publishing in London but is distributed by Abrams here in the States.

The review is here, so you can head over there if you want more information. This morning, I share two spreads so that we can all get a sneak peek inside the book. One more is below.

“…London Zoo! They pass the cheeky chimpanzees and noisy parrots in the trees.
Past hippos snoozing in the sun and sliding penguins having fun.
Past sleeping snakes and tigers snoring, tall giraffes and lions roaring …
Sam looks around, he knows his mind, he knows exactly where to find …”

(Click to enlarge)



A POSSUM’S TAIL. Copyright © 2014 by Gabby Dawnay. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Alex Barrow. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Tate Publishing/Abrams.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) I spoke in Knoxville this week about Wild Things—at a bookstore and at the University—and that went well.

2) I got to see old friends, while there.

3) I read B. J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures at story time at Parnassus Books just yesterday, and one little girl, a regular whom I always enjoy seeing, laughed so hard that her whole body shook.

4) Since we got a galley of the fourth Penderwicks book, the girls and I are re-reading books 1 to 3 (mostly to refresh our memories). And they are having so. much. fun. Even more fun than the first time. I am enjoying the re-reads but am super eager to get to the new one.

5) We are also reading the Joey Pigza books, which I may have already said recently, but it’s truly a kick to read Gantos’ writing outloud. Also, I’ve decided Grandma is one of children’s literature’s best characters ever. (Books 1 to 4 are re-reads for me, but they’re all new to the girls, who now love Joey. When we’re done with the fourth, the brand-new one awaits, the one I haven’t read yet. I’m eager to get to that, too.)

6) The score in the TV show The Leftovers. I also really like the show itself thus far, though it’s often deeply sad and though the title makes me giggle every time. It makes me think of things like meatloaf. In fact, I’ve just been referring to it as Meatloaf, though really and truly, the episodes I’ve seen so far have been good.

7) Nashville’s Kidlit Drink Night. So good to see folks there. AND to have the Local Latte, because honey, cinnamon, milk, coffee … YUM.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #406: Featuring Alex Barrow, last added: 11/17/2014
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9. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Floyd Cooper

“… With every bend, I hope. / With every plié, / every turn, /
every grand jeté, I hope. …”

(Click to enlarge spread and see rest of text)


This morning over at Kirkus, I write about
Russell Hoban’s Jim’s Lion. It’s been re-imagined as a graphic novel with the illustrations of Alexis Deacon. That link is here.

* * *

Last week, I wrote here about Kristy Dempsey’s A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Today, I’ve got some spreads from the book.


“Stars hardly shine in the New York City sky, / with the factories spilling out / pillars of smoke / and streetlights spreading / bright halos round their pin-top faces. …”
(Click to enlarge spread and see rest of text)


“Mama says wishing on stars is a waste anyhow, / says you don’t need
stars in the sky / to make your dreams come true. / Hope can pick your dream up,
she says, / off the floor of your heart, / when you think it can’t happen, / no how,
no way, / though unlike wishing / Mama says / hoping / is hard work. …”

(Click to enlarge spread and see rest of text)


“In my heart I’m the one leaping / across that stage, / raising myself high on those shoulders, / then falling / slowly / slowly / slowly / to the arms below. …”
(Click to enlarge spread and see rest of text)



* * * * * * *

A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT: ONE BALLERINA’S DREAM. Copyright © 2014 by Kristy Dempsey. Illustrations © 2014 by Floyd Cooper. Published by Philomel, New York. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher.

1 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Floyd Cooper, last added: 11/15/2014
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10. Cartoon-Me Interviews Red Panda and Hippo …

As you can see, I’m doing something totally different today.

That’s the cartoonized version of me up there, interviewing the two main characters of an upcoming graphic novel for children, called Hippopotamister. Springing from the mind of comics creator John Green (pictured right), who lives in Brooklyn and is best known for Teen Boat, his collaboration with Dave Roman, Hippopotamister is Green’s solo debut. It’s a comic geared at younger children and tells the story of Hippo and his friend, Red Panda (who are pictured above). They live in the city zoo but head out to get jobs in the bustling world of humans. (Hippo becomes the titular Hippopotamister — just to survive out in the big city.) Red Panda finds the occupational world challenging, and even though Hippo excels at each job he secures, Red Panda manages to get them fired. The book is scheduled for an early-2016 release from First Second.

You can read a great process essay from John here at School Library Journal, as well as this interview at The Beat. (P.S. Mr. Schu got cartoonized, too.)

I thank John for visiting. This makes the second time I’ve interviewed wise-talkin’ animals. (Punk Farm was my first.)

* * * * * * *

Art is copyright © 2014 by John Green and used by his permission.

Photo of John Green taken by Ellen B. Wright.

3 Comments on Cartoon-Me Interviews Red Panda and Hippo …, last added: 11/17/2014
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11. Hook’s Revenge: A Q&A with Author Heidi Schulz

Over at Kirkus this morning, I’ve got a Q&A with author Heidi Schulz, whose debut novel, Hook’s Revenge, arrived on shelves in September from Disney-Hyperion.

The book includes cover art and interior illustrations from John Hendrix. Next week here at 7-Imp, I’ll have some art from the book.

The Q&A is here.

Until tomorrow …

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12. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Rick Allen

It’s such a pleasure to have printmaker and illustrator Rick Allen visit 7-Imp this morning, especially to read his thoughtful responses to my questions below — and, of course, to see his compelling prints as well.

Rick is up in cold, windy Minnesota in a city on Lake Superior’s north shore, and as you’ll read below, it’s just the right place for him to be. His first book was self-published via Kenspeckle Letterpress, which he describes as “original letterpress artwork, giclees, notecards, prints and posters…[with] his creative muse: Marian Lansky.” His other two books were published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and written by award-winning children’s book author and poet Joyce Sidman. The first, Dark Emperor & Other Poems of The Night, received a 2011 Newbery Honor. And I wrote here at Kirkus about their latest collaboration, Winter Bees & Other Poems of The Cold, released just last week. Allen’s illustrations for each are exquisite.

For our fake cyber-breakfast, which I very much wish were real and in-person, Rick’s going to be brave and go for coffee. “Breakfast,” he told me, “is multiple cups of tea, usually black tea of varying strength, depending upon how long I forget it’s been steeping. In the last few years, I’ve been experimenting with drinking coffee in the morning; to make it palatable I generally lash in great quantities of half-and-half, so perhaps it’s coffee-tinted cream that I’m drinking. We had a Swedish great-grandmother, who used to slurp coffee from a saucer into my siblings and me when we were just months old, and it may have taken a half-century to overcome that early cultural conditioning to try coffee, or near-coffee, again.”

I can always help people find their way to coffee!

I thank him for visiting.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Rick: Illustrator — and definitely not author slash illustrator. I tend to be wordy but haven’t ever tried to push those words around into anything like a narrative, beyond the title for a print. And since book illustration itself hasn’t been a primary focus for me, I should probably say I’m a printmaker/illustrator, just for accuracy’s sake.

Rick working on a block

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?






Jules: What is your usual medium?

Rick: I most often work in wood engraving and linoleum block prints, both traditional relief print media, with some drawing and painting (usually in gouache) wrapped up into that process. Relief printing involves cutting away material from the block until only the image remains to take ink and print the image, and it’s cut in reverse to make the image print right. The farther you get into the cutting and the more time you’ve got invested into the block, the less room you have to make a mistake and the more probable it is you’re going to make that mistake. It’s like playing a game of graphic Jenga: How much can you remove before you cause the whole thing to collapse? And until you pull a proof of the image, you can’t be entirely sure you haven’t made a slip of the hand that is either a fatal mistake or an inspired accident that makes the picture. I’ve frequently had to start the whole thing over and begin a new block because of a cut too far. It’s exciting, in the way watching two snails race can be exciting — you’ve got to have a long attention span and an appreciation for the small detail.

Rick: “Our oldest platen press, an 8×12 (the size of the printing chase in inches) Chandler & Price, built in 1897. Still works beautifully.”


Rick: “Our trusty 1897 C&P with a load of ink cans stacked on it,
as we print blocks.”


Lino and engraving tools on Rick’s desk

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Rick: Duluth, Minnesota. Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline.

Rick: “What my desk looks like while working on a multiple-block printing project …”

Jules: Can you tell me about your road to publication?

Rick: We self-published The First Chinook, a Robert W. Service-like epic poem featuring a true-life sled dog story from the 1920s. (We’re still astonished that Disney hasn’t ever found and wagged this amazing tale.) It was written by a friend whose journalistic day job was writing and editing for climbing and mountaineering magazines. I did almost forty wood engravings in six months and developed a nearly permanent squint. My wife, Marian, digitally colored the engravings and designed the book. In this adventure, we learned that book publishing is a noble undertaking and that we didn’t want to do it again.

Image from Joyce Sidman’s Dark Emperor,
printed from three blocks and hand-colored


Rick: “Working on Dark Emperor, owls and raccoons became sort of a leitmotif
in our shop. This is a sheet of random pen and ink doodles,
exploring the possibilities of owl personalities.”


For Dark Emperor, I was contacted by Ann Rider, Joyce Sidman’s incredible editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who lives just a little bit farther up Lake Superior’s north shore and had become aware of my work through a local gallery.

With Winter Bees, both Ann and Joyce were willing to take me along on the ride again.

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Rick: www.kenspeckleletterpress.com/ and


“Dream of the Tundra Swan” spread
(Click to enlarge)

“Winter Bees” spread
(Click to enlarge)

“Vole in Winter” spread
(Click to enlarge)

Pictured above: Spreads from Joyce Sidman’s Winter Bees
(Houghton Mifflin, November 2014)

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Rick: No new titles in hand for the now, so I’m working on drawings, paintings, and prints for the annual gallery show we do in April. Which in Duluth truly can be the cruelest month, with measurable snowfall still being more likely than green grass and with lilacs that won’t bloom in the dooryard for another two months.

Rick: “A random pen and ink sketch of two girls, actually. The soccer player might could be my wife as a soccer player in an earlier alternate life.”

Rick: “Another doodle of favorite shop animal, possibly from an unwritten story.
We might have a name for the raccoon, but no story.”


Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Rick again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?


: Definitely that thing with the muse and seeing where we all end up. But I’ve only worked on three books (and, oddly enough, they’ve all been poetry) and each book has been done differently, so it’s hard to say that I’ve got a process in place.

The first book was done in wood engravings, the second (Dark Emperoror) consisted of 12 multiple-block linoleum prints finished with hand coloring, and the last (Winter Bees) was made from nearly 200 individual blocks that were printed, hand-colored, and then scanned and digitally composed for the final spread. Most of my time early on is spent reading and re-reading the poems and trying to track the visuals which occur to me as I go, like walking through the woods and noticing the small half-heard or almost-glimpsed animals as you pass through.


Rick: “A progression of sketches from the first scrawl with pen and watercolor, to a photocopy of the next-stage chalk and pencil sketch, to the cut-and-pasted working comp [for the 'Under Ice' spread in Winter Bees]“


I recall poetry being defined as something that explains nothing but makes everything understandable, and I think of images accompanying the poetry as being similar: There has to be enough room left in an image for the viewer to bring their own imagination to it — and take away their own meaning from it. I’ll do some very rough sketches, rough enough so that they’re entirely cryptic to anyone else without a paragraph of explanation accompanying them. Those rough sketches leave me ample sea room to continue changing and refining the image as I get the drawing onto the block and then begin cutting the block for printing.


Rick: “Progressive proofs of the beaver lodge from ‘Under Ice’ –
from sketch to initial color separation trials of two registered blocks.”


Rick: “The sketch, cut block, and first proof from the bullet-like swimming beaver
in ‘Under Ice’ [in
Winter Bees]” …


As I mentioned earlier, printmaking by its nature can be an extremely controlled and controlling medium, but since I’m largely self-taught as a printmaker, I’ve contrived my own left-handed ways of going about it that encourage a degree of improvisation throughout. For example, if the drawing on the block is too tightly finished, you’re apt to just reproduce its lines in the cutting, which may take a little life out of the final print. So I keep the drawing on the block loose enough to serve only as a suggested starting place and to cut the image as freely as I can, departing from the drawing as seems advisable or necessary as it goes along. This process also requires an extremely patient and tolerant editor, who can accommodate a deal of uncertainty, which I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have in Ann Rider at Houghton.

Rick: “Our assistant and colleague, Janelle Miller (a.k.a. the Warrior Printress, or Jenspeckle), working on pulling the print for Dark Emperor
on our little Vandercook proof press #1 …”

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.


: I currently work with my wife and creative partner, Marian, in a warren of three randomly connected offices in an old factory building in Duluth, about a block from Lake Superior; in one form or another we’ve been in the building since 1989. The largest room houses our four presses (the oldest dating back to 1897 and the youngest to the mid-1950s) and cabinets of wood and metal type, flat files of paper, paper cutter, ink, and all the outdated odds and ends that we use in the lino blocks, wood engravings, and typeset projects we produce.


Rick’s desk


Marian has her own office where she spends time in the 21st-century work (she was an early adopter of Mac computers in her graphic design business back in ‘89) with an array of computers and their attendant scanners and giclee printers. I’m located in still another studio/gallery space with an old drafting desk, bookshelves, and an easel; we open the gallery space in a random sort of way to show and sell our work when we can. All the rooms have huge north-facing windows that make for a fantastic working light. We couldn’t be more fortunate in our workplace; this building is its own village, with shops and offices and people we’ve come to know over more than 25 years of residence, right on the shore of the greatest of the Great Lakes.


Rick, working on a project and using a variety of tools on a lino block

3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?


: How early is early? I think reading became important to me first in high school under the influence of several memorable English and history teachers, who got the canon of classic Western lit drilled into our bones. Melville, Dickinson, Whitman, and Twain. Shakespeare, Tennyson, Yeats, and Dylan Thomas. Frost and Lincoln.

And illustrators? There are far too many: Winslow Homer, Arthur Rackham, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Beatrix Potter, Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Lynd Ward, Robert Lawson, Wanda Gág (there’s an accent in there I can’t manufacture), the d’Aulaires, Gorey, Sendak. …


Rick: “A detail from our shop, featuring the 16th president, wearing a pressman’s paper hat (just like the carpenter in Alice), and an ad from the 1920s offering big bucks for a career in art; we still make those very same big bucks now,
not adjusted for inflation.”


We had a Carnegie Library here in Duluth as I grew up, with a large, comprehensive children’s room that I escaped as soon as I was old enough to head up the stairs to the large copper-domed adult reference room and the thick translucent glass floors in the stacks that allowed spectrally-diffused feet to appear above you and shadows that passed quietly beneath your own feet as you browsed through books that had been on the shelves since Moses, or at least since Andrew Carnegie put them there. It was a place that gave books a living presence for me — and where I first had the sense that you could use books to help create your own interior life.


Rick: “Another unwritten story of ours featuring our very own The Trapper’s Daughter, which has gone through 12 or so prints over as many or more years. We do a new one every Spring, making hers a story without words, or a story looking for words.”


Rick: “An early Trapper’s Daughter print: tone block and lots of hand-coloring …”


4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Rick: While I’d really like to see (and talk to) dead people, at least some of those listed above, among the living I wouldn’t mind having a pint with Christopher Wormell, Michael Sowa, or Tomi Ungerer.


Rick: “The print of The Trapper’s Daughter and The Long View, midway through the printing process on our #14 Vandy press, with about 12 of the 26 blocks printed.
A work literally in progress….”


Rick: “The final drawing for The Long View,
taped together in preparation for transfer to the first block …”



Rick: “Our inking table with brayers and inks laid out for The Trapper’s Daughter
The Long View. Some of the inks….”


5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Rick: For most of my life, I listened constantly to the radio while I worked: pop, classical, or talk. (Once, pulling an all-nighter on a project, I listened to the BBC World Service interview a farmer in the English Midlands, who collected potatoes that resembled famous people, which has left me with an almost hallucinogenic-seeming memory.) The last few years I’ve gone through a period of not listening to anything while working, and I’m just now starting to have an iPod, shuffling music at my desk. The shuffle function may be the most wonderful technological advance in my cast-iron shop: the resulting playlists are often startling and, occasionally, gobstopperingly magical. Today’s shuffle started with bagpipes and then moved on to Finnish accordionist Maria Kalaniemi; June Tabor, singing “Body And Soul”; a local blues guitarist, named Charlie Parr; Mary Gauthier from New Orleans; and a Swedish fiddle trio called Väsen. This was followed by Handel, Ella Fitzgerald, Hot Tuna, Bach, The Pogues, Keith Jarrett, Bonnie Raitt, Dire Straits, The Roches, Leonard Cohen, Jim Hall, and Tom Waits. And, always, there’s the uneasy memory of a British tuber that may have resembled Margaret (or was it Dennis?) Thatcher lingering in the background of my ear’s mind.

A 5×7 wood engraving Rick did for their friend in Ireland, who does their website development and who is an ardent Tom Waits fan …

Rick: “The sketch transferred onto the block with the engraving in process.
Very squinty work.”

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Rick: I didn’t learn to tie my shoes until first grade. But I did learn it well enough then to retain the skill up to now.

Rick: “The final print of The Trapper’s Daughter and The Long View.
Twenty-six blocks, no hand-coloring. It almost beat us.”

7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Rick: I haven’t been interviewed enough to know. I’m still surprised by the questions that are asked.

Rick: “The most recent Trapper’s Daughter
– from 12 blocks with some hand-coloring.”


* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Rick: That’s like being asked to choose a favorite child. I love ‘em all, each in their own way. Although “hystricine” is very nice. And “phillumeny.” Or “flosculation.” …

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Rick: “Should,” as in what you should do, or should be, or should have done. …

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Rick: Damp, drizzly November-in-your-soul weather, like a nor’easter with great waves and horizontal rain/sleet/snow driving in off the lake. Wonderful, as long as you’re on shore. And words. Music. Printing shops. Surprising and random idle associations of unconnected ideas. My wife, always.

Jules: What turns you off?

Rick: Emotional conflict of nearly any kind. Hot humid weather; I’m primarily a psychrophilic animal, which made Winter Bees a good fit for me. Nothing like spending a couple of years in winter on a book.

Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Rick: Entirely situational.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Rick: Any kind of boat moving through water. A brayer rolling up ink — and a platen letterpress in operation.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Rick: A boat’s keel hitting ledge rock, or a case of six-point metal type falling to the floor — the unpleasant knell of an incipient disaster in either instance.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Rick: I’ve taken a long and indirect path to reach a point where I’m doing pretty much just what I want to do and can make a living by doing just that; it’s so rare a condition for someone working at their art that I don’t for a moment wish there were anything else I could be doing. Before getting here, I had years and years of varied and odd jobs: I was a canoe guide in the very-nearly-far north and a partner in an ice-climbing school in the even-slightly-further north. I worked retail in an outdoor gear store and in a tiny neighborhood bookstore, specializing in children’s books (back when neighborhood bookstores weren’t all that rare), which was conveniently located next to a bakery that made chocolate croissants fresh every morning. While living in Germany I had a part-time job as a kindermaedchen—a nanny—for three kids aged two, three, and five. And like many failed humanists with a degree in History (in my case, in the relationship between art and science during the Italian Renaissance, which predictably proved to have little traction in the real world of gainful employment), I worked as a paralegal for a large law firm, as I pondered a possible future as an attorney. And I delivered a large wooden sloop from the far western end of Lake Superior to New York City via the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal without once sinking it in 1,500 miles. Now I stay in the print shop to pet the presses and to be mindful of my immense good luck in being able to do what I most want to do, for as long as I can do it.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Rick: Anything, absolutely anything, requiring numeracy.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Rick: “You certainly took your time getting here.”


All photos are used with permission of Rick Allen.

WINTER BEES & OTHER POEMS OF THE COLD. Text copyright © 2014 by Joyce Sidman. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Rick Allen. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.

10 Comments on Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Rick Allen, last added: 11/12/2014
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13. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #405: Featuring Keiko Kaichi

“‘We will not open the door,’ they cried. ‘You are not our mother!
She has a soft, kind voice and your voice is gruff. You are the wolf!’”


We’re goin’ Grimm today, you all.

Back in September, Minedition (whose books I’m always eager to see) released a picture book adaptation of the Grimms’ tale “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids” with illustrations from Keiko Kaichi. The Wolf & the Seven Kids was translated by Anthea Bell and is very faithful to the Grimms’ version, viciousness and all. And this is the debut book from Kaichi, who was born and raised in Japan and who currently lives in Osaka.

Kaichi’s kids, the baby goats, are clearly snuggly and … well, flat-out adorable, as you can see here. But the book doesn’t shy from the original tale’s dramatic turn-of-events. The wolf still eats every kid but one, and the mama still releases the six from the wolf’s stomach with her scissors, needle, and thread. Oh, and that’s right: The big bad wolf also still sees his demise at the bottom of a well.

This has always been one of the most terrifying Grimms’ tales to me. An intruder bursts into the home and kidnaps, then devours, each and every kid — but one. The one who manages to hide and hear the entire thing. Oof. This makes it all the more satisfying when the mama comes home to save everyone. With her SEWING KIT, nonetheless! And then she distributes very tight hugs.

Kaichi’s color palette is particularly soothing, but I’ll let you see for yourself with some more art below.


“But the wolf found them all and quick as a flash he swallowed them one by one, whole. The youngest in the grandfather clock was the only one he didn’t find.”
(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


“…She looked for her children but they were nowhere to be found. She called them one after another by name but no one answered. At last, when she came to the youngest,
a soft voice called, ‘Dear mother, I am in the grandfather clock.’ She took the kid out, and he told her that the wolf had come and had eaten all the others.
Then how she wept over her poor children.”

(Click to see spread in its entirety)


“Then the kid had to run home to fetch scissors and a needle and thread, and the mother goat cut open the monster’s stomach. Hardly had she made one cut than a little kid thrust his head out, and when she cut further out sprang all six, one after another, all still alive, and they were not hurt at all, for in his greediness the monster had swallowed them down whole. How happy they all were!”
(Click to see spread in its entirety)


THE WOLF & THE SEVEN KIDS. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Keiko Kaichi. English text translation by Anthea Bell. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Minedition, Hong Kong.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) Visiting a brand-new, beautiful library.

2) Visiting with friends.

3) Friends who feed you delicious meals.

4) My latest book club read, Eugene Yelchin’s Arcady’s Goal, is so good.

5) Songs that take you back …

6) Re-reading beloved novels with my girls.

7) Kick in advance: I’ll see some old friends this week.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

9 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #405: Featuring Keiko Kaichi, last added: 11/12/2014
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14. What I’m Doing at Kirkus (And a Couple of Other Places) This Week, Plus What I Did Last Week,Featuring Icinori, Jöns Mellgren,Alexandria Neonakis, and Kazue Takahashi

This morning over at Kirkus, I write about Kristy Dempsey’s A Dance Like Starlight, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. It was released back in January, but sometimes I’m just slow. That link will be here soon.

The other day over at Chapter 16, I interviewed Chris Van Allsburg. He’ll be in Nashville next week. I can’t make it to his talk, but it was good to ask him a bit about his new book and what’s next for him.

And over at BookPage, I reviewed Jim Aylesworth’s My Grandfather’s Coat, illustrated by Barbara McClintock. That is here.

Last week (here) at Kirkus, I wrote about four new international imports, and I’ve got art from each below. (Above is an illustration from Kazue Takahashi’s Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear.)


Art from Icinori’s Issun Bôshi: The One-Inch Boy (Little Gestalten, August 2014)


“A miracle happened. They had a child. But—and this hardly came as a surprise—
he really was tiny. And they called him Issun Bôshi, ‘the One-Inch Boy.’”

(Click to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


“And off he went.”
(Click to enlarge)

Art from Celina Kalluk’s Sweetest Kulu, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis
(Inhabit Media, November 2014)


“You had many wondrous and grand visitors!
They shared thoughts, feelings, and best wishes with you, darling Kulu.”

(Click to enlarge)


“Caribou chose patience for you, cutest Kulu. He gave you the ability to look to the stars, so that you will always know where you are and may gently lead the way.”
(Click to enlarge)


“The beautiful Land gave you a practical foundation to balance and build upon.
Never be lazy, beloved Kulu, because your Land is a place of bright ideas.”

(Click to enlarge)



Art from Jöns Mellgren’s Elsa and the Night
(Little Gestalten, August 2014)


(Click either image to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


(Click either image to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


Art from Kazue Takahashi’s
Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear
(Museyon, December 2014)


“His home is far away and difficult to get to.”

“He dances to the music on the radio.”

“Then, he carefully brushes his teeth before going to bed.”

* * * * * * *

ELSA AND THE NIGHT. Copyright © 2014 by Jöns Mellgren. Published by Little Gestalten, Berlin. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher.

ISSUN BOSHI: THE ONE-INCH BOY. Copyright © 2014 by Icinori. Published by Little Gestalten, Berlin. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher.

KUMA-KUMA CHAN, THE LITTLE BEAR. Copyright © 2001 by Kazue Takahashi. English edition copyright © 2014 by Museyon, Inc., New York. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher.

SWEETEST KULU. Copyright © 2014 by Celina Kalluk. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Alexandria Neonakis. Published by Inhabit Media, Ontario. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher.

2 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus (And a Couple of Other Places) This Week, Plus What I Did Last Week,Featuring Icinori, Jöns Mellgren,Alexandria Neonakis, and Kazue Takahashi, last added: 11/9/2014
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15. Halloween May Be Over, But …


… I still have some spine-tingling art to share here at 7-Imp today.

Last week, I chatted here with author James Preller over at Kirkus. We chatted about several things, including his Scary Tales series (Feiwel & Friends), which are illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.

Today, I’ve got some of Bruno’s art from the Scary Tale books. (Pictured above is an illustration from One-Eyed Doll, the newest in the series.)


Art from One-Eyed Doll (2014)



Art from Nightmareland (2014)



Art from Good Night, Zombie (2013)



Art from Home Sweet Horror (2013)



Art from I Scream, You Scream (2013)



* * * * * * *

All illustrations are published by permission of the publisher, Feiwel & Friends.

1 Comments on Halloween May Be Over, But …, last added: 11/6/2014
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16. Sergio Ruzzier’s Undeniable Conga Line

This morning, I’m talking to author-illustrator Sergio Ruzzier about his newest picture book, just released yesterday, called A Letter for Leo (Clarion, November 2014). Sergio also shares a bit of art and early sketches from the book.

This is the story of Leo, a mail carrier who longs to get a letter himself. One morning, he finds a little blue bird, who pops out of a mailbox, in need of a home. The two become good friends, the bird even staying with Leo in his house. Since the bird’s response to everything is “cheep,” this is what Leo names him. Leo and Cheep become “a little family.”

But when Spring arrives, flocks of birds fly north. Leo is ready to go too. There is a poignant goodbye (involving a “cheep” from Cheep and a “cheep” from Leo). Life goes back to what it was pre-Cheep, but Leo finally gets a letter. Cheep has written, and it’s my favorite picture book ending of 2014. The first time I read it with my own daughters we laughed and laughed, because the letter is composed entirely of “cheep”s.

Also, Cheep may or may not return to visit Leo, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own if you find a copy of this book.

Stories about friends coming and going — it’s a common theme in picture books, but no one does it quite like Ruzzier, given his lively, singular style and the rich visual narratives he creates. Booklist calls this one a “sweet, understated story set amid a wonderfully odd landscape.” I love that. This is a story both tender and laugh-outloud funny; Sergio pulls it off with ease — and with characters who leap off the page. Esther Averill once wrote that the “final test for any child’s book” is whether it can be “placed alongside the best for adults and hold its own.” I think Sergio’s books can.

Let’s get to it. I thank him for visiting today.


* * *


Jules: I gotta ask: You’ve mentioned previously that there’s a Sendak tribute in the book. Do you want to talk about it here, or do you still want to remain mum about it to see how many people can find it?

Sergio: The book just came out, and I don’t know how many people were able to read it yet. So I’d prefer to wait at least a few weeks. It’s a tiny tribute. I know you found it right away, but let’s see if others are as sharp-eyed. Have you looked under the jacket? There is another little surprise there.



Book jacket
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: I saw that! It’s very fun. I won’t say what it is but highly recommend that readers look for it when the book is out.

My girls and I also laugh every time we see the poor bird who flies into a mountain on the “When springtime comes” spread.


“When springtime comes, the birds leave their warm winter homes and fly north.”
(Click each to enlarge)


So, when did you start working on this one? Also, while we’re discussing it, I’ve always wondered what determines when a book’s cover gets something special on it, something different from the jacket? I always love to see that — say, an embossed cloth cover under the jacket or in this case, an illustration with a subtle change to it on the cover that brings a happy surprise. Does it come down to publishing funds, whether or not that’s done?

Sergio: From what I understand, it is both a budget issue and, at least for some publishers, a practical issue. They say that the jacket often gets detached from the book and lost, especially in the hands of little children, and if the case cover is too different from the jacket, then one might not find the book when one looks for it.

I am especially fond of three-piece bindings and embossed images and all that, so I’d be happy to run the risk.

That spread you are talking about (I am glad you noticed the falling bird!) was the first color drawing I did for the book. I worked on it while at the Sendak Fellowship, so three years ago in the fall of 2011. But I already had most of the story sketched out, at least an early version of it.


Title page illustration


Jules: One of this book’s great successes, I think, is the emotional undercurrent. It gets me every time. I love the illustration for “Cheep is a big little bird now, and he is ready to go.” So much is conveyed there, and I love what you communicate in the window behind them (the strong, tall plant behind Cheep, and the wilting one behind Leo). Do you want to talk about building those layers of emotion?



Sergio: I had forgotten about those two plants! I had to go look at that picture to know what you were talking about. I usually tend to avoid oversentimentality in my stories, but sometimes it happens naturally, like here. Originally, I had a different sketch for that page: it showed Cheep preparing his own backpack, getting ready for his journey. But I thought it was too close to the text, something I try to avoid as well. I think the present scene is much subtler, with Cheep having his last meal while Leo doesn’t even try to eat, with the knot that surely is in his throat.


“Time goes by.”



Jules: Yes. It’s such a knot-in-your-throat kind of pause in the story. It’s simply lovely.

A friend of mine sent me this quote recently, which is evidently from the August 24th issue of the NYT Book Review and written by Jennifer B. McDonald:

To withstand repeated reading, picture books ought to possess an infectious quality, like that gregarious guy at the party who, through sheer exuberance, can inspire everyone to join his conga line.

(You may be happy to know, given the storyline of A Letter for Leo, that my friend included that quote in an actual letter in the mail, ’cause YAY LETTERS.)

I feel like you’re inspiring us all to join your conga line. Your work has that quality. And your style is so distinctive. In the world of picture book-dom, nothing makes me sadder than seeing a new illustrator trying to mimic the style of well-known illustrators. I know this question sounds so cliché, but I’m going to ask it anyway, ’cause I’m curious to know how you’d answer: What advice would you give aspiring illustrators about finding their unique style/voice and sticking to it?

(And I just found the piece with that quote here online.)


Sergio: I appreciate the conga line analogy, but you should know that when something like that happens at a party, I am the guy who hides in the bathroom.

It’s always so tricky to give generic advice! What I can say is that I have always been interested in visiting museums and old churches — and collecting art books. When you develop a personal, unique taste for art, whether it’s Romanesque architecture or Betty Boop cartoons, then you are probably on the good road to developing your own unique artistic style. The mimicking you are talking about is surely annoying, but what really baffles me is when a so-called artist doesn’t show any kind of cultural reference: you can be as technically skilled as you want, but your work will always be shallow and ultimately soulless. That, of course, doesn’t mean that your books won’t be hugely popular, but that’s a different issue.



Jules: Would an example of this be the bocce in Leo? (I love that that’s there.)

It occurred to me that I’d love to ask you about your contribution to Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World, which I’ve seen. You did a tribute to Charles M. Schulz. Did you get to pick him? I know he’s been a big influence on your work.

Sergio: I was referring more to the form than the subject matter, but you are right: that applies to things like the bocce scene in Leo as well. I always try to slip into my books things that I am fond of, if it’s at least minimally pertinent and not forced. I hope this makes the whole story more genuine.

When Monte Beauchamp, the brilliant editor of BLAB!, called me to know if I’d be interested in collaborating to Masterful Marks, he also asked me to name my three favorite cartoonists. I said Schulz, Edward Lear, and Elzie C. Segar, if I remember well. (I have so many favorite cartoonists that’s quite impossible to select the top three, honestly.) Anyway, he assigned me Schulz, which was great and scary at the same time. I did a lot of research and then sketched the story, panel by panel, trying to be as faithful as possible, while giving my personal interpretation and being constrained to eight pages. I wish Schulz himself wouldn’t mind too much what I did with his life. I have always adored his work since I was a little kid.

Jules: I’m curious to know what you’re reading now and really love. I know that you recently read Alessandro Sanna’s The River (which the wonderful Cristiana Clerici is going to guest-post about soon here at 7-Imp). What else is firing you up?

Sergio: Alessandro Sanna’s work is always exquisite, but with The River I think he outclassed himself. It’s simply the best illustrated, most original picture book I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s really for any audience, as it should be more often with picture books. Not surprisingly, it’s Enchanted Lion that published it in the U.S.

I was lucky to see a preview of Rowboat Watkins’ Rude Cakes, which is coming out next spring: Watkins is a rare talent, both for his writing and his drawings, and I hope to see many more of his books in the near future.

Jules: I have to say: I just got a whole lot of enjoyment out of reading the “About” page at Rowboat’s site. Also, I love how he says the best picture books pull off “seemingly effortless feats of mind-scrubbing joy.”

I guess we can wrap this up, Sergio. One more question: What are you working on now? Anything new you’re allowed to talk about?



Sergio: These days I’m correcting the proofs of Two Mice, which will be published in the Fall of 2015. It’s probably my simplest book and, of course, the one that was the most complicated to write. I am very happy with the results, also thanks to my editor Dinah Stevenson and art director Christine Kettner at Clarion. It’s a very suspenseful adventure in the form of a counting book (only up to three). The size will be quite small, which I think is appropriate for little children or for any person with little hands.

Next Spring, my new collaboration with Eve Bunting comes out, two years after Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? The book is called Whose Shoe? and talks about a very honest and altruistic little mouse. I had a lot of fun doing the pictures, and it’s always a pleasure working on Eve’s stories.

I’m also doing the drawings for another text of mine that will be published by Chronicle in the spring of 2016. The title is This Is Not a Picture Book!



Jules: I especially like it when you collaborate with Eve, who is such a talented writer. And the Chronicle book sounds intriguing.

Thanks for visiting and chatting. I do hope readers check out A Letter for Leo. If I ran the world, I’d make it required reading. (Well, required reading is no fun, but I’d do what I could.)

* * * * * * *

A LETTER FOR LEO. Copyright © 2014 by Sergio Ruzzier. Published by Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. All images reproduced by permission of Sergio Ruzzier.

6 Comments on Sergio Ruzzier’s Undeniable Conga Line, last added: 11/6/2014
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17. Telling Stories with Marshall Arisman

Martin Wittfooth
(Click to enlarge)


Brian Floca
(Click to enlarge)

I have a regular feature here at 7-Imp where I spotlight the work of student or recently-graduated illustrators. In fact, just two days ago my readers and I saw the work of one such new grad, Olivia Chin Mueller.

For these posts, I rely on the recommendations of working children’s book illustrators who also teach, though sometimes students will reach out to me directly. However, it just so happened that—after featuring the work of students from the School of Visual Arts in New York City over the years—I found myself communicating with someone from the school and hearing about a really fabulous upcoming exhibit. I won’t be attending, ’cause hey, I’m way down in Nashville, but I can at least tell my readers about it. (Anyone in NYC wanna go and give me a full report?) It begins today, ends in mid-December, and is called We Tell Stories. It’s an exhibition of work by more than 250 alumni of SVA’s MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program, and here’s how the school describes the exhibit:

Thousands of illustrations, books, comics, graphic novels, animations, products, paintings and more will be on view. In addition, a Children’s Reading Room within the gallery will hold hundreds of children’s books by SVA alumni. Many of these author-illustrators will participate in a Saturday morning storytelling event for families.

The chair for this Visual Essay program, the first art school program of its kind, is artist and storyteller Marshall Arisman. He founded this program 30 years ago. Arisman has trained the likes of Brian Pinkney, Brian Floca, Sara Varon, Shadra Strickland, Stephen Savage, and more. “Marshall,” Shadra told me, “has such amazing insight and really taught us to trust ourselves and make work that speaks to us as individuals instead of trying to pander to one specific market. I learned from him that, if I made work that really mattered to me, everything else would fall into place. He was right.”

And here’s what John Hendrix, who graduated in 2003, had to say:

Looking back on my experience in the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program, despite the huge range of themes and processes I explored, it all seemed to have been anchored to Marshall’s personality and presence. On my first ever trip to New York, I had somehow made an appointment with the Marshall Arisman to ask about his program. This was way before was I had applied, let alone be selected, and I was terrified that I was going to find a character out of a Stephen King novel (based on his work!). But in the first five minutes, I knew this man was not an intimidating icon; he was a teacher. Between puffs of smoke, plenty of smiles, all while flipping through my sketchbook, he said, “See, you’ve got something in there, John.” … Throughout my time in the program, he would wander into my studio from time to time and say one or two things. Virtually all of these visits I can remember clearly to this day for how much his thoughts changed my work and my thinking. It was like he could find the exact right time to turn the key on the back of the clock. Winding it up and walking away was all he had to do. I could go on, certainly, but in short, I would not be the artist I am today without Marshall and his inexplicable, almost instant belief in me and my work. I would like to think I’m unique in that regard, but I know that isn’t true. His gift is that he always sees the best version of every young person that sits in front of him.

In celebration of this upcoming exhibit, I chat briefly today with Arisman. And I’ve also got (pictured above and after the Q&A) some art from the exhibit, which is a mixture of both children’s book illustration and editorial art, comics, graphic novels, paintings, and more. Pictured under each image is the artist’s name. Within the Q&A itself, I have a couple of pieces Arisman created, as well as book covers for illustration books he’s co-authored.

Arisman credits his creative development to his grandmother, who was a noted medium, as well as his upbringing in a Spiritualist community. A one-hour documentary about this just screened. Arisman talks a bit more about this below.

All the exhibit’s details are here. I thank Marshall for visiting 7-Imp today.

* * *

Jules: Describe to people who know nothing about what “Visual Essay” means what this MFA degree offers.

Marshall (pictured right): Visual Essay, as it pertains to the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program at the School of Visual Arts, is a story told in time — turning a page in a children’s book, graphic novel, comic book, or magazine introduces the element of time. The content, based upon personal experience, can be developed with or without a written component. The form the storytelling takes is decided by the graduate student. Walking through a series of pictures in a gallery or sitting watching an animated film, the element of time passing becomes essential to storytelling.

Jules: It’s been 30 years since you founded the MFA degree. What do you think has been the most rewarding change over the years in illustrated children’s books?

Marshall: In the 30 years since I founded the program, children’s books have been an important outlet for many of our of our students and alumni. In We Tell Stories, we have a children’s book room, designed by alumni Sara Varon and Aya Kakeda, which features over 200 published children’s books by alumni. A brief glance at 30 years of children’s books suggest that good stories, told well, haven’t change that much. Books based upon personal childhood memories continue to resonate with all children. The list of possible topics that children are concerned with has expanded. Divorce, adoption, race, bullying, etc. now appear in children’s books. My guess is that the best ones were written and illustrated by authors who have had personal experiences with the subject matter.

From Marshall’s Cave Paintings series

Jules: How has technology most helped illustrators? Do you feel like technology hinders them in any way(s)?

Marshall: Each year the program receives well over 150 applicants. The entire faculty, all figurative artists, all storytellers vote. We accept 20 students per year. In recent years, we have seen an increase in too many applicants who have jumped to technology (computers) without a solid based in drawing, composition, color theory, or content. The result is multi-layered, airbrushed, saturated images that attempt to hide the defects of a solid art foundation.

Jules: You’ve mentored such artists as Brian Floca, Brian Pinkney, Sara Varon, and more. You’ve also written about how artists need to develop a unique personal voice. Is that teach-able? If not, how do you nurture someone (if at all) whose personal artistic voice is lacking.

Marshall: The criteria for developing a unique a personal voice in pictures and words relates directly, in my experience, to the content of the story you are trying to tell. If the story is yours, if it has meaning for you, you will struggle long hours to express it. Nurturing a genuine dream means providing a solid base in writing, drawing, history, concept, painting, computers, guest speakers, and personal attention from the faculty. The MFA program is a full-contact, intense two-year program. An artist’s voice will emerge. It is fair to say no one leaves the program the way they came in. New illustrators place a so-called “style” above content. That’s backwards. Find your content — you will find a way to express it. Other people will call that your “style.”

Jules: I hear you credit your creative development to your grandmother, who was a Spiritualist. Tell me more about how she nurtured your creative life.

Marshall: I owe much of my artistic lief to my grandmother, who was a noted medium Spiritualist minister and gifted artist. She taught me to keep my third eye open, trust my intuitive instincts, and learn to stand in the space between angels and demons.

From Marshall’s Angels and Demons series

Jules: What are you reading now?

Marshall: At the moment, I am reading a series of short stories titled Mr. Bones by my friend Paul Theroux.

Jules: When will the feature-length documentary on you be released?

Marshall: I have just finished (the first screening was held on October 14th, 2014) a one-hour film, titled A Postcard from Lily Dale. The film is the how and why of the impact of my grandmother on my art. For more information, go to our website.


More images from the exhibit:


George Towne
(Click to enlarge)


Lauren Castillo
(Click to enlarge)


Yuko Shimizu


Ansel Pitcairn
(Click to enlarge)


Gustave Blache III
(Click to enlarge)


Aya Kakeda
(Click to enlarge)


Katie Yamasaki
(Click to enlarge)


Anna Raff
(Click to enlarge)


Eddie Guy
(Click to enlarge)


Adam Gustavson
(Click to enlarge)


Ada Price
(Click to enlarge)


Andrés Vera Martinez
(Click to enlarge)


Sam Weber
(Click to enlarge)


Lauren Redniss


Jonathan Bean


Maria Berrio
(Click to enlarge)


Sara Varon
(Click to enlarge)


Yumi Heo
(Click to enlarge)


Rance Jones
(Click to enlarge)


Olivier Kugler
(Click to enlarge)


John Malta


Jonathan Bartlett
(Click to enlarge)


Stephen Savage
(Click to enlarge)


Steven Tabbutt
(Click to enlarge)


Chi Birmingham
(Click to enlarge)


Keith Negley
(Click to enlarge)


Jonathan Twingley
(Click to enlarge)


Rich Tommaso


Andy Rash
(Click to enlarge)


Viktor Deak
(Click to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

All artwork used by permission of the School of Visual Arts.

5 Comments on Telling Stories with Marshall Arisman, last added: 11/7/2014
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18. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #404: FeaturingUp-and-Coming Illustrator, Olivia Chin Mueller


It’s the first Sunday of the month, which means I welcome a student or brand-new illustrator to 7-Imp. Today I welcome Olivia Chin Mueller, who grew up in Connecticut but now lives in California. She recently graduated, as you’ll read below, from Rhode Island School of Design.

You’ll see I had trouble picking which illustration to feature at the very tip-top of this post. The first one, called Beware of the Bird, seemed fitting, since it’s Halloween weekend. But the one under it is called All Summer in a Day, and that’s the title of my very favorite Ray Bradbury short story (which, incidentally, HAUNTED me when I was a child). So, I thought I’d just put both up there.

Olivia is here to introduce herself. She sent me two pieces of art (Haze and the first Perrin piece of art), and she told me I had free reign of the art at her website to share here in this post. So, I chose all the rest you see here. I made sure to include pieces that would be considered more picture book-friendly, but I couldn’t help but also pick some of the other types of images too.

Here’s Olivia, and I thank her for visiting.

Olivia: Hello, everyone! My name is Olivia Chin Mueller, and I am a recent graduate of RISD’s illustration program — and aspiring children’s book illustrator!



I always knew I wanted to be an illustrator, but it took me until senior year of college to realize that I wanted to do kids’ books. I took a really great class taught by my teacher, Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges, and since then I knew that was what I wanted to do.

Before then, I didn’t really know where my work fit in. I was making very different stuff then. I still love making those illustrations—like my piece, Haze (pictured below)—but it definitely wasn’t nearly as fun for me.



I found myself over-rendering and getting lost for hours in the details. I would come away with pieces I loved visually — but also with a giant headache. When I started doing children’s book stuff, I found that I really loved the process. I could be looser with my work and still love the outcome.

The first book I wrote and illustrated was in that senior year class. It was called Perrin and the Peculiar Poppy Pod. I made a book dummy and three finished illustrations. I’m hoping one day someone will like it enough to publish it!

Here is a small excerpt from the book:

“Perrin poked it gingerly, and with a ‘Ping’ the flower pod popped out of the ground and landed by Perrin’s paw. He picked it it up, and one of the purple seeds pattering about inside fell out onto the sandy dirt.”


Cover concept


I guess I should also talk about how I make my work. Sometimes people can’t tell, but my work is all done digitally. Most people usually think its done with gouache or watercolor, which I guess is a good thing. However, its all done from sketch to finish on Photoshop.



Right now, I am working on building my portfolio and looking for jobs. I’m hoping soon I will be lucky enough to support myself solely on illustration. But right now I’m relying on income from my Etsy shop and commissions. I’ve also been on the hunt for an artist rep, and things are looking good. I am crossing my fingers things keep on the right track.

So, that’s about it! Thank you so much for featuring my work and letting me ramble on a bit.


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

All artwork is used by permission of Olivia Chin Mueller.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

My kicks this week are when brand-spankin’-new illustrators, like Olivia, visit the site. (And I wish her the best of luck in her career.)

AND that, after a long day of school-type chores with my girls, we have a brand-new book to read together. So, please forgive me while I go do that with them—instead of listing seven, separate kicks—’cause it’s chilly and windy out, and that would really be the most kickin’ thing of all right now. Cuddling up to read. Ahh.

But I’m countin’ on you all to tell me your kicks, because I always enjoy reading them.

10 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #404: FeaturingUp-and-Coming Illustrator, Olivia Chin Mueller, last added: 11/2/2014
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19. Drawing Blind with Philip C. Stead

“SEBASTIAN sat high on his roof—something he was never supposed to do.
‘There is nothing to see on my street,’ he thought. ‘Nothing to see at all.’”

(Click to enlarge)


Author-illustrator Phil Stead is visiting today to chat with me about his newest picture book, Sebastian and the Balloon, released by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook earlier this month.

This is the story of a young boy who sets out on an adventure with “all the things he would ever need” and charts a course for the skies — in a balloon he’s built from his grandmother’s afghans. Along the way, he meets a bear (a real one), who joins him in the balloon, yet it’s popped at the beak of a “very tall bird.” Turns out, though, they’ve landed on the house of three elderly sisters, who mend the balloon and help the boy, the bear, and the bird shoo away some pigeons on the other side of the mountain near where they live. The pigeons have gathered on the “most perfect roller coaster,” which together the crew fixes up for an exhilarating ride.

Phil chats with me below about how he made his art, letting nature take its course on your illustrations (and embracing humor error), and leafless trees needing company too. (P.S.: You can see a few other spreads from the book in this June 2014 7-Imp post.)

Jules: Hi there, Phil. Let’s talk about Sebastian, shall we?

So, first up: I want to ask about the art. I hope that’s not a boring way to start.

It almost looked to me like the cover was painted on wood. But I’m not an artist, and I often get these things wrong. I see on the official copyright page note that you used pastels, oil paints, and pressed charcoal. Am I right that this is the first time you’ve used charcoal, or am I dreaming that?

Phil: Hi, Jules!

You are not dreaming. This is the first time I’ve used charcoal.

I gave myself a tricky challenge in making the art for this book. I really wanted to use oil paint as the primary medium. I can get bright color using oils that I’ve always had trouble getting with gouache or acrylic. At the same time, though, I wanted elements of the book to be drawn with my natural hand. The trouble is that you can’t really draw on an oil painting. Oil paint is usually the end of the road. I was getting really frustrated trying to figure this problem out when this little accident happened in my sketchbook:

(Click to enlarge)


Now, this might be confusing, but I’ll try to explain as best I can. When an oil painting is mostly dry—tacky to the touch—you can press charcoal into the paint by using homemade carbon paper. I coat one side of a sheet of paper in charcoal, lay that paper on top of the oil painting, then draw with a pencil on the white side of the paper. The pressure of the pencil presses the charcoal permanently into the oil painting. There is one big pitfall to this approach. That is, you’re essentially drawing blind. You can’t see what you’ve made until you peel the carbon paper back off the oil painting. I can live with the kind of mistakes and flubs that come from this kind of uncertainty, though. In fact, I kind of like it. The only time drawing blind made me really tense was on exacting, mechanical images, like these ones of the roller coaster:

“And for the rest of the day and into the night they rode …”
(Click to enlarge)


“and rode …”
(Click to enlarge)


But on others, like these, I didn’t mind:


“And when night fell, Sebastian boarded the balloon he’d built from Grandma’s afghans and patchwork quilts. He charted a course. He checked the breeze. He cut the strings …”
(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


By the way, what you’re seeing as a wood-like texture is actually pastel drawing that’s showing from underneath the oil painting. I probably should’ve documented the making of one of these images so I could show rather than tell, but unfortunately I didn’t think of it at the time. David Ezra Stein used a similar technique as this, though, in his book Because Amelia Smiled. He calls his technique “Stein-lining.” You can watch a video about it here:


If you substitute crayon for charcoal, you basically get “Stead-lining.”

Does that help?

Jules: Ooh, neat. Thanks for the explanation. Plus, I hadn’t seen that David Ezra Stein video. Chickens playing oboes. Bonus!

This explains a lot about the lines in this book. The first time I read it, I thought that your line was more relaxed than in other books. I like this relaxed, sketchy quality.

One thing I’m very curious about is the color palette. The colors here remind me of picture books of yore. Any particular reasoning behind the dominant colors chosen here? That is, the rust, the tealy-blue (I have spent about 30 minutes now trying to find the name for this color, but I have failed and “tealy-blue” is the best I can do), the yellow.

Also, one more technique-type question before I ask a few more about the story: How’d you pull off the “milky gray fog”?

Phil: I’ll start with the fog.

“The wind picked up and soon it was time to go—up and up and into a milky gray fog. ‘Can you see the end of my nose?’ asked the bear. But before Sebastian could answer there came a loud POP!
(Click to enlarge)


It’s actually so simple that I hate to admit it. Especially since I seem to get more questions about this spread than any other. All I did here was make an entire finished image in full color, wait for it to dry, and then paint over the entire thing with white oil paint. The white paint has been thinned with a quick-drying medium, making it translucent. This is one of the biggest images of the balloon in the book, and I’ll admit that I was sad (and scared) to paint right over it, obscuring a lot of the detail. But it had to be done!

As for the color in this book, I decided early on that I wanted to work in a very limited palette. There are only nine colors used in the book, with some variance due to human error. (Fun fact: Erin used only eight colors in A Sick Day for Amos McGee.)

“The nine color swatches I made as a guide for myself …”
(Click to enlarge)


Any time you limit color choices in a children’s book, I think it naturally calls to mind an era when color choices had to be limited in the days of yore. That said, I did not deliberately limit the colors in this book in order to make it look old-fashioned. I did it, rather, in order to introduce a set of rules into a universe that could’ve easily gone spiraling out of control. A lot of weird things happen in this book. Keeping the color palette so orderly was one way to make the world seem grounded and believable. The restricted palette adds a dead-pan element to what is, admittedly, an pretty insane story arc.

And then there’s one more thing about the color, something that I didn’t originally intend. Remember I mentioned human error? So, I used a quick-dry medium to speed up the drying times of my oil paints.

(Click to enlarge)


When using this medium, my paintings would dry in about 48 hours. Without the medium, their drying times would vary from 4-6 weeks, which is way too long when you have a deadline. I’d used dryers before but never in high quantity. Turns out, I was using so much that it accelerated the aging process of all my paintings. About two months after a painting was finished, it would start to yellow and age. It turned my light blues into the tealy color you described. It turned my whites to cream. All of the colors were affected in some way, and to make matters worse they were all aging at different rates. Of course, at first I panicked. But then at some point I started seeing the process as something natural, completely out of my control, and in a weird way, desirable. It was like letting a cheese or a wine age: You begin the process, but nature finishes it.

Book jacket
(Click to enlarge)

Jules: I was going to say that it sounds like making the art for this one was a roller-coaster ride when, OUCH, I realized the horrible pun I’d made.

Okay, just a question or two about story. I always worry about analyzing a book to death when maybe we should just sit back and enjoy it and the art, so okay, I’ll only ask one:

I love how the story begins with Sebastian having a bad case of ennui. I don’t mean depression, which is a serious thing for many people. But he’s got the humdrums somethin’ fierce and really needs an adventure. Maybe I was thinking about that a lot today [Ed. Note: This part of our conversation clearly took place on a Sunday], because Sundays always run the danger of being Ennui Days for me. (Maybe ’cause Monday looms? I dunno.)

So, you call it a “pretty insane story arc.” Once you knew Sebastian needed an adventure, how’d you reign yourself in? I assume you have Sebastian outtakes, parts of his adventure that were maybe cut?

Also, apropos to not-that, I love how the leafless tree ends up having company there at the end. Everyone is happy.

Phil: There have been two feelings that have dominated my psyche over the course of my life so far. And those two feelings are the two main themes in my books as well. They are:

  1. I wish we could all learn to be kind.
  2. I gotta get the heck outta here.

Number two is an amorphous sort of feeling that is part boredom, part dread, part dissatisfaction, part curiosity. This feeling has been with me every day of my life. And to me it’s the feeling that drives Sebastian throughout the story. Boredom-Dread-Dissatisfaction-Curiosity is, after all, the makeup of most kids that I know.

Weirdly enough, there were no deleted scenes in this book. Everything present in the first draft is present also in the final book. When I was writing I wasn’t thinking WHAT NEXT! Really, I wasn’t even trying to be over the top or intentionally strange. The story just went where it wanted to go, and I tried not to get in the way.

I love that you mention the leafless tree. Those three lines are my favorites that I’ve ever written:

And the pigeons flew off,
all the way to the leafless tree.
And the tree was glad to have company.

I didn’t realize it till long after they’d been written, but they sum up everything I hope to accomplish as an artist. I wish I could explain it better than that, but I don’t think I can. All of my books exist in those three lines somewhere.

Jules: Ah. I think we should fade out here …

Thanks, Phil, for visiting.

* * * * * * *

SEBASTIAN AND THE BALLOON. Copyright © 2014 by Philip C. Stead. Published by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Philip C. Stead.

3 Comments on Drawing Blind with Philip C. Stead, last added: 10/22/2014
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20. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week (the Halloween Edition), Featuring Gerald Kelley, Harriet Muncaster,Greg Pizzoli, and Laura Vaccaro Seeger

– From Carol Brendler’s Not Very Scary,
illustrated by Greg Pizzoli


“I don’t know where my mom goes. She’s always my mom, but I think that sometimes she just needs a break from being a witch.”
– From Harriet Muncaster’s
I Am a Witch’s Cat

(Click to see spread in its entirety)


– From Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s
Dog and Bear: Tricks and Treats


– From J. Patrick Lewis’
M is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures Alphabet,
illustrated by Gerald Kelley


We’re celebrating Halloween today, 7-Imp style, with lots of artwork.

Last week here at Kirkus, I did a round-up of some good, new Halloween titles. Today, I’ve got some art from each one. All the art, all the info, and all the covers are below. Greg Pizzoli even sent some early dummy images for his illustrations for Carol Brendler’s Not Very Scary.

Today over at Kirkus, I write about two of my very favorite brand-new early chapter books for children (and both are illustrated). That link will be here soon.

Enjoy the art …


Dummy images and art from Carol Brendler’s
Not Very Scary, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2014)

Title page spread
(Click each to enlarge)


“Melly loved surprises and Malberta’s were the best.
So on the scariest night of all, Melly set out for a visit.”

(Click each to enlarge)


“…three wheezy withces following two skittish skeletons and one coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail! ‘Not particularly scary,’ said Melly, but she bit her claws,
one by one. Then she saw …”

(Click each to enlarge)


“…five grimy goblins following four mournful ghosts, three wheezy witches, two skittish skeletons, and one coal-black with an itchy-twithcy tail! ‘Not remarkably scary,’
said Melly, but she backed away, right into a briar patch. Then she saw …”

(Click each to enlarge)


“…seven frenzied fruit bats following six sullen mummies, five grimy goblins, four mournful ghosts, three wheezy witches, two skittish skeletons, and one coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail! ‘Not especially scary!’ Melly yelled,but her little monster heart skipped a beat-beat-beat. Then she saw …”
(Click each to enlarge)


“…nine rambunctious rats join eight spindly spiders, seven frenzied fruit bats, six sullen mummies, five grimy goblins, four mournful ghosts, three wheezy witches, two skittish skeletons, and one coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail! ‘Not tremendously scary!’ Melly yelled, but she shivered as she raised the rusty latch on the gate. Then she saw …”
(Click each to enlarge)


“…ten vexing vultures join nine rambunctious rats, eight spindly spiders, seven frenzied fruit bats, six sullen mummies, five grimy goblins, four mournful ghosts, three wheezy witches, two skittish skeletons, and one coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail!
‘NOT VERY SCARY!’ Melly yelled, but her fangs ch-ch-chattered
as she rang Malberta’s b-b-bell.”

(Click each to enlarge)


“‘Surprise!’ cried Malberta. A party! There was poison ivy punch and lizard tongue trail mix. There was bobbing for crawdads and a Pin the Drool on the Ghoul game. But there was no one to play with. Where were the other party guests?”
(Click each to enlarge)


“‘Here we are!’ shouted ten vultures, nine rats, eight spiders, seven fruit bats, six mummies, five goblins, four ghosts, three witches, two skeletons, and one coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail. Malberta’s friends! They were invited, too.”
(Click each to enlarge)


Cover dummy and final cover
(Click dummy image to enlarge)


Art from Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s
Dog and Bear: Tricks and Treats
(Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, August 2014)


Art from J. Patrick Lewis’
M is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures Alphabet,
illustrated by Gerald Kelley
(Sleeping Bear Press, August 2014)




Art from Harriet Muncaster’s
I Am a Witch’s Cat
(Harper, July 2014)


“I know my mom is a witch because she keeps lots of strange potion bottles
in the bathroom that I am NOT allowed to touch.”

(Click to see spread in its entirety)

“And when we go shopping, she buys jars of EYEBALLS and GREEN FINGERS.”
(Click to see spread in its entirety)

“I know my mom is a witch because she grows magical herbs in the garden …”
(Click to see spread in its entirety)

“I know my mom is a witch because once a week she gets out her broomstick and whirls it around my room. Sometimes she lets me have a ride.
That is the BEST thing about being a witch’s cat.”

(Click to enlarge)

“On Friday nights my mom goes out and the babysitter comes. I don’t mind,
because the babysitter is nice.”

(Click to enlarge)

“She lets me watch TV and eat popcorn until it is time to go to bed.”
(Click to see spread in its entirety)


* * * * * * *

DOG AND BEAR: TRICKS AND TREATS. Copyright © 2014 by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, New York. Artwork reproduced by permission of Laura Vaccaro Seeger.

I AM A WITCH’S CAT. Copyright © 2014 by Harriet Muncaster. Published by Harper, New York. Artwork reproduced by permission of Harriet Muncaster.

M IS FOR MONSTER: A FANTASTIC CREATURES ALPHABET. Copyright © 2014 by J. Patrick Lewis. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Gerald Kelley. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Sleeping Bear Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

NOT VERY SCARY. Copyright © 2014 by Carol Brendler. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Greg Pizzoli. Published by Farrar Straus Giroux, New York. Dummy images and art reproduced by permission of Greg Pizzoli.

1 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week (the Halloween Edition), Featuring Gerald Kelley, Harriet Muncaster,Greg Pizzoli, and Laura Vaccaro Seeger, last added: 10/24/2014
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21. The Making of Viva Frida: Yuyi Morales’ Photo Essay


Yuyi Morales’ Viva Frida, released by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook in September, has been called “an ingenious tour de force” (Horn Book) and a “haunting beauty” (Publishers Weekly) and has been described as “resonant” (School Library Journal) and “luminescent” (Kirkus). The book is a visually rich tribute to artist Frida Khalo. As the starred Publishers Weekly review notes, in this book Frida is presented “less as a historical figure than as an icon who represents the life Morales holds sacred; Frida lives because she loves and creates.” (I’m quoting that in particular, because I think that reviewer really nails it there.)

To call the illustrations multi-media ones somehow seems an understatement: Yuyi used acrylic paints, photography, and stop-motion puppets made from steel, polymer clay, and wool to create these vivid 3D tableaus. To pull it all together, she relied on her computer, but then you can get the details on that below, since I had asked Yuyi a while back if she wanted to share a bit of behind-the-scenes images on the making of this beautiful book. I’m so glad she obliged. As you can see, she sent what is essentially a spectacular photo essay—her words and her images—on the creation of this book, one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve seen all year.

I thank her for sharing.

Yuyi: Hi, Julie.

After you contacted me about sharing images and insight into the making of Viva Frida, I went back to my files and found myself inundated with the images of a most beloved journey. From the very beginning, I started to document the process as best I could; however, most of the time the hands I needed to hold a camera and shoot the pictures were the same hands I had full with materials and work, so it wasn’t always easy — and I wasn’t as thorough as I had wished.

Nevertheless, the images are plentiful, since the process of the making of this book has taken several different ways of creating. I have assembled a few images from some of the different works I did when creating the illustrations. The images are just a few of many different things that were done.



Viva Frida, like almost anything, started as a small idea. My writer’s group, The Revisionaries, had its end-of-the-year assignment in which we chose an idea to trigger the creation of a new book. This is an annual assignment we have been giving to ourselves for years, and that year the assignment was based on the words “baby book.” As you can imagine, every creative person will come up with a different way to use those words to create. In my case, I decided to make a book that could be told to a very young child, even though the subject I chose was one I had had a hard time understanding when I was a kid myself. I chose the Mexican painter Frida Khalo.



Why Frida? Since I emigrated to the United States, Frida became to me a symbol of self-exploration and a symbol of self-love. Do you know that Frida celebrated—in her work, in the way she dressed, and in the way she lived—her own indigenous ancestry at a time when most Mexicans dug hard into their genealogical trees to find the slightest sign of European blood? In my own struggle to become proud of my identity as a Mexican immigrant, in the process to find my value, and in learning to believe that, no matter the shortcomings, I had everything I needed to be joyful me, Frida has been a beacon.

And so I very much wanted to celebrate her.



In the creation of the images of these book, I decided to dream beyond what I thought I was capable of. I had been musing about what big productions—with big budgets—some art projects can be, such as movies. And I kept thinking, why don’t we have “big production” children’s books, too? If I were making a movie, I would surely have to learn some things I had no idea how to do, and I might even have to hire some people that were experts on their field so that we together could tell the story. And yeah, I didn’t have a big budget, but nevertheless, I would even make a musical theme for my story like in the movies! My New Year’s resolution that winter had been that, when in doubt about choosing from different creative paths, I would always choose the one that stopped me hard and made me say, “Oh, I would never do that. That is too crazy!”

And so I began Viva Frida.


(Click this image to see it much larger)


As you will notice in some of these images, the making of this book comes to completion with the work and inspiration of my whole community. My husband, Tim O’Meara, photographed with me the scenes; Daluvia, a textile artist from Oaxaca, made me the first prototype of Frida’s dress, which later I used to learn how to do the embroidery and crafting of the final dresses myself. Camilo, who usually sells his metal creations at the Coatepec street market, made the hand earrings I wanted for Frida. When la comadre Linda heard I was making a Frida doll, she brought me from her house a tiny piece of striped fabric that much resembled the colors of the traditional rebozos women wear in Mexico, and with that material I crafted the one Frida wears in the book. Mike Emiglio is a Canadian artist that makes some of the finest stop motion armatures, and he created the “skeletons” that would become Frida, Xolot the Dog, and the monkey Fulan Chang. My son Kelly fed me and loved me while I worked long hours. Even my puppy Mojo lent me his nose to add it (digitally) to Xolot’s face, because Xolot the puppet didn’t have one. And finally, I also made our book’s theme song! My beloved friend Miguel created the music to the words I wrote to the song “La Venadita.”


Yuyi: “A photo of me that my husband took
when we visited Frida’s Blue House for the first time …”


(Click this image to see it much larger)



As you can see, at the end I managed to make a book that would usually make make me say, “Oh, I would never do that. That is too crazy!”

P.S. “La Venadita” can be played here.



Neal Porter’s photos of Yuyi at Casa Azul, Frida’s home
(Click the last two to enlarge)


Thumbnails from Viva Frida


“siento / I feel”
A final spread (without text) from the book

(Click to enlarge)


“que amo / that I love”
A final spread (without text) from the book

(Click to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

VIVA FRIDA. Copyright © 2014 by Yuyi Morales. Published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images here used with permission of Yuyi Morales and Neal Porter.

10 Comments on The Making of Viva Frida: Yuyi Morales’ Photo Essay, last added: 10/30/2014
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22. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #403: Featuring Virginia Lee Burton

Did you all know that this year is the 75th anniversary of the publication of Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel? Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has released an anniversary edition, and I have a wee bit of art today from it — in the name of celebration.

So much has been written about this book, and many of you likely know it well. One thing I’d like to add on its birthday is this: If you have never read Barbara Elleman’s Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art—and if you enjoying reading about picture books and picture book creators—then I highly recommend it. Elleman, the founding editor of Book Links, opens the book, published in 2002, with the wonderful story of Dick Berkenbush, a story my late co-author, Peter D. Sieruta, once blogged about and a story we included in Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Litearture (“The Boy Behind the Asterisk” in the “Hidden Delights” chapter).

I love what Elleman says here about Mike Mulligan, which is really a statement about Burton’s talents as an illustrator:

Underlining the basic story lies a concern for the changing times—both cultural and mechanical—that confront Mary Anne. Burton dealt with the changes visually: automobiles share the scene with horses and buggies, and faces reflect a diversity of age and economic status — an aspect not often found in picture books of the era. Furthermore, she supplied instant personality in the bend of an old man’s knee, the hunch of a child’s shoulder, the gesture of a woman’s hand, and the cock of a dog’s head.

Here are some spreads from the book:

“Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne had been digging together for years and years.
Mike Mulligan took such good care of Mary Anne she never grew old.
It was Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne and some others
who dug the great canals for the big boats to sail through.”

(Click to enlarge)

“It was Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne and some others who lowered the hills and straightened the curves to make the long highways for the automobiles.”
(Click to enlarge)

“And it was Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne and some others who dug the deep holes for the cellars of the tall skyscrapers in the big citites. When people used to stop and watch them, Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne used to dig a little faster and a little better. The more people stopped, the faster and better they dug. Some days they would keep as many as thirty-seven trucks busy taking away the dirt they had dug.”
(Click to enlarge)

MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL. Copyright © 1939 by Virginia Lee Demetrios. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) I spoke this week at the 2014 conference of the Tennessee Association of School Librarians. Jazz hands and spirit fingers for good school librarians!

2) This made me laugh till my sides hurt.

3) Look at this new blog about picture books!

4) When I meet someone new, who also loves picture books, and they ask what my favorite picture books of the year are AND they have passionate responses to the same question when I ask them? That’s a kick.

5) The branch of the Nashville Public Library system that I use that is closest to my home has a brand-new, kickin’ location in a brand-new space, and I can’t wait to go see it. See? This is such a boost for that part of Nashville, and I’m so happy the library invested the money in it.

6) I linked to this last week, and I keep thinking about it. But I forgot to share THE BEST PART:

While we were working on the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, Danny Boyle met David Hockney and talked to him about Humphrey Jennings’s Pandaemonium – a book I’d given Danny which evokes the industrial revolution and is filled with the clanking of machines, the yells of protests, tears of goodbye, cries of excitement and whispers of conspiracy. Hockney gave us this amazing image to think about. He said, imagine this, the sun pouring down energy from the beginning of time, energy that went into algae and into the leaves of trees, which then sank into the earth and fossilised. What is coal or peat but the stored memory of millions upon millions of uninhabited summers. When the industrial revolution came along, someone opened a hole in the ground and reversed that process. That energy poured out and was harnessed and turned into engines and rockets and aeroplanes and central heating and motor cars, unleashing this wave of incredible creativity. That’s how it should be with stories. They should be sunlight pouring down upon your head and being stored as energy until the day you need them. Whenever we ask for something in return, they are taking that powerful charge and earthing it. Wasting it into the ground. May I take this opportunity to wish you all endless sunlight.

“Stories should be sunlight pouring down upon your head and being stored as energy until the day you need them.” I’m gonna have that tattooed on my forehead.

7) Did I already kick about these wise words from Sam Phillips?

What are YOUR kicks this week?

6 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #403: Featuring Virginia Lee Burton, last added: 10/28/2014
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23. Preparing Your Supply of Light

“Ripe mango / Fresh mango / Yellow mango / Mango in-between / Mango clusters / Balance yourself below the branch / Produce more mangos / That taste of honey and delight / For the lovers of the universe / All while preparing your supply of light”
(a poem from Maríe-Andriele Charlot)

This morning, the New York Times Best Illustrated Books list for 2014 was announced. It’s here. I get excited every Fall about this list. If you love picture books, it’s a kick to see these lists, because how often are picture books celebrated on a national scale? I was happy to wake up and see the list had been announced.

You can see 2014 posts about nearly all of these books in the 7-Imp archives, but this morning I highlight one book I was particularly happy to see on this list, which I hadn’t yet blogged about. In fact, just yesterday I had connected with the publisher, thanks to wonderful Ellen Myrick of Myrick Marketing and Media, to try to secure some illustrations from the book to feature here at 7-Imp, because I really like it. And this morning, those images came through, so what good timing. Enjoy the art today! And congrats to the illustrator for being on the NYTimes list.

The book is called Haiti, My Country. Originally published in 2010, this English edition (March 2014) comes to us by way of Fifth House Publishers. It was illustrated by a Canadian artist, name Rogé. You can see more of his beautiful work here. The book is a series of poems, written by young people of Camp-Perrin in Haiti. For several months, the illustrator, who lives in Quebec and who was evidently awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration in 2006, worked on these portraits. The book primarily focuses on the joy in their lives, though as the publisher writes so vividly, “misery often storms through Haiti” (earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters). There are some exceptions, such as with the striking short poem: “Magnificent country becomes / Broken land / All smiles are lost.” But, as one young poet writes, there is always hope: “On the distant horizon, the sun disappears / To refresh our souls. / We observe the sea and the sky / In harmony, awaking tenderness within us.”

Here’s another illustration:

“I want to make it radiate everywhere / To make it known that Haiti is a gift from the heavens / Witnessing its greenery, its palm, / Apricot, mango, and avocado trees …”
(a poem from Lordanie Théodore)

* * * * * * *

HAITI: MY COUNTRY. English translation copyright © 2014, Fifth House Publishers. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher.

1 Comments on Preparing Your Supply of Light, last added: 11/1/2014
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24. When Terrifying Leaps of Faith Pay Off:An Art- and Sketch-Filled Q&A with Abby Hanlon

Last week at Kirkus, I wrote about two new chapter books for children, and today I’m going a bit more in depth with one of them, Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory, released by Dial earlier this month. (I promise to have some art here at 7-Imp from the other chapter book this coming Friday.)

I’m smitten with Dory Fantasmagory, but you can read why in that column, if you’re so inclined. Today, Abby—who was featured here at 7-Imp back in 2012 at the release of her debut picture book—visits to share some illustrations from the book, some early sketches, and to talk about Dory a bit.

I thank her for visiting.

“Mary always wants to play with me. She thinks I’m the greatest.
At night, Mary sleeps under my bed.”


Jules: As I read Dory, I kept thinking about how HARD it is to write for this age and not be too precious about things. Or cloying. But you didn’t do that at all. Also, the emotional honesty of the book is spot-on. Do you want to talk a bit about trying to get those things right? Did you go through a ton of drafts? Did the story come easily to you in terms of those emotional rhythms and that honesty?

“All these pictures come rushing into my brain at once.”


Abby: Putting the story together with a strong narrative arc was difficult for me and came after I was already working with Lucia Monfried at Dial. But all the little bits and pieces of the story, I feel, almost wrote themselves. I came up with the idea for Dory and its sequel exactly a year before selling the manuscripts.

That is because I had a huge advantage –- I was writing a book about a six-year-old, and I had not one, but TWO, incredibly creative six-year-olds living in my house. I would read them parts, ask them questions, and make revisions with them. But mostly we would just be hanging out, and some very Dory-ish thing would happen that would make us laugh, and then together we would figure out how to expand on it. My kids were constantly giving me ideas, intentionally (often too bizarre to translate) or not.

“My name is Dory, but everyone calls me Rascal.
This is my family. I am the little kid.”


“On the way home, we pick up Luke and Violet at their friend’s house.
I quietly whimper like a dog to Luke so my mom can’t hear.
I raise my paws and make my eyes look droopy.”


The feeling of the story of the youngest child comes from my own childhood as the youngest of three, but all of the details and humor of the book come from my twins. I’ve always been fascinated by how my kids play imaginatively and what they find funny. The things I have done to “study” my kids while they are playing, I feel, could blur the line between being the most annoying obsessive helicopter mom and simply being a writer. For example, I’ve covertly taken videos of them in the midst of their imaginary games. I’ve taken dictation of their surrealist stories or of a long convoluted account of a game they played at recess. I’ve at times typed everything they say, as they are saying it. (They have no idea I’m doing it.). I’ve stood outside their bedroom door at night listening to their conversations in the dark. And generally, I follow them around the house saying, “Hey! What are you guys playing?” Because I really need to know.

Jules: I love how Mrs.Gobble Gracker made me think of Viola Swamp but not in a way that seemed copycat-like. Did you intend that? (I see, as I re-read your 2012 visit to 7-Imp, that you mentioned The Swamp!)

Incidentally, I love that she drinks coffee in the mornings.

“I run and hide under my parents’ bed. There’s something warm and furry under the bed. Someone is already hiding under this bed. It’s Mary.”


Abby: I did not intend to [reference Miss Viola Swamp], but I’m thrilled to be associated with James Marshall in any way. As a first-grade teacher, I would get so carried away reading the part of Viola Swamp that it would scare the kids (which, yes, I mentioned on my last visit to 7-Imp!) When I came up with Mrs. Gobble Gracker, my kids were really into Annie, and I was intrigued by how deliciously terrified my daughter was of Miss Hannigan. She would cover her ears and even cry for most of the song, “Little Girls.” (“Some day, I’ll step on their freckles.”) But she still wanted me to play the song.

“As I walk away, I hold my head up high and think, I don’t have time to play anyway. I’m way too busy. But what was I so busy doing? I can’t remember.
I know I was in the middle of something.”


“Mrs. Gobble Gracker stumbles around. She is walking into the wall, her knees are bending, her eyes are closing … she collapses! ‘I’ll find that girl when I wake up,’
she mumbles, and then she is sound asleep.”


“Yuck, I hate this stupid dress. Grrrrr.”


Miss Hannigan inspired me. And I thought about how so many fairy tales are centered around a female villain. My kids have a million picture books, but for a couple of years they mostly just wanted us to read their one book of fairy tales, the original Grimms’ tales that are gory – where Cinderella’s sisters cut different parts of their feet off to fit into the shoe, and at the end get their eyes pecked out by birds. I wanted to write a book that would interest kids on that same level. Without being quite as bloody, I used some of the fairy tale archetypes to write the story –- with a hero (Dory); a sidekick/trickster (her friend, Mary); the wise old man/fairy godmother (Mr. Nuggy); and of course the female villain, Mrs. Gobble Gracker.

“The next morning I warn Mary. ‘Mrs. Gobble Gracker is five hundred and seven years old, and she has black teeth that are sharp like needles, and her pockets are full of dirty tissues. And … she could be on her way over here right now,
so don’t act like a baby.” I’ve never seen a monster so scared.”


“When I look up at the trees through my tears, I see someone up there looking down at me. ‘Who are you?’ I ask, rubbing my eyes, squinting into the sun. ‘I’m your fairy godmother,’ says a little man, crawling down from the tree like a koala. ‘Are you sure?’ I ask. ‘You don’t look like a fairy godmother.’ ‘Well, pretty sure,’ he says, but he looks kind of confused to me. ‘Well, the important thing is, I’m here to help you.’
He says his name is Mr. Nuggy and that he lives in the woods.”


Jules: Can you talk about the illustrations?

Abby: The book has about 150 illustrations in it, which was incredibly challenging for me as a new illustrator. When I started the book, the scary thing was that I knew I would get better as I got to the end, and that I would have to re-do everything (somehow before the deadline). This was a problem, because I’m already a compulsive re-do’er -– which is the only way I’ve been able to learn. And I was right: The worst and best thing happened. I did improve (or stabilize), and I did end up re-doing almost everything at the end. So, for the final winter months I worked on the book, the only time I left my house was to take my kids to school and go to the grocery store.

“They didn’t even want to see me eat a napkin.”


The good thing was that I was working in black and white, which I feel is my natural medium. And I think the chapter book format, where most of the illustrations are vignettes also suited my style well. I’m about to start the final art for the second book, and I think it might actually be fun this time and not a terrifying leap of faith, like last time.

“Luke just can’t get enough of me. He loves Chickenbone.”


“Now that it’s quiet, Mr. Nuggy and I finally start cooking. We make the deadliest,
most delicious poison soup for Mrs. Gobble Gracker’s dinner.”


Jules: Will there be more books about Dory?

Abby: I am working on the sequel, called Dory and the Real True Friend, which will be out summer of 2015. In the sequel, Dory starts school and is on a quest to make a real friend. When she succeeds in finding the perfect companion (another fairy tale archetype, the princess), Dory’s siblings are convinced the friend is imaginary. At the end, the two friends triumphantly merge their separate imaginary worlds.

Some early sketches from Dory Fantasmagory:




* * * * * * *

DORY FANTASMAGORY. Copyright © 2014 by Abby Hanlon. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, New York. All images here used by permission of Abby Hanlon.

3 Comments on When Terrifying Leaps of Faith Pay Off:An Art- and Sketch-Filled Q&A with Abby Hanlon, last added: 10/31/2014
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25. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Eva Eriksson

All storytelling has its backbone in realistic fiction. So many kids, even at a surprisingly young age, are eager to read scary stories. I tried to fill that gap. ‘Scary’ thrills them. It makes their hearts beat faster. … To me, the great sentence is: The door knob slowly, slowly turned. That delicious moment of anticipation, of danger climbing the stairs. I’ve tried to provide those chills, while still resolving each book in a safe way.”

* * *

Over here at Kirkus yesterday, I talked to author James Preller, quoted above, about his Scary Tales series from Feiwel & Friends. The latest, The One-Eyed Doll, was recently released. Perfect for Halloween reading. We also chat about his middle-grade novels and school visits.

Next week, I’ll have some art from the Scary Tales books. They are illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.

Today at Kirkus, I write about some picture book imports — that is, those picture books originally published in other countries but now on American shores. That link will be here soon.

* * *

Last week, I wrote here about two early chapter books, one featured more in-depth on Wednesday of this week. Below are some illustrations from the other book, Rose Lagercrantz’s My Heart is Laughing, illustrated by Eva Eriksson (Gecko Press, May 2014). Enjoy the art.

“It was so high they had to go and find a chair so they could climb up it.
They climbed for hours pretending to be monkeys.”

“‘This is very sad!’ she sighed. ‘Is there anyone else this has happened to?’ It was quiet again. ‘Me,’ said Jonathan finally. ‘Vicky and Mickey keep pushing me all the time!’
And Susie waved her arm furiously.”

“‘I forgive you anyway,’ she said. Everybody breathed out. The drama was over.”

“Dani just sat and waved her pen around and smiled at Ella,
who had been given a sheet of paper to write on.”



* * * * * * *

MY HEART IS LAUGHING. First American edition copyright © 2014 by Gecko Press. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher.

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