Photo: Nicole Haley
After winning the 2011 Caldecott Medal for A Sick Day for Amos McGee, written by her husband, Philip, Erin E. Stead returns with a second picture book, this one about waiting and planning and hope. And Then It’s Spring (5–8 years) grows out of a long friendship; see below.
1. What about Julie Fogliano’s (glorious) text helped you decide to illustrate it?
Erin E. Stead: Julie is a friend of mine who, like me, is quite shy about her work. I met Julie almost ten years ago when we both worked in a bookstore in New York (she was my assistant manager). For the majority of those years, I knew Julie was a writer but never saw a thing she wrote. Since I was the same way, I never put any pressure on her. Then one day, out of the blue, she emailed me a poem. I loved it. I know her, so I knew it was her voice, but I also thought it had the lightness and the seriousness that I (or my six-year-old self) could relate to. She told me she had received some advice to push the text into a more traditional story. I suddenly felt very protective of the original poem. Obviously, the next step was to send it (without telling her) to my editor, Neal Porter.
Neal wrote: “This is lovely. Would you be interested in illustrating?”
So I did. I’ve been able to work with two writers (my husband, Philip, and Julie) with whom I am very close, which has really worked for me. They both give me plenty of say and plenty of space. Julie’s books (I am wrapping up the second book now) are so interesting to work on. The texts are abstract, which allows me to make a lot of decisions about how I’d like to pull the reader through the story. It’s a lot of freedom for an illustrator. Most of the time that is wonderful, but there are always moments where I am lying on the floor of my studio in despair. I want to do her delicate texts justice. It’s a great challenge.
2. What picture book text from the past do you most wish you could have illustrated?
EES: Tough question for an illustrator. There are many books I would love to have illustrated, but I wouldn’t be able to do as good a job as the illustrator whose name is already on the book. James Thurber’s Many Moons is probably one of my top picks, although I am no Louis Slobodkin — let alone Marc Simont.
3. My favorite spring song is “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” What’s yours?
EES: I haven’t been able to think of anything that tops Mel Brooks’s “Springtime for Hitler.”
4. You’re a signatory to the Picture Book Proclamation. Which of its sixteen “We Believes?” means the most to you?
EES: Tough question #2. I am not positive my answer would be the same every time you asked me. Four out of five times though, I would probably answer: “We should know our history.”
I don’t necessarily mean the books that have become part of the canon (although that is an excellent place to start). A lot of good books ca
photo: National Geographic
Rick Bowers’s previous book, Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network That Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. The journalist and historian’s latest offering is another compellingly told and meticulously researched account of events surrounding the civil rights battle. Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate uses the appeal of popular culture to illuminate social movements, mass media, and historical research. The result is a complex history of organizations guided by both ideology and profit, people both well-meaning and flawed, and shifts in popular sentiment. Along the way, Bowers demonstrates how a historian works, digging past myths, examining original archives, and reaching tentative conclusions about what happened and why.
1. You went deep into archives on the battle over civil rights to write your last book, Spies of Mississippi (discussed here). Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan is about the intersection of that history with superhero pop-culture. How much did you have to learn about the world of comics?
Rick Bowers: I had to immerse myself in the history of comic books in general and in the Superman character in particular.
Superman was first dubbed the “champion of the oppressed” and only later became famous as the champion of truth, justice, and the American way. The original Superman had a strong social conscience that led him to thwart wife beaters, corrupt politicians, greedy industrialists, foreign dictators, and Nazi spies.
Spawned during the FDR years, Superman was a super New Dealer who stood up for the little guy and believed we could all work toward a better world. He reflected the ideals of the New Deal and the hopes and aspirations of immigrants.
Given all that history it figures that the Man of Steel would one day take on the men of hate. Superman was shaped as a force for openness and fairness and a positive future for all. The K.K.K. was openly anti-Semitic, hostile to liberal democracy, and wanted to turn the clock back.
2. The Superman radio shows at the center of your book were featured in Freakonomics in 2005, but then that book’s authors retracted the story as a myth. How did you go about finding out what most likely happened?
RB: I had the advantage of beginning my research in the wake of the Freakonomics kerfuffle. That debate suggested that the popular version of events was probably not one hundred percent accurate and challenged me to find the most important facts.
Sure enough, numerous documents showed that the basic story of Superman vs. the K.K.K. was true but that certain fabrications had become accepted as fact and had muddied the historical record.
This required me to establish the core facts and stick to those.
FACT 1: In 1946 the producers of The Adventures of Superman radio show aired a sixteen-part series entitled “Clan of the Fiery Cross.” It pitted the Man of Steel against a thinly veiled version of the K.K.K. that fooled no one. The series was wi