|Anna Grossnickle Hines * Articles and Talks Home Guide|
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Making Ordinary Magic: Creating the Picture Book
(or Living with Your Own Voice and Style and Making it Work for You in the Market Place)
Anna Grossnickle Hines
Brazos Valley, Texas and Nebraska SCBWI Conferences 1995
I always feel a special responsibility when addressing groups of writers and illustrators for the SCBWI, because until I found this organization back in 1974 I felt completely lost. I'd known since I was a child that this was the career I wanted, but though my parents and some of my teachers had encouraged me, no one had an inkling of how I should go about it. When I attended my first conference I felt very welcomed into the field, even though it is a competitive one. The attitude was definitely one of sharing and helpfulness. I'm happy when I have the opportunity to pass that on. Though I must admit, I do feel that things have changed somewhat. Publishing houses are less stable than they were then. More books are being published, but the school and library market is down so the competition between books after they are published is stronger. With the changing bookstore market there is more emphasis on product and mass appeal. Many fine books go out of print before they've had a chance to be discovered, which makes this a frustrating business even for those of us who are "successful" at getting our books published.
Still, this is what I want to do... what I have to do... and if that's the way it is for you, well, welcome to the boat. Unfortunately this vessel doesn't always take a direct course and we all have to do a lot of paddling, but just as the writers and illustrators at my first conference held out their hands to me, I'll hold out mine for you. Children always need good books and I don't think there is anything more rewarding than helping to produce them.
In a nutshell, besides following the SCBWI guidelines for submitting manuscripts, what to submit, form and so on, my advice is to read a ton of children's books, get close to kids, and to your own feelings and experiences of childhood. Learn as much as you can about good writing. Practice. Join or form a writing group. Do your best to keep up with what is being published by which houses, and send your work to the most appropriate places. Be persistent. And most importantly...write from your own heart...in your own voice.
Which brings me to the title Beth originally gave me for this talk, "Living with Your Own Voice and Style and Making It Work for You in the Market Place" I see she's shortened it since then. I spoke at another regional conference this year, in fact this is my third, and the title I was given for the talk in Texas was "Making Ordinary Magic". The allusion there was to a Hornbook review in which I was called the "sorceress of the ordinary". The reviewer commented that I took simple experiences and transformed them into picture books. Later one of my best friends was trying to recall it and all she could come up with was "Master of the Mundane". That's probably just as descriptive, but somehow it doesn't sound quite as complimentary. I like that idea though, as a description of my voice.
I like the idea of making magic. I think that's what all of us who write for children want to do really, to create something that leaves us and goes out into the world and touches a child, hopefully many children, in a way that makes them feel good, makes them laugh, or see something in a new way, or feel understood and connected. That seems like magic to me.
But the last part of the title of this talk...the part about the market place... involves a kind of magic that I don't pretend to understand at all. I know it's important to make sure what you send is the very best it can be, to be persistent, and familiarize yourself with the publishing houses. And I know I'm really fortunate to be with two houses that, at least so far, are very stable. But even then, once a book is published, I don't understand the whys of the sales or lack of sales of individual books...even when I take into account good and bad reviews and advertising and all of that. Bethany for Real was my fourth book and the only one to get a starred review, but it didn't do as well as the three preceding it.
Sometimes I can see that luck has an awful lot to do with it. It just happened that Daddy Makes the Best Spaghetti was one of the first nurturing father books to come out at a time when nurturing fathers were being encouraged. Greenwillow had rejected it, and Jim Giblin who published it at Clarion, wasn't sure what to call it. "It's not exactly a story," he said, "just a nice little slice of life." But he liked it, decided to take a chance on it and it's been one of my most successful books. Sky All Around, which came out a few years later, also about a nurturing daddy, also encourages imagination, with prettier illustrations, good reviews and advertising support, just barely made it...which means it didn't get remaindered, but also didn't get reprinted.
What Joe Saw wasn't even reviewed in the Hornbook. The Guide gave it a rating of four, which isn't very good. But Robert Hale listed is as one of the best bakers dozen of the season, using words like "lovely", "perfect" and "sublime" to describe it. It just came out last fall and I haven't seen sales figures yet, but it is being picked up by Scholastic for a bookclub edition and audio cassette. Time will tell.
Some titles that I think are especially original and appealing...just sit there. And some manuscripts I'm sure the publishers will love come back by return mail. I don't know why. I know Jim at Clarion is looking for multiple levels in a book...and I know that Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow is looking for something she "can't resist", something that "surprises" her.
So how do I make my voice and style work in the market place? Darned if I know. I don't know what kind of magic that takes and to be honest with you, I try not to think about it too much...because when it comes right down to it, I don't feel I have a whole lot of choice about what I write, which brings me back to the first part of the title of this talk.
"Living With Your Own Voice and Style". What are the options? It's kind of like living with your own body. If you want to make the most of it, you try to feed it reasonably, exercise it, give it rest. You might consider surgically altering parts of it, but basically it's what you've got. I write What's in me to write...what appeals to me...what pushes to get out.
My daughter gave me Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird for Christmas, which is a wonderfully funny and wise book about writing. In it she says that if you find yourself starting a number of stories you don't finish it's probably because there is nothing at their center about which you care passionately. I've tried a few times to write for adults....short stories, a couple of plays. My husband writes songs, and we thought it would be fun to write a musical together. But I always lose interest. I like to think about things, relationships, the meaning of life. I'm always trying to find the patterns and reasons behind things people do and ways they relate to one another. But to write it? It's just not in me. I don't even read much adult fiction. I'm more likely to read non-fiction books about children, such as Dr. Healey's Endangered Minds.
I find the things of childhood much more fascinating. Think about it. What is mud to an adult? It's something to clean up off the kitchen floor, or to avoid getting the car stuck in. But to a child? It's that smucky sound when you walk in it and it tries to suck your boots off. It's little blobs squishing up, soft and smushy between your toes. It's mud pies, and finger paint, and modeling clay.
What's mundane to a kid? They are just finding out what their bodies can do, about a thousand little things that we take for granted, like if you let go of something it falls, and if you put an object behind another it disappears, but you can bring it back again. Magic! They're finding out who they are and how what they do effects those around them and puzzling out the mysteries and power of language. They're discovering the fun of it, rhyming and chanting and naming things.
Even routine and repetition are interesting to kids because a big part of their task is to find order in all this chaos and to master a whole gamut of skills from physical coordination to socializing to language. Can you imagine? Taking hold of that block, moving the arm into position to stack it on top of another and letting go in just the right place...or learning to make the shapes of the letters... that must feel as good to the child as the first few successful down hill runs to a novice skier. It's a triumph. It must feel like it does to me when I put just the right color of paint in just the right spot on my picture, or find the perfect word or phrase for a story.
In her chapter on "Writer's Block" Anne Lamott talks about writers being vacuum cleaners sucking up everything around them, things that everyone around us can also experience. But, she says, "Knowing the source of all our stuff deprives it of its magic, because then the material feels mundane, cliched: you didn't have to discover it because it was already there for all to see."
Certainly there's nothing really original in the content of my stories. They are about ordinary, mundane, everyday experiences, at least they are if we see them from the point of view of an adult who has lived through them or observed them hundreds of times. But from the point of view of the child, what is not fascinating? What is not magic? Ms. Lamott suggests that when you are really stuck to try writing your story as a letter, sharing something you care about with someone you care about. Writing from one heart to another.
You may not find the ordinary experiences of early childhood as fascinating as I do. Perhaps the confusing emergence of self at puberty is more interesting to you, or you want to make up worlds of your own, or to write about the real world of nature or physics. You can make magic out of that, out of whatever it is that comes from your heart. I think that's where your voice comes from, that place inside that feels so strongly about something... that has that sense of wonder, or understanding, or joy... that moves you to want to share it... you have to put it in just the right words to touch the heart or curiosity of the child who reads it or has it read to him.
Note: The rest of this talk was illustrated with slides. I was tempted to leave it out, but reading through I think most of it comes through without the pictures so I've left it in.
I'm going to start with the slides now and tell you some more specifics about my process and some of my books. Hopefully, as I do this, you'll pick up things that may help you... or at least some parts of the process that echo your own experiences. I always like to have that, "Oh yeah, me too," feeling when I hear other writers and illustrators speak. The odd part of giving talks like this is that every time I say this is how I work, I find myself working differently. I'm still learning and experimenting.
The first big question is usually... where do you get all those ideas?
Here is where one story came into being. This is Grey Towers where my husband works. We first went there four years ago and were very impressed with this mansion where Gary now works.
But the house they gave us to stay in that year wasn't quite so nice. Doesn't look bad from the outside, but inside was a different story. The floors and walls were tilted, there were no curtains on the windows and that first night there was a big thunderstorm. Our eleven year old daughter, usually quite independent, ended up in bed with us. Aha! An idea!
This is Lassen, when she was only four, with our dog Mushka. The truth is that stories don't have just one idea but many and another idea for Rumble Thumble Boom! came from another thunderstorm when Lassen was this age. I was busy making blackberry jam when the storm came up. Lassen was nervous and the dog even more nervous, but I reassured Lassen and she reassured Mushka, getting brave enough to go off into another room. But a particularly loud clap of thunder brought them both back to my side, Lassen nonchalantly asking, "Don't you need my help?"
The ideas are like seeds....and once planted they take some time to grow. A lot of time sometimes. I think about them while I do other things, like washing dishes, gardening, driving, raking leaves. It's always good to stir them up a bit just before going to sleep at night. You never know what may sprout by morning.
This way of living...inside my head...chewing over ideas, combining and recombining and trying to shape them into a story... doesn't necessarily serve me well for getting along in the real world. It may be harder on those around me than it is on me. When my oldest daughter was four, I looked down to see her walking away shaking her head saying, "She's just not listening now. I'll have to come back later."
I make some notes. I make them wherever and whenever on whatever is handy. I like the idea of a writer's notebook, and have started many, but i never seem to have them handy when I want to jot something down.
When I'm really ready to work on a story I sit down at my computer.
Fairly early in the process I print my story out and and start thinking about how it is going to fit into the 32 or 24 pages of the picture book. 32 is the standard but Greenwillow often does 24, so did Dutton. I have to consider the front matter but I have learned that there is a great deal of flexibility there. The story can begin as late as page 7 or as early as page three...even page two if you do as I did in What Joe Saw and put the publication page on 32.
Next I put it into a dummy... This helps me get the feel of the rhythm of the book...Do I have good picture possibilities? Will the scene change from page to page so it will be visually interesting? I make picture notes or rough sketches. What I learn from doing rough dummies often sends me back to the computer to revise the text.
I have others read the story and give me feedback. My kids used to do that, and their comments were often quite helpful. I've also had writing and illustrating friends who either get together for critiquing or exchange stories by email. I highly recommend joining or forming a support group.
When I have my story ready I send the manuscript and dummy. Then I wait. In the case of Rumble Thumble Boom! I got an immediate yes, but sometimes the editor will tell me that something about the story doesn't work for them, possibly suggesting that I revise and send it back, or maybe not. I can choose to change if I agree with the comments, or send it to another publisher, or if I agree that the story has problems and I don't know how to fix it I may put it away for awhile. Usually I give very serious thoughts to any comments the editors make and revise if I can figure out how.
One of the first stories I submitted as I was collecting those early rejections was a story about my oldest daughter, Bethany. Of my three girls she was the one most into imaginary play and one day she was pretending to be Laura, an older girl she knew. She picked up a hand mirror and saw herself and exclaimed, "I still have a Bethany face! I thought I had a Laura face." I was amazed at how real her pretend was to her and for years tried to write this scene into a story. But it got rejected over and over, seventeen times in four different versions. People kept seeing it as the child not being happy with who she was and wanting to be somebody else...a self-acceptance theme. Finally, Susan Hirschman suggested I throw out the part about the Bethany face. It was hard to give up, but I had to admit that it wasn't working for the story I wanted to tell. I left it out and wrote a story about pretending and a mix-up among the children about who is really who.
In observing children and getting ideas from things they do an easy pitfall to fall into is to see it from the adult point of view as cute and amusing. It often is cute and amusing, but not from the child's point of view. To the child it's life.
One of my recent books, Moompa, Toby and Bomp, was inspired by the young grandson of some friends of mine who was just learning to talk. He called his granddad Moombah, bread was bup, bread and peanut butter was bupadup, and the ducks he loved to see in the park were doots. To the adults his attempts to talk were cute...as well as obvious signs of a very high intelligence, of course. To Ivan they were serious attempts to communicate.
I thought about my own children's interest as they grew in how they used to say things and thought it might be a good subject for a book. I didn't want to be cute about it, but thought it was important to include Ivan's versions of some words. Kids know when they aren't saying a word as the adults do, but they are saying it as well as they can. My older daughters were eight and eleven when the third was born, so we had "the girls" and the baby. When Lassen started talking "girls" came out "gors". For the first couple years she'd ask when "the gors" are coming home and so on. Then one day she and I were in the car doing errands and asked, "Are we going to pick up the girls?" I glanced over to see the look of amazement on her face. "I said it right!" she exclaimed and beamed proudly. If I were to put that in a book it would have to be joyful and triumphant, not cute.
Moompa, Toby and Bomp hasn't done very well in sales, but I've heard from several parents of toddlers who tell me it's a favorite. One mother of an eighteen month old said, "I guess it's awful to say this to you, but I'm tried of it." A librarian said when she read it at the toddler story hour the squirmy group was suddenly spellbound. "The magic was there," she said. "You speak their language." So I have to feel that I was successful.
Another of my earliest stories is Maybe A Band-Aid Will Help. My daughter Sarah had a cloth doll named Abigail, which I'd made for her. Abigail had many adventures and often needed mending. One time, her leg was off and she'd been put in my mending pile. She'd probably been there a week or so when Sarah retrieved her and brought her to me saying, "Abigail is lonely. She won't mind if I play with her this way." The guilt didn't keep me from immediately recognizing a good story idea. This is another story that was submitted in different versions to different publishers before I made my first sale. Susan Hirschman said she just didn't believe the mother didn't have time to fix the doll. I thought, "Well, she's obviously never been a mother." I sent it to Jim Giblin. He said he didn't believe it was that important to the little girl that the doll get fixed. I thought," Well, he's obviously never been a little girl."
It seemed on the surface these editors were saying opposite things, but then it occurred to me that they were actually saying the same thing. Neither was saying they didn't believe these things happened in real life. They were saying, as readers, that I hadn't made them feel the urgency of this situation. I hadn't made Susan feel that the mother was too busy, and I hadn't made Jim feel how important getting this doll fixed was to this little girl.
So I revised...and this time I showed the mother doing important chores. And where in the previous version Sarah went off to play something else between checking on Abigail, this time, whatever else she did, Abigail was in her thoughts. She played school and wrote get well notes to Abigail, she took a nap with Hopkins but he wasn't as nice as Abigail, because he had prickly whiskers. I sent the story back to Susan. She said, "Much better but still not irresistible enough for toadies market." I sent it to Jim and he said, "Much stronger, but still needed something and he couldn't put his finger on just what it was." So I sent it to Ann Durrell at Dutton. She loved it, just wanted it tightened up a bit and asked if I could write more stories about Sarah and Abigail which I did.
I probably should be focusing more on my more current books, but I learned some lessons in some of these earlier ones that are very relevant and easy to pass along. All By Myselfis a story about giving up night diapers. A librarian actually suggested I write a book on this topic because they get so many requests for them. Suggestions like that don't usually strike such a strong cord as this one did. I had an ordinary moment that I thought would translate well. Sarah was two and a half, and though she was doing well with the potty during the day had never had a dry night when she suddenly announced that she didn't want to wear diapers any more.
Being a mother who believes in following a child's lead in such matters, I agreed to try it, and told her she'd have to wake me up so I could take her to the bathroom in the middle of the night. For a few nights all went well, but then she had an accident. The next few nights she woke me up about every hour to take her to the bathroom. I was a single parent at the time, student teaching and taking college classes, and we lived in an old house which had had the bathroom added on to the back porch. Getting to it wasn't something Sarah couldn't do without help, so for my own survival, I put a potty chair and a night light in Sarah's bedroom and left her own her own. It worked fine. No more wet beds. No more diapers and I got to sleep all night.
I wrote the story as it happened, sent it to Susan Hirschman with whom I already had a correspondence going, though she had not yet bought a book. She sent this one back saying it was very nice but the mother solved the problem not the child. Oh oh! Should have known better than that!
I revised it, having the child decide no diapers, have a successful night, then the accident and then a night of waking mother up every hour. The following night mother is so tired she doesn't come when the child calls and the little girl has to make that scary journey through the big dark night to the bathroom all by herself. I sent it back. Susan said, "Best thing you've sent us yet, but we've just bought a story by Donald Crews' wife which uses a similar repeated phrase...When I was teeny little baby."
So I sent it to Jim Giblin with whom I'd been corresponding for three years, and he said he liked the beginning very much, but he thought the middle was too clinical. He'd like to see it again if I wanted to revise it. The beginning had the child comparing what she did as a teeny little baby with what she can do now "all by myself", leading up to her announcement that now she doesn't want to wear diapers anymore. The middle is the bathroom in the middle of the night part...the point of the whole book. I didn't want to change that, and about the time Jim returned it I sold my first book to Greenwillow. So I asked Susan if she might want to publish All By Myself at a later date. She held it for quite a while and then returned it as "not irresistible enough for today's market."
Then I had a chance to meet with Jim, having in hand several stories that Greenwillow had turned down since purchasing the one. We discussed All By Myself. I told him that I felt the middle was the whole point of the story. He said he felt the beginning was leading in a different direction and that if I could change that, perhaps the middle would be okay. I basically tightened up the beginning, so it was more an introduction instead of developing that pattern of "When I was a teeny little baby... but now I can do it all by myself" quite so strongly. And then I tightened the ending too, with very little change to the middle. Jim bought it and it was set to come out when Jim Trelease, in a presentation at ALA, said we need more books for toddlers on such subjects as toilet training. The book is out of print now, but did well. We saw it as basically for very young children, but I found it to be popular with primary grade children as well, many of whom still struggle with the big dark night.
Once the text is set and sold I start on the illustrations. One of the first steps is to look for reference material. I often begin with my family photo albums and picture collections.
If I can't find the photos I need I have to take some, often asking family members to do some rather strange things. This is from the first dummy for Daddy Makes the Best Spaghetti,
For Rumble Thumble Boom! I tried Lassen as the child, but being eleven she was too big, so I asked a young friend to pose for me... Lassen became the mother and the dog. Dogs don't always cooperate very well. Gary posed as the father. I put them all in bed together...Susan said she'd bail me out if I was arrested.
I worked on the drawings, enlarging and reducing fixing and retracing until I had the lines the way I wanted them.
Since this was my first dark book I did some samples trying different techniques. Some were too dark, some too light. Some better but still not quite right. The art director suggested that I try working on black paper.
The final decision was aquarelles and colored pencil on black paper. The art director and editor approved the dummy and the sample illustration. Ready to start the finished illustrations, I transferred the line onto the black paper by making a white carbon with tissue and chalk. Usually I simply trace the line onto good white paper. Then added the color.
My original idea had been that the text pages would be dark with reverse type, the thunder sounds possibly hand drawn. But the editor and art director thought this would make the book too dark, so I tried some colored thunder words on white. They told me not to worry about it, they'd set it in type. So I sent the illustrations in, quite early actually, in May and went to California to put our house up for sale and have a wedding for our daughter Sarah.
In December, back in Pennsylvania, I got a call asking if I could come in because they had run into problems. They didn't like the words dark on white, had decided they would be better in color on black and thought best of all would be if they were hand drawn. We enlarged, reduced, cut and pasted...and I took the words home to trace and draw on the black paper.
I only had a week to do it or the book would be delayed for six months...so I worked from 7 Am to 10 or even 1 AM...but it was worth it. I think the hand drawn words are best for the book.
Like many of my books Rumble Thumble Boom! was printed in Hong Kong . The art director sent me a picture of the printers checking one of the sheets. Later I saw proofs and then the finished book.
Sometimes I use colored pencils for my books as I did for Moompa, Toby and Bomp. I used them heavily in that book, because I wanted bright primary type colors since it was for very young children..
My studio in our home in Milford, Pennsylvania is in the attic.
I have gone many times to Port Townsend Washington, to a summer writing retreat for ten days. I have made friends there in a class and we enjoy sharing our work and helping one another.
As I was walking to town on the beach the images and words for a story about walking on the beach started going through my head. But I thought there must be dozens of books about beaches. What could make mine different? What if it was about someone who couldn't walk? What if it was an imaginary walk on the beach? By the time I had walked to town and back the whole story was in my head....some don't take too long.
I went to my room in the dormitory and wrote it, read it to a friend who made a couple suggestions, revised it, read it to the whole group, and then sent it off to Susan Hirschman. It was one of my very few, mail it on Monday and get a call on Thursday acceptances. I think there was one other.
To do the illustrations for this story, Gramma's Walk, I rented a wheel chair, asked a friend if I could age her a bit, and asked my young friend Josh to pose for his second book. He's was my model for Rumble Thumble Boom!
Not only did I take pictures of them with the wheel chair but I asked them to do all the things that the grandmother and Donnie were imagining.
I did my second dummy and a couple of sample illustrations.
But Susan was not happy. She said it was too confusing to see the grandmother walking around when she was supposed to be in a wheel chair...so I did some more thinking and sketching. I worked it all out in thumbnail pictures on a storyboard.
I redid the dummy, and instead of showing Gramma and Donnie doing the things, I show what they imagine they are seeing. The reader is then imagining right along with them.
On one side of a spread they watch the seagulls fly away.
When I wrote the book I saw the otter on the rock, but the next summer, when I went back to take pictures, I didn't see him. My daughter found some pictures of otters for me in her World magazine.
For this book I used water color markers in pale shades, and then colored over the top with colored pencil, very solidly. The markers make sure no white from the paper will bleed through.
As I work I spread all the illustrations out on the floor so that I can be sure they all look like they belong together...that the colors are consistent.
For the jacket I didn't want to just show Gramma in her wheel chair, and I didn't want to just show the beach, so I reduced some of the illustrations from the pages of the book on my copy machine and put them together to give the art director an idea of what I had in mind for the jacket. The designer used my idea, selecting some different pictures, some the same.
The art is photographed with a laser that separates the colors. Then a plate is made for each color in order to print the book. In the proofs I see a sheet with just blue, one with red, one with red, one with blue and red, one yellow, the three colors, the black, and then all four together for the finished print.
This book was printed on two sheets of paper. Some books are printed on one. The pages are right side up, upside down, and seem to be all mixed up.
In Even If I Spill My Milk, young Jamie tries to convince his mother not to go out and leave him with the sitter. He tests her by asking what she'd do if he spills his milk on her party dress, on purpose, or if her won't get into bed, or won't kiss her good night, or runs away. Mother's answers are reassuring but firm. She'll love him forever and she'll be home and kiss him one more time, but she's still going to her party. The whole story is told in dialogue between the two.
I actually didn't even plan for the father to be present. I mentioned before that I was a single mother for a while. I also taught in day care centers. I think it's a good idea to show single parent families doing the same things two parent families do, so in my writing when I don't need to mention two parents, I often don't. It might be that the missing parent is at work, or on a business trip, or he might be permanently absent. I like to leave room for the child to make assumptions about what kind of family it is.
I thought I could leave daddy out of Even If I Spill My Milk, that he might be on a business trip or maybe mother's meeting him downtown. But Jim wanted Daddy in the story. He felt that if I left it open for mother to possibly be going out with another man, the story was complicated by jealousy. I liked the simple two person dialogue though and didn't want to interrupt it with descriptions of the activities of any of the participants, which I planned to show in the illustrations. And if I had daddy there I didn't want him just waiting impatiently on the sidelines. So I put him in the pictures, greeting and giving directions to the sitter, helping pick-up and so on, in the background as mother and Jamie have their conversation.
My model for this book was my three year old neighbor, Timmy. He didn't really understand what was going on, but cooperatively let himself be undressed, and crawled under his bed and brushed his teeth. Lassen was the baby-sitter and sometimes the mother. I don't know what I'll do when she goes away to college.
When I asked Timmy and his older brother and sister to model for When the Goblins Came Knocking, a book which will out this fall, they were more than happy to do it. In this story the little boy remembers all the scary things about last Halloween when he was too little to join in the fun. But this year he says he's going to be the scariest one.
What Joe Saw is the story of a little boy who is always the last one to line up, always straggling behind...but on the walk to the park he sees things the others miss. At the park he feeds the ducks with the others, then when it is time to go another child must stop to tie his shoe...and everyone sees what Joe sees.
For models for this book I took some pictures of a kindergarten class I visited, and was lucky enough to accompany a preschool class on a visit to a local pond. Most of the animal references came from pictures I found, but I did take a few. I must have looked pretty silly on my knees in front of the library taking this shot of an ant hill. And I got all scratched up crawling through the brush trying to get a picture of these baby ducks. I did get a good shot of a nesting sight though.
These are pages from the dummy of my latest book, Big Help. The art director really liked the energy in these drawings and we discussed my trying to do the illustrations in a style that would maintain that. But Jim wanted me to try for the softness of palette and background that I had done in It's Just Me, Emily.
I didn't know any families with kids the right ages when I was doing this book, so I went to my files and albums. Fortunately, I've taken many pictures of my own girls and my nieces and nephews over the years. At one point we had almost enough for our own preschool.
These are some of the sketches and notes, including a list of where I had found the photos. Keeping those files in order is a challenge in itself. Also shown here are floor plans, actually of the backyard. I was trying to figure out just what would be seen from different viewpoints. It's easier to find a real place and take the pictures from different points of view if you can.
Faxing came in handy when it came time to decide what to do on the jacket of this book. I sent in several possibilities...and this was the final decision.
The story is about a little sister who wants to help her big brother with everything...with not so wonderful results as far as he is concerned. When Daddy tries to help, Lucy gets upset, and it is Sam who comes up with the solution, getting Lucy to "Help" him play with the wagon...until he gets to finish his picture with no help at all.
Right now I'm working on the illustrations for a book When We Married Gary about getting a new stepfather. As you can see from this picture of our wedding, it's based on my own children's experience, told from the point of view of Sarah the younger one here. It and talks some about "the daddy we had once, who mother says has problems and isn't ready to be a daddy." Sarah's conclusion, one she made in real life is that, "It's like we're a puzzle. He didn't fit with us but Gary does."
I'm experimenting with media for this book...doing something bolder than I have done before and having fun with it...as I hope you will have with your own work.
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