August in New York City – “Dogs pant. Hydrants are open. Women carry umbrellas for the shade.” Those words were written over twenty years ago during another hot, sticky New York summer and come from my very first picture book, One Hot Summer Day – now in print for twenty years!
Much has changed in the Brooklyn neighborhoods I photographed for this book and the young girl, who stars in the story, is now a grown woman. Not everything changes, however, the experiences of young children at play remain the same. Just last week, my seven year old son splashed in every puddle in sight as we walked slowly home through a summer downpour. We didn’t care about getting wet, we were already soaked and the rain felt cool.
I’ll be reading this book and others at Restoration Plaza in Bed-Stuy this coming Wednesday, August 5 at 1 pm. Please come!
BELOW is now available as a print-on-demand paperback! Last fall, I got the news that one of my favorite books, BELOW, was going out of print. I’ve had other books go out of print before and I have always felt disappointed, but rarely surprised. This time I was surprised. BELOW had been named an ALA Notable book and a Junior Library Guild selection. Sales were never big, but steady, and the book was always a hit when I read it aloud to school groups. I was also in the midst of facilitating a big order for a school visit when I learned that no reprints were forthcoming.
My editor encouraged me to look into keeping the book available through print-on-demand services – she worked with other authors who were doing so. I knew self publishing was getting easier and better. I did some searching for a service that offered good quality and reasonable pricing. Soon, I was ready to take action. The original art was finished digitally, so there was no need to scan the existing book as is sometimes done with reprints. I did need to digitally rebuild the layouts and the type, but overall it was pretty simple to create new production files for print. The paperback looks great. Good color, crisp type and very much like the hardcover original.
On September 2, 2014, I wrote a post about my writing process. Good friend and fellow author/illustrator, Marisabina Russo, had tagged me in this blogger’s “game.” I in turn tagged two other talented author/illustrator friends – Selina Alko and Javaka Steptoe. Well, almost two months have passed and more author/illustrators have joined in. Selina tagged new writer, Abby Hanlon, who tagged one of my favorites, Hyewon Yum, who tagged another favorite, Tao Nyeu. Javaka has broken his answers out into separate blog posts, you’ll find the link to the first one below.
What fun! I really love getting insights into other people’s process and have enjoyed these posts a lot. I wanted to make a map, but wasn’t quite up to the technical challenges. Here’s a short list of links, instead, organized in order of “tagging”.
There is an exhibition of my mother, Ann Jonas’s, picture books on display now at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central branch. We are so pleased with this exhibition that includes many of her books, early student work and design work. It has given us a great opportunity to reflect upon her wonderful career.
When mom passed away last fall, it was easy to talk at length about how much we loved her and all of the special things she did for us. She was a loving mother and wife; nearly a daughter to her mother-in-law; sister to her sister’s-in-law; good sister; aunt and special friend.
My parents ran their own business from home, Donald and Ann Crews Design, and I felt pretty involved in what they did. My sister and I spent many hours in their studio. We mostly had our own art supplies, but were always given what we needed from the studio to complete any project. When deadlines were near, we might be told to go play in another room and we would hear them working well into the night.
When my mother started doing picture books, I was in high school and actually able to help her out a little. Her first two books were done with pre-separated art and I helped by filling in outlined images; labeling and checking completed art to make certain everything was ready to go. Later when I was in college, I would come home and talk with my mom about the projects she was working on. I’d try to apply ideas I’d learned in my art classes to her work. I’m sure I was pretty obnoxious, but she seemed to enjoy it anyway.
Because while my mother was very open to listening to the opinions of others, by the time she was putting a book together she was pretty sure of what she wanted to do. There might still be challenges and details to decide, but the concepts were thought through and the direction already decided.
My mother was fond of Swiss design and preferred standard sans serif fonts like Helvetica and Akzidenz Grotesk. By her fourth book, she started using Dr. Martin’s watercolor dyes and continued to use them almost exclusively for their clarity and intensity of color. These choices of typeface and artist media reflect her love of clarity. In her books she created magical, intellectual adventures and presented them honestly and unadorned. And these choices reflect exactly who she was. Honest, clear in act and opinion, and very smart.
Please stop by the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to see the work in person. The last day of the show is Sept 21, 2014!
Poetry continues to be a source of inspiration for me. I loved photographing contemporary scenes to illustrate nursery rhymes in The Neighborhood Mother Goose. In my new project (working title – Each Green Leaf), I will photo illustrate nine haiku written by Richard Wright, (the African American novelist) and pair them with a brief biography that will explore Wright’s life and creative journey. I love haiku and believe it a great form to study with kids. Writing the biography was fun and challenging. It was quite a task to condense such a rich life into a few pages. The book will be published by Egmont USA and is slated for Spring 2016.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Some of my favorite classic children’s book authors are Ezra Jack Keats; Else Homelund Minarik and Arnold Lobel. I have always loved writing which is simple, honest and playful and have attempted to follow that model in my books. One aspect that makes my books distinct from most others in the picture book field is that I use photography for my illustrations. I think there are so many possibilities for photography in children’s books and love the work of so many of my fellow photographers in this field like Walter Wick; JoAnne Dugan; Nick Bishop; Charles R. Smith and William Wegman to name a few. Most photographic picture books are non-fiction, but I create fictional stories and use collage and drawing to manipulate the photographs. This gives me freedom to be playful and to experiment, while staying rooted in the world we live in. I can follow a girl as she imagines visiting the moon in I’ll Catch the Moon; I can pretend a whole family lives in a pair of men’s shoes to illustrate ‘The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe’ in The Neighborhood Mother Goose and I can show what Jack imagines might be happening to his toy, Guy, under the stairs in Below.
Why do I write what I do?
There are topics I tend to return to again and again – how children play; what children imagine; city life and the diversity of our world. I was a big daydreamer as a kid and I try to honor that in children when I write. I am interested in children’s rich inner life and how that intersects with the world they live in. In Sky-High Guy, the sequel to Below, Jack must learn how to share the imaginary games he plays with his toy, Guy, with his younger brother Gus. In The Neighborhood Sing-Along, I pair classic songs with scenes of contemporary kids that are both naturalistic and fanciful. And I photograph children who reflect the multicultural fabric of our world. I believe it is important for children to see themselves reflected in a narrative and also important to find empathy with children that they may see as different from themselves.
How does my writing process work?
The best metaphor I can think of is that writing a story is like untangling a cord of Christmas tree lights. Sometimes it goes easily and sometimes it goes poorly and feels very frustrating. Success means that I can hang the lights where I want and light up the room with something fun.
I usually start with a visual inspiration and then write the story and create thumbnail sketches; rewrite the story; then make more detailed sketch for the entire book; edit the story again and then finally am ready to create the finished art. Again, this is what makes being an author/illustrator so satisfying. The words and pictures are in conversation from the very beginning of the process.
There is really no telling how long it might take. I love rewriting – it’s like getting those last kinks out of that tangled cord. Picture books are a bit like poetry – every word matters. My first editor, Susan Hirschman, gave me two pieces of advice. The first, to read my stories aloud and, the second, that a good story should make a child say “again” when you reached the end. And the latter is ultimately what I aspire to, creating a story that can be read again and again and again.
Tag you’re it! Up next Selina Alko and Javaka Steptoe– two very talented author illustrators and friends. I can’t wait to read their posts for The Writing Process Blog Tour.
Selina Alko was born in Vancouver, British Columbia and has been making books in New York City for over 20 years. Selina illustrated the dynamic New York City-themed children’s books My Subway Ride and My Taxi Ride, and is the author and illustrator of Every-Day Dress-Up, B is for Brooklyn and Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama. In a stared review for B is for Brooklyn, Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “Alko (is) among the most visually eloquent promoters of junior-sized urbanism.” Selina lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her husband, illustrator Sean Qualls, and their two children. You can find her at: http://selinaalko.blogspot.com/
Javaka Steptoe is an eclectic young artist, designer, and illustrator, building a national reputation as an outstanding contributor to the genre of children’s literature. His debut work, In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers, earned him the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, a nomination for Outstanding Children’s Literature Work at the 1998 NAACP Image Awards, a finalist ranking for the Bluebonnet Award for Excellence in Children’s Books, and countless other honors. His books, Do You Know What I’ll Do?authored by Charlotte Zolotow and A Pocketful of Poems authored by Nikki Grimes, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and the ALA Booklist. Hot Day on Abbott Avenue, written by Karen English, received the 2005 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. Steptoe is also the author/illustrator of The Jones Family Express. His most recent illustration projects include Rain Play by Cynthia Cotten, published in 2008 and Amiri and Odette: A Love Storyby multi award winning author Walter Dean Myers, forthcoming in January 2009. You can find him at: javakasteptoe@ wordpress.com
I have just returned from Sheboygan Wisconsin. Spent a day talking about my books at the Mead Public Library and leading an art workshop at the Kohler Art Center. Spent two evenings talking shop with other authors and illustrators while tasting Wisconsin specialties like fried cheese curds. (Yes, fried cheese curds.) Here are some photos of me in an article about the festival from the Sheboygan Press. You can look at them here. (But be patient, there are lots of photos of Steven Kellogg first!)
During my morning presentation I learned something new which is the reason why this post is titled “Liar, Liar, Liar”. Apparently in Chicago, the song, “Miss Mary Mack,” is sung a little differently than what is printed in my book, The Neighborhood Sing-Along. Children’s author James Kennedy sat in on my session and told us that when kids get the end of the song they shout “liar, liar, liar!” because the song is all lies. I am sad to say that I don’t think I ever really got the joke as a kid, but no room for subtleness in Chi-town. Fun!
Also fun is James Kennedy’s project the 90 second Newbery. Kids of all ages create a 90 second film based on their favorite Newbery award winning book.
Will you be in the Hudson Valley area this weekend? Come by, buy a book, or say hi!
I will be signing books at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival this Saturday from 10am – 4pm. Many wonderful children’s book authors and illustrators will be sharing their work! Walter Dean Myers – the current Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Donald Crews, Ann Jonas, Jacqueline Woodson and Seymour Simon to name just a few. Should be a great day to read books!