Thank you Marisabina Russo for tagging me in the Writing Process Blog Tour! I really enjoyed reading about your writing process at http://marisabinarusso.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/the-writing-process-blog-tour/!
What am I working on?
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