I know what you’re thinking—where has Tara been all July? (Well, maybe you’re not thinking that. Maybe you’re daydreaming about a fro-yo fix. And who could blame you?)
Well, it’s August and I’m back with an extraordinary interview. The talented author-illustrator Sarah Dillard turned what she thought was a picture book into an adorable early-reader chapter book. What did it take to get EXTRAORDINARY WARREN published? Let’s find out while we devour our fro-yo…
Sarah, what exactly made you realize that WARREN was destined for more than a picture book?
When I started working on Warren, I intended it to be a picture book but I felt that the story and ideas that I wanted to tell with him were a little more complex than the picture book format would comfortably allow. This is not to say that there are not complex picture books because there certainly are. But with Warren, it just seemed like he needed a little room to spread his wings. I didn’t worry about chapters though until a few drafts in. At that point it felt like there were natural breaks in the story for chapters. I have to say, when I am working on something I don’t automatically think “I am writing a picture book or this is going to be a chapter book.” I focus on the character and the story and let it unfold and then see what fits it best.
That’s great advice, to focus on character.
Thanks, Tara. I also wanted to add, that as picture books seem to be skewering younger, there is a great opportunity for illustrated early readers and chapter books to fill the gap for the beginning reader.
So what inspired Warren’s creation? How did he hatch?
Warren began as a doodle of a chicken looking at an egg. He looked curious to me and felt like a character who was looking for life’s answers. Did I draw the egg first or the chicken? I’ll never tell!
My favorite spread in WARREN is the one with the hill in separate panels. How did you come up with that unique visual concept?
That is one of my favorite spreads too! When I started thinking about how I would do the art for this book, my art director suggested a limited palette—with three colors plus black and white. I was hesitant at first but when I realized that I could use black as more than just an outline, the art took a fun graphic turn. I felt the use of black for the hill added just the right drama for this spread. I also liked the idea of having basically one hill but several panels that show Warren’s progression up and over that hill. I think it works both literally and figuratively for this part of the story.
How different is it to write/illustrate your own book as opposed to just being an illustrator on a project?
I think it is quite different to illustrate my own book than illustrating someone else’s work. Illustrating someone else’s story is a huge responsibility. It is kind of like having someone say here is my beautiful child, please raise it. I am very conscious of wanting to do justice to the story as the author might have envisioned it while also bringing my own sensibility to the story.
When I am illustrating my own work having the art serve the story becomes the primary focus. I’m thinking of the images and what part they will have in telling the story as I write, so the art and the words feel inseparable to me. I think when I am working on my own books I have a stronger intuitive sense of what the story will need and am more willing to take risks to give it that. For instance, WARREN is done digitally and in a style quite different than any I have worked in, but I think it was the best approach for the book.
We’re hearing a lot about how editors want character-driven stories. What about Warren’s character makes him especially appealing?
That is a great question, and I’m glad that you find WARREN appealing! In creating WARREN, I tried to think about things that I thought about as a child, and probably still think about; the big questions—Who am I? What is my place in this world? I think we all want be special in some way but worry that maybe we are not. WARREN taps into that and hopefully it makes him someone that the reader can relate to and cheer on.
And…are there more WARREN books planned for the future?
I’m happy to say YES! EXTRAORDINARY WARREN SAVES THE DAY will be published in October. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can say that this book will deal with another of life’s big questions. Finally, we will learn, once and for all, why the chicken crossed the road.
I’ll let my blog readers know that you’re giving away a signed copy of EXTRAORDINARY WARREN: A SUPER CHICKEN—they just have to leave a comment by August 8th. Hey, that’s even better than fro-yo!
Sarah Dillard studied art at Wheaton College and illustration at Rhode Island School of Design. She lives with her husband in Waitsfield, Vermont. For more about Sarah and her books, visit SarahDillard.com.