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Fangirl moment. THE Carin Berger is on my blog today. A children’s book creator I have long admired, Berger’s cut-paper illustrations bring delightful whimsy to books by former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Jack Prelusky, as well as imbue her own stories with a joyful spirit.

 

When I read her newest release, ALL OF US, I thought, “This is a perfect book for today—for right now.” So of course, I had to ask her about it. Thankfully, she agreed to an interview.

Carin, ALL OF US feels so timely, however I know it can take years to create a picture book. How did you decide upon the theme (and when)?

While it is true that it can take years to bring a picture book into the world, I wrote ALL OF US, in a single burst, in response to the turmoil in our country, especially in the lead up to the election. In fact I wrote it while I was in Germany, the country that my family was forced to flee in the 1930s because of unrelenting racism, hatred and violence directed against vulnerable minorities. I had actually voted on Election Day and then flown to Germany that afternoon. I landed to the news of the election results. The juxtaposition of the events in our country against my own family’s history of forced displacement was upsetting and surreal. I wanted to do something to make a difference, to remind those that felt unbalanced or ostracized or alone, that community, diversity, inclusion and love are powerful and will ultimately triumph. This idea of wanting to do something dogged me for days. Or maybe it was months. In any case, there in Germany, with such a stew of feelings inside, I woke up in the middle of the night with the words to the book almost like a song or refrain in my head. I scribbled them down and made thumbnail drawings in my sketchbook. The next morning I took a picture of this on my phone and then emailed to my publisher, Greenwillow Books. And, in a terrific leap of faith, Greenwillow agreed to put this project ahead of one that was about to go to final art in order to get ALL OF US out into the world quickly.

You are known for your cut paper illustrations. Was there any special consideration of the paper you chose for this project?

I do think a lot about the paper that I use in my illustrations. I work with found ephemera in part because I love that each piece of paper comes with its own history…like secret stories…that inherently add another layer of depth to the books. I intentionally gather really diverse papers from around the world, so if you look closely at the illustrations in ALL OF US, you might see a bit of Chinese or Spanish or Japanese or Hindi or Russian.

I know you surreptitiously include your daughter’s name “Thea” in every book. Did you hide any messages in ALL OF US? Or is your message out in the open?

I love that you remember that I put “Thea” in all of my books.

It is true, in ALL OF US, there are some covert messages. Others are right out in the open.

Some examples of hidden messages are:

Thea’s name appears on the hand that is on the “know that I am here, as steady as stone” page.

Elsewhere in the book, my brother’s name, Daniel, appears in one heart.

Additionally, there are two self portraits in the book. One appears on the wordless “love wins” page holding a heart that says “thea”.

A second family portrait is on the lowest row of the left hand side of the 2nd “love wins” page. There you will find me, my husband, Max, Thea, and our pet rabbit, Pearly.

Finally, on all of the pages in the book that have illustrations of people, I have included images of family and friends within the crowds.

Also, if you look closely, you will find my daughter’s black cat, Cosette.

What’s more, there is a gentle, unspoken story going on in the book.

There are two characters that reoccur, the little girl in the yellow boots and the little boy with the red kite. The girl starts the book with a heavy heart and an unsure step. The little boy is on the page with the unclear path and his kite appears on the stormy past page.

They first appear together on the “hazy future” page, and they don’t notice each other.

Eventually, as we make our way through the book, they notice each other and join together as friends in part of the larger community.

allofusspread

allofuslovewins.jpg

(Click to enlarge spreads.)

Carin, what do you hope readers will connect with? What do you hope they will take away after reading ALL OF US? 

Hope is a great word. I HOPE that the message of HOPE in ALL OF US will resonate with readers.

I HOPE that the book makes readers feel more connected, that it opens up conversations about inclusion and community and the power of HOPE and love in the face of adversity.

Children face so many challenging moments in growing up…they are figuring out who they are, and how they fit it. They are trying to make sense of the world and navigate through all sorts of new situations. I really HOPE that ALL OF US can be a tool to bring people together and to offer empathy and light and HOPE in difficult times.

Thank you, Carin, for bringing us such a beautiful book for our uncertain times. I know I will treasure my copy.

Blog readers, if you would like your own copy to treasure, plus ALL OF US bookmarks and swag, please comment once below.

A winner will be randomly selected in September.

Good luck and thank you for reading.

 

 

This week author/illustrator Carin Berger visited our public library with her box of tricks: thousands of pieces of cut paper in wavy, curvy shapes. Children grabbed the pieces—cut from catalogs, magazines, newspapers and ephemera—and arranged them on black construction paper to create animals, rain forests, people, trains, robots…just like Ms. Berger does in her books. She’s a collage artist—quite possibly the world’s most delightful vocation.

Did Ms. Berger always know she wanted to be an author/illustrator? Not necessarily, although she was always interested in telling a story through images.

Carin shared with us a book she created when she was 10 years old, called The Naughty Jester. Already she was using cut paper to help tell her tale, and her talent is apparent, even at this young age.

naughtyjester

naughtyjester2

Carin didn’t start writing children’s books until she had a child of her own. When her infant daughter didn’t sleep well, she stayed up in the wee hours writing silly poetry, illustrating her words with collage. Turns out the notion wasn’t so silly and the sleepy little project became her first book, Not So True Stories and Unreasonable Rhymes.

foreverfriendsMs. Berger told us secrets. If you look at the items the naughty jester is juggling, you’ll find those same images repeated in her books. The blue bird is one of the main characters in her Spring 2010 title Forever Friends. And her daughter’s name Thea appears in every book. You have to look hard to find it.

So today’s idea tip is to walk over to that pile of junk mail on your kitchen counter (come on, you know it’s there) and start cutting. Take an interesting pattern, perhaps from a clothing catalog, and cut a fancy little shape. Not just a circle or square, but perhaps a swirl like a wisp of a cloud on a windy day. When you’ve collected enough shapes, put them down on a piece of paper and shuffle them around. Overlap them or spread them out.

What did you make? Is it a character? A place? A strange object that needs a function? What does it do and why? What could appear in the negative space?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m busy with scissors and glue.

So how’s it going today?

Thank you to everyone who celebrated the release of Carin Berger’s newest picture book OK Go! by participating in her green-themed collage contest.

Carin thought the entries were so fabulous, she has posted all of them on her website!

We selected three winners at random.

Verity5

 Verity, age 7, wins the signed copy of OK, Go!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Ellie2

 Ellie, age 4, wins a signed bookplate and an All Mixed Up mini-book. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isaac8

 Isaac, age 10, wins a signed bookplate and an All Mixed Up mini-book.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rest of our artists receive an All Mixed Up mini-book. Everyone wins!

Visit Carin Berger’s website to see all the terrific collages and read the children’s inspiration for their art!

Thank you, green parents and kids! OKGO

<– And don’t forget to pick up a copy of OK, GO!

OK?

Go!

okgoCarin Berger never deliberately set out to become an author/illustrator, but she found her true calling in picture books. She was awarded the Society of Illustrators Founder’s Award in 2006, the NY Times named The Little Yellow Leaf one of the top ten picture books of 2008, and Publishers Weekly called her “one to watch.”

And now’s a great time to watch.

Her latest title OK Go, a playful book about making greener choices, releases in bookstores today.

I had the opportunity to talk with Carin about her journey to publication (somewhat serendipitous) and her plans for the future (deliberately delightful). I shall follow PW’s lead and not only watch her, but predict the Caldecott will soon be calling.

Carin, how did you start on the path to becoming a children’s book illustrator?

I’ve always loved reading, writing, old paper stuff, children’s books, type and making things. I studied graphic design and spent almost 20 years working in the field. I worked my way down the (pay) food chain towards what I really loved: from very high-end annual reports and brochures to eventually designing book jackets for all the major publishers. I did jackets for poetry, fiction and non-fiction. I still do this and love it. I get to read manuscripts and can often use my own illustration or photography.

Anyhow, I had a daughter, and it turned out she was a sleepless wonder. (When she was little. Now she sleeps like a baby!) I spent much of most evenings hanging with her, waiting for her to fall asleep. I wrote the poems for Not So True Stories and Unreasonable Rhymes in those long hours, mostly to amuse myself.

carinbergerpaperHow did you first get involved in collage?

As for collage, that was kind of serendipity. I thought I would do paintings and was experimenting with different painting styles, some which included collage, and then my friend gave me a magic box full of old letters and documents and ephemera that she picked up at a flea market, knowing I had a thing for that kind of stuff. And that was the beginning.

Once I had pulled together some sample illustrations and manuscript, a friend-of-a-friend agreed to rep it; and she, amazingly, ushered it into the world.

And was Not So True Stories and Unreasonable Rhymes your first manuscript?

Yes, it was my first manuscript, though I’d written a bit, for myself, before.

umbrellaphantWow. That’s a rare accomplishment and speaks volumes about your talent. Where did you go from that first success?

Not So True Stories was a quirky little book that got good reviews but sold…well, like a quirky little book. Chronicle Books graciously published my second book, All Mixed Up, another quirky and very little book. (It can fit in your pocket.)

I was then called by Greenwillow Books and asked to illustrate Jack Prelutsky’s book. A real honor. And, because it was the amazing Master Jack’s book, it received lots of nice attention. He was named the first ever Children’s Poet Laureate right when the book came out which meant that there was a shiny golden sticker that went on the front of the book, too. I’ve been working with Greenwillow Books for the last couple of projects.

How has your illustration style evolved from one book to the next?

As for the collage style, it has sort of evolved in a few directions.

allmixedupAll Mixed Up, a mix and match book where the heads, middles and legs (as well as the alliterative poems) combine in various ways to make new characters, was born out of the idea of collaging the collaged illustration. I had originally conceived it as a game, but Chronicle preferred to do it as a book. The illustrations are similar, yet somewhat simpler than Not so True Stories, so that the mixing worked.

For Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant, I wanted to do a slightly different style than the books that I had authored, and also, because the poems are about a conglomeration of animals and objects (such as Ballpoint Penguins), I thought it would be fun to play that up and make it really obvious.

I collect old dictionaries and army/navy catalogues that have engraved images, and so I used those images and integrated them into the collage. To do this I actually scanned engravings from the book, played with them in Photoshop, printed out pieces and used them to cut and paste with.

littleyellowleafThe Little Yellow Leaf felt like a really simple, nostalgic story and I ended up introducing a bit of paint (stenciling) to the collage to add another layer and also, at times, to age the paper.

Ok Go has a zillion funny little characters carousing throughout the book and feels much more like the art in the end papers of Not so True Stories and also in All Mixed Up. It was fun to change things up a bit and to do such playful art.

My next book, due out late next winter, is called Forever Friends and the art is much more similar to the art in The Little Yellow Leaf. I see it as a companion book to The Little Yellow Leaf because the bunny on the front cover and the bird on the back cover of Leaf are the characters in Forever Friends.

Your newest picture book OK Go is a playful book for the wee set, all about making greener choices. How did the concept for this book come together?

As best I can recall, it all sort of came as a whole piece. I liked the idea of introducing taking care of the environment to really young kids. I remember growing up in the 70s when “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” was around and feeling very empowered to help make the world a better place. Here are some early sketches:

okgoinside

One of the biggest things I needed to figure out was how to emphasize the message in a powerful yet playful way. The gatefold came about because I wanted it to feel like a huge gathering or movement.

How do you choose which paper to cut for certain images? Does the paper speak to you?

carinbergerpaper2I have files of papers sorted by color—yellows/oranges, reds/pinks, blues/purples—and I also have files for some of my passions: polka dots, plaids, wood grain, buttons…

carinbergerpaper3I actually cut a vellum stencil of the shape I need and hold it over the paper to find a good section. Something with good gradations for example, that help the piece, say a car, look more dimensional. Clothing catalogs are great for plaids and buttons. And then I use a variety of old stuff, both really old ephemera like letters and receipts with great calligraphy on them and also bits and pieces that I find around: ticket stubs, laundry tags, etc.

Do the words on the paper hold any significance?

I do think about the paper I use, where it comes from and what it says. Not in a huge way, but in a quiet, just-to-amuse-myself sort of way. And in almost every book I make sure to include, somewhere, my daughter’s name, Thea. In The Little Yellow Leaf it appears on the page with the giant sun, and in OK Go I use her name and the names and initials of lots of friends to decorate the cars.

Speaking of the glorious sun in The Little Yellow Leaf, do you have any idea how many pieces of paper you used? Or how long it took to create that page?

leafsun

I always knew what I wanted to do with that illustration, but it took a little longer (well, w-a-y longer) than I thought it would. I spent probably close to a week on it. Actually, part of the reason it took so long is that I started from the outside and was working my way towards the center and I got pretty far before I realized that, because the sun is asymmetrical, it wasn’t going to work. I had to add another layer working from the center out. Ugh!

I have absolutely no idea how many pieces there are, and I can’t imagine anyone who would be nuts enough to count (though I’d be curious to know that)!

Circling back to your newest book, what kind of impact do you hope OK Go will have on green thinking among parents and young children?

There are some very simple things that kids can do to be more green and they are listed in the back of the book.

I think if you plant the idea early, children will live more careful, aware lives, and remind their parents to do so as well. Plus, what is more motivating than our kids to get us to take care of this planet and the environment?

But mostly I want kids to have fun with the book, and to be introduced these ideas in a playful, engaging way.

One last thought: all of my art is made with found and recycled materials, so maybe this will prove inspiring and enabling, too.

Indeed it is, Carin! So let’s use that inspiration for a contest!

Kids age 10 and under, create a collage with a green theme–reduce, reuse, recycle or whatever you can dream up! Email your illustration to tarawrites at yahoo (you know the rest, dot com) and include child’s first name and age.

With the help of Random.org, we’ll randomly select three winners.

The grand prize winner gets an autographed copy of  OK Go. The second and third winners will receive an All Mixed Up promotional mini-book. And all three illustrations will be featured on Carin Berger’s website and/or blog.

In your email, be sure to grant your permission for sharing the illustration and the child’s first name/age online.

One illustration per child. Enter now through midnight E.S.T., Tuesday, May 12.

Carin, thank you for giving us a glimpse into your beautiful world! I bet everyone is going to GO! GO! GO! get your book today!

okgo1

Take a peek inside OK Go or
Find OK Go at your local bookstore!

OK Go by Carin Berger
April 2009
Greenwillow Books

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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