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At the risk of dating myself, I’ll mention an old commercial tag line from the 1970’s—“when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

Well, when Holiday House contacts you and asks if you’d like to chat with two-time Caldecott and Geisel Honor book winner Laura Vaccaro Seeger, you also stop everything and LISTEN!

Laura’s latest book is a charmer, snuggle-worthy for the littlest ones. It’s titled, simply, WHY?

I met Laura last year at the Irma S. Black Award ceremony where she served as keynote speaker. She showed us her newest book at the time, BLUE, about a boy and his best friend. (Notice how the die cut on each page forms a new part of the image with each turn.)

 

Laura, you must know you are the only PB creator to make my husband tear up, as you read BLUE. And he’s never even had a dog! He was incredibly moved. How do you inject so much heart into your stories?

With every book, I try to distill the story down to its essence and I always draw upon strong feelings and beliefs while writing and illustrating.

With BULLY, for example, I’ve always felt a deep sense of empathy for anyone who was bullied or feeling left out, so it was important to me that above all else, empathy is the most important aspect of that book.

BLUE is probably the most difficult book I’ve ever created. It really comes from a deeply personal place. As a young child, I’d experienced the sudden loss of a family member—my brother—and that very complicated trauma was never really worked through. Consequently, I’ve always had an overwhelming fear and dread of loss. BLUE is a kind of therapeutic, cathartic personal exercise, but more importantly, it’s an attempt to offer comfort, as well as a starting point for deeper discussion with young children, (or anyone, really).

Your husband’s reaction truly means a lot to me!

So with your new book WHY?, what did you distill its essence down to?

WHY is a about curiosity, patience, and understanding. The little rabbit is having a bit of an existential crisis, and at one point in the book, the apparently all-knowing bear is faced with a similar crisis as he realizes that he can’t explain everything after all. Ultimately, their loving and enduring friendship is more important than anything, even when there are unanswerable questions. (I’ve always been fascinated with unanswered questions…)

Why do you think WHY? is a child’s most pressing (and frequent) question?

Well, given that children are witnessing everything pretty much for the first time, I think it makes sense that they would seek to have a deeper understanding of what they’re seeing and hearing.

I think adults often take for granted their surroundings, even if those deeper meanings were never fully explored or questioned.

Why are the characters in the book a bear and a bunny—instead of a bear and cub (or rabbit and bunny)? Why is the relationship shown as one of friendship instead of parent-child?

Ah, I thought long and hard about that.

With this book, as with many, I had an immediate vision that I wanted to stay true to. I knew that I wanted one of the characters to be very large, and one super small, which in many ways ended up dictating the decision about whether or not they’re related to one another. I also wanted them to be friends rather than relatives because friendship is a voluntary relationship, which I felt made the story more interesting in many ways.

Also, from the beginning. I’d envisioned a bear and a rabbit, but I did explore a substitute for the bear because I was worried that there might be confusion between the bear in WHY, and the bear in my DOG AND BEAR series. In the end, I felt the bear was undeniably perfect, and I was confident that the character would be distinctive in its own right.

He is distinctive! And so lumpy in a furry-cuddly way. Plus, it’s more visually interesting to showcase contrasting characters!

Speaking of your art, it’s gorgeous, full of depth and texture. Can you tell us a little about your illustration process for WHY?

Sure! With each book, I try to envision an art style that will match the text I’ve written. Hence the multiple, various art styles over the years.

With WHY, I envisioned a softer style, unlike any of my other books. It’s been years since I’ve worked with watercolors, and I had such a great time painting the art for this book!

So, I began each painting with a pencil drawing, and then I painted over the drawings with watercolor paint. I repeated this process lightly, many times, which gave the art depth and a layered feel, without any thick paint or brushstrokes. This way, the softness was retained and the pencil lines showed through.

Once all of that was done, I still felt it needed something – a bit of grittiness and a little more depth. I wanted it to feel more organic.

So, I finally broke out a fabulous gigantic Japanese brush I’d bought a few years ago in Singapore and I soaked it full of water so that it was completely saturated. Then, I brought it into my backyard where I dipped the sopping wet brush into India ink and flung it at watercolor papers. When I was finished, I had a huge stack of paper, each sheet full of splotches, spots, drips, etc. I created so many sheets because I didn’t want to repeat any of the elements.

Then, I scanned my original watercolor paintings and all of the “splotch” art sheets. For each painting, I overlaid several different “splotch” art sheets, I isolated the splotches, and I either lightened or darkened those areas on the original paintings.

Your process is fascinating! I love the thick and chunky Japanese brush!

What’s so lovely about the illustrations is that they feel soft and safe for a young child who is asking WHY, who is questioning the world around them. What do you hope that young reader will take away from your story?

I think with WHY, I’d love to encourage curiosity and the freedom and “permission” to question absolutely everything, which ultimately I believe, would encourage independent thought and informed decision-making. I also hope WHY is an example of patience and understanding, for sure. And lastly, I hope that young readers understand that not all questions have immediate answers, and that’s okay.

What a wonderful take-off point for a meaningful discussion between adult and child. 

Thank you, Laura, for giving us a glimpse into your creative process!

WHY? is available from Holiday House on August 13…or you can win a copy here.

Leave a comment below and someone will be randomly selected to receive a copy in a couple weeks.

One comment per person, please.

Good luck!


Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a New York Times best-selling author and illustrator and a 2-time winner of the Caldecott Honor Award, winner of the New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Best Picture Book, and a 2-time winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award. She is also the recipient of both the Massachusetts Reading Association and the New York Empire State awards for “Body of Work and Contribution to Children’s Literature.”

She earned her BFA degree at the School of Fine Art and Design at the State University of New York at Purchase. She then moved to Manhattan and began a career as an animator, artist, designer, and editor in network television. She created show openings and special segments for NBC and ABC for many years and won an Emmy Award for an opening animation for an NBC Special.

Laura and her husband, Chris, have two wonderful sons, Drew and Dylan. They live in Rockville Centre, New York. She loves painting, writing, surfing, boating, tennis, running, playing the piano, and spending time with her family and friends. 

Visit her at www.studiolvs.com.

 

I met the talented author-illustrator Roxie Munro several years ago while appearing at the Princeton Children’s Book Festival. Our tables were next to each other, and knowing she had been well-published for over thirty years, I sidled up to ask her about the business. She was gracious with the advice—when she wasn’t busy signing books! Her table was a popular destination, and I made sure to pick up a couple of her books for my daughters as well.

One of those titles, MAZEWAYS: A to Z, became a steady favorite in our house. Imagine “Where’s Waldo” meets a maze activity book crossed with an alphabet book. What a concept! The intricate illustrations and planning that had to go into the book mesmerized my imagination. How did she do it???

So when I saw Roxie again this spring for the Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival, I zoomed toward her table. And I spotted it—her next great concept—MASTERPIECE MIX.

Once again, Roxie was gracious enough to answer my questions about this new book—her 45th—which hits shelves TODAY from Holiday House!

Roxie, your maze books astound me because such meticulous planning must go into every spread. Likewise, MASTERPIECE MIX must have required much planning to fit 37 art masterpieces into the final spread. Can you give us a glimpse into the process for this book?

The maze books are harder, actually (I remember once a solution to a complex maze came while I was asleep, dreaming about it). I had the idea for MASTERPIECE MIX more than 15 years ago. I did a complete dummy, but it was rejected by my publisher at the time, and I just put it into my flat files. A couple years ago, I showed the dummy to Mary Cash at Holiday House. She really liked it, but thought the middle section, where I showed perspective, color wheels, volume and shadows, and other art techniques, was too confusing. Grace Maccarone, another editor there, suggested genres, like still life, landscapes, portraits and so forth… that was the creative “click” it needed.

We were concerned about getting permissions to use images, but I discovered that the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC had just instituted an Open Access policy, so I used those images for the art in the book. The grand finale actually came easy—I just had fun figuring how to incorporate those mostly historic images into a contemporary city. Fragonard’s “Girl Reading” is a banner above the town library, Bellow’s boxers are used in a gym’s sign, Cassatt’s mother and child advertise a day care center.

[Click any image to get a closer view.]

Did any of the masterpieces in the book inspire you to become an artist?

I remember the Winslow Homer painting, “Breezing Up,” shown in the book, from my childhood—we had a print of it on our dining room wall in our home, and it fascinated me. Van Gogh became my favorite painter as I saw more of his work…I love his fresh, sensuous brushstrokes, his use of “participatory” (somewhat distorted) space, and wonderful awareness of pattern. And I adore Daumier’s dynamic lines and Hopper’s melancholy city.

Is the main character in the book really you?

Yep.

Ha, I knew it! 

My family loved art (my sister Ann Munro Wood is a professional artist also), and encouraged us to draw and paint. My parents made a special family trip to Washington DC just to see “Young Girl Reading” by Fragonard when it was acquired by the National Gallery of Art in the early 1960s—it felt like seeing the Mona Lisa—excited press reports announcing the purchase, and lots of visitors to the Gallery.

I visited Arles, France, in a pilgrimage to my beloved Van Gogh. Of course have visited the Louvre, D’Orsay etc in Paris; the Rembrandt and Van Gogh museums in Amsterdam; the Uffizzi in Florence; the National Gallery in London; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Prado in Madrid; Munch Gallery in Oslo; MOMA, the Met, and the Hopper shows at the Whitney here in NYC. And many other museums in the USA and the world, although not all in research for this book. Even visited Gauguin’s grave in the Marquesas Islands.

I’ve also been to the Honolulu Museum of Art, San Francisco Art Institute, Chicago Gallery of Art, Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth; Baltimore Museum of Art; National Portrait Gallery and Phillips Collection in Washington DC; Victoria and Albert in London; National Museum in Stockholm; National Gallery in Edinburgh; the Frick and Guggenheim in NYC; etc., etc.

What do you hope readers (and search-and-finders) will take away from MASTERPIECE MIX?

I hope that readers will understand that creativity requires education, and references to those who have gone before you, but also your own personal experience and insight. You need both. Creativity is often combining the old and the new in fresh ways.

And practicing—a knowledge of craft and process—is helpful. It is useful in getting your point across in an accessible clear competent way. Paraphrasing the cliche: Art is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

But the creative inspiration lifts the work, and gives it wings…it delights.

Wow, thank you, Roxie. This was a fascinating look into your artwork and process.

Blog readers, you can be sure that this book delights—and you can find out for yourself by going out to get MASTERPIECE MIX, and/or winning this giveaway.

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks.

Good luck…and keep creating

7ate9

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