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Twice a year I visit a juried art show with artisans of every type, from photography to pottery, woodworking to knitwear. Wandering the aisles of talented artisans and their wares boosts my own creativity. I always linger in one particular booth, that of a cut paper artist. She works with black silhouette paper and Exacto knives, creating intricate designs of lush gardens and playful children. I sort through the amazing remnants, which she leaves in a pile on her table. They feel alive with energy.

So when Brooke Hartman contacted me about her new book, LOTTE’S MAGICAL PAPER PUPPETS, I gasped with excitement. This is a book about a cut paper artist!

Brooke, tell us more…

LOTTE’S MAGICAL PAPER PUPPETS: the Woman Behind the First Animated Feature Film is a narrative nonfiction picture book about Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger, the German paper cut silhouette artist who predated Walt Disney in the creation of a full-length animated feature film by almost a decade. She also invented one of the first multi-plane cameras, which uses panes of glass, lighting, and stop-motion camera techniques to create animation. Even more amazing, all of her films were made with articulated shadow puppets that she drew, cut, and pieced together by hand. Top this off with her whimsical fairytale style and the fact that almost all of her films were classic tales such as Cinderella, 1001 Arabian Nights, and Thumbelina, and the results were gorgeous animated films that take your breath away.

What inspired you to write this story?

Facebook. Duh, where do you get your ideas? Seriously though, I was surfing Facebook one day and came across a YouTube clip someone posted on the life of Lotte Reiniger. The moment I glimpsed her beautiful animations, I was hooked. I’ve always loved fairytales, whimsical art, and artists (some of my favorites are Michael Hague, Terri Windling, and Brian Froud) and couldn’t believe I’d never heard of Lotte Reiniger before.

I’d been writing picture book texts for a few years by then, and my first book, DREAM FLIGHTS ON ARTIC NIGHTS (2019), would be published later that year. I also love playing with rhyme, and after I’d watched YouTube video after YouTube video of Lotte’s animations, the first stanza of her story started wheeling through my head:

Long before a cartoon mouse,
Or Snow White found a little house,
There was a girl named Charlotte.
Everyone called her Lotte.

That was it. I had to write about Lotte!

But I didn’t know if it had ever been done before. After poking around on the Internet, the only texts about her I unearthed were a couple nonfiction novels, some websites, and your standard Wikipedia entry.

The next thing I did was contact the Stadt Museum in Tubingen, Germany, which has a permanent exhibit dedicated to Lotte Reiniger, to see if they knew of any picture books about her. This proved a fun experiment as their contact form was all in German (thank you, Google Translate!). A week later, they replied that, to their knowledge, there were no picture books about Lotte Reiniger, but would love for someone to write one, and please, if I did, could someone translate it into German? (We’re still working on that part.)

This email fueled my already raging fire, and the rest of Lotte’s story flooded into my head. I wanted to write it in a way that captured her whimsical fairytale films, but still left room for her life’s more difficult moments; Lotte wasn’t just an artist, she was an artist in Germany during WWII, and spent over a decade fleeing from country to country in an attempt to avoid being sucked into the confines of the Third Reich. When her mother became ill, Lotte was forced to return home, where the Third Reich quickly tried to force her into creating propaganda films for their regime. But—and here’s the part that cinched for me that Lotte’s story needed to be told—she refused to bend to their wishes and instead created one of her most classic films, The Golden Goose. My editor and I worked on this part of the text for a loooong time. We wanted to get it absolutely perfect, and I think we nailed it.

How did you and your publisher find each other?

I was agentless at the time after spending two years under representation by someone who earned themselves a very bad name in the publishing industry…but that’s a whole other blog post. Anyhow, I’d recently rejoined the world of Twitter and thought I’d give the #PitMad and #PBPitch Twitter pitch fests a try. I entered the 4-line stanza above, plus a brief statement about Lotte Reiniger’s life. Courtney Burke, then an assistant editor with Page Street Kids, liked my tweet. She’d been a film major in college and, like me, was also shocked that she’d never heard about this incredible female artist and animator.

Then enter the illustrator…

From the get go, the Page Street team had a vision for this book that perfectly mirrored mine. This showed more than ever when they sent me links to three potential illustrators—all of who used the same paper cut silhouette style as Lotte Reiniger. I was blown away by the talent. It was a tough choice, all of the illustrators were amazing, but the Page Street team and I gravitated to Kathryn Carr; not only is she brilliantly talented, but her style matched the whimsical fairytale themes that Lotte used in her own work. (Check out Kathryn’s beautiful artwork here at gocarrgo.com.)

Kathryn brought the book blazing into existence. The vivid, rich pages feel like you’re viewing one of Lotte’s films while living the life of a remarkable artist and animator, one who survived a war and refused to let fear rule her.

I encourage anyone who isn’t familiar with Lotte Reiniger to check out her films, many of which can be viewed on YouTube.

Before we talk more with Kathryn, let’s take the first look at the cover!

It’s gorgeous!

Now, more about the illustrations, a discussion with Kathryn Carr:

Imagine a girl about 12 years old with thick braids in her hair sitting at the dining room table. Her eyes are keenly focused on her hands that are cutting shapes from black paper. Tiny scissors snip, snip, snip.  At first the pieces are unrecognizable but then they are arranged and constructed to reveal amazing and magical silhouette puppets. Scenes of fantasy and fairytales begin to appear all around her.  The girl’s name is Lotte and this is where the story begins and this is the book cover of Lotte’s Magical Paper Puppets.

I feel I have a kindred spirit with Lotte in that we both have surrounded our lives with making art and the love of sharing it with others. Like Lotte, my art has been inspired by fairytales from my childhood. Some of my favorite stories were written by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

The illustrations started with research about Lotte’s life.  I gained a great understanding about her through books, movies, the internet, and discussions with others that knew a lot about her.  I learned as much as I could about the city where she grew up, her travels, the time period in which she lived and her artistic process.  Then I did lots of sketches and planned out my art to accompany the story.    Once I had a plan I started to cut out the puppets and the backgrounds and assemble the scenes like a miniature stage.  I took a ton of photos with the art in different arrangements and with various lighting angles to achieve the best composition.

How long did it take to illustrate the book? What was your process?

All in all I worked on this project on and off for about 10 months. I made well over 200 paper cut elements, some were used in the book while others didn’t make the cut…pun intended…

It was an honor to illustrate this story about such a wonderfully creative, brave, and daring artist. A warm thank you to the Page Street Kids publishing team for asking me to work on this project and all your feedback and thoughts though out the process. Many thanks to Brooke Hartman for passionately crafting the story so that others may come to know more about Lotte and her magical paper puppets.

Print by Kathryn Carr

I’ve been a full time paper cut artist since 2010. Over those years my art has been in galleries and homes around the world. I have a line of greeting cards and I teach paper cutting workshops and give lectures. I have illustrated one other book in this paper cutting style and I hope that there will be more illustrating opportunities in my future.

I hope so, too, Kathryn! I adore your sweet and delicate style.

Brooke and Kathryn, thank you for sharing your cover reveal with us and some secrets behind the book’s creation!

LOTTE’S MAGICAL PAPER PUPPETS: the Woman Behind the First Animated Feature Film will be released on October 20, 2020. You can pre-order a copy now (and if you do, get it from your local independent bookseller…they need our support right now).


You can follow Brooke Hartman on Twitter @BrookeHartman79 and Kathryn Carr on Instagram @gocarrgo.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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