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by Wendi Silvano & Lee Harper

Thanks Tara, for hosting us on your blog! We are excited to have our 5th book in the TURKEY TROUBLE series releasing August 1st from Two Lions Press (TURKEY GOES TO SCHOOL).

We thought it might be interesting to chronicle a little bit about how this series has evolved and how an author and an illustrator each have equally important roles in creating a picture book.

Wendi:

The series started with TURKEY TROUBLE (2009). Lee Harper was chosen to be the illustrator. I had never heard of Lee, and (as is common in picture book publishing) had no contact with him regarding the book. The editor and art director worked directly with Lee. In fact, I never met Lee in person (or talked to him) until after TURKEY CLAUS (the 2nd book) was out, and, by chance, we ended up doing a joint book signing in Salt Lake City while Lee was visiting schools in the area.

We have met one other time for a joint signing in Pennsylvania (after the 3rd book, TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT, came out) when I was presenting at the SCBWI Conference in New Jersey. Now we are Facebook friends and occasionally communicate by email (but never so I can tell him how to illustrate the TURKEY books).

People often ask if it bothers me not to have input on the illustrations, but I LOVE what artists can add to my stories if they have the freedom to work their own magic. The very best picture books are those where the text and the illustrations masterfully combine and interact to form something completely unique and magical. What would the TURKEY books be without the delightful and hilarious illustrations that Lee provides?! As an author, I must trust that the illustrator will stay true to the story, while bringing his or her own brilliance to the work.

I always work hard to leave room for the illustrator to use his or her own creativity to add to the story. What are some ways I do that?

I leave things unsaid: I don’t add details that will be in the art—no descriptions! (Just look at this delightful illustration Lee did with no suggestions on my part!)

I allow the art to advance the plot. (All I say in the text is “Then, he found it…” and I let Lee show what that idea is in the illustrations).

I use words and phrases that create room for the art to take over. (“Until…”, “but then…”, “And just when everything was good…”, “There was just one little problem…”, etc.)

I use sparse text that leaves opportunities for the illustrator to interpret and expand the idea. (How the animals “went” was Lee’s choice).

Those are just a few of the ways I leave room for the art. I hope they give you a few ideas of how you might do the same.

Even now, as we work on our 6th Turkey book together (TURKEY-TINE… due out in December, 2022), I just sit back and watch Lee work his magic. It’s delightfully fun!

Lee:

Thank you, Wendi. Though my primary goal as an illustrator is to stay true to your story, I love that you write in a way that leaves lots of room for creativity in the illustrations. This approach is a key ingredient to the special sauce that makes our collaborations work so well. Leaving room for me to add a layer of my own also makes it more fun, which I think comes through in the results.

When I begin thinking about illustrating your words, I ask myself which elements of a particular scene are necessary to propel the story forward. And, in the same way you leave things unwritten and let me ‘show’ the story in the illustrations alone, I leave things unillustrated and let your words stand alone to ‘tell’ the story. Your words and my illustrations share the work.

As an example of how that works, I’ll use the page in our new book Turkey Goes to School that reads:

Pig pilfered a cart filled with food. Turkey pushed it right into the serving line and began to parcel out pizza.

There’s a lot of action in these two sentences. I could illustrate Pig pilfering a cart with food, or Turkey pushing it into the serving line. But I decided to let your words alone do the work of telling that part of this sequence, and concentrate my illustration on the moment Pig and Turkey are parceling out the pizza.

So, I drew the main elements first: Pig and Turkey parceling out pizza. Next, I drew the lunch lady to show what Turkey was attempting to impersonate. (This is a recurring visual joke that permeates the series, which might be one of my added layers.) Lastly, I drew the children in the lunch line and a hint of the cafeteria serving station to set the location.

In this case I didn’t add any extra silliness because I thought the humor was in how thoroughly Turkey believes he looks like the lunch lady.

Wendi:

Something that has been especially fun with the Turkey books is seeing how the characters have evolved over the series. And it’s crazy, but it has happened pretty organically. In the first two books, Turkey’s farm friends are just there mostly in the background, but by the third book they have a much larger role, helping Turkey figure out his disguises and what to do with each failure. Their personalities have blossomed and each has their own individualities. This has happened a good deal in the art. If you get a chance, look at the Turkey books in order and notice how each character has developed over time. I will let Lee tell you more about that evolution (as it was a good deal his doing).

Lee:

I agree that the development of Turkey’s farm friends has been a process that has occurred very organically, and it is a little crazy.

After I’ve drawn everything essential to the story, I always ask myself, ‘how can I pump this up and make this even funnier?’ That’s when the little quirks of character that aren’t written into the story usually reveal themselves. Over time, these little quirks of character build up, and the character becomes more real to me.  Soon I can hear their voices in my head. Maybe it’s more than a little crazy.

In the original TURKEY TROUBLE, Turkey has a lot of personality as an individual, but the sheep all behave as sheep, the pigs all behave as pigs. I was still getting to know everybody.

In TURKEY CLAUS, the farm animals weren’t featured until the last three pages, when Turkey returned to the farm from the North Pole. But unlike the first book, there is now only one representative from each different type of farm animal which I think is the beginning of the farm animals all developing distinct personalities.

The farm animals evolved further in TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT when they become more anthropomorphized.  This is the first time we see them sometimes walking around on two legs. I began doing this simply because it looked funny. (One of the fun things about the entire series is we’ve been allowed to play very loose and easy with the reality rules.) Sometimes I actually do laugh out loud when I’m working. That’s when I know a drawing’s a keeper.

In TURKEY’S EGGCELLENT EASTER the farm animals become active participants in helping Turkey design and construct his costumes. I think this might be an example of something not written into the story that I added, but I never really know for sure. Wendi and I might have been thinking the same thing.

In our latest collaboration, TURKEY GOES TO SCHOOL, the animals are even more in on the plot and at one point Pig (who in my imagination is now Turkey’s best friend) and Turkey team up to appear to be a child with a backpack.

In our forthcoming book TURKEY-TINE, I’m thinking about showing the various animal’s houses as a fun way to reveal more of the farm animal’s individual personalities and pump up the humor. Another example of things growing organically.

OUR BEST ADVICE:

Wendi:
If you’re an author, try to leave as much room as you can for the illustrator to help tell your story, and trust his or her talents.

Lee:
If you’re an illustrator, stay true to the story, but don’t be afraid to take off and run with it.

Thank you, Wendi and Lee!

Blog readers, Wendi and Lee are each donating a copy of TURKEY GOES TO SCHOOL. Lee is also donating a sketch, and Wendi is donating a picture book critique (chosen at random from anyone who subscribes to her website in this next week).

To enter the giveaways, comment once below.

Random winners will be chosen soon.

Good luck!


WENDI SILVANO has always loved children’s literature, and is now delighted to take part in creating books like those she loved as a child. She is the award-winning author of 9 picture books, a dozen early readers, numerous magazine stories and a variety of educational materials. Her picture books TURKEY TROUBLE and JUST ONE MORE both won the IRA’s Children’s Choice Award, while TURKEY CLAUS was named one of the ‘TEN BEST PICTURE BOOKS OF 2012’ by YABC. She is the mother of 5, a former teacher and the owner of a menagerie of assorted pets. Her next picture book (Turkey-Tine) is due out in late 2022 from Two Lions Press. She lives and writes in Grand Junction, Colorado, where she is the Western Slope Local Area Coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Region of SCBWI. She is represented by agent Marie Lamba of the Jennifer de Chiara Literary Agency. You can find her online at wendisilvano.com.  Subscribe to Wendi’s website (find the button on the bottom of any page of the site) and be entered to win a picture book critique by Wendi. Winner will be notified by email.)

Follow her on Twitter: @WendiSilvano and Facebook.


Lee received his formal art training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he was the recipient of the Louis S. Ware European Traveling Scholarship.

Lee’s picture books have achieved many honors, including the Michigan Reads Award, a Book Sense Hot Pick, Great Lake Book Award, The Gift of Literacy Oregon Book Choice, Amazon Charts Top 20, International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council Children’s Choice title, and YABC Top Ten Picture Book.

His books have also been nominated for state book awards in Vermont, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Nevada, Florida (Honor Book), South Carolina, North Carolina, Nebraska, Arizona, and Washington.

Artwork from several of his books is included in the permanent collection of The Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books.

Lee has four children and lives on a small farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his wife Krista, four sheep, eleven chickens, two dogs, two cats, two ducks, two pigs, and a family of barn swallows. (At last count) His favorite hobbies are bicycling, hiking, woodworking, and creating short films for his YouTube channel Stella’s Farm.

You can visit him online at Leeharperart.com.

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COMING SOON:

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
January 2, 2022

TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 2022

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