We bought this flying dragon boat for our daughter’s room before she was even born. As excited parents-to-be it was a bit of a splurge, found in a Brooklyn boutiquey children’s shop. Recently, she didn’t want it hanging up anymore, so we got to take it into our own bedroom. One of the best things about having a kid is you get to buy stuff that you really want but would otherwise not!
How about that?! I’m on the cover of Candlewick Press’s fall catalog. Incredibly honored and humbled. This is a publisher that I have always greatly admired and am thrilled to be working with them. Journey, my first book, hits the shelves this August.
For most of life, big moments come when you least expect them. We spend countless hours trying to control our way down this stream, and waves just pop up out of nowhere, knocking us down, propelling us forward, or changing our direction all together. But occasionally, we can feel big moments coming and have time to reflect, wonder, and savor the ride, having done our share of rowing, steering, and getting soaked: graduation, a honey-moon, the ride home from the hospital with your first child. I’m in one of those fleeting episodes right now and I figured in a few years, it will be handy to look back and read what the hell I was thinking before life took its turn.
My first children’s book, Journey, from Candlewick Press comes out in about six months. It’s been nearly a 3 year process from inception to publication, most of which I’ve spent having no idea what to expect from it all. But things are starting to look promising. Things I can’t share at the moment, but let’s just say the book is getting noticed and will most likely get enough critical reception and publicity to launch a new career for me. There are no guarantees, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I was giddy with excitement. Writing and illustrating books is something I’ve always wanted to do. It gives us creative types the ability to be a complete auteur in our creation; the stories are our own and the way we tell them visually comes straight from our own ideas and style. Comparing this approach to jobs where the story isn’t mine, the art style isn’t mine, and the decisions of what I should be doing with my talent aren’t mine, it makes this new career path feel more like art than commerce. And at the end of the day, kids are going to read what I do. Maybe a handful of them will be moved. And maybe for one kid, it will change her life.
This could all be for naught, of course. Children’s books are part of the shrinking, risky business of publishing. Even when the industry was thriving, hundreds of picture books would be published every year, only to disappear from shelves before potential readers had the chance to discover them. But something tells me, that at the very least this book of mine will do well enough that a year from now, when people ask me what I do for a living, I won’t hesitate to tell them I’m a children’s book author. For the past three years, I’ve been an out-of-work-freelance-in-transition-film-designer-illustrator-new-dad-who-has-no-idea-where-his-career-is-headed kind of guy. For someone who has always relied on other people’s projects (i.e. advertising, film, and illustration work) to make ends meet, it’s more than thrilling to know that I very well may be transitioning into a life where I spend my days creating work that is solely mine. Wow.
I had an almost existential experience tonight reading through a children’s book. It’s our daughter’s 3rd birthday today, and our baby sitter brought her a favorite from her childhood: Amelia Bedelia, which has just been reissued by Harper Collins in a 50th anniversary edition. I had not seen this book at all since I was a very young child, and something strange happened to me while leafing through the pages.
The first thing I noticed was the color green. It’s the book’s only color. But this was no ordinary green. It was a very specific green, painted with subtle texture and weight by the book’s illustrator, Fritz Siebel, to show dust, lemon meringue pie, drapes, and bath towels. And with each page turn, a strange sensation would come over me - it was the muscle memory stored inside of me of how this book, this green book, felt for my three or four year old self. Words even popped off the page with visceral memories and recognition: towels, dusting powder, drapes, lights, bulbs. Words I was just beginning to understand and place in the drawers of my brain’s filing folders. Words that became locked in their association with a certain splash of color or form.
As my adult self began to take in this story for the first time since those impressionable childhood moments, something wondrous and then terrifying happened. Wondrous because I was able to, for a brief moment, remember what it felt like to be able to associate colors with smells, words with feelings, visual shapes with tactile “realness”. Terrifying because these very real and pre-language feelings were almost instantaneously replaced by the ordering habits of the grown-up mind. The ephemeral, tasty experience of reading this book as a child came back to me for a moment and was then swept away by my cognitive understanding of the actual story, the actual meaning, the actual construction of a book and its intended story line. Certainly, the experience of a good children’s book is far more interesting for kids than for adults who quickly assign meaning, judgment, and structure. As kids, it can all just float and mingle.
It was a real surprise to feel this again, and all it took was a certain color of green.
Here I am at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, trying to say something useful for a video I was producing for KidLitCon 2012, run by Betsy Bird and others in NYC this weekend. It was a learning experience to say the least. Using cameras and microphones is hard work! And getting used to seeing myself speak is even harder!
A sculpture/painting of mine is up for bid at a charity auction through the Reach Out and Read program. It was a project started by a young boy in Boston; many children’s book illustrators participated - there’s some good stuff to see! Check it out!