Tag Archive for All Welcome Here Preller

“May I Bring a Friend?”

This is a phone capture of a larger illustration by Mary GrandPre from our upcoming book, All Welcome Here, coming on June 16th. Forgive the poor quality of my iPhone snap; the colors from the actual book are much more vivid.

I hope readers find it. A good first day of school book — let’s hope!

Peace, respect, tolerance, understanding, compassion, love.

The Creative Process: A Conversation with Mary GrandPre, Illustrator of Harry Potter

“I love making art. It’s what I’ve always done

since I was a little girl.

Whether it was realistic in style, or abstract, it didn’t matter,

as long as I had my art supplies,

I was a happy camper.”

— Mary GrandPre

My apologies for the Potter-grabbing headline. But, true story: Sometime after Feiwel & Friends accepted my manuscript for All Welcome Here, I received a phone call from my editor, Liz Szabla. She was very excited. Guess who we just signed to illustrate your book? Tell me, I said. Mary GrandPre! A pause. Who’s that? Then she told me who that was, the Harry Potter connection, and I said: Oh, wow. Now here we are more than three years later. The book is finished, ready to venture out into an uncertain world, and Mary GrandPre has become my friend. We exchange occasional emails and share tribulations. She’s lovely and wise. Come, you’ll like her . . . 

 


Welcome, Mary, to my cozy little blog. You can sit on the floor or pull up one of those orange milk crates. I hoped we could talk a little bit about your creative process today. But first, yeah, could you please leave the hippogriff outside. No offense, but they make such a mess.

Hello Jimmy! It’s so nice to be here!… I would love to share my experience of creating the pictures for your lovely haiku in All Welcome Here. And, yes! The hippogriff is tied up outside… I’m sure he’ll be fine out there, as long as you don’t mind if he nibbles on your herb garden. … He loves fresh basil!

I trust you had a safe flight. Where do you live? 

My home is in Florida. I live there with my husband and daughter, and our 3 dogs. We moved to Florida, from Minnesota, 15 years ago, when my husband was offered a job at Ringling College of Art and Design. Boy! What a difference in climate! Talk about going from freezing to smoldering temperatures! It was quite an adjustment, but we have come to appreciate all the great things in Florida, like the beaches, the palm trees and tropical flowers, year round water activities, and of course all of the wonderful friends we have made since we moved there.

 

Mary and her artist husband Tom Casmer (that’s Tom in beard, left).

I absolutely love your paintings. It’s fascinating that you still do both, picture books and “fine art,” as they say.

Thank you, Jimmy. I love making art. It’s what I’ve always done since I was a little girl. Whether it was realistic in style, or abstract, it didn’t matter, as long as I had my art supplies, I was a happy camper. By the time I was in art college, I still wasn’t really sure about what kind of artist I wanted to be. Eventually I focused on illustration. Once I was out of college, I worked as a freelancer for a variety of companies, but illustrating picture books became one of my favorite kinds of illustration. Telling stories through pictures was so much fun. I could create characters and environments, and bring a whole range of emotions to my pictures through color, light and composition. After several years of working on picture books, I realized that painting abstractly, was also a lot of fun. It gave me a new kind of challenge in my exploration of color, light and composition, and in an interesting way, it still at times, told a story!

 

Illustration from Caldecott Honor Winning Book, THE NOISY PAINT BOX, written by Barb Rosenstock.

I imagine that a manuscript comes to you and then you decide if it’s something you’d like to illustrate. How do you reach that decision: this is the one.

You are correct, Jimmy, it starts with the manuscript. I like to take some very focused, quiet time to read the manuscript so that I can clearly envision the pictures in my head as I read through it. I like to see how the story flows, and how it makes me feel, what emotions am I feeling as I read this, and how I can relate to the story on a personal level. When I read All Welcome Here, I felt such a variety of emotions… excitement, joyfulness, warmth, and playfulness, as well as some feelings of shyness and awkwardness, as I remembered what it felt like to be in a new group of kids on that first day of school. I also loved the rhythm of the haiku, and the way it moved so smoothly from page to page, like a day unfolding from morning to afternoon. I enjoyed meeting all the various characters in the story, as I imagined a whole world of children, each uniquely interesting, becoming school mates and friends. Honestly, I just had to read All Welcome Here once, to know that I definitely wanted to illustrate it.

Illustration from ALL WELCOME HERE.

With our book, you faced an interesting design challenge, since it is written in connected haiku. I didn’t include any art direction in my manuscript (which authors often provide), other than this general note: “The poems offer the illustrator opportunities to show a rich variety of children –- wild and brave, silly and earnest, friendly and a little frightened. Through the artwork, illustrations should highlight recurring characters and allow readers to see happy interactions and first steps toward friendship. We are witnesses to the beginning of a new, diverse, and open-hearted community.

There definitely were some design challenges, but I like a good challenge! Finding a way to connect all the poems was key, and I used the fact that it progressed literally, on a timeline, from the morning at the bus stop, to meeting Principal K, to finding the classroom, and witnessing all the various classroom happenings, then lunch and recess, and back to classroom for a quiet afternoon rain, and finally back home to reflect on all that we experienced on our first day of school.

Yes, we had some weather consistencies to iron out, among other details. I was glad we were able to zing emails back and forth. That doesn’t often happen in the picture book world. We kind of opened a back channel. 

The structure of how the poems were ordered was largely based on how the day would unfold. In that way, it became a story, as well as a collection of wonderful haiku. Bringing characters back into view here and there also helped bring some cohesiveness… and allowed the reader to recognize a familiar face in the crowd… just like what would happen in real life. Also I tried to incorporate more than one poem into a scene whenever I could, because it allowed us to experience more than one fun thing within a setting, offering more visual connectedness from poem to poem.

Sketch from ALL WELCOME HERE.

 

The artwork is spectacular. I particularly admire your thought process –- the decisions that went into each spread. There’s a lot of thinking that goes into a children’s book before you ever set brush to canvas.

Thank you so much, Jimmy. I was so taken with your poems, the sensitivity, the humor, as well as relevance of what we need today in this diverse world we live in. You gave me so much to work with… and I felt a strong connection to your writing. It was important for me to take the time to make the illustrations reflect what you were so beautifully writing about.

That’s kind of you to say, Mary.

But you are right. There is a lot of time spent laying it all out with pencil on tracing paper, where several changes are made throughout the sketching process. Diverse characters are developed, environments are planned out, compositions that combine poems on each spread within a single setting, all the while, figuring out how and where the text should go, and making sure color and light is balanced from spread to spread.

I find that’s true in my writing, by the way. There’s a long, necessary gestation period that looks suspiciously like doing nothing at all.

Yes. I get that. A lot of work behind the scenes.

Let’s talk about your process. This might be easier if we examine one specific illustration. Let’s take the library, for instance. How do you do that??!! I mean, ha, you use all these patterns. The sweaters, the rug, the wallpaper. This is an illustration that rewards a deeper look. Would this be called mixed-medium or collage or . . . um . . . ?

Ah yes, The Library! I loved making that piece! After I get all the pencil sketches done, and approved by the art director, I move onto the actual color art. I choose a very thick illustration board to work on, because it’s going to hold many layers of collage paper and paint. So you are correct, it is collage,.. also referred to as mixed medium. I carefully transfer the drawing on to the board using a transfer paper, and tracing the sketch onto the board. I then begin with color by using large brushes and acrylic paint to lay in the main colors I will be working on. It’s very loose and messy at this point.. no color details yet.

At what point do your introduce the textures and patterns?

I just keep in working in paint for a while until I feel like it’s time to add some intersect patterns and texture. I have an assortment of printed papers that look like fabric, or tree bark, leaves, and all kinds of flat geometric patterns. I trace out what the shape of the pattern should be, and cut it out, and carefully glue it into place with acrylic gel medium, and then blend it back in with paint. It’s a back and forth process.

I could ask you questions forever, and I apologize if I’ve already gone on too long. Any last thoughts on this book, and what you tried to express in the illustrations?

I really just wanted to bring your amazing haiku to visual life. We really need to celebrate our diversities, and help our children feel like they belong. We need to open our hearts to accept others in our community and around the world, and our children need to know this is how we live together, successfully. It’s such a relevant book, now more than ever.

Thank you so much. And thank you, of course, for your brilliant work as the illustrator for the definitive American editions of the Harry Potter books. It’s incredible to think of how many of us have looked at your work and been moved by it. I’m truly honored that we now have our own book, something we made together, Mary and me. I’m so grateful for that.

Oh, Jimmy. I am honored to have created artwork for your thoughtful and beautiful poetry. I count this book as one of my favorites. I am so pleased that we were able to connect through this project. It has touched me personally, and creatively. I have to say also, that it was great getting to know you Jimmy, and I look forward to seeing what you do next.

Readers can learn more about Mary — and see many more of her abstract and figurative paintings — by stomping on this link.  In addition to the Harry Potter books, Mary has illustrated many picture books, including The Noisy Paint Box; Through the Window; How the Leopard Got His Claws; Cleonardo, the Little Inventor; and more. Speaking for myself, I’m not often awed by the writers and illustrators I met. But Mary strikes me as a special person. Not just her talent, but the warmth and sensitivity and kindness she beams into the world. I’m fortunate that the universe brought us together, however fleetingly, to collaborate on All Welcome Here

 

 

 

 

Look Who’s Illustrating My Next Book

Yeah, this artist, the great Mary GrandPre. Maybe you don’t know her name, but I’m pretty sure you know her work.

So. How does that happen? How does it work in publishing, the writer-illustrator connection? I get asked that a lot.

Though there are exceptions and variations, my book with Mary followed a well-established pattern. Back in 2016, I submitted a manuscript to my editor which was accepted for publication. Just words on a page. In this case, interconnected haiku.

Looking back on a my original submission to Liz Szabla, my editor, dated 4/22/16, I laid out my basic vision:

 

 

This collection of haiku celebrates the first day of school and a vision of community. It provides a loose, flowing narrative that carries readers through the multi-faceted moments in a school day as it touches a diverse variety of characters while they move from the bus stop to the morning pledge, to recess and lunch and the final bell.

The poems offer the illustrator opportunities to show a rich variety of children –- wild and brave, silly and earnest, friendly and a little frightened. Through the artwork, illustrations should highlight recurring characters and allow readers to see happy interactions and first steps toward friendship. We are witnesses to the beginning of a new, diverse, and open-hearted community.

There’s flexibility here. The final number of poems depends entirely on layout and editorial’s vision for the book. There are 39 included here (which strikes me as slightly high, compared to other haiku collections of this nature), whereas it could be decided to go with as few as, say, 23 poems –- allowing room for effective double-page spreads for a single haiku. 

Later in 2016, or possibly early in 2017, I was informed that Mary GrandPre had agreed to illustrate the book. I did not immediately recognize the name. The look of the book would be up to Mary, the art director and designers at Feiwel & Friends, as overseen by Liz. Often, that’s the beginning and end of a writer’s communication with the illustrator. My manuscript did not come with notes to the illustrator, as many do, beyond what I shared above.

To my delight, I did receive a lovely, complimentary email from Mary, asking for my thoughts about possibly cutting some haiku. There was a conflict where the weather described was inconsistent. We went back and forth — Mary was gracious and lovely — and I was very happy to eliminate some, because that was always my intention. I had individual haikus that highlighted the statue of liberty, a student in a wheelchair, and a teacher in a hijab. We realized that since those images would be reflected in the book visually, we were able to cut those haiku in order to make room for others.

For example, I believe everyone hoped there might be at least one spread where there was just one haiku. It turned out to be one that centered on the school library. I wrote:

 

LIBRARY

The library door

Opens: Hear the whoosh and thrum

Of the school’s heart beat.

 

Note on the haiku, which followed the traditional 5-7-5 syllable/line count: a haiku does not usually come with a title. But for this book, because it was intended for very young readers, I cheated a little and gave each one a title in the original manuscript. Somewhere along the line I fretted about that, it was a little impure, and asked Liz if maybe we should eliminate the titles. Liz replied that she liked them, believed they worked, and that they also added a visual element to the pages. I said, as I recall, “Okay!”

At a certain point in the process, it’s the only answer available. 

All Welcome Here will be published on June 16, 2020. I’m so eager to hold it in my hands — I’ll probably receive a printed copy in early May, best guess — but I’m more excited to visit schools and, perhaps, even develop some haiku workshops for students of all ages.

So, yeah, Mary GrandPre. How cool is that? How lucky am I?

Can’t wait.

 

Thought for Teachers (and Parents!) on a Friday

This meme speaks to a feeling that I experience on school visits every time I make a presentation, or even speak one-on-one with a child. And with that feeling comes an immediate identification with teachers, because I recognize that they must feel it, too, every single day.

As a parent, I’ve experienced it constantly

To the point where it must speak to the essence of what it is to be a teacher, to be a parent.

Scattering seeds to the wind.

On visits, I’ll have 45-50 minutes with, say, a group of 200 students. I’ll joke, tell stories, read something, explain my writing process, show photos of my dog, try to pass along my love of literacy, answer questions, maybe even impart bits of wisdom gained in 34 years as a published author. Then time’s up and they dutifully file out of the big room, shuffling off to what comes next.

And I wonder: Did I connect? Did my words make a difference?

Again, I could be talking about my four-mile walk yesterday with my son, Gavin, age 20. Did he hear me? Did I say anything of value? And also, along with that: What did I learn? Was my heart open?

In the end, we have to keep faith that our efforts have meaning. Yes, many the seeds will not thrive. In busy schools, the days are packed. There’s always the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. A flowing river of next things. But we also know that sometimes, for certain kids, those experiences miraculously do stick. A thought, a feeling, an idea clicks. Maybe not today. Maybe in five years it resonates anew.

And maybe the memory of that experience lingers for a lifetime.

Imagine that.

Imagine making that kind of impact on a life.

It’s what teachers do every single day.

The seed finds fertile soil. The rain comes down, the sun shines warmly. And one day a green sprouts lifts its head, says “I am,” and starts to grow. 

All we can do is keep scattering those seeds, doing what we can, hoping for ears that listen, hearts and minds that are open.

Every time I am invited to a school, I am grateful for that opportunity.

Look for All Welcome Here, by James Preller, illustrated by Mary GrandPre, coming this June.

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #282: Art & Poems from Ohio!

I received one of those rare, beautiful packages that fortunate folks in my line of work sometimes get — an envelope bursting with kind wishes from a classroom of young artists and writers, all masterfully orchestrated by a creative, book-loving teacher.

Each second-grade student made a watercolor painting on one side of the card, along with a haiku on the reverse side. (And boy, wouldn’t it be great if that became a thing — sending me haiku written by elementary school students. I’m all in.)

Here’s a few random examples to give you an idea of the poems and birthday wishes . . .

 

 

 

Believe me, I could have shared any number of them. All the students did a great job. Thank you, boys and girls and class hamster.

I replied to the class:

 

Dear Mrs. L,

It is such a nice thing to have good friends in Ohio. I feel truly blessed to receive your spectacular package in the mail. It combines so many of things I love into one simple manila envelope: artwork by young people, haiku, a love of books, good memories, friendship.

I’ve laid out the cards on my floor and I’m admiring them now. Such variety: snowflakes and snowpeople and rainbows and falling snow. But it’s the haiku I love the most. As you know, I have a book of haiku coming out . . . someday. It takes so long. I wrote the haiku back in 2016. The artist, Mary GrandPre –- who illustrated the Harry Potter books –- signed on to do the artwork. But it takes time to make a book. In this case, four years. It’s been delayed twice. The waiting is the hardest part. Now I’m hearing Spring of 2020. Oh well. In the end, all that matters is the finished book. When you hold a book in your hands, you don’t worry if the art came in late or not. Or if the publisher was slow in the turn around. You just want a satisfying book that touches your heart.

In the meantime, I still try to write at least one haiku every single day. It doesn’t always happen, but I do try to take a few minutes to look at things, to appreciate the moment. Yesterday I drove in a gusty winter storm, watching the wind whip the light, powdery snow in swirls, so I wrote:

 

Wind-swept snow twirling

in graceful patterns -– dancers

In satin dresses.

 

I don’t think that haiku is quite right — maybe it will never be — but I’ll likely revise it over the next few days. No matter, now I’ll always remember the way the wind moved that light, powdery snow.

Maybe the wind and snow were dancing together?

You are right: R.W. Alley –- we call him “Bob” –- is a terrific illustrator. I love his work; he really makes those characters come alive. I think, also, that Bob sees the kindness in the Jigsaw Jones stories, and you can feel it in his warm drawings.

You know, people complain about the winter. Well, people complain about a lot of things. But right now I’m sitting with a puppy at my feet –- his name is Echo –- and he’s a terror –- and there’s a blanket of snow on the ground. I can’t see the shape of the sun, hidden in the gray haze, but there’s a sharp brightness trying to pierce through the clouds. Faint shadows of tall pines lay quivering on the land. The world is a beautiful place, don’t you agree?

I loved my visit to your school last year. You laughed and laughed. I can close my eyes and hear it still. Thanks for your friendship.

All good things, your friend,

James Preller

 

P.S. Mrs. L can call me Jimmy!