Tag Archive for Bernard Waber

5 QUESTIONS with HUDSON TALBOTT, author/illustrator of “FROM WOLF TO WOOF”

 

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I’m kicking off a new, recurring series of posts where I interview one author or illustrator, limiting our conversation to 5 questions, with a focus on a specific book. I’ve got a terrific list of talent planned for upcoming visits — they just don’t know it yet.

Today we get to hang out with Hudson Talbott. And come back next week for a visit with Hazel Mitchell and her dog Toby.

 

Hudson (left) and I got to catch up at the Warwick Children's Book Festival.

Hudson (left) and I got to catch up at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival.

 

JP: Hudson, I love your new picture book, FROM WOLF TO WOOF: THE STORY OF DOGS. You manage to deliver a lot of information within the context of “story.”

Hudson: Thanks, James. I love research and the process of absorbing as much as I can and then distilling it down to its essence. I come from Kentucky. We’re known for distilling.

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And God bless Kentucky for that! But let the record show: I haven’t asked a question yet. I feel like one of the poor fisherman bargaining with a magic fish. I still have three wishes left –- or in this case, five questions!

I don’t think that was a question either. But thanks for calling me a magic fish.

Now that you mention it, you do look a little green around the gills. Maybe it’s the light in here. Anyway! I remember long ago reading Desmond Morris’ classic book, The Naked Ape, and in it he speculated about the first dogs. How they might have come to be domesticated. Which is a poor term for it, as I type those words. Because we’re talking about these wild animals that, over time, became intensely, passionately interconnected with human beings. The beginning of a long relationship. I’ve always found that a fascinating subject, so I was immediately drawn to your book. How did that story begin for you?

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The love of animals, the love of dogs, the love of history. Not facts-and-dates history, but the how-did-we-get-here? kind of history. So it was bound to happen. You and I have this privileged platform to address and explore things that we think matter, or at least, things we’re curious about. That look in a dog’s eyes of knowing, of asking and loving, of aligning him/herself with us had to come from someplace. Plenty of theories about where and when — I like to think that the two species found each other useful and could see the advantage of throwing their lots in together to survive. Like two kids finding each other in kindergarten and growing up together in a rough neighborhood. At some point we both stepped across that magic threshold of trust and realized that we have each other’s backs.

Well said. Do you self-identify more as a writer or an artist? Does one always come before the other? Responding to a similar question, Bernard Waber, who also wrote and illustrated his books (Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, and many more), replied that “The writer in me tries to please the illustrator.”

I think of myself primarily as a storyteller. Whatever serves the story best is my priority. That said, I am a visually-oriented person so usually if I come up w/ an idea for a book I first look at what points in the story would be good “photo-ops” or actually illustration ops. While I’m doing sketches for the plot points I’m also getting ideas for the text, the plot, the characters, etc. It’s not uncommon that something I’ll stumble onto while writing some text will lead to changing the picture, or even the whole story line. So it goes back and forth a lot between art and text. Art is much more expendable to me because there’s always more where that came from. But when I have to throw out a paragraph that I’m attached to but no longer serves the story — that’s painful! Picture books actually have more in common with making movies than they do with chapter books.

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Yes, especially when we consider the storyboarding tradition. After all, movies are simply “moving pictures.” Back to your book, I have to say there’s just a beautiful moment that comes right in the middle. It floored me, because it was such a deep and yet profoundly simple moment to capture. Just masterful storytelling. Before that moment, I was intellectually engaged. But on that double spread, the book stole my heart. I was all in. We’ve been watching the boy slowly gain the trust of this wild creature. They draw closer and closer. Until one day . . . everything changes. Tell me about the thought process that went into that illustration, that pivotal turning point in the book?

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Wow, I should’ve read ahead to this question because I think I already answered it a couple of questions ago. It makes me happy to know that you really got the book, and felt what you felt from it. I started this book with a whole other concept, even another title: The Wolf Who Cried Boy. But when my editor, the brilliant Nancy Paulsen, saw the sketches I had at the end of the book showing where dogs evolved to, she immediately said, “More of that! More of that!” So it got re-balanced to a shortened fictional story leading to an extended nonfiction portion. But that was good because it gave me a chance to get in a plug for saving the wolves today, as well as my own theory that dogs played a strategic part in the development of civilization (with their help we could stay in one place with domesticated herds rather than having to constantly roam in search of wild herds).

Wow, Nancy Paulsen: legend! I was wondering, Do you have a wolf at home?

I have two cats. One does his best to be a dog for me because he knows that’s what I would have if I didn’t travel so much. I had dogs growing up and usually spend more time with dogs at friends’ houses than I do with the friends.

You’ve been at this business for a while, and I guess that’s part of the reason why I connect with you. We’ve both been around the block a few times. Let’s just confess to the world that we still have our AOL email accounts. Can you point to any primary inspirations in your work? Do you have heroes in the business? And tagging on to that question (I’m cheating here, oh Magic Fish), how do you keep your work fresh?

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Primary inspirations: my apparently insatiable curiosity keeps me alive. It also drives me crazy sometimes but at least it keeps me from being bored. My first book [We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story] was a hit and it would’ve been easy to build a career on it but I wouldn’t have lasted long — I’m too restless, there’s too much other good stuff to fall in love with. A quote from Leonardo da Vinci captures it for me: “For in truth, great love is born from great knowledge of the thing loved.” That’s how I remember it anyway.

Yours in AOL,
Hudson Talbott

 

Hudson Talbott is the author/illustrator of many outstanding children’s books, including River of Dreams, O’Sullivan Stew, United Tweets of America, and more. He lives in upstate New York, not far from the town Hudson, not from from the Hudson River. It’s pretty much Hudson, 24/7, when it comes to Mr. Talbott. For more info, please visit his website. Readers might also enjoy clicking on this thoughtful review at Librarian’s Quest.

 

PIRATE’S GUIDE Sequel, In Which Red Meets His Match

Here’s a touch of art from Greg Ruth, the amazing artist behind A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade and the upcoming sequel, A Pirate’s Guide to Recess.

I had an interesting experience writing this one, because it was the first time that I wrote a picture book knowing who the illustrator would be.

Note that the industry standard, in the absence of an individual who both writes and draws, is to begin with a manuscript and match it with an illustrator. Words first; art an afterthought. Think about that. Consider the advantages when one individual is both author and illustrator. As the great Bernard Waber long ago told me in an interview:

“When I am writing, I think of myself as a writer. But when I am illustrating, I think of myself as an illustrator. I think, though, that I try to create situations with my writing that will be fun to illustrate. The writer in me tries to please the illustrator.”

I shared that same feelling with Waber, that I was also writing to please the illustrator. I wanted to give Greg something. An offering. And that I was also writing to please myself (always), the reader, the art-lover; I wanted to see Greg get a pirate ship out on the water, watch as the confines of the actual world — in this case, the school playground — washes away. I wanted this story to fully enter the true, pure, imaginal world shared by Red and Molly. I thought it would be fun, sure. But more importantly, that’s how kids play. By agreement. “This piece of glass is the castle, and these rocks are the army, and this stick . . .”

I hope these books celebrate that playfulness. Intellectually, I wanted to see the next book extend the premise of the first book, not merely repeat the same joke.

Imagine this as a stunning double-page spread, printed with attention and care. The only words on the pages:

“Arrrrr,” Red muttered. “Rapscallions all.”

Anyway, writing with an artist in mind was completely new to me. Greg Ruth, specifically, was going to draw this thing that was in my head, transform it in his own way. Knowing that, I tried to create visual opportunities that would bring out the best in Greg.

It’s like, I don’t know, you’re having a party and there’s Fred Astaire sitting on the couch, chatting with Ginger Rogers. You put on a record because you want to see them dance. You don’t say, “Come on, everybody. Let’s play charades!”

Oh, about the book: It won’t be out until next summer, July 2013. Published by Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. More details on that another day.

Celebrating 4 Years of Bloggy Goodness: An Appreciation of Bernard Waber

I originally posted this in October, 2008. It’s nice to come across old writing and think, okay, not terrible. I still agree with myself.

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“When I am writing, I think of myself as a writer. But when I am illustrating, I think of myself as an illustrator. I think, though, that I try to create situations with my writing that will be fun to illustrate. The writer in me tries to please the illustrator.” — Bernard Waber.

Bernard Waber floats just under the top shelf of all-time great children’s authors and illustrators — you don’t hear his name much these days, when people list influences — but I suspect he’s under-appreciated. Certainly he’s written some great books, most notably Ira Sleeps Over and The House on East Eighty-Eighth Street., the first of many books starring Lyle the Crocodile. (Waber also has a knack for titles: A Lion Named Shirley Williamson is one of my favorites.)

I interviewed Bernard Waber in the early 1990’s. We spoke again a couple of years after that. I had hoped he could contribute to a book project, but we got sidelined when my son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with leukemia at age twenty-six months. Work just stopped for a while. Bernard understood, of course, and sent Nick a stuffed crocodile, some books, and a lovely handwritten note.

You don’t forget things like that.

So, yes, there’s bias here, an affection that goes beyond books. When I spoke with Bernard Waber more than 15 years ago — and I’m happy to report he is still going strong at age 84 [edit: 87 now!] — his intelligence shined through. He spoke about his craft with clarity and immodesty, as clear and refreshing as cool water. An innate goodness courses through his books. And his stories, no matter how humorous — how sly, dry, and understated — often contain real sensitivity. He writes from the heart.

“The nice thing about humor,” Waber told me, “is that after you have an idea that you think is humorous, there is always another side that’s sad and complicated. Those are the things you discover after you start writing.”

Ira Sleeps Over finds Waber at his best, capturing the inner angst of a childhood dilemma: the first sleepover. Ira is invited to sleep at his friend Reggie’s house — but he has never slept without Tah Tah, his Teddy Bear. Can Ira risk the embarrassment? With staccato dialogue, Waber deftly explores Ira’s confusing, conflcting emotions. In addition, the dynamic with the older sister rings so true. Because somehow Waberknows. He remembers.

His 2002 book, Courage, in which various characters encounter the need for bravery, was inspired in part by 9/11, though he primarily drew upon childhood memories of the Great Depression. I love the cover:

Waber told Becky Rodia, of Teaching K-8 magazine, “Courage is the summoning of core strengths, faith, and idealism in confrontation with life’s challenges. My parents’ bracing themselves against all odds during the Great Depression taught me valuable lessons in this regard. However, because we are humans with frailties, courage can also mean asking for help and support in the face of overwhelming circumstances.”

When I think of Bernard Waber, I think of someone who showed us what a picture book can achieve. Laughter, childlike appeal, and adult insight. For that, and for more personal reasons, I offer this tribute. I don’t know who handles these things, but I hereby nominate Bernard Waber for a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to children’s literature.

He is one of the all-time greats.

Note: If you enjoyed this appreciation — the fourth in a series — just click the links for thoughts on other literary lions: William Steig, Arnold Lobel, and Raymond Chandler.

Writers on Writing: Five Quick Quotes

True story: I just found this three-page list of typed quotes on the bottom of my t-shirt drawer. I figure it dates back seven years, from when I was working with my son’s third-grade classroom — and at which point I learned, not coincidentally, that I knew nothing about how to teach writing.

All I had in my bag of tricks was encourage, encourage, encourage.

Anyway, these quotes come mostly from interviews I enjoyed, but also possibly from the supporting research I did. I’ll parcel them out over time in spoonfuls, five per blog entry:

Writing is very difficult and gives me a great deal of pleasure, partly because it is so difficult.” — Maurice Sendak.

“If you work hard on something, and think about it very deeply, new ideas sort of bubble to the surface. I find that while rewriting — even just retyping a page — new things come in that I hadn’t thought about before. Rewriting is important. I don’t think you are finished after only one or two drafts. Rewriting is not only polishing sentences; it is also a process of searching for new things to improve your story.” — Bernard Waber.

“I revise and revise and revise. I’m so picky. Yonder took me seven years to write. That book meant a lot to me. I wanted it to be perfect.” — Tony Johnston.

“Writing a story is like going down a path in the woods. You follow the path. You don’t worry about getting lost. You just go.” — Jan Brett.

“You never want to write about a perfect person. Look at Ramona Quimby. She’s not perfect — but it’s the failings that remind us of ourselves. That’s what builds character.” — Patricia Reilly Giff.

Bernard Waber: An Appreciation

“When I am writing, I think of myself as a writer. But when I am illustrating, I think of myself as an illustrator. I think, though, that I try to create situations with my writing that will be fun to illustrate. The writer in me tries to please the illustrator.” — Bernard Waber.

Bernard Waber floats just under the top shelf of all-time great children’s authors and illustrators — you don’t hear his name much these days, when people list influences — but I suspect he’s under-appreciated. Certainly he’s written some great books, most notably Ira Sleeps Over and The House on East Eighty-Eighth Street., the first of many books starring Lyle the Crocodile. (Waber also has a knack for titles: A Lion Named Shirley Williamson is one of my favorites.)

I interviewed Bernard Waber in the early 1990’s. We spoke again a couple of years after that. I had hoped he could contribute to a book project, but we got sidelined when my son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with leukemia at age twenty-six months. Work just stopped for a while. Bernard understood, of course, and sent Nick a stuffed crocodile, some books, and a lovely handwritten note.

You don’t forget things like that.

So, yes, there’s bias here, an affection that goes beyond books. When I spoke with Bernard Waber more than 15 years ago — and I’m happy to report he is still going strong at age 84 — his intelligence shined through. He spoke about his craft with clarity and immodesty, as clear and refreshing as cool water. An innate goodness courses through his books. And his stories, no matter how humorous — how sly, dry, and understated — often contain real sensitivity. He writes from the heart.

“The nice thing about humor,” Waber told me, “is that after you have an idea that you think is humorous, there is always another side that’s sad and complicated. Those are the things you discover after you start writing.”

Ira Sleeps Over finds Waber at his best, capturing the inner angst of a childhood dilemma: the first sleepover. Ira is invited to sleep at his friend Reggie’s house — but he has never slept without Tah Tah, his Teddy Bear. Can Ira risk the embarrassment? With staccato dialogue, Waber deftly explores Ira’s confusing, conflcting emotions. In addition, the dynamic with the older sister rings so true. Because somehow Waber knows. He remembers.

His 2002 book, Courage, in which various characters encounter the need for bravery, was inspired in part by 9/11, though he primarily drew upon childhood memories of the Great Depression. I love the cover:

Waber told Becky Rodia, of Teaching K-8 magazine, “Courage is the summoning of core strengths, faith, and idealism in confrontation with life’s challenges. My parents’ bracing themselves against all odds during the Great Depression taught me valuable lessons in this regard. However, because we are humans with frailties, courage can also mean asking for help and support in the face of overwhelming circumstances.”

When I think of Bernard Waber, I think of someone who showed us what a picture book can achieve. Laughter, childlike appeal, and adult insight. For that, and for more personal reasons, I offer this tribute. I don’t know who handles these things, but I hereby nominate Bernard Waber for a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to children’s literature.

Note: If you enjoyed this appreciation — the fourth in a series — just click the links for thoughts on other literary lions: William Steig, Arnold Lobel, and Raymond Chandler.