Archive for the ‘childrens books’ Category



Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Noisy Night was published recently in Japan, and I got a few copies in the mail. This is really amazing. When I learned this was happening, I really had my doubts whether it could be pulled off. It’s not merely translating the text and typesetting the words in a Japanese font. The words are integrally part of the illustrations. But man, this is amazing. 私は感銘を受けて

Friday, December 1st, 2017

I recently was asked to draw and design some bookplates and postcards for Literati, which is a book club for kids. They send out curated collections of children’s books, and each of these has a theme. The theme I was asked to illustrate was “Heroes,” and I’m a Veterinarian from the Tinyville Town series is part of the collection of books.

Along with the artwork, I got to talk about my work and answer some questions via a short interview. Here’s a link to the interview, but I’m gonna copy/paste the whole thing below, for posterity. In the past, I felt I didn’t have much to say about why I make the books I make and what’s important to me in going about it. Lately though, maybe as my own kids are getting older (17 and 18) and maybe as we’re living in this age of Trump and the daily embarrassment and, well, horror, frankly, that goes along with that, I’m finding I’ve got words. Stay tuned for more.

In discussions on your early comics, Frederick & Eloise and Dear Julia, you’ve listed artists such as Edward Gorey, Jacques Tardi, and Jim Jarmusch as influences. What intrigued you about their work when you were working on your comics, and has their influence crept into your books for children at all?

I grew up in a time and place of The Love Boat, Chips, and Gilligan’s Island reruns. I knew I had a dark, or “weird” streak but in the suburbs of Houston in the 80s, I didn’t have a name for it or a place to put it. I first ran across Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies my first year of college, and that dark humor was a revelation. It was later, living in Paris, where Tardi and Jarmusch appeared in my world, and they were more about a mood and a different way of storytelling that I hadn’t seen to that point.

Over the last fifteen years of making kids’ books, I’ve kind of kept those influences in my pocket, I think. I haven’t had the opportunity to pull that stuff out for the books I’ve worked on yet. There are plenty of strains of that kind of thing in middle-grade, like Lemony Snicket of course. And some picture book artists seem to be able to get away with it too, especially the Europeans like Wolf Erlbruch (see Duck, Death and the Tulip to see what I mean). Sendak and Lobel among others were able to bring darker themes into their work as well, but today’s market seems to limit it somewhat.

These darker, “weird” stories are what naturally exists in my head, so hope to bring that world into my kids’ books at some point.

It’s cute, but it bites.

Are you still creating, or do you have plans to create, more comics or graphic novels for an older audience?

While I’ve been saying “yes” to this question since 1996, with no real results to speak of, I started writing something a comic last Spring that has potential. It’s about a guy who is dying. Probably not for kids.

Was it a challenge to move from writing comics for adults to picture books for young people?

Stories “for kids” aren’t what naturally comes out of my pen. I find that because of this, I over-compensate when I write, and end up oversimplifying and maybe not giving the potential younger audience enough credit. Thank god for editors.

The two book series I’ve written, Everything Goes and Tinyville Town, do a lot of things I want to do. But finding the voice of those books was more work than it maybe should have been.

Many of your books for children (in particular Everything Goes On Land and, of course, the Tinyville Town series) are based on cities, with a focus on the way citizens work together and keep their community running. You’ve been recognized for your attention to diversity in these fictional cities. Can you tell us a bit about why representation was important to you when creating these characters?

Because it’s what exists in real life. I can’t even think of a reason why a city or community wouldn’t be represented this way.

Your newest release, (This Is Not A Normal) Animal Book with author Julie Segal-Walters, just came out in October. What was the process/collaboration like between you and Julie on this hilarious book?

Well, nothing like the book would imply, of course. She wrote the manuscript in 2014, and I didn’t see it until six months later. She saw sketches now and then as I worked on the art, but there was no collaboration per se. This is the way picture books almost always work, by the way. The writer and artist rarely have any communication during the process. The book pretends otherwise, which is most of the joke. You’re right, it is hilarious and I had a great time making it.

Which artists or illustrators have had the most influence on your style and approach to your work for children?

This is always so hard to answer. There are so many ways to approach the question. I see work all the time that inspires me and makes me want to draw like that, or tell stories like that. I can’t leave a bookstore without seeing at least one book that depresses me because it’s so good and I wish I’d done it. A thousand illustrators have influenced a thousand of my drawings, and while there are probably a few giants that I tried to emulate as I developed my work, the last time I can actually remember actually sitting down and changing the way I draw a picture was when I rediscovered the singular Mexican printmaker José Posada a few years back. Would you see that influence in my current drawings? Well, I do, but I would doubt anyone else would.

The real answer here is probably Maurice Sendak. Not in any particular method or technique he used to draw pictures, but in his commitment to honesty in his way of writing about children, for children. Where the Wild Things Are came out in 1963, and Max’s emotions and imaginings in that book may have scared a bunch of parents and librarians back then, but kids knew it was the truth. This is totally aspirational for me. If I even get close to that in my own storytelling in my lifetime, I think I’ll be satisfied.

What is your favorite interaction you’ve had with a child about your work?

I was on a Tinyville Town deadline two New Year’s Eves ago while staying at a cabin in the Poconos with family, which included my sister-in-law and her three little kids. I had my computer set up on the big dining table every day, finishing up the drawings for Tinyville Town Gets to Work, and the kids were kind of warned to leave Uncle Brian alone so he could work. One morning, my at-the-time seven-year-old niece, Kate, who has all of my books and even several of my drawings hanging on her bedroom wall, came by and looked over my shoulder to see what I was doing. In the way that only Kate can, she incredulously announced to the house, “Uncle Brian’s not working! He’s just drawing pictures!”

What tips do you have for the young person who wants to create books?

A big part of the job that editors and agents do, is look for and find new work by new talent with new things to say. No matter how hard it seems to get through that door, keep writing, keep drawing, and keep knocking. They’re looking for you, too.

What’s next for you, in Tinyville Town and beyond?

I’m a Mail Carrier will be out in March, which is the next Tinyville Town book. And I’ll be illustrating four picture books in 2018, including one which is a Tinyville Town book, and one of which is a book I wrote about an astronaut who just wants to take a walk.

If you could split a pizza with one person you admire, living or dead, who would it be? (Bonus: What kind of pizza?)

Jim Henson. (Bonus: Any kind of pizza he wants.)

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Back a couple of years ago, I got the strangest manuscript. It was called Blobfish!, written by Julie Segal-Walters, and I didn’t have a clue what it was about. It was kind of a book about animals, it was kind of a meta-book thing where the illustrator and author get into a spat about how the book is supposed to go, and it was pretty funny. I signed on, and went about worrying about it for months. Usually, when I decide to illustrate a book, I have some idea what the book will look like. It’s usually clear why someone asked me to work on it, and I can see pretty quickly what I want to do with it. This one was an exception. Even my agent, in his email to me about the script, said it was weird.
Time went by, and I worked on other commitments, occasionally sketching from this story, and occasionally talking to the editor about what we might be doing with it. Julie made some revisions to the script, I stared the process of laying out the page-breaks and finding the story’s rhythms, and things started to fall into place.
Well, today is the book-birthday for the resulting picture book. Now it’s called (This is Not a Normal) Animal Book, and Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster has it available today for you to order up and read aloud to your kids, you partner, or yourself.

I’m pretty happy that we even got to have the “fake” cover as the case-cover here. The idea, of course, being that the illustrator sabotaged the jacket cover.

Matthew Winner, he who makes the All the Wonders podcast interviewed Julie and me a few weeks ago, and today that conversation went live. You can listen to us here.

This is a very different book than anything i’ve ever made. There are drawings in it, of course, but there are also pages and pages of cut paper, and crayons, and scissors, and sketches. My art studio became a photography studio for a week last year while I was photographing these objects. I even had jars of jelly (you’ll see why).

So, go get it. I think it’s hilarious.

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

The sixth book in the Tinyville Town series is out today, called “I’m a Police Officer.” It follows our hero, Kathy, as she walks her beat, solves a crime, and generally keeps the citizens of Tinyville Town safe. It’s available today at a bookseller near you.

I also want to point out that it’s dedicated to my good friend from high school, Jennifer Coffelt of the Houston Police. Because she’s awesome.

Jennifer Orsak Koffert houston police

Friday, July 14th, 2017

I first attended the Princeton Children’s Book Festival about three or four years ago and thought it was just terrific. Four big tents full of people reading, writing, illustrating, and especially buying books. I was set up next to Jon Scieszka where we were writing our names in copies of Frank Einstein, and I’ve been back each year since.
I was especially pleased when they asked me to make the poster for this year’s festival, which will be on September 23. I’d seen the posters that Peter Brown, Dan Yaccarino, and Greg Pizzoli made, and figured I better work hard on this one.

So… it’s time to reveal this thing. I’m also posting a few sketches from the process that led to the final design. Please enjoy thanks, and I hope to see you on September 23 in Princeton, NJ. Thanks to Susan Conlon, Caroline Quinones, and Tim Quinn for the opportunity and the help throughout the process.

princeton book festival poster

lettering, typography

sketch, princeton, book festival

sketch, princeton, book festival

sketch, princeton, book festival

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Today is the “book birthday” for the 2nd picture book in the Tinyville Town series. This one is called “Time for School” and it follows our hero, Ellie Emberley, as she begins her first day at Tinyville Town Elementary.

The name “Ellie” came from my daughter, Elliot, and “Emberley” from one of my first favorite illustrators, Ed Emberley. Mainly, I like the alliteration of the names, and it’s fun to say while reading aloud.


I also made another time-lapse video of the drawing of the cover art. I hope you like watching this stuff as much as I like making it. Buy it on Indiebound here!

Time for School cover draw. from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.

Friday, April 7th, 2017

The Noisy Night review in the New York Times Book Review is out today, online, and will be on your porch in print tomorrow morning. The review was written by the amazing Sophie Blackall, last year’s Caldecott winner, and I’m thrilled. This is the first review in the NYT for a book I was part of, and I’m pretty happy that book readers everywhere will be eyeballing my drawings this weekend. Mac Barnett wrote just a few words in this manuscript, but boy are they the right words, and Noisy Night was a joy to illustrate.
Last week, at Books of Wonder in NYC, someone asked me whether I like working with other authors best, or whether I prefer to “have total control.” It’s hard to answer this, since it’s not really the right question. The biggest part about working on a book that I didn’t write is that I’d never have come up with a book like Noisy Night in my lifetime. So working on other authors’ books is a chance to get out of my own brain-hole and into someone else’s for a bit. But the truth is, I had more control over the look and function of this book, that Mac wrote, than I do over some books that I write and illustrate. This is partly because the books I write are typically part of a series, and there are certain aspects to a series revolving around branding and a set “world” that I have to confine myself within. The other part of this is that Mac writes a script, and then he’s done. We never really “collaborated” and he never told me what to do either directly or indirectly through the editor. I had 179 words (143 if you take out the small bit of stage direction Mac provided), and I had a few months to turn these words into a 32-page picture book. All that stuff in the middle was mine to make (with a lot of good advice and guidance from Anne Diebel, the art director on Noisy Night).
When Anne and I first started thinking of the form this book would take, we kept running into a few specific issues that made it an interesting challenge. Foremost, the book takes place in a 10-story apartment building. This means that the story goes up as it unfolds. First floor to second floor and so on. Now, a book opens left to right. We turn the pages horizontally. So, how do we make a book go up, as it inherently is a horizontal medium?
Of course, the first idea was to turn the book around 90 degrees. But 90 degrees clockwise, or counter-clockwise? Clockwise was out, since then we’d be reading the book down as we turned the pages. Counter-clockwise would at least have us turn the pages “upward” as we go along. I have to say here that I’m not a big fan of gimmicks like this. I read a lot of books to my kids when they were young, and I watched them read a lot of books as well. And when we had to turn books vertically, I always felt like it was a crutch. Plus, I feel like it makes the book unwieldy for such little people. Nevertheless, I gave it some thought, and if I were writing this book for that format, that might have worked. But I didn’t write it, and the way that Mac did, it didn’t lead to a natural page-turn that would have worked with a vertical format. For example, starting with the first bit of text:

What’s going la-la-la above my head?

A man is singing opera above my head.
What is going ma-ma-ma above my head?

We begin with a boy in bed hearing a noise above him. He asks “What’s going la-la-la above my head?”

The answer is “an opera singer,” but we don’t know this until we turn the page. When we make that turn, we see the opera singer (“LA LA LA!”) and we get the answer from the boy, on the floor below the singer: “A man is singing opera above my head.”

The next line, “What is going ma-ma-ma above my head?” is asked by the opera singer. Since he was busy going LA LA LA previously, we need a new page for this. Vertically, we would have to turn the page again, leading to a new (vertical) spread. Which would be pretty cool (if I liked such things…), but would double the length of the book as well. The way it’s written, we don’t need a new page-turn here. All we need is a new page. A shift of perspective from the boy’s response (“A man is singing opera…”) to the man now hearing something (“What is going ma-ma-ma…). A gutter is enough to separate one from the other, and in fact, to me, ties them together and adds some funny kinetic movement to the page (imagine it animated — or better yet, don’t imagine it). The gutter would also be a big problem with the vertical format, as each of the characters would fall into it somewhere. And with the voice balloons being the main text location, a lot of important stuff would fall into that gutter. A baby’s head. A crow’s face.
In the end, it just created a lot of unnecessary problems which outweighed benefits. Not to mention, did I mention this, I just don’t like having to make a kid turn a picture book vertically, anyway.

The solution we went with, shifting that perspective each page, clicked into place the moment I laid it out in a series of thumbnails. It created the rhythm I was looking for, and by using color, I could differentiate each story of the building from one another. They each got a color palette, which we could then use on the cover in the building windows as well.

This is before I decided to use the endpapers to help tell the story, but it does show the page patterns and colors.

I think my favorite part of making books, other than the fame and fortune and reviews in the New York Times, is this process of solving these weird problems, and constructing the form of the book before we even get to the illustrations. Finding the rhythms and patterns and motifs that make the story work. I know my rhythms, and when I write, I write to my strengths. But an author like Mac isn’t thinking about how the drawings will work, and probably not how the book will work. He’s focusing on the words alone, and the story they make. And the words that make Noisy Night are words that would never have been put together in my own imagination, and Noisy Night is a book I’d never have made on my own. What a treat.

Thursday, April 6th, 2017


Children’s books are reviewed six times a year in the New York Times, and I’m quite happy to let you know that Noisy Night is getting some ink this weekend. The April 9 edition of the New York Times Book Review features a review of three books set at bedtime, and Noisy Night (written by Mac Barnett, published by Roaring Brook Press) is one of them. This is a first for me, and I’m pretty thrilled.
I’ll post the review itself this weekend.

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Noisy Night
On March 7, I leave the comfortable environs of Philadelphia to travel across the USA in my pajamas with Mac Barnett, talking about and writing our names in copies of Noisy Night, our book that is being released by Roaring Brook Press the same day.
The tour begins in Plainville MA, at An Unlikely Story. We make our way back down to Philadelphia on March 9 (my birthday!), where we’ll be at my home away from home, Childrens Book World, in Haverford at 4:30pm. On the evening of March 10, we’ll be at the Takoma Park Library in Takoma Park, MD. On March 11, we’re at Politics & Prose in Washington DC at 10am. We then leave the east coast and head to beautiful downtown Kalamazoo, MI, to Book Bug for an afternoon party. Lastly, we go way out west to Santa Cruz, CA, to the Bookshop Santa Cruz at 4pm for the final event of the tour. Since I love Santa Cruz, I’m staying a few extra days to ride bikes and eat tacos.
Hope to see your face along the way!

Here’s the website for Noisy Night.

And here’s the trailer video for the book.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Cover reveals are funny things. They’re a part of the kid-book business that I haven’t figured out whether I like ’em or not yet. (I’ve only been doing this for fifteen years – give me time.) To me, revealing a cover in some fancy way implies that everyone has been sitting out there waiting for it. In some cases I suspect that this is a real thing. But in other cases, it’s more like it’s being hoisted upon the Twitterers and Facebooks and Instagrams and becomes just more noise.
Sometimes, however, it can be fun, and last week was one of those times. Julie Segal-Walters and I have a book coming next fall where there are, kinda, two covers. The book is about the making of a book, where the premise is that the illustrator and the author are not in agreement as to how the pictures should look. The illustrator loses patience and finally just starts drawing whatever he wants. This extends to the cover, where the “original” cover is a staid, boring book cover. And the “actual” cover, that which will be see in stores and stuff, has been vandalized by the illustrator.
Jon Schumaker (Mr. Schu) and Colby Sharp teamed up to do simultaneous reveals of the covers. Colby interviewed Julie, the writer, and Mr. Schu talked to me. You’re going to hear a lot more about this book as we get closer to its release date in October. But for now, here are he covers, and the links to the reveals.

Mr. Schu’s thing with me, here.

Colby’s thing with Julie, here.