Archive for the ‘childrens books’ Category

Friday, April 3rd, 2020

Since I started my virtual story-times, there are now about a million people doing the same. Numbers of viewers have dropped quite a lot, and I’m gonna take a break. In the meantime, I recorded this drawing lesson for SimonKids for Bike & Trike. Get some paper and a pencil and have fun!

Friday, March 20th, 2020

I’ve been an illustrator for more than 20 years. As a result, I’ve been practicing “social distancing” almost my entire working life. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that most of you are learning this new routine right now, and everyone is home, sitting around realizing that “working from home” isn’t always as awesome as one might have thought.
I suspect this is especially true for kids, who miss their friends, miss their teachers (except Mrs. Stokes, my 2nd grade teacher from back in 1976 — no one misses her) miss the cafeteria food, and so on. Having the entire day off from school isn’t so cool when one can’t hang out with friends and socialize.
A week or so ago, I heard of a thing that was ramping up on Instagram under the hashtag #OperationStorytime. Authors and illustrators are reading their books and posting online. I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to jump in on.
Since last Tuesday, I’ve been reading books and posting the videos on my Instagram account and to a special area of my YouTube channel. I hope to do this every weekday. I mean, I’ve illustrated like 80 books, I hope that’s enough. If not, I’ll start reading favorite books I had nothing to do with. And then maybe restaurant menus, and magazine articles.

I think there are various equivalents on Twitter and various publishers’ YouTube channels as well. Mo Willems and Bob Shea are doing doodles. Greg Pizzoli and Mac Barnett have been reading books on live Instagram feeds.

Kids’ books to the rescue! I hope you’re all safe and sound and healthy. Keep in touch, and post requests in the comments.

Let’s do this.

Friday, November 1st, 2019

The Space Walk, my latest book as an author/illustrator, was launched this last Tuesday, Oct 29. I’d planned to do something as a countdown, of sorts, but that didn’t work out so instead I put this historical record together. Please enjoy, and go order a copy of The Space Walk today.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.1: Ed White, first American to walk in space, had a copy of The Space Walk with him on his EVA. “I like the part where Randolph sees the constellations” was overheard on the NASA radio signals. 

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.2: Yuri Gagarin was known to enjoy a good picture book while being the first human in space. Recently unearthed photos show him reading aloud during his mission. “One hour and 48 minutes isn’t enough to get involved in a proper sci-fi novel,” he apparently said to Pravda in 1961. “So I like a good picture book about making friends with life from other worlds!”

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.3: Everyone knows that E.T. loved Sedak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and pretty much everything Shel Silverstein ever wrote. Apparently he liked stories that hit closer to “home” as well.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.4: Here’s a photo of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin. People have always wondered how Neil and Buzz were chosen to walk on the moon, while Michael had to stay behind and orbit in the Columbia module. Well, the reason isn’t that Collins “had to.” He chose to sit in the lunar orbiter, all alone for almost 22 hours, because he knew he’d have more time to read picture books! “I heard the moon was pretty boring,” Collins explained in an interview. 

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.5: A long-lost Bugs Bunny episode was recently turned up in the dusty basement vaults of Warner Bros animation studios. Awkwardly titled “No Strangers Here, Only Martians We’ve Never Met,” this cartoon short features Marvin the Martian and Bugs Bunny sitting around reading The Space Walk together for ten minutes before hugging and walking off camera. Why it was canned, no one knows. 

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.6: Astronauts Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, and the lesser-known Randolph Witherspoon. The Right Stuff indeed.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.7: In 1957, as the story goes, an alien invasion was averted when “Bezos” and “Zebos,” The Saucer Men, were gifted a copy of The Space Walk. The story of a human astronaut befriending a space robot alien touched a nerve, a very large green nerve to be precise, and the Saucer Men called off the attack. In 1994, “Bezos” returned to earth and founded the famous website as a gift to all humans.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.8: On Friday, October 18, 2019, Jessica Meir and Christina Koch ventured outside the International Space Station to replace a power controller. This spacewalk was the first ever to be performed by an all-female crew. “Repairing power controllers is boring, so I read a book while Jessica wasn’t looking, LOL.” said Koch. Both actual astronauts described The Space Walk as being “highly realistic” in its portrayal of lone astronaut Randolph Witherspoon and his adventures in space. “The part where Randolph has to do a ton of work before getting to go outside reminded me of an hour earlier when I was back in the space station, doing chores.” said Meir.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.9: Previously unseen still image from The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951. In the original cut of this sci-fi classic from 20th Century Fox, Klaatu, the alien, seen here with his robot-guard Gort, claims to come “in peace and with good will” and would like to give a copy of this picture book, The Space Walk, to the President of the United States. This scene was re-cut by director Robert Wise when it was realized that the book was not even published yet, and would not be for almost 70 years.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.10: This scene of total bedlam was taken March 9, 1968 at Mission Control in Houston, Texas, as Astronaut Randolph Witherspoon returned from his Space Walk in time to write his report and eat his dinner. “Spacewalk complete! When can I go out again?” was the first recorded message from Witherspoon after his extra-vehicular activity (EVA).

He went out again the very next day.

Friday, September 20th, 2019

The Space Walk is my new book, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Kids, and will be out on October 29. I made this animated trailer to promote the book, and I hope you like it.

Animation was done in After Effects, editing in Premiere. Narration was kindly provided by Milo Biggs. Noises and music is by my alter-ego, Dance Robot Dance.

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Ten years ago I made a series of six race car collages that screwed up my brain. See, I draw. I’ve always drawn. The idea of making images with cut paper seemed so foreign, and making these race cars was so crazy fun and weird and maybe 10% scary. It’s not digital, there is no undo, and it’s like trying to learn to communicate effectively in a different language. I know how a car looks when I draw it, but how does it look if I make it with paper and glue?

Mainly, I loved the process and I couldn’t wait to do more. But somehow ten years and about 35 books went by and I only periodically messed around with the technique. I have stayed in touch with collage, from afar. My friend Kevin Mercer makes lovely work, and I’ve read a bunch of books and seen some exhibits while I waited for the opportunity.

Well, waiting for opportunities is dumb. You don’t wait for them, you make them. So after finishing a picture book a few weeks ago, I blocked some time and got to work. The excuse here is an alphabet book I want to pitch, and these are practice images. Both are cut paper on pine boards. One is 10×10 inches and the other is 12×12. Both utilize magazines, comics, scanned images from an old plumbing and heating manual, and other printed ephemera. And the enjoyment has not slipped away. This is fun stuff and I can’t wait to make more.

Here are some process photos of how these things come together. The two pictures of the book are from “Audels House Heating Guide 1948” which was used for the robot parts in the rear of the blue truck, as well as the rear of the truck itself.

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

I just found an interview on NPR with Lynn Brunelle, the author of a book I illustrated called CAMP OUT! I’ve always loved this book and I still find it in stores. Take a listen and get the book, then get outside this summer!

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Hey, I’m a Mail carrier, the 8th book in the Tinyville Town series came out two weeks ago. I stopped by the local USPS and gave a copy to Rita, who has worked there forever and was one of the inspirations for the character of Rita in the book. Also, I dropped by the local fire station, Engine 30, and gave Lieutenant Tony Knighton a copy of I’m a Firefighter. I’d been meaning to do this for a while now, and the perfect chance came up when I also needed to take some pictures for the next Tinyville Town book, called At the Firehouse, which will be out in Spring 2019.

Thanks Rita, and thanks Tony!

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.