Recently I was able to meet one of my favorite childhood writer-illustrators: Rosemary Wells. I remember loving her bunnies and their escapades. I was nearly speechless upon meeting her in my own state. And she brought her art work with her to share with us Alaskans (who don’t always get to see these kinds of things up here). “Pick it up,” she kept saying. “Turn it in the right light so you can see the details.” She was willing to let me touch her original art in their glass frames! And that was just the tip of the iceberg. She was SO giving.She toured around the state with her art so that kids everywhere in the state could see it. She shared her art techniques in detail! She came to my Title 1 school and talked to our parents and kids about the importance of reading. She was singing my heart’s song at every turn.
I’m going to share some of the shoddy pictures I took at her first event here. She was wearing an amazing scarf (from Paris) the first night I met her and I had to take her picture wearing it. She was baffled as to why, but she let me take the picture and she smiled. I thought to myself, “THIS is an artist. THAT is something an artist would wear.” I don’t know why I thought that. I’ve seen plenty of artists and they all wear different things. But for some reason, I saw that scarf and I marveled. Perhaps it was the child in me, marveling at meeting a hero.
And the awestruck kid didn’t stop marveling there. I held her work in my hands and was stunned at what I saw. I asked her questions about technique (as my husband and I guessed at what she had done in a few of them) and she answered every one. Before we get to the interview, let me share just a few of my joys of reveling in her work with you.
There was her work, framed beautifully on a stage, and she said, “Come up and look closer at it.” I was the first that dared to climb those steps and really look.
Me: “Did you glue these pieces down first and then cut them out? Or did you cut each piece out by hand before you put it down?”
Her: “Oh no, I cut them by hand. This is origami paper.”
This was one of my favorites. REAL rocks! I never would have thought to use that in a picture book illustration. She did. As well as a LOT of other textures (rice, cheerios, etc.). Her many textures and how she achieved them were one of the many highlights of the evening.
My husband and I debated over that curtain. He thought she had put material over the window. I wondered if she’d hand painted those exquisite lines. I asked. She had hand painted the curtains! I marveled once again that she must have a steady hand! “I do,” she said. “The steadiest.”
Rosemary Wells has written and illustrated books for 45 years and her many animal characters have won the hearts of children everywhere for decades. If you haven’t met her in person, you’re missing out! BUT you can learn more about her at her website. She is stopping by my blog today to discuss her latest stunning picture book “Hand in Hand.
Me: You have been writing and illustrating your own picture books for 45 years. Although I know you also write board books and chapter books, you seem to keep coming back to picture books. What is it that continues to draw you to creating picture books specifically instead of any other genre?
Rosemary: I do it well and have many books come to me through the air. A novel can take three years. I try to get to them but other stories come in the way. I still have young grandchildren so I’ll use that while I can.
Me: Your animal characters have earned a permanent spot in the hearts of children everywhere. One of my personal favorite books of your’s is “Morris’s Disappearing Bag” published in 1978. How do you keep coming up with fresh ideas or stories for these characters after 45 years?
Rosemary: This is a question that bedevils prolific authors. I just don’t know. Its what I do. Ideas don’t so much come as they are discovered in many aspects of life.
The child who opens her mouth and sings when she is eight and has a voice as stunning as any Broadway star or opera singers’ just goes ahead and sings and takes lessons and works hard and takes chances and makes it her life. She is lucky or not. But she never questions how or why or where that voice came from. Its just there. It’s my job to have ideas worthy of books. So I do it.
Me: Your latest book “Hand in Hand” has absolutely gorgeous art work. It’s the same style and characters you’ve become known for, but it also reaches deeper into new territory with pointillism. It’s not the first book you’ve made in this style, but it’s definitely the strongest work of your’s in that style so far (in my humble opinion). It’s stunning! What made you want to try that style of art?
Rosemary: It is actually the first work of pointillism I have done. I fell in love with the work of Paul Signac, the great French impressionist when I was last in Paris. I have advanced this technique in a new book for Candlewick called, “Sleep My Bunny.” In pastels this time.
Me: Oh my goodness. That’s something I look forward to seeing! I’ve heard you read “Hand in Hand” out loud and I don’t know that I realized it was in rhyme until I heard the rhythm you gave it. That surprised me. Usually I know when a book is in rhyme from the get go! It’s SO subtle here! I know you’ve written books both with and without rhyme. Do you prefer to write in rhyme or without it?
Rosemary: All books are different. Some stories need rhyme and others don’t. I have no preference. The words fall on my page in the right way or the wrong way and if its wrong I know and I give it time and correct it.
Me: “Hand in Hand” is a beautiful invocation from a child to a parent. It’s stunning in that perspective and I don’t think it’s been done before. It can be read just on that level alone, but after recently hearing you speak I know that it is also a passionate plea of your own to parents everywhere. Can you talk about that a little bit? Can you tell your fans about why it’s important to read to children?
Rosemary: If you read every day, 20 minutes to your baby through the first five years you will do more to give that child the brain growth he or she needs for the rest of life. This is proven beyond doubt by massive studies in all top universities. Reading aloud should not be the privilege of the well off, prosperous family. It should be the birthright of every child. It’s the great unspoken leveler of the playing field in kindergarten between haves and have nots and in this intemperate America we need more leaders (readers) and fewer followers (non-readers).
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing “Hand in Hand”?
Rosemary: The ease with which the poem occurred all at once.
Me: Any advice for aspiring picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Rosemary: Join your local chapter of the SCBWI, i.e., The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. If you have a unique book, which is the book only you can write and you write well then you will have a good chance of being discovered because the SCBWI makes this happen.
Thank you Rosemary. This was a pure delight. Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to read this book, you really must track it down. The art work is breath taking and I didn’t even show you the best bits! Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.