Today I get to bring you another interview duo with both author and illustrator. “Alice’s Magic Garden” written by Henry Herz and illustrated by Natalie Hoopes is a delightful prequel to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
Henry Herz has stopped by my blog to discuss some of his other picture books a few times before. I was even delighted to meet him in person last summer at the LA SCBWI conference. Besides “Alice’s Magic Garden,” he has two more picture books coming out this year and two more coming out next year. You can learn more about him at his website.
“Alice’s Magic Garden” tells the story of a young Alice at a very boring boarding school. She feels lonely and sad, especially as some of the other girls pick on her. BUT she escapes to the garden and feels wonderfully at peace. Her heart and soul blossom just as the flowers do under her touch.
Welcome back Henry!
Me: Here is another wonderful picture book inspired by a great piece of literature (i.e., “Alice in Wonderland”). Was this a favorite book growing up? Did you read it to your own children regularly?
Henry: That is a great question, because my answer is embarrassing. I did NOT read it as a child. I first experienced Carroll in a freshman English class at college. Keep in mind, I am a dyed-in-the-wool Tolkien fan. I love background details and appreciate internally consistent character motivations and actions. I’m afraid that Alice in Wonderland read to me then as partially coherent hallucinations. So, I didn’t share it with my kids when they were little.
Now, that isn’t to say Carroll wasn’t immensely talented. Consider the wonderful made-up language of The Jabberwocky. And check out the gorgeous heartfelt language of his final paragraph from that book:
“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long-ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”
Me: Alice as a character before Wonderland has not been explored in great detail before (to my knowledge). Here she seems very lonely, a tad isolated, and perhaps even a bit bullied. It feels absolutely true, for what I imagine Alice’s past before Wonderland to be. Did you develop this from the original text? Or was this idea wholly your own? Where did the idea for this story come from?
Henry: You’re making me reveal all my secrets! I did not base my story on Alice, at first. The original inspiration for ALICE’S MAGIC GARDEN was actually the Caldecott-winning A SICK DAY FOR AMOS McGEE by Philip and Erin Stead. My idea was to have a lonely little girl (Rosie) care for the plants and creatures in her backyard. Her love transforms (or reveals) some of the mundane critters as fae – a dragonfly would transform into a tiny dragon, etc. Then the fae care for Rosie when she gets sick.
The credit goes to my Familius editor, David Miles, who initially suggested a Victorian setting to lend a dreamier feel to the story. That’s when I renamed the protagonist to Alice, and changed the fae to match characters from Alice in Wonderland. David then encouraged me to create further parallels, and down the rabbit hole I went.
Me: Ha! Rabbit Hole. Nice. I love Familius’ mantra to publish books and other content to help families be happy. How did you first hear of them?
Henry: Research. I like to keep my finger on the pulse of the KidLit industry. When I see book release announcements, I check the publisher. If it’s one I haven’t heard of, then I check out their website and the books they’ve produced. Familius’s mantra of helping families certainly added to their appeal when I considered submitting to them.
Me: I love all of the allusions to the original story hidden within the book. What gave you the idea of including some of those in your author’s note? Any favorites?
Henry: I always like to include author’s notes offering something of interest to educators, parents, and kids who want to learn more about some element of my stories. With my book HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS, I included a non-fiction author’s not about, you guessed it, squid. For readers of ALICE, I thought it would be nice to point out the various written or illustrated references to Carroll’s work as a way to spark interest in reading a classic. And even adults who have read Carroll might not catch every reference.
I’d say my two favorites are the blue caterpillar (who always reminds me of Jefferson Airplane’s song, White Rabbit), and the vanishing cat, an homage to the Cheshire Cat.
Me: The illustrations by Natalie Hoopes are stunningly beautiful. Were you able to communicate with the illustrator like you were in the past? Were there any illustration surprises?
Henry: Yes, Natalie’s art style really suits this story. But I did not communicate with her directly during creation of the illustrations. I had a few illustrator notes in my manuscript. The editor provided her with art direction. You might be interested to learn that Natalie’s work is all done by hand – no software at all. I was given an opportunity to provide feedback on the sketches and later on the full-color work. I agree that the end result turned out great.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Henry: As mentioned, I hadn’t read the original in quite some time. Once the decision was reached to include references to Carroll’s work, I re-read it. I discovered that a) I’ve grown more tolerant of silliness as a reader, and b) I had forgotten how emotionally he could write (see my first answer above).
Me: I know most of your other books stem from subjects you are passionate about. Are you also a gardener? Are there any favorite gardens you have visited?
Henry: Another great question. You’re on fire! I am a gardener. We have a large yard, so I spend time planting, trimming, and irrigating succulents, bushes, and trees. For no reason I can explain, I’ve always felt a profound connection to trees. I’m also amazed to this day how you can cut a piece off a succulent, plant it, and it will grow into a new plant. What strange magic is that? I find it very relaxing to putter in the yard. And with gardening (unlike writing), there can be immediate gratification from one’s labors – hey, look at how neat and even the trimmed bougainvillea look now!
It’s true! Or at least I’ve heard that it’s true. I’m not a gardener myself. It is not within my DNA. I often joke that I have a black thumb. I’ve even killed a cactus without trying. =( I enjoy the results of others’ efforts though!
And perhaps, dear readers, you’ve already guessed that I fell madly in love with the illustrator’s work because of this book. I aspire to make watercolors as beautiful and haunting as Natalie’s work someday! The garden spreads in this book alone are jaw droppingly beautiful.
Natalie Hoopes is an illustrator and an artist. She has illustrated a few independently published books, and created cards and other art items for sale in her Etsy shop. You can learn more at her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram to see more of her work. I personally adore her mermaids (but that should be no surprise!). She had a painting of a regency merlady that has stuck in my mind ever since! BUT I digress!!
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing or creating?
Natalie: I’ve pretty much always made art! I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing or writing something in a little notebook. And I’ve always had a great love of traditionally illustrated picture books like “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Frog and Toad Are Friends” or anything by Beatrix Potter. I eventually realized that somebody out there was making money creating and illustrating stories so why couldn’t I try it?
Me: I absolutely LOVE your work! What medium do you work in? What does your illustration process look like?
Natalie: Thank you! I typically work in pen and watercolor/acrylic, though I also dabble in digital art. When I get a large project, I’ll usually spend some time sketching and brainstorming ideas before starting on the final. Then I’ll start with a light pencil drawing on illustration board before adding a layer or two of paint. After that I just sort of go back and forth between adding another layer of paint or more line work. The tricky part is knowing when to stop. I don’t like when artwork is too cluttered so sometimes I’ll put an unfinished project aside and work on another project for a bit. Then I’ll go back to the original project with fresh eyes.
Me: “Alice’s Magic Garden” isn’t the first book you’ve illustrated. What got you involved in projects like “Be Inspired” and “book”?
Natalie: I did an internship with Familius during my last semester of college and then later asked them if they needed an illustrator for any projects. Happily, they needed an illustrator for “Book” and voilà!
Me: I love the work you did in “Alice’s Magic Garden.” The opening grey scenes are wonderfully dull in palette (and yet not in subject!), which makes the first few scenes in the garden feel SO lush! It reminded me of the classic movie version of “The Secret Garden” made in 1949. What made you decide to continue the grey vs. color palette throughout the whole story? Did you have a favorite scene that you illustrated for this book?
Natalie: I love that movie! The grey scenes were actually Henry’s idea. I think he wanted to provide a pretty stark contrast between the oppressive and unhappy environment of the boarding school and the warm, inviting world of the garden. I really liked the story because it reminded me of “The Secret Garden” as well. I think my favorite illustration by far was the one where Alice is dancing happily in the garden. I loved painting all the flowers!
Me: That is one of my favorite scenes in the book as well! What is one thing that surprised you in illustrating this story?
Natalie: How tricky it can be to work with so much greenery! Plants are fun for me to paint and work with but it can be hard to get the colors exactly right, especially in such large quantities. And it was actually more challenging to work in greyscale than I though it would be!
Me: Any advice for other picture book illustrators just starting out?
Natalie: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! Keep sending your portfolio to art directors or publishers (according to their submission guidelines, of course!), email other artists, get involved in an online art community, etc. There is a lot to learn by simply participating. And draw something every day! Even if it’s only a simple sketch, devote a little time every day to work on your art. You won’t make any masterpieces overnight, but you will create great art simply by doing it over and over again.
Me: Do you have any future projects planned?
Natalie: I’m working on some textile designs and I have a handful of picture book dummies that I’m assembling at the moment. Mostly involving monsters, witches and mermaids!
YES! Mermaids! I will be keeping an eye out for that one! Thank you Natalie and Henry for stopping by my blog today. And dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to read this one yet, you simply must find a copy! It’s a great read with beautiful visuals!