Thursday, December 23, 2010

RRH Spreads 1 & 2

Yay! I finished the first two of seven double page interior spreads for the Red Riding Hood book. Only five more to go! 

This publisher is VERY particular in the layout and compositions of each piece (they literally sent me very specific sketches for each page!), thus there's been very little room for my own imagination. That being said, to enjoy working within these creative limitations, I've shifted my focus to stylistic elements like texture, color, pattern, spacial value contrast, and my stylization of people. 

So while I do not see this project as particularly challenging of my compositional storytelling abilities, with any project there is still much that can be learned in terms of style and technique. And practice for the sake of practice is always advantageous to the development of my work. It's been a nice experience so far, and I'm having a good time-- which is the most important part----right??



Monday, December 20, 2010

Little Red

Finally finished the cover art for the Red Riding Hood story book I'm working on. One of the more enjoyable pieces I've worked on so far....not sure why exactly--maybe it's just because it was virtually hassle free. I'm awaiting feedback from the publisher but hopefully there won't be too many major tweaks.

Now it's on to the remaining seven double page spreads...due in the second week of January. RALLY!



Friday, December 17, 2010

It's a Brick-HOOOOOOUSE!



Voila! Here is the shiny new final art for the cover of a classic children's stories treasury for Publications International. I worked with them on a Fairy Tale treasury cover back in 2009 and I'm thrilled to work with them again. Hoping they like it as much as I enjoyed painting it. I think I used all my favorite colors in this one.

PHEW.
I've got a ton going on right now so it feels great to be able to finally check something off my freelance-to do list. Next week it's back to work on Red Riding Hood, American portraits, and some new educational projects.

I haven't been this busy with art since RISD. Feels kinda good...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Even amidst all the work I have on my plate at the moment, I took some time last week to make a little something for my mom's surprise 50th birthday party this past Saturday (her real birthday is the 31st). I didn't know exactly what I wanted to give her, but I spent a while reading quotes about mothers and came across one that I found particularly compelling. It inspired the accompanying drawing, a symbolic illustration meant to represent my mom and I.

When I was little I simply could not have imagined myself ever growing up and moving away from her. Now at 26, I live with my husband two hours from my parents (too far for my liking but hopefully this will change in the near future). But no matter how far I may live from my mom, I know that part of me will always be right there by her side. She's my best friend, and I am so thankful to have her in my life.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Makin' History and the Importance of Good Posture

Hi all--Happy December! I can't believe how fast November went. Time flies when you're loving life!
I'm finally getting back in the swing of the famous Americans project I'm working on. Below should be the last of the pencil portraits. Once they get some color treatment I'll be moving on to the second portion of the project which will feature each historical figure in a respective illustrated scene from their life.



In the mean time, I'm still plugging away at the Red Riding Hood book and am trying to stay on schedule so I can get the finals done in 5 weeks time. The cover is still in progress but here is a sneak peak:

While I work on that, I'm also continuing to work on the three little pigs cover I started a few months ago which is due in January.

So big YAY for even having multiple projects to balance--I'm really truly thankful to have some work to keep me going through the start of winter. :)

* * * * *
In other news, life working at a desk all day has been taking a bit of a toll on me the last few months (way to go Courtney and your terrible posture!!) What began as lower back pain in August has since evolved into mid and upper back, neck, and most recently, tremendous hip pain. It has been debilitating at times, making it difficult to stand up straight, walk any decent length, and even get a decent night's sleep. Going to the chiropractor hasn't done much yet---but I'm working on it. I've even gone so far as to purchase a brand new ($4,000!?!?!?!) Tempur-Pedic mattress in hopes that the extra back support will alleviate the symptoms over time. Thankfully the anti-inflammatory medicine is working some magic right now or I wouldn't be typing any of this.

The point of me mentioning this is not to share my personal problems with you all, but to bring awareness to the harmful effects of non-ergonomic sitting/work habits and the importance of practicing good posture, especially for artists who, like me, either sit at a drafting table or computer all day. I'm only 26 but everything is catching up with me now. I'm wishing I could go back to the days when I felt no pain at all, and I'm kicking myself for not appreciating how good I had it then. Life can change so quickly...but I'm staying positive, taking responsibility, and hoping for the best.

"I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act." -Buddha

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Keeping Busy


Phew. After several months without any professional projects to keep me busy, I now find myself smack in the middle of two great but very different illustration jobs; one, a retelling of Red Riding Hood, the other an educational project on 13 famous Americans.

Going back and forth between the two is proving not only enjoyable but quite welcome stimulation. I work on one for a bit, then a bit on the other, which is keeping me well-paced and my attention span fully intact. I think it's rather ideal to have at least two projects at any given moment, assuming of course that the deadlines are manageable enough to keep your sanity. It's also great exercise for the brain to go between two types of creative tasks.

For the first time since leaving my job in June, I'm finally feeling purposeful again. Doing work for oneself has its positives, but I personally feel much more fulfilled when working for someone else, knowing the challenges (aka the needs of the assignment) and coming up with the solutions (aka the art) is what makes being an illustrator so fun to me. If I can keep myself going with a few great projects a year, I will be a very happy person indeed.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

KidBook Nook Update


Read my review of The Chiru of High Tibet by Jacqueline Briggs Martin on my kidlit review blog: KidBookNook.com.

An inspiring and beautifully illustrated book about the Tibetan Chiru and their struggle for survival.

Monday, November 8, 2010

KidBook Nook Update



Read my review of Palazzo Inverso by D.B. Johnson on my kidlit review blog: KidBookNook.com

A beautiful, M.C. Escher-inspired picture book with an innovative storytelling twist. Very unique!

Friday, November 5, 2010

KidBook Nook Update


Read my review of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins on my kidlit review blog: KidBookNook.com

This series has quickly taken its place high atop the list of my favorite young adult books. So well-written and so addictive! Don't miss them.

Friday, October 29, 2010

From Story to Book in 10 Easy Steps

Surprisingly, many authors new to the publishing industry who approach me about illustrating their book don't know the first thing about how the publishing process actually works. In attempts to demystify these things a bit, I've put together this quick 10-step list of how a story (essentially) becomes a published picture book.

1. Author writes a story.
2. Author probably gets a literary agent* (many publishers don't accept unsolicited or unagented manuscripts).
3. Author or author's agent submits manuscript to appropriate publishing companies (one at a time--publishers don't like it when they aren't looking at a manuscript exclusively).
4. Editor at publishing company reads the manuscript.
5. If both the editor and the editorial director like the manuscript, it goes into an acquisitions meeting where its sales and marketing potential is discussed.  (If the publisher is interested enough, the editor might request revisions to the manuscript prior to the acquisitions meeting. If not, it gets rejected and returned to the author or agent to be sent to the next publisher.)
6. The publisher will then either turn down or approve the manuscript and offer the author a contract. 
7. The manuscript will then be finalized by the author and editors, and move into the book development stage.
8. The editor and art director will select an appropriate illustrator.
9. The illustrator will have a pre-determined length of time to complete the book art. (Usually 4 months to a year for a 32-page picture book, less under unusual circumstances).
10. The art department finalizes the look and layout of the book, and it goes to print.

From start to finish, this process can take months if not years before seeing the finished book on the self at the bookstore.

*In the case that the author and illustrator are the same person, the illustrator does not always need to have a separate literary specific agent to submit their picture book. If an illustrator has previously been published, that publisher may automatically wish to see any of that illustrators future manuscripts. Publishers know and welcome the benefit of the same author/illustrator combination. Not only is it easier to work with one person than two, it also typically results in a very cohesive story and successful final product.



For more information including the author's role in children's publishing, visit my page: Courtney's Guide to Publishing.

For a list of informative children's publishing links, visit my Publishing Resources Page.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The New & Improved SlumberlandStudio.com

I'm tremendously excited to announce that my website, Slumberland Studio,  has undergone some reconstructive surgery and is looking all the better for it! Thanks entirely to my fabulously smart and supportive husband who helped me code and optimize its functionality. What would I do without him?!?!?


All of the links to the right will bring you to the corresponding pages of my site, making for an easy transition from blog to portfolio. (This pleases me greatly!)

I'm looking forward to developing some fun content overtime and segueing into more consistent site updates. Now that I have the new site, I want to fill it with new work! It's a great motivational tool ;)

Well, that's all for now! I hope you enjoy the new look!

The new & improved SlumberlandStudio.com!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Jeepers, it's been a while since I posted on here. Shame on me for neglecting my art with a trip to San Francisco, a week being sick, redesigning my website,  reading almost all 3 Hunger Games books in a few days, and generally procrastinating in the form of cleaning and organizing my apartment from top to bottom. Not that those aren't all decent ways to spend my time, but it does clearly leave little time for creative endeavors.

Which brings me to today's piece, an illustration I created as part of the Halloween-themed promotion my agent will be sending out on Monday. I had every intention of participating in the promo but somehow I just couldn't find an angle that really appealed to me. Halloween is one of my favorite times, because it's just so inherently bizarre. And I love Halloween imagery but tried to stop myself from creating what could easily become some piece of Halloween stock art. I may now go ahead and do one of those pieces as well, but for the promo I wanted to at least attempt to create a more particular scene.

Lately I've really been unsatisfied with my process. I'm definitely working both too quickly and yet not fast enough. Giving myself only one day for idea and execution should be beneficial in that it forces me to work less preciously on my art. But at the same time, I keep over-working my illustrations. Freshness and spontaneity continue to elude me. Part of me wishes this piece was just the sketch and the real one could be repainted based on it--maybe even with traditional media. I miss painting for real. Digital has its place but lately it just hasn't been fulfilling my enjoyment of creating...

Anyway, here's "Pirate Loot," kid-Courtney's idea of the best part about Halloween: THE CANDY! I remember how exciting it was to feel that pillow case get heavier and heavier throughout the night. Imagine if I could have gone to every house in my town! Oh the amazing, delicious, bizareness of a holiday that encourages taking candy from strangers!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

KidBook Nook

Hi guys,

I wanted to let you all know that I've started a new blog exclusively for my reviews of children's books. "KidBook Nook" will highlight a broad range of the best books for children with brief but thorough breakdowns of each book's story, writing, illustrations, and value not only to children, but to the adults who read them, too.

Up until now I've been posting my reviews periodically on this blog, but it's been decided that I will relocate my previously posted "I Love KidLit" reviews and no longer post them on this (my art) blog. My husband Adam and I will be running the new book blog together, sharing our thoughts on the books we admire. I'm looking forward to producing content more frequently and treating blogging as a more serious endeavor.

As an illustrator, I'm generally very selective of the books I purchase for my library, but I am also highly critical of the writing and overall presentation of the books. So I like to think that I have relatively high standards and that the books I own are those worth sharing. Whether you love books as much as I do, or want to provide yourself (or your children) with high quality book experiences, I hope you'll join me in the conversation!

Courtney & Adam's KidBook Nook Blog: www.kidbooknook.com

Monday, September 27, 2010

Eric Carle Museum


This weekend was my "golden" birthday as I turned 26 years old on the 26th of September. My husband and I kicked off the celebration with a trip to Amherst MA for our second Eric Carle Museum visit.



We were able to FINALLY see the stellar Lisbeth Zwerger exhibit which ended on Sunday. I have always admired her work and own several of her books, but I was more than impressed with how absolutely precious her work is in person. And after seeing them I feel that none of her books have adequately captured the subtleties in color and tone of her work. It was a treasure to see them in real life, in all their wonderful whimsy.

These were a few of my favorites in person:

After we took our time in the exhibit, we made our way into the gift shop, chock full of everybook you could want. We knew we were going to go a little crazy with our purchases, but it's not everyday you see so many high caliber children's books in one place. And, as it was my birthday after all, we shopped til we dropped and have no buyer's remorse whatsoever. We see our book collection as an investment not only in a library that inspires us to create and pursue our dreams, but one that will eventually and inevitably influence our children as well. And that we can not put a price on.

And the icing on the cake was that at 1pm there was a brief lecture given by Maria Tatar, professor of folklore and mythology at Harvard. I'm still in the middle of reading her fascinating book, Enchanted Hunters, so her talk "Little Red Riding Hood from Fireside to Kindle" couldn't have been more perfectly timed. It was an interesting examination of the iterations and permutations of the fairy tale and it's place in our culture. After the talk ended, we made our way back to the book shop to buy her other books and were also able to get them signed.

Trunk full of literary loot, we left the museum grinning ear to ear. Books sure do make us happy.

Family Pet


This piece was created for the prompt "Family Pet," intended to be a simple vignette featuring a cat-hugging girl. The cat shown here is actually my cat Griffin, a lovable little muffin I rescued from the humane society last November. He's brought a lot of happiness to my husband and I, so I thought him to be the perfect character for this piece.

This illustration has inspired a full story to go along with it, which is just in the begining stages at this point. But writing it should keep me busy for a while. I'm excited. It's the first story idea I've had in a long time, and I think it may have potential. :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Love Kidlit: Flotsam

I recently took a couple of days to archive all of the books my husband and I have accumulated over the past 5 years. Having a library that is growing exponentially is great, but it can be problematic now that we've reached the point of not actually knowing what books we already own. I'm using Librarything.com (our user name is MartinPeckBooks) and so far I love it. It's very easy to sort, search, browse, categorize, add wishlist books, share our library, and I can even export the whole library as a spreadsheet. It was quite an undertaking to record all 1175+ books but it really needed to happen. Having all of our books cataloged is a tremendous asset---I'm thrilled to have finally done it!
Ok. So back to the matter at hand. Today's installment of I Love Kidlit. I've selected Flotsam, the Caldecott winning instant classic from David Wiesner. A genius of the wordless narrative, Wiesner's picturebooks capture and indulge in the pure fantastic capabilities of illustration. His proclivity for telling rich stories within stories comes from a superior level of the creative mind I myself can only dream of.

Not to mention this book is full of so many things that I love. Old cameras, vintage photographs, traveling back in time. A story that starts in reality and quickly transforms into a journey through whimsical tableaus of the impossible, only to come back right where we started and full of potential for countless more untold stories. It's everything you could hope for out of a purely pictorial voyage. I know that it's definitely a book I would have embraced as a child, likely spinning my own drawings and imaginings from where his left off. That is a magical quality that I wish more books had. To feel as if the book goes on even after the cover is closed.

As always, Wiesner's images are beautifully executed, and fish and animals landscapes and artifacts are clearly his strength. As I love his work, I do think his people and faces fall a bit short of perfection. His child faces tend to be a bit wonky, his bodies and expressions a bit stiff. To me, it seems as if he's much more interested in drawing everything else.

But overall, I think that we could all aspire to be as imaginative and well crafted as Mr. Wiesner. Although I've never done much in the way of sequential wordless imagery, this book makes me want to try it. There's so much to learn and this book is a great piece of inspiration.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Enchanted Reading Part 1.


I recently began reading Maria Tatar's "Enchanted Hunters" a facinating examination of the power of stories in childhood. I'm only about 1/3 of the way through but already feel my understanding of children's literature getting sharper.

So much of what Tatar covers in this book would seem obvious and yet it boggles my mind that no one has yet put it in such well crafted, straightforward, and comprehensive way as she does here. She discuss the evolution from familial hearth-oriented storytelling to bedtime reading to children, which on its own is an interesting topic. She makes many interesting points that in modern times, bedtime reading is essentially a conflict zone between parent and child (parent wanting child to go to sleep, child roused by the stories being told), rather than the sweet, nostalgic and idealized vision we have of story time being a period of quality bonding between parent and child. Beyond that, she also examines the irony between the origin of bedtime stories (many intended to frighten the child into obedience, i.e. The Sandman) and the modern genre of bedtime picture books aimed at lulling a child to sleep (in a word, BORING!).

She goes on to stress that many children will passively endure stories that end with "and now it's time for bed," but that what children really crave are stories of adventure, beauty, intrigue, and peril. It's so obvious to me now. Bedtime books exist because parents WILL buy them, NOT because children actually want to read them. This is the case for many genres of children's books. Up until now I had been feeling overwhelmed at the vastness of the field of kidlit, but now it's more apparent to me that within kidlit is an entire sub section of "adult kidlit", books supposedly aimed at children but actually created out of a nostaligia of an adult perspective on childhood, rather than one sincerely intended for childhood appeal.

This is the key to everything to me. I do NOT want to be a poser of a children's illustrator. I want to aspire to connect directly with children rather than some IDEA of what children should like. Think about it: as children, we are captivated by stories that give us that perfect balance of both beauty AND horror (traditional fairy tales, Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, etc). I for one can absolutely remember the types of books I couldn't get enough of: ANYTHING by R.L. Stine!

I plowed through the Goosebump Series all through elementary school. I could not satiate my desire to live in a world where children were constantly at the mercy of their own courage to face dark and terrible things without the aid of adults. To little Courtney, that was as far from reality as it got! I was so close to my family and knew they'd always be there to save me, that the very thought of being alone drew me to those types of stories. I could escape into the pages of R.L. Stine and live in a world that horrified and mesmerized me, all from the comfort and safety of the living room couch.

Even as a child I remember being so THANKFUL that Mr. Stine was AWESOME enough to write those books for us kids---it was like he was saying to us. "Hey, you might be kids, but I know you can handle it." I respected him for respecting us. I didn't want boring, dumbed-down, cutesy and condescending stories---I wanted risk, and the promise that there was no promise of a happy ending. Because even at a young age, I knew that was the harshness of life.

Those early reading experiences were fundamental to me. They really allowed me to escape and become part of worlds unlike my own. And now as an adult, I must NEVER forget that. As an illustrator (and maybe even author someday) I will not let myself forget WHO I am really making my work for. If I go too far in the way of nostalgia I am almost guaranteed to fail in the ways I care most about.

Imagine a world where the authors of our beloved stories didn't give children enough credit. A world where Red Riding Hood faces a fluffy bunny and Voldemort is as threatening as a ladybug. The potency of childhood stories hinges on the tension of radiant good challenged by ultimate evil. To have one, you must have the other. Children feel that truth deep down and connect to stories that allow them to explore that theme time and time again.

Reading is a magical experience for us as adults because it allows us to escape into a life and world somehow different from our own. Imagine then, how doubly powerful that same escape can be for a child who is inherently powerless in their own world on a daily basis. It is thus that much MORE of a necessity for a young mind to experience strong stories that engage their imagination and indulge their fantasy and fascination with the dark and light.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Caring For Turtles


Call me crazy but all this creative freedom lately has been scaring me to the point of unproductivity. That is to say approaching illustration saying "what do I want to draw?" has made me stop drawing altogether. I can't stay focused on one thing because I don't know if it's what I SHOULD be doing or if it's just a temporary whim.

So what I decided to do instead was tackle the deep fears haunting me everyday. Fear of having to draw something I actually DON'T want to draw.

I have always avoided illustrating typical children's book subject matters like kids and school. Real life topics like that just don't get my heart pumping. So that's exactly what I made myself work on these past two days. Originally prompted with a "Back to School" theme from my agent, what began as a couple kids on a bus became this.

I discovered a lot about myself in this process:

1. No subject is scary as long as you can find an angle that provides personal enjoyment. Whether it's the actual subject or just the color palette I choose to work with, there can always be some element that can be fun.

2. Working with a chalk brush in photoshop is helpful for me to crisp edges, simplify shapes and colors, and hone in on my emerging style. Don't neglect this brush again, Courtney!

3. I don't have to feel stupid for not knowing how a piece is going to turn out at the begining. My art is an evolving process and as long as I get to the finish at some point, I should just enjoy the magical ride of creativity along the way.

4. When creating work on my own initiative, I inevitably create some small sliver of a story in my mind to go along with the image. I am a storyteller somewhere deep down, I just haven't unlocked it yet. Writing my story ideas could lead me to good things. I need to stop being afraid to be a writer, because singular images alone will never satisfy me...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stargazer

Well, It took me much longer than expected yet again. But at least it's done! Shown with and without proposed text.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Cover Sketch


The sketch for a quick piece I'm hoping to have done for tomorrow...It's an imaginary bookcover illustration for my imaginary middle grade fantasy novel...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bug Summer


I finally finished this piece I've been working on for over a week. I really can not justify taking so long on one illustration...I'm soooo slowwwww. Working digitally should really go faster and I know it was because of a lack of focus on my part. But anyway...this illustration was for the prompt "Having Summer Fun." I decided to to a piece inspired by my childhood with my sisters, both of whom have always been my best friends. I even incorporated the puppy version of one of our family dogs and the house I grew up in. Oh, the memories.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Love Kidlit: Old Coyote


It's been a busy week for me (my husband had a week and a half off in between starting a new job) so I've basically been on vacation as well. I've neglected my blog but I decided to jump on to post a brief installment about another of my favorite books.

Today's feature is Old Coyote illustrated by Max Grafe. This is a perfect example of one of my favorite types of picturebooks---elegant, sophisticated, and emotionally compelling.

Max Grafe's work is often printmaking related, an influence that comes through in his mixed media illustrations that recall the unexpected textures inherent in mono prints. The subdued color palette and simple compositions add a sensitivity to what is ultimately a story about the harmonic cycle of life and death. It's a heavy theme here given delicate lightness and grace. The writing is poetic and dignified and the whole book experience is perfectly paced, quietly moving from begining to end. But beware...it may leave you a bit bleary eyed...in a good way.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I Love Kidlit: The Arrival


Today's installment is Shaun Tan's masterpiece of graphic narrative, The Arrival.

Side story:
I first stumbled across this book back in October of 2007, while browsing the book kiosk in Boston's South Station. It was the morning and I was waiting for one of my friends to come into town. What struck me first was the binding; brown with a beautiful worn typeface. It had so much character. Everything about it was calling out to me. I picked it up and leafed through the pages. Instantly, I was speechless. I was in love. I knew I had found something special. It HAD to be mine. But I was torn: I didn't want to lug it around with me all day while I roamed the city. So I reluctantly decided to wait until my return to the station that afternoon to purchase it. All day long I thought about this book. I worried that someone would snatch it up in my absence. When I got back to South Station later that day I prayed it would still be there. Lucky for me, it was! And I purchased it straight away.

It quickly became my absolute all-time favorite picture book. Ever. It's brilliant in every way. I could go on and on about my love for the main character's metaphorical immigrant experience. I could gush for days about the beauty of the soft sepia toned illustrations. But instead I'll just say that it is a touching, unique yet universal story that truly succeeds in allowing understanding and empathy for an experience everyone can identify with in on some scale. We truly become one with the character, seeing a strange and magical world through the eyes of a stranger. It is a satisfying and mystifying experience.


The inherent bizarreness, confusion, and magic of entering an unfamiliar world lies intricately and meticulously detailed within these pages. An obvious labor of love on the part of Tan, who is one of the geniuses of contemporary picturebooks. His work never fail to challenge the audience to participate in the story. He challenges the limits of "children's" books and offers complex yet approachable ideas that I believe strengthen young readers visual literacy.

If you haven't held this book in your hands, go do it. I dare you not to love it as much as I do.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I Love Kidlit: The Serpent Came to Gloucester


Today's selection is M.T. Anderson's lyrical masterpiece, The Serpent Came to Gloucester, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. The book narrates the 1817 instance of a reported sea serpent spotted of the coast of Massachusetts from the eyes of a local boy. I adore the poetic song like refrains that set a mysterious and haunting tone, complemented perfectly by illustrations inspired by 19th century maritime paintings. Ibatoulline succeeds in creating a beautiful and believable environment while still retaining a warmth that makes this world inviting and his characters friendly. It has a realistic feel but his people are just stylized enough to make them relatable. And even under the threat of a massive beast lurking in the water, he manages to keep us feeling safe. He is truly a master of his craft. It serves to remind me how to successfully draw from historical references to inform and inspire a befitting look and feel to a story.


From a design/visual standpoint, this is one of my top three children's books of all time. Beautiful pictures, intriguing story, good use of pacing the between single and double page spreads, elegant and unobtrusive typeface and spacing, integrated endpapers--the entire package is a work of art. Candlewick Press truly delivers standout picturebooks. One of my favorite touches is that removing the dust jacket reveals the hidden cover made to look like a distressed old book. I love little surprises like that.

This is everything I admire in well-told and well-crafted kidlit.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I Love KidLit: The Sea Chest

Greetings!

I'm happy to be sharing the very first post in my new I Love KidLit series, an ongoing blog thread in which I will be highlighting one children's book per day from my personal collection. (Based on the current size of my picture book library alone, I can easily do this for almost two years without repeats---and between my husband and I our collection is only getting bigger. )

Admittedly, the reasons for starting this project are predominantly self-satisfying (for one, I really need to catalog all our books!). But more importantly, if I want to be a good book illustrator, I need to do my analytic research! I really want to start articulating why I like the books I like in terms of both story and illustrative qualities, and what makes these books such enjoyable experiences. It is my hope that by discussing these books not only will I better understand my favorite art form, but I'll be able to share what I love with others who love kidlit too.

So, without further ado, I've selected Toni Buzzeo's THE SEA CHEST, illustrated by Mary GrandPré as today's I Love KidLit installment.


I'm so pleased to begin with this book, it is one of my absolute favorites. Although it is not rare for me to cry at picture books, it's generally a sign of a strong story when I do, and this one in particular really strikes me. The combination of poetic writing and emotive, painterly images gets me every time. The story-within-a story is simple: While waiting for a "stranger" to arrive, an old woman recalls to her great-grandniece her childhood spent living on an isolated lighthouse island with only her parents. A storm hits, a ship sinks, and an orphaned baby is discovered in a chest washed up on the rocks. The baby girl is taken in, instantly becoming family, and growing to fulfill the roll of the narrator's little sister as they spend their childhood together on the island. As adults they move to the mainland and live nearby to each other, each having their own full life.

The writing is truly lyrical, straightforward, and simple. Never telling too much--just enough to follow the story and allows the reader to imagine the unwritten parts of these characters lives. And it is what remains unwritten that makes this story so meaningful to me. It is essentially about friendship, love, and loss between sisters, an idea very close to my heart. And without giving away everything, the book is about life, death, and life again, and really comes full circle in it's appreciation of that truth.


Mary GrandPré is one of my favorite illustrators. Her characterizations are sensitively simplified and allow for a certain amount of universal appeal. Her use of material is expressive, filled with a quiet energy that brings her scenes to life. Her color palette exudes an underlying sense of comfort and warmth. I love her work because somehow I always feel safe in her world of color and form. All of these visual sensibilities complement the beautifully abstract tenderness of the story.

Picturebooks like these remind me why I love this medium so much. Yes, it is literature for children, but its beautiful sophistication and simple truth transcend and redefine what that really means.