After three decades of writing and illustrating children’s books, Barney Saltzberg presents what he believes is his most personal book—Beautiful Oops!. In its starred review, Kirkus called the work “a festive invitation to creative liberation.” Here the author-artist discusses his belief that, at least where art is concerned, there are no mistakes, only oop-portunities.
This book is a great entry point to opening the imagination. Can you describe your creative process?
When I travel to schools, I do a PowerPoint presentation and there are two pictures that pop out to teachers. One shows a sketchbook with a coffee spill on the cover. I ask the kids how many of them would want a new one, and they all raise their hands. Then I show them how I transformed it into something else. The second picture is from when I was working on The Flying Garbanzos. My giant lab stepped all over this painting I did. I was about to throw it out, and I realized I could cover each paw print with a cloud. Teachers kept asking, “Can’t you get that across in a book?” But I couldn’t have done this book until now. You can’t be preachy with this stuff.
So how did you find your way into this book?
One day I tore something and I saw a mouth of an alligator. At that moment I thought, “This would be fun. What else could we do?”
It really does feel like you’re coaching us through the voice of the narrator.
I once had a two-hour conversation with Brian Selznick [the Caldecott-winning creator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret] about studying with art teachers who said, “Trees don’t look like that.” You need to get the adults out of the way. There’s something developmentally in children when they realize what things look like and start to think things should be looking a certain way, and that’s when they stop creating.
Both Beautiful Oops! and Good Egg exploit the possibilities of the book as a tactile object. Do you have fun thinking about what a page can do—rip, bend or stain?
When you’re writing a traditional book, it’s the concept of a page turn, and it gets into the rhythm of the book as you lay it out in storyboard and continues when you have it in your hands. You lift the flap to get the beat. The irony of it is I used to work at a children’s bookstore and they shied away from any books that were interactive. I think I adopted that into my thinking as well. I noticed that when I had kids, the interactive books really interested them. With all the digital things we have, anything to pull a child into reading is the goal. If a book has to have wheels to do that, I’m all for it.
What’s your advice to children regarding creative expression?
My mom was a painter, and she did not believe in coloring books, which was not thrilling to me as a child. She said, “Why would you want to color in someone else’s artwork? You have your own ideas.” In the spread with the pig in the car [“a little drip of paint…”], that pig character is from my childhood sketchbooks. The splatters are a photograph of the paint on my desk. This book is really an extension of me. I always tell kids there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to making art. Something that seems impossible, if you look at it long enough, you can make it work.
See our complete round-up of 2010 pop-up book reviews.
Workman / September / 978-0761157281 / $11.95