I always like to see what author/illustrator Sergio Ruzzier is up to, and to those of you who feel the same, we’re all in luck right now, as he has two new picture books just round the bend. Eve Bunting’s Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? comes out in early March, and his own Bear and Bee is also scheduled to be released next month. Both books are immensely appealing to young readers.

Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? marks Ruzzier’s second collaboration with Bunting, the first being 2011’s affectionate Tweak Tweak, and sparks fly once again. (Can publishers just keep pairing these two up? Please?) In Bunting’s rhyming text, perfect for emerging readers, a duck looks for his new blue socks, stopping to ask friends along the way, only to have his dear Peacock friends eventually point out that he’s wearing them. Observant children will spot the socks, the growing splash of blue at his ankles, about mid-way through the story, and what child doesn’t love to be one step ahead of the main character? Disheveled has never been as endearing as it is in this determined protagonist.

Using an altogether bolder color palette (teals, mustard yellow, various shades of green) in Bear and Bee, Ruzzier addresses a different kind of cluelessness, this time in a hungry bear, who wakes from his hibernation seriously craving some honey. The problem is that he’s terrified of the “terrible monsters” that are bees, though he’s never actually seen any. And to whom does he describe this fear? Why, a bee, of course, who convinces the baffled Bear that he himself may be the very creature he dreads. Once again, child readers will delight on being in-the-know, and Ruzzier lays it all out with economy and humor, amping up the drama at just the right spots.  

I chatted briefly with Ruzzier about these two books, as well as what’s next for him.

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What do you most enjoy about illustrating Eve Bunting’s texts? 

Tweak Tweak was probably the sweetest book I’ve ever worked on, and as a change from my usual things, I loved it.

Blue Socks is the perfect kind of picture book text an illustrator hopes to receive. There were no descriptions of any kind, and the only directions were: “Duck is protagonist” and a note about where the socks where supposed to be hiding. Dinah Stevenson, my editor, left me absolutely free to create a whole world around Mrs. Bunting’s words. I have put many little things in the drawings, little accidents and parallel stories. I am very curious to see if they will be noticed! I’ve been looking at Randolph Caldecott’s books over and over in the past year or so: He is such an extraordinary guide on what a picture book can be. 

                                 Bear and Bee spread

Bear and Bee has been praised for its comic timing and spot-on pacing. How hard is it to achieve these things? How long did it take you to make this book? 

In Bear and Bee, the text is all dialogue, a continuous back-and-forth between the two protagonists. In a way, it is a bit like a long comic strip. The language of the comic strip is the first language I’ve learned, so it kind of came naturally. 

The technique I used (pen & ink with digital coloring) is much faster to handle than my usual pen and ink and watercolors, so it took me only about a month to complete the 23 spreads, whereas I normally need at least three times that long. Refining the text and working on the dummy took much longer than that, though. I am very satisfied with the result, and the book was produced beautifully, thanks to the people at Hyperion. 

 

You talked in this 2012 interview about your studio mates, Sophie Blackall, Brian Floca, and John Bemelmans Marciano. Do you all influence and review each other's work?   

Since then, Eddie Hemingway joined us. He is a great addition to the studio. We sometimes do use each other as bouncing boards (not literally).

It’s very fortunate, at least for me, to be surrounded by such nice and talented people. 

What's next for you? 

I just delivered the second Bear and Bee book, titled Too Busy. It will come out in the spring of 2014. I hope there will be more after that.

Right now I have four different book projects I’m working on, at different phases of labor. Among them: a counting book, a wrongly-illustrated classic, the story of a mailman, and a picture book about words.

BEAR AND BEE. Copyright © 2013 by Sergio Ruzzier. Published by Disney/Hyperion Books, New York. Spread used with permission of Sergio Ruzzier.

Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.