Prize-winning author and illustrator Audrey Wood has created many children’s books, including beloved favorites such as The Napping House (illustrated by her husband Don Wood) and Silly Sally (self-illustrated).
Here she talks about how observing the skies above her Hawaiian home inspired her new picture book Blue Sky, which we said captures the “stratosphere in its ever-shifting splendor.”
Find more picture books that celebrate the sky.
Tell me about this book’s shape—it’s taller and thinner than most picture books. It makes me think of a window.
Yes, I wanted it to be long and tall—to have enough room for the characters and the sky, which is also a character in the book. The people are ancillary to that—the sky is the main character here. The first thing you see is the sky when you open the book. I couldn’t figure out how I could get enough sky in without it being that shape.
Did your move to Hawaii influence this book?
Yes, in Hawaii, I noted the amazing presence of clouds here, very different from the mainland. They come in from the ocean, different sizes and shapes every day, blue or billowy or skinny, and they’re constantly moving. I fell in love with the sky and with looking up and observing it.
I began waking up at 5:15 and going down to the ocean. It’s still dark, and there are stars all over the sky…I sit there with my tea and watch the sky change from being completely dark with stars to morphing when the sun comes up out of the water. And then those clouds…it’s just magnificent. Just [an] amazing vista of colors and textures.
I became hooked on watching the sky as my form of meditation. One morning, I remembered an idea I’d had many years ago, talking to a teacher when I was on tour. She’d done a sky study month…encouraged her kids to look up and observe the sky. She wondered if I had a book with a sky theme. I had put that in my idea box, and it sprang out again one morning during my sun meditation.
So the teacher was encouraging her kids to do sky studies?
She had discovered that being aware of the sky was not really an activity children engaged in naturally. They look around them for 40 feet, but in order to observe the sky, they needed someone to point out that it’s up there. The more they were encouraged to look beyond a 40-foot horizon, the better more observant they became, which increased their overall learning ability. So I reread my notes on that conversation and began to go down to the ocean and think about those things…and that all eventually led to Blue Sky.
Do you do your writing and illustrating work in the same studio?
My studio is divided into three areas. One section—with a long double table, a drawing board, a light box, all illuminated by natural north light—is devoted to illustration. A second section is devoted to writing, and it features a king-sized bed where I write (it had to be king-sized because my three dogs like to get in bed with me when I work). The third section [has]…a queen-sized bed, for day-dreaming. It’s positioned beneath a wall upon which most of my books, as many as will fit, are placed face forward on shelves. Lying on the bed where I can see the books often inspires my daydreams. I have been an expert daydreamer since early childhood.
Blue Sky depicts 14 different skies and traces a daily sunrise-to-sunset cycle but also include skies like “wish sky” and “dream sky.” Once you got started on this project did more and more skies occur to you?
Well, there is a feeling aspect to skies, too. We wish upon a star, and they represent feelings and emotions as well. It’s a happy-birthday sky or a bird sky. Skies are more than just the changing of the night into day. Which I did use as a coherent format, but I also included dream sky and wish sky.
Once I started writing, there were so many. This was exciting to me…I immediately understood, from my years of being an author, how my books inspire children to create their own books. I think it’s called patterning…so I know that the work goes beyond me. I am just writing the first draft! Children are going to do their own versions. I’ve received books from kids who take my original idea and it inspires them, for example, they make their own Napping House books. This book has that potential, and it thrills me.Jessie Grearson is a freelance writer and teacher living in Falmouth, Maine. When she isn’t reading, writing or teaching, she enjoys dreaming up new recipes, some of which she enters into cooking competitions, and all of which she tries out on her husband and two daughters.