The start of a new year is always exciting for readers. We envision brand-spankin’-new books from our favorite authors and new artwork from illustrators whose work we love to see. Look past our shoulders and you’ll see crossed fingers that our favorite writers and artists have something in store for us.
Most surprising of all is when we get a glimpse of a never-before-seen manuscript from a beloved author, long gone. A book from the acclaimed Margaret Wise Brown will be on shelves this month, lovingly illustrated by Geisel Award winner Greg Pizzoli. North, South, East, West is a tender story of home and leaving one’s nest (in more ways than one), and it’s not until now that it is seeing the light of day.
I chatted with Greg via email about taking on this project and what lies in store for him in 2017.
Hi there, Greg. I’m happy to be chatting with you in the first official Q&A of the new year.
Hi, Jules! Thanks for having me. Thrilled to be talking with you about North, South, East, West.
This is a manuscript from Margaret Wise Brown that hasn't been published before, yes?
It’s never been published before. That’s correct. My understanding is that it had been under contract for years – decades, presumably – but for one reason or another, the project never got off the ground.
Did you feel any sort of pressure, as in I'm illustrating a text by THE Margaret Wise Brown kind of pressure?
YES, of course! The pressure and anxiety I felt about it at first were pretty intense – I loved the text from the first time I read it – and I knew I’d have to do something special to live up to it.
I’m really happy with how it came out, but it feels a little unreal. I have a finished copy of the book in my studio and I still feel a strong sense of disbelief when I see my name on the same cover as Margaret Wise Brown. It’s a huge honor.
Can you talk about stepping back in the very beginning to determine the overall look for this book – the simple shapes and uncluttered spreads (illustrations that the Kirkus review called "unadorned and restrained")? What drove those decisions?
Luckily, I had a lot of time to work on the sketches and the art, and that gave me time to experiment quite a bit. I tried a lot of different techniques, trying to figure out what would work best. At first, I tried cutting stencils out of Rubylith, thinking that I would silkscreen the whole book.
But I hadn’t really figured out the character of the little bird yet, so I did a lot more sketching and then tried some paper-cut collage. I made a piece I was happy with, but in the end I couldn’t shake the feeling that it all felt too busy.
I tried to strip everything down as much as I could, and ended up with something close to what’s in the final book. My expert collaborators, Nancy Inteli (editor) and Rick Farley (art direction), helped me to pull back even more, where necessary.
I really tried to have the pictures feel more abstract than a lot of my other work. I thought the poetry of Margaret Wise Brown’s text would be done a disservice if the pictures became too literal.
I assume that, as with any other manuscript, you had the freedom to determine line breaks and the story's pacing-via-illustrations.
That’s correct. I find it’s one of the most challenging and important tasks when making a picture book. It’s been said one million times, but the page turn is so integral to the reading experience – it all has to be carefully considered – and I was able to figure that out myself, again with help from editor Nancy Inteli.
I was also able to add some things that weren’t in the text. For example (spoilers!), the baby birds flying away at the end. There were no illustration notes from Margaret Wise Brown, so I had the freedom to add things like that, which seemed to flesh out the world of the story a bit more.
You have a lot of 2017 books heading readers’ way. Do I have that right? Can you tell me what's next for you this year?
Yes! I’m really looking forward to 2017 — um, at least in terms of my publishing schedule.
I have eight books coming out. EIGHT. I know. A new nonfiction picture book, my take on a Christmas favorite, four board books with the brilliant Jennifer Adams, and my first picture book with my buddy Mac Barnett.
I’m going to be sharing a lot about all of the books throughout the year, but right now I just want you and everyone to know how excited I am for them to read North, South, East, West. It really was an honor and privilege to work on it – and I can’t believe it will finally be on shelves in just a few weeks.
Looking forward to it, Greg. Happy New Year!
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.
NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST. Copyright © 2017 by Roberta Brown Rauch. Illustrations © 2017 by Greg Pizzoli. Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Greg Pizzoli.