Paris-born artist Christine Davenier has illustrated many well-loved children’s books, including the bestselling Very Fairy Princess books, written by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, and a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2001, The First Thing My Mama Told Me, written by Susan Marie Swanson.
Here, Davenier discusses how her illustrations for It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, based on the beloved Peter, Paul and Mary song, invited her to recall rainy days from her own cozy past with family.
Find more nursery-rhyme collections to share.
Tell me the story behind the pictures you’ve conjured up here. Gray and stormy outside contrasted with cozy and warm inside—you’ve made a rainy day seem happy. What inspired the art for this book?
I love watching and hearing the rain and not being wet...just like I love the sun when I am sitting in the shade and not getting burned...I am a contemplative person. I grew up in the countryside and have memories of sudden showers or storms that made me feel caught between fright and delight. What a good feeling to be in your cozy bed with the noise of the rain on the roof of the house.
These illustrations seem somehow personal. Did your own childhood come back to you when creating it?
When I worked on this book and created this bunch of cousins, I drew from my joyful childhood. My grandparents loved to gather all the family together, and my two sisters and I were very close to my cousins. We spent a lot of weekends and holidays all together at my grandmother's. Every Sunday we had a family lunch and long afternoon full of laughter, tears, games.
How did you approach illustrating the book, given that the text was actually a children’s song?
Honestly, I didn't know Peter, Paul and Mary, who are not as well known here in France as in the United States, and I didn't know anything about the rhyme “Jack and Jill”…It was also the first time I had worked on a song, but I didn't put any pressure on myself and didn't consider it as something different than the books I had done before. I didn't listen to the song so much as read the words as a new manuscript with the characters to create, the set to imagine...I had to project myself into this “new world” as a child who used to play hide-and-seek with my family, and images came to me quite clearly.
You’ve illustrated many works for children. Did your creative process depart this time at all from what you usually do?
More than any other book of mine, this one was a collaboration with my agent Judy Sue and her wonderful creative team. We worked together to imagine the narrative and combine the game of hide-and-seek with the fanciful nursery rhymes. Judy Sue would make a proposal, and then I would translate it in my own way so that we all brought something to it. It made for a rich story. Then, of course, we had good input from Peter Yarrow, who is an artist himself, and from Imagine Publishing, who worked incredibly hard to get the color right. So, as in every book, it was a “group effort.”
If you had to choose, which illustration is your personal favorite in this book?
My favorite illustration is the one in the kitchen. The grandmother has a supporting role in the story, but all through the narrative she follows her purpose—making an apple pie using the apples from her tree. I love supporting players who become part of “the spinal column” of the story.
What projects are you working on now?
I am working on a wonderful story written by Tony Johnston, The Cat with Seven Names, (Charlesbridge), and I continue to work on The Very Fairy Princess series written by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton for Little, Brown. Here in France I am working on different projects. One of my favorite involves a little girl named “P'tite chérie,” for whom I imagined several adventures for a magazine. Every night after her mother's goodnight kiss she has a ritual that makes her as small as her soft toys—stuffed animals—and she has a great adventure with them all night long!