Horn Book - Five Questions for Laura Vaccaro Seeger

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In her 2013 Caldecott Honor Book Green, Laura Vaccaro Seeger considered the many literal and metaphorical shades of the title color. What does she do with Blue?

1. First in Green and now in Blue: what inspired the die-cuts?
My rule for die-cuts is that they must be integral to the book. In Green, they are necessary because it’s a book about how everything in our environment is connected. The paintings are literally connected to one another. Since Blue is Green’s companion book, it needed to share its format. But that’s not reason enough — in Blue, the die-cuts are absolutely integral because all of our experiences from birth onward are connected and define how we live our lives.

2. What’s your favorite blue?
I love them all! But in Blue, I do have a favorite spread. As I was working on the “true blue” scene, my dog Copper (the inspiration for Dog from Dog and Bear) became unexpectedly ill and passed away. Creating that painting was at once painful and cathartic.

3. Are you in possession of a worn-out LP of Joni Mitchell’s Blue?
I am not, but thanks to you, I have had the pleasure of discovering that stunningly beautiful song. Now I need to download the entire album!

4. How can blue skies, blue movies, and blue mood mean such different things?
That question is really what inspired me to create Blue. After Green, I’d heard repeatedly, “Please make books about other colors, too!” I was reluctant to do that for fear it would feel forced or formulaic. But books often tell authors they need to be written. I started to ponder the many ways in which the color blue can evoke emotion — innocence (baby blue), loyalty (true blue), sadness (so blue), hope (new blue). And so that exploration began…

5. Tell me a story about blue paint.
When I was a child, I was given an assignment to create a pointillist painting. We had the choice of using shades of blue or its complement, orange. I was the only one who chose orange, and my painting was hideous! I brought it home and hastily threw it in the trash. The next day, it was sitting in our living room — my father had retrieved it from the garbage. I threw it away again. About a week later, I came home and found it framed and hanging on our living room wall. It’s astonishing how a simple act of encouragement can make the difference of a lifetime for a young artist.

BLUE's Backstory on Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

I am honored once again to be featured on Julie Danielson's wonderful blog. Click here to see more of her fantastic pieces on the making of picture books.
Thank you, Jules!

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August 10th, 2018 by jules

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Last week, I wrote here about Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Blue (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook), coming to shelves this September. I’m following up today with a visit from Laura, who talks about her process, while sharing lots of art. I thank her for visiting. 

Laura: When I set out to write Blue, I knew that I wanted to make a companion book to Green, sharing its poem structure, design, connectivity through die-cuts, and trim size. While Green explores the many shades of green in the world around us and (hopefully) encourages an appreciation of our environment, I knew that I wanted to approach Blue from a new narrative standpoint and explore the color blue in terms of loyalty and sadness.

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So, I wrote a poem somewhat like the text that appears in the book, but at that time the visual narrative was very different. It was about a newborn baby and his toddler brother, growing up together through the years. Finally, the older brother packs up and moves out, and the younger brother is blue.

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After completing three or four final paintings, something began to nag at me. I called my editor (the oh-so-wonderful Neal Porter) to discuss my concerns. I told him that, sure, the younger brother is sad, but it’s not like he’ll never see his older brother again. When Neal questioned what I really wanted the book to be about, I explained that I was interested in exploring loyalty but also sadness. True sadness. The ultimate sadness. Loss. That’s when I realized that I had to start the painting process all over again and change the narrative to include a baby and a puppy who grow up together. And, eventually, the boy (now a young man) experiences great loss.

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It was challenging to create paintings where the characters are getting older with each page turn. It needed to be clear — but not distracting.

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The paintings were created one layer at a time — and often re-painted. Most of my canvases are quite heavy, because they contain so many layers of paint!

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And, of course, the die-cuts were (as always) quite the (at times) headache-inducing challenge. Like Green, each painting is a part of the one before it — and the one after. In this example, the pom-pom on the boy’s hat is a die-cut in this night-time scene, which on the next spread reveals a rubber ducky atop the dog’s head in a day-time scene. So, the area on the left of this spread needed to be a bright yellow and not at all distracting from the tender action between the boy and his dog. A challenge for this scene, indeed!

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I thought I had it solved with these fireflies but, because it’s late autumn (the boy is wearing a cool-weather hat, and the ground is brown — both necessary because of the die-cuts!), fireflies wouldn’t be out at that time of year.

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Finally, a solution: garden lights!

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The scarf that appears in almost every spread is highly symbolic — it belongs to the boy at first, and then halfway through the book, his dog takes ownership — and in the end it symbolizes that, though life does go on after loss, the love and the memories remain. Always.

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Little did I know that, by the time I began painting the “true blue” spread where the teenage boy is holding his dog in his arms for the last time, my dog Copper (the star of the Dog and Bear series), would become unexpectedly ill and pass away. The timing was remarkable, and the last few spreads were painted while my own tears dripped upon the canvas. Writing Blue, as it turns out, explored my own loyalty and sadness — in real time.

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Here is the book trailer for Blue — with original music composed and performed by my son, Dylan. And here’s the book trailer for Green, also with original music composed and performed by Dylan. 

BLUE. Copyright © 2018 by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images used by permission of Laura Vaccaro Seeger.

BYU Radio - Dog and Bear Interview

I recently had a chance to speak with BYU Radio about DOG AND BEAR, and Neal Porter, too, so that always makes me happy. We spoke about the inspiration, process, and challenges of writing and illustrating books for children.

Special thanks to Christine Nokleby, Jessica Verzello, and Rachel Wadham for a totally fun interview.

Click here to have a listen! (The interview begins at about 2:48.)

Ignorance is Bliss!

I am excited and honored to have illustrated a new picture book, written by the amazing Dick Jackson, (due for release later this year). It's the very first time I've illustrated another writer's manuscript, though in this case, it was an easy decision for me.

Back in 1999, when I decided to make a huge move to publishing from a career as an animator/producer in network television, I knew nothing about the business and I had no contacts. But ever since I was a child, I'd been logging ideas for picture books in my journals, and I'd created quite a few one-of-a-kind books that I'd never shown anyone.

So one day, I took the plunge, and called Dick Jackson at DK Publishing in New York City. The incredibly kind person who'd answered the phone told me me that he works out of his California office, and when I asked if I could have that number, she gave it to me.

The next morning, first thing, I picked up the phone and rang Dick's number. But just as he answered the phone, I remembered the time-zone difference - it was 9:00am in New York (where I live), but it was 6:00am in California, which explained his very groggy voice. "Oh no," I thought, frantically. "I'm calling the president of a major publisher at his home, and I've woken him up!" But after apologizing profusely, I explained that I'd written and illustrated a whole bunch of books and would love to get them published. "You and everyone else," he told me, but suggested I send them to him and call back in couple of weeks to find out what he thinks of them.

So I did. And exactly 2 weeks later, first thing in the morning, I rang his phone again. And he answered, groggily, again. I'd woken him up. AGAIN! But he was so sweet and encouraging, and he arranged immediately for me to meet with his Vice President at DK, Neal Porter. The rest is history. Neal has been my editor on every single one of my books - in fact we're now working on books number 19 and 20, simultaneously. 

So about a year ago, when Neal casually mentioned that, though he knows I write and illustrate my own books, he couldn't help but visualize my paintings for a new book he was publishing, I asked whose manuscript it was. As he said, "it's Dick Jackson's", he'd completely forgotten that it was Dick who had introduced us to one another in the first place. I said "yes" immediately.

I am forever grateful to Dick for his kindness, patience, encouragement, and most importantly, for not hanging up on me. TWICE!

I Used to Be Afraid - But not anymore!

Last week, I received a letter from a librarian whose class of first graders spent the entire session discussing the little girl's book in "I Used to Be Afraid". They'd determined that because her book appears in several spreads, it must be her favorite. And through closer (and very impressive) observation, they'd decided that it, too - the meta-book - must be a book about fears. Perhaps it's one that helped her to change the way she looks at things and not be so fearful after all!

Here are a couple of wonderful reviews:

Caldecott Medal Contender: I Used to Be Afraid

https://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/caldecott-medal-contender-i-used-to-be-afraid/

I Used To Be Afraid

I USED TO BE AFRAID will be released in a few weeks. Here is a little bit of backstory on how the book came to be...

I USED TO BE AFRAID is a book about perspective. It's all in the way you look at things. In the case of our protagonist - this one little girl - she used to be afraid. Very afraid. Until she learned to change the way she viewed her world.

These are the book's first journal sketches from way back in 2007...

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Sometimes a book needs time - time to be thought about. This one needed lots of time! 

Finally, in 2014, it was time to create I USED TO BE AFRAID. The first step was to identify fears. The encircled fears are the ones that might work well as illustrations...

The art style went through many changes along the way. Every book's art is determined by its story. A brand new art style was created especially for this book...

Die-cut holes are incorporated throughout to illustrate each fear which, with a turn of the page, transform from frightening to not so scary after all.

The die-cuts were particularly challenging at times (or really, all the time!). For example, in "I used to be afraid of shadows", the die-cut hole is the little girl's shadow cast upon the wall. The shadow is the exact same shape as the girl, of course.

When the page is turned, the die-cut becomes the shadow of the girl's right hand in her heart-shaped shadow puppet, which is the exact same shape as her hand, of course.

But what this means is that her hand and her crouching body are also identical in shape!

And then there were the fears that never made it into the finished book - like "getting teased" and "heights" - in order to make room for deeper, more universal fears like "change" and "being alone"...

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And sometimes, no matter how hard one tries, fears are simply impossible to overcome completely. Like how our little protagonist used to be afraid of her big brother...

And she still is!

Sometimes.

Favorite Painting in Green

I’m often asked which of the paintings in GREEN is my favorite.  

I really love this question and after lots of thought, I’d have to say that the “all green” spread is my favorite because it’s the only place in the book where the die-cut holes actually disappear.  

In order to achieve this, it means that what is seen through the holes on this spread is at once part of the art on this painting, and part of the art on the paintings before and after this painting, as well.

And what THAT means is that, in effect, different paintings share identical portions making them truly part of one another.

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Teachbooks.net Interview

I had a chance to speak with Danika at Teachingbooks.net about the backstory behind a few recent books:

2-minute audio, Laura Vaccaro Seeger discusses GREEN

http://www.teachingbooks.net/book_reading.cgi?id=8145&a=1

2-minute audio, Laura Vaccaro Seeger discusses FIRST THE EGG

http://www.teachingbooks.net/book_reading.cgi?id=8142&a=1

2-minute audio, Laura Vaccaro Seeger discusses DOG AND BEAR: TWO FRIENDS, THREE STORIES

http://www.teachingbooks.net/book_reading.cgi?id=8143&a=1

Green Process

GREEN is about to be released, so here are some images from the making of the book.  Because each and every page contains die-cuts, this book was a challenge as each painting, in effect, is a part of the painting before it and the painting after.

While working on GREEN and using the color green as a vehicle for my exploration of the world around us, I realized that everything in our world is connected, sometimes in very subtle ways.  It was for that reason that I decided that die-cuts were a way for me to show this connection and encourage the reader to look more closely at things we all see every day.  My feeling is that we first need to truly appreciate our environment and if we do, then we are more likely to take care of it.

Here is a link to the book trailer on YouTube: GREEN BOOK TRAILER

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At first it was a struggle to create a book about the concept of green.  It was, of course, to be about green as an environmental concept, but the overwhelming challenge was to achieve this without didacticism.

 

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 Finally, the idea of writing a simple poem about the color green was a way in which the environmental issue could be addressed in a subtle yet powerful way.

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 The process isn’t always neat and tidy.

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 And with this book more than ever, the journal was integral to the process as the possibilities for each layout were explored and the paint mixture for each shade of green was carefully documented.

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What If? Writing Assignment

Here’s a fun writing assignment based on the recently released book, WHAT IF?.  Write to me at inquiries@studiolvs.com and let me know what you think.

Step 1 - Think of a decision you’ve made... Or are making... Or may make someday...

Step 2 - Now write about it.  Three times, with three different outcomes...

Step 3 - Which decision/outcome do you think is best?  Why?