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

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...


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"...


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!


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.

Transient Interview

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

2-minute audio, Laura Vaccaro Seeger discusses GREEN

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

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

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


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.



 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.


 The process isn’t always neat and tidy.


 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.


What If? Writing Assignment

Here’s a fun writing assignment based on the recently released book, WHAT IF?.  Write to me at 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?

What If? Process

Special thanks to my new friends at the Children’s Literature Conference at Shenandoah University in Virginia for their suggestion that I include examples of the creation process on my website. 

Here are a few examples illustrating the making of my new book, WHAT IF?:

(I often see seals during my runs and walks at the beach, especially during the colder months of the year.  I caught this cute little guy taking a nap on the sand one day.)


(This is a picture of my journal where the first layout for WHAT IF? was drawn.  My editor, Neal Porter, found it one day while he was perusing my journal for future projects.)


(Here is an example of the first draft for WHAT IF?.  It started as a lengthy narrative, but as I began painting, I slowly replaced words with pictures until finally there were only six different words, used in varying combinations, in the entire book.)


(Some rough sketches and studies for WHAT IF?.)


(WHAT IF? was painted in its entirety on canvas when I realized that it just didn’t feel like the beach!  This is an example of one of those paintings.)


(Luckily, my wonderful editor, Neal, was understanding when I said I wanted to paint the entire book over again, this time on very rough watercolor paper with dryer paint on my brush, giving the art a feeling of lightness and movement.  This is one of the first studies for the new art treatment.)


(Voila.  The final book.  Released last month.)