Laura Vaccaro Seeger's WHY?

What an honor to be interviewed by Elizabeth Dulemba for her wonderful blog post! To see more of her wonderful posts, click here.

Laura Vaccaro Seeger's WHY?
by Elizabeth Dulemba

What an honor to have Laura Vaccaro Seeger, New York Times best-selling author and illustrator and a 2-time winner of the Caldecott Honor Award, here today to tell us about her newest book, WHY? I asked her some questions about it...

unnamed-15.jpg

e: What was your creative process/medium for WHY?, can you walk us through it?
Laura:
For the writing, this book developed slowly over time. It began with a germ of an idea that I wrote in my journal. From the beginning, I was intrigued with the idea of writing a story about questions that you never actually hear. As with many of my books, if that little germ keeps catching my eye as I peruse my journal, or if I continue to ruminate about it, I’ll know it’s something that’s worth exploring.

unnamed-16.jpg

As for the art, I’ve created books with all kinds of art styles including acrylic paints, oil paints, collage, India inks, and flat color, but never watercolor paints until now. With each of my books, it is the text that dictates the art style for me. WHY? was created with layers of watercolor paint and pencil. I then made a huge stack of “splotch” paintings by flinging black ink from sopping wet gigantic brushes at a whole bunch of papers.

unnamed-17.jpg
unnamed-18.jpg

Then, I scanned the original watercolor paintings as well as the “ink-splotched” papers into the computer, selected the shapes that the splotches made, and used those shapes to lighten or darken certain areas of the paintings. This added a very organic grittiness to the paintings.

unnamed-14.jpg
unnamed-13.jpg
unnamed-12.jpg
unnamed-11.jpg

e: What was your path to publication and how did winning Caldecott Honors change your career?
Laura:
My path to publication was quite unconventional. I’d spent over ten years as an artist and animator in the network television business, creating and producing animated show openings for NBC and ABC in New York City. But I’d always wanted to make picture books, and after cold-calling the president of a major publisher (at home, no less), and inadvertently waking him up at 6am (I didn’t realize that his assistant had given me his home number in California), I was so fortunate that instead of hanging up on me, he recommended that I send my work to him and call back a few weeks later. So, after mistakenly waking him up for a second time (I know, I know, I’m “some piece of work” as I’ve so often been told), he suggested I meet with his vice president at the time, Neal Porter. The rest is history. Neal and I are now working on our 19th book together!

unnamed-10.jpg

As for the Caldecott Honors, I think they’ve made a huge difference in my career. For one thing, they ensure that the books will stay in print for a long, long time. It’s also such a widely respected and well-known award, so it is truly an amazing honor, indeed. The fact that it is awarded by librarians is incredibly meaningful, because it confirms that the books resonate and communicate successfully with children (and adults alike). And, for me anyway, it is the recognition and reassurance that many of us artists yearn for. I think, underneath, we are a very vulnerable bunch. I also think that the moment an artist becomes overly confident is the moment they stop growing, so as difficult as it can be at times, that vulnerability is necessary. These awards have meant so much to me for so many reasons!

unnamed-9.jpg

e: WOW! That is quite the story! And congratulations on the awards! Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of WHY?

Laura: With every book, I find that it’s usually a single thing that propels me through the often year-long (or more) process of creating the book. With WHY?, it was the challenge of making a book which contains a myriad questions, but you never actually hear the questions, they can only be determined by the answers and the illustrations. So, that presented a wonderful artistic challenge because I had to make sure that the illustrations made it absolutely clear what the questions are. And in some cases there can be multiple questions for each answer, which is wonderful because one thing I always try to do with all of my books is to leave plenty of room for discussion, imagination, and curiosity.

unnamed-8.jpg

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Laura:
My approach to bookmaking is to distill whatever it is that I’m trying to say down to its absolute essence. I think, if done sincerely, the art ends up being full of heart.

unnamed-7.jpg
unnamed-6.jpg
unnamed-5.jpg

e: How do you advertise yourself (or do you anymore)?
Laura:
I have a website (StudioLVS.com) which I try to update regularly. I also have a Facebook page as well as a Twitter account, but I only use them professionally, and these days, I only post about new books, book tours, events, reviews, interviews, etc. I used to visit Facebook and Twitter more often, but lately I find it’s been a source of great frustration, though that may be a topic for an entirely different discussion!

unnamed-4.jpg
unnamed-3.jpg

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Laura:
I adore having a blank canvas at the start of each book. That is at once both my favorite part of the process and the most challenging. I love the very beginning of the process when all the work happens in my head and I can think about what the book can be. Neal and I often play the “what if” game as we explore all the possibilities for which direction the book can go.

I also love the process of seeing the writing and art come together. And the organic experience of squeezing paint from the tube and swirling it around on the palette and making those first brushstrokes. Really, the entire process is both fun and challenging!

A big challenge is to continually reach out of my comfort zone in terms of art style and writing, and to constantly make sure that no matter what, the books are not didactic in any way and always respect the reader, no matter their age.

unnamed-2.jpg
unnamed-1.jpg

e: Is there something in particular about WHY? you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Laura:
I’d love for readers to embrace their curiosity and to know that sometimes we simply do not have all the answers and that’s okay!e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?

Laura:
Right now I’m working on the final book in a trilogy. I’ve done GREEN which explores the many shades of green in our world and encourages an appreciation of our environment, and BLUE which is an exploration of the color blue in terms of loyalty, sadness, and loss. Now I’m working on RED which will look at the color red through the lens of conflict, anger, and love.

unnamed.jpg

e: I can't wait to see it! Hope to have you back soon. :)

Why? Explained...

Laura Vaccaro Seeger Explains WHY?

June 28, 2019
By Tara Lazar

At the risk of dating myself, I’ll mention an old commercial tag line from the 1970’s—“when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

Well, when Holiday House contacts you and asks if you’d like to chat with two-time Caldecott and Geisel Honor book winner Laura Vaccaro Seeger, you also stop everything and LISTEN!

Laura’s latest book is a charmer, snuggle-worthy for the littlest ones. It’s titled, simply, WHY?

I met Laura last year at the Irma S. Black Award ceremony where she served as keynote speaker. She showed us her newest book at the time, BLUE, about a boy and his best friend. (Notice how the die cut on each page forms a new part of the image with each turn.)

large.jpg

Laura, you must know you are the only PB creator to make my husband tear up, as you read BLUE. And he’s never even had a dog! He was incredibly moved. How do you inject so much heart into your stories?

With every book, I try to distill the story down to its essence and I always draw upon strong feelings and beliefs while writing and illustrating.

With BULLY, for example, I’ve always felt a deep sense of empathy for anyone who was bullied or feeling left out, so it was important to me that above all else, empathy is the most important aspect of that book.

BLUE is probably the most difficult book I’ve ever created. It really comes from a deeply personal place. As a young child, I’d experienced the sudden loss of a family member—my brother—and that very complicated trauma was never really worked through. Consequently, I’ve always had an overwhelming fear and dread of loss. BLUE is a kind of therapeutic, cathartic personal exercise, but more importantly, it’s an attempt to offer comfort, as well as a starting point for deeper discussion with young children, (or anyone, really).

Your husband’s reaction truly means a lot to me!

So with your new book WHY?, what did you distill its essence down to?

WHY is a about curiosity, patience, and understanding. The little rabbit is having a bit of an existential crisis, and at one point in the book, the apparently all-knowing bear is faced with a similar crisis as he realizes that he can’t explain everything after all. Ultimately, their loving and enduring friendship is more important than anything, even when there are unanswerable questions. (I’ve always been fascinated with unanswered questions…)

Why do you think WHY? is a child’s most pressing (and frequent) question?

Well, given that children are witnessing everything pretty much for the first time, I think it makes sense that they would seek to have a deeper understanding of what they’re seeing and hearing.

I think adults often take for granted their surroundings, even if those deeper meanings were never fully explored or questioned.

Why are the characters in the book a bear and a bunny—instead of a bear and cub (or rabbit and bunny)? Why is the relationship shown as one of friendship instead of parent-child?

Ah, I thought long and hard about that.

With this book, as with many, I had an immediate vision that I wanted to stay true to. I knew that I wanted one of the characters to be very large, and one super small, which in many ways ended up dictating the decision about whether or not they’re related to one another. I also wanted them to be friends rather than relatives because friendship is a voluntary relationship, which I felt made the story more interesting in many ways.

Also, from the beginning. I’d envisioned a bear and a rabbit, but I did explore a substitute for the bear because I was worried that there might be confusion between the bear in WHY, and the bear in my DOG AND BEAR series. In the end, I felt the bear was undeniably perfect, and I was confident that the character would be distinctive in its own right.

He is distinctive! And so lumpy in a furry-cuddly way. Plus, it’s more visually interesting to showcase contrasting characters! 

Speaking of your art, it’s gorgeous, full of depth and texture. Can you tell us a little about your illustration process for WHY?

Sure! With each book, I try to envision an art style that will match the text I’ve written. Hence the multiple, various art styles over the years.

With WHY, I envisioned a softer style, unlike any of my other books. It’s been years since I’ve worked with watercolors, and I had such a great time painting the art for this book!

So, I began each painting with a pencil drawing, and then I painted over the drawings with watercolor paint. I repeated this process lightly, many times, which gave the art depth and a layered feel, without any thick paint or brushstrokes. This way, the softness was retained and the pencil lines showed through.

Once all of that was done, I still felt it needed something – a bit of grittiness and a little more depth. I wanted it to feel more organic.

1.jpg

So, I finally broke out a fabulous gigantic Japanese brush I’d bought a few years ago in Singapore and I soaked it full of water so that it was completely saturated. Then, I brought it into my backyard where I dipped the sopping wet brush into India ink and flung it at watercolor papers. When I was finished, I had a huge stack of paper, each sheet full of splotches, spots, drips, etc. I created so many sheets because I didn’t want to repeat any of the elements.

Then, I scanned my original watercolor paintings and all of the “splotch” art sheets. For each painting, I overlaid several different “splotch” art sheets, I isolated the splotches, and I either lightened or darkened those areas on the original paintings.

2.jpg
4.jpg
5.jpg

Your process is fascinating! I love the thick and chunky Japanese brush!

What’s so lovely about the illustrations is that they feel soft and safe for a young child who is asking WHY, who is questioning the world around them. What do you hope that young reader will take away from your story?

I think with WHY, I’d love to encourage curiosity and the freedom and “permission” to question absolutely everything, which ultimately I believe, would encourage independent thought and informed decision-making. I also hope WHY is an example of patience and understanding, for sure. And lastly, I hope that young readers understand that not all questions have immediate answers, and that’s okay.

What a wonderful take-off point for a meaningful discussion between adult and child. 

Thank you, Laura, for giving us a glimpse into your creative process!

WHY? is available from Holiday House on August 13…

The Making of WHY

In August 2019, my newest book, WHY?, will be released. Here’s a sneak peak of how it came to be!

WhyCover.jpg

I became intrigued with the idea of a book involving a character who incessantly questioned everything.

From the very beginning, I’d pictured a rabbit and a bear, but for the longest time, I resisted having a bear as a main character because I didn’t want him to be confused with Bear from my DOG AND BEAR series. Ultimately, I knew he’d be painted to look very different from Dog’s friend, Bear, so I let go of that nagging worry.

So, in the first few journal entries, I tried to figure out (as always) what the story would be. I played my usual “what if” game, and explored as many directions as possible.

02.jpeg
03.jpeg

At a certain stage of bookmaking, it’s always a good idea for an author to stop and definitively decide, WHAT IS THIS BOOK ABOUT? As you can see from the journal notes, WHY? began as a seed of an idea back in 2011. It often takes years of ruminating before an idea begins to take shape. Finally, I’d decided that the book would be about curiosity, frustration, and patience.

04.jpeg

I was also pretty certain that I wanted to make the questions clear even though the reader never actually sees/reads the questions. To me, this is the ultimate in visual literacy! And I was also intrigued with the idea that the unspecified questions might actually vary, depending on the reader’s perspective. I began to think of as many answers to a myriad questions as I could. This was surprisingly difficult!

05.jpeg
06.jpeg

Once I had a good idea of who the characters were and which direction the story was headed, I began playing around with art styles. I always try to develop each art style to match each book and story.

10.jpeg
11.jpeg
12.jpeg

There was a lot of “back and forth” - sketching and painting, and painting and sketching - until it felt just right. This is usually the case with all of my books, though this one had the added challenge of making sure that the rabbit’s questions were absolutely clear, based on the bear’s answers and the illustrations.

16Why.021.jpg
16Why.021.jpg
16.jpg
16Why.021.jpg
19.jpg
16Why.021.jpg
27.jpg
16Why.021.jpg
29.jpg

And ultimately, there were a few spreads that just didn’t work or make sense. It’s always an exercise in trust and courage for an author to be able to let go of any art or writing that, for whatever reason, just isn’t working.

In the example below, I’d become attached to the idea of creating an image of the bear carrying a huge mound of leaves, but after discussing it at length with my editor, we’d decided that the image raised more questions than it answered. Like, where is he going with those leaves? And, why does he need to clean up the forest in the first place?

16Why.021.jpg

As you can see from some of the earlier rough sketches, many of the unnecessary words were eventually removed, like, “repeated the rabbit” and “responded the bear”. After establishing who was asking the questions and who was answering, it was clear who was talking, so only the answers were needed to convey what was going on.

That is, until much later in the book when the bear becomes exasperated by the inquisitive rabbit, and is exhausted and frustrated because he’s finally been asked a question that he doesn’t know the answer to. It is then that he begins to walk away, and when the rabbit says, “don’t go”, it’s the bear who asks, “why?” There again, it’s important to identify who is speaking given that the two characters have switched places, but in general, I always employ a “less is more” approach to writing - and painting, too!

25.jpg
16Why_0000_Layer 24.jpg
16Why.021.jpg
16Why.021.jpg
16Why.021.jpg

Starred review for BLUE - Judy Freeman's “What’s New in Children’s Literature and Strategies for Using It in Your Program"

⭑Review of Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Blue
from Judy Freeman’s handbook for her seminar for teachers and librarians: “What’s New in Children’s Literature
and Strategies for Using It in Your Program (Grades K-6)”

✪ Blue. Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Illus. by the author. Roaring Brook, 2018. {ISBN-13: 978-1-62672-066-4; 36p.}

Wow. That’s what you’ll say when you finish reading and taking in the sweeping full-bleed acrylic paintings in Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s dazzling companion book to her Caldecott Honor-winner, Green. Just, wow! And then you’ll go back and dive in again. Then you’ll look for someone you can share it with. (I made my husband read it aloud to me and show me all the pictures from several yards away, the way children at the back of a class will see it during story hour, and it was magnificent to behold.)

On the first double-page spread are a yellow puppy and a baby, both asleep on a light blue blanket, the dog’s blue bone-shaped chew toy by his paw, and the baby’s rattle and stuffed light blue bear by his arm. There are only two words on the page: “baby blue,” in lowercase letters. Children will want to pat the dog’s soft-looking fur. As you turn the first sturdy, heavy stock page, you’ll see there are two die-cut circles on either end of the light blue rattle that become the wheels of the red wagon the boy, now a toddler, is pulling on the next right-hand page, and the blueberries growing on the left. It’s so effortless and organic, you’ll want to turn the page back and forth several times to marvel at the transformation.

From “berry blue,” turn to “maybe blue,” a painting the boy has done of his dog and himself. The dog has walked across the wet painting, leaving yellow pawprints behind. Then there’s “very blue,” with butterflies filling the page. Wait—let’s look at that again: “baby blue / berry blue / maybe blue / very blue.” Is this text, all thirty-two words of it (with sixteen of those words being “blue”), a rhyming poem? Why, yes. With each page turn, the boy and the dog are growing up together.

Remember that light blue blanket on the first page? The boy wears it as a bandana around his neck in subsequent pages of “ocean blue,” “sky blue,” and “midnight blue.” He and the dog wrestle for it in “my blue,” after which the dog wears it, tied around his neck in “silly blue” where the boy is giving the dog a bath in a metal tub outside, the garden hose in his hand erupting with a spray of water.

Then there’s “chilly blue,” where they walk through the woods together in the snow, the boy pulling his sled on a rope in one hand and holding the dog’s leash in the other. And now the sorrow creeps in with “old blue,” the dog lying on his blanket on the porch, his food bowl untouched, his eyes looking worried and tired. “True blue” shows the boy, now a young man, holding his beloved dog on his lap, and then “so blue,” as he sits, alone and grieving by the ocean in the indigo evening as the sun goes down.

Our pets are only on loan, as children find out the hard and heartbreaking way at some point in their young lives. The final two pages are upbeat, with a new dog (and a girlfriend) bringing joy and love into his life. Notice the blue bandana now in the young man’s back pocket, a tribute to his dear companion.

Wow. Just wow all over again, the second time you read it, and even the twentieth. Will it win Laura Vaccaro Seeger another Caldecott? I sure hope so.

GERM: There’s an effective and affective video of the book, set to music, on YouTube.com here. The pages turn mechanically somehow so you can see each die-cut as the book progresses, and the whole thing is scored with a beautiful instrumental music piece composed by Laura’s son, Dylan Seeger that put me in mind of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” Nothing, however, beats having that big, sturdy book on your lap and turning the pages yourself, back and forth, to exclaim over the sheer brilliance of those die cuts, to marvel at the many shades and situations of blue, and to sniffle into a Kleenex when you get to the end.

See how Laura thought through the book in this revealing and remarkable interview with Julie Daniels on her blog, “Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast,” here. She discusses Blue’s backstory and includes sketches, finished art, and even a reproduction of the first draft of the original poem she wrote as the book’s text. She reveals this poignant detail: “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.” We’re crying, too, Laura, for all the pets we’ve loved and lost. This year’s The Rough Patch by Brian Lies explores some of the same themes; it would be interesting to compare and contrast the two books, if your heart can take it.

RELATED TITLES: Carle, Eric. Hello, Red Fox. Simon & Schuster, 1998. / Carle, Eric, and Friends. What’s Your Favorite Color? Henry Holt/Godwin Books, 2017. / Cohen, Miriam. Jim’s Dog Muffins. Greenwillow, 1984. / Cooper, Elisha. Big Cat, Little Cat. Roaring Brook, 2017. / Cottin, Menena. The Black Book of Colors. Groundwood, 2008. / Demas, Corinne. Saying Goodbye to Lulu. Little, Brown, 2004. / Frame, Jeron Ashford. Yesterday I Had the Blues.Tricycle, 2003. / Gonzalez, Maya Christina. My Colors, My World/Mis Colores, Mi Mundo. Children’s Book Press, 2007. / Howard, Ellen. Murphy and Kate. Simon & Schuster, 1995. / Klise, Kate. Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List.Feiwel and Friends, 2017. / Lies, Brian. The Rough Patch. Greenwillow, 2018. / O’Neill, Mary. Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color. Doubleday, 1989, c1961. / Paschkis, Julie. Vivid: Poems & Notes About Color.Henry Holt, 2018. / Rohmann, Eric. Bone Dog. Roaring Brook, 2011. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. First the Egg. Roaring Brook, 2007. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Green. Roaring Brook, 2012. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. The Hidden Alphabet.Roaring Brook, 2003. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Lemons Are Not Red. Roaring Brook, 2004. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro.One Boy. Roaring Brook, 2008. / Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Walter Was Worried. Roaring Brook, 2005. / Shannon, George. White Is for Blueberry. Greenwillow, 2005. / Sidman, Joyce. Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors.Houghton Mifflin, 2009. / Viorst, Judith. The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. Atheneum, 1971. / Wolff, Ashley.Baby Bear Sees Blue. Beach Lane, 2012.

SUBJECTS: COLORS. DEATH. DOGS. LOSS. LOVE. PICTURE BOOKS FOR ALL AGES. STORIES IN RHYME.

Horn Book - Five Questions for Laura Vaccaro Seeger

From the Horn Book. Click here for full article

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!

August 10th, 2018 by jules

blue10small.jpg

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.

blue1.jpg
blue2.jpg

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.

blue4small.jpg
blue5small.jpg
blue6small.jpg
blue7small.jpg

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.

blue8small.jpg
blue9small.jpg

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

blue11small.jpg
blue12small.jpg

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!

blue13small.jpg
blue14small.jpg
blue15small.jpg
blue16small.jpg
blue18small.jpg
blue19small.jpg

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!

blue20small.jpg
blue21small.jpg
blue22small.jpg

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.

blue23small.jpg

Finally, a solution: garden lights!

blue24small.jpg

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.

blue25small.jpg
blue26small.jpg

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.

blue27small.jpg
blue28small.jpg

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:

From Wonders In The Dark - Caldecott Medal Contender:
https://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/caldecott-medal-contender-i-used-to-be-afraid/

From Horn Book’s Calling Caldecott:
http://www.hbook.com/2015/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/two-books-about-emotions/

And from SalsFictionAddiction:
http://salsfictionaddiction.blogspot.com/2016/01/i-used-to-be-afraid-written-and.html

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...

afraid1.jpg

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"...

FullSizeRender.jpg

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.

Transient

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

Transient

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, with music composed and performed by my son, Dylan: 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.

Transient

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.

Transient

 The process isn’t always neat and tidy.

Transient

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.

Transient
Transient
Transient