About a million years ago, or eight, as part of an early-years literacy program, our family got a free copy of a wonderful book called, Read Me a Book (how meta is that?!).
The writer’s name was a source of endless hilarity to my daughter as she grew up – Barbara Reid. Perhaps because of that, the name stuck with us, and we started seeing her books everywhere.
Perhaps that’s just because she’s written and illustrated so many other books, all in her trademark Plasticine style. (I guess there’s something about this kind of medium; one of my favourite interviews so far for this blog has been with Jo Litchfield, who works in a rather similar style using Fimo models.)
All my kids and I have been fascinated over the years, through many of Barbara’s books, by the way her illustrations are rich with detail, often odd little details you only notice on the third (or thirtieth) reading.
(from Picture a Tree, 2013)
I was honoured to have had a chance to chat with Barbara recently
about writing children’s books. As usual, two of the questions are “standard” ones that I ask every writer / illustrator, and the last one is specific to Barbara and her craft.
WriteKidsBooks (WKB): How are kids' picture books different from adult books?
Barbara Reid (BR): Some of the most important differences between picture books and adult books are:
· The pictures!
Because the reader is receiving and interpreting information from both word and image, the experience is very rich and vivid. I believe that reading pictures comes naturally to children, they are brilliant at it, and reading pictures leads to better literacy all round.
· The form.
A picture book gives the author and illustrator a very short space and time to capture and entertain the reader, convey emotion, and tell a story. Basically, The Meaning of Life in 32 pages.
· The audience.
Young readers are hungry for stories, but the very young benefit from the help of a grown-up to connect with a book, either to do the actual reading, or just to share the experience together. Reading aloud brings the books to life, and can make them a performance piece as much as a story. Timing and page turning are critical to making the book easy for anyone to read aloud to good effect. If you get it right, the book becomes the one that is requested over and over and over...the one that falls apart from use. That is the highest compliment a picture book creator can receive.
WKB: What is your favourite children's book of all time?
BR: I have so many favourite children's books that this question makes my head explode! I'll go with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes. I read the Narnia books dozens of times, and learned a lot about drawing and design by copying Pauline's gorgeously expressive illustrations.
WKB: Your plasticine illustrations really bring your stories to life, but are there any limitations to what you can do in this format? Have you ever thought about branching out into other media, 3d, 2d or otherwise?
BR: Plasticine is a fantastic medium for expression, but it does have limitations. It is tough to express transparency, for one thing. But the limitations help me to be more creative in solving problems, and it simplifies the choices. I still love to draw, and may return to painting one day, but I don't think I will run out of interesting challenges with plasticine for a while yet. I love claymation, but lack the patience and time to do it myself. Some talented people have animated bits of my work and I hope to see that happen more.
Thanks a bazillion for chatting with me, Barbara! If you’d like to get to know her better, please click on the sweet ladybug graphic to visit her site.
With a writing and illustration career now spanning three decades (the first book she illustrated, The New Baby Calf, by Edith Newlin Chase, came out in 1992), Barbara has become a beloved grand dame of the Canadian and International kid-lit scene, and she’s still going strong.
Barbara’s latest book is Welcome Baby, a board book from Scholastic Canada. The Night Before Christmas, the classic by Clement C. Moore, with Barbara’s illustrations, came out last fall from Scholastic Canada. It has been shortlisted for a Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award, and will be available in the USA in fall 2014.
She also says, mysteriously, “I'm working on a new picture book story, but it is too early to talk about it yet.” I can’t wait to see what it will be.
Want to see how she does it?
For a treat, sit down and watch these 4 videos at her site showing how she creates her trademark Plasticine illustrations. Here’s the first one, just to start you off (warning: you’ll never smear clay the same way again!):
What would you ask Barbara if you could? And if you could interview (or READ an interview with) any children’s book writer or illustrator, who would it be?