With Lizzy Rockwell

All three of Anne’s children have flourishing careers in the arts. Lizzy Rockwell is both an acclaimed artist and author-illustrator of many picture books. Do visit her website at www.lizzyrockwell.com.  

Over the next few days, we will meet several of the distinguished illustrators who have illuminated Anne’s text. We are open to your comments, dear Reader! 


3.  One of your most frequent collaborators is your daughter, Lizzy Rockwell. Did you ever dream you’d be collaborating with one of your own kids on picture books? How you keep it professional? You two must have a fabulous relationship!

Anne Rockwell: You know, it just happened.  And Lizzy and I really work as separately as I do with any other illustrator.  In the beginning I gave her more input, but no longer.  We have a very good relationship, but quite different work styles, I feel.

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Lizzy Rockwell: Mom and I do have a great relationship.  Our work collaboration is quite professional. Unlike my parents, who worked side by side in the same studio, Mom and I have our own workspaces.  We might brainstorm new ideas over lunch or dinner, or on the phone, but we do all the physical work separately.  It’s great working with my mom, because there is no barrier to communication.

With all my other collaborative projects, I have never had any contact with the author till after the book was produced.  People are always so surprised to hear this, but it’s true.

The editor or art director acts as the go-between.  But with Mom’s text, if I have a question about what direction to go, or what she might have intended that wasn’t clear to me, I just ask her.

But at the same time, because she is such a great illustrator, and writes with a vision in her head, I have to be careful to really think it through for myself, and at least try to come up with the image before asking for any input.

In most cases I show the sketches to our editor at the same time I show them to Mom.

Joy Chu: You two have come up with delightful classroom featuring a cross-section of children in your holiday series of books for Harper. ST.PATRICK’S DAY is your eighth entry. Who came up with Mrs. Madoff?

"St Patrick's Day" by Anne Rockwell and Lizzy Rockwell

"St Patrick's Day" by Anne Rockwell and Lizzy Rockwell

Anne Rockwell: Lizzy had a pair of friends from college who shared the other half of a 2-family house. During this time (when we came up with the series), they got married, one becoming Mrs. Madoff. She got her masters in teaching, just as the first book SHOW AND TELL DAY was under way so we gave the teacher her name as a combination wedding and graduation present. It stuck. No relationship at all to Bernie Madoff, by the way.

Mrs. Madoff (left) from "President's Day"

Mrs. Madoff (left) from "President's Day"

Joy Chu: Do you still have any of your rough sketches from ST. PATRICK’S DAY?

Lizzy Rockwell: Here are four scans from St. Patrick’s Day. One shows one of my pages of thumbnail sketches that includes the spread (bottom of page) of Nicholas as St. Patrick driving the snakes (Sarah in snake costume) out of Ireland. These thumbnails are drawn on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of copier paper.

Selected thumbnails from "St. Patrick's Day"

Selected thumbnails from "St. Patrick's Day"

Next is the more resolved book dummy drawing (9″ x 18″),

A tight sketch from "St. Patrick's Day."

A tight sketch from "St. Patrick's Day."

and then the finished artwork (same size as dummy).

Finished art spread from "St Patrick's Day."

Finished art spread from "St Patrick's Day."

The last scan is the spread as printed in the book, with type in place.

Finished art from "St Patrick's Day," with type in place.

After final art is turned in to the publisher, the designer (in this case, Stephanie Bart-Horvath) positions all typography.

Joy Chu: You have raised three accomplished professionals, Anne. Your eldest daughter Hannah is affiliated with a major advertising agency in New York City. Your son Oliver is a full time photographer and web master for a New York company, working from Beijing. And there’s Lizzy! 🙂 How did you expose your own children to the world?

Lizzy Rockwell: Growing up in my family was quite an adventure.  Along with all the cultural immersion right in our home in the form of books, music and art supplies, we spent many weeks of many summers traveling around France, Italy, and England.  We were exposed to a lot of beautiful art and architecture, much of which was lost on us at the time!  But we absorbed it through osmosis and had that amazing time together as a family that I think many kids don’t get.

Lizzy's bookstore image

Of course, because we were separated from our home diversions like television and American peers for long stretches, we devised new ways to entertain ourselves: drawing, writing stories, making up intriguing  conspiracy plots about the places and people we came in contact with.  My sister Hannah was the creative director of all this imaginative play. We had a lot of fun.

50 responses to “With Lizzy Rockwell

  1. Bonnie Kelley-Young

    Hello! I just wanted to say how much I have been enjoying following your Got Story Countdown with Anne and Lizzy. I enjoy their work so much, from the perspective of a teacher of young children, a mother and aunt, and as a friend.

    My own son’s favorite was The Story Snail. And I spent hours as a child myself trying to draw suns like Anne’s from Good Llama: A Picture Story from Peru, and now, as a teacher, I use many of Anne’s, and many Anne/Lizzy books, in my teaching.

    No one else has quite the understanding of the developmental level of young children as these two, and I’m so proud to count them both as my friends.

  2. Hi again Sonja,
    I hope you’ll find time to check in on Monday when Gregory Christie will be Joy’s guest. I know he’d love to reconnect with you.

    And if Lizzy comes (and maybe Khalaf) we’d all have a blast!

  3. Hi Sonja! Thanks for chiming in! Later, you will see posts from our other friend and participant at the Norwalk Festival of Words, Gregory Christie. Have a great day!

  4. Good to meet you Sonja! I love ON THE SUBWAY, too.

    Come again!

  5. Hello and Welcome, Sonja!
    And thank you for your kind words.
    There’s more to come!

  6. Hello Anne, Lizzy, Melanie and all the others whom I do not know,
    So many fabulous tales – so well told. I have enjoyed a morning catching up with yesterday’s interactions and I see that folks got an early start this morning. Truly I am a lover of children’s books, the best of which are great for readers of all ages. I am so happy to have given Rockwell books to my grand nephews and niece. And your’s too Melanie. “On the Subway” is a favorite along with Lizzy’s “President’s Day.”

    I love knowing Anne and Lizzy and their work together family business. It was great seeing their illustrations shown together with other of Anne’s collaborators a couple of years ago. And I have learned so much reading this blog. Thanks!!

    • Sonja,
      I too love On the Subway. I can “hear” steel drum music against the backdrop of whooshing express trains when I read that book. I think it was inspired that Melanie was selected to illustrate that book! Magic within an urban setting.

  7. Good morning Joy!

    Thanks for the information about the Moon Cakes. No, Oliver gave me no information, said they keep for a long time, just handed me a pretty box of them, and I took 2, and left the rest on Hannah’s dining table. One will wait to inspire me (I hope) on my moon book I’m working on right now. But eat it—no! I should have at least acquired the Chinese custom of drinking hot water while I was there, I guess.

  8. Good Morning Joy (and Friends). Believe me, the pleasure was all mine! I forgot to mention the wonderful Leonard Marcus book that I think your readers would love, about parent/child picture book teams. It’s called Pass It Down: Five Picture Book Families Make Their Mark. It has chapters about the Rockwell, Hurd, Crews, Pinkney, and Myers families.

    It’s so great that you have created this forum for conversation amongst artists, writers, and lovers of children’s books. I will definitely stay posted and can’t wait to hear the contributions of the upcoming artists. What fun!

    • Great suggestion, Lizzy! I’ve created a link to it in your comment. Many thanks again for your input. I hope you’ll stay around. Don’t hesitate to peek and post! 😀

  9. @ Lizzy: T H A N K . Y O U 🙂 for your lovely visit. It’s delightful to meet you, and generous of you to share your life and art with us! You also gave us a window into the specialness of your family, and how much art has enriched your life.

    @ Anne: Look at the all enchantment you attract!!! I too can hardly wait until tomorrow. Rest well, knowing it’s wasn’t food poisoning, it’s only moon cake.
    🙂 🙂 🙂

    Until tomorrow, Everyone!

  10. This has been a great party! I started off the day dreading it, after a night of what I suspect is food poisoning. Could it be from eating one of those enchanting Moon Cakes my son brought from their Full Moon party in Beijing??? I hope not for I’ve heard some of the most artistic of them are kept for years.

    Anyway, thanks most of all to our gracious and well-organized hostess Joy; to my wonderful daughter Lizzy, who has a poise and aplomb I doubt she got from me; and all you kind and friendly and fun-loving guests!

    I can’t wait until tomorrow!

    • Yikes, Moon cakes!!!
      [Tangential thought follows]

      Caution: While it is the utmost honor to be gifted with them — and mind you, my heart is always warmed by the good wishes that accompany them. OTOH, I think they are among the most wretched-tasting things on the planet. It’s an acquired taste.

      I hope Oliver instructed you on the protocol for eating them. You ingest one tiny piece-at-a-time. Just the one. Very slowly.

      I cut my moon cakes into 8’s. Or 16’s. . .

      Having plenty of hot tea or water handy to wash it down gently. Then, it’s a ritual, and quite fun actually.

      My son used to bring them to my parents as a token of respect. They LOVED them. One moon cake would last them for days.

      I am OK with the ones filled with nuts. But the ones with 1,000-year old eggs… shudder.

      Funny coincidence: I went to SVA, too! One of my Chinese classmates presented my oil painting teacher (a western mega China-phile) with a beautiful moon cake, fresh from Chinatown.

      My teacher whooped with glee and swallowed it whole before my classmate could say “Ay-YAH!” Next moment, that tall man was bent over sideways on the floor, then disappeared. One can only presume he fled home. . . .

      Moral of this tale? Pepto Bismol can be your new best friend.

      Moon Cake

  11. Hi everybody. Thanks for all the great input.

    I just got back from teaching a quilting class in Norwalk, Ct. Our group is called Peace by Piece: The Norwalk Community Quilt Project. It’s a step away from illustration, but not a big step. We are intergenerational group, and quilts are visual and narrative. Plus mom taught me and Hannah how to quilt when we were teenagers, so it all comes back to the story here!

    Norwalk Community Quilt Project logo

    Reggie is our new puppy. He is a three month old English Setter. We recently lost our amazing ten year old Viszla, Caesar, to cancer. The house feels much better with a dog in it. He took a nice long nap in the studio this morning, which was great.

    I lost the thread of the “imaginative play” conversation, and just realized that I started it! Andrea’s picture book parties sound fun!

    Even stateside, Hannah, Olly and I were constantly dressing up, writing plays (well Hannah wrote them and we were directed in them), illustrating comics, making art, planning new neighborhood regimes…

    My boys were the same. It’s great when that human desire to create and tell stories can extend into adulthood. This is one of the best things about being a children’s book author and illustrator. You get to stay in the mind set of a child.

    One of my favorite things to illustrate in the Mrs. Madoff series, are all the visual art creations of the students. In ST PATRICK’S DAY I got to imagine Sarah’s great snake constume, Charlie and Jessica’s illustration of the narrative of the Saint’s life, Pablo and Sam’s leprechaun costumes…..

    Children aren’t the only ones with imagination, but they have more time and confidence to indulge it. I think all adults should find a way to get back to that place. We were all great artists, storytellers, actors, dancers and singers when we were five!

    Have to go make dinner now. It’s been great chatting with you all! Peace.

  12. Kids only! Funny. . . .

  13. Thanks for visiting, Kit.

    Joy–I wasn’t allowed to share in these workshops! Kids only! Besides, I was in the studio trying to turn my own remembered childhood play into books!

    I’d love to attend one of Andrea’s picture book parties. California, here I come!

    I’ll leave it to Lizzy to introduce Reggie.

  14. At Andrea’s picture book parties, each one has a special theme. Everyone who attends must share a title with said theme. Last night it was to bring a picture book featuring a strong main character. Why is that character appealing or provocative? How can we create characters children want to read about? This brought about lots of stories and thoughts. It was a good round robin last night. . . our own imaginative play, so to speak.

  15. Good stuff. Enjoyed interview and discussion.
    Kit Grady

  16. @ Anne: I believe Denise is referring to what Lizzy said:

    “. . . we devised new ways to entertain ourselves: drawing, writing stories, making up intriguing conspiracy plots about the places and people we came in contact with. My sister Hannah was the creative director of all this imaginative play. We had a lot of fun. . . ”

    @ Lizzy & Anne: Can you describe any of these for us? I think you’ve got the inner story-teller in all of us intrigued!

  17. Andrea and David, in turn, have worked with an array of great collaborators, too. And their titles often crop up when I ask my students to share books.

  18. Hello Denise, Andrea and Uma. Thank you so much for coming to the party. I’m eager now to read all your books! And I want to know more about the “Imaginative Play” concept.

    Thank you especially for your praise of the lightness of the cultural touches. We always risk being heavy-handed or stereotyping in moving outside our own culture, so to avoid doing so is something I’m very proud of and know Lizzy is, too. But it’s very good to hear it from you.

    Joy, these surprise guests are making me wish I’d dressed better for the occasion! I hope Reggie’s behaving well, Lizzy.

  19. Hello and welcome, Uma!
    I like the look of your book, Out of the Way! Out of the Way! very much.

  20. Lovely discussion, thank you. The lightness of the cultural touches in these books is something worth talking about.

  21. Hi Joy. Yes I got my illustration training at School of Visual Arts. I also taught a class there for a couple of years called Visual Storytelling.

    My most memorable teachers were Jim McMullen, John Ruggeri, Frances Jetter, Stanley Martucci and Cheryl Greisbach.

    None of them at the time were children’s book illustrators, though Jim McMullen now does beautiful books. So they weren’t tapped into the children’s book legacy of my family at the time. It was kind of good to be anonymous. No one had particular expectations of me.

    I started out wanting to do magazine, book jacket, album cover (remember records?) and still life illustration. I actually shied away from children’s books, because those were some pretty big foot prints to step into…. Also my rendering and decorative abilities were much stronger from the start, than my narrative sense. That has developed over time.

    The Toolbox, by Anne and Harlow Rockwell

    SVA is a great school, because all your classes are taught by professionals working in their fields. During that time I also lived at home, and got a lot of invaluable (and tough!) coaching from my mom and dad (Harlow Rockwell). Dad and I shared a studio, and I have very fond memories of that time with him.

    I had studied fine art and art history at Connecticut College, which was also a wonderful place to learn and study art. Though upon graduation I didn’t feel prepared for the work place. Continuing Ed at SVA was a fabulous solution for preparing me for that bridge to work.

    I’m so impressed with the education Nick is receiving. It is extremely technical, creatively inspiring, and the standards are very high.

    Writing and illustrating a graphic novel or comic book is one of the most complicated artistic endeavors I can imagine. It’s really kind of like creating a movie on paper. You have to be writer, researcher, director, cinematographer, set designer, actor (for every role), costume designer, makeup artist, and storyboard artist.

    Nick had this story telling ability from the very beginning. He and Grannie Annie were always right in sync! We are very proud of the work he is doing there.

    He and his brother Nigel (studying design at Carnegie Mellon) have art genes coming at them from both sides. Their paternal grandfather, the late John Alcorn, was also a wonderful designer and illustrator.

  22. Hi Andrea! 🙂
    @ Everyone: Andrea is the leader and a major instigator of “imaginative play” via both the SCBWI picture book meetings and her blog. Check out her website here. She and her husband, David Clemesha, have also collaborated with our surprise guest for Wednesday. You’ll have to return here to find out who it is. The plot thickens!

  23. Hello all,
    I just wanted to say how much I’m enjoying the discussion. Since my husband and I have worked together writing and illustrating picture books, it’s so fun to hear other collaborators talk about their projects. We have done three books with the same characters and they’re becoming “real people,” too. Thanks for being on Joy’s Countdown.

  24. SVA! What a terrific school that is! Lizzy, you went there as well, yes? Wow, the artistic legacy continues! Graphic novels. . . . an entirely different arena for story-telling. Still, there is a similar sensibility between graphic novels and picture books in terms of visual pacing. Did you study children’s book illustration there? Who were your instructors? And did anyone there know you were one of THE Rockwells?

  25. An aside: A group of us from the local chapter of SCBWI gets together once a month to share picture books. “Imaginative play” is one of the topics we address, in terms of creative stimulation for ideas and explorations for story topics.

    That said, I think Denise might have an idea there for you two — or the whole Rockwell clan! A book to stimulate the brain for arts creation!

  26. Hi Denise! Great seeing you here, and at last night’s picture book meeting. 🙂

  27. This is wonderful! The story of your imaginative play seems picture book worthy as well.

  28. It has been so fun to get to know the children in Mrs. Madoff’s classroom over the years. Though Nicholas is now an adult college student in real life, on the pages of these books he will always be 5-6 years old. For a mom and grandmother, that is pretty fun!

    In each book new details are revealed about the children’s identities: their cultural heritage, their family composition, their likes, dislikes, fears and aspirations.

    We know that Jessica has divorced parents, is brave and adventurous, loves animals…..

    Evelyn is from a tropical island (her French name and ability to help make beignets are hints that she comes from Haiti) loves pretty and fancy things, is very social, and a natural leader.

    Charlie’s mom is a judge, his father is a pilot, he has a little sister, is best friends with Nicholas, and loves fire engines……

    Their narratives, and the things they would do or say off the page, are very clear to me. Really, we have become good friends over the 15 years that we have been together!

    I am motivated by meeting the children who read the books and identify with a certain character. In this child’s mind, that character was based on them.

    I think that mom did a great job of giving the student’s in Mrs. Madoff’s classroom traits that are specific and universal. With such diversity in the group, it’s likely that any child will find his or herself in the pages of these books. I’m really proud that we have achieved that.

  29. Forgot to add that Nicholas is now a senior at School of Visual Arts in New York majoring in graphic novels, comic strip art, or whatever it’s called. He’s an absolutely amazing artist! He’s gone to many schools since SHOW AND TELL DAY, and triumphed as the very gifted person he is.

  30. Oh Joy — you got it! Keeping track of this cast of characters is a nightmare. While they never grow older, time passes for the rest of us, and there’s a lot to clutter one’s memory. But Lizzy is far better at keeping their past and present in her head, I believe, because she visits schools a lot and finds so many children there who know these children as their very own friends.

    As books find readers they take on lives of their own. This wasn’t planned to be a series. When Lizzy’s oldest son Nicholas began school, becoming part of a larger community wasn’t easy for him, for unlike his mother, he wasn’t born a social being. Neither was his grandmother.

    Maybe that’s why it struck me that show-and-tell day was the day when each child could go to school carrying his or her own “guardian” — something that told who they were. It was definitely not a day to show off “my toys are fancier than yours” or anything like that, but simply to share something that was loaded with meaning with your new friends.

    And in doing so, these new neighbors in the classroom without parents, siblings, baby-sitters, or any of a child’s extended family, became not strangers, but friends. I think children understand the stories that are being told in these books very well. Better perhaps than adults do, who may only see cute kids doing cute things. They bear out something I know, but need reminding of, with each book: The simplest book can carry a potent message to a child.

  31. I imagine there are so many details to keep track of in each one of these books. I notice that the same cast of children — a multicultural cross section of kids — re-occur in Mrs. Madoff’s class. They never age, of course. 🙂

    We get to know something about each of them with each holiday. Is there a master diagram — a class photo; police line-up in size place, frontal/profile; or individual character studies — that you all (author, illustrator, editor, publishing team) refer to for reference? Perhaps a reference dossier about their respective families? And what a job, checking for consistency (ie, same clothing, hair/eye color, height, etc.) from page-to-page!

  32. Good morning Joy, Lizzy and Melanie.

    For an instant I was confused about the season. I thought fall and winter had come and go and it was St. Patrick’s Day! The pictures look so bright and spring-like, as they were meant to do.

    Lizzy has covered all the questions about our working together. The most recent book we’ve collaborated on is FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, which should come out in summer 2011.

    Between health problems on my part, and Lizzy running late due to other commitments, I didn’t see any of her early work, just went by cc e-mails between her and Phoebe Yeh, our editor. A few text questions came up for me, as is usually the case when these — what might seem to be modest litttle books, but in fact each one is a veritable magnum opus, due to the large and recurrring cast of characters — get to the illustration stage.

    Lizzy is so good at stage managing the show that I just throw out anything that pops into my head (like that snake in ST. PATRICK’S DAY) and figure she’ll find a way to solve it. I wonder if other illustrators might not just throw up their hands in despair at that point and call it quits!

  33. Good morning Melanie, Mom, and Joy! I really enjoyed reading the answers from Mom and Melanie. And great questions Joy.

  34. Good morning, Melanie! Great to see you here!

  35. It was fun hanging out with Anne and Lizzy in CT. Both have been extremely friendly and generous with me. Thanks for a good read.

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