Anne’s work covers an amazing scope of topics. Today we’ll look at one of her historical biographies, BIG GEORGE: HOW A SHY BOY BECAME PRESIDENT WASHINGTON, illustrated by Matt Phelan.
4. What inspired you to write about George Washington? To cull an amazing life into a picture book for young readers — with so much material available — it must’ve been a daunting task. And did you supply any picture references with the manuscript for the illustrator as you wrapped up research for this book?
Anne Rockwell: Actually, I’d worked with Tamson Weston for a couple of years on this title. She did a marvelous editing job. There seemed to be problems in getting an illustrator through the acquisitions committee but finally she was able to sign Matt on. After she left Harcourt, Samantha McFerrin picked it up and followed through.
When it comes to the biographical books, such as BIG GEORGE (illustrated by Matt Phelan); and OPEN THE DOOR TO LIBERTY and ONLY PASSING THROUGH (both illustrated by Greg Christie), the illustrations were aimed at just where the story is aimed at — children older than those I feel most comfortable illustrating for. They brought a lot to my work, and I am so grateful for that.
Matt Phelan: When editor Tamson Weston called me about illustrating Big George, she said “No cherry tree, no wooden teeth.”
And when I read Anne’s manuscript I saw that this was indeed far deeper and richer than most picture books about Washington.
It was very different from my previous picture books and that was very exciting and challenging. I used gouache and polychromos pencils for the illustrations, which was a change from my usual pen and watercolors.
I wanted to give the book a rough and energetic feel because it seemed to me that many books about the Revolutionary War are somewhat crisp, clean and orderly, and this war was a far cry from that.
The yellow background in the cover is a nod to N.C. Wyeth’s endpaper paintings for Treasure Island which feature grey figures against a yellow sky. In my mind, Wyeth and Howard Pyle are the kings of illustrating this period, so that just felt right.