Tag Archives: Anne Rockwell

When you write, and someone else draws…

It’s a unique opportunity when an illustrator can also write stories that other artists can render. This happened to Don Tate when he wrote It Jes’ Happened, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

Check out this excellent discussion between Anne Rockwell and Don Tate, at Anne’s site.

“…While I could have illustrated the story, my illustration styles weren’t the perfect match for the text. My editor wanted the art to be edgy, gritty. I wanted to go with an illustrator who had broader name recognition than myself. Greg Christie became one of our top choices.”—Don Tate


Original art by Bill Traylor

Remember this if you encounter a book editor who loves your story, but suggests that another illustrator provide the art. Don’t insist on all (doing both story and pictures) or nothing.

If a publisher is seriously interested in acquiring one component, make sure to ask why. Decisions like these are made for the good of the project.

Art from

From “It Jes’ Happened” by Greg Christie right-click to enlarge

Editors want your book to sell as many copies as possible. One practical consideration is name recognition. Newcomers tend to forget that buyers invariably prefer to request a familiar name or brand, even in bookstores or libraries. Or just the books with the medals on their jackets. Publishers also need to see how your name fares out there initially, in the mutual interest of nurturing a new career for the long term.


A visit from Anne Rockwell & Lizzy Rockwell!

Great news: Another mother-and-daughter collaboration is in-the-works! Today, we get a sneak-preview right here!

I still receive terrific feedback about our winter 2010 Countdown Interview with Anne Rockwell. Click here to re-live her long time many-faceted career — with her late husband, Harlow Rockwell; on her own as author/illustrator; and her collaborations with many celebrated picture book artists.

Her interview with daughter, Lizzy Rockwell can be found here. — JC

Anne Rockwell: HarperCollins is publishing First Day of School, illustrated by my daughter, Lizzy Rockwell, due out in June 2011.

Jacket art, with type for "First Day of School"

This is the jacket art, with type design by Sean Boggs of HarperCollins.

This is a new title in our series about the children in one particular classroom, the most recent being St Patricks Day and President’s Day.

Lizzy Rockwell: Here are the thumbnails for the opening pages. Also included below are the progressive sketches for the first story spread (pages 6-7); then the final art, with text type in position.

original thumbnails for 3 spreads

original thumbnails for 3 spreads

Joy Chu: [See above] The first spread is of the printed endpapers, or “self-ends,” numbered as pages 2-3. Page 1 will be glued to the book cover board. Pages 4-5 is the title page spread. The story begins on pages 6-7.

sketch for pp 6-7 of FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL

dummy sketch for spread 6-7

revised sketch for spread 6-7

revised sketch for spread 6-7

finished art for spread pages 6-7

finished art for spread pages 6-7

Lizzy Rockwell: On the opening spread, pages 6 & 7, Nicholas has a reckoning with his unruly end-of-summer hair.

Joy Chu: That added self-portrait of Nicholas — which first appears in the revised version of your initial sketch, is an inspired touch!

From a story telling standpoint, it serves as a clever means for us to feel his anticipation (and his anxiety) towards that first day. The reader will perceive Nicholas as a real live kid, not simply a made-up character. We can all identify with having bad hair days. It also sets up the scenario of the book’s theme nicely!

Show us your latest picture book!

We’ll be seeing some sparkling new picture books with spring just around the corner.

Here are just a few, sent in by book friends. We’re get up close and personal on the collaborative aspect, in weeks to come. Stay tuned!

Roxie Munro has a new book, Hatch!, just published by Marshall Cavendish. It’s a big picture book with a guessing game about eggs, and the birds that hatch from them.

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb, by Bauer/McCully

Marion Dane Bauer has a new book coming soon, with illustrations by Caldecott medalist Emily Arnold McCully.

Illustrator Lori McElrath-Eslick‘s new book is by NYC fireman Tim Hoppey.

Popular librarian Jeanette Larson has a new book, Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas, beautifully illustrated with textile art byAdrienne Yorinks, just published by Charlesbridge. There will be a Book Release party at Book People (Austin) on March 5 at noon. The book looks at the facts about hummingbirds and couples that information with folktales from peoples of the Americas. Great for kids or birders of any age.

The dynamic mother-daughter duo of Anne Rockwell and Lizzy Rockwell returns with First Day of School, featuring the children we’ve met in their previous classroom holiday books. We will get a sneak peek here!

And Bridget Strevens-Marzo writes us from France:

I’ve really appreciate your Got Story interviews on digital books; and Anne Rockwell; but I’m running to catch up! That’s why I identify with the snail in the book I illustrated, MINI RACER, just out yesterday with Bloomsbury US and UK. Kristy Dempsey’s text is a zooming romp of an action poem so I had to come up with all the characters from a mouse in a cheese car to alligators in a gas-guzzling Cadillac and a visual storyline that fit their personalities. So far, no one has noticed that the most eco-friendly vehicles get furthest in the race. . .

Mini Racer by Dempsey and Strevens-Marzo

[An update: This cover is from the U.K. edition. Go here to see the U.S. version. — JC]

Do you have a new book coming out this spring?  Drop me a line. You could be in for a lot of nosy questions about it at the Countdown!

Thank you, Anne Rockwell…

Homage to Jose Clemente Orozco by Anne Rockwell

. . . for being our Guest Artist-in-Residence. You shared so much of your wisdom about the children’s picture book world with us. We’ve been blessed by your generosity and spirit. You really “walk-the-walk” — as you demonstrated through your own multi-talented children and grandchildren, and to the rest of us.  🙂

Santa by Anne Rockwell
Your wonderful books reflect your far-reaching interests. Thank you for allowing us to collaborate with you at the Countdown.

Special thanks too, to your co-collaborators. . . .

"Valentine's Day"

Lizzy Rockwell

final cover for BIG GEORGEW

Matt Phelan

Cover from "What's So Bad About Gasoline"

Paul Meisel

Cover from CLOUDS

Frané Lessac

Cover from "Open the Door to Liberty"

R. Gregory Christie

. . . and so many more collaborators who popped in:  Vanessa van der Baan and daughter, Megan Halsey, Bernice Lum. . . .

And YOU, dear readers — including those who chimed in; those who sent emails; those who attended and absorbed quietly; those who tweeted; and the rest of you, who spread the word. Thank you ALL for joining the Countdown!

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

"Sweet Potato Pie" by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Carolyn Croll

Artist Carolyn Croll sent an email "Howdy!"

From sketches to art

A sampling of Anne Rockwell books

Left-to-right: Becoming Butterflies, Planes, Our Stars, My Spring Robin, Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train, My Preschool


10. Would you share some of your own process with us? And what’s coming up for you?

Joy Chu: Here are selected pages from the book dummy for My Preschool, followed by pages from the final book. Your grand-daughter assisted you with creating the artwork, yes?

Outline sketch for the title page of "My Preschool"

Note that the above sketch is the mirror-image version of the final result below.
[Anne: This is the drawing that’s transferred onto mylar, via your monoprint process, yes?—JC]

Title page art from "My Preschool"

Title page art from "My Preschool"

Finished art from "My Preschool"

Finished art from "My Preschool"

A book dummy sketch from "My Preschool"

A book dummy sketch from "My Preschool"

Here are images from the book dummy for Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train. Anne provided the drawings, which were colorized by Vanessa van der Baan.

A book dummy page from "Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train"

A book dummy page from "Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train"

Sketch was transferred, then colorized.

Sketch was transferred, then colorized.

Another dummy page from "Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train"

Another dummy page from "Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train"

Corresponding colorized final art

Corresponding colorized final art

Anne Rockwell: Vanessa and I are working on a similar book about the local police station called Vroom! Vroom! Go the Police. Vanessa is illustrating all by herself–a first.  But she’s been an animator at Cartoon Network ever since she finished college at NYU film school.

Vanessa van deer Baan: It has definitely been an interesting transition from the animation world into the world of children’s books.

I have really enjoyed seeing through the process and how it differs. It’s much more fun to have your artwork seen for more than a millisecond and it allows me to spend more time focusing on detail.It’s also more rewarding to have something tangible in the end!

Creating the dummy for the first time was also a challenging process. It is a lot like story boarding for animation but you also have a lot less of a moment to tell the story in than with animation. One image must relay a large chunk of the story.

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge working on this new book and I can’t wait to see how it turns out once all the color is in place!

Joy Chu: And here is Vanessa’s muse for creating her VROOM VROOM images:

"VroomVroom" van der Baan

"VroomVroom" van der Baan


Joy Chu: Let’s look at yet another art technique. Here are samples from another of Anne’s collaborators, artist Megan Halsey. This is from Becoming Butterflies:

Cover from "Becoming Butterflies"

Cover from "Becoming Butterflies"

Title page from "Becoming Butterflies"

Title page from "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

According to the copyright page, the illustrations were “…first painted in watercolor on Passion watercolor paper, then individuallly cut out and glued in layers to create a three-dimensional piece of art.”

Since three-dimensional art cannot be shot on a scanner, the art must be shot by a photographer, either digitally or via transparencies.

It also appears that the background texture of the watercolor paper itself — not just of the subjects themselves, but the backgrounds they are adhered to — was included as part of the art, as seen with the white space on the title page.

This presents a new set of issues to address. By its very nature, the quality of the photograph is dependent upon the lighting of the artwork and the skill of the photographer.

The colors in the resulting photograph, or scan, will invariably change between the original paint color and what the camera perceives.

And then there are the shadows. How harsh or soft will they be in the resulting photoscan? Will they detract or enhance the art? And what about inadvertent unwanted shadows from neighboring elements?

Of course, the goal is to have the photo or scan match the original art as closely as humanly possible.

Ultimately, the end results must be approved by the artist, editor, art director, and the book printer.

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Tips for newcomers

Anne actually posted the comments below yesterday, at the end of the More Collaborations page. I’m re-posting it here, as it deserves its own page —JC
Anne Rockwell and Lizzy Rockwell (left, center) on location near the Florida Everglades, for their book, “Who Lives in an Alligator Hole?”

9. Any advice for illustrators just starting out?

Anne Rockwell: Hmmm. There’s no easy answer, for everyone has a unique work style. I would say, study the masters.

For example, right now I’m doing a book for toddlers on the moon. In the process, I’m looking at the moonlight masters, Albrecht Altdorfer, Peter Paul Rubens (only one painting comes to mind but it’s perhaps the greatest moonlit landscape ever painted), Albert Pinkham Ryder, Charles Burchfield and Graham Sutherland are good starters.

Landscape by Moonlight by Rubens
[Landscape by Moonlight by Peter Paul Rubens]

Then of course, I look at the moon itself, night by night.

At this point I’m doing what Matisse called “painting without a paintbrush” — looking, thinking, looking, thinking.

But any illustrator, beginner or experienced, needs to always remember that the pictures tell half of a story. Words do the rest.

I’m convinced that children develop their visual intelligence sooner than their verbal, and they aren’t just looking at a picture in a book and thinking “Nice color and composition.”

Uh-uh! They are thinking “Where has that mouse, that was under the sofa, just peeking out, gone?” And the illustrator must know the answer to that question.

When I first started out, I illustrated manuscripts written by other people. I learned the hard way that what reads well on the page may be a short story – not a picture book.

I made the mistake of accepting manuscripts — I suppose because I was flattered to be wanted. That often had spread after spread of conversation, with nothing visual except perhaps characters turning heads, changing expressions, or perhaps raindrops suddenly falling outside.

And no matter how bright and festive the colors are, or how pretty the words, such books don’t become the ones children return to, again and again.

There’s much more I could add, but you have to find it out for yourself. So check your ego at the door of the studio and remember that you are having a conversation with a child — probably the child you were.

More collaborations

Anne’s books cover such a wide range of topics. It’s lovely to see the variety of artistic styles applied to her work — whether by herself, or by others. Visit Anne’s book page, and you’ll see the categories at-a-glance.

Anne Rockwell's book categories

Anne Rockwell's book categories


8.  Let’s look at other collaborations. . .

Here’s a charming selection of illustrations from Bernice Lum. This title is another Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out book :

"My Pet Hampster," by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Bernice Lum

"My Pet Hampster," by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Bernice Lum

From "My Pet Hampster", art by Bernice Lum

From "My Pet Hampster", art by Bernice Lum

From "My Pet Hampster", art by Bernice Lum

From "My Pet Hampster", art by Bernice Lum

Anne Rockwell: I think it is overall charming!  It’s a rather humanized hamster, don’t you think?

Joy Chu: It’s certainly an adorable hamster. For this book, the hamster has to be rendered likeable for us (the reader), so we are sympathetic to it. I think the “humanization” is a good thing.
I do note that that the hamster’s happy-closed eyes echos the little girl’s. I like it when we see its eyes wide-open, too. Kids really respond to eyeballs that move, and look around — the way they do, I think!

Overall, the book makes the subject of caring for hamsters really come alive. I love Bernice’s use of “action lines” to spice up the drawings. Everything really moves . . . the book is purely factual, and yet  not all step-by-step textbook-like in the least.

Joy Chu: Collaborations can take on different methodologies. For Whoo Whoo Goes the Train, you rendered the drawings. Vanessa van der Baan colorized the illustrations.

"Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train," Text and art by Anne Rockwell, colorized by Vanessa van der Baan

"Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train," Text and art by Anne Rockwell, colorized by Vanessa van der Baan

Anne Rockwell: When Vanessa van der Baan agreed to help me with digitally coloring my line art for Whoo Whoo Goes the Train, I wasn’t sure what it would look like.  Some computer art is rather cold and flat for my taste, and from what I’d see of her animation on The Kids Next Door TV show, I doubted that would be her approach.

from "Whoo Whoo Goes the Train"

from "Whoo Whoo Goes the Train"

All the same, when I saw her first piece of sample art — the train going over a bridge with fisherfolk and boats underneath— I was bedazzled!  Fortunately our editor at Harper/Collins, Phoebe Yeh, responded as I did, and we were on our way.

from "Whoo Whoo Goes the Train"

from "Whoo Whoo Goes the Train"

from "Whoo Whoo Goes the Train"

from "Whoo Whoo Goes the Train"

from "Whoo Whoo Goes the Train"

from "Whoo Whoo Goes the Train"

Whoo Whoo Goes the Train was to be followed by a sort-of companion book about a visit to the local police station.  As I wrote it, the problems I was having with arthritis in my right thumb joint were getting worse, and I’d been told that my only hope was complicated surgery with a lengthy recovery.

By this time, The Kids Next Door had finished all its episodes, and Vanessa had given birth to an adorable little girl.  Her commute was horrendous, so it wasn’t at all surprising that she decided to stay home (way out on Long Island) and be a full time mom.

Wonderful Phoebe accepted my idea that Vanessa not simply color, but illustrate the entire book.  Well, sort of.

First, Vanessa had to do a book dummy.

storyboard diagram

storyboard diagram

For some reason, dummies have always come naturally to me, perhaps because I had drawn a daily comic strip when I was very little on my father’s shirt cardboards.

And I loved Egyptian art in the museum.  I suspected that Vanessa’s experience and training in animation would enable her to understand the pacing of a dummy, too.  And I was right!

Egyptian art sample

Egyptian art sample

When  I saw her dummy for the new book, Vroom Vroom , I was amazed.  It ran the gauntlet at Harper and there were only a few miniscule suggestions.  So she’s at work on  it now.  I’d love to read what she has to say at this stage of the game!

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With R. Gregory Christie

Today we will focus on Anne‘s work with R. Gregory Christie. She and Greg collaborated on two biographies written for older children, “Open the Door to Liberty: A Biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture” and “Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth.”

Cover from "Open the Door to Liberty"

Cover from "Open the Door to Liberty"

7. What inspired the Toussaint L’Ouverture book? It’s a saga of epic proportions. I had no idea how much his story impacted the expansion of United States (via the Louisiana Purchase). Then there’s Napoleon, and of course, Haiti today. It’s an exciting saga of epic proportion!

Greg Christie: It was an idea stemming from a conversation between Anne and me. It all started with me asking her “Have you ever heard of Toussaint L’Ouverture?

Spot illustration from OPEN THE DOOR TO LIBERTY

Spot illustration from "Open the Door to Liberty"

Anne Rockwell: Greg and I were sharing a a taxi on the way to San Francisco airport after an American Library Association event where he got the Coretta Scott King Honor for Only Passing Through. He asked me if I’d ever heard of Toussaint L’Ouverture and I said “Yes.” It always struck me as odd that I, a white child from the segregated deep South, knew about (L’Ouverture) as a great man, and that few Americans did.

Toussaint L'Ouverture writes to Napoleon

Toussaint L'Ouverture writes to Napoleon

So we decided we’d give it a try. I believe I wrote a proposal which went to Random House. They had published the Sojourner book. They turned it down “. . . because no one has ever heard of him.”

Then editor Andrea Davis Pinkney went to Houghton, and Greg told her about it. She was eager to see it, so I sent what I’d done to her. She bought it, but not long after that she left Houghton. [note: Houghton was acquiring Harcourt at this period, further complicating the situation. — JC].

Greg Christie: Open the Door to Liberty came about from one of my long talks with Anne about history and culture. She often would chat with me for some time about the state of the children’s books industry, current affairs on this planet, and the roots of our American culture.

I am a lover of history, especially when it comes to the people of color in the Americas and Europe.

I like the way Anne sees things. Because it’s similar to my beliefs that African, Asian, Native of the New World or any ethnicity of the past, can fall under the banner of American History, if a parent or teacher chooses to look at it that way.

I feel that children’s books are a way to keep balance in the lesson plans. When children are taught about Thomas Edison, they should also learn about Benjamin Banneker. Father of the United States, then George Washington. Father of Haiti, then Toussaint L’Ouverture. The story of Harriet Tubman, then Sojourner Truth. That events in Haiti led to the Louisiana Purchase.

I believe that it’s a mistake to not use art and diversity in a school curriculum about world history.

Also, I feel it’s not wise to segment books according to each particular child’s ethnic group — Asian book, black book, etc. — but rather as a building block to understanding a related historical story. That it isn’t all about the founding fathers and benevolent brown people.

The history of non-European people is often glossed over. As a result, many children of color have no idea that their own ethnicity’s contributions from the past are alive in our current society. I’m just seeking some type of balance in subject matter, and between realistic vs. a stylized rendering.

Joy Chu: Greg, what was your process on doing this book? Was it difficult to find scrap reference?

Greg Christie: Absolutely. I only had a very old etching of Toussaint and there were not that many photographic images of island slavery life, as we have here in the states with peonism and sharecropping imagery, so it was hard to really get into the time period accurately. I did my best with internet images, plus Jacob Lawrence’s celebrated series of prints.

Pictorial reference for the Toussaint L'Ouverture book

Pictorial reference for Toussaint L'Ouverture

It’s not typical to have contact with the author when working with their words on a project. But in this case, I heard from Anne via email, with links. My editors were great and sent very useful information about his life, and the lay of the Haitian landscape around that time period.

Joy Chu: Did you get your rough sketches back with comments from your editors?

Greg Christie: The editors were pretty respectful, and gave me time with guidance.

After the first round of sketches, they suggested that I rework some of them to include a softer side of Toussaint. One painting with him taking care of a horse comes to mind. This spread was suggested to balance out the war scenes.

Joy Chu: Do you still have any of your rough sketches from these books?

Greg Christie: The rough sketches are around. . . I either need a organized wife or a good assistant because yeah, they are around. . . but we’d have to use an airline to find them.

I keep a close tab on the final art. That ends up framed for shows, or stored in an acid-free clear envelope, then away from the light in a metal flat file.

<Cover from "Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth"

Cover from "Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth"

The original art for Sojourner Truth was done in Berlin and Hamburg Germany. I remember cooking and painting in my friend’s kitchen before I ended renting my own flat.

The cover art came last on both books, and I also remember a process of speaking with my editors in order to get their opinion on what would be the best cover.

Coincidentally, both books were heavily directed when it came to the cover. Not the norm but it was welcomed and helped to make it an easier process.

Joy Chu: Tell us about your involvement with the Sojourner Truth project.

Greg Christie: The Sojourner Truth book came directly as a result of my first book, The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children.

Cover from "The Palm of my Heart"

Cover from "The Palm of my Heart"

“One Piece, Black Hands,” which is the first image done for any children’s book by me, was of a very tall elongated woman with large hands. Her eyes are closed and face weathered as she wears a long blue gown with a white floral print.

I suppose that my editors saw the image, and thought I could do an interesting historical book. A year later came a new book, a new company, and a new friend for me.

I think Anne is an interesting storyteller, whether over a lunch tray of Connecticut sushi, or in-between a front-and-back book cover.

Joy Chu: Did the art director provide you with typographic layouts for reference? Did you provide scans or did the publisher have them done?

Greg Christie: The art directors from both publishing houses provided me with a layout.

I didn’t do a typical book dummy. I tend to just sketch after the book is broken down into segments. So for “Sojourner Truth,” they accepted contour drawings with page number.

Art from "Only Passing Through"

Art from "Only Passing Through"

The other publisher asked for a layout, which I did electronically. Then the art director laid out the art (plus type) properly from my file.

It’s typical for the publisher to scan the final art. I had a difficult time with Toussaint. I sent digital files that they then laid out. When all was completed, I sent the original final art itself to be scanned. The book was printed shortly after that.

Spot illustration from "Open the Door to Liberty"

Spot illustration from "Open the Door to Liberty"

Joy Chu: When you mention sending digital files, were they of your rough sketches? Or of your final art-in-progress, low-resolution? Then subsequently you sent final art? Were they very large pieces? I know the final book trim size (7 x 9″) is medium-squarish.

Greg Christie: The rough sketches for Toussaint, were saved as a pdf file at first: scanned by a fax-to-email program called efax. I use this plus other technology in order to be able to work anywhere. Once a sketch is done, I fax it to myself and then open them as Photoshop jpegs, then save everything as a pdf.

From "Open the Door to Liberty"

From "Open the Door to Liberty"

The art for this book was quite a workload. Initially I sent the rough sketches to my publisher with page numbers written on them. They were confused and asked that I drop the sketches into a layout with words. I got a digital file of Anne’s words and put them plus my sketches together in a design layout program.

That file became huge; I tried to break them up into pdf files of under 10 megs each. Eventually the publisher just gave me a FTP and I uploaded it, all-at-once.

Once I sign a contract, I am beyond excited; I just paint. However there’s a protocol. It’s sketches, and then a layout and then talking about. Even debating the vision for the book.

That’s just the way it works when collaborating. I (tend to) save my energy and time for the final art. But different editors have different presentations when creating a book, so simple sketches with a page number, rather than a traditional book dummy, may not fly.

Sojourner Truth gives a speech

Sojourner Truth gives a speech. From "Only Passing Through"

I intentionally kept the art for “Sojourner” small so that I could complete the book a lot more easily, and be able to scan final art on a home scanner.

Open the Door / Toussaint artwork was roughly 8x 11, while the final art for Sojourner Truth was roughly 12 x 18″ inches. Final art was sent Fed Ex across the Atlantic, with them (the publisher) having no idea what they’d get aesthetically.

It’s funny but when I first started messing around with technology, I was a late comer. I have a strong love for challenging my brain, and ignored computers all through my art school days all the way up to 1998.

I have more faith in written letters , rather than emails that disappear when a plug is pulled. Prefer holding a tangible book over digital books, etc.

From "Palm of the Heart"

From "The Palm of my Heart"

I feel the world is changing quickly and so many people in positions of power have such mean spirited personal agendas. As a result, I feel it’s very unwise to make everything digital, due to the ease of censorship.

For example, complete sections of books and films can be altered with a keystroke and final runs of the written word are often filled with errors because there is a electronic spell checker rather than the eyes of a human copy editor.

From "Palm of the Heart"

From "The Palm of my Heart"

Even in terms of my art, I sometimes get an email asking to change a color or to add an element that’s not in the original piece, it’s amazing in one sense, but also dangerous.

Scanning and digital files have freed me as an illustrator to work anywhere, but I am careful to not fall too deeply into it. When I first started using computers, I didn’t even know how to send an email. Now I fix my friends’ hardware and software issues.

While I was working on these two books, I wondered if a Sojourner Truth or Toussaint L’Ouverture could have existed today. These two figures inspired people with ideas that were not the norm, and could have gotten them killed.

From "Open the Door to Liberty"

From "Open the Door to Liberty"

Sojourner drew myriads of curious people to hear her speak, during a time period when I suppose people had longer attention spans and not so many entertaining distractions.

I wonder if her “Aint I A Woman” speech would be censored down in to sound bytes and calculated words to win the favor of whichever group of loud people had the most power. If she’d have a team of advisors telling her to take off her famous black robe because polls dictate people like bright colors.

Would Toussaint be criticized even before he started to fight for his changes? It was interesting to know that no one ever knew what he was doing, or where he’d show up to inspire his people to earn their freedom.

Toussaint L'Ouverture as a tiny baby at birth. . . .

Toussaint L'Ouverture was the tiniest baby at birth. . . .

With Toussaint, there are (gaps) for historians to fill in because he was a man who’d keep you thinking.

When I do these books, I think about these things, and, like a character actor, really get in to the elements of the time period.

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With Frané Lessac

Another illustrator who worked on a LRFO (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out series from HarperCollins) with Anne Rockwell is Frané Lessac.

Born in New Jersey, Frané (pronounced fra-NAY) traveled all over the world, and has lived in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Montserrat, and London, among other places. It was her stay in Montserrat that inspired one of her best known books, “My Little Island.” Her art is exhibited all over the world.

She now lives in Fremantle, Australia, and is Illustrator Liaison for SCBWI in Australia. Read more about her work here: www.franelessac.com.


Cover from CLOUDS

Cover from CLOUDS

6. Frané Lessac was a terrific choice for CLOUDS. She renders bright colors in a painterly folk-art style, to happy effect.  Of course, she has observed the sky from all over the world!

It feels almost like a whimsical tale, yet CLOUDS is packed with facts. Not a typical way to treat children’s nonfiction. In other words, very non-textbookish, yet basic and personal in approach.

Anne Rockwell: I agree.  I really don’t like charts and graphs and cross sections and arrows for little kids!

Joy Chu: If you (Anne) do not supply pictorial references, then much of this had to be done by both the artist and the editorial staff.

spot art from CLOUDS

Spot art from CLOUDS

Frané Lessac: With LRFOs (Let’s Read and Find Out Series), one of its great strengths also imposes some limitations.

These books are terrific because they are an amazing science resource for kids and teachers. On the other hand, it did limit the amount of fantasy I could inject into the book.

I had to find a way of making a science topic personal, fun and accessible. The illustrations had to be very clear in the way they depict the science — in this case the various clouds.

When I was thinking of what is an almost universal element of clouds and kids, I remembered lying on my back in the grass and looking up at clouds as they floated by.

Joy Chu: Do the editors / copyeditors / art directors look through all your preliminary sketches with a fine-tooth comb?

Frané Lessac: My sketches would come back (with comments) on post-it notes.

Alternative sketch with editorial post-it comment

Alternative sketch with editorial post-it comment

I just went through my CLOUDS file and found all sorts of interesting preliminary ideas and sketches. This book had three (yes, THREE) editors — Phoebe Yeh, Mark McVeigh and Melanie Donovan.

This book took over six years to complete, from concept to published work. In addition to three successive editors, there were many assistant editors, and perhaps a couple of art directors.

My initial idea was to create the book by collaging different papers and textures to represent the clouds.

Experimenting with various art treatments

Experimenting with various art treatments

The next idea was to paint the art on top of real photographs of the clouds.

More experiments: art combined with photographs

More experiments: art combined with photographs (a)

More experiments: art combined with photographs (b)

More art combined with photographs (b)

In the end the art was created with gouache on paper.

Joy Chu: Did you find it more painstaking compared to illustrating a story?

Frané Lessac: Clouds are a hard thing to illustrate. The brief was that kids who read the book should be able to then go outside, look at a cloud in the sky, and know immediately what type of cloud it is.

Illustration from CLOUDS

An illustration from CLOUDS

Being a science based book, I wanted to be accurate and with my naïve style. I was anxious whether my clouds might just look like poos in the sky.

Joy Chu: How were you chosen?

Frané Lessac: Phoebe Yeh chose me after she commissioned me to illustrate “Queen Esther Saves Her People” at Scholastic, but then joined HarperCollins.

We were determined to collaborate on a book. Unfortunately, another editor took over the LRFO series from her. One day we hope to see a book all the way through from conception to birth.

Joy Chu: Did you use the Internet for your research?

Frané Lessac: Every which way possible: books, internet. Since I spend a lot of the time flying, I visited clouds at eye level, up-front and personal.

I even got in touch with the Chief Information Officer at National Weather Service to look over my art and give my clouds a gold star.

Joy Chu: Any contact with Anne through your editor, Phoebe Yeh?

Frané Lessac: Iʼve never had any contact with Anne, but would love to meet her one day. Iʼve admired her work over the years. When asked to illustrate a book of hers, as you can imagine, I was delighted.

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With Paul Meisel

Today we take a look at the teaming of Anne Rockwell and Paul Meisel. They’ve done many titles in the Let’s-Read-and Find-Out series, plus other action-filled stories like “Brendan and Belinda and the Slam Dunk!“, and “Chip and the Karate Kick,” all from HarperCollins. Paul is also an author/illustrator. Find out more about him at www.paulmeisel.com.


Illustration by Paul Meisel, from "What's So Bad About Gasoline?"

Illustration by Paul Meisel

5. “What’s So Bad About Gasoline?: Fossil Fuels and What They Do” is your most recent collaboration. This is such a topical subject! Was this proposed by you, or through your agent? Is there a set procedure when working on a Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out (LRFO) book? Is it more rigorous? Do you get to view the tight dummy or sketches for factual accuracy? Or is there an alternative protocol that happens at the publisher’s end?

Cover from "What's So Bad About Gasoline"


Anne Rockwell: I love working with Paul Meisel, for while I do the writing, he’s such an intelligent and thoughtful researcher that he often comes up with things that weren’t in the text, and wonders if they add something. And you know what? They almost always do. And he brings a different observation and wit than I have, and enriches the story.

Paul Meisel: Anne is a delightful author, and person, with a clear, consistently friendly, and informative voice. Anne is able to convey fairly complex concepts in accessible language for the early science reader. I really enjoy our collaborative relationship.

Phoebe Yeh, at HarperCollins, is the ultimate authority on all things LRFO! On these books, I work directly with Phoebe and her assistant, the very helpful Amanda Glickman. They give me a lot of room to design and conceptualize the interior spreads.

Naturally, my sketches come back with comments and suggestions for revisions. LRFO‘s are also vetted by experts in the field, to assure the accuracy of the material.

“Why Are the Ice Caps Melting? The Dangers of Global Warming” was the first LRFO on an environmental theme that Anne and I did together. The reviews on Amazon are somewhat amusing, since there is a fair amount of political posturing about the topic of Global Warming. With that in mind, we aim—I think successfully–to present these “hot-button” topics without any bias. We offer a positive message about how children and grown-ups can take action to help solve problems.

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