I'm an illustrator and writer, living in Brooklyn, NY. My latest children's picture book is SLEEPOVER DUCK! (2018), a companion to JUST A DUCK? (2015) and HEY, DUCK! (2013), all published by Random House. I also illustrated THE YELLOW TUTU, written by Kirsten Bramsen, (Random House, 2009).
A scribbly route
The path to my career in children's books was roundabout at best. From above, you could mistake it for a baby's first scrawls. I’d always loved to draw AND to write; some of my favorite childhood memories were of illustrating my own stories. But as a benighted adult, I thought I should choose between the two. I made false starts in both directions, at times aspiring to paint, at others to write novels or short stories, with some feints toward editorial illustration. Somewhere along this twisty road, my sister and I spoke of creating a book. Eventually she wrote a terrific story, THE YELLOW TUTU, which I set out to illustrate.
Much to learn
I pored through heaps of picture books, with an eye to what worked and what didn't. I read Martin Salisbury’s ILLUSTRATING CHILDREN'S BOOKS, and learned how to compose a dummy. The more I delved, the harder I fell for the challenge of telling stories with pictures. By the time THE YELLOW TUTU was published***, I'd become hooked on the picture book form.
Real estate for ducks
The variety in picture books is limitless, but within a strict set of boundaries. A standard picture book is 32 pages; editors prefer a word count of 500 or less. WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, by Ann Whitford Paul, helped me to understand the constraints and possibilities of the form. As I grew more familiar with the rules, they came to feel like mental houses: solid walls with spaces between. Picture book dwellings sprang up in my head. They began to attract certain characters, while others walked on by. And one day, a surly cat slinked in, trailed by an eager duckling.
A picture and word reunion
That duckling came with his own raucous voice. "Hey, duck! Why do you walk like that?" he shouted to the cat. She shot right back, in iambic tetrameter, and from there, the two couldn't stop talking (though Cat tried). Stories emerged between them that eventually became HEY, DUCK! and JUST A DUCK? And, at last, I gave up choosing between pictures and words.
*** Important note: publishers almost always prefer to choose the illustrator for a manuscript themselves. My sister and I had an extremely rare opportunity to team up on our first book. I strongly encourage new authors and illustrators to learn the low-down about publishing here, at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators website. And then be sure to join this wonderful organization, if you haven't already!