We caught up with 22 local authors and illustrators—just a fraction of those who live here—to find out what they’ve learned from their careers in children’s publishing.
Tarrytown, author/illustrator of Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty
Is there a children’s book that you wish you had done? Mordicai Gerstein’s most recent two books, How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird and A Book, have both floored me. They are some of the most conceptually unique and brilliantly executed books. Curse you and your eyes, Mordicai!
Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Bedford Hills, author/illustrator of Kindergarten Rocks!
What are the advantages of writing and illustrating a book? My first novel, The Curse of Addy McMahon, is about a girl who believes the family joke that they’ve been cursed. She keeps her diary as a comic strip and so calls it her ‘autobiogra-strip.’ When she’s talking about something very important or private, you get to actually see it happening. If I weren’t the illustrator, I couldn’t have done that, and I love doing that!
|Jean Craighead George
Chappaqua, author of My Side of the Mountain
Did you expect My Side of the Mountain would be such a success? Oh no! I was sort of embarrassed by it. I didn’t mention it. My daughter was the one who came home and said, ‘Mother, everybody is reading it!’ And it’s still selling. I think people are interested in being green and, in this economy, they want some practical ideas for how to live off the land.
Waccabuc, author of Child of the Wolves
What do you use for inspiration? The more I learn about a subject, the more excited I get about my story. Sometimes I get trapped in ‘runaway research.’ I had so much fun researching Venus Among the Fishes—scuba-diving, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins—that I kept the research going for two years without writing a word.
Charise Mericle Harper
Yonkers, author of Houndsley and Cantina
What has surprised you the most about your career? I didn’t realize that there was a huge network of people dedicated to connecting children and books—librarians, teachers, editors, booksellers…After thirty years as a writer, I still work in solitude but with an awareness of being a part of something much larger than myself.
Croton-on-Hudson, author/illustrator of The Nutcracker
What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever had to face? The most horrendous experience was to have an entire book fail. The publisher and I felt it was not good enough when we had it on press. I gave up illustrating it for a few years. I tried again, and the book, Three Jovial Huntsmen, won a Caldecott Honor.
the Rivertowns, author of Everybody Bonjours!
Is there a book out there now that you wish you had written? I feel that way every time I read a good book. For the last ten years, I was trying to write a novel about a young girl who had a brother with autism, loosely based on my own family situation. Then Cynthia Lord wrote the extraordinary Rules. So now the pressure is off.
Irvington, author of Mr. Lincoln’s Boys
What have you learned from doing school visits? No matter what your book is about, two things will always happen on a school visit. A kid will ask you about dinosaurs, and another how much money you make. I know a fair amount about dinosaurs. As for the other question, I usually reply, ‘More than you do.’ Your book Betsy and the Emperor is becoming a movie. Are you excited? Sometimes I think that this film has been ‘in development’ so long that it’s been in L.A. longer than the Hollywood sign. If I had been excited the whole time, I’d probably be dead of exhaustion by now!
|Paul Rátz de Tagyos
New Rochelle, illustrator of Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo
What’s the best part about writing and illustrating for children? I actually try to write and illustrate for myself. Those pesky kids just get in the way.
Does Westchester ever make its way into any of your works? Actually, Westchester is my mental default location. I’ve been illustrating books about ‘Maybelle, a lovely, plump cockroach.’ In my mind, it’s a Westchester roach living in a Westchester house under a Westchester refrigerator.
White Plains, author of The Great Cape Rescue
Does Westchester ever inspire you? Definitely! The idea for Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi came from a walk I took along the Bronx River in Scarsdale. I saw a large red-eared turtle, which reminded me of one I kept as a pet when I was a child. In my story, Bartleby starts out as a pet in Westchester, who, lost, has to figure out what to eat and which of the local animals are friend or foe. My research included a talk with a naturalist at Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Tarrytown.
Hastings-on-Hudson, illustrator of the Biscuit series
What do you use for inspiration? My own childhood feelings and memories. The most powerful feelings are ones we ourselves have felt.
Hastings-on-Hudson, author of The House of Joyful Living
What’s the biggest difference between children and adults? Adults are always trying to impress one another. Children will say anything that crosses their minds. I’ve had kids tell me that I look much older than my author photo. I know then it’s time to get a new one, because they’re right.
Hartsdale, author/illustrator of Grandma’s Records
What’s the one lesson you want students in your FIT illustration class to walk away with? I want them to embrace the process more than anything. They want to go straight to the finished product. I tell them to look at the buildings, the cars, the sidewalk, the streetlamps, the floor, the ceiling, what they’re wearing—everything but the humans and the trees. Then I tell them all these things once started with the rough sketch. Then they begin to get it.
the Rivertowns, author/illustrator of Hook
What is the biggest difference between childhood in China and childhood in Westchester? Children are given so much here, and they expect to be given so much compared to children in twentieth-century wartime Shanghai. We had next to nothing in comparison. We had to stretch our imaginations to create from that. In the end, it was a blessing in disguise.
|Mary O’Keefe Young
White Plains, illustrator of Curious George
How do you put your own spin on a design that’s so classic and beloved?
I try to create fun and mischievous pages that show George being George in new situations and try to incorporate iconic elements from the forties and fifties.
Are there any new situations that you’d like to see him attempt? Hmmmm….Curious George turns the
tables on Internet scammers.
GLORIA & JERRY PINKNEY (above)
Author of Daniel and the Lord of Lions, and illustrator of The Moon Over Star, respectively, Northern Westchester
What’s it like living with someone else who works in children’s books? GP: It’s wonderful. Jerry had a big hand in my becoming a writer. He kept trying to convince me that I wanted to be a writer when I thought I wanted to sing. Seven of your family members are involved in publishing.
Are you happy your children are following in your path? JP: It says that they watched their father and mother enjoy the work they do and decided that they could also get enjoyment out of that work.
DAN & J.C. GREENBURG (above)
Author of the Secrets of the Dripping Fang series and the Andrew Lost series, respectively, Hastings-on-Hudson
What were you like as a kid? JG: When my mom went to the grocery store, I wouldn’t pester her for candy but for Venus flytraps and blue cheese. Consequently, my mother’s most fervent wish was for me to grow up to be ‘normal,’ which I have managed to evade.
You write about things like vampires and zombies. What scares you? DG: Walking into a cocktail party where I don’t know anybody. This is more frightening than vampires or zombies. Unless, of course, it’s a cocktail party of vampires and zombies, in which case my fears would still be about introducing myself and making small talk.
What is it like living with another children’s book author? DG: The biggest advantage is that you get to try out all your material on your mate. The biggest disadvantage: If you’re my mate, whenever your reaction to my material is less than enthusiastic, you have to put up with reactions like, ‘So is it just this manuscript you hate, or is it all my work?’