In less than a decade of illustrating children's books, Sophie Blackall has quickly amassed a substantial body of work, with more than 20 books to her name, and many accolades, most recently, the New York Times's Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2010 list for Big Red Lollipop (Viking). This spring she has four picture books arriving, including the first she's both written and illustrated: Are You Awake? (Holt/Ottaviano, May). "In the way that publishing works, I wrote this when my son was three and he's now 11," Blackall says.
After winning a green card lottery, Blackall moved from Australia to Brooklyn in 2000 (“I got a letter in the mail saying you have three months to move to New York”), to put herself in the center of children's book publishing. Her first book, Ruby's Wish (Chronicle, 2002), soon had other publishers calling.
The many books Blackall has illustrated for other authors are the main reason Are You Awake? is just being published now. "These fantastic manuscripts come along, and my inner voice is saying, ‘No. You can't. There is a limit,'" says Blackall, who is currently working on three books. "At the same time, I can't turn this down." Case in point: The Crows of Pearblossom (Abrams, Mar.), the only children's story ever written by Aldous Huxley. "I can't imagine anything else as exciting; maybe a hitherto undiscovered A.A. Milne or Edward Gorey manuscript?"
Blackall is also juggling two blogs: Missed Connections, where she creates artwork based on postings of thwarted romance on the Craigslist forum of the same name, and a new site, Drawn from My Father's Adventures, where she illustrates stories of her father's travels. Workman will publish a book of Blackall's Missed Connections paintings, Missed Connections: Love Lost and Found, this fall.
It's no surprise that Blackall's artwork, which often has a sinister edge balancing its sweetness and humor, has won over adults as well as children. That darkness is perhaps most present in Lisa Wheeler's Spinster Goose (Atheneum, Mar.), a collection of twisted Mother Goose rhymes featuring naughty children. "This was the first book where I was given this dark text and basically given carte blanche," Blackall says. Although she was nervous about what the publisher would think, she doesn't have any qualms about kids' reactions. "I think children love darkness. I think parents are more afraid of it. They've forgotten what it was like."