In 2002, when Bean was a senior at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, he had an idea that he wanted to be an illustrator. A professor there, Stephen Fieser, who taught illustration, put him in touch with Wes Adams, an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. “I sent him some illustrations,” recalls Bean, now 28, “ which he politely rejected. But he wrote me a really long email critiquing them.”
Bean went on to pursue an MFA at Manhattan's School of Visual Arts. His thesis project, which began as a sketchbook image of a bed on a roof under the night sky, caught the attention of a guest editor critiquing students' work. That happened to be Frances Foster—of FSG. Foster was intrigued, and mentioned the project to none other than her FSG colleague Wes Adams. It all came full circle for Bean, whose At Night, about a restless girl who finds slumber—and a cool breeze—on the rooftop of her city brownstone, was published by FSG.
Since leaving grad school, Bean has supported himself on newspaper and magazine work, but all that has recently changed. This summer, Bean harvested a bumper crop of good fortune. At Night was just one of four children's book projects released within a few months of each other (the others are The Apple Pie that Papa Baked, written by Lauren Thompson (S&S); Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, written by Lynne Jonell (Holt); and Mokie and Bik, written by Wendy Orr (Holt); two of them have been named to several year-end “Best of 2007” lists, including PW's. Warm reviews have compared Bean's work to that of some of his biggest influences. “I grew up with my mom reading me Virginia Lee Burton books and later I discovered Wanda Gág,” Bean notes.
In addition to having two more books in the works, Bean starts a teaching gig at his undergrad alma mater this January. “When I was living in Pennsylvania and sending things to publishers in New York, it seemed like a black hole,” he says. “But when I came to the city and saw that they were actually people and that they had seen—and in some cases even remembered—my work, I knew it hadn't been in vain.” And it appears publishers aren't likely to forget his name anytime soon.