The prolific Oliver Jeffers has been as busy as ever. The author and illustrator of Stuck and This Moose Belongs to Me has illustrated two upcoming books: The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas (Candlewick), a novel by David Almond, and The Day the Crayons Quit (Philomel), a picture book by debut author Drew Daywalt.
Both of Jeffers’s new projects mark a bit of a departure for him. Though Almond’s is not the first novel he has illustrated—he created the art for The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne—his illustrative approach to The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas was less traditional. “This was a more organic process,” he explains. “This novel is written in a way that is not very straightforward, not quite literal, so we thought it would be in the better interest of the novel to have sporadic drawings scattered throughout, to give it a strong visual flow from beginning to end.”
The Day the Crayons Quit is the first picture book by another author that Jeffers has illustrated. “I have enough ideas in my head for which I want to both tell the story and do the art, and I have less interest in trying to figure out how to illustrate someone else’s manuscript,” he says. “Michael Green, my editor at Philomel, knows that, so he was quite sly in his approach. I was in his office, and he excused himself for a minute and asked me not to look at anything on his desk. So naturally I had a look when he left.”
On Green’s desk was Daywalt’s manuscript and Jeffers liked what he saw. “The story is told through letters from the crayons, and there was no opportunity to use the pictures to inform the words, and to me that was an asset rather than a hindrance. I could picture immediately how the book would work—the visual solution jumped out at me. So I asked Michael who was illustrating the book, and he said, ‘No one yet. Are you interested?’ I wasn’t sure I wanted to open a can of worms, illustrating someone else’s words, but I knew I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t.”
Jeffers is pleased to be attending BEA for the first time. “It’s all well and good making books in the isolation of my studio,” he says. “But meeting booksellers who give a book support and get it into the hands of readers who might otherwise never find it—that’s fantastic.” He signs ARCs of The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas today, 10:30–11:30 a.m., at Table 1 in the Autographing Area.