Sourcebooks has drawn to its suburban Chicago offices a bit of Hollywood glamour with the release, under its Jabberwocky imprint, of It’s About a Little Bird, actress Jessica Lange’s first book for children. An avid photographer, Lange is better known for her numerous acting accolades, among them a best supporting actress Oscar for Tootsie, a best actress Oscar for Blue Sky, and an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or a movie for Grey Gardens. Currently, she stars in the FX TV series American Horror Story, which begins its third season October 9.
Illustrated with Lange’s original photographs, It’s About a Little Bird tells the story of two sisters who visit their grandmother, Mem, on her farm. After the two girls sneak into the barn and find treasures, including an antique birdcage, and ask what happened to its occupant, Mem reminisces about living in Europe as a young woman, where she adopted a canary named Uccellino, or “Little Bird.”
Lange told PW via e-mail about the genesis for her book. When she first conceptualized the story related in It’s About a Little Bird, it was not with the intention to publish.
“I just woke up one morning with the story in my head and sat down and wrote it,” said the author, who, as a young woman, lived in Paris for several years and danced for l’Opéra-Comique, studied mime, and, yes, kept a pet bird. Today, Lange divides her time among New York City, Minnesota, wherever she is filming, and a farm she owns in New York state’s Hudson River Valley. She took most of It’s About a Little Bird’s nearly two dozen photos at her New York farm; the two girls depicted in many of them are her granddaughters, Adah and Ilse.
“I decided to illustrate it by tinting my black-and-white photographs [with photo oils rather than digitally], since I’ve always loved and collected hand-colored postcards,” Lange told PW. “And then I thought to make it into a book to give to my granddaughters.”
After a friend suggested that Lange have the hand-bound book published, her literary agent, David Kuhn, shopped the book around to several publishers, looking, according to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky publicity manager Derry Wilkens, “for the right fit for the project.” “I couldn’t imagine exactly what a Jessica Lange picture book would be,” recalled Jabberwocky editorial manager Steve Geck. “But once I saw it, with her delicately hand-painted photographs, I understood what made this book so distinctive.”
Lange, according to Wilkens, closely followed each step in the production of It’s About a Little Bird this past spring and summer. She was so committed to the quality of her photos’ reproduction that she visited the printing and binding facility, Worzalla, in Stevens Point, Wis., in August. While there, she oversaw the initial printing of the book, to ensure that the color production accurately replicated the hand-tinted originals.
In a way, having her first children’s picture book acquired by Geck (a native Minnesotan), published by a Midwestern publisher, and printed and bound by a Wisconsin company brings things full circle for Lange, who was born near Duluth, Minn., in 1949, lived in Stillwater, Minn., for almost 10 years, and owns a cabin in Minnesota’s north woods. She studied photography at the University of Minnesota in the late ’60s, almost a decade before her film debut (the 1976 remake of King Kong). Lange has previously published two books of her photography: 50 Photographs (powerHouse Books, 2008) and Jessica Lange: In Mexico (RM Verlag, 2011), with accompanying text by Julio Trujillo. In 2009, Lange was honored by the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography, the world’s oldest photography museum. Earlier this year, San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts hosted an exhibition of her photographs, Jessica Lange: unseen.
Due to the demands of her day job, Lange is slowly easing into her latest role as children’s book author. Only one bookstore appearance has been scheduled to date: an October 6 reading and signing at Barnes & Noble at The Grove shopping center in Los Angeles.
“We currently only have L.A. scheduled because of the production schedule for [American Horror Story],” Wilkens explained. “She doesn’t have a free moment this fall until filming ends.”
It’s About a Little Bird by Jessica Lange. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99 Oct. ISBN 978-1-4022-8526-4