Rosemary Wells's considerable fame springs from her irrepressibly drawn mice, rabbits, kittens, and dogs, so it's no surprise she has three illustrated books coming out this fall. But only one of them she illustrated herself. "Phyllis Fogelman once told me, ‘Everything you draw is funny, so don't try to draw everything,' and she was right," Wells says.
Wells has been a BEA regular "since it was ABA." This year, she'll be talking up Max and Ruby's Bedtime Book (Viking, Sept.), as well as two Candlewick titles for middle graders, each of which had a long and winding path to publication.
My Havana, due in August, is actually someone else's story. Years ago, Wells heard a radio report about Secundino Fernandez, who as a child in the 1950s lived under three dictators (Franco, Batista, Castro), traveling with his family between Cuba and Spain, before they emigrated to New York. Intensely homesick for his island, he built a model of Havana, constructed to scale, in his bedroom—cardboard buildings, tin foil sea, fluorescent paint. (Is it any surprise Fernandez became an architect?)
"What he had done was so particular and human, so focused and believable," Wells says. After she heard the radio story, it took her four years to find Fernandez, who immediately agreed to collaborate. Peter Ferguson's paintings evoke the vibrant Havana of Fernandez's boyhood. "His story is about the resiliency of young people," Wells remarks. "I want children to know you can overcome tremendous hardship."
Wells is also promoting On the Blue Comet, a September historical novel set in Depression-era Illinois, about a boy, his father, and their love of model trains. "That's the book of my heart," she says. This one took some time, too— Wells started it 25 years ago.
"I wrote 40 pages, but I couldn't end it. Then suddenly in 2007, I figured it out. I gave it to Karen Lotz at Candlewick, who guided me on how to make it work, because there is a time-travel element, and that can be tricky," Wells says.
The paintings for this book were done by Bagram Ibatoulline. "I think he's done the most beautiful job, illustration at the level of the greats, including Rockwell," says Wells. Chris Paul, Candlewick's creative director, sent her the paintings as Ibatoulline finished them, and Wells says, "I couldn't wait for the next one to come in. I would call the whole family, ‘Come! Look at this one!' I wish I could draw like that."
Today, Wells is signing My Havana ARCs, 11 a.m.–noon at Table 27, and ARCs of On the Blue Comet, 2:30–3:30 p.m., at the same table. Tomorrow, she signs copies of Max and Ruby's Bedtime Book, 10:30–11:30 a.m. at a ticketed event at Table 10.