Acclaimed authors and illustrators Ted and Betsy Lewin have written seven children’s books together and have created dozens of additional titles either solo or in tandem with other authors. They are only the second husband-and-wife team (after Arnold and Anita Lobel) to win Caldecott Honor citations for two different books—Ted for Peppe the Lamplighter in 1994 and Betsy for Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type in 2000. Each has a new picture book due from Holiday House on August 15. And in the ongoing spirit of togetherness, the couple, who celebrated their 50th anniversary earlier this month, will sign copies of their forthcoming books side by side today, 11 a.m.–noon. Ted will autograph copies of What Am I? Where Am I? at Table 5, and Betsy will sign Thumpy Feet at Table 4 in the Autographing Area.
The two met while studying art at Pratt Institute in New York, and each eventually ventured into children’s books, yet they did not collaborate on a book until many years into their marriage. “For years people asked us why we hadn’t done a book together,” says Ted. “We couldn’t really figure out how we’d do that, since Betsy’s books and art are light and humorous, and mine are more serious and realistic. We’d talk about our childhood dreams, and seeing mountain gorillas was one of them. So it turned out that became our vehicle for working together.” In 1997, the couple traveled to Uganda to track down these animals, and that adventure led to their first collaboration, Gorilla Walk, which HarperCollins published in 1999.
Five other animal-themed books by the Lewins have followed, inspired by their travels to Botswana, Australia, Mongolia, India, and Iceland. The couple, who collaborate on both the writing and the art, have established an impressively efficient creative model. “On the plane coming home from a trip, we get out our journals and sketchbooks, and talk to each other about ideas,” explains Betsy. “We discuss what Ted is going to do and what I am going to do on the book, and by the time we get home we usually have a manuscript.”
Ted’s latest solo effort, What Am I? Where Am I?, an I Like to Read title, is a follow-up to Look!, which Holiday House published in January. “When I finished Look!, which is about the wonder of observing and appreciating nature and animals, I wondered where else I could go with that theme,” he says. “I decided to do a book showing parts of animals, so that children could guess what animal it is and where it lives. I have 15,000 or 20,000 slides of animals I’ve photographed all over the world, and they are my point of departure for my paintings. I’ve been able to mine these beautiful images for the latest books, and I’m having a wonderful time.”
Betsy found her inspiration for Thumpy Feet much closer to home. “The picture book is based on our own cat, Sophie, a seven-pound female who is just a riot,” she says. “She has tiny feet, but when she walks she thumps and throws her feet out like a big, male lion. And the text, which follows her through a day of playing, sleeping, and eating, is written—I’m sorry to say!—just the way we talk to her.”
The Lewins, whose most recent excursions were to Costa Rica to research Ted’s spring 2014 Holiday House book about rainforest animals, Can You See Me?, are happy to travel across the East River to attend BEA. “It’s always such an up experience,” says Betsy. “And it’s always great to see people we only see once a year,” adds Ted. These veteran authors are also celebrating a first: having books come out from the same publisher on the same day. Asked if that is gratifying, they answer in perfect unison: “Absolutely!”