Among Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s 20-plus picture books are a trio of titles revealing the ways that colors can evoke emotions. First came 2012’s Green, which was followed by Blue in 2018, and both were joined this week by Red. Seeger has won multiple awards for her work, including two Caldecott Honors (for First the Egg and Green) and two Theodor Geisel Seuss Honor Awards (for First the Egg and One Boy). From her home on Long Island, the author spoke with PW about her color-inspired trilogy; her rapport with her longtime editor, Porter; and what’s next on her creative agenda.
You’ve explored associations between color and emotion from three different angles. What inspired Green, Blue, and Red, and were they very different undertakings?
These three books were particularly challenging, each in its own way. Green was a challenge because I knew that I wanted to make a book about the environment, but that subject felt too big to come from my voice, so I had to figure out what to zoom in on. In fact, I left the book for a bit, thinking I wouldn’t do it at all, but then came back to it. And this book was especially challenging because every page has a die-cut hole that readers look through, so each painting is connected to the one before and the one after. What I painted on each page also affected the previous and subsequent pages, and that created a back-and-forth that sometimes felt like one step forward and two steps back.
In Blue you spotlight the loving bond between a boy and the family dog, from the child’s birth to the pet’s death. Did that storyline come more easily to you than the narrative in Green?
It was a different challenge, since Blue is a very personal book. At the beginning, it was going to be about two brothers modeled after my own two sons, who are three years apart. I envisioned the older boy, at the end, getting old enough that he was ready to move out of the house. But about three paintings in, I realized that because I wanted to make Blue about loyalty and friendship, loss and sadness, I needed to explore what real sadness is. When I was seven, I lost my two-year-old brother. He went to sleep one night and never woke up, and that set off a lifetime of difficulty dealing with loss. My family never talked about it—his name was never mentioned. I believe that we need to talk about loss, and about everything in fact, so Blue required a lot of deep digging.
And what was the genesis of Red, and the nuances of that color?
I had been thinking about how our country, and the world, had been divided by so much conflict in the last several years, and I decided to channel that into Red. This book involved a kind of inside-out process of working, first identifying the emotions that various shades of red could represent—including rage and love—and then finding the vehicle to explore them. Once I came up with the character of a fox who gets separated from his family and trapped by a human before finding his way home, the emotions he felt came to me automatically. The better I know a character, the more naturally I understand their feelings and they become very real to me.
Are there any other colors you wish you had explored—and might you add another hue to the series at some point?
I think I’m sure that Red is the last book in this series—but then again, I said the same thing after Green and Blue! I have thought about how yellow evokes fear and anxiety, but that isn’t as automatically clear to me as the emotions evoked by green, blue, and red. If that happens again with another color, I might decide to explore that as well. I don’t want to be the kind of person who says I am definitely not doing this or that book. As I’ve said to Neal many times, it doesn’t matter what I want—a book will tell me if it needs to be written.
Neal Porter has been your editor since your very first book, I Had a Rooster, was published in 2001. What is at the root of your author-editor connection?
A very deep friendship. From the very beginning, I realized that Neal and I both gravitate toward the same kinds of books, and we both have a strong devotion to graphic design as well as fine art. As we made book after book together, I came to appreciate how organic our work style is. When we’re working, our conversations feel like those that you’d have spending time with a friend rather than during a work meeting. It’s very gratifying, especially when we are making progress! I feel so, so fortunate.
Has a new project that needs to be written beckoned to you recently?
I am now working on a book called I’m Not Lost, which came out of living through the pandemic, when so many of us were feeling lost rather than being physically lost. The story is about a girl traveling through a multitude of situations that are reflective of her changing moods and emotions, from uncertainty to anxiety to determination. She doesn’t know where she is going but she knows she is not lost. I think that’s a feeling kids will understand.
Red by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Holiday House/Porter, $18.99 Oct. ISBN 978-0-8234-4712-1