Doreen Cronin is the author of the Caldecott Honor book Click, Clack, Moo and its sequels, Diary of a Worm and its sequels, and more. Dublin-born illustrator Brian Cronin’s work has been featured in the New York Times, GQ, and many other publications worldwide. He won the Society of Illustrators’ Founders Award for his debut picture book, The Lost House, and a New York Times Best Illustrated Award for The Lost Cousins. Both living in Brooklyn, Doreen and Brian met in 2021 through mutual friends. Each was curious (and a little wary) to meet another member of the Cronin clan (no relation). But the two hit it off, and they’ve been together ever since. We asked the collaborating couple to discuss their first joint picture book, Lawrence & Sophia, finding creative synergy, and overcoming anxiety on and off the page.

Doreen Cronin: Lawrence & Sophia is our first book together. I think people will make the assumption that you are Lawrence and I am Sophia! Do you think we have anything in common with the characters?

Brian Cronin: Who’s the bird?

Doreen: Exactly!

Brian: They came from us, so they are us, but they’re not replicas of us. They’re both kind of smart, really, aren’t they? Playful, they love each other, you know? Things like that are similar to us.

Doreen: Is there anything in Lawrence that you recognize in yourself?

Brian: Well, I like to be alone. I’m afraid of heights. I think he might be afraid of heights. I think that’s why in the book his climb up the tree to find Sophia is so important. It wasn’t just outside he was afraid of, it was also “up”. Do you see anything with Sophia that reminds you of yourself?

Doreen: She’s... afraid of a lot of things.

Brian: Are you?

Doreen: For sure. I am an introvert. I definitely tend to stay in my comfort zone.

Brian: What’s your comfort zone?

Doreen: I don’t always know when I’m in it, but I know when I’m out of it! Whereas Sophia and Lawrence are both very clear about their comfort zones. “I’m only going this far on the branch,” and “I’m only going this far in the yard.” Our comfort zones can—and do—change. All children get braver, stronger, go further as they grow. What’s out of your comfort zone?

Brian: Groups are so hard, I don’t know how to get in. Lawrence is like that about noise and groups. He’s unsure of himself. Sophia is fearful of things she imagines and he’s fearful of things that are out there.

Doreen: Oh, wow. She is imagining things in the shadows and tall grass, and he’s afraid of real things. I never thought about it that way.

Our comfort zones can—and do—change. All children get braver, stronger, go further as they grow.
—Doreen Cronin

Brian: They are both equally valid. The point of the book was that they would do whatever it takes for each other. They realize at the end, even though they were going out of their way to be together, they were both still in their comfort zones. They were accommodating each other and then when disaster struck, they didn’t run away, they came to each other’s needs. It’s the start of a true friendship. Friends make you feel loved, and being loved helps you be brave.

Doreen: The book isn’t actually written by me and illustrated by you. It’s not separate like that. It’s definitely a new process for me—and not entirely in my comfort zone!

Brian: ...and for me. Not working in isolation for me was huge. I would come to you with visuals and we’d be sitting at the table. I’m drawing, you’re writing, but we’re both coming up with ideas—visual and story. It builds. We threw it on the table and it just developed. It was like three people there: you, me, and the story.

Doreen: It definitely felt like a conversation that was growing into a story, with Lawrence and Sophia slowly dominating the conversation! We started listening to them and seeing them rather than directing them on the page. I’m not an artist—

Brian: That’s not true...

Doreen: I draw stick people. I’ve always drawn stick people!

Brian: Cave people drew odd figures! What were they supposed to do, be Michelangelo? Michelangelo is technique. Art is about feeling and looking, not just rendering or representing something. “I can’t draw” doesn’t make you “not an artist.” I could say I’m not a writer because I’m not that good at English grammar, etc. But I can visualize stuff, so does that not make it a story?

So as we talk, Lawrence and Sophia has gone to press and the printed books are ready. How does that make you feel?

Doreen: Vulnerable! I am notorious for not opening the box when my new book comes to the house. I get the box of my 20 copies from the publisher and I feel so vulnerable that I will not open it or look at the printed book! I just can’t do it until I have some emotional distance from it. But when you are working together at the table, like we do, I had to push through vulnerability. You have to be able to express what you want in the story, what you like about it, what you think isn’t working. It’s not a conversation with myself anymore, or with an editor or an agent who has taken time and great care to give feedback. It’s real-time, on-the-spot reaction. We’re both in the position where we have to say to the other person, “I’m not sure the text is working,” or “Hey, can you take a look at these stick people I drew?!”

I know we both draw from so many things for inspiration, what were your favorite books growing up?

Brian: I didn’t really have access to many books. I read the comics. I read The Beano.

Doreen: You’ve started telling Lawrence & Sophia stories through comics on your website. I love them. It captures them in a different way and it’s a very different structure for storytelling.

Brian: The simplicity of them is what I see in these comics. [Comics were] my first exposure to art, as well. I still go back to The Beano for inspiration—and for comfort sometimes. It’s a real connection to my childhood. It taught me a lot. And it sticks with me. Like all kids, what you read and connect to as a child stays with you.

Doreen: What are Lawrence and Sophia saying to readers?

Brian: Find people you feel safe with. Feel comfortable with. Who accept you. Who love you. And together you can feel safe in the world. Even you and I when we met for the first time, we were social distancing –six feet apart and masked! Maybe that’s where some of the story comes from! We sat outside, on a park bench, six feet apart!

Doreen: I never thought about that! We are Lawrence and Sophia! Accept me in my comfort zone and maybe—hopefully—we can move out in the world together!

Lawrence & Sophia by Doreen Cronin, illus. by Brian Cronin. Rocky Pond, $18.99 Oct. 17 ISBN 978-0-593-61830-1