Each season, plenty of authors have their first book published. But not many of them have a Caldecott Medalist for a grandfather. Jeanne C. Blackmore, granddaughter of Roger Duvoisin, continues a rich family literary legacy with the publication of her first children’s book, How Does Sleep Come? (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, Sept.), a bedtime story about a boy who drifts to the land of dreams with visions of quiet meadows and misty harbors. Duvoisin, who died in 1980 when Blackmore was 13, wrote and illustrated many picture books, including the Petunia stories and the Happy Lion series. He also illustrated books penned by other authors, including his wife, Louise Fatio. Duvoisin won the Caldecott for 1947’s White Snow, Bright Snow and a Caldecott Honor for 1965’s Hide and Seek Fog, both written by Alvin Tresselt.

Though Blackmore appreciates the accolades that Duvoisin earned, she has a different perspective on the artist than most people do. “I knew him through two lenses,” she says. “On one hand, my teachers in school were always calling me out, and librarians would approach me, which was embarrassing. I didn’t really understand how famous he was. On the other side, I knew him as a wonderful man living with my grandmother on an idyllic farm in New Jersey. They were both artists and it was a magical place to visit.”

The author remembers watching Duvoisin create his art, which played an important role in her and her siblings’ childhoods. “All of our birthday cards were filled with his artwork, and he created posters for our bedrooms,” she says. “And he’d write us funny letters with illustrations. We were always surrounded by his artwork, and I loved it.”

Blackmore, who practices law in Vermont, explains that her picture book was inspired by a question that her son, now 10, posed at the age of two. “He asked me where sleep comes from,” she recalls. “He meant it in a mechanical way – he wanted to know if there were a button he could push to fall asleep – and how that machine worked. As a child, I loved the transition to sleep and dreams. That’s where the story came from – though I know it didn’t answer my son’s question.”

The creation of her bedtime tale came quite easily to Blackmore, which may have proven to be a good omen. “I write for a living, since I’m a lawyer, and I’d also written some other stories,” she says. “Some of my stories take me a long time and some never get born at all, but this one was the easiest story I’d written – it was an organic process. I really liked it, and people I showed it to did too. But I know how hard it is to get a book published, so I never in my wildest dreams thought that would happen.”

As it turned out, her grandfather – indirectly – helped it happen. Blackmore, the youngest of four siblings, had been given the responsibility of managing Duvoisin’s copyrights, and in 2004 decided to find a literary agent to help with that task. That search led her to Jennifer Weltz of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. “When I was sending her a letter, my sister said, ‘Why don’t you toss in your manuscript, too?,’ ” says Blackmore. “So I did, and she liked the story idea, and agreed to both become my agent and to help us with the copyrights.”

A Publisher’s Enthusiastic Welcome

When Weltz submitted the manuscript for How Does Sleep Come? to Steve Geck, editorial manager of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, he was immediately hooked. “It’s the kind of story you automatically begin reading aloud,” he said. “It is very seldom that you find a picture book text like this one that needs virtually no changes. It’s a very reassuring bedtime story that has a tactile quality to it that offers a real sense of place and feeling, as well as motion. We made an offer right away, and were thrilled to get Elizabeth Sayles on board to illustrate the book.”

It wasn’t until Geck perused Blackmore’s biographical sketch that he realized her connection to Duvoisin, whom he calls “absolutely one of the best illustrators and authors we’ve had in the picture book field.” As a former bookseller, Geck is well versed in Duvoisin’s work. “I loved selling his books, which are favorite read-alouds for story hours,” he says. “For his granddaughter to step up with this amazing text is wonderful.”

Blackmore, who has written additional stories but has no others yet scheduled for publication, admits that she is “still in shock” at the realization that she’ll soon be a published author, and says that she would consider it an honor to be seen as carrying on Duvoisin’s legacy. “I looked up to him so much, yet I never imagined that this book of mine would happen,” she says. “My grandfather was an artist and an illustrator, and I’m not an artist. His work is so magnificent, and of course I know his is a large pair of shoes to even try to fill. Still, having my book published is an excellent surprise!”

How Does Sleep Come? by Jeanne C. Blackmore, illus. by Elizabeth Sayles. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-4022-7105-2