In the unlikely event that anyone needs evidence of the inexhaustible creative energy and versatility of Oliver Jeffers, whose books have sold 12 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 45 languages, a look at Penguin Young Readers’ fall roster provides inarguable proof. The publisher has four titles by Jeffers scheduled for release: Philomel issues The Fate of Fausto: A Painted Fable this month and The Boy: His Stories and How They Came to Be in October, when The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Jeffers, is due from Penguin Workshop. And in December, that imprint will publish the collaborators’ Love from the Crayons.
The Fate of Fausto: A Painted Fable introduces an avaricious man who believes he owns and controls all that he sees, from a fragile little flower to the angry, rolling ocean. The story came to Jeffers “fairly fully formed” one day five years ago, when he borrowed a car and drove alone up the coast of his native Northern Ireland. “I pulled over and watched a storm come across the Irish Sea,” he recalled. “I was moved by the sheer scale of nature, and that made me feel very small. I fell asleep and woke up with this story on the tip of my tongue, so I immediately wrote it down in a sketchbook. It came out of nowhere—it almost wrote itself.”
When the story of Fausto first came to him, Jeffers said, “I felt strongly this should be my next book,” but he changed his mind after the birth of his son. “I decided to shelve that story and instead I turned a letter to my son into Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth (Philomel, 2017), since that is a book about hope, inclusion, and kindness. It seemed to me that optimism was a more important note to strike at that point.”
As it turns out, Fausto was a natural follow-up to Here We Are, observed Ken Wright, president and publisher of Viking Children’s Books and Philomel, who edits Jeffers’s books for the latter imprint. “That previous picture book already pointed to a growing preoccupation Oliver has with the state of the world we’re leaving for our kids,” he said. “Reading The Fate of Fausto for the first time and talking to Oliver about its origin, how quickly and urgently it came to him was very evident. This was clearly a story he needed to tell.”
From Timely to Timeless
Jeffers’s sense that Fausto “might have been written a century ago” led to his decision to experiment with a traditional method to create the book’s art. He traveled to Paris where he explored lithographic printmaking techniques created at the prestigious printing house Idem Paris, whose manual press was used by Miró, Cezanne, Picasso, and other renowned artists. “Because the story felt so timeless, I wanted to do something different and to honor some of the old techniques of bookmaking,” Jeffers explained. “When I visited Idem Paris, which has a pedigree and history that are very humbling, I inquired about their process of bookmaking, and after a few conversations with their master printer, we decided we should collaborate.”
Lithography, Jeffers soon discovered, “was a massively different process than I expected. Much of lithography is educated guesswork, with no safety net whatsoever. I felt as though I was working with a four-hour time delay—I couldn’t immediately see what I’d done. At no point did I feel like I had control, but that lack of control suits the essence of Fausto’s story and our arrogance in thinking that we do have control. I was at the studio for eight weeks instead of the two I anticipated, and in the end, I was very pleased with the results.”
As is Wright, who said, “I can’t imagine the art for this book being done any other way—it felt natural right from the beginning. The spare, succinct text pairs perfectly with the white background and minimalist art Oliver created. There are even a few spreads with single lines of text and no art, which adds to the overall effect of this being ‘an old story.’ ”
Jeffers also honored an earlier era of bookmaking with his choice of type for Fausto. “Rather than use my handwriting, I turned to a London-based designer I have long admired, David Pearson, to design the type layout,” he said. “David selected a French font from the 1940s that had never been digitized, and he handset the entire book using moveable lead typing, which made for quirks and imperfections in the type style.” In another nod to vintage sensibilities, the book’s endpapers were made using traditional marbling techniques.
Rounding Out the Season’s Offerings
In his second fall title from Philomel, Jeffers travels back in time in an entirely different way. The Boy: His Stories and How They Came to Be is an anthology of four earlier picture books: How to Catch a Star, Lost and Found, The Way Back Home, and Up and Down. The volume also offers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of each book, compiling more than 100 sketches, notes, and ideas from the author’s archives.
“I pulled the curtain back a little bit with this book,” Jeffers said. “At first, I was a bit self-conscious, since the creative process is not always pretty or easy, but doing this book actually opened up the idea to do more of this, perhaps revealing the inner process of other books as well.” That idea sits well with Wright, who appreciates that The Boy “gives me a deep dive into the way Oliver’s mind works and shares so many details behind the stories that never made their way into them.”
And the stars of the bestselling The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home are back! Jeffers recalled working with Daywalt on The Crayons’ Christmas, an interactive book in which the colorful crew celebrates the holiday with their families. “It was July, he said, “and Drew and I had a lot of fun trying to think of classic Christmassy things to add to the book while playing Christmas music to get into the feeling of the season.” And due out in time for Valentine’s Day next year is Love from the Crayons, a gift book showcasing the colors of love.
The Crayon books, Jeffers noted, “are obviously much lighter than a book like The Fate of Fausto, about drowning because of one’s arrogance. So much of my creative career has been moving from one thing to another. I know if I did the same thing over and over again I would get frustrated and bored. But there’s a lightness to some of my darker stuff—and I suppose the opposite is also true. In the end, it all balances out.”
The Fate of Fausto: A Painted Fable by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel, $24.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-593-11501-5
The Boy: His Stories and How They Came to Be by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel, $40 Oct. ISBN 978-0-593-11474-2
The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt, illus. by Oliver Jeffers. Penguin Workshop, $19.99 Oct. ISBN 978-0-525-51574-6
Love from the Crayons by Drew Daywalt, illus. by Oliver Jeffers. Penguin Workshop, $9.99 Dec. ISBN 978-1-5247-9268-8