Two mainstays of children’s publishing have teamed up to create a picture book, In Plain Sight (Roaring Brook, Sept.). Richard Jackson, who cofounded Bradbury Press, Orchard Books, and DK Ink, and was a longtime editor at Atheneum, and Jerry Pinkney, whose numerous award-winning picture books include the 2010 Caldecott Medal book, The Lion and the Mouse, have collaborated on this picture book spotlighting the bond between a girl and her grandfather.
Sophie lives with her parents and her wheelchair-bound grandfather, who is the first person she runs to see after school each day. The man asks his granddaughter to find items he has “lost” in his room during the day, a game that connects the two—and their generations. Jackson (who during his career has edited two Newbery winners, 10 Newbery Honor Books, one Caldecott winner, and four Caldecott Honor Books) says that In Plain Sight was inspired by a tradition from his own childhood.
“The story came from a 70-year-old memory of a game my parents planned after Christmas dinner at my great-aunt’s large house, where there’d be about 50 people gathered,” Jackson recalls. “My father and mother hid 25 common objects in unlikely places, and each of us had a piece of paper on which we’d record—secretly—what we spotted.”
Also playing into In Plain Sight, muses Jackson, is the fact that, though he never knew his grandfathers, he is now a grandfather (and, he adds, “I hope a gentle one”). As he wrote the story about Sophie finding things her grandfather had hidden, Jackson discovered that the heart of his narrative shifted: “Though the book originally had ‘A Game’ as its subtitle, when I got going on it, I realized that it seemed much less a game and much more a love story.”
For Pinkney, the decision to illustrate the picture book also involved an emotional component. Noting that he has long respected Jackson, as well as editor Neal Porter, who approached him about signing on to the project, he also felt a personal connection to the story. “I have a great-granddaughter I’m extremely close to, who is almost nine, and when Neal sent me the manuscript, it was so lyrical—and it immediately started to pull at my heartstrings,” he recalls.
Pinkney notes that he recognized early on that, though Jackson’s story has a search-and-find component, “It’s truly a love story about two people who care about and enjoy each other very much, and that became the driving idea for me.” Given the narrative’s limited setting—the grandfather’s room—Pinkney was faced with the challenge of “creating visual tension,” and his solution “opened up the art in a way I hadn’t anticipated.”
To create Grandpa’s world, says Pinkney, “I began thinking, ‘What would he be interested in?’” The illustrator built a model of the fictional man’s room, filled with various objects that reflected his interests, to help him discern different perspectives on the space. “What I look for and want is a challenge that makes me dig a little deeper, and once I do, that opens up a whole other world,” he reflects. “I knew I needed to help readers share in the relationship between two people that Dick’s beautiful, universal story presents.”
A veteran of countless BEA (and ABA of old) conventions, Jackson this year attends the show as picture book author. “I feel a bit apprehensive,” he says. “But I feel beholden to the business that was so good to me for so many years. I’m tickled and delighted to be showing everyone that I’m still standing and doing something different. In fact, this is just one of 10 picture books I’ve written—but maybe we shouldn’t mention that, since it may sound too greedy.”
Friends and fans of Jackson and Pinkney can catch up with them today, when they autograph copies of In Plain Sight, 11:30–noon, at Table 7.
This article appeared in the May 12, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.