The final keynote of the U.S. Book Show on May 27 featured a live Zoom session with Caldecott Medalist Brian Selznick, who spoke about his new book Kaleidoscope (Scholastic Press), set to release in September. David Levithan, Scholastic v-p, publisher, and editorial director, and editor of Kaleidoscope, joined Selznick for a closing q&a.
Selznick began by relaying the origins of, and process behind, his latest title. Returning from England just before the U.S. coronavirus limitations were put into place, Selznick found himself in New York City, quarantining on the opposite side of the country from his husband, who was in San Diego. After jokingly naming Joe Exotic as support, Selznick shared that “there was another man who helped me through the beginning of the pandemic especially, and that was Werner Herzog.” Alone in his New York space, Selznick found comfort in Herzog’s films featuring people in extreme situations. As quarantine continued, Selznick began making intricate paper-cut art with his postcard collection. The serendipitous gift of an amaryllis subsequently became the impetus for a new series of paintings that featured elements of the flower but not the amaryllis itself.
Back in San Diego and quarantining once more, Selznick revisited Melville’s Moby Dick, rereading it three times before beginning a series of 57 drawings, one for each chapter of the book, a selection of which he shared via Zoom.
Finally, Selznick was ready to return to bookmaking. He ruminated on a project he began five years ago; upon realizing he didn’t like it anymore, a voice in his head—much like the one guiding his amaryllis in absentia art—told him, “Use what you love. Pull what you love.”
“The original book shattered, broke apart,” Selznick revealed. “And then I was going to try to look at each of the aspects of the story like a different part of a kaleidoscope, which is ultimately how the book got its name.”
Since “this book has a lot to do with time and how we now experience time and the way time itself fell apart since the pandemic began,” Selznick decided to separate the book into 24 chapters, or individual stories; though he originally planned to omit a visual language from this latest endeavor, Levithan suggested each chapter have a drawing, and then a drawing of the initial illustration viewed through a kaleidoscope, resulting in “24 kaleidoscopic drawings, and 24 drawings inside Kaleidoscope.”
“It’s sort of a diary—a very strange diary—of everything I was feeling and thinking about during the pandemic,” Selznick said. “This is a difficult time for optimists, and I do believe deeply in hope, in the future, and so I needed to put that in writing as well. So the pandemic doesn’t appear in this book, but everything the pandemic made me feel is in this book.”
Levithan then joined Selznick onscreen, posing audience-submitted questions for the author-illustrator. Selznick spoke about how each of his books in some ways feels like his first, as he attempts to bring lessons from prior projects into his current ones and “do something new to me” in each one. He then called Kaleidoscope a big jump and “the scariest experience in bookmaking that I’ve had,” praising Levithan for “holding a good net.”
Though the process to publication seemed short—Selznick wrote all the stories in Kaleidoscope in six to seven months, and did all the drawings in two months—he wanted to acknowledge all the work that went into it beforehand, over the course of five years, including the non-bookmaking art and various life experiences. In closing, Selznick elaborated on his process of visualizing, using thumbnail images, and working in 3x5” drawings, as well as the structure of the book and how each story within can stand on its own.