Imagine growing up in a home where children's books are being written and illustrated, rather than just taken off a bookshelf to read at bedtime; sketches, dummies and manuscripts are strewn about the kitchen table; and there are piles of scrap paper, pens and markers everywhere to use for writing and drawing.
This scenario may seem idyllic to admirers of children's books, but it was actually true for a number of authors and artists who not only watched their parents work on books, but grew up to follow in their footsteps. PW spoke with a few of these first- and second-generation writers and illustrators to find out how they have fostered a family tradition of producing books for young readers.
"It Came Through Your Pores"
Author/illustrator Thacher Hurd's mother, Edith, was a writer; his late father, Clement, was the illustrator of many classic children's books, including Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon, which was published two years before Thacher was born. But Thacher didn't spring into the world with pen and brushes in hand. In fact, he didn't consider a career in children's books until, after a long struggle to be a musician, he decided to take an art class. He was 26 years old, and suddenly, he says, all his parents' influences "came flooding out."
"When I started writing, I discovered I'd learned a lot from being around them," says Hurd. "It came through your pores. When I was little, I used to go to my father's studio. He'd give me a piece of paper and I'd sit down and draw and be happy as a clam."
|"A CREATIVE FAMILY IS a happy family: Jerry, Gloria and Brian Pinkney are all veterans of children's publishing.|
Growing up in the prolific Pinkney family, Brian Pinkney also has warm memories of visits to his father Jerry's studio after school. "I got from him that he enjoyed making pictures. Later we talked about how important that was, but I think I internalized it by watching him. He let me use his art supplies when his pencils got too small for his hands. His paints were always the best. I'd go back to my 'studio' -- a walk-in closet -- and practice."
Both Jerry and Brian are award-winning author/illustrators; Jerry has three Caldecott Honors, Brian has three also, plus a shelf-full of other awards. Jerry's first children's book, The Adventures of Spider: A South African Tale, was published in 1964; he has subsequently illustrated numerous picture books by authors such as Mildred Taylor, Julius Lester, Robert D. San Souci, Patricia McKissack, Arnold Adoff, Nancy Willard and many others.
But they are not the only children's book people in the family: Jerry's wife, Gloria, wrote Back Home and The Sunday Outing, both illustrated by Jerry. And Brian is married to a children's book author and editor, Andrea Davis Pinkney.
Lizzy Rockwell is the daughter of author/illustrators Anne Rockwell and the late Harlow Rockwell. Anne, who has authored more than 70 books, also collaborated with Harlow on some 20 other books for beginning readers. Lizzy's most recent book is Good Enough to Eat: A Kid's Guide to Food and Nutrition, due this month from HarperCollins. "Their studio was right in the house," Lizzy recalls. "I'd come home from school, get a snack, look over her shoulder and see what she was doing."
Author/illustrator Ian Sch nherr's first children's book, Newf, was published in 1992 by Philomel; his father, John, won the Caldecott in 1988 for his illustrations in Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, also published by Philomel. Ian says that he began drawing as a toddler. "My father was entirely encouraging. He wouldn't get on my back about appropriating his materials. Every now and then I'd get my own sketchbook, but usually I'd use his, and take it over completely."
|AN ARTISTIC SYNTHESIS: Nina Crews's (r.) photographic collage picture books bring together stylistic elements of books by her parents, Ann Jonas and Donald Crews.|
Indeed, having professional-quality paints, paper and other materials around helped a lot when young imaginations were ready to create. This was the experience of author/illustrator Nina Crews, daughter of author/illustrators Donald Crews and Ann Jonas. Nina's three books are I'll Catch the Moon, One Hot Summer Day and Snowball; like her parents, Nina publishes with Greenwillow. Two of her father's books, Freight Train and Truck, are Caldecott Honor Books; Ann Jonas is the author/illustrator of Watch William Walk and Splash!, among many others.
"Anytime we wanted to do a project," says Nina, "like make Christmas cards or put on plays, we had access to the best materials -- X-acto knives, foam-core board, etc. -- because the studio was in the house."
Author Donna Jo Napoli has many middle-grade and YA novels to her credit, as well as a few picture books. Her daughters, Elena, 24, and Eva, 17, have both illustrated her books: Elena drew maps for Song of the Magdalene, Trouble on the Tracks and For the Love of Venice. At age 13, Eva illustrated The Bravest Thing. "When they were little, there was always a paint table set up," says Donna Jo. "We had a bag on the kitchen door where we collected junk, and made collages out of it when it was full."
Some people were lucky enough to have famous authors visiting their homes, and were privy to professional discussions. As Sid Fleischman recalls, "Everybody from Maurice Sendak on down has been to our house, talking about dénouement, protagonist, antagonist, rising action, falling action, resolution."
|"AWARD-WINNING GENES: Paul (l.) and Sid Fleischman|
Sid and Paul Fleischman are "the only father and son ever to win the Newbery," says Sid proudly. "He got a Newbery Honor before I got the Newbery. People told me, 'Paul is following in your footsteps.' I said, 'No, I'm following in his!' "
Sid, who is known for his humorous writing, won the 1987 Newbery Medal for The Whipping Boy. Paul's award-winning work includes picture books, novels, short stories and p try. Joyful Noise, a volume of p try, won the 1989 Newbery Medal; Graven Images, a collection of short stories, was a 1983 Newbery Honor book.
Working Side by Side
Some of the offspring learned by working alongside their parents, sometimes even for payment, as apprentices or assistants. At 16, Thacher Hurd helped his mother on Little Dog Dreaming. "I worked with her on the writing and gave her ideas. I don't remember, to tell the truth. I was dreaming about being a rock 'n' roll star."
A year or so later, Thacher's father gave him another one of his mother's books, Catfish, to illustrate. "I had no idea what to do. But I did it. He gave it to the publisher who said, 'I don't think he's ready yet.' He took it and did it himself, [but] used some of my ideas. It was such an affirmation for me."
Later on, Thacher made use of his mother's expertise in the process of learning how to construct a picture book. "She'd been a teacher, so she knew what would interest children and how to write for them. She gave me a lot of help with editing, like how to look at a sentence and really pare it down. Also she showed me how to make a dummy, to see how the pages turn, to see how a child would perceive it. And she taught me that the story and pictures in a picture book should be in balance, that the pictures should not overwhelm the story."
Author/illustrator Kaethe Zemach, whose latest picture book is The Character in the Book, also learned about bookmaking from her parents, author Harve and author/illustrator Margot Zemach. One of the most important lessons, she said, was respect for children and the desire to give them the best possible books. Another thing she learned from her mother was the potential dramatic quality of the picture-book form. Because Margot's parents were involved in the theater, Margot approached picture-book making as a dramatic art. "My mother saw a picture book as a couple of hours on the stage," Kaethe recalls. "She was very concerned about costumes, set design and pacing."
|THREE'S COMPANY: Rebecca and Michael Emberley were father Ed's apprentices as children. As adults, they collaborated with him on Three: An Emberley Family Sketchbook.|
Ed Emberley has written and illustrated dozens of how-to-draw books for kids. His children, Michael and Rebecca, are picture book illustrators, and last fall they all did a book together, Three, which showcases the different styles of each family member. But when they were younger, Michael and Rebecca worked alongside their father as apprentices. "They used to do simple work for me, like coloring in," Ed recalls. "The first 75-80 of my books were all pre-separated. Mike and Rebecca did overlays; they were the technical people." This position, he quips, had to be a better job "than packing groceries!"
The books of the late author/illustrator John Stept were among the earliest children's books to address the black inner-city experience. Stept published his first picture book, Stevie, at 19, then wrote and illustrated 11 books and illustrated six by other authors before his death in 1989 at age 39. The Story of Jumping Mouse and Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters both won Caldecott Honors. His son Javaka's first book, In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall, was a 1998 Coretta Scott King Award winner in the illustration category.
Javaka says he helped on his father's last book, Baby Says. "He used acrylic paints and color pencils and blended them together, and one of the ways he did that was through the use of an eraser. He had me doing that, and paid me about $5 an hour. I was the Director of Erasing."
Lizzy Rockwell's entry into children's book illustration was bittersweet. Already a magazine and book-jacket illustrator, she was asked to complete her father's last book. "When my father became ill he had a book, My Spring Robin, with unfinished illustrations. The editor and art director thought my style would be appropriate, so I did the last few illustrations. It was literally an inheritance of this one book that needed illustrating."
Although none of the parents here say they specifically steered their children toward the creative arts, all provided valuable encouragement. It was important to Jerry Pinkney that his children make their career choices naturally. "When they were growing up, we never groomed them to be artists," he says. "We made sure they were surrounded by things that would make them think about the arts: dance, drama, visual art. There was always a space where we supplied them with materials. But never instruction." The senior Pinkney felt that by intruding, he might encumber Brian's creative process. "If a child grows up around artists, he'll take it in," he said.
The Emberley family, says Ed, has a tradition of being self-sufficient: one of his grandfathers was a coal miner, another was a jack-of-all-trades and had his own boat. "What we wanted," he says, "was that [our children's] choices were theirs and theirs alone; and that they be self-sufficient and not in my shadow. Luckily, I cast a very small shadow! And luckily, they have their own style."
Javaka Stept says that his father provided all-purpose, practical advice. "I went to a school for science and he saw me coming home, not happy. `I see you drawing, but I don't see you doing science projects,' he said." Instead of steering Javaka in any conventional career direction, the elder Stept suggested that his son follow his heart. "My father told me, 'If you have a job or career and you are going to be getting up in the morning, doing it every day of your life, you should love it.' "
Ann Jonas thinks the same way. "In any field you take a chance. You may or may not be making a lot of money. So you might as well do what you love!"
Artists and Businesspeople
Learning technique at your parent's elbow may be important, but equally valuable are lessons about the practicalities of the business of being -- and staying -- a working artist. Although the parents we spoke with say they did not sugar-coat the truth about the harsh realities of making a living as an artist, and that the love of creating was a huge motivation, no one advocates taking a vow of poverty. Or as Rebecca Emberley puts it, "Art's wonderful for art's sake, but you still have to make a living. My house is filled with art for art's sake."
"Illustrators get paid twice a year," says her dad. "So I explained to [the children]: twice a year we are very rich, and the rest of the year we are very ordinary. I think they saw that all the time. We are a very talky family, and they heard all the conversations."
Ian Sch nherr remembers that when he was coming of age, his father "was getting out of children's books. He would get a check for $1.81 for six months' royalties. [Despite] seeing the day-to-day drawbacks, still I managed to convince myself that was what I wanted to do."
Artist/illustrator Christopher Myers is the son of two-time Newbery Honor author Walter Dean Myers. Father and son worked together on Harlem, a 1998 Caldecott Honor book. "Being a freelance artist, it's easy to sit around and say you're 'thinking,' " says Christopher. "My father has all kinds of schedules and mechanisms to make sure he gets work done. He has an amazing work ethic, and that is something I've always aspired to."
Sid Fleischman is cut from a similar cloth. "I don't do much except set an example: writing is work. Paul saw me go to work every day, hour to hour. Writing is not something you do when you get inspiration twice a year." Still, he admits, "I worried because I know how treacherous it is to make a living in any of the arts. I didn't know if Paul would be as lucky as I've been."
There are also health concerns involved in working over a drafting table for long hours, as Lizzy Rockwell points out; her mother is "seeing her daughter getting all those aches and pains in her 30s. My mother knows it's a very long and difficult career and a very lonely one, and she sometimes wonders if she'd wish that on anyone, especially her daughter. Particularly when physical problems come, like thumb joints being fused, neck joints being fused. It's very hard on your body."
Donna Jo Napoli's view is that "adults don't always have things happen beautifully. You have to do things for the joy of doing them -- I kept doing it because it's so wonderful to create and write. It's much better for them to know that when you love doing something, you do it. It gave them the message that if you work hard at it, it will happen."
As closely connected to their heritage as the second generation might be -- and as much as they may have learned from their parents -- they are still not clones. In some cases, though, being different took a little practice.
"When I started doing books, I was very much influenced by them," says Thacher Hurd of his parents. "Then I thought, you've really got to be yourself, you really can't just follow along in this tradition of Margaret Wise Brown. My work was a little crazier, a little looser, a little more colorful." Jerry Pinkney remembers that "in Brian's first book, you see his efforts to find himself, while working around a father who is in the same business."
Nina Crews's artistic medium is photography, "as opposed to any kind of illustration. It relates to my parents because I use more collage techniques. It is kind of a synthesis of different aspects of each. My father deals with real-world events. My mother d s fantasy."
Michael Emberley says that his personality is, like that of his father, "goofy," and thinks he inherited from his father "an irresistible urge to reinvent the wheel with every book I do. Sometimes I'll use cartoon style, sometimes semi-cartoon style, different looks and techniques. My father is almost exclusively digital now: he d sn't sketch anything, he's Mr. Computer-head. Which is ironic, because I was doing it when it was hot." (Michael formerly did computer graphics design.)
"I don't think of her as following in my footsteps," says Anne Rockwell of daughter Lizzy. "I do what I do, she d s what she d s. I have a pretty individual approach to children's books. I'm interested in the very young book, the child who is just beginning to explore language. Lizzy has a little more rapport with children who are older."
Kaethe Zemach says that during her first foray into children's books, she wasn't able to combine being a mother and being an illustrator, the way her mother gracefully handled it. "There was a period when I was very insecure about my own abilities," she admits. "It was very important to me to develop my own style and to keep my work separate from my mother's." She says she worked very slowly on The Character in the Book (which was edited by her mother's editor, Michael di Capua). "After The Character in the Book, I no longer had those doubts."
A Pipeline to Publishing?
On top of all those genetic gifts, the younger generation of children's book authors and illustrators gets a bonus: a built-in connection to the publishing industry. Or do they?
Ed Emberley explained the realities to his son Michael in no uncertain terms: "If you take this to John Keller [Ed's editor], he'll take it not because you are Ed Emberley's son, but if it's good and can sell enough to make them money. Nobody's going to publish a book out of nostalgia! Also, I was concerned that an editor would publish one of my kids' books just because they were the child of Ed Emberley. But I didn't need to worry. I would go through periods of one year and a half when Little, Brown would not publish one of my books but they published about three of Rebecca's -- I was thinking about going in as Rebecca!"
Michael Emberley thinks that having a "name" in the business may have its down side. "It's more difficult, if you have a famous name, to get lost. You're under more scrutiny."
At 19, Rebecca Emberley submitted work to John Keller because he was "the only editor I knew. It was a fairly intimidating process, an initial meeting to discuss layout. He's still my editor -- the only editor I ever worked with!"
Brian Pinkney says that he was helped by a list, provided by his mother, who was acting as Jerry's agent -- of all the art directors his father had worked with. Thacher Hurd submitted material to his parents' agent, Marilyn Marlow at Curtis Brown. "She'd been their agent for years -- a good friend, very supportive. She took me around. She wanted me to have my own career. I did end up at the same publisher [HarperCollins], but with a different editor. And I did a few books for Greenwillow."
"Publishers and editors will look at a book if there's a familiar name on it," Hurd contends, "but they certainly don't buy them based on the name. It took me a while to get a book published -- two or three years."
Christopher Myers believes that "in the end, my work will speak for itself. I firmly believe in the value of your own work. No amount of name recognition or nepotism will change that. But at the same time I know it brings a certain kind of pressure: people are really looking at you. There's an assumption that they know how you got this job, so you better represent!"
Nina Crews also submitted work to her parents' editor. "A manuscript had been given to my father to illustrate. He didn't want it, and suggested to Susan Hirschman that I work on it. I took my portfolio to her and she said, `We really like what you've done -- have you thought about doing something on your own? Why don't you come back in a month?' So I did." One Hot Summer Day resulted.
Collaboration and Independence
Many of the second generation have collaborated with their parents, and the situation isn't always smooth. Each has his or her own work style, and professionalism (learned from the parents, after all) can dictate working in isolation from each other, even though it's supposed to be a "collaboration."
Author and illustrator James Stevenson's first children's book, If I Owned a Candy Factory, was published in 1968. His children, Harvey and Suçie, are children's book authors/illustrators. Harvey was an art director who started illustrating books as a sideline; Suçie went directly into children's book illustration.
James and Harvey collaborated on last year's Sam the Zamboni Man. "I wrote the story and he did the pictures," James says. "It was totally separate. I didn't see the pictures till they were in proof. I didn't want to intrude on the process. If my father was looking over my shoulder I'd feel that way."
Show and Tell Day and Halloween Day are two titles that Lizzy and Anne Rockwell have collaborated on. "People are truly amazed at how well my mother and I work together," Lizzy says. "She's a tough critic, and criticism from your mother is sometimes hard to take, but she's my mother. I know it's honest. We love to just drive somewhere in the car and say, `Wouldn't this be a great idea for a book?' "
There must be something to genetics, because none of those who follow in their parents' creative footsteps feels ambivalence about the path they've chosen. "I'm sure everyone who d s what his parent d s feels you either rode on the coat-tails or you didn't use your own imagination," says Michael Emberley. "But I like it well enough now. It's a means to an end rather than the same head. I feel that my head is my own. I got into it myself."
Rebecca Emberley says, "People want to take away what you have. When they say 'you inherited your talent and how lucky you are!' they are really saying 'what you have isn't really real: it was given to you.' But that's what all parents give you anyway, right?"
Comparisons to her parents do not always serve Lizzy Rockwell well, she notes. "The critics will say, `She's too similar, she's too different, etc.' But teachers and kids don't care. Kids are fascinated that I was a kid when I first started drawing."
All in all, to be in a home where your parents do creative work can be a very rewarding environment, emotionally and creatively, and, ultimately, career-wise. Over the years, the admiration and appreciation for one's parents' gifts and ability to share them seem to increase. Christopher Myers experienced this when he saw his father surrounded by adoring industry types at professional events. "I didn't realize he was 'Walter Dean Myers' until I went to conferences with him -- I'm used to seeing him get up in the morning and scratch his beard."