Monday, November 10, 2014

Talking With David Ezra Stein

If you ask me what's on my shortlist of favorite recent Caldecott Medal and Honor books, Interrupting Chicken, would be close to the top of the list. Written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, Interrupting Chicken is a sure-fire crowd pleaser at my library, and I often use it when doing outreach programs at preschools and elementary schools. Adult also get a hoot out of it, which is always a good thing, given that they'll likely be reading it repeatedly for their eager offspring.

Since then, David has created several other picture books, including Because Amelia SmiledDinosaur Kisses, and Ol' Mama Squirrel. Two years ago, I interviewed David during the ALA Annual conference in Anaheim, and greatly enjoyed getting to know this author/artist who really loves creating picture books.

David has just released his newest picture book, I'm My Own Dog, and it's a doozy. Kids will readily identify with the dog's idea of taking control of his own life, and they'll love the energy and humor  in David's expressive watercolor illustrations.

Just look at the cover illustration, showing a dog literally standing two of his own feet and leaning confidently against a fire hydrant. He's in charge, all right, and don't you forget it! Any parent of a stubbornly independent preschooler (and isn't it their job to be stubbornly independent?) will draw some instant parallels -- and laughs -- from that cover pose

In an "author's note" sent to reviewers, David notes that he was inspired to write the book because of a drawing he did some time ago. You can definitely see the seed for the book in this drawing, which is shown at the left. David believes that, because dogs are such an integral part of so many people's lives "they make an excellent metaphor for a story about independence and love.... Like many of my stories, this story seems to deal with the compromises and follies of love and friendship."

I recently was offered the opportunity to participate in a blog tour with David as part of the launch of I'm My Own Dog, and -- in imitation of the hero of the book -- I leapt at the chance. Here's the resulting interview:

What kind of dog is the dog who stars in I'm My Own Dog?

He is sort of a bulldog mixed with a Boston Terrier. I love the shape of a bulldog and the coloring of a Boston, so I blended them together in the laboratory… of my brain!

You say that you first got the idea for the book because of a drawing you once did of a dog walking himself, with the caption that “The true master is master of himself.” Can you tell us how you took that beginning and then created a book from it? (For example, how long ago did you do that drawing, and how hard was it to turn that one idea into a picture book?).

I did the drawing many moons ago, like about 3 or 4 years ago. I stuck it on the bulletin board. I moved apartments. I did other books. I had another kid. Then, bam! One day I was on the road promoting another book, and I began to hear the voice of this dog speak to me. I jotted down what he had to say. I often meet new characters this way. I worked very hard to flesh out the dog’s world, his life and relationships. I finessed the story with my editor and revised it many times, to take out anything that would get in the way of the flow. Then I spent a couple of months drawing dogs and working on the technique for the final art. Finally, I was able to illustrate the story as you can see it in the book.

Do you like dogs? Do you own a dog? What’s your favorite kind of dog? Why?

To this date, I have not had any major dogs in my life. I find that since I wrote I’M MY OWN DOG, I have become closer in my affinity for dogs. They are everywhere, and play such an important role in people’s lives. Their relationship to us is a curious one. They are not quite human but not quite just a pet, either. I like friendly dogs of all sorts. I do think Akitas are a handsome breed. Also, they are described as: Alert, Docile, Friendly, Responsive, Courageous, Dignified. So how can you argue with that?

You’ve dabbled in different types of art media for different books. Why did you choose to do the illustrations for “I’m My Own Dog” in watercolor?

The tone of the book is breezy and matter of fact. The dog is confident and uncompromising. The broad strokes of watercolor I used work nicely with the attitude of the dog.

What are you working on now?

I just finished TAD AND DAD, which will come out summer 2015 from Nancy Paulsen Books. It’s about a little tadpole who jumps into his dad’s lily pad every night to keep Dad company. Dad can’t sleep, and Tad keeps on getting bigger. Finally, Dad cracks. Or is that, croaks. Basically, it’s a saga many of us parents can relate to. It’s dedicated to all the dads out there who are sleeping on the couch because the bed is like Grand Central Station.

END NOTES: Thanks to David Ezra Stein for taking the time to answer my questions, and for writing and illustrating such wonderful books! Thanks also to the folks at Candlewick Press, especially Rachel Johnstone, for providing a review copy of I'm My Own Dog and getting me the images I needed to illustrate this blogpost. Finally, here's the necessary permission that made it all possible: I'M MY OWN DOGCopyright © 2014 by David Ezra Stein. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA

1 comment:

  1. I'm an author illustrator too, and it's especially interesting to hear how he came back to finish this 3-4 years after making the first drawing. Things have to happen in their own time. Thank you for the blogpost.