On Saturday, June 27, 2015, from 3:00 to 4:00 in rooms 228-230 of the Moscone Convention Center, USBBY will present international children’s books author-illustrators Ingrid and Dieter Schubert (scheduler link). Their author talk will highlight The Umbrella (a USBBY award book) and their newest publication, There is a Crocodile under My Bed! Having collaborated on over 10 books, they will discuss the process of creating their beautiful picture books.
Q1: You work together collaboratively as illustrators. How does it work to have two people working to produce such a unique aesthetic?
Before we start drawing we both make a lot of sketches and talk about the settings and characters. What follows is an endless discussion, we wake up and go to bed with our creations and ideas. During this very intense time we can barely talk about anything else. Boring for other people – especially our daughters. After that tiring period we carefully draw each page: Dieter keeps an eye on expression and perspective, I take care for the logical development in visual narrating.
Q2: Your books often feature anthropomorphized animals. How do you decide on an animal for a particular story? Does that ever shift as the narrative develops?
Animals are timeless and they are often used as a metaphor, for example in fairy tales. There are animals which people directly can identify with. Take a clumsy bear or a smart hedgehog, for example. Or a hare, swift like an arrow.
You see, we not only call the animal in question but we also give it an attribute. This is common everywhere in the Western World. We all love mice – in books, not in real! In Asia people not really appreciate mice as characters in books.
Of course, sometimes we need to change the animal when the narrative develops. What we do is looking if a certain animal is the right one for the story in particular. And yes, it often happened that we’d to say good bye to one which didn’t fit anymore.
A child should have the opportunity to accept the book character as one of his friends. Never underestimate a child to see things in perspective. They know that a crocodile or lion in a book is an artificial one and not compares with the one in the real world! Even a small child has a good sense of humor. We use animals to express inner feelings, to show human behaviour but to keep a child safe. Always!
Q3: There’s a Crocodile Under My Bed has been translated into many languages. Are there themes you feel work especially well for international children’s book authors?
We wrote and illustrated “There is a crocodile under my bed’’ 35 years ago – just for fun during our last year as students at the Gerrit Rietverld Academy in Amsterdam. Our teacher invited us to Lemniscaat publishers who were charmed by the story. What I didn’t really think about back then was that children all over the world collectively get frightened about something possibly lying under their bed. It is a diffuse fear, coming up at the age of four (and that fear will last a lifetime). When I read this in one of my books about Psychology, I decided to keep my diffuse awareness and disregarded the things said in the book. Because I think that an illustrator and author for children you need and have to protect your gut feeling. The good thing is that Dieter kept his playful intuition and still protects me when I think too much in terms of pedagogy.
Last year we decided to make a remake of our first book. The story is still strong, but some of the illustrations are definitely old fashioned. In those days we used only color pencils. Now we use techniques like watercolor, mixed media, acrylics.
We also changed the story a bit. In the first version the little girl runs back to her parents; In the new version the girl only says: There is a crocodile under my bed. And I am not afraid at all!
Our favorite book will always be: Where the wild things are! (by Maurice Sendak)
Because it embodies everything what children need – and frightens adults. (Read this answer with a twinkle!)
Q4: You have also written wordless books. How do you ensure a strong narrative through images alone?
Even with our wordless books we first start writing the story, or better said a synopsis. Regarding the children who can’t read a word, we always try to make pictures that tell the story by themselves. Mostly only few sentences are necessary.
It is a delight to realize at a certain moment every written word is one too much! That the narrative is exploring itself by scrutinizing the pictures. That requires that the story must stand by be narrated in a linear way; that means no contemplations, no flash backs.
Q5: What will you be sharing in your USBBY talk?
Our experience. Our imagination.
Our possibility to get astonished over and over again.
Showing some sketches. Telling a story.
Today’s Guest Blogger is Wendy Stephens for the United States Board on Books for Young People.