Milwaukee Talks: children's books illustrator Linda Bleck
OMC: Are they purely entertainment, do they have an overarching message, are they aimed at teaching something specific?
LB: For the most part Pepper is a source of entertainment for children, it is categorized as a novelty book. There is no deep-seated message other than Pepper always tries to be good. The books are pure. It 's a perfect world with absolutely no conflict. That was hard concept to sell. Editors love conflict
OMC: How did you come to illustrate "The Moon Shines Down"?
LB: "The Moon Shines Down" arrived on my desk in late 2007. The manuscript had been acquired by Thomas Nelson Publishing. I had met Amy Gary, the person responsible for getting her hands on the undiscovered manuscripts at an illustrator's conference eight years prior. I wasn't even in the children's business at that point. Ironically, she told me all about this discovery. That 's one of the moments in life you say what a "quink-e-dink." But in short the art director from Thomas Nelson had seen my work from the "Children's Treasury" series published by Sterling and it reminded her of Clement Hurd, illustrator of "Goodnight Moon."
OMC: Was it a daunting task to work, posthumously, with such a revered author?
LB: I rather separated my self from the pressure of duplicating "Goodnight Moon" and trying to impress Miss Margaret Wise Brown, God bless her soul. Have you ever had that pressure of shooting a free-throw that will win a game or sinking a 10-foot putt to win a match? Well, that's not easy to work under that kind of pressure. Rather I thought of it as any other book I would illustrate with the attitude of "How can I make this a beautiful piece of artwork?"
OMC: We've found Margaret Wise Brown's prose to be sometimes really oblique and her rhyme scheme kind of like a 13-bar blues. Did you encounter that?
LB: I read the manuscript several times and it lacked a bit of rhythm. It's hard to tell if she meant it to be this way; after all it was locked in a chest written on sketch paper, not completed.
Laura Minchew wrote the adaptation. At that point I decided what I needed to do was create a third-person character that could travel from place to place and make sense of the text. The artwork needed to stand on its own merits. I didn't channel Miss Brown, but took a guess at what she might have been trying to do with the theme. No matter where you are in the world you are blessed.
The story is based on an old sampler prayer. I know from experience that children love identifying with characters and following something on a journey. The one element I did pick up from her previous moon book was the tiny mouse and the need to find him on every page. I can only hope that Miss Brown would be pleased at the end result, but what really counts is if my little readers like it.
OMC: I see you also do illustrations for the New Yorker and other publications. Of this varied work you do, what do you find most satisfying?
LB: At this point the children's illustrating is most satisfying. I enjoyed my previous accomplishments as an editorial illustrator, but onto the next phase of this career. It's wonderful to have something that stays on a shelf longer than a month or day. As in any creative field you never know what project and path your career will take. You can guide it, but the winds push it along. I would never guess this is where I'd be today if you asked me 20 years ago, "What will you be doing as an illustrator in 2010?"
OMC: Can you tell us what you're working on at the moment?
LB: Along with being a full-time mom of two kids ages 10 and 13 I am working on "The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice ,"as well as starting a new book for the "Children's Treasury" series published by Sterling. I continue to write and concept new ideas. I need to be hush-hush about those.
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