Seven Questions Over Breakfast with David Ezra Stein

h1 October 30th, 2008 by jules

Illustrator David Ezra Stein, one of my favorite new illustrators, is joining me for breakfast this morning. “Day to day,” he told me, “I usually have homemade granola with fresh fruit and soy milk. But if we’re having a leisurely brunch, I’ll have a salmon, onion, and spinach omelet with world-class home fries, ketchup, and toast with butter! Or when it’s around, a delicious, custardy, homemade quiche with a flaky crust! (I am just getting into baking. Here is me with some apples I picked for baking.)”

I opt for the leisurely brunch, since I have seven questions over breakfast for him this morning and since I can’t wait to linger over some of the art work he’s shared. So, here’s the quiche he’s baked . . .

Mmm. This man is serious about his breakfast. Perfect. I’ll bring some coffee, and we’re set.

Cowboy Ned & AndyIf you haven’t seen the four books David has written and illustrated (well, five books, as of this month, but we’ll get to that in a minute), you’d be giving yourself a real treat to go and take a gander. Cowboy Ned & Andy (the two are pictured here), a lovely tale of friendship that gets me every time, was David’s debut title, released in 2006 by Simon & Schuster (and covered here at 7-Imp last year). Now, I’ve never written and illustrated my own picture book, but I would think that having Publishers Weekly say about my very first book that, at the start, the book’s text “sounds almost like Hemingway” would be a flattering thing, indeed. Ned’s New Friend, released the following year, follows Cowboy Ned & Andy yet can also stand on its own.

And then came two of my favorite picture books from last year, both created at David’s hands: Leaves and Monster Hug!, (both published by Putnam Juvenile and reviewed here and here last year, respectively). Leaves, the story of a young bear’s first Autumn, was granted all kinds of accolades and starred reviews—from “Stein knows what kids fall for” from Elizabeth Ward at The Washington Post to “this introspective little gem exudes joy” from School Library Journal to this excerpt from Kirkus Reviews: “{Stein} understands and honors the young, curious mind and allows readers to share the joy of a discovery in text and illustration.” Publishers Weekly praised Stein’s “joyously colored panels that hang on the pages like paintings-more intimate, somehow, than double-page spreads… {and} Stein’s willingness to let the story assume its own haiku-like shape.” And, as you can tell from the sticker on the cover of the book, Stein was awarded the 2008 Ezra Jack Keats New Author Award for the book. At this post from May ’08 at his blog, you’ll see that he shared the spotlight for this honor with illustrator Jonathan Bean, and I would like to eschew humility for a moment and point out a comment I made last year:

I think an up-and-coming picture book illustrator we all can get most excited about this year, other than the obscenely talented Jonathan Bean, is David Ezra Stein.

Aw, snap snap. I scored on that one! Onwards and upwards, though, and I will slink back, returning to my usual level of humility and incessant self-deprecation . . .

Here’s the bear from Leaves, though this illustration doesn’t appear in the book. It’s, in David’s words, “a never-before-seen outtake!”

Monster Hug!—the story of two large monsters who make the world their playground—showcases the “joyously messy” (School Library Journal) side of David’s art work. Disheveled has never looked so good. The book sings with spontaneity, fitting for a book about the rambunctious, untidy play of friends. Meet Hairy. Meet Scaly:

David’s brand-new title, released this month, is The Nice Book (Putnam Juvenile). Haven’t read it yet (blast it!), but it appears to be a simple story for the very young about….well, how to be nice, as demonstrated by a menagerie of little creatures. David stopped by one Sunday last November to give us a preview illustration from the book.

If you occasionally stop by David’s blog, you can see some of what he calls his “outdoor, on-the-spot drawings,” very different in style from his children’s book illustrations. “Going out to paint and draw is a very important part of my life and work,” he told me.

Let’s get the basics from David while we set the table here for our seven questions over breakfast . . .

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

David: A/I. I’m an idea person! I think in words and pictures, so I use a combination of words and pictures in my work.

7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?

David: Cowboy Ned & Andy (2006), Ned’s New Friend (2007), Leaves (2007), Monster Hug! (2007), The Nice Book (2008).

Another spread from Monster Hug! (Putnam Juvenile, 2007)

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or -– if you use a variety -– your preferred one?

David: Watercolor and line. The line could be china marker, ink and brush, or bamboo pen. It depends on the “feel” of the book. For example, in Leaves (Putnam, 2007) I wanted to convey the fragility of the leaves, the seasons, and the bear’s feelings, so I used a thin, scratchy line. In Pouch! (Putnam, 2008), since the book is all about hopping, I used a vigorous, energetic line.

From LEAVES7-Imp: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

David: For Putnam, my niche audience is very young children (baby–5 or so). I am starting to do some older books with Candlewick as well (ages 4–8ish).

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

David: I stomp in beautiful Kew Gardens, Queens, NY. You might find my footprints in the woods.

7-Imp: Can you briefly tell us about your road to publication?

David: I’ve always drawn and written just for myself, for fun. I studied illustration at Parsons School of Design, and in senior year I realized I could put writing and art together and make children’s books. This was a great revelation. Thanks to my teacher, Pat Cummings, I was able to show my work to people in the business who encouraged me. After about four years of writing and making book dummies of stories, I sold my first book (Cowboy Ned & Andy).

{Ed. Note: Pictured here is an illustration from David’s first illustrated title, Gumbook: 999 Ways to Use Bubblegum, published in 2002 by Amoeba Design in Seoul, South Korea.}

7-Imp: Can you please point us to your web site and/or blog?

David: and http://www.davidezrastein.

7-Imp: If you do school visits, tell us what they’re like.

David: My school visits are super-interactive. If I’m having fun, I know the kids are, too. We write stories and design characters together. Kids have more interesting, wacky ideas on the spot than an adult could come up with in a month. The more involved they get, the better.

Students welcome David on a recent school visit

7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?

David: My latest, The Nice Book, just came out October 16th of this year. It consists of little animals demonstrating how to show your love for someone.

My next Putnam book, Pouch!, is coming out in October, 2009. It’s about a baby kangaroo who ventures out of the pouch for the first time!

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, the table’s set. We’re good-to-go with our quiche. Coffee’s done brewing. We’re ready to talk more specifics. Many thanks again to David for stopping by!

1. 7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

David: Every book is a little different for me, but usually I get the idea when I am in a hummy sort of mood (à la Winnie-the-Pooh) and words and pictures start coming to me. I follow the story, bit by bit, like picking up breadcrumbs, and write and draw as fast as I can.

I end up with a bunch of thumbnail drawings and the text. Then I pitch it to the publisher and, if they like what I have so far, I’ll go back and make sure all the scenes are fleshed out as sketches. We might go through several rounds to get the layout (page breaks) and pacing right. I always try to stick to the original feeling (mood) of the story, and keep it simple. When this stage is done, I go on to character designs, experiment with color palette (mood again!), and then make the finished art.

2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

David: I live in a 90-year-old house. The room my studio is in used to be the sewing room. Sometimes I imagine I’m stitching together stories like ladies used to stitch clothes in here. It gets a lot of sun & I can see blue jays, and squirrels, and a magnolia tree that shows me the passing seasons.

David’s magnolia in Spring

3. 7-Imp: As book lovers, it interests us: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

David: This could be a long answer, but I’ll try to keep it to ten or so favorites: Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, Ezra Jack Keats, Leo Leonni, Maurice Sendak (especially Little Bear books), James Marshall, José Aruego, William Steig, Bemelmans, Hergé, Bill Watterson.

4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators or author/illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

David: I’ve already met a lot of great illustrators, but as for those I haven’t met, I’d love to meet Dick Bruna (he has a fantastic moustache), Simms Taback (another awesome moustache), and Uri Shulevitz (facial hair status unknown). They seem like they would be very amiable and insightful.

5. 7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

David: I am very much enamored of the musical stylings of Fats Waller. Talk about someone to have over for dinner! Yes, I do listen to music while I work, usually the same CD over and over for a certain book. For Pouch!, believe it or not, I listened to nonstop Bollywood music.

6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

David: I play ‘cello? I’m interested in wild foods? I’m actually 900 years old and play the erhu? (Just kidding on that last one.)

7. 7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

David: No, I think you are doing very well.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

David: Something Yiddish, probably “schlep”—it can be a verb, a person (a slob), or a distance (a long schlep). Versatile!

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

David: Many, but how ’bout “leverage” as a verb. Or any corporate speak, really.

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

David: Wind, water, walking, music.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

David: Smoking, leaf blowers, commercials, dishonesty.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

David: All the usual ones do the job nicely.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

David: Cat purring.

{David’s Basta}

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

David: Noisy radio stations.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

David: Voice-overs for animation or radio plays. I often do “voices” in my private life. Luckily, my wife works at a museum that does puppet shows, and I sometimes get to do one of the voices. (My last role was as a somewhat frazzled, too-many-lattes raccoon. As far as I know it is very well-received by the discerning preschoolers who attend.)

That or a sculptor of wood. (Here is a marionette of the bear from Leaves I made.)

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

David: Anything in an office.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

David: “There’s been a mix-up and you get to go back.”

* * * * * * *

Note on the “peace” illustration (from this link) —

{David’s} work toured Japan in 2003 as part of Peace Show, appearing in Hiroshima subway stations, Parco department store in Tokyo, Fukui Music Festival, and other galleries, stirring great interest on Japanese TV and in newspapers and inspiring the composition of a peace poem by a famous Buddhist monk.

* * * * * * *

All photos (with the exception of the coffee mug) courtesy of David Ezra Stein.

COWBOY NED & ANDY illustrations © 2006 by David Ezra Stein. Published by Simon & Schuster. Posted with permission of Stein. All rights reserved.

Illustrations from LEAVES © 2007 by David Ezra Stein. Published by Putnam Juvenile. Posted with permission of Stein. All rights reserved.

Illustrations from MONSTER HUG! © 2007 by David Ezra Stein. Published by Putnam Juvenile. Posted with permission of Stein. All rights reserved.

Art work from THE NICE BOOK © 2008 by David Ezra Stein. Published by Putnam Juvenile. Posted with permission of Stein. All rights reserved.

Spread from POUCH! courtesy of David Ezra Stein.

All other art work taken from David’s blog or site with permission. All rights reserved and all that good stuff.

37 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with David Ezra Stein”

  1. Wow, great interview! My girls loved Cowboy Ned, and Leaves too…so we’ll have to check out the rest of ’em.

  2. I love, love, LOVE that Peace print. Can you imagine that on a snowflake?

    Also, I love the childlikeness in his illustrations, the sense of movement and fun. And his yellow filing cabinet!

  3. Jeremy, my girls love his books, too. Not just their mama.

    TadMack, there are more PEACE images here. I’m fond of the matador image, too.

  4. Where to begin? Yes, I do love this guy. I mean, he had me at the apples and quiche pictures. Not to mention all those moustaches (which I’ve been pondering lately for a post).

    But seriously. His art is so joyous. I’m wild about the bear pictures. And you have such an informed, discerning eye, Jules, that your comment about him from before was definitely spot on. I can’t wait to see what David does next!

  5. great. you know i’ve been a fan since page one and i really think david’s going to turn out to be influential to future generations as well. thanks for this peek.

  6. This post is like fireworks—one great image exploding after the other. I’m kind of breathless.

    And “too-many-lattes raccoon”? hee, hee. I’m imagining the jittery rogue now…

  7. Great interview, Jules and David! I’m excited for POUCH! next Fall 🙂

  8. Jama, if you did a series of Great Moustaches of Children’s Lit posts, I’d read it.

  9. Many thanks for this interview. DES has been on my radar since Cowboy Ned; Leaves was brillant but I haven’t seen Monster; Nice is on my reviewing shelf, but darn!, I need to do a Christmas Roundup first. Nice, as a word, gets a bad rap but in David’s book it has true meaning. I look forward to more!

  10. This is such a great interview! Made me kinda hungry…
    My (5-year-old) students absolutely LOVE Leaves and we’re looking forward to introducing The Nice Book!

  11. Before getting into the interview per se, I’d like to second jama and shout “Whoo! Whoo!” to congratulate Jules on her foresight. If she’s capable of connecting David Ezra Stein and Jonathan Bean well before the rest of the world, well, how long before she’s co-hosting Crossing Over?!?

    Okay, gratuitous fanboyism behind us…

    DES’s work is FABULOUS. I’m so happy he mentioned Steig as an influence. I’d thought of him when first scrolling down the page to see the art. And another New Yorker artist, too — especially the Monster Hug! samples: Ed Koren. Koren too has a fondness for endearingly fuzzy happy monsters.

    Love the way that the text in The Nice Book echoes its meaning in its form — like the rollicking “giggling”!


    And wouldn’t I like that marionette to play with at the library? I would. I’ve been using Leaves in storytimes a lot over the last couple weeks, and it’s one of those wonderful, perfect storytime books that makes the children quiet.

    TadMack, I also made note of the yellow filing cabinets.

  13. Now others can see that my buddy David is as nice and genuine as his work! His great success is well deserved. I applaud his zeal in sending positive vibes out into the world.

  14. Love David’s art work, fabulous peace posters (wow!) and choice of breakfast.
    Thanks for the great interview.

  15. i’m all over the moustache post, jules. it’s an obsession lately.

    i forgot to say before that the bear marionette wants to come live with me.

  16. Our Halloween wall display is Monster Hug inspired – or, in the words of the librarian who put it together, “as scary as we get around here.” I’m another fan of the peace print.

  17. […] over there on Jules and Eisha’s site. I must say though, that I particularly enjoyed their Seven Questions Over Breakfast with David Ezra Stein. He’s seems like a cool […]

  18. Fabulous!

  19. I can’t believe I missed this interview! David rocks, and my middle one would be so psyched he drinks soymilk! i LOVE his dragon illustration!

    Would you believe I was lucky enough to win his lion in the Robert’s Snowflakes auction last year?

  20. […] interviewed or otherwise featured here at the blog. That includes Lane Smith, Sean Qualls, David Ezra Stein, Adam Rex, Matthew Cordell, Steve Jenkins, and more. Heaven help me, I keep adding to the list, […]

  21. […] Marcia Brown, Tomi Ungerer, and David Ezra Stein. I think that’d be a nice mix of old and […]

  22. Hi! I have to read ‘Pouch’ at The Bronx Zoo tomorrow and was unable to find it in the library, as every nearby copy is in use, so I was looking for experts from the text online and found your wonderful interview. I would really love to share excerpts of this interview (or the entirety) in Macaroni Kid. It would make a nice follow-up to my Animal Tales Extravaganza reading at the zoo…Comments? I’d like to share your site with my readers, as well. Thanks!

  23. Sure thing, Tammy. Email me at seventhings *at*

  24. […] and Eisha (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) interviewed David back in October. I’m always impressed at what those 7-Imp’s do. […]

  25. […] by the Caldecott committee? Perhaps not. But it’s another of my favorites from this year, and David Ezra Stein is one talented guy. I see in my 7-Imp crystal ball a Caldecott in this man’s future. I do. I […]

  26. […] readers. This is one thing I love about the work of contemporary illustrator David Ezra Stein (who visited me with quiche in 2008): He switches up his style just enough with each new picture book to surprise you, yet you […]

  27. […] festive new-year illustration comes from David Ezra Stein. If he got a certain award or honor award in a couple of weeks that has to do with the best […]

  28. […] August 2010)! YES! I have been wishing for some kind of Caldecott nod for David Ezra Stein (here’s his 2008 7-Imp interview) for years now. He has been one-to-watch, and I suppose now he’s The […]

  29. […] having just read David Ezra Stein’s brand-new Because Amelia Smiled, I think these two books would be so perfect paired together. More […]

  30. […] morning over at Kirkus, I write about David Ezra Stein’s Because Amelia Smiled. Ah. So good. Go read it and smile. (That link will be […]

  31. […] see those two spreads up there? They come from the mind and paintbrush of the staggeringly talented David Ezra Stein. Last week at Kirkus, I wrote about his newest picture book, Because Amelia Smiled (Candlewick, […]

  32. […] love all those energetic-line, ink-and-watercolor types: Quentin Blake, Neal Layton, William Steig, David Ezra Stein, Roz Chast, James Marshall, Tomi Ungerer. I adore Saul Steinberg, whom I discovered when I was 15. […]

  33. […] about author/illustrator and Caldecott Honor winner David Ezra Stein — who, you may remember, visited me with quiche in 2008. (May the heavens bless him for that quiche, even if it was cyber-only for me.) He’s here […]

  34. […] reviewed David Ezra Stein’s newest picture book, Dinosaur Kisses (Candlewick), over at BookPage. That link is here. The book […]

  35. […] great books I’ve read recently include: Journey by Aaron Becker; Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein; if you want to see a whale by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin Stead; Bink & Gollie: […]

  36. […] Author website Author interview: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Article by author: NY Metro Parents Book trailer Video of his illustrative technique: Reading […]

  37. […] include the work of Satoshi Kitamura, James Marshall, Sergio Ruzzier, Uri Shulevitz, William Steig, David Ezra Stein, and Tomi Ungerer. Some of his other creative heroes include Pieter Bruegel, Jean Dubuffet, James […]

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