Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Dan Yaccarino

h1 April 9th, 2009 by jules

This is not Dan Yaccarino, but this is one of the objects of his hero worship — Jacques Cousteau, the subject of Dan’s engaging new picture book biography, released last month. This is Dan below, in his VERY fun-looking studio. You can even click on the image to see his robots up close:

Good thing I invited him for a breakfast chat, since breakfast is, “by far, my favorite meal,” he told me, “next to lunch, dinner, and snack time. I’m a savory person, rather than a sweet one (just ask my wife). My favorite omelette is Swiss, mushroom, and onion. Along with that, a toasted bialy, slathered with butter, and an exceedingly strong cup of coffee. Yes, I know, I’m a real health nut.”

If Dan’s art is new to you, you might feel as if you’ve taken a trip back in time, looking at this post today, what with his distinctly retro style. But, no, it’s not 1959, and you aren’t about to tune into the riveting tales of June, Ward, Wally, and Beaver. It’s simply that Dan’s use of vibrant colors on a sometimes deliberately restricted palette; his sharp, energetic, and often very geometric lines; and his highly stylized cartoon figures result in his unique vintage style, reminiscent of the bold graphics that dominated 1950s- and ’60s-era children’s literature. I always look forward to one of his new titles, as his work is full of playful details and also because I have a serious devotion to his Mother Goose collection, one of the stand-out nursery rhyme collections, in my not-so-humble opinion. Talk about seeing Mother Goose in a new way: Just check out the cover below.

Dan is also the creator and producer of several children’s cartoons on Nick Jr. Parents of preschoolers may recognize these guys, as well as this one. More about his television credits can be found at this page of his site.

Dan has stopped by to share some art work, including a couple more spreads from his captivating new Cousteau biography, which Kirkus has already praised for clearly conveying “Cousteau’s enduring fascination with the sea,” which “can’t help sparking similar feelings in readers.”

I thank Dan for stopping by, especially before the zombies came and destroyed all humanity (inside joke I simply cannot pass up) and since he may have been initially disappointed that the interview doesn’t involve anything but a pretend cyber-breakfast. If I ever make it to New York City one day, though, I’ll totally treat him to some omelettes, a bialy with lots o’ butter, and some really kickin’ coffee. (I like how he has to have “an exceedingly strong cup.” That’s the way to drink it, my friends. I can see that Dan and I will concur on the breakfast choices.) Let’s set the table and get some of the basics from Dan.

Note: Some of these spreads have been re-sized to fit within the blog’s template but are linked to the original file. Click on those to see them larger and in more detail.

* * * * * * *

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

Dan: Both! Hooray!

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


Dan: I’ve published over three dozen books, so I’ll just list a few:

{Ed. Note: Dan also listed his full bibliography, which I will include at the bottom of this interview.}


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

Dan: I mostly paint with gouache on watercolor paper, although I’ve done a few books in alkyds as well as collage. At the moment, I’m learning Photoshop and Illustrator and may incorporate it into my work in the future.

7-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?

Dan: I’ve illustrated a lot of picture books and few chapter books, and for me, the difference is that the images in a picture book are the driving force that tell the story and the words tell only what the pictures can’t. In a chapter book, it’s the other way ’round.


“Every Friday, Dad and I leave the house early.”
–From
Every Friday, Henry Holt, 2007
Click on image to see it in more detail.

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Dan: I’ve lived in NYC for twenty years and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

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

Dan: I started out, as many children’s book illustrators, as an editorial illustrator (Rolling Stone, Time, etc.), which was great training for conveying information visually and simply. It was also required that I work fast in order to meet the short magazine deadlines. Without having taken a single writing or children’s book class, I wrote and illustrated my first picture book, Big Brother Mike, in 1993.


– From Go, Go America, Scholastic Books, 2008
Click on image to see it in more detail.

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

Dan: My web site is www.yaccarinostudio.com.

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

Dan: I rarely do school visits anymore, but when I do, they usually end with me buried under a pile of kindergarteners. Oddly enough, when I do book conferences, they usually end with me buried under a pile of teachers and librarians.


– From Five Little Ducks, HarperFestival, 2005

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

Dan: Absolutely! The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau is my new picture book…released on March 24, ’09. It’s a biography of the famed oceanographer. He’s a huge hero of mine.

{Ed. Note: Click on images to see them in more detail.}


My next picture book, Lawn to Lawn, will be released in 2010, and I’m about to start work on a book about my great grandfather coming to America, which should be out some time in 2011. On the television front, my new animated series, Willa’s Wild Life, should start airing some time this year.

I’m always working on picture and chapter book ideas, as well as developing TV and feature film projects. At any given moment, I have about six to ten projects I’m juggling, each at different stages of development.

Table’s set. Time for our pretend-omelettes and to talk more specifics. Once again, I thank Dan for cyber-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?

Dan: It’s a pretty straightforward process when I illustrate a book I didn’t write. I read the manuscript over and over and doodle whatever appears in my head. It could be the main character, the environment, or some small detail. Once I feel I’m ready, I block out the book in thumbnails, then move on to a rough dummy, then a polished dummy, all the while moving elements around, editing, creating new images, etc.


“Sometimes I can hear him walking the earth, brushing past the trees.”
– From
Good Night, Mr. Night, Harcourt, 2004

If it’s a book I’m writing, that’s quite a different story. Some of my books start out as an image (like Unlovable and The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau), and some start out as a fully written story before I visualized anything at all (like Lawn to Lawn and the book I’m currently working on about my great grandfather).

I have an idea for a new picture book, and I thought I’d sketch out the entire book and tell the story with just visuals and see what happens.

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

Dan: My family and I live in a three-story apartment in Greenwich Village in New York City, and my studio is on the uppermost floor, which overlooks the Hudson River. As you can see {in the opening photo of this post}, I’m surrounded by lots of books and toys. I think I’m trying to recreate my childhood bedroom where I had the same basic set up, just on a smaller scale. The only thing missing is my mother bringing me grilled cheese sandwiches and Tang.

{Ed. Note: Click to see toys up close, though there is no Tang to be found.}


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

The Thing in Dolores' PianoDan: There weren’t too many kids’ books in my house growing up — mostly comics. However, I did go to the library a lot and remember getting two books out often: The Thing In Dolores’ Piano and Rhoda’s Restaurant, which were both written and illustrated by Robert Tallon. About ten years ago, I managed to find both books online and I bought them. Then I was curious about Mr. Tallon and actually found him in the New York City phone book, so I gave him a call, and Bob and I have been friends ever since. He even gave me the original pencil dummy of Dolores!

I’ve also been on the lookout for a Mercer Mayer book called One Monster After Another, but I haven’t been able to find a copy.

Growing up, I read lots of comics and watched entirely too much TV, which most definitely seeped into my work.

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

Dan: I really thought about this question a lot, and—to be honest—there’s really no one I’d really want to meet whom I haven’t met already. I’m not inspired by other children’s book authors and illustrators, but rather people from other fields. I’d much rather meet the director Henry Selick, Tim Delaughter of The Polyphonic Spree, the science fiction author William Tenn, or the Dalai Lama.

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?

Dan: Yes! I listen to music when I paint, much to the dismay of my family, because I’ll listen to the same artist or CD over and over for months. I’m a huge fan of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. I also listen to The Polyphonic Spree, probably for the same reason; it’s really joyful, uplifting, and spiritual music. Painting is meditation for me. It calms me down. It’s also great for me because, unlike producing a TV series or working on a feature film, it’s only me.


– From Go, Go America, Scholastic Books, 2008

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

Dan: I can’t read one book at a time. I’m usually reading about three to four books at any given moment.


– From Zoom Zoom Zoom! I’m Off To The Moon!, Scholastic, 1997

7. 7-Imp: It appears that, for the most part, you work alone. How do you feel about collaborating with someone else?

Dan: It’s true that I’ve written most of the books I’ve illustrated, but I have on occasion illustrated manuscripts by other author’s, like Margaret Wise Brown, Jack Prelutsky, Kevin Henkes, and Patricia MacLachlan, and I enjoy it very much.

I also collaborate on occasion with other children’s book authors and illustrators on film and TV projects. In fact, right now I’m working with author/illustrator Andy Rash on adapting his picture book, Agent A to Agent Z, into an animated series. I’ve worked with a few others as well, and it’s a lot of fun.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Dan Yaccarino

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Dan: “Can’t.”

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

Dan: I love it when someone “gets” what I’m doing or points out something in my work that I didn’t even realize I did. I also love being with people who have the same drive and zeal for their work and career as I do. I love that!

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Dan: Negative people. Ugh. The second I get that vibe from someone, I run in the other direction.

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

Dan: “Phooey!”

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

Dan: When I’m up in my studio and hear my kids coming home from school. I always come downstairs for hugs and an afternoon snack. Seeing their father when they get home from school is probably not a big deal for them (because it’s the way it’s always been), but I know lots of kids who don’t get to see their parents until well after they’ve eaten dinner. I’m very fortunate to see my children as much as I do and sometimes want them to stay the age they are right now forever, but—as usual—they disobey me and get bigger all the time.

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

Dan: One-sided conversations of people on their cell phones everywhere I go.

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

Dan: None. Not only would I be totally incapable of doing anything other than exactly what I do, but I really have absolutely no interest in anything else. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but that’s the truth.

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

Dan: Like I said, anything other than what I’m doing.

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

Dan: “You’re not supposed to be here, but an opening just came up, so as long as you’re here, come on in.”

* * * * * * *

All photos and illustrations—with the exception of the coffee mug and some book covers—courtesy of Dan Yaccarino. All rights reserved.

Spreads from THE FANTASTIC UNDERSEA LIFE OF JACQUES COUSTEAU © 2009 by Dan Yaccarino. Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House. New York, NY. Posted with permission of author/illustrator. All rights reserved.

* * * * * * *

Dan’s full bibliography, as he listed it:

  • 1993 — Big Brother Mike — Hyperion Books for Children, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 1994 — The Sawfin Stickleback: A Very Fishy Story — Hyperion Books for Children, written by Catherine Friend, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 1995 — Bam Bam Bam — Henry Holt and Company, written by Eve Merriam, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 1996 — Carnival — Viking Books, written by M.C. Helldorfer, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 1996 — One Hole In The Road — Henry Holt and Company, written by W. Nikola-Lisa, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 1996 — If I Had A Robot –Viking Books, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 1997 — Zoom Zoom Zoom! I’m Off To The Moon! — Scholastic, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 1997 — Good Night, Mr. Night — Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 1997 – An Octopus Followed Me Home — Viking Books, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 1998 — Five Little Pumpkins — Harper Growing Tree/Harper Collins, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, board book
  • 1998 — Little White Dog — Hyperion Books for Children, written by Laura Godwin, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 1998 — Circle Dogs — Greenwillow Books/William Morrow, written by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 1999 — Trashy Town — Harper Collins, written by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2000 — Deep In The Jungle — Antheneum/Simon & Schuster, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2000 — Blast Off Boy And Blorp: First Day On A Strange New Planet — Hyperion Books For Children, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2000 — So Big! — Harper Festival/Harper Collins, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, novelty book
  • 2000 — Away We Go! — Growing Tree/Harper Collins, written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2000 — Come With Me — Greenwillow Books/William Morrow, written by Naomi Shabib-Nye, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2000 — Surviving Brick Johnson — Clarion Books, written by Laurie Myers, illustrations by Dan Yaccarino, juvenile fiction
  • 2001 — Baby Face — Harper Festival/Harper Collins, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, novelty book
  • 2001 — I Love Going Through This Book — Joanna Cotler Books/Harper Collins, written by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2001 — Oswald — Simon and Schuster, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2001 — Blast Off Boy And Blorp: New Pet — Hyperion Books For Children, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2001 — Unlovable — Henry Holt and Company, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2002 — Blast Off Boy And Blorp: The Big Science Fair — Hyperion Books For Children, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2002 — The Good Little Bad Little Pig — Hyperion Books For Children, written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2002 — I Met A Bear — Harper Festival, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, novelty book
  • 2002 — Halloween Countdown — Harper Festival, written by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, board book
  • 2002 — The Lima Bean Monster — Walker Books, written by Dan Yaccarino, illustrated by Adam McCauley
  • 2003 — Dan Yaccarino’s Mother Goose — Little Golden Books, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2003 — Where The Four Winds Blow — Joanna Cotler Books/Harper Collins, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, young adult novel.
  • 2004 — Bittle — Joanna Cotler Books/Harper Collins, written by Patricia and Emily MacLaughlin, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino.
  • 2005 — The Birthday Fish — Henry Holt and Company, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino.
  • 2005 — Five Little Ducks — Harper Collins, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, board book
  • 2005 — The Twelve Days of Christmas — Harper Collins, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, board book
  • 2007 — Every Friday — Henry Holt and Company, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2007 — Who Will Sing A Lullaby? — Random House/Knopf, written by Dee Lillegard, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2008 — Go, Go America — Scholastic Books, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2008 — Little Boy With a Big Horn — Little Golden Books, written by Jack Bechdolt, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2009 — The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau — Knopf, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • 2010 — Lawn to Lawn — Knopf, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
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17 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Dan Yaccarino”

  1. Ooh – first of all, pull up a chair for me at that breakfast. YUM. I’m trying to learn to make bialys — wish me luck.
    Secondly, I LOVE Mr. Night, and am glad to see all of these other neat works illustrated by this guy — and WRITTEN, too! Author/Illustrators intrigue me endlessly! I really love Mr. Yaccarino’s style — the 50′s color-suffused, out-there sort of thing really works for me (I chuckle at all the cat-eyed glasses. I really want some of those.), and it gives the books a real sense of fun.

    Great interview!


  2. Great, great stuff. I was only familiar with a couple of his books…going to find more!


  3. Wow, this was fun. Dan’s new to me. Loved the Every Friday cover, the Caspers and the rest of those toys! The Costeau book looks really interesting, too.


  4. Awesome, Jules! Thanks!!


  5. I have a few of Dan’s books…can’t wait to get the new release…quite impressed with his work thus far!
    I enjoyed the interview a great deal. He is a man that knows what he likes and doesn’t like and that is admirable!


  6. He is a genius!
    When I discovered his books 6 years ago with my son Jeremi (he was 7 year old that time) , we were digging in the library to find more books.
    Simple and outstanding.
    Waiting for more :)


  7. I went to Parsons with Dan, and even then knew he’d make it far and above any of the rest of us. Very proud of you!


  8. Not only is Dan a great illustrator and storyteller, he’s a really nice guy too and was kind enough to help me get myself started in my career right out of art school! MY son LOVES “Zoom Zoom Zoom I’m off to the Moon!”


  9. I have been a fan for many years…my son Otto and daughter Elvira love a Dan Y. story before bedtime!


  10. I loved reading your interview dan!! Thanks so much!


  11. Best of luck, Dan, with the new book. I am looking forward to adding it to my collection. The layered style is a nice addition to your look…perfect for capturing the undersea environment. And thanks for all of the advice and conversations over the years.


  12. I came to see your studio, with some friends when I was just starting out. You bought us bagels and were very kind and encouraging. Have always loved your work-thanks


  13. [...] more about Dan and his illustrations here Published [...]


  14. [...] In this title, written by Carolyn Parkhurst and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino and released from Feiwel & Friends at the end of last month, Henry and his little sister, [...]


  15. [...] left to right:Dan Yaccarino, Yours Truly, David Ezra Stein,Dianne de Las Casas, and Alyssa Capucilli;Knoxville, [...]


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  17. [...] words are from author/illustrator Dan Yaccarino, whose newest picture book, Doug Unplugged, is out and about in the world, as of this [...]


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