Seeing Redwoods with Jason Chin

h1 July 1st, 2009 by jules

“…In some cases, a huge portion of the center of the trunk has been burned out,
but the tree keeps on growing…”

I’m shining a spotlight today on someone who is not new to children’s lit but who has just released the first title he’s both written and illustrated. And that would be Jason Chin. You may have read about Redwoods (Flashpoint, March 2009) in Betsy Bird’s early-June review (“you have kids that think non-fiction is dull as dishwater? Meet the cure”); in the Horn Book (“the book is…a contagious celebration of the relationship between information and imagination, the pure joy of learning”); in Booklist (“the first book Chin has written as well as illustrated is a real eye-opener”); in Kirkus (“an inventive, eye-opening adventure”); in School Library Journal (“this remarkable picture book delivers a mix of fantasy and fiction through beautifully detailed watercolors”); or Publisher’s Weekly (“Playing with the notion of just how immersive a book can be, illustrator Chin…makes his authorial debut with a clever exploration of coast redwoods”). Most of those are starred reviews, I might add. I hope, however, that you have actually read it — and not just read about it. And that’s because it’s every bit as good as the reviewers say.

I’ve often said before here at 7-Imp that there are all kinds of boring picture books out there for children — and I mean staggeringly boring. This is bad enough, but then you have the ones that commit the worst sin of all: They talk down to the child reader as if he or she is positively brainless. If I can steer just one reader toward the really good books, the ones that treat children with the tremendous respect they deserve, I will have considered blogging well worth my time. So, meet Jason Chin, whose Redwoods—a book about a young boy’s adventures after he finds an abandoned book about the majestic redwoods—is everything reviewers say it is: inventive, smart, thrilling, beautiful. The art takes the reader on a thrilling journey, as the text provides the facts about redwoods which so fascinate the boy. You have to imagine: The young boy reads about how the coast redwoods are among the oldest trees in the world and how “their ancestors lived about 165 million years ago, during the Jurassic period.” And behind him on the subway train, as he is reading, there appear three dinosaurs. Yeah. It’s that kind of thrilling. Throw in some subway-ridin’ folks from the ancient Roman Empire; a car driving through a redwood tunnel; a forest fire; some red tree voles and salamanders of the redwood canopy; the Statue of Liberty; a thirty-story skyscraper; and much more, and you’ve got Redwoods.

I invited Jason, who makes his home in Brooklyn, for a cyber-visit to 7-Imp to tell us a bit more about Redwoods and share a bit more art, and I thank him for visiting today.

* * * * * * *

Jason: I am interested in telling stories. In school, I had assignments that required me to illustrate a concept for an advertisement, and I clearly remember being stumped. On the rare occasion where I was given a story to illustrate, I did my most inspired work — and when I had the opportunity to use more than one image. With a sequence of images, time enters the equation and you can really tell a story. The work becomes almost cinematic. (Chalk it up to my early obsessions with Star Wars and Indiana Jones).

— From The Day the World Exploded:
The Earthshaking Catastrophe at Krakatoa
written by Simon Winchester (HarperCollins, 2008)

So, after graduating and moving to New York City, no one was surprised when I fell into children’s book illustration. It was either that or comic books, and those take too much work, as far as I’m concerned. (Now that I’ve written that, I’ll probably eat my words and do a graphic novel.) Picture books…have become my passion over the past half decade. I love the medium, and I can think of no more enjoyable artistic process than crafting thirty-two illustrated pages.

My latest work, Redwoods, is the first that I’ve both written and illustrated. It is a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. The text of the book is non-fiction: fascinating information on redwood trees, but very straightforward. The pictures are a whole other story — in fact, they are the story. As the reader learns facts, the pictures tell the story of a boy who is magically transported from the big city to the redwood forest to witness the trees himself. As the reader learns a fact, the boy in the book the boy witnesses the real thing. The idea is to give readers an easier (and, hopefully, more interesting) way to access the information.

— Also from Winchester’s The Day the World Exploded

A confluence of events led to the creation of Redwoods. I write about a number of them in an essay on, so I won’t go into those here. One thing that I didn’t touch on in that essay is the social impetus for writing Redwoods: I wanted to try to bring some nature into the lives of urban youth.

I grew up in a rural town in New Hampshire, and now I live in Brooklyn, NY, two places that could not be more opposite from each other. I love them both, and I long for the day when a future non-polluting technology will allow me (like the boy in Redwoods) to instantaneously travel from my urban neighborhood to deep forest. For now, I am fortunate to have the means to escape Brooklyn and spend time in my hometown with relative ease (worth it, even if the trip takes all day). But many children who live in my city don’t have this opportunity, and these children have a serious nature deficit*. Redwoods is my small attempt at bringing some nature to them, and this is one of the things that makes the book especially meaningful to me.

It’s becoming increasingly important for me to do books that I find meaningful. In the beginning, that’s what drove me away from conceptual art towards story-driven art. I know artists that find fulfillment in developing their craft, and others that {are} most interested in developing ground-breaking concepts. If in school I was limited to those two options, I might be a plumber today. Luckily, I found another path, and I’m happily writing and illustrating stories — a pursuit that will provide fulfillment for a long time to come.

* Incidentally, I think that children who grow up in rural towns run the risk of having social deficits from their limited interaction with people different from themselves.

Thanks again to Jason for visiting.

* * * * * * *

    Coming next from Jason:

  • Where Does a Polar Bear Live?, HarperCollins
  • Coral Reefs, Roaring Brook Press

* * * * * * *

All artwork courtesy of Jason Chin. All rights reserved.

REDWOODS copyright © 2009 by Jason Chin. Reproduced by permission of the author. Published by Flashpoint, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press.

11 comments to “Seeing Redwoods with Jason Chin”

  1. Oh, I liked this book from the first picture. The idea is fabulous — the best of both worlds. Here’s to the day when we can ALL hop from the city to the country in a non-polluting, high-tech way. ‘Til then, we’ll read Redwoods and dream…

  2. Gorgeous! Like T, you had me at the first spread. Love the fiction/nonfiction combination. Can’t wait to see this!

  3. I love this book–partly because I just saw redwoods for the first time myself this past year, and they are the stuff of imagination. I remember walking around thinking, this CANNOT be real. Reading this takes me back to that.

  4. Waaahhh! I want this book. I have been thinking about it for several weeks now.

    And Jason Chin is so cute. Ahehehe.

  5. My stars and garters! I just had a kid come in with a reading list yesterday that contained the book “The Master Detective Handbook” which, I admit, I’d never heard of before. We didn’t have it, but I always like to see these things repeat.

    I’m looking forward to Chin’s follow-up to “Redwoods”. Apparently he floods the NYPL Rose Reading Room.

  6. What a talent! You’re so right; I’ve read about so many books that seem interesting and never actually read them. Gotta do something about that.

  7. Treemendous!

  8. […] Jason Chin thrills the reader with the geological and biological processes that led to the Galápagos Islands we know today. He writes: “…in order to create an engaging story, I have included events and details that are necessarily speculative. . . [but the] island formation, species colonization, and evolution described in this book are real… This story is based on science, but brought to life through my imagination…” […]

  9. […] beautiful Water Is Water (Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, May 2015), illustrated by Jason Chin. That is here. Today, Jason is sharing a bit of art from the book, as well as a few early sketches. […]

  10. […] Politics & Prose. This will be tonight and is all about picture books for older readers with Jason Chin, Jacqueline Woodson, Christopher Myers, John Parra, and Chris Soentpiet. I’m looking forward […]

  11. […] & Prose’s Third Annual Picture Book Panel, which I moderated in early November, with Jason Chin, Jacqueline Woodson, Christopher Myers, John Parra, and Chris Soentpiet. The bookstore has posted a […]

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