A Visit with Thacher Hurd,
Elisa Kleven, and the Weaver

h1 May 13th, 2010 by jules

“. . . children laughing, / a kiss given with love, / a heart that is full.”
(Click image to enlarge spread.)

I’m having some cyber-coffee this morning with author/illustrator Thacher Hurd and author/illustrator Elisa Kleven. I’m ridiculously happy about this. I mean, you know, that’s just some good company there. Think some of their collective talent will rub off on me this morning? No? Well, I try. I always try.

Thacher and Elisa are here to discuss their new picture book collaboration, The Weaver, released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in April. Some of you may remember Elisa both discussing this book, as well as sharing some early art from it, back in my October 2008 interview with her. (That’s one of my favorite interviews. I know, I know. I should probably act impartial, but there you have it.)

The book tells the story of a young girl, a weaver with her loom, who sits high above the earth “in the light of the rising sun, singing a song, watching the world, while her fingers are at work.” She spins her thread from “trails of shooting stars, white clouds, and spiderwebs hung with dew.” And what is she weaving? The colors of the world. And she takes the love and joy and laughter she witnesses—even the sadness and anger—and weaves them into her cloth as well. As her work nears an end, she dances around the world and over the oceans, spreading the cloth over the night sky. This cloth drifts down to the earth below to protect those sleeping, and then the weaver herself heads back home “far above the world.” Kirkus has called this a “gentle, lyrical bedtime story,” Booklist praising its “reassuring, positive message of comfort, security, and global connectedness.” And, in fact, I asked Thacher, as you’ll see below, about the latter.

(Click to enlarge spread.)

There are many picture books I see that I simply want to call “lovely.” I try to stop myself and force myself to be a bit more precise. But, in the case of The Weaver, it’s perfectly accurate and fitting to call this one lovely. It’s ever-so lovely. It’s a fabulous grab-your-kid-and-get-cuddly-in-your-lap title, and it is, indeed—as Kirkus stated—comforting and reassuring and peaceful and…well, lovely. As for the art, it merges seamlessly with Thacher’s text, and also I cannot imagine for one second anyone but Elisa Kleven illustrating it.

My favorite part—which I asked Thacher about below—is how the Weaver includes sadness and anger in her cloth. I like that. A lot. I like that Thacher acknowledges both things. And that’s because children, as Sendak once said, know everything. That includes sadness and anger, even when we grown-ups have trouble acknowledging that about children’s lives.

YES! It’s an Art Dog Moment! Why am I featuring the cover of the wonderful Art Dog? Because the Seattle Children’s Theatre is adapting that to the stage, and boy howdy and howdy boy do I wish I lived in Seattle right now. I asked Thacher about this below. I also asked him a bit about The Weaver; about the middle-grade novel, Bongo Fish, he’s been writing (on and off) for the past five years; about whether or not he has any more picture books on art and/or music in the works (he and Elisa are two of my favorites for picture books on the arts); and a bit more. Then, Elisa talks a bit about the book, too, as well as what’s next for her. And, lucky for us all, she shares some art and sketches.

I thank both of them for stopping by this morning. Let’s get the coffee grinder out, get settled, and have a chat . . .

* * * * * * *


On the Inspiration Behind the Character:

I guess she is somehow connected to the ancient Greek idea of the Fates weaving our destinies. There were three of them in Greek mythology, but I wasn’t consciously thinking of them when I wrote the book — just the idea of someone sheltering us, nurturing all of us, seeing everything in the world with clear eyes, compassion, and love. I suppose the Weaver is also kind of an aspect of the Divine Mother in Hindu and Indian spiritual traditions.

(One of Elisa’s sketches for the book; click to enlarge.)

The Weaver has been floating in and out of my mind for many years. I found one of my original texts for the book and was surprised to see that it was typed on a typewriter, so I must have first started working on it fifteen or twenty years ago. It became a sort of buried treasure in my life, something I would work on for a while and then put back in the drawer to see what would happen, whether it would age well in the cask of my file cabinet.

Over and over again I worked on it, never feeling that it was quite ready. But then slowly it began to feel like a book or like something that I would want to publish. And with that feeling came the thought that I would be thrilled if my friend Elisa Kleven would illustrate it, would bring to life the feelings that I was trying to convey. I still don’t think I understand what the book is about. Some other world? Heaven? The spirit of creativity? I don’t know, and I like the feeling that I don’t know. I can’t put the book in a little box all neatly tied up.

“. . . over cities and countries / and the deep ocean.”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

More On Collaborating with Elisa:

It just seemed so right to have Elisa illustrate it. I never really thought much about illustrating it myself, and Elisa seemed like the perfect artist to bring it to life with the delicacy and joy in her art. I was thrilled that she said yes when I asked her, and I’m so happy with the result. … Elisa has brought the pictures to life in the most magical way.

On What Booklist Has Called the
“Global Connectedness” in the Book:

I don’t think I set out consciously to {address} that. I wanted more the feeling of being held, taken care of, nurtured by something greater than our little everyday lives. The idea that we are all part of one living community slowly evolved out of writing the story, but it was the mood first.

“As she dances she spreads the cloth / like a coat across the night sky. / The stars and the moon are its buttons; / its pockets are filled with our memories.”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

On Tempering the Joy in the Book with
the Sad/Angry, Which Jules Really Loves:

I’m glad you like that. I wanted the Weaver to be the image of a loving being who sees us as we are, without judgements or censure. So much of our lives is taken up with self-doubt and anger at ourselves. I wanted children to feel that security of a kind of mother who loves them, no matter what their mood or what they do.

“It drifts down / to the earth below— / a coat to warm us / and protect us, / a coat to fill us with joy. / And as it settles around us / we dream in our beds, /
while the moon glows above . . .”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

On the Art Dog Stage Adaptation:

So happy that {the Seattle Children’s Theatre} is adapting Art Dog as a musical. My understanding is that it will premiere either this fall or next spring. Looking forward to that.

On Bongo Fish:

Bongo Fish is finally done, after umpteen re-writes. For years, I kept telling myself that picture books were my province and I couldn’t possibly write a middle grade book, though some part of me really wanted to do it. Eventually, I got sick of that negative tape in my head and thought to myself, “Am I going to go to my grave wanting to write something for older kids and telling myself I can’t do it?”

So, about six years ago, I sat down and started writing and just let it kind of pour out. At first, it was difficult and the writing stank, but slowly I got the hang of it. It was a great journey of discovery for me, and I loved writing a longer book and getting more involved in character. It’s a space adventure novel about a cosy grandfatherly alien from the Pleiades who drives a Dodge Dart around the universe — and his relationship to a kind of lonely kid from Berkeley. Bongo Fish will be published by Holt next Spring (2011).

(Elisa’s sketches from The Weaver; click to enlarge.)

On What’s Next:

No music or art books in the works right now. But they always seem to come to the surface eventually in my books.

Wandering around wondering what to do next. Doing photography projects and some printmaking/photography stuff. Perhaps still recovering from the big push to get Bongo Fish done.

{Note: Some of the above was printed recently in the journal of the California Reading Association. Re-printed here with permission of Mr. Hurd.}

* * * * * * *

Note: Most of Elisa’s words here were also recently written as a short piece for the summer issue of the California Reading Association’s journal. (Re-printed here with permission of Ms. Kleven, of course.)

Elisa: When I first read Thacher’s wonderful text, I felt I could capably illustrate most of it with my usual mix of watercolor, ink, pastels, and collage. But how, I wondered, could I capture the look of weaver’s cloth — her amazing, all-encompassing, ethereal handiwork? Because I’m a weaver myself, my first impulse was to try depicting her creation in tapestry — literally to weave the weaving myself.

After weaving a small sample . . .

(“This was the title page of the book that I tried weaving…”)

. . . I realized that my tapestry couldn’t do justice to that of Thacher’s celestial weaver: earthly yarn and wool were simply too bulky to represent a cloth made of spider webs and shooting stars, smiles, sadness, and joy. So, I abandoned my weaving and tried again, this time painting purchased, finely-woven cloth with acrylics and watercolors.

Unfortunately, the sample I sent our publisher didn’t photograph well, and instead of the shimmery look I was aiming for, the cloth looked dull and gray.

Finally, while at the art supply store, I noticed some gossamer thin rice paper . . .

“She weaves all these things / into her cloth: / a cloth of friendships, / loves intertwined— / happy, / sad, / angry, / joyful— / lives held together like vines.”
(Click to enlarge spread.)

. . . so I tried painting on that, and to my relief and happiness, this wispy material seemed almost to capture Thacher’s weaver’s mysterious labor of love.

As for the weaver herself, I chose to make her a girl right on the outer edge of childhood—about eleven or so—because I thought it might be too scary for a smaller child to be roving around the universe all alone (and at night!), and I thought that an older woman, say a wise old crone, might look too…well, old and wise. I guess I wanted the weaver to look as sprightly and fresh and unclassifiable as Thacher’s story is!

(More sketches from Elisa; click to enlarge images.)

* * * * * * *

Many thanks again to both Thacher and Elisa for stopping by.

By the way, Elisa also tells me that she has a new picture book coming out in September, Welcome Home, Mouse, “which stars a clumsy but artistic elephant who happens to accidentally smash a mouse’s house. And I have just illustrated a story from the Torah by the Israeli author, Elka Weber, One Little Chicken, to be published next spring, and am just about to begin finish art for another story of my own, which features a dog and his pals.” Because I love her work so much, to this news I say: WOOT!

* * * * * * *

THE WEAVER. Copyright © 2010 by Thacher Hurd. Illustration copyright © 2010 by Elisa Kleven. Spreads from book reproduced with permission of the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, NY. Sketches and other images (with the exception of the Art Dog cover) posted with permission of Elisa Kleven.

6 comments to “A Visit with Thacher Hurd,
Elisa Kleven, and the Weaver”

  1. Thank you for the wonderful colors and glow: great way to start the day!

  2. I JUST got this book out of the library yesterday. I love getting caught in the riffles of synchronicity. Thank you, Jules, for doing what you do so well.

  3. Just looking at Elisa’s ethereal illustrations has a calming and soothing effect. Her art is so beautiful, and perfectly compliments Thacher’s text. Thank you for the magic of this post, Jules.

  4. Looks like a beautiful, magical book. Thanks for featuring Thacher and Elisa!

  5. Thacher Hurd and Elisa Klevin are two favorites of mine. Thanks for featuring them! My daughter is really into weaving right now, so I know she will look forward to The Weaver.

    As a sidenote, the “Swampland Lullaby” in Hurd’s Mama Don’t Allow was the first song to which I ever set a guitar melody for library storytimes.

  6. […] Thacher Hurd, who was joined by author/illustrator Elisa Kleven (May 13, 2010): “The Weaver has been floating in and out of my mind for many years. I found one of my […]

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