7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #224 (Father’s Day Edition):
Featuring Anna and Gary Alter

h1 June 19th, 2011 by jules

Meet the wee child version of author/illustrator Anna Alter, as photographed years ago by her father, photographer Gary Alter.

So, here’s something I don’t normally do at 7-Imp: I’m posting about a book I haven’t read yet. Nope, haven’t seen a copy yet of Anna’s newest picture book, A Photo for Greta (Knopf, May 2011), pictured below. But I couldn’t pass up this post. For one, I very much enjoy following Anna’s career and her latest picture book releases. But I think this is also, as you will see, a fitting and straight-up lovely post for Father’s Day, thanks to Anna’s contributions here. In fact, the New York Times called this book a “paean to paternal love.”

The book is evidently about a young girl who adores her father—and vice versa—yet her father’s job as photographer takes him far from home on a consistent basis. That’s all I can tell you about a book I haven’t read yet, except that it’s also clearly about the bond between father and daughter and how they make up for his long-distance work. Publishers Weekly has written about the book, “Alter displays notable sensitivity to children’s insecurities and doubts, while providing reassurance of their worth. Her acrylics have a comforting sturdiness, and readers who similarly take pride in their parents’ professions, even as they miss them in their absence, will relate both to Greta’s role-playing when her father is away and their tender time together when he comes home.”

Anna’s here this morning to talk a bit more about this title. I’ll let her get right to it, and I thank her for sharing so generously today.

* * * * * * *

Anna: My books have always had elements of my family relationships in them. Like a lot of authors, I tend to draw on my memories and experiences growing up for inspiration. But this book is perhaps the most autobiographical. Like Greta, I grew up with a dad who was a photographer. He began as a fine artist, but also did a lot of commercial work: taking pictures of basketball players at the local university, portraits of musicians for their albums, and editorial photos for magazines and newspapers. I loved to watch him work and loved posing for his photographs even more. What daughter doesn’t want to be the focus of her dad’s undivided attention, even if it is from behind a camera lens?

{Ed. Note: Below are a couple of Anna’s childhood photos, followed by recent musician portraits by Gary Alter.}

I always knew I wanted to use this piece of my childhood in a book, but the idea for the story didn’t come until I was teaching preschool about eight years ago now. So many of the kids I worked with had limited time with their dads. I was particularly charmed by a little boy whose dad worked long hours, and to make up for it every Friday at the end of the work week he would go for a ‘drink’ with his dad. (He was four years old.) They would walk to a café and order juice and chat. I thought it was so sweet. It got me wanting to make a book about how you can stay connected to a parent who you don’t get to see a lot, which is so often the case, especially with dads. It certainly was true when I was growing up and my family was struggling to make ends meet.

That’s when the spark of an idea came. I laid out a loose, rough, simple first draft. Greta spent her day mimicking the people her dad was taking pictures of while he was at work, finishing the day by ending up in front of his camera when he got home.

(Click each image to enlarge)

After a while, I started to feel the story was too simple. So, I started adding layers to the writing and design, including panels in the form of film strips on the sides of the pages that fleshed out details of the story. I thought they would be a fun way to add depth to what was going on in the spreads.

(Click each image to enlarge)

But after a number of editorial revisions, the panels lost their relevance, and I worried they would distract from the main story. I’ve always been drawn to spare storytelling, letting the readers fill in the gaps with their imaginations. I see my job as a director whose task it is to orchestrate storytelling elements, inviting the readers to play out a lot in their heads, as they listen and look at the pictures. So, I got rid of the film strips, which seemed distracting, and instead added framed pictures around Greta’s house to offer a little subtext to what’s going on in each illustration. You get to see other things that Greta’s dad has photographed, places he’s been, things that are important to him. This design element made it into the final version of the book dummy and the finished art.

(Click to enlarge this spread)

The artwork in this book is executed a little differently than some of my other recent books, which are painted in thick, dense, acrylic paint. I decided to make the images mixed media, incorporating some watercolor washes into the acrylic paintings. My first books were painted using watercolor, and I wanted to bring back some of that softness to this book. After I transferred the sketch to the paper, I would saturate the page with watercolor to set the mood. (For the ballet scene below, I used a warm yellow, then layered it with violet to create the shadows; for the night-time scene, I used several shades of blue with a little yellow to warm up the sky.) Once the background was dry, I started layering on the acrylic in the areas where I wanted the color to pop (Greta dancing and the curtain behind her, Greta sitting in the tree). I thought the opaque dense color over the airy, soft watercolor made for a nice contrast.

(Click each image to enlarge)

I made a little stop motion movie of this process here.

There is also a step-by-step of the jacket painting here.

I included a few additional little nods to my dad. He is a Buddhist, so I painted a little picture of the Dalai Lama as a cat on the front endpapers. I also painted a photo of Greta that is just like the one he took of me in glasses in the back. Next to the dedication is a portrait of my dad next to an avian basketball player in green with the number 33. (My dad is a die-hard Celtics fan.)

As you can tell, there is a lot that is personal in this book. But the story is, I hope, universal.

A PHOTO FOR GRETA. Copyright © 2011 by Anna Alter. Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, New York. All images reproduced with permission of Ms. Alter.

* * * * * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

Well, now. Anna’s contribution today is so delightful that I’m not gonna Julie-ramble after that. Except to say Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers and father-types out there. May it be a happy day for you.

And here’s an idea: If you come kickin’ today and want to email me a picture of your father or you and your father (or any other father figure in your life)—a photo from past or present or some place in between—and you don’t mind it being posted, please do so, and I’ll post them in the comments today. Any takers?

My contribution will be to re-post this image (circa 1973) of Evil Knievel — er, I mean my oldest brother Steve when he was little. Clearly, as a child he knew what a tremendous bad-ass he was. (Check out the tongue.) The photo has appeared at 7-Imp before — from this 2008 post, which I wrote in tribute to both of my brothers. This picture of Steve, who is now a terrifically devoted father to his own children, makes me laugh so hard that I think I might run out of laughs, as my seven-year-old would say. Happy Father’s Day to him.

Is that Evil Knievel?

Also, random kick-like thing (but not related to anything Father’s-Day-esque at all): I really love Blake Mills’ music. He released The Best CD of 2010 You Probably Haven’t Heard. As I type this post up (Saturday night), I’m getting distracted online and just found this video of him covering a Lucinda Williams song, “I Just Wanted to See You So Bad.” And I think it’s good, good stuff.

That’s it. Bye for now.

25 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #224 (Father’s Day Edition):
Featuring Anna and Gary Alter”

  1. Happy Sunday!

    Anna’s new book looks so good — love all the photos and spreads (yay for bunnies!). Thanks to her for also sharing backstory about her inspiration and process.

    Love Steve’s picture (that tongue!). Do remember it but it’s definitely worth enjoying again and again.

    My big kick for today is of course my Dad, who is 96 and kicking it every day on Facebook, connecting with his family and sharing things that interest him (including the occasional risqué joke and lots of food pictures). We are so blessed that he is still with us, can live independently, and is in pretty good health.

    Hope everyone has a good Father’s Day, and special hugs to those who might be missing theirs.

    I’ll email you a pic, Jules :).

  2. You’re right, Jules: A Photo for Greta is perfect for father’s day. It was kind of fun to hear the backstory before reading it, and I’ll particularly look for the bunny Dalai Lama. I love the picture of your brother.

    For breakfast I had to sample a lemon bar — the least prettiest corner –I baked last night for lunch today, where we’ll have four generations of fathers and sons on my husband’s side. The littlest is just over one, which is at least seven kicks in itself. And since they say one can’t dine on lemon bars alone, I need to leave my computer on the lovely porch and get back to the kitchen. But you can be sure I’ll come back later to see Jama’s picture!

  3. Ladies and gentlemen, here is Jama’s handsome father. (And here’s her post for him up at her blog today.)

    Happy Father’s Day to him, Jama.

    Jeannine, that just flat-out rocks, your big ‘ol lunch. Have a wonderful time! Enjoy every moment. Have lemon bars for us!

  4. Thanks for sharing A Photo for Greta. The backstory is fabulous. And the bunny Dalai Lama looks like it will be a great book as well.
    Jules, love the father pic idea. The one of your brother is so fun.
    Jama, your dad and my da would have gotten along great with the risque jokes. How fortunate you are to still have him.
    Jeannine, lemon bars for breakfast rock.
    My week got off to a bittersweet start. My dear aunt, 91+ passed away last Sunday morning about the time I was awaking (and weirdly, dreaming about her, my dad, and their mom).
    My kicks are about
    -the lovely thoughts, cards and messages I have received this week.
    -the end of my 37th year of teaching
    -my writing group
    -being at a book launch party for a friend.
    I am flying to NJ on Tuesday to see cousins and then deal with some things for my aunts memorial in August. I hope I see fireflies.
    Have a great week. Happy father’s day to those in this weekly gather who are dads. Mine had been gone 7 years and I still miss him. Will email you a pic of my dad.

  5. Happy Sunday, everyone!

    Anna: Thanks for sharing your pictures! I especially like the ballerina bunnies.

    Jone: I’m so sorry for your loss.

    My kicks from the past week:
    1) Callback
    2) Film audition
    3) Booked a TV show
    4) Filmed a webseries
    5) Tech week for the play
    6) Adjusted hours
    7) Salamander

  6. Meet Jone’s dad:

    Jone, HUGS. Big ones. With tight squeezes and not merely hand pats on the back. I’m so sorry about your aunt. Good luck on Tuesday, and I wish you strength. And congrats, too, on 37 years of teaching!

    Little Willow, congrats on the booking! Does #7 mean the amphibian?

  7. p.s. Break a leg on that callback.

  8. Y’know, one thing I really love about this place is that I can with absolute certainty be away for a few weeks but always feel like I’m back home again on the next visit. Exactly the sort of feeling I want to have on Father’s Day.

    (I’ll be emailing you a photo, Jules.)

    Great photos from Gary Alter — the one of Anna in the sunglasses was pretty darned near perfect. And her book…! (The one draft spread, of Greta sitting on the stool looking out at the empty road — very affecting.)

    I remember that photo of Steve, Jules. Hilarious but also sorta throad-tightening, too, in the way that old black-and-white photos often are.

    And I’m really liking not just everyone else’s kicks, per usual, but especially the dad-pix. Nice idea, Jules.

    Brief kicks…

    * Really nice birthday celebration yesterday.

    * The “autobiography” page at Sandra Boynton’s site: entertaining and impressively modest/unaffected.

    * Our annual New Orleans trip (The Missus’s business) was a hit, as it always is. Love walking around that city. Love the sort of smoky air everywhere suggestive of dark exotic experiences, just from the moment you set foot on the pavement outside the hotel.

    * On the occasion of my own birthday, got a 5-page handwritten letter from my 80-year-old mother, highlighting big moments when it was “just us” (Mom and her firstborn). That would’ve made my day even in the absence of any other gifts.

    * Online music sites. Too many to name. Too much good music to listen to, to ever catch up. (And I thought that was true of just books…)

    * Samuel L. Jackson’s audiobook version of Go the F*ck to Sleep.

    Have a great week, everybody!

  9. Well, isn’t this just the best Father’s Day post? I love how Anna’s bookcover says it all: The father – “Have Camera, Will Travel” – with Greta on his shoulders appreciating Dad and his view of the world.
    (And man, that baby photo w/her mom! Their stares are so engaging.)

    The story covers an important subject as well. I have a brother who is a commercial airline pilot and a hubby who practices international law. It’s hard on kids whose dads travel a lot. Thanks Anna, (and Knopf) for this book. (The step-by-step video was great too.)

    Jules – I’d hadn’t seen your brother’s motorcycle-on-a-stick photo before; its’ a classic. (I’ll e-maiil a fave Dad-and-me pic; an “apple of his eye” moment. All kids want to know there were those moments.)

    Jama — Your dad looks like a film star and it sounds like he’s quite the character. 96 is impressive (lucky you, get longevity genes.)

    Jeannine – Enjoy your father’s day gathering (and your lemon bars.)

    jone – So sorry for your loss. Congrats on 37! I miss my father too.

    (Has anyone else noticed our many J-named kickers? Jules, Jama, Jeannine & jone. JES/John or Jill should show up any minute now.)

    Little Willow – busy, busy, busy as always. Break-a-leg on callback.
    I hope your adjusted hours include some time sleep and dream.

    JES – Checked the blog–and there you are! (I swear I wrote the above first.) Welcome back. I’ve missed your links and poetic humor.

    My kicks this week:

    1. Big one: my oldest son, back from college, decided he wants to stop smoking. (!) Bought the patches and electronic cigarette and is one week into a healthier lifestyle. My fingers are crossed.

    2. Is very much a non-kick, but a moment worth noting: our local bookstore, Village Books, is closing its doors. We tried so hard to save it. I will really miss sitting in the children’s alcove browsing through new picture books and chatting with the book-smart staff.

    3. My writer-friend Meg Medina’s lovely, summery, debut picture book came out (as Jules shared on Kirkus, Friday.) Meg is a sweetheart.

    4. Found out “Once Upon a Twice” will soon be offered as an e-book. Cool.

    5. I asked my husband what special thing he wanted to do for Father’s Day: “Maybe the boys could help me rearrange our rental storage space.” What a guy answer and perfect dad-activity! Ha-ha! Off to Public Storage they go…

    That’s it for me. Happy Father’s Day to the dads out there.

  10. Everyone, John’s dad (circa 1943 or ’44)!

    My. Handsome.

    More from me soon. I’ll be back again momentarily.

  11. Okay. Back.

    John: WOW and whoa to that letter from your mother. And it’s so nice to hear you feel that way about visiting the site. Shucks. Happy birthday again! That is really a fabulous picture of your father. (P.S. I hear ya on the music sites. I think we should troll them all, make a list of the best, and just hit those daily, ’cause it’s too important to hear good music but, yes, overwhelming how many sites there are.)

    Denise, crossing fingers for your son. So sorry about the bookstore. Nashville lost its too. Recently. But author Ann Patchett is talking about opening a new one, fingers crossed. (Love her for her great writing, and now I love her for this.) Nothing can quite replace a knowledgeable bookstore staff (or librarian!). … Love Meg’s book (as you know). Happy Father’s Day to your husband, Denise!

  12. Here is Denise’s photo, everyone. LOVE it.

  13. P.S. kicks (I’ve got 2 left.)

    6. Oh, I forgot to share an odd and interesting pop-up book that hubby bought at the bookstore’s Going-Out-of-Business sale. It’s an adult pop-up book by the CERN scientists that explains a bit about their accelerator. It’s called: Voyage to the Heart of the Matter. SEE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XK9fdLM8Y8

    7. Seeing 7 Imp’s kickers’ dads.

  14. Denise: yeah, I noticed all the J-kickers early on. Confused the hell out of me for weeks. So, young lady, your suddenly declaring yourself as one, even if in part, IS NOT HELPING MATTERS.

    The photos are great, aren’t they?

    Jules: NPR has such great music-related blogs and e-newsletters that I could probably spend my days just prowling around them. But then factor in all the online “randomized music which gradually conforms to what you want to hear even if you’ve never heard it before” sites — just Pandora and Stereomood for me — and the music-only channels that come with cable/satellite DVD… I mean, what are we? as a species, I mean? ADDICTS is what we are!

  15. That book looks great. And so do all the photos! I am writing off my laptop before work so don’t have time to go dig one up, sorry, but maybe I’ll remember in September when it’s father’s day here!

    Jone, I’m sorry for your loss. I hope you enjoy catching up with your cousins.

    JES, that letter sounds lovely. And I will go hunt out that audiobook!

    Jeannine, lemon bar for brekky sounds perfect.

    Little Willow, Salamander sounds like an intriguing kick.

    Denise, that sounds like the perfect father’s day present.

    1. I forgot to post last weekend as it was a long weekend here so I got all the days mixed up. But hey, long weekend, that’s always a kick.
    2. We pottered around doing household stuff like prepare a chicken coop for the chickens that we’re hopefully getting in a fortnight
    3. Winter in Brisbane feels so strange after the UK. Even though it’s a similar temperature to summer in the UK during the day, at night it is much colder due to our uninsulated houses built for summer time. But I had forgotten how green everything is, and the way lots of native trees flower in winter (eg the gorgeous Grevillea outside the window)
    4. Free avocados from the researchers at work this time, man I love those researchers
    5. A weekend visit to some friend’s was relaxing and great fun
    6. I used some kaffir lime leaves from the garden, along with a lemon from my sister’s insanely prolific lemon tree, in a roast chicken last weekend, and it was delicious. Then I made a nice chicken stock out of the bones in the slow cooker, much better than last time.
    7. A great trip to the library yesterday has left me well stocked with books

  16. Denise, that pop-up video made my brain hurt. But in a good way.

    John, yes, what we would do without NPR’s music folks? (Yes, I’m an addict, too.)

    Emmaco, good food, good friends, good books, free avocados. You’re set for the week. When is Father’s Day there after all? Which day in September? And of course I’ll randomly post your pic then, if you still want.

  17. Hi Jules and everyone else,
    This is quick, because I’m getting ready to head to the Florida Keys for a wedding. That’s my big kick! I look forward to reading your kicks every week, even though it may not be until Tuesday or Wednesday sometimes.

  18. Wow! What a great book for Father’s Day! I really love the illustrations, especially the one of Greta and her dad reading together – so sweet! Also love the photos of Anna that were taken by her dad….

    And love all the Imp’s dads as well! Such a great idea Jules! (I emailed a pic, but know it’s late.)

    Jules – love the photo of your brother – he DOES look like such a bada##!

    Jama – so happy you get to celebrate Father’s Day with your dad!

    Jeannine – lemon bars for breakfast – yum! And four generations – holy cow that’s awesome!

    Jone – so sorry for your loss.

    LW – congrats on booking the TV show – go get ’em at the callback!

    JES – glad you had fun in New Orleans. I am in the midst of one of my love/hate times with my hometown….watching the first season of Treme right now….And that letter from your Mom – whoa!

    Denise – good luck to your son on kicking smoking! Love that sweet pic of you and your dad!

    emmaco – congrats on getting chickens! That chicken you made with ingredients from the garden sounds divine…and free avocados – lucky you!

    Been busy and not feeling kick-y lately, but as soon as I come here and read everyone else’s kicks it makes me smile and reminds me how lucky I am.

    My kicks:
    1) Work conference in Bend from Thursday – Saturday. It was beautiful and sunny so I got some time by the pool between classes.
    2) Finding out with friends that you really can shut someone up in a Murphy bed! (trying to convert my video from my phone so I can post it.)
    3) Kicking back with other good people who do the same job as me and are just as stressed about it, and who like to laugh just as much as I do.
    4) Having a nice police officer decide to give me a warning instead of a very expensive ticket as I was driving home over Mt Hood yesterday. Made my day.
    5) Ingrid doing her happy dance when I got home.
    6) Living in Portland, which last night meant having to wait at least 10 minutes to cross the street to meet my friends beacuse of the Naked Bike Ride in progress. Lots and lots of naked cyclists.
    7) My Dad, who has been gone 19 years (20 in October), who I have to credit for making me the stubborn, persistent, and silly individual that I am. I miss him and his cigars, his ability to make up words to any song on the radio, his beautiful singing voice, and his obnoxious youngest child sense of humor. Feels weird that he’s been gone so long, probably because I think of him often.

    Happy father’s day and happy sunday! Have a great week!

  19. Farida, have a great time! Safe travels.

    Here’s Rachel’s dad, everyone:

    Also pictured is her mother and her two older sisters.

    Sorry you’ve been feeling rather un-kicky, Rachel, but here’s to good co-workers. And I’m sorry, but hubba wha??? THEY HAVE NAKED BIKE RIDES IN PORTLAND? FOR REAL? Wow. Must see one day.

    And here’s to your dad, too, Rachel. He sounds like he was a neat guy.

    (I raise my glass of wine to that nice cop, too.)

  20. We love Anna’s work in our little valley in MA. And we love Anna. So Anna, come home, we miss you!

    My major kick this week was that I survived a fall in which I went nose first into a wall, didn’t break either. Have a small scab on the bridge of my nose, a bit of a black eye that looks like I am not handy with eye shadow (actually, I’m not!), and some residual aches from landing on my side. Lots of blood, no blackouts or headaches or nausea. So all in all, not even good enough for a story or ploy for sympathy. Ain’t THAT a great kick!


  21. Better late than never? Great to skim the kicks this week, and I thought I’d quickly throw my father’s day thankfulness into the mix. My kids first, of course.

    1) Ivy…cerebral, complex, potent
    2) Ella…eccentric, enthusiastic, mischievous
    3) Ezra…compelling, stoked, whirling dervish
    4) My dad…who wasn’t a great father, but I’m more sympathetic about that than I used to be. And he’s turned out to be an excellent grandfather, which NOBODY predicted.
    5) My grandpa…stuck in a care home, not remembering his children or grandchildren. Alzheimer’s really, really sucks. Yet I’m thankful for him, and that I got to know him well before his memory tangled.
    6) My father-in-law, who has always given me the benefit of the doubt.
    7) My wife, who did all the hard work in making me a dad in the first place. Lucky me.

  22. Jane – so glad you are ok! And, Ouch!

    Jeremy – Happy father’s day! Your kids sound so different and so cool.

    Jules, the Naked Bike Ride is an annual event in Portland. Police escorts and everything this year. You definitely need to come visit!

    How about that nice cop????

    And yeah, my Dad was pretty fun. I was a lucky kid.

  23. Father’s Day is always a bit of a bleh day for me (it’s difficult to get things for my dad, he pretty much hates everything) but I love seeing the pictures of everyone’s dads, and hearing the great stories — and the personal treasure of Anna’s book just makes me weepy. I want a picture of a bunny Dalai Lama, incidentally. That’s, like, frameable.

  24. Jane, yikes. Thank goodness you’re okay.

    Jeremy, DAG. Those kicks made me cry, they sure did. Lovely.

    Rachel, yes, gotta see this phenomenon one day.

    Tanita, yup, that is frameable, isn’t it? Glad folks enjoyed seeing the pics. I did, too. Wish I’d thought of this before Saturday night and perhaps I could have solicited even more photos.

    Have a great week, all.

  25. Thanks everyone for your kind words! I loved reading your kicks and seeing all the amazing dad photos. Jama- Your dad looks like such a charmer 🙂

    My kick for the week: Getting to meet one of my best friend’s brand new tiny little newborn, 5 1/2 pounds and perfect.

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