7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #280 (Mother’s Day 2012 Edition):
Featuring Gianna Marino

h1 May 13th, 2012 by jules

Work-in-progress illustration from Gianna Marino’s Meet Me at the Moon
(Click to enlarge)

It’s Mother’s Day, the day we celebrate all the mamas and mama-like people in our lives.

I thought the best way I could celebrate today here at 7-Imp would be to highlight the latest picture book from Gianna Marino, Meet Me at the Moon, released by Viking in late March. And Gianna is visiting today to share a collection of early dummies, early sketches, work-in-progress images, and final spreads from the book.

She also has the loveliest true tale about her own mother and the creation of this book.

The book, which Booklist describes as “[h]eartfelt and sincere, yet never cloying,” tells the story of a young elephant and his mother. Little One is worried, because his mother must leave to “climb the highest mountain to ask the skies for rain.” Telling Little One to listen for her song on the wind, know that the warmth of the sun means she loves him, and find the brightest star to see her, she leaves. “When the night sky is bright, Little One,” she adds, “meet me at the moon, where the sky touches the earth.”

In their starred review, Kirkus writes: “The textured mixed-media art paired with the flowing text elevates this title above most missing-mama fare. The full-bleed double-page spreads evoke the vastness of the plains and the night sky, while the finely detailed striping of the zebras and the intricate branches of the trees produce a striking contrast with the huge circles of the sun or moon that dominate most scenes. Radiating warmth and comfort, this distinguished title strikes home.”

This one also made it in the New York Times just the other day.

Here’s Gianna, and I thank her for visiting and sharing.

Gianna: I have always been fascinated by the sources of our ideas for stories, especially stories for children — written by adults, sometimes for children and sometimes, in my case, for more personal reasons.

While thinking about this, I came across a telling word:

Underbelly – “A vulnerable or unprotected part, aspect, or region.”

“‘But Mama!’ said Little One, ‘I don’t want you to go.’
‘I know, Little One. But you will feel my love in everything around you.'”

(Final spread without text — click to enlarge)

This led me to revisit the most powerful, meaningful, and touching stories from my childhood — the ones that made me laugh outloud or the ones that scared me or those that reminded me of a sweet, long-forgotten childhood memory. How, I thought, could I do that in my stories? How could I touch that underbelly for my readers and be vulnerable in my writing? Where do those first ideas come from and how does our personal life affect and inspire our direction? How could I step out of my comfort zone and write about the things that scared me?

“‘What if I can’t hear you, Mama?’
‘Listen for my sound on the wind, Little One. I will sing to you.'”

(Final spread without text — click to enlarge)

I also realized that, as adults, we have a harder time facing the things that scare us. One of my favorite quotes from John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez:

“Far from learning, adults simply become set in a maze of prejudices and dreams and sets of rules whose origins they do not know, and would not dare inspect for fear the whole structure might topple over on them.” — Ed Ricketts

“‘Mama?’ said Little One. ‘How will you find me again?’
‘When the night sky is bright, Little One,
meet me at the moon, where the sky touches the earth.'”

(Final spread without text — click to enlarge)

Little did I know my own structure was about to be toppled over. My underbelly was about to be left vulnerable.

A few years ago, just seven years after my father had passed, I received a call from my mother that she was ill. We had a long conversation on the phone and, while we did not know yet what her illness was, I knew it was serious.

I took a nap after her call and, when I woke, wrote down the story from my dream.

“And as the sun warmed the earth, Little One felt loved.”
(Final spread without text — click to enlarge)

In the dream, a baby elephant is separated from its mother by poachers, who put the little elephant to work clearing timber from the forest. Before this kidnapping, the mama and baby had a promise to each other — that they would always meet at the moon. But the baby couldn’t see the moon through the forest and spent his time wondering how he could find it and his mother. But his job, clearing the trees, soon revealed the moon above. The baby, now a big elephant himself, escapes and finds his mother waiting for him at the moon. I called this story Meet Me at the Moon and learned later that week my mother had terminal cancer.

“Days passed, and then a week.
The dry earth crumbled in the heat, and still Mama did not return.”

(Final spread without text — click to enlarge)

Every event in our life influences our work. Everything we do inspires us — or scares us into creating. When we face what we are afraid of, we follow a path that is unknown and challenging, and we get to the heart of the emotion. My fear was not only in losing my second parent, but in facing someone, again, day after day, who knows their life is coming to an end. I became determined to transform my mama and baby dream into something tangible that would keep my mother and I connected forever.

Writing and sketching became a way for me to stay connected to my mother, while she became weaker and weaker. During this time, many friends and family came to say their goodbyes. While my mother’s life had been filled with literature, philosophy, poetry, and art, she now wanted nothing more than to hold her dear friends’ hands and look into their eyes. What mattered most at the end was connection. Those tender visits were the biggest inspiration for my story. I was not creating a story about death, but rather a story of comfort, capturing the eternal connection between a mother and child.

“Dark clouds finally rolled across the sky and cracked open with rain.
But now there was no song on the wind. No bright star to see.
No sun to make Little One feel warm and loved.”

(Final spread without text — click to enlarge)

And so the early and scary kidnapping of the poachers was removed and, over many revisions, I came to the heart of the story — the connection. The mother promises that while she is gone, the baby will be safe and they will stay connected by the wind, the stars, and the moon. When the baby asks, “Mama, what if I can’t hear you while you are gone?” Mama answers, “Listen to the wind. I will sing to you.” And when the baby asks, “What if I can’t see you?” Mama teaches baby to find the brightest star. “If we both look at the same bright star,” she says, “it will be like we are looking at each other.”

And when the baby asks Mama how they will find each other again, Mama says, “meet me at the moon.”

“‘I love you.'”
(Final spread without text — click to enlarge)

I worked on Meet Me at the Moon, determined to finish it so I could show my mother I was trying to capture what she was feeling, show her that I got it. I understood a small part of what she was going through. I worked on revision after revision and brought them to her in the hospital. She saw the early drawings and notes. She smiled and nodded, but I wondered, at the time, if she was too full of pain-killers to understand the story.

My mother never saw the finished version, but she left me something behind to complete the final question. After my mother passed and Meet Me at the Moon was being developed, my editor asked me what the “calling song” was. I had no clue. The “calling song” had just been an idea in early drafts. Then I saw the post-it taped on my computer – one of the notes my mother wrote and left hidden in her house, knowing I would find it after she passed.

It read, “You are in my most secret heart.”

A song left by my mother and the perfect ending to Meet Me at the Moon.

I see now, even after she is gone, my mother is still in my life.

Gianna’s color studies for the book
(Click each to enlarge)

Notes on the art:

I started painting animals from my trips abroad (Africa, Australia, Asia, etc.) with the intention of finding emotion in each one. I didn’t want to draw them as a photo might portray them, but wanted to make each one unique. As I painted, I would think of someone I knew and mimic their facial expression in my paintings. I had a mirror in front of my drawing table and made faces at myself as I painted, happy or grumpy or quiet, and transferred the feeling into the animals. While home from these trips abroad, I planted a garden and painted the plants that grew. I found it calming to stare at an onion for hours and find the curl in dried skin or the weight a flower might put on its stem.

(Click each to enlarge)

But over time this wasn’t enough. I was technically good at mimicking what I saw, but there was no emotion left in what I was doing. I needed more. I needed something to shake me enough to inspire new work. For the first time in my “creative” career, I made myself experiment with the process of art.

The rules for my experiment were this:

  1. Don’t judge.
  2. Don’t stop.
  3. Don’t expect anything good.
  4. If you get too frustrated, take the day off and start again tomorrow.

First version of book
(Click to enlarge)

Revision dummies
(Click to enlarge)

Early sketches
(Click each to enlarge)

I came up with awful samples, but I eventually arrived at mixed media paintings — the illustrations for Meet Me at the Moon. These are done with layers of rice or mulberry papers soaked onto a 140-lb (or more) cold-pressed watercolor paper. The sketch is drawn lightly over the papers, then translucent layers of gouache are applied to build up the color. I sometimes use contrasting colors over one another, such as blue over yellow, or red over green, to get more depth. I use gum arabic — between colors so they don’t blend or as a final layer to bring out the richness of the color.

(Click each to enlarge)

For Meet Me at the Moon, I did a variety of color studies for each illustration, as the color itself had to tell a story of going from hot and dry — yellows, oranges, reds to more bland and washed-out and, finally after the rains arrive, to cooler blues and greens.

I found reference plants from Africa and did sketches of the ones that grew on the plains -– this, too, ties back to my botanical studies of those onions in the garden. I added these plants into the foreground of the illustrations, going from warm flowers at the beginning of the story, then weeds and thistles when it is bone dry in the middle of the story, then pink and purple flowers after the rains at the end.

Plant studies
(Click each to enlarge)

* * *

Jules: Thanks to Gianna for sharing. Below are some more early sketches and more images of the artwork as a work-in-progress. You can enlarge each image by clicking on it — to see up-close and in more detail.

MEET ME AT THE MOON. Copyright © 2012 by Gianna Marino. Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin, New York. All images reproduced here with permission of the illustrator.

* * * * * * *

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. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

I’m going to keep it simple this week, for my part. I feel sort of hushed by Gianna’s beautiful words and images. Also, honestly, I’m still feeling sad and shocked (I thought he’d be with us about, I dunno, ten or fifteen more years) over the news of Sendak’s death. At least the tributes we’ve all seen this week—in words and images—have been really nice.

Since it’s Mother’s Day, my two hugely ginormous kicks—not surprisingly—are below. They are kicks every day.

Oh, and one more quick Gianna-related note: See this cover below? It’s an upcoming Fall release from her (Viking). I’m looking forward to seeing that…

What about you? What are YOUR kicks this week?

22 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #280 (Mother’s Day 2012 Edition):
Featuring Gianna Marino”

  1. I feel as though I’ve been walking in a museum filled with emotion and breathtaking illustrations; I have…right here at 7IMP.
    1. Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is my kick every day and every week.
    2. The sun is shinging.
    3. I am going for a walk with my furry friend, Xena.
    4. I received some lovely notes from students for Teacher Appreciation week.
    5. My gargage is filled with annuals ready to plant when we have no more cold nights.
    6. My home is filled with stacks of wonderful books to read and write about when I am finished.
    7. Summer is coming.

  2. Wow!
    What a beautiful post in both words and pictures.
    Thank you Gianna for sharing and Jules for posting.

    My kicks:

    1. My Mom. I feel lucky to have her close by and to be such a big part of my own kids lives.

    2. I am going to Sandwich for Mother’s Day. I haven’t decided what I’m going to have for lunch when I get there.

    3.An audio/visual presentation by my daughter for Mother’s Day while I was still in bed. That included this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJO3ROT-A4E

    4. An acrostic by my son for Mother’s Day that spelled out “Mo is Great”.

    5. The Little League Red Sox are still undefeated after a tough game Saturday.

    6. I am going to a Norman Rockwell exhibit for Mother’s Day because I said so.

    7. If you want to see something funny after you dry your tears take a look at this picture from Mother’s Day 2003. http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1020392918402.3734.1482546367&type=3#!/photo.php?fbid=1430542411883&set=a.1020392918402.3734.1482546367&type=1&theater

    Have a great week everyone and Happy Mother’s Day to all you Impish Moms out there.
    Summer is Coming 😉

  3. What an evocative story. Thank you Gianna for this.
    Jules, your daughters are such sweeties.
    Margie, hooray for summer.
    Moira, enjoy your mom.
    My kicks:
    Mother’s Day and daughter’s family visiting.
    Remembering my mom.
    Remembering Maurice Sendak.

  4. Jules, I’ve often thought this (and have probably said it): artists must love-love-LOVE being featured here. I think this is one of my favorite posts ever. Thanks so much to Gianna Marino for the art and words and backstory, and to Jules for giving her the platform to share them.

    I’ll just share one kick for now, and it’s even kinda Mother’s-Day-related: little grandniecelet Madison Grace was born on May 10 — the first in that generation of the family tree. Yay!

  5. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Imps and their families!

    🙂 Simply put, my mother is awesome.

    Giana: Thank you for sharing your stories. Wow. Lovely and touching.

    Jules: Hello to your masquerade ball princess and polka-dotted flower.

    Margie: Woof to Xena! (I am assuming she is a warrior puppy. Please correct me if I’m wrong.) Happy Teacher Appreciation Week.

    Moira: Sounds like your family is celebrating in style – and poetry, and music!

    Jone: Howdy to your family.

    My friend Susan is undergoing treatment for cancer. Help us raise money for her medical bills. Currently at 14% of the goal.

    My kicks for the best week:
    1) Take two
    2) Playing Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest
    3) Playing Petra in An Enemy of the People
    4) Follies
    5) The season finale of Fringe
    6) Christian Borle’s advice for actors, which can be applied to so many vocations: “Everyone has a different timetable and other people’s successes are not your failures.”
    7) Looking forward, always

  6. Thank you Gianna and Jules for such a moving, beautiful post. Moira is right about needing to dry your tears after reading it.

    The story and illustrations are so full of love.

    Jules – your girls are so awesome.

    Margie – hope you and Xena had a good walk.

    Moira – hooray for the undefeated Little League Red Sox, acrostics, audio-visual presentations and going out to lunch!

    Jone – sunshine, gardening and family sounds lovely.

    John – congrats on the grand-niecelet!

    LW – Oh Cecily – such a fun role! And Follies! Congrats to you – you deserve all your successes and may you have many many more!

    My kicks:
    1) Sunshine
    2) Finished Fire and Hemlock yesterday, really loved it. (emmaco – it was my first time reading it.)
    3) Watched Some Like It Hot – such a silly, fun, movie, and Marilyn, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon were all so charming!
    4) My friends, who are so very good to me.
    5) The giggles of a friend’s 4 month old – so incredibly infectious.
    6) Truth.
    7) Memories of my Mom.

    Happy Mother’s Day! And have a wonderful week!

  7. bit of fly-by (while my hubby and sons fix brunch)

    Meet Me at the Moon looks both moving and dreamy. I truly enjoyed both the story behind the story and the evolution of the art. What a nice Mother’s Day treat; thx Gianna & Jules.

    Along with Mother’s Day-inspired kicks, most revolve around a school visit I did on Friday to my own elementary school: CHARLES BURSCH ELEMENTARY where I was warmly welcomed back. It touched my heart.

    1. My son, Paul, (23)
    2. My son, Max, (17 next week.)
    3. A balloon arch (!) of Bursch school colors.
    4. Creative ‘word play’ posters made by every class K – 6th. Including a punny poem based on “Once Upon a Twice” called “Once Upon the Mice” from the lices’ POV. (ha!)
    5. I love that every Friday is “college T-shirt day”. All the elementary kids were T-shirts with college logos on them. And all the teachers were T-shirts that say, “Every Child: College-Bound and it starts at Charles Bursch.” (Cool, hunh?)
    6. The 4th grade teacher there was in my junior high school class; we reminisced at lunch in the Teacher’s Lounge (the inner sanctum!)

    and 7. Maurice Sendak, our collective hero.

    Happy Mother’s Day kickers and families!

  8. Such gorgeous pictures today! Including your lovely kicks, Jules 🙂

    I spent too long looking at the pics so must list and leave, will come back to read everyone’s lists after work!

    1. A close friend visited with her 6 week old baby – lovely to see her in he new role, and to get some baby cuddles!
    2. Lending books to friends
    3. Baked French toast and the first of the strawberries for mother’s day brunch today for one side of the family
    4. And then fish and chips with my mum & family
    5. Sorted out some boring financial stuff that now makes me feel a bit more organised! (I am prone to drag my feet if chores involve digging out paperwork or calling companies but then feel so organised when I do, must try to remember this feeling!)
    6. A new blueberry bush in the garden
    7. New neighbours had us over for a bbq – they are very friendly. One of them has recently moved here from Colorado

  9. Rachel: Thank you! Very sweet of you to say. I love Some Like It Hot. I would have loved to have worked with Jack Lemmon especially. Happy that truth is one of your kicks. May the memories be fond and warm.

    Denise: Happy mother’s day to you, and happy almost birthday to Max. How fun that school visit sounds.

    emmaco: Kudos on sorting out the boring stuff. Yay for good books, friends, family, and foodstuffs.

  10. Ha! Just checked back in after visiting my mom.

    LW: Thanks. And I love the Borle’s quote; so true.

    Embarrassed that in my rushed typing I spelled ‘wear’ wrong not once–but twice. (!) Same brain glitch, I guess. I blame it on watching Dark Shadows last night… you know, “were”- wolves. ;- )

  11. I’m here. I swear. First up today was Mother’s Day stuff, and then the second half of the day was devoted to finishing Harry Potter, Book 6 (flippin’ hell … sniff) with my girls.

    Margie, thanks for kick #1 — and the rest of ’em? Walks, sunshine, good friends, books. You’re livin’ the right life.

    Moira, I’m not sure if I’m looking at the right pictures, but that Ampasaurus rocks (literally and figuratively). MO IS GREAT. I love it! And how was the exhibit?

    Jone, I hope your Mother’s Day was just lovely.

    John, congrats on the grandniecelet with the wonderful name … So glad you enjoyed the post.

    Little Willow, my best to your friend. Wish I could see you in the role of Cecily.

    Rachel, I’ll have to add Some Like It Hot to the ‘ol queueueueue. I’ve been watching lately classics I’ve never seen. Thus far, I’ve seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Chinatown. (Not very much, I know, but baby steps.)

    Denise, that is so COOL that you spoke at your old school. What great memories … And a balloon arch? Brilliant idea.

    Emmaco, oh-so-much truth to kick #5. I know exactly what you mean. Also, I’m embarrassed to say I killed a blueberry bush last year. Here’s hoping yours does well; in your hands, I’m sure it will.

  12. Hi Jules, Imps and Everyone Else!

    It is late Sunday night here on the west coast and time for my weekly treat to connect with you.

    Happy Mother’s Day to everyone. I so enjoyed every one of the kicks and comments and even watched the song from Moira’s kids – Great Stuff. Thanks to Jules for sharing the photos of her adorable littles!

    Thank you for sharing this book, author/illustrator and her illustrations with us. They are beautiful and her emotional honesty and process are very gratifying in a world all too superficial.

    I must admit I found myself tingling with fear and holding my breath until I knew the baby and mother would find each other again. I have a hard time with books for the young where the mother dies. But it was worth it!

    My Kicks:
    1. finished a lot more important stuff on this book I’m editing and am still reveling in the memories of the extraordinarily beautiful retreat last weekend. Also very grateful for it.

    2. very busy week with many obligations and social events sponsored is over. Everything went well, including my son’s way too big birthday party that was a lot of fun. Space theme as he’s an astronaut monkey at the moment. 35 2-6 year olds, more orange iced banana cupcakes (75!). It was quite a day.

    3. Mother’s day breakfast and then 1st ride on the new Expo line (1/2 mile from our house) to downtown LA today with lunch at a yummy and tiny restaurant on Olivera St! I feel a little more city- like with a metro line closer to us.

    4. Fabulous Mother’s Day card from my son and one from my hubby! Heart throbs, both!

    5. working on a 550 piece ocean puzzle with the new 6-year old – he’s having a blast at it.

    6. Claire Nivola’s new book ‘Life in the Ocean’ about oceanographer Sylvia Earle. You are SO right – Jules (she reviewed it at Kirkus a while back). This is exactly how to do picture book biography!

    7. Great Mother’s Day chats with my mother (amazing inspiration continuously to me) and mother-in-law (so sweet and kind and happy to be alive at 87)

    I wish you all a wonderful week (in case you come back and happen to see my comments!)

  13. Coming back for a more leisurely read!

    Jone your kicks have a lovely feel about them.

    JES, congrats on the grandniecelet!

    Glad you liked Fire and Hemlock, Rachel!

    Little Willow, you’re in the Importance of Being Ernest? That looks like it would be fun to act in!

    Denise going back to your own school – how cool.

    Allison, 35 kids in one party? I’m in awe.

    Jules, apparently blueberries are easy to kill. This is one bred for our subtropical conditions, and I tested the soil acidity (! that should have been a kick, so fun) and am hoping it will be ok.

  14. Oops, I don’t know what happened witht the link but here is the picture I was talking about. It should be me, super pregnant in 2003.

    The Norman Rockwell exhibit was OK, but more of a tease to get you to go to the NR Museum in Stockbridge, Ma.

    It didn’t matter though because we had such a beautiful day at The Heritage Museums & Gardens We even got to make art. I recommend it to anyone visiting the Cape.

  15. Allison: What a good week you had. Orange iced banana cupcakes? Dang, that sounds good. I’ll take your next batch of 75. Glad you had a rich Mother’s Day with your family and mother and mother-in-law — and so glad you like Claire’s book, too. Love that one.

    Emmaco, glad to know they’re easy to annihilate (only in that perhaps it means I wasn’t as negligent as I feared I was), but I also don’t have the greenest of thumbs. Good luck with yours!

  16. Moira: What a great pic!

  17. We recently received Gianna’s book from a friend in San Francisco who is actually a neighbor of hers! How about that. A straight-to-the-heart story and an even deeper one behind it all. Thanks for the detailed post.

  18. Gianna’s books are so full of heart. This is my current favorite, Meet Me at the Moon. Parent and child and the deep bond that is eternal.
    Thanks for this write up. It is beautiful!

  19. Gianna, your talent, heart, and love for your mother are all inspiring. You make me want to be a mother.

  20. I so enjoyed reading all of this. I was blessed to have taught 1st grade for 27 years having many visiting authors. Would love to have experienced one of your author visits. What a beautiful soul you have. Your reference to Mother’s Day had it’s own “tug”for me.. The last time I saw my son was MD 2004 and the calling hours for him were on his 31st birthday, June 6th. I see he and his dad every night on that brightest star. Thank you! It truly is the little things that are the big things!

  21. […] are interested in reading more about Meet Me at the Moon and author, Gianna Marino, check out sevenimpossiblethings.  I contacted Gianna and she shared this link about the inspiration behind the book, a very […]

  22. […] on over to the blog Seven Impossible Things, where author Gianna Marino talks about how the story and illustrations were developed for this […]

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