This morning, I welcome new-to-the-field illustrator Melissa Guion. She’s here to share some of her bright, gentle watercolors and talk about her debut title, Baby Penguins Everywhere!, a picture book as much for the parents and teachers of this world as it is for children (as Melissa herself notes below). It tells the story of a lonely penguin, suddenly visited by a gaggle of baby penguins. (Can penguins exist in gaggles? I’m going to pretend they can, even though I think gaggles involve geese.) Finding herself a bit frazzled by all the wee penguins in her care, she comes to understand that she needs a moment’s peace. (Ah, isn’t that the truth if ever the truth was spoken?) She needs, as Publishers Weekly put it in their review, time to recharge, though she comes to appreciate the company of the young penguins, even when it’s chaotic.
I’ll let Melissa tell you more about it — and her work. I certainly look forward to what she brings readers next. Also, please note that Melissa’s online portfolio is here, if you’d like to see more art.
Melissa: Thanks for having me, Jules. I remember discovering 7-Imp when I began thinking about making children’s books, which was not long after you launched. The Ann Patchett passage on your About page (“It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience”) struck me as such a loving statement of purpose.
My first picture book came out last week. I’ve always written and drawn, but I only began trying to make it my profession about seven years ago. I’ve been a businesswoman. I’ve been a photographer. I went to clown school. It took me a while to land on this work, but it feels kind of inevitable now, and I hope I get to keep doing it.
I grew up in the 1970s, and my house and local library were full of all the extraordinary picture books that had been made in recent decades, and were still being made, by people like Arnold Lobel, James Marshall, Maurice Sendak, the Provensens, and Tomi Ungerer. I also went to a progressive school where we did lots of creative writing. Kids were still being taught that creativity was an end in itself, back then. When I was eight, a bunch of us formed a kind of literary circle, called Aardvark Enterprises. (The name now belongs to a custom-cast bullet factory in Washington. Coincidence?) My first drawings and stories appeared in our magazine.
I worked very hard on my writing as I got older, and I got good responses to it. As an artist, I was more of an amateur. Here are two pieces I made for friends’ kids when they were born, before I was an illustrator. I used to make a lot of art for friends, which is what led to a literary agent friend suggesting I pursue books.
When I decided I wanted to illustrate books, as well as write them, I had to grapple with that. I signed up for drawing classes at the National Academy, including one taught by the artist Roger Winter, who turned out to be the husband of the great author/illustrator Jeanette Winter. Roger and Jeanette had me over to their house, and Jeanette talked to me for a long time about her work. Roger ended up being a rare kind of teacher, very positive, and with his help I found the confidence to focus on my strengths, such as they are, and stop worrying about what I can’t do.
My first book, Baby Penguins Everywhere!, is a picture book for very young children and their parents (or teachers). It shows how quickly a grown adult can be overwhelmed by a handful of playful children no higher than her knee. I was starting a family when I began my illustration career, and I guess the book reflects my feelings about both activities.
The book took a long time to finish. I remember the day when I brought the dummy and some sketches into my daughter’s preschool classroom. I hadn’t met many fellow illustrators at that point, and I didn’t have any readers. I finally got to experience what I was doing it all for. It’s such a pleasure to share art with kids. First of all, they aren’t reliant on mental shortcuts, so they’re fascinating to talk to. They notice things and they volunteer their opinion, which can be scary if you displease them, but they’re also generally impressed when they see art, because they haven’t been looking at it in museums and books for so many years that they’ve forgotten how meaningful and hard-won each new creation is. Making things for them is a very, very satisfying activity. If only it weren’t so solitary.
The last thing I’ll say, while I have this nice platform, is that it felt like an eternity between when I decided to make books and when I actually finished one. I hope that encourages people who want to do it and aren’t there yet. If it’s a quick and simple process, wonderful, but if it’s not, don’t despair. Keep going!
BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE! Copyright © 2012 by Melissa Guion. Published by Philomel Books. All images here reproduced by permission of Melissa Guion.
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.
Melissa Guion makes me laugh. She was supposed to visit last week, and it didn’t work out, which is fine. I told her I was easy like Sunday morning. So, she attached this video to the bottom of her email to me yesterday:
Okay, my kicks:
1) I got an email from a children’s (public) librarian about how she’s doing an interactive mock Caldecott workshop next month, how she was looking everywhere for information on the medium of a particular 2012 picture book, and how she found it at a blog post here (in which the illustrator visited and discussed the making of the book).
It makes me very happy when librarians and teachers can use the blog as a resource with their students. Really, could there be a higher compliment?
2) I love this Gap ad with my BFF Rufus and his new hubby. He’s not really my BFF, but it’d be fun if he were, ’cause I can now say I’ve seen him in concert, and he’s fun…
3) I discovered Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and it’s mighty fun. I wish I were a bajillionaire and could institute something similar in children’s lit. I’d be willing to drive around in various vehicles, pick up folks, and conduct interviews over coffee.
4) This is an excellent write-up at Library Journal and speaks so much truth.
6) Angel Olsen. Hit that play button and see what I mean.
7) I love all the year-end best-of lists in music, like this one. So much to hear and catch up on.
7½) You all know I’m always totally up on my picture books, like a giant nerd, but I’m often slow with novels. Just this week I read the book below (which I didn’t realize got a Printz Honor—my library copy didn’t have that lovely Printz sticker you see below on this cover, and if I’d known it got an Honor, I’d promptly forgotten—until I was done reading it), and I absolutely fell for it. This is extra good, given that I’ve been underwhelmed by so many novels lately. I found this one really compelling, I couldn’t put it down, and I am still thinking about it.
7 and Three Quarters) Sufjan Steven’s multi-disc Christmas CD set (which you can hear at NPR for a while and which finally arrived in my mailbox this week) is, at turns, lovely and bizarre (he engages in some “loopy indulgences,” as that NPR reviewer put it) and beguiling, and all-around it’s pretty wonderful. “Christmas in the Room” may be one of his most beautiful songs ever.
NOTE: Please click here, if you’re so inclined, to read about a children’s book, called Off We Go For 80 Days, whose proceeds—100% of them—go to UNICEF.
What are YOUR kicks this week?