For the second day in a row, I have the pleasure of participating in the 2015 Sidney Taylor Book Award blog tour. Click here to see yesterday’s blog This year’s Gold Medal winners are Jim Aylesworth and Barbara McClintock, author and illustrator of My Grandfather’s Coat, Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo, authors and illustrators of Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust, and Donna Jo Napoli, author of Storm.
Yesterday and today, I am interviewing Jim Aylesworth and Barbara McClintock. Later in the week, I will write about My Grandfather’s Coat and its talented creators. If you leave a comment on any of these blogs, you will be eligible for a book giveaway. The lucky winner will receive a copy of My Grandfather’s Coat from the publisher, Scholastic Publishing Company.
Welcome Jim and Barbara and congratulations on the amazing list of book awards. (See Below)
Jim, your picture book, My Grandfather’s Coat, is based on the Yiddish folksong- I Had a Little Overcoat. (Hob Ikh Mir a Mantl). When did you first learn of this song? Why did you create a book that is centered of this particular song?
I recall being aware of this folksong/tale when the Simms Taback version won The Caldecott Medal in 2000, but I don’t recall exactly when I first read it. I do know that on my own, I would never have thought to try a version of this one. Again it was Dianne Hess who encouraged me to try. And I did. But from the beginning of the work, I could sense Dianne’s special love of the story, and I greatly feared I might disappoint! So I’m relieved and very proud that people do seem to like it. It won The Sydney Taylor Award after all! And as with our other books, I know that a huge part of the appeal is Barbara’s beautiful illustrations.
As a eleventh generation American, you are far removed from the immigrant scene. What do you hope your young readers will take away from this story?
The grandfather tailor as an immigrant to America is an element that we added to this retelling, and it’s unique to this version. And not counting the First Peoples, immigration is common to all of us. And almost all of us know someone close who came through Ellis Island. It is hoped that My Grandfather’s Coat will be the catalyst to discussions of family history.
Something From Nothing (1993) and Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (1999) are previously published picture books that also feature this song, How does your story differ from these other works?
Aside from the just mentioned immigration element, and the rhythms, and the repeated rhymes, I think the ending differs from these two earlier versions. It was important to me that there be nothing at all left of the coat at the end of the story. The Taback version ends with a button apparently being swallowed by the goose, for example. The ending of my version includes kittens, a mouse fantasy, and the phrase, “…the threads moldered away and moldered away until there was nothing left at all.”
In recent years, you have partnered with Barbara McClintock to create several picture books. When did you first start working together? What are the advantages of being paired with the same illustrator for multiple projects?
Our first book together was The Gingerbread Man in 1998, and My Grandfather’s Coat is number seven. Barbara’s work is beautiful, and I love to see the books all together as they often are in the 398’s. Each of them has a recipe on the back, which also sort of ties them together as a set. Those recipes are another example of Dianne’s good ideas.
Barbara, many of your award-winning books are set in the 19th century?
On average, how much time do you spend researching a book from that time period? Does that earlier time period affect your artistic style and the materials that you use?
Research can take several months, and is ongoing during the entire time I’m working on a book. The Internet has been a wonderful thing for research! I still go to libraries, museums and also travel to find material to supply visual information, but I can do so much research in my studio now. I have an Ipad that I use while I’m at my drawing board to find stuff as I’m drawing. I also have a personal reference library of physical books that I accumulate as I’m working on a project. Netflix is an illustrator’s best friend for historical reference and entertainment durning long hours at the drawing board.
I don’t use a computer for any part of the actual creation of artwork, no matter what time period I’m working with. I use a dip-pen with a steel-tip flexible pen nib, waterproof india ink, Windsor Newton tube watercolors, Arches watercolor paper, pencils, erasers, all classic materials. But someday, they’ll stop making any one of those things, and I’ll have to turn to other means to make pictures. As touch-screen styluses and software continues to evolve, it might be as rewarding to make artwork digitally, and get the same look. But at this time, I love the tactile quality of using older materials and methods.
As the recipient of 5 New York Times Best Book awards, a New York Times Notable Book Citation, a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award, Sidney Taylor Book Award, and numerous other awards and starred reviews, you are considered an authority on picture book illustrations. Can you share 5 essential elements of extraordinary illustrations.
- Good design
- Good draftsmanship
- Good color
- Good visual extension of the text
- Great, engaging humor and character development
My Grandfather’s Coat is based on a Eastern European Yiddish song. Why did you choose to draw illustrations that conformed to life in 19th and 20th century northeastern Connecticut? Can you share an interesting fact that you learned while doing your research on Jewish life in rural Connecticut?
Young grandfather begins his journey as a 14 yr old in the 1920’s on board the ship taking him to his new home in America. Because he was poor and from the old country, his clothing is old fashioned. Old farm houses are common in Northeastern Connecticut, some built as long ago as the 1700’s. Even in current times, there is still that 18th and 19th century quality to the setting.
One of my favorite things I came across doing research was a newsletter called ‘The Jewish Farmer’ published by the Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society. It was full of great advice nuggets like ‘Don’t become a farmer unless your wife likes the idea.”
In this book you skillfully illustrate a family as they age over a period of decades. What challenges did you face as you showed their maturation over different time periods?
How do you know that little girl on one page is the same person as an adult several pages later? Hair! Thank goodness for the many different colors and textures of hair!
Jim and Barbara, can your readers anticipate any future team efforts? If so, can you provide a sneak preview and/or anticipated publication date?
I’m sure we’ll be working on more books together in the future! Stay tuned!
Thank you Jim and Barbara. It was a delight to learn more about you.
If you missed Part 1, it’s not too late to click here.
Book Awards for My Grandfather’s Coat
- 2015- Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Young Reader Category Gold Medal
- 2014- Publisher’s Weekly Best Books for 2014 list
- 2014- School Library Journal Best Books list
- 2014- NAPPA Silver Award
- 2014- Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review
- 2014- SLJ Starred Review
- 2014- Kirkus Starred Review
- 2014- Featured review in NY Times Book Review Special Children’s Fall Issue
- 2014- Huffington Post Best Picture Books of 2014 Honorable Mention
- 2014- New York Public Library Recommends: 100 Best Children’s Book Selection 2014
Later this week, I will be reviewing My Grandfather’s Coat.
Anyone who leaves a comment on this blog by Sunday,March 8th will be eligible for a book giveaway. A randomly selected winner will receive a copy of My Grandfather’s Coat.
In exchange for an interview and honest review, I was sent a copy of My Grandfather’s Coat.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.