Saturday, December 3, 2011

Meet Eric Rohmann: Part One

Thanks to everyone for your enthusiastic comments on The Great Holiday Give. You still have two days to enter all five giveaways, so be sure to get at it before Sunday around midnight.

Now, in keeping up my weekend theme of interviewing contemporary artists about their vintage book influences...

Every once in a while, you come across an author who breaks your heart every time you pick up one of their books. Eric Rohmann is definitely that for me. His images are beautiful and his words come from a place that is sweet and poetic and full of heart, yet equally strange and alluring.

The very first book I gave my son was Eric's haunting Cinder-Eyed Cats. It was a book I had gotten years before he was born, and kept on my bookshelf waiting for a child to give it to. Something about the pictures really spoke to me and the story of traveling to some magic place was sublime with a Little Prince feel. (One of my absolute first loves.)

As chance would have it, I had a child with a sentiment very much like my own. When he was barely one, he'd beg me to read it over and over and over, and soon after, fell in love with Eric's exquisite Caldecott Medal-winning, My Friend Rabbit.

The boy and book adoration was so intense, that I felt compelled to write Mr. Rohmann a letter gushing how my son prized his books. Much to my surprise, a few weeks later, a box arrived on our doorstep filled with books and posters and the dearest handwritten letter.

How could you not love an artist, a stranger, who would do that for your child?

For this reason, Eric Rohmann will always be our favorite author. Always.

That said, when I e-mailed Eric out of the blue a few weeks ago, he was kind enough to agree to participate in my new weekend author series, so please welcome the Caldecott-winning illustrator and the author of his latest, Bone Dog, Mr. Eric Rohmann.

VKBMKL: Welcome. You've mentioned before that you weren’t a big reader as a child, that it wasn’t really until high school that you were drawn to picture books. Do you remember the first picture book you ever saw that sucked you in?

ERIC: I’m sure it wasn’t the first picture book I’d ever seen, but Wanda Gag’s, Millions of Cats has always stayed with me. It’s an improbable story, beautifully made and as a kid I recall it took me away from home and put me in a world where such wonders always happen. Honestly, as a kid I read mostly comic books. I’m sure I read many picture books, but their impact really hit me only when I started to seriously draw. The pictures I made told stories and in the end that is what a picture book does best. The comics led to looking back at picture books.

VKBMKL: In interviews you've suggesting people interested in being children’s book authors should go back and look at vintage titles. Are there any books that you love as an adult and turn to for inspiration? Do you have a collection?

ERIC: I do have some beloved favorites. The Carrot Seed, The Story of Ferdinand, Make Way for Ducklings, The Little House, The Snowy Day, Where the Wild Things Are (or any Sendak from the 50’s and 60’s), Once a Mouse, Lisbeth Zwerger, James Marshall, Tomi Ungerer...

There are so many others, but these are some that I look at again and again to make sense of what I’m doing in the studio. Oh, and I do have a larger collection that follows me wherever I go--the public library!

VKBMKL: Are there any particular images that stay stuck in your head?

ERIC: The wordless double page spreads from Where the Wild Things Are; the way the hills in Millions of Cats lead the eye through the story; Lisbeth Zwerger’s use of space and subtle watercolor; James Marshall’s profound silliness; Robert Lawson’s flawless black ink drawing; the sweetness of Clare Newberry’s cats; the perfection of Kevin Henke’s storytelling.

VKBMKL: Your books have such an innocence. The box you sent us included your book Clara and Asha, the story of a girl and her friend, a giant flying fish. My son loved that book, and wept openly on every read at the point when the fish and the girl say goodbye. (Similarly, he would do this at the end of Danny and the Dinosaur.) All of your characters show a greater empathy about the world that I think children relate to. Each has a larger cosmic meaning than what the simple stories would imply. Is that implicit on your part, or is that something you consciously write into your stories?

ERIC: First off, thanks for putting me in the same group as the splendid Danny and the Dinosaur! And thanks for the kind comments, although I must admit that when I approach a book I’m trying to tell a compelling story first and through the telling, the meaning finds its way. The two themes that seem to emerge in every book are friendship and coming home. I can’t say I ever think of those themes when I write, but they are always there, and so when I work, they bubble up and find their way into the stories.

Continued here...

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3 comments:

Kimberly said...

What a fantastic post! How is it that I've never heard of The Cinder-Eyed Cats? I need to get hold of a copy right away. And I was delighted to read that Rohmann sent you a package with books upon receiving your letter. What a thoughtful gesture for some of his most devoted fans!

Lindsey said...

Thank you for sharing this! Those illustrations are gorgeous! I immediately went to Paperbackswap to see if there were any copies available and there were! So I ordered Time Flies and The Cinder-Eyed Cats. :) I can't wait to get them!

B. Streetman said...

Time Flies is great. It won a Caldecott honor!

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