Thursday, January 8, 2015

Author Polly Kanevsky

It is currently -22 degrees outside with the windchill. I am spending this frigid day writing interview questions, responding to email messages, reading, reading, and reading. I'm so lucky to spend my "free time" doing what I love: connecting people with books and interviewing authors and illustrators. 


I invited Polly Kanevsky in from the cold to chat with me about Here is the Baby, Taaeun Yoo's illustrations, school libraries, and reading. I wrote the words in red, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Polly! 

Illustration Credit: Taeeun Yoo 

Here is the Baby tells the story of a small family—mama, daddy, sister—with a brand new baby. It focuses on the baby and the family experiencing each moment of this extraordinarily particular time of life—when everyone in the family is learning how to do new things, when life feels slowed down and stripped away of all that’s extraneous, and when all attention is focused on the small, delicious details of baby’s everyday life and routine. 
 
Illustration Credit: Taeeun Yoo 
I wrote Here is The Baby after our child, Benjamin, was born. He was born extremely prematurely and so the early days, months and first year of his life were challenging and a little frightening for us. But they also felt like a supreme gift from the highest power possible—every single day with him—to have him alive and flourishing and to have our little family working so hard to grow and be together.

So as a new parent in this particular situation, I was really interested in the way my baby’s day and my own day was structured to consist of so many comforting routines and so much repetition of certain kinds of familiar activities (like being fed, being cleaned, being talked to, being put to nap or bed, etc).

I wanted to document the day in the life of a baby from his perspective—which as a new parent had become my perspective, too. In those early days, the big life questions felt relatively unimportant and instead what felt important was what is happening now, in the present moment—every day, every night, every day, every night, and then all over again the next day.
  
Illustration Credit: Taeeun Yoo 

Taeeun Yoo’s illustrations were the most exciting part of the book for me and made the story into something larger and more beautiful than I had ever had the nerve to hope for.

When I first saw Taeeun’s work (recommended to me by Brian Floca, who I had worked with many times before and am lucky enough to count as a friend) I was struck by how the tone and style of her art were exactly what I had envisioned for this particular story.

Before finding her as the illustrator for the book, I had spent a lot of time looking at old vintage children’s books, and books like Golden Classics; I very much wanted something that felt a bit handmade and timeless. I wanted something with a gentle, subtle palette that made you feel like you’d unearthed a treasure from the past, something that reminded you a favorite book you read as a child.

So her work seemed perfect in style. But I couldn’t have anticipated that she would also be so rich and deep and perfect in content, making art that captured exactly the everyday hominess of the story, the urban experience of this small family, and the deeply intimate emotion between the baby and his world.



Here is the Baby was named a 2014 New York Times Best Illustrated Book.

School libraries are so so so so SO important. I always felt a small rush of pleasure when I entered the quietness of my school library—with the hushed voices, and the books lining all the walls­—knowing that I could choose anything I wanted and then sit for as long as I wanted in the refuge of the library silence to enjoy it. 

Especially for kids who do not have a lot of books at home, it is absolutely crucial that school and local libraries keep being a place that are honored, given as much resources as possible and maintained to be beautiful, rich, and vibrant homes for books. School libraries should be filled to the brim with both old and new books and should have lots of soothing places to sit and be at peace—places where children can feel and understand the awesome power and comfort of just being with books.

Polly worked on these picture books. 
As a graphic designer I had spent many years looking at, loving, worshipping, and being moved by the power of art. I had also spent much of my career working specifically on picture books, as an art director and graphic designer at Simon and Schuster Books for Children. So I loved and was totally familiar with the process of working with illustrators on developing picture book art.

That said, I knew it would be a particular challenge and balancing act because the story in this case was also my own text. I knew that I would have especially strong ideas about how I wanted the book to look and so I wanted to figure out a way to balance that with being open and collaborative and with making the process of working together a joyful and empowering experience for both of us.

It turned out that working as the art director/designer on the book, with Taeeun as the artist, was a dream process. Her ideas and art were always beautiful and well conceived and she, too, acted as a true collaborator, clearly secure enough in her own vision and abilities as an artist that she could hear and integrate (with love!) the ideas of others.


Check out some of the logos designed by Polly. 
School libraries are so so so so SO important. I always felt a small rush of pleasure when I entered the quietness of my school library—with the hushed voices, and the books lining all the walls­—knowing that I could choose anything I wanted and then sit for as long as I wanted in the refuge of the library silence to enjoy it. 

Especially for kids who do not have a lot of books at home, it is absolutely crucial that school and local libraries keep being a place that are honored, given as much resources as possible and maintained to be beautiful, rich, and vibrant homes for books. School libraries should be filled to the brim with both old and new books and should have lots of soothing places to sit and be at peace—places where children can feel and understand the awesome power and comfort of just being with books.
  
Reading is the activity I will always turn to, in any mood, in any situation, no matter how much time I have. If I have a book with me, I’m happy and can feel settled in that moment. It’s been interesting and comforting to watch my son Benjamin (who is no longer even close to being a baby anymore…. He’s 8 years old!) reading and enjoying books the same way I do.

It’s something our family can do together, and like a baby’s being fed, being cleaned, being talked to, being put to nap or bed, it is one of the comforting routines of our day. It happens in the morning, it happens in the evening, and then we wake up and it happens all over again.


Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about the editors with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. I was completely blessed to work with Richard Jackson at Simon and Schuster on my first book, Sleepy Boy, and with Lee Wade and Anne Schwartz at Random House on Here is the Baby. I could talk at great length about how and why those relationships were special and singularly amazing. The experiences I had working with editors showed me how deeply important the editorial process is. And in my specific cases, it was a testament to the amazing vision and expertise of these particular, brilliant editors. They have been the most important people in my writing life and for them I am eternally grateful.


Borrow Here is the Baby from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

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