I thought a lot about the impact of violence as I wrote Burn Baby Burn (Candlewick 2016). My protagonist Nora Lopez would have seen a lot that year, both inside her own family and in situations all around her.
Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft.
My family listened to music in the morning as we prepared for the day, and at night as we cleaned the dinner dishes. I grew up on a steady diet of the R&B and soul music of the Jackson 5, Bobby Womack, and James Brown. Of Soul Train Saturday mornings and church service choir stands […]
It’s helpful for me to think of a novel as a living creature. (I’m a writer—everything is a metaphor!) The heart of my novel is its theme; the steady beat of life at its core. Its blood, coursing life through every page, is its language, or voice. Its skeleton is the narrative structure; the plot, […]
My work often asks, “What is a book?” First came the interactive Press Here, which was radical in its simplicity. For Mix It Up!, I painted with my bare hands—a “no-illustration” illustration. Let’s Play! (2016; all Chronicle) is the return to expressing something with drawing, composition, proportion, and feelings.
When a manuscript comes across my art table there’s always a little bit of terror attached to it. What’s the author trying to relate? How should I approach it? How would a parent, a librarian, and, most important, a child look at my paintings? If, as an artist, I can’t quell some of these questions, […]
Blistery red rashes and hallucinations, lethal germs in food, flea bites that kill— these are all subjects that have captured my attention, and I hope will grab readers’ attention, too. Intriguing medical stories speak to my background in zoology, an interest in history, and experience teaching middle school science. As an author, I get to […]
The Trouble in Me (Farrar 2015) is, in part, an answer to the question “How does one go bad?” It’s something I’ve been asked often since the publication of Hole in My Life (Farrar 2002), which features my drug smuggling and life in prison.
One day I vacuumed a fly—by accident! After realizing what had happened, I wondered what the bug was thinking. Did it know it had been vacuumed? Was it upset? Or was it just buzzing around inside the machine, without a care in the world? This is how the idea for Bug in a Vacuum (Tundra […]
Look and Be Grateful (Holiday House 2015) is the most unusual project I’ve ever worked on in my 50 years as a children’s book illustrator/author. Usually, a book starts with an idea that I’ll turn over and over in my head, sometimes letting it pop-up when it wants to, other times, sitting down and forcing […]
For years, I heard bizarre, thrilling stories about Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony; how it was written by the Soviet composer in the besieged city of Leningrad as the Nazis bombed the city; how it was performed there by a starving orchestra while the Red Army shelled the Germans to protect the concert hall; and how […]