Every month I stop everything in order to be in touch with all those interested in how children's picture books are created. I have just finished the endpapers for my 2020 picture book COZY, the story of a Musk Ox in Alaska who finds unexpected guests sheltering from the arctic winter under his very warm coat. The story, which I made up, is inspired by Dr Seuss' THIDWICK THE BIG-HEARTED MOOSE and my retelling of THE MITTEN, a Ukrainian folktale.
Every once in a while. I am bowled over by a very beautiful natural scene. It is one of those moments that seems otherworldly it is so intense. I keep those memories almost like a photo album in my mind. Not intentionally they are just indelible. One moment was when I was 13 and my aunt Jackie Wogan took me and my cousins in her jeep up a dirt road to the top of Ajax mountain in Aspen, CO. It was Late June, so the violet blue surrounding peaks were snow topped and dazzling. The alpine meadows were phosphorescent green with wildflowers in every hue, some of them in drifts of color. red-orange Indian Paintbrush, White Daisies, Black Eyed Susans, Yellow Buttercups and Blue, Purple and Pink Columbine. If I remember right, there were tiny Iris and a kind of magenta flowering grass. The sky was Bluebird blue. Another time, I was getting ideas for one of my troll books, probably TROUBLE WITH TROLLS in Norway. We had driven up to a glacier to go summer skiing, somewhere north of Olden, Norway and we came to tundra like landscape. It was knee deep with dwarf trees, low lying shiny berry plants, probably Lingonberry and high mosses, Reindeer Lichen and boulders encrusted with lichens colored, blue green, cadmium yellow and crimson. There were "map" lichens that looked like mysterious directions to perhaps a troll hall. and black lichens that looked like runes or fantastic writing. I felt like I could walk for days living off all the beauty. As if this wasn't enough, fluffy fat bumblebees hovered here and there, and carpets of Cotton Grass surrounded the patches of water in the low places. I think I fell in love with Lichens then, and their mysterious miniature world. I don't remember if I saw fairy cup lichen or British Soldier lichen on that trip but I can't not mention these amazing lichens that I have seen many times since.
I was in the Anchorage and Fairbanks areas of Alaska, but never in the high arctic where the Musk Ox habitat is, so I had to rely on books and the Internet for photo and range of the lichens I put on the endpapers of my book. It was my art designer Marikka's idea because I had so much fun drawing the mosses for the endpapers in my picture book MOSSY, (the story of a turtle that grows a mossy garden on her shell) First I had to find lichens that I especially liked, but then I had to cross reference them in my guide book to see if they grew in Alaska, above the arctic circle. I have taken some photos of some very nice lichens from our little town of Norwell, MA that I took on one of my runs. I am very lucky to have a job that includes being outside looking at beautiful Lichen encrusted boulders. When I was stalking my lichens, I suddenly remembered a biography of Beatrix Potter, my hero who spent her young years collecting and meticulously painting mushrooms and fungi.
I love the expression "going down the rabbit hole" like Alice in ALICE IN WONDERLAND because once I start on a book it feels like entering another world. I love learning little tidbits. For example, my big Lichen book mentions that some specific lichens grow where animals feed and in ancient days Inuit hunters would look for game to hunt when they spotted these particular lichens. One of the Alaskan lichens is bulbous white with bright red spots sprinkled randomly. It is called Bloodspot Lichen, and I painted it in my endpapers, only to paint it out again because it looked sort of gruesome! It makes me wish I could put my life on standby and study lichens all over the arctic, but that can't happen because I was drawn to creating picture books and I could never stop!
All the best with your creative endeavors and discoveries,