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Five questions for Julia Denos and E. B. Goodale

Julia Denos and E. B. Goodale have been friends and creative collaborators since their days working together at a children’s bookstore — where I was lucky to work with them. I’ve always admired their individual projects, and it was a pleasure to chat with them about their collaboration (and one of my favorite picture books of the year), Windows.

1. Hey, that looks like Somerville, not too far from the old Horn Book office! What was it about that particular neighborhood that called to you?

EBG: It called to me because it was my neighborhood! Just as the character in the book does, I would look out my window and walk out my door, where I would find inspiration and reference for my drawings. It was magical (and very convenient) to be able to place myself in the story and use my own experience as a guide. Somerville is a wonderfully diverse community, and I loved capturing its spirit and character on paper.

JD: Somerville was my home in the years during and after college. Walking through the neighborhood each night on my way home from work, I loved the feeling of safety and comfort of the patchwork of families. So many people live so close together, in multifamily homes, with so many different stories going on under the same roof. It captured my imagination.

2. Most authors and illustrators are paired by the publisher, but you two were friends beforehand. Who suggested this collaboration and how did it work?

EBG: Julia and I have always shared ideas and helped guide each other in our own work. One day she sent me the text for Windows and asked if I might be interested in illustrating it and I was, of course! I was so honored, especially when she could have just illustrated it herself [see question 3 below]. We knew we wanted to pitch the book together as a team, so I created a sample illustration to pair with her manuscript and we went from there. In retrospect, it went so smoothly! Basically we said, “Let’s make a book together,” and then we did.

JD: I didn’t realize it until recently, but the seed for this book was a poem of mine that E. B. once illustrated for me as a birthday surprise. E. B. and I worked for years alongside each other as booksellers and had the same enthusiasm for and taste in picture books, so it felt natural to finally make one together. I wrote the manuscript with the memory of my Somerville days and E. B.’s art in mind. I sent it to her and crossed my fingers she’d want to illustrate it. Luckily, she did, and we began to prepare a sample to pitch to Candlewick Press, which is also located in Somerville. It was important to us that our publisher knew the same roads and neighborhoods that inspired us.

Julia Denos.

3. Julia, you’ve illustrated several books (and been author/illustrator), but this is your first time as an author exclusively. Can you compare those experiences?

JD: I knew I wanted E. B.’s style and vision for this book as soon as I’d written it; her art was a better fit for this story than mine. She is a genius with detail and atmosphere, and I knew she’d construct a beautiful, warm reality that would help ground the text. (Look at that sunset!) We talked briefly at the outset, over coffee. I had a few images in my brain, so I would scribble them in the margins of the page and pass them over and she would laugh and scribble back…We totally conversed in tiny-stick-figure language. We’ve always done that — speaking in imagery — even as friends. I think the fact that we are both illustrators gives us a level of nonverbal communication. It almost felt like we built the skeleton of this book using a shared brain.

Page-turns were something we worked very closely together on at the start: she designed the layout, and I moved lines of text around. We are pagination nerds. From a writer’s view, a picture book is like a poem read aloud; it’s all about space and sounds. From an illustrator’s view, page-turns dictate the action and map out the pages. They’re the backbone, and the first thing that has to work. We also talked a lot about purposefully designing resting space, and using vignettes (e.g., the “early raccoon” page, inspired by Margaret Wise Brown’s “bowl full of mush” in Goodnight Moon) or the full spread of windows, for that purpose.

But I mainly wanted to stay out of it, so that E. B. could feel as free as possible to make Windows her own. I totally trusted her vision. When I saw her final art, I cried. It was so alive!

E. B. Goodale.

4. E. B., you have a background in stationery and letterpress printing. How did that influence your illustrations and what did you have to do differently?

EBG: Illustrating for stationery, especially letterpress-printed stationery, helped me develop a more graphic style. When designing for cards, I’m always thinking about color choice and the limitations of the printing process. Even though there are fewer limitations when illustrating for books, I try to keep the graphic feeling and limit my palette by using swatches of printed textures. But I have the freedom to add much more tonality as well. The skies in Windows, for instance, are all watercolor — which is not something that would be possible in a letterpress card design.

5. Your book is so quiet, but we saw at the Boston Book Festival that your events can be quite raucous! What’s it like reading this book to a group of children?

EBG: It is so much fun! I’m continuously blown away by how observant kids are. They are always finding hidden details or adding ideas of their own to the story. I love that this book can both excite and calm at the same time.

JD: Windows is quiet and intimate, but it’s also about a real-world scenario many children have experienced, and hopefully that makes them feel like they’re invited into the story. The second-person narration helps encourage that participation. We’ve had fun reading it to larger groups; it feels like we’re all taking a walk together! Even though I would call it a “lap book,” good for one-on-one reading, we’ve seen how we can expand it by doing activities afterward. E. B. draws an imaginary window on an easel, and kids suggest what they’d like to see inside or outside their window. We like to encourage alien spaceships!

From the December 2017 issue of The Horn Book Herald: Picture Book Edition.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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  1. “Illustrating for stationery, especially letterpress-printed stationery, helped me develop a more graphic style. When designing for cards, I’m always thinking about color choice and the limitations of the printing process. Even though there are fewer limitations when illustrating for books, I try to keep the graphic feeling and limit my palette by using swatches of printed textures. But I have the freedom to add much more tonality as well. The skies in Windows, for instance, are all watercolor — which is not something that would be possible in a letterpress card design.”

    Fascinating revelations here about the creation of the unique art for WINDOWS, still another fantastic picture book for kids to choose in this incredible year. I received my copy on the day of release in the mail and wasn’t in the least bit disappointed. It has lived up to all the glowing speculation, and has established itself as a classroom favorite as I have recently learned. This is a special way to examine the book of course, and that’s an amazing bookstore anecdote. The windows looking as a portal to a town’s activity is an inspired device, yet withough pictorial atmosphere, which this one conveys in spades, it would not be sufficiently effective, at least not in these discussions. As Ms. Goodale has confirmed, kids are observant and bring more to the after book discussion than you’d have any right to expect. This book invites this in a big way. I did recognize this as watercolor, yet marvel at the complexity in the process as attested here. An inspired collaboration, which can also be said about this marvelous and revealing interview that allows us to hear directly from the artists! I love WINDOWS!

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