Oliver Jeffers has created several beloved picture books, including Stuck and Lost and Found--each has it's own special flavor but all are in his distinct illustrative style that I have come to look for, and love. Today Jeffers' new picture book, The Hueys: The New Sweater, was released, introducing a new cast of characters and the first of a new picture book series.
The story reminds me a bit of Mo Willems' Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, and the Hueys and bright orange knitted sweaters come together in a fun read aloud. Check out this exclusive author Q&A, created while he was finishing The Hueys, for some fact facts about Oliver Jeffers:
Do you have a favorite character from your books?
I couldn't possible pick. I love them all equally.
How do you come up with new stories? Does the character or the message come to you first?
I keep a sketchbook with me everywhere I go, as you never know when an idea will give itself up, and everything in my brain stands an equal chance of being forgotten if I don't write it down.
When making the book I think about the words and the pictures at the same time, as I don't like to have them repeat each other. If I can show how the story unfolds visually, I'll do that as much as possible and use words sparingly to tie it together.
You've used watercolor, acrylic, collage and probably more in your illustrations. Do you have a favorite method? Are you moving into anything more digital?
My favourite method changes all the time, depending on my mood and the style of image I'm trying to create. Some illustrations are better suited to watercolour, and others to collage. I mostly go with either instinct, or whatever is closest. I have already been using digital for a few of the books. In The Heart and the Bottle and The Great Paper Caper, which were both mostly collage, I used Photoshop as a post production tool to neaten things up. Stuck was created almost entirely using Photoshop, where I would scan in pencil lines and splashes of paint and layer them altogether.
Your author photo is always you as a little boy. Why? Is that because a lot of these stories are inspired by childhood experiences?
Perhaps a little subconsciously. It started as a joke, because I couldn't find any decent photographs of myself for the first book, and wasn't all that thrilled about the idea that my face would be out there on tens of thousands of books. I didn't really like the idea of being recognized. Ever since then various family members have produced all sorts of photos of me growing up, and its taken on a life of its own.
What was your favorite picture book as a child?
The Bad Tempered Ladybird by Eric Carle, because of the spread toward the back where the ladybird picks a fight with a whale. It fascinated me and I stared at it for hours. I couldn't figure out why the whale seemed so big when the book was the same size as all the other books I had, and one day I realized it was because the ladybird was beside it to provide scale.
Of all the awards you've won for your children's books, which were you most honored by?
Probably The Blue Peter Award as it was voted for by children.
What made you want to write children's books?
I sort of fell into it by accident. I was starting out my practice as a painter and what started out as some sketches for a series of paintings, turned into the beginning stages of my first book. Once I made the mental jump, the transition seemed very natural.
Do you keep adults in mind when writing or just children?
I actually only keep myself in mind. I want to satisfy my own sense of curiosity, with as an adult in today's world, and what I would have enjoyed when I was small.
The Heart and the Bottle is a fantastic and touching story. What made you pick such a mature topic for a children's book and why did you make the main character a little girl?
The idea for this book was an old one. I was approached years later by a production company who were making a film about a girl who aspired to be a children's book writer, and they wanted me to create the book. After reading the manuscript it reminded me of this old idea and I changed the sex of the character and made a few other edits. The idea was that it would always be a stand alone book, which I'm now very glad of as the film folded under the recession that hit the following year.
What books are you working on now?
I just finished working on the first of a series of books with a group of characters called the Hueys. The Hueys revel in the small and the pointless and through this they can explore some of the deeper questions of the universe.
What's your favorite color?
Sometimes orange. Sometimes mint blue.
What's your favorite food?
Sometimes pizza. Sometimes sushi.
If you had to be an animal, what would you be?
A sea turtle. They live a really long time.
What's your favorite place in the world?
New York City.
What's your favorite movie?
That changes all the time. Right now its Harold and Maude.
What's the last book you read?
I usually have a fiction and a non fiction book on the go. The last non fiction was Through the Language Glass, about how various languages affect the way we think. The last (good) fiction I read was East of Eden by John Steinbeck.