The Sprout Book Club, our new First Editions Club for picture books, burst onto the scene last month. It continues to grow with Little Houses, a collaboration by artist Laura Dronzek and her husband, Kevin Henkes, about a young girl visiting her grandmother at the beach. Rae Ann Parker, our Director of Children’s Books and Events, asked Laura and Kevin a few questions about their new book, working together, and the art of creating picture books.
Rae Ann Parker: You have collaborated on many picture books. How does the idea sprout? Do you come up with ideas together? Is it different for every book?
Kevin Henkes: When I write a picture book text for Laura, I begin by coming up with a subject that I think she’d like to illustrate. Sometimes those ideas have been at the back of my mind for a long time. Writing a beach book for Laura was something I’d attempted many times from diﬀerent angles for years. The writing of some books — our season books, for example — comes much more easily.
Laura Dronzek: Kevin usually comes up with the idea for a picture book and will run pieces of it by me as he is writing it.
RAP: Do you share your work with each other during the creative process? Do you share a working space?
KH: I’ll often tell Laura that I’m thinking of a book about a particular subject for her. And I might read a few lines when I think they’re good enough to share. After that, I’ll wait until I have a finished draft before she sees it again. A couple have my texts have been gifts for her — so those were surprises.
LD: While we don’t share a working space, we definitely share our work during the creative process. When I’m illustrating one of Kevin’s picture book texts, he gives me complete control over the illustration process. In some ways it is surprising that someone who is an illustrator himself can do this. I usually work on the dummy for a while and then show it to Kevin for input. We go back and forth to each other’s studios throughout the day to get feedback on diﬀerent things. It is wonderful to be able to do this.
RAP: What is your favorite part or favorite stage of a picture book coming to life?
KH: When I’m writing and illustrating a book, my favorite part is when the text is done and I’m working on the dummy. I’m figuring out how to break the text, what size the illustrations will be, how to get the pacing just right. At this point the possibilities are endless, perfection seems possible, and I’m very excited.
LD: When I’m illustrating a book, my favorite part is after I’ve figured out how to break up the text and am working on the illustrations for the dummy. I paint the sketches for the dummy and it is exciting to work things out. There is a freedom at this point where I’m still exploring possibilities and am not worried about getting everything exactly right.
RAP: What advice do you have for young creators interested in working on picture books?
KH: My advice: Experiment. Don’t worry about creating a masterpiece. Read a lot. Look at art. Know what you like.
LD: I agree with everything Kevin said. Look at picture books and art. Read. Observe the world around you. Take chances with your art and draw a lot!
RAP: And we ask everyone, what is your favorite thing about independent bookstores?
KH: My favorite thing about independent bookstores is that they are usually staﬀed by people who love books as much as I do.
LD: Two of my favorite things about independent bookstores are that they usually have a wonderful selection of books (including backlist books) and the people working there know the books and love them.