Eric Carle-Like Picture Book
When Comes What Darkly Thieves came about very quickly after reading an episode from the first book of Elias Canetti’s autobiographical trilogy, The Tongue Set Free. At least the story did. Though there are deeper influences at work here as well, for do we ever stop being influenced by the books we loved most as children? We carry their words and images in our blood. We take them with us into the world, even perhaps if we should have forgotten them.
So it is important to mention as well illustrators like Charles Keeping, Leo Lionni, Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, movies such as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and The Neverending Story, and the old myths and fairy tales that were read to me over and over again: The Odyssey, the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, the tales from A Thousand and One Nights. Looking back, it seems that most of these stories had strong magical elements. Yes, they were filled with magic, not because these stories are in some way trying to transcend the world. Quite to contrary, because the world is full of magic!
2) Who did you envision the audience for When Comes What Darkly Thieves?
This book has been now been read by and to children of varying age groups, to a child as young as two by his grandmother, whom I received a note from which said he not only enjoyed it but he was showing her things in the images that she had not seen herself, to children who are five and six, and to children who are even older, as well as adults. Though I’ve never liked the idea of the age appropriate book.
For if we are to be honest with ourselves about the wonderfully curious creatures children are, must we also not admit that they are wonderfully different from each other as well? Yes, wonderfully different, even if they are all equally capable in allowing what they dream to find its way into the world: All children need not the same stories. And yet it is important that each child, and moreover, ourselves as adults, find our stories, our myths, our images, that like an open hand, like an invitation to voyage, ask us to be engaged with them. Is that not perhaps the most important thing we learn from books?
How to be engaged with the world. How to look and listen with one’s own eyes, how to think and feel your way through a text, how there can be something in the sound of a sentence that speaks into you and through you, yes, through you, through the whole of you, moving and moving and moving and always moving, for its rhythms are the rhythms of your heart and its voice is like the song of your most secret blood. There are sentences like that, and images and poems and ideas, and more to the point, sometimes the whole of a book is like that, drawing us ever more into the deep and active mystery of the world.
3) What do you want the reader to do or think after reading your book?
I think one of the great things about books is that there is space for the reader to find their own meaning in them. Though I think, perhaps, the book asks these questions: What happens when you are afraid of things you have no need to be afraid of? What happens when life turns out to be not what you expect? What happens when the people that present themselves to you surprise your expectations?
In the end, it deals with the efficacy of dreams, with the ways our dreams might manifest in the world, with our ability to overcome and transform the obstacles that befall us, to discover ourselves brave and capable in the face of what at first might seem an impossible situation. And just as importantly, it deals with our wishes; how what we want, how what we desire, often turns out to be not what we anticipated, but something wonderful and full of meaning nonetheless. Because life is always full of meaning. Only it is up to ourselves, when life startles or bewilders us, to meet such an ambush not as a disappointment but as a marvel.
4) What do you think of before falling asleep?
Of Hilda, my girlfriend who is London right now, while I’m in Brooklyn, at least for the time being. I think of the next time I’ll see her, I think of celebrating her birthday, of riding a train under the sea from London to Paris whilst beside her, the type of thing that would’ve seemed as if it were ripped from a fairy tale read to me in my youth, and then of running around with this magical person in this city that is magic itself.
5) Tell me how this book came into being.
It was a long process, though the story came very quickly. The images were done by way of magazine collage, and they took two months to make, as long as a week per image, though on the average slightly shorter. The pieces are often made partially from the works of great masters for I wanted to find a way to introduce children, at least subtly to the history of art. For instance, on one of the illustrations of children, there’s a pant leg that is a reworking of Picasso’s Guernica. And you’ll find other artists throughout, like Leonardo da Vinci, Anthony Van Dyck, or Willem de Kooning. Of course, on the other end, incorporating another deep love from my childhood, the Death Star from Star Wars makes an appearance in the eye of a ghost.
6) What is next for you?
Each child has his or her own inner navigation principle that directs them towards their wants and needs. Of course those things change as they grow for, even as adults, they change as we grow as well. But isn’t the worse thing we can do to a child to stifle that inner impetus that guides them into the world? It’s not that children are always right (though they know what they need to a much greater extent than we as adults often believe. They are deeply in touch with this sense of inner utility in a way that perhaps we no longer are.) Of course, children are sometimes incorrect in their suppositions. Sometimes they even have to be protected from them, but children have to learn to make mistakes too, and to grow from them. And the most difficult part is probably as a parent, or as anyone to whom a child is entrusted, to let go enough to let that happen.
Every child has his or her own compass that points towards their own True North. A large part of our job is not to break it. Not to muzzle that sense within the child that he or she, with a little bit of help, can navigate effectively through the world. And if we do the opposite, if we say “No” too often, if we stifle these first and purest impulses into the world, what are we really doing then? Isn’t this, in the the deepest sense, only to tell our children that they are incapable of discovering their natural talents and capacities on their own? And then, when children have this idea, this idea of “I can’t”, rather than “I can,” isn’t that when they become insecure? Isn’t that when they become embarrassed about themselves? And unsure in public and around their peers? When such children become closed instead of Open, and if not ready for the world, at least waiting for its arrival?
7) What did you do professionally before you became a children’s book author and illustrator?
I worked as a technician in a cancer research lab at Vanderbilt University.
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Congrats to Craftwhack! She won the picture book!