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,