Welcome Back Sun

“The power and simple beauty of sunshine are eloquently evoked in this charming tale about the long-awaited arrival of spring. …Captivating artwork illuminates the text. Using colors and techniques reminiscent of Ed Young’s work as well as more defined and detailed drawings. Emberley captures the feel of both the cold, gray “murky time”, and the brilliant clear sunshine. The illustrations reflect the warm affection among family members and place the story firmly in it’s cultural context. A most welcome seasonal selection.”   —School Library Journal

“…The illustrations have a strong narrative quality and perfectly match the emotions of the child narrator, with the wintery gray tones of the early illustrations giving way to warm reds and soft greens. …The little girl’s primal yearning for the sun lends this specifically Skandinavian story a universitality that will appeal to all readers – whether in the Artic or the tropics. …”— The Horn Book

A Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, 1994 Blue Ribbon Award winner.

ALA Notable book 1994

* 2013 will be the 20th anniversary of this book’s publication. And hey, it’s out of print! That means somebody can buy it and publish it all over again.  That someone could be you….

OK, this story sounds like a real downer! But actually it’s about hope, not depression. Or you could say it’s possibly the only children’s book about SAD -seasonal affect disorder . The Norwegians seem to have a lot of SAD. But any one could get bummed out by not seeing a little sunshine once in a while. I moved to southern California for the sun so I must have been thinking about it back then too.

This is the fastest story I ever wrote. It all came out in an hour or so in the reading room of the Boston Public Library. The birth of the story was an article I read about the Norwegians taking ski trams or helicopter rides during the late winter to get a reassuring dose of sunshine. I also have a history of going cross-country skiing with my family since I was very young. Since this was a relatively unknown sport in America back then, most of the ski area owners or instructors were Scandinavian. This meant exposure to some of the culture, especially winter culture. Check out how many candleholders any Scandinavian design shop has. Friendly indoor light is important during long dark winters.

I enjoyed working on these more moody, and slightly more realistic illustrations than previous books. This manuscript was submitted to the publisher at the same time as the first Ruby book, in 1989 or so. It was the only story I did no illustrations for. At the time I had no samples of work that fit the story, but I liked it enough to show to my editor even though I had no real idea how I would pull it off.

After a few of the other books I submitted were finished, my editor, John Keller, pulled the manuscript out and said, “how about this one next?” After getting a feeling in the pit of my stomach of falling into the chasm of certain failure I said, “sure”.

But I didn’t fall into a pit. In the end I enjoyed figuring out how to express certain feelings in the art. It was painful at times. I spent days trying to get just the right feeling of a hand holding another hand, or arms wrapped around a thick wool sweater. I found, when you can actually feel the hand in yours as you look at it; you’ve got it right. A lot of it was impossibly difficult since I was inventing it all as I went along. I was teaching myself to do something I had never done before by sheer stubbornness, (and fear of having to get a real job).

The art technique I used in the book of using scrubbed pastel backgrounds and watercolor figures, came about because I could not figure out how to create the effects of light I wanted using the primitive watercolor techniques I had mastered thus far. And I could not figure out how to create people with my customary line drawing and opaque pastel without covering up the lines. So I put them both together. In the end the mother of invention was yet again necessity, a looming deadline, and bills to pay. I still use the same scrubbed pastel techniques in my illustrations today that I figured out during this book.

I still don’t like some of the images though (do I ever like everything?) – For example the people sitting on the mountain ridge eating. I dream of re-publishing this book someday with a little tweaking.

I also wrote two other “Sun” stories at the same time, also set in Norway in the distant past, and with the same character – Midnight Sun, about the summer and The Longest Night, about the Christmas festival – both unpublished. Hmm. A trilogy? Life is truly short. Maybe for the 20th anniversary of Welcome Back Sun in 2013…