This book is the fifth in a series I completed with the current Poet Laureate, Mary Ann Hoberman. It’s unusual for artists and writers to work closely together in the children’s book world, but I’ve been lucky to have worked closely with three talented authors – Robie Harris, Barbara Bottner, and Mary Ann. I think a great deal of the understanding and trust between us shows in the art for this book, and if you look at the whole series,
I think you can see a progression of confidence and interplay between pictures and words. It’s not a perfect book. I never feel I’ve finished, gotten it just right. I just have to stop at some point. I’m always thinking of another way of interpreting the story. In this case they are technically poems, but Mary Ann is a natural story teller and her best work is highly original even if it’s simply a nursery rhyme she’s re telling.
Some of the familiar Aesop tales are fairly predictably illustrated here, such as the Ant and the Grasshopper, but even this tale, I changed a bit even after MA had her hand on them – such as making the ending of the Ant and the Grasshopper a bit redeeming. The original text has the Grasshopper cast out in the snow in the end, when he asks for food after playing all summer instead of working. But I pull it back a bit by having the Ant’s children take pity on the Grasshopper, if only for one night. In exchange he plays for them.
It was a relief to come up with the opera solution to the Goose who laid the Golden Egg. It enabled me to soften the killing of the goose by the farmer by putting the goose in costume with red ribbons instead of blood.
Illustrating a picture book I always thought was more like producing a movie or play than anything else. And I’ve always had a love of theatre costume and puppets, so that’s one reason I decided to go all the way this time and depict the bulk of the book as an actual play within a play.
It was in trying to make the Golden Goose fable work that I first got the idea for making them all theater pieces. They are all so different with both animals and people doing rather stylized performances it just made more and more sense to put the whole thing on stage.
My favorite has to be the Sun and Wind, because I never thought I would come up with satisfying characters for those two “parts”. In the end they were my favorites. I also enjoyed “casting” and “choreographing” the dancing characters: Stork, Dogs, Peacock, and Fox. The movement really picked up the rather preachy Aesop!
In the end there is far more work behind a simple book of poems based on Aesop fables than you might think it warrants. Creating an entire production of actors, costumes, sets, performances, and dances, (as well as a bit of singing) But It’s always a pleasure to come up with something you hope will match the skill and wit of the words -the “script” – you have been entrusted to “perform”. And it’s the respect and trust given me by Mary Ann, that I hope shows in every brush stroke.