You Read To Me, I’ll Read To You – Very Short Fairy Tales To Read Together

The second of what was not really planned as a series. (A long run on the New York Times best seller list (topping out at #3) of the first “You Read To Me…” book changed that). Like all sequels, some things are easier, some more difficult.

As with the first book, I was given a fairly free hand to imagine what I wanted. This time though, I had lessspace to work with. MaryAnn wrote some fantastic poems but they had longer lines so they took up more of the page. (The little red riding hood spread was the tightest – no room for me!)

The rhyming dialogue layout was fixed from the first book, as was the size of the book. So as usual, it was left up to le artiste to figure something out. Had this book been the first book, the series could have looked a little different. Such is the nature of sequels.

You always want to go a little “beyond” the words when illustrating. Pushing preconceived ideas. Also having fun. Sometimes this just involves forgetting tradition and using a strange logic. Such as a mountain goat, if it had clothes, would have mountain climbing gear, yes? A wolf, if let out of a cooking pot by a smart pig, would be kept tied up of course.The fast talking Jack of beanstalk fame seemed more like a Hollywood agent the more I read it. And Goldilocks could only have (golden)dreadlocks.

It’s always a challenge to avoid clichés with familiar characters like say, cats or princesses. I try to “add” as much personality as I can. People don’t mind clichés so much if they really like the characters. The princess from The Princess and the Pea was tough for me. She had me researching as many depictions of princesses as I could. I made up dozens of costumes, head gear etc. I didn’t want her to be too European or too African – the two most common images. I actually wanted her to have darker skin than she has, but the printing process “lightened” her a bit. Her age was a puzzle too. I settled on quite young. I just love her narcissism though – “I am the princess. Look at me!”

It was also interesting to decide how big a talking pea should be.  A life size pea is too small to see any facial expression. And we want to see the personality of a pea don’t we? A big, child size pea seemed too freaky. Plus the text says the pea will sit in a ring (too heavy too!). And how old is this talking pea anyway? The next book in this series has a spider and a human together… new book, same questions.

Other characters were more straightforward. I studied and sketched real wolves to depict the two wolf characters in the book.  And I was lucky to sketch the trolls living in my basement for the troll character. The giant I did not sketch from life – I made him up. I was inspired by Oscar Wilde somehow, his nose anyway, and his story of the giant in the garden. My original idea for the giant was rejected as too ugly and way too hairy. Humph. But I never throw anything away. It’s all part of the process. Perhaps the hairy giant will return one day.