Monday, October 20, 2008

Pas de Deux? Mais Oui!

I’ve begun to give talks at bookstores and schools about my recently released picture book In a Blue Room. During the talks I sometimes pass around the original illustrations I did for the book. These were not a part of the final product, since Harcourt (brilliantly as it turns out) decided to hire Tricia Tusa to illustrate instead. People ask if, as an illustrator, I am "okay" with having my work illustrated by someone else.

The answer is an enthusiastic YES when that someone does as beautiful of a job as Tricia Tusa did. I decided I wanted to use this post to talk about why I love what Tricia did for In a Blue Room, and how I think she brought more to the work than just illustrating the story, making it better than it was before.

Tricia’s style feels perfectly suited to the lyrical nature of the story. Her light, whimsical watercolors let the book soar with a sort of dreamy quality that can be hard to achieve. I am delighted with how she used light in the illustrations, the bright yellow of the lamp, the cool blue of the moonlight.

I love the little details Tricia put into her illustrations. Take a look at subtle changes of the dolls that sit around little Alice’s bed. When Alice is wound up and rowdy, they look a bit dismayed or even alarmed. But as she settles down, they begin to smile, and when she is close to following asleep, one appears to yawn. And there are all the tools and works of Alice the artist scattered about the room. No wonder she is obsessed with color. And there is the way the parachute shape of the blue blanket Alice is using as she jumps foreshadows the celestial blue dome that covers her world at the end.

One concern I occasionally hear from folks is that the room is yellow, although the words repeat over and over “in a blue room.” I have to admit that I wondered about this myself when I first saw the color sketches, but when I came to the end I was blown away by the Tricia’s clever interpretation of my words. She zooms out in the end to show the entire planet Earth as the figurative “blue room” of the title. These last pages really bring a universal feel to the story. You can imagine a world filled with young boys and girls, all sleeping fast in their individual blue rooms. And Alice always is in a blue room, right from the beginning: the blue room that is Earth. Tricia’s interpretation makes the words and pictures match perfectly, while allowing the “aha” moment when the room turns from yellow to blue to have a stronger impact than it might otherwise have had. (I’ve heard from parents and reviewers that kids ask about the yellow room too, and when the parent suggests the child wait to see what happens, the kids gasp or giggle when the room becomes blue. And isn’t that what we want: for children to see the world in a new way after reading a book?)

One reviewer said she thought my words and Tricia’s pictures danced a “pas de deux” and I couldn’t agree more. So... THANK YOU, Tricia (and Sam, the editor who chose her) for making my story the best it could be.