By Tabassum Siddiqui - Saturday, February 2, 2013 - 0 Comments
In Oliver Jeffers’s world, little kids befriend lost penguins and a bear with a penchant for flying paper airplanes confounds a town when their trees start to disappear. If that sounds like something out of a fairytale, you’re not too far off – the Irish-bred, Brooklyn-based author and illustrator has been the darling of the kids’ lit scene since introducing the world to his heartwarming, whimsical style of art and storytelling in 2004 with How to Catch a Star. Ten books and a long list of global awards later, Jeffers, who’s also a successful commercial illustrator and fine artist, continues to delight children – and the forever young-at-heart – with his sweet-but-smart approach.
That widespread appeal has made Jeffers one very busy fellow just trying to keep up with the demand for his tall tales for the small set – hot on the heels of last year’s This Moose Belongs to Me and The Hueys in The New Jumper comes a second Hueys book, It Wasn’t Me, later this spring. Somehow in between bookmaking and art assignments, Jeffers also manages to get out of the studio and in front of his adoring audiences. He’s making a rare visit to Canada this week, meeting booksellers, signing books at a Chapters in Brampton, and appearing at Small Print Toronto’s fifth-anniversary Totsapalooza event (which sold out of its 500 tickets within days) before heading to Vancouver later this month for an appearance at the University of British Columbia.
The betoqued (but mittenless, having forgotten his gloves at home) and Irish-accented author took some time during his Toronto visit to speak with Maclean’s about kids, creativity and staying open to imagination.
Q: How did you first get started in the world of picture books?
A: Coming from Ireland, it really is a place of storytellers, and everybody has some story up their sleeve for any given occasion – people just going around in a circle telling stories one after another. So that’s always been a big part of my culture and upbringing. With regards to the art-making aspect of things, I went to art college considering myself as a fine artist and painter, and then switched over from the nebulous fine art program and went more towards design and typography and illustration, thinking I’d have a better chance of getting a job at the end of it. But I continued to make fine art, and a lot of the art I was making was mixing words and pictures together, using that as the basis for these short little narratives. And then one day when I was making a sketch for what was going to be a painting – it was what ended up becoming the book How to Catch a Star – it occurred to me that was an interesting concept. I thought, ‘I could explore this, maybe draw other ways that somebody might be able to catch something as intangible as a star.’ Once I had three or four of those, I realized, ‘This isn’t a series of paintings, this is actually a picture book that I’m creating.’ And once I made that switch in my brain, the rest of it came quite easily and naturally.