I have the great honor to be on faculty at Hollins University with the talented Ashley Wolff, author and illustrator of such favorites as Miss Bindergarten, I LOVE MY DADDY/MOMMY BECAUSE, and of course, her newest additions, BABY BEAR SEES BLUE and BABY BEAR COUNTS ONE. I'm constantly amazed by Ashley's overflowing creativity, but especially by how she created these latest books. And I can't think of a better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than with her work which is so decidedly - thankful and appreciative of our natural surroundings. Ashley dropped by to tell me about them...

Q. BABY BEAR SEES BLUE was a Caldecott favorite in many circles - how did that feel? And did the success of it lead to BABY BEAR COUNTS ONE?
A. Honestly? It was so funny-- like I was becoming an “overnight” success after nearly 30 years of writing and illustrating my books. There were people saying “Ashley Wolff has written AND illustrated a book.” Of course, I wrote and illustrated my first book, way back in 1984. So, gazing in the rearview, it was exciting but ultimately disappointing since nothing came of it.
      BABY BEAR COUNTS ONE was already in the creative pipeline by the time BABY BEAR SEES BLUE was published. I had the 2 ideas very close together and Beach Lane was willing to take a chance on a sequel without worrying about how the first book would sell.

Q. I happen to know you are a nature lover. But why bears? (Photo of beaver dam by Ashley Wolff)
A.   This is a long and winding answer, but bears, bear cubs in particular, were going to be characters in a totally different book. Those publishers wanted animal characters so my first dummy was “peopled” entirely by Prairie Dogs, doing human activities. When Prairie Dogs were rejected as being too lowly, bears were given the roles. Bears had a flurry of possibility, during which I drew many many sketches of bear cubs and pinned them to my wall. Finally, bears were rejected in favor of actual humans, but the pages of drawings were still pinned to the wall. One day I had an idea...

Q. In BABY BEAR SEES BLUE the reader can follow the passage of time through the colors in the sky as they turn the pages - I love that. What fun tricks did you use in BABY BEAR COUNTS ONE?
A. Both Baby Bear books are true “Cycle” books in several ways. They both begin and end in the same place with a journey of discovery in between, and they both begin in the morning and end at bedtime. So sun position and weather play an important part in the time progress of both books. The children reading these books are, like Baby Bear, still new to the concepts of colors, seasons, numbers, and weather and they like their endings reassuring and predictable. In BABY BEAR COUNTS ONE counting up from one to ten became the natural page-turner, and only once did I need to compress two numbers onto one spread!

Q. The method you used to illustrate these two books simply blows my mind - can you explain it?
A. Just as in my very first book from 1984, I used linoleum block prints, hand colored with watercolor. Back then it did not seem so very unusual, but now it appears incredibly old fashioned, doesn’t it? I draw on tracing paper and then transfer that drawing in reverse onto a piece of linoleum. I carve away everything that I don’t want to print. In other words, I carve away the whites.

Ashley shared some of her process images...

Q. You're a fabulous photographer too. How many reference photos do you take and how do you use them while you work?
A. Stacks! I am working on a book set in the Grand Canyon right now and I have hundreds of photos I took while hiking there last May. Everything from tiny details to grand vistas.
      I use a lot of reference photos in order to be as accurate in my details as possible. I have a huge, photo clipping file I started collecting when I was in my early 20s. My bear folder alone is probably an inch thick!

Q. How much time does all that take?
A. Books are just another kind of journey. The destination is chosen and an arrival date is agreed on, but then many possible paths open up.
      A team is assembled, there is a great deal of practice, some false starts, a few reversals and changes of course, an all-nighter, or six, and finally, an arrival. It can take months or years. 3 years, from initial idea to publication, is not uncommon for me.

Q. You illustrated so many adorable critters in BABY BEAR SEES BLUE and BABY BEAR COUNTS ONE. Do you have any favorites?
A. Is there an animal I DON’T like? No.
      I found room for some old favorites like frogs, Canada Geese and honey bees and drew some creatures for the first time in Baby Bear Counts One.
      The handsome Pileated Woodpecker and the glossy Wild Turkeys were new for me. Once I’ve drawn something, the memory stays put and I bet these new characters will be back. But not in the Grand Canyon book! That will have very specific animals and plants found in the Canyon.

Q. Can you describe your path to publication?
A. Once upon a time I took a large, leather portfolio to New York City and went all around town, unzipping it to show my work on paper to art directors and editors in over a dozen separate publishing houses.
      Stop laughing--it’s true!
      Sometimes they asked me to leave it overnight--I shivered because these were my ORIGINALS!
      I got a lot of nice comments, but one editor at Dodd Mead took the time to get to know me a little. She asked me who the little girl in this piece was. When I said it was me as a child, she suggested expanding that idea into a book. I wrote and illustrated my first book: A Year of Birds in 1984.
      I have never looked back!

Q. Are you doing anything fun to celebrate the release of BABY BEAR COUNTS ONE?
A. Yes, I spent hours walking in the woods near my cabin in Vermont, setting up still life’s with the MerryMakers Baby Bear plush doll. He posed with red and yellow autumn leaves, mushrooms, acorns, and fall wildflowers like goldenrod and asters.
Q. Thanks so much for stopping by!!!
Ashley has kindly agreed to send a signed/dedicated copy of BABY BEAR COUNTS ONE to one of my lucky commenters! Register below. (Must live in the US or Canada to win.)
a Rafflecopter giveaway


apple blossom said...

love to share with my nieces thanks

KR said...

I teach kindergarten. This would be great for teaching hibernation.

Kristin said...

This would be great to use in winter with our hibernation unit in kindergarten!

Anonymous said...

This book would make a great addition to my library!

Geo Librarian said...

This would be a fun book to share with both my kindergartners and my nephews. Thanks!

pippirose said...

I would love to share this delightful book with my baby grand-daughter.

AprilsL8 said...

What a neat book! I love bears!

Shannah said...

Awww this would be adorable for my nieces! Thanks for the chance to win!
Hugs, Shannah xox

orangefukurou said...

I'm trying to have more books for my daughter's library. This book will be wonderful addition to her library.