A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES, illustrated by Chris Raschka - GIVEAWAY!

Some writers give us words that taste like candy when we read them aloud. Such is the case with A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES by Dylan Thomas, originally recorded for radio in 1952, and newly released this year as a picture book with glorious illustrations by Chris Raschka.
     Every writer needs to read this book to elevate their expectations of the written word. And every child needs this book read to them (even if they don't understand all the imagery). In fact, my hope is that reading A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES will become an annual tradition, preferably by a fire with a hot cup of cocoa, while wearing flannel pajamas.
     The story hearkens back to a time of gas lanterns and Christmas puddings, when snow blanketed everything turning a grimy world to white. While they may not have been the most perfect times--when socks were worn as mittens, and bullying was as common as breathing--the memory of those times certainly can be perfect.
     But you must read this book slowly so you can soak in the illustrations by Chris Raschka--wonderfully complicated in a Grandma Moses sort of way that makes you want to stare and stare and stare...
     I'm thrilled to have Chris here today to answer some questions about his latest book...

Chris, welcome, welcome! I remember when we were on a panel together at one of the first Decatur Book Festivals and I've been a fan ever since. So glad to have you here!

Q. A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES by Dylan Thomas has been around for a long time. What made you decide to take it on?
A. The idea came from Elizabeth Bicknell the editor at Candlewick. We had just completed our first book together, A Poke in the I, and perhaps she was looking for another project we could work on together. A Child's Christmas In Wales was approaching its fiftieth anniversary, so she thought the time was ripe, even though there are a large number of illustrated editions. I knew the recording, not as well as Liz, but enough for me to be eager about doing it.

Q. You're known for your wonderfully simple (looking) watercolor illustrations like in A BALL FOR DAISY (2012 Caldecott winner), but the images in A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES are delightfully complicated with so much to look at. How did you approach the artwork for this book?
A. Well, it seemed to me that the imagery and story telling of the piece were like bright fleeting fragments of thought and memory. So in making the art I tried to approximate this as well. Here's what I would do. I would read the text straight through and then simply paint in heavy ink brush strokes whatever came to mind afterwards, whatever I could remember of the text, onto a great variety of kinds of paper I had lying on my large table. I tried to do it all in a continuous swoosh of art-making until the afternoon was over. Then the next day I repeated the process—reading the whole text and painting whatever I could remember of it. After I had a stack of loose brush paintings on my table, I studied them one by one, sometimes not even being able to tell what I had been trying to illustrate. But with some I could tell, and these I developed further with watercolor and finally with touches of body color—gouache in white or pale yellow. Some of the papers I used were very absorbent making the black ink run and blur. Others weren't absorbent at all and the ink skipped over the surface. Either way I tried to make sense out of the black with added color. Once I had a stack of these paintings I began tearing them up. Finally, I placed the shreds next to text where I thought they might work.

Q. You captured the feeling and mood of the time so well. Did you do a lot of research?
A. My first thought was that this project was begging me to make a trip to Wales, and perhaps it was. However, my son was small at the time, and in school, and I didn't want to go without my family, so it was not to be. Instead, I spent a good bit of time browsing in the picture collection at the New York Public Library. However, this too, I eventually gave up. I decided instead to for the most part try to find comparable memories from my own life to be the basis of the pictures that came out.

Q. I know that even your simple-looking images often take you a very long time to get just the way you want. Did the illustrations for A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES present unique challenges?
A. See above. But also, I made many more pictures than ever appeared in the book. This was a challenge but a happy one.

Q. The poem was also illustrated in a picture book by Trina Schart Hyman in 1985. Did that influence your approach at all?
A. I was aware of Trina Schart Hyman's book and others, but for the most part I tried to actively be unaware of them in order to go my own way.

Q. You've been a household name for so long, but I'd love to hear how you first broke into children's books.
A. That's kind of you to say. It was like this. I was making little book dummies for a couple of years. These included Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, Yo! Yes? and Arlene Sardine. A friend of mine in an illustrators group I used to meet with once a month on the Upper West Side of Manhattan said to me, "You know, you should really send your books to Richard Jackson. He likes weird books." She did not know Richard Jackson, but did know of his book taste. I knew neither, but found Dick's address somehow, and mailed off my hand drawn dummy of Charlie P P B B to him in California. I learned later that Dick's assistant at the time fished it out of the proverbial slush pile and placed it on his desk. He wrote to me a few days later a short letter that included the lines, "I quite like your little book. Could we meet?"

Q. How long does it usually take you to do a book on average?
A. The average time is three years. Often longer though for one reason or another.

Q. Do you have any advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?
A. My advice is this. First and foremost, produce work, whatever that is, and keep producing new work. Secondly, gather with other like minded people. These can most easily be found through the good work of the SCBWI. Gathering them will fill in for you the information that you lack, whatever it might be. Finally, for want of a better word, you have to have faith that the work you produce will find its way and move you forward in the work you do and want to do more of.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Candlewick has kindly agreed to give one free copy of A CHRISTMAS IN WALES to one of my lucky commenters. (Must live in the US or Canada to win.) Enter below...
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Patricia Cruzan said...

Working on a book for three years is a long time. An artist has a lot of patience to do that. I would like to have the book.

Kristi Valiant said...

Wow - 3 years per book! How fascinating to read about Chris' process for this book. Great interview, e!

apple blossom said...

I'd share with my nieces and nephews.