PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH - illustrated by Chris Van Dusen - Interview and Giveaway
PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen - now this is non-fiction at its best! It's well known that President Taft was one of our... largest Presidents. The lesser known story is that he actually did, might have, probably got stuck in the tub. But the way the story is relayed gives the reader a clear understanding of the chain of government command and some interesting ideas on getting things (or persons) unstuck.
I'm thrilled to have the amazingly talented Chris Van Dusen here today...
Q. Chris! What was your reaction when you first read this manuscript!?
A. My first thought was "This is fun! This is wacky!" Besides, Mac and I had wanted to do a book together for a while and this story came at exactly the right time for me. But then I realized it would be kind of a challenge to illustrate this story because it takes place in one location - a bathroom. Luckily Mac added enough colorful detail in the text that I was able to work into the pictures. It ended up being a "BLAST!"
Q. The melee had just quieted down over THE NAKED COWBOY by Amy Timberlake (illustrated by Adam Rex), another picture book about a well, a naked man. Then here comes PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH! It must have been challenging?
A. I love that book! It was my friend Adam's first children's book and he did an amazing job. I remember I commended him on his use of creative coverage. It was a bit of a challenge illustrating TAFT. A naked obese man is not your typical children's picture book character, to say the least. After TAFT came out, both Mac and I had a favorite review which described the book as having "more naked adult flesh than you find in most children's picture books". Isn't that great? We chose that as our official snippet.
Q. Were the conversations about how to hide the... essentials entertaining?
A. Mac left that to me. I don't recall us having a specific conversation about how to protect Taft's modesty, but my mantra became "more bubbles...more bubbles."
Q. I adore your style - how do you work?
A. Thanks! I paint all my illustrations in gouache, which is a water-based paint. It's like an opaque watercolor, but you can use it in a lot of different ways- splatter, watery wash, or thick- it's great. And it reproduces really well, so the colors I paint are almost exactly the colors you see in the printed book. I don't use any computers, it's all paint, and each spread illustration takes me two to three weeks to paint. A complete book can take up to ten months to illustrate.
Q. Most folks will know you from Kate DiCamillo's MERCY WATSON series. Have those been a blast to do?
A. Oh my gosh, yes! Those were a complete blast to illustrate! Kate trusted me to come up with the look of the characters, which gave me a great amount of freedom. I used her characters's names as clues. For example, Lorenzo sounded Italian to me, so I painted him with thick, dark hair. And since he's a firefighter, I added a big, strong chin. It was a great collaboration.
Q. Truly, you get some mighty fun projects to illustrate! What was your path to publication?
A. I've been very lucky with the great projects that have come my way. My first book came hard though. It was a story I wrote called "Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee". I took me forever to pull that thing together! Before that, I was working mainly as an editorial illustrator, primarily for kids' magazines. I remember at the time a lot of my peers were turning to children's books, illustrators like Lane Smith, and I started thinking more about trying to write a book. Nine years later (yeah, that's how long it took!) my first MAGEE book was published. It's still in print, by the way. Since then I've worked almost exclusively on books and I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.
Q. Any advice for those trying to break into the biz themselves?
A. I wouldn't want to try to break into the market today! I think publishers are becoming far more selective on the titles they publish. They have to! It's a huge monetary commitment to publish a book. The one piece of advice I have for a first time author/illustrator is- don't give up. If you believe in your story and you've done the absolute best you can do, keep at it. In publishing, persistence pays off.
Thanks Chris - we look forward to more!
Candlewick has kindly agreed to send a free copy of PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH to one of my lucky participants. Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below.