I am happy to be able to bring some light to your holiday this year with Aaron Becker's latest, gorgeous, board books, My Favorite Color and You Are Light. They are concept books with plastic colored sheets between the pages that form a sort of stained glass as you turn the pages and light sneaks in. Breathtaking, really! Aaron stopped by to talk about them...
e: These are not your typical picture books! I suppose they are novelty books. This is an area I haven’t shared much with my readers in the past. What goes into creating concept books like these? And what was your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
As you can see in the photographs, my process is very hands on! I build my own mock-ups of these physically, because it's really the only way to grasp how the colors will combine, interact with light, and technically come together. It's a bit like building a puzzle, and because it's so different from the work that goes into my normal picture books, the whole process feels like a vacation! In fact, I built the dummy for My Favorite Color while on a retreat at a friend's place in Palm Springs. Hopefully that spirit of relaxation and play comes through in the final book!
e: I think it most definitely does! There was so much paper engineering and interesting substrates involved - did the ideas come first, or the substrates and a “what can we do with this” sort of approach?
The ideas evolved as I played with the materials and their potentials. All I knew with My Favorite Color was that I was going to be limiting myself to a square grid, vs. the circles from You Are Light, and I wanted to push the envelope with the possibilities for color mixing now that I understood what went into the actual physical mass production of such an idea. For instance, on You Are Light, I didn't realize that each sheet of colored acetate could actually have any number of colors on it, so I limited myself to one color per page. It worked out just fine, but I wanted to see what I could do if I started using different colors on each page.
e: These books are so different from your Journey books, how did you make that transition, what inspired them?
I was struggling with my next wordless book at the time and went on a meditation retreat to clear my head. The workshop was held in an old church with stained glass, and as I was walking back and forth in the hall during a "walking meditation" I couldn't stop my mind from wandering to the colors in the window. Of course, I was supposed to be paying attention to my breath! But it's a good thing I couldn't. Because the next thing I knew, I realized what my next book was going to be!
e: That's a pretty interesting origin story!
What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Heart Art must come from within. I think a lot of children's book creators are putting their audience first, and as a result, often simplify their thoughts for their imagined audience. But kids are a lot more sophisticated than we think, and by creating work for ourselves, that resonates deeply within ourselves, we end up creating work that can tap into something universal within all of us, kids included.
e: How do you advertise yourself (or do you these days)?
I use instagram and twitter (both @storybreathing), but mostly use these like a journal of my process and thoughts. I find that publicity doesn't come naturally to me and I'd rather put my efforts into my next project.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
The great thing about creating work for yourself is that it's all up to you. On the other hand, the difficult thing about creating work for yourself is that it's all up to you.
e: Is there something in particular about these books you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
For You Are Light, my hope was to provide something a bit spiritual for a child in their interaction with color and light. But I've disguised it inside a book about photosynthesis! With the follow up, My Favorite Color, I wanted something more playful that gave kids permission to stay open to possibilities. When adults ask kids what their favorite color is, they're really asking the child to define themselves. And this is something that happens with lots of things - foods, friends, interests, and even gender identity. I think we have to ask ourselves why we do this - and I think often the reason is that we want the world to be graspable and compartmentalized, so that we can handle all of the chaos that is life. But this is dangerous too - because by asking kids to limit their favorites to one or two things, we're stifling their curiosity. What I love about the child narrating My Favorite Color is that they turn this on its head - and refuse to answer the question at hand!
e: Oh! I LOVE that! What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Right now I'm working on two books that are fantastical in nature, both wordless, and both dealing with issues of climate change. Despite all that divides us as a nation, this is the single issue that's going to effect all of us the most, especially the children of today. I think it's important as an author to entertain and promote wonder in the world, but also to bring up these pressing issues in digestible, even subversive ways. I can't wait to have these books out there - the future is now!

e: I so agree - I can't wait to see them! Hope you'll drop back by!
Aaron: Thanks!

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