Q & A
with Steve Henry and Barbara Lalicki
about the 10-week picture book class they teach
for Pratt Institute.
Would you start by telling us a little bit about yourselves?
Barbara: I’ve worked as editorial director at four major publishing companies including, most recently, HarperCollins. Of the many books I’ve edited, people may be most familiar Gary Paulsen’s classic, Hatchet or Beverly Cleary's Ramona's World, but I hope they’ll also have favorites among the wide variety of picture books I’ve edited by author-artists including Jim Arnosky, Pat Cummings, Diane Goode, Mary Engelbreit, Paul Goble, Susan Jeffers, Steven Kellogg, Betsy Lewin, Melissa Sweet--and Steve Henry.
Steve: Soon after graduating from Pratt, I met Barbara and illustrated my first picture book. My career then went in the direction of editorial illustration for newspapers and magazines including the New York Timesand Rolling Stone. I gravitated back to drawing for children and have worked in many areas: games and puzzles, toys, education materials.... Then I began writing and illustrating my own books for children.
Isn't your class online for the first time this semester.?
Barbara: The crisis hit in the middle of our last session and we finished out the semester online. In retrospect, it's amazing how quickly we all got up to speed. The powerpoint presentations were perhaps better than in class because they were closer, and it was easy to review work each week. Of course we knew our students and had all bonded in the experience of shared creativity. Steve and I are eager to create that same sense of community online from Day One. From live online classes I've taken, I think people are eager to share online. I know I am.
Steve: I know we are both going to miss that in-person, face-to-face contact. But we are all missing it, and we're all in this together. I know
we're going to make every effort to give students a good experience. We already plan to be available for questions during the week.
Looking for layouts that establish an enticing rhythm,
so critical in a children's picture book.
Barbara: One of Steve’s recent books, Cat Got a Lot, is a great example for the class. The character first appeared in Happy Cat and was so popular the publisher, Holiday House, commissioned a sequel. He also talks about the unexpected changes that came about as he worked on HIDE!, published in July, 2018 and how he developed his newest book, SNOW IS FUN!, coming out this winter..
Steve: I think students get a lot out of seeing how those books were crafted and I bring in sketches and dummies to help make the process clear.
Looking at a sketch Steve made while developing his Big Bunny character. Enthusiastic reviews of Here Is Big Bunny praised the results of decisions made by Steve and his editor. Publishers Weekly said, "Each page delivers"!
Why take your class rather than one taught by an editor or an author-illustrator?
Barbara: Steve and I have worked together on picture books and share a love for the art form. Teaching collaboratively we give students experienced guidance and support from two of the essential viewpoints in creating a picture book—the author-illustrator and the editor.
Additionally, we draw on wide experience with publishing people in all areas related to the creation, acquisition, marketing, and sale of a children’s book.
Steve: We think of it as working with advice from ”both sides of the desk.” For instance, I think of myself as an illustrator first. Writing calls on a different skill set. Yet, having worked with fine editors on picture books, I’ve learned that the words and images must merge seamlessly and in this the editor is essential.
Stories call for different styles of art, so I don't preach “my style,” but rather try to help students bring out the best in their own work.
Part of the fun of teaching is keeping up
with the children's book events, like the fabulous
Eloise show at the New York Historical Society.
Do you expect students to have fully envisioned characters before signing up for the class?
Steve: No, but by examining successful books--classics and new favorites--and by workshopping every week to help move things forward, we'll help students graduate with them.
Tip of the iceberg: just a few of the books we reviewed while developing the class.