Picture book aficionados will surely know Oliver Jeffers’ work, from The Day the Crayons Quit to his Hueys series, but might be less familiar with Sam Winston, who, in addition to being a fine artist, is Jeffers’ friend and co-author and illustrator on A Child of Books, coming to shelves September 6. You’re not going to want this book to sit on that shelf for long, though: In fact, its pages, which incorporate the text of classic stories into its illustrations, are so gorgeous you’ll probably want to frame them.
EW is thrilled to exclusively reveal the beautiful cover for A Child of Books below, and beneath that, Jeffers and Winston tell us how they created this innovative and utterly imaginative new book:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did the two of you want to create this book together?
SAM WINSTON: First, we both love literature and we’ve both had a long relationship with bookmaking. What’s more, with the advent of digital culture, there is a new fluidity in storytelling — stories being expressed across multiple platforms. While some have marked this as a problem, we think it’s fantastic, and saw an opportunity. Oliver and myself decided to make a book that celebrated both, the beautiful tradition of putting pictures and words on paper and the new technologies available in book production.
OLIVER JEFFERS: This whole endeavor was born out of a shared admiration for each other’s work. At the outset, our bodies of work seemed so disparate, yet, when we scratched beneath the surface, recognizing many shared recurring themes gave rise to a desire to work on something together. We were both immediately drawn to a project Sam had created called Orphan, and both felt there was something in that worth exploring in the form of a picture book.
How did you choose the classic stories to include in the illustrations? Are they stories that were particularly meaningful to one or both of you?
JEFFERS: We came at the stories from several angles, which included books we were both immersed in as children, but we would also seek out books that would be compatible with the sorts of landscapes our epic journey of literature should absolutely include. For example, we knew our journey needed a haunted castle — as “fear,” or the thrill of being afraid, was a real part of the development of both of our imaginations — so we included Frankenstein and Dracula, which might not have occurred to us otherwise when writing a list of the books we remembered reading as children.
WINSTON: Another consideration was how to define a “classic.” Obviously, certain tales are very easy to include — for example Alice in Wonderland — but when you start creeping into the 21st century it becomes quite complicated. At what point does a book go from being “great” to a “classic” and how is that decided? Added to that was a logistical question about getting clearance for books we liked but were still within copyright. So it was the combination of these two problems that that helped us decide, “Okay let’s only use books that come before the mid 1900’s [for now].”
We would have loved to have The Little Prince, or Where the Wild Things Are, and so many more, but we had to move on from what could have been a never ending discussion about how to define and decide on a classic.
How do each of your particular strengths come through in the book?
JEFFERS: Sam is good at doing typography and I am good at drawing things. That, and we can both have a sense of humor.
What was the most fun part of the process?
WINSTON: Because the project wasn’t a singular vision, it was great to see this world emerge through the hands and minds of our collaboration. Oliver would say, “Yeah and then the buildings turn into books,” or I would exclaim, “The tree trunks are made from pages,” and suddenly we were seeing completely new landscapes develop from our shared imagination. There was such genuine excitement in not knowing what was going happen.
JEFFERS: Apart from growing my friendship with Sam so much during the process, I really think it was the problem solving. Figuring out how our interdependent skill sets complimented each other, and then technically working out how we would physically make what we had just excitedly came up with.
What was the most challenging part?
JEFFERS: We realized early on the entire process would only really work when we were both in the same place at the same time, what with us being based on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. Scheduling both of our calendars to allow for this was challenging, and added to the fact the book took over five years to make. Though the upshot of that was getting to spend so much time together (Sam makes a mean cup of tea).
WINSTON: Making sure the pictures were spelt properly.
Can we expect more Oliver Jeffers/Sam Winston books in the future?
WINSTON and JEFFERS: I think we can tentatively say “Yes” — at present we are in the process of throwing some more words at each other to see what sticks. If an interesting story emerges, we will certainly be excited to share it!