Q: Congratulations on the release of the twentieth anniversary edition of The Napping House. What is the history of the book?
A: The Napping House was inspired by my young son’s unusual napping habits. Bruce was very active and, basically, from a very young age, refused to nap. We learned by trial and error that the only way we could get him to sleep was to walk him the two blocks to his granny’s house. Everything there was restful and calm, and granny (my mother) always loved to take an afternoon nap.
She owned a fluffy dog, and when granny, the dog, and Bruce settled into her cozy bed, everyone was dreaming in minutes. This became a daily ritual, and we began to refer to my mother’s home as “the napping house.” That’s how the book was born.
Q: The twentieth anniversary edition includes a CD with a gentle reading of the story and six original songs. Could you tell us about the musical selections?
A: I wrote The Napping House in my sunny backyard in Santa Barbara, California. My sister Jennifer, who is a talented musician and songwriter, also lived in Santa Barbara. One day we were sitting in the backyard and I was reading her the story. She liked it, and after a second reading, she literally burst into song. To my surprise she sang the entire book. I was thrilled, in fact; I liked her music so much that when we submitted the book to Harcourt, we submitted it as both a book and a song. Harcourt passed on the song initially, but later decided to release it separately as an audiocassette. Jennifer wrote several other Napping House songs, all of which are on the new CD, including a charming tune that describes the dreams of each sleeping member of the household and another of my favorites, which celebrates waking up from a wonderful nap.
Q: It appears you and Don both have a keen enthusiasm for reaching early readers. How did the two of you cultivate an interest in writing books for children? Did your writing evolve along with your relationship?
A: Don should have known what he was getting into. He often relates the tale of how I read him a children’s book during our honeymoon. The story was At the Back of the North Wind. I was always very interested in children’s literature (even on my honeymoon), but it was the birth of my son and my habit of reading him many, many books every day that pushed me into action. One day I said, “I can do that.” So I did. I was published first in England without Don. Finally, with the sale of Moonflute, I had a book that would be published in the United States.
I showed Don some of the sample art painted by another illustrator. He didn’t like it, so I said, Then why don’t you do it? So he did and he was hooked. Children’s book illustration is all that he has done since.
Q: Sometimes you illustrate your own books and sometimes Don illustrates them. How do you decide?
A: The answer to your question often becomes obvious when I write a book. For instance, when I wrote Heckedy Peg, I knew Don would be the illustrator. For other books I initially had no idea which one us should be the illustrator. We both submitted art for The Napping House, and the art director chose Don’s work. Later we both submitted art for Silly Sally, and the art director chose my illustrations. Once again we both submitted art for Elbert’s Bad Word. That time even the art director couldn’t decide, so we both illustrated the book. I drew the pictures and Don painted them. It was weird, almost as if we had created a third artist someone capable of producing art that was very different from either of our individual styles. We both found it liberating.
Q: The playful story-line in the book also exemplifies a well-told cumulative tale. Folktales and songs like “Wheels on the Bus” or “Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” entertain and help children to sharpen their musical, counting, and other mathematical skills. Have you done much research regarding rhythms and story lines as context for your own work?
A: As a child I was fascinated by cumulative and step-and-repeat stories, such as “The House That Jack Built.” These stories have the simplicity, the comforting repetition, the musical qualities that attract and hold children and introduce them to the magic of language.
When I was writing The Napping House, I definitely went after a step-and-repeat story. My research consisted simply of reading cumulative and step-and-repeat stories over and over. Now that I am more knowledgeable about children’s literature, I would highly recommend Iona and Peter Opie’s invaluable work, The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren.
Q: You and Audrey have collaborated on so many great books for us: Piggies, The Tickleoctopus, Moonflute … As a husband-and-wife team, how do you approach working together on your stories and artwork?
A: The fact that Audrey and I work as a team has been of crucial importance to us.
Here is how our process works:
The story (Audrey) comes first. I am her first editor. Often Audrey will write three or four books before she finds one with the strength and depth to go all the way. I help whenever I can, but it is always understood that her name is on the story and she is in charge.
For the illustrations, we reverse roles. She is my first art director, but I am in charge. Audrey has always had a tremendous influence on the pagination, characters, and the look and feel of my illustrations.
Writing and painting can be very lonely professions. To have someone close by whose opinion you trust is an absolute blessing. To have one person or the other in charge keeps peace in the family.
Q: On your Web pages in Audrey’s site, www.audreywood.com, you note that you hand painted the illustrations for Bright And Early Thursday Evening on a computer. Tell us about your digital illustration process for that book.
A: Most of my work for Harcourt was painted with traditional media. With Bright And Early Thursday Evening, however, I did something brand-new. In fact, I made a little history in a small way. That book was the first digitally illustrated picture book that was pixel oriented. By that I mean that the book was illustrated with new, powerful software that allowed me to manipulate minute, individual pixels of color. All digital picture books prior to that time were illustrated using shape driven software, or software that allowed you to make graphic shapes and arrange them.
The manipulation of individual dots of color closely approximates painting, with some advantages and some disadvantages. I draw on a Wacom tablet, which is a large, flat surface, and I use a stylus which is shaped like a pen. Wherever I draw a line on the Wacom, a line appears on the screen. If I press hard, the line is thick. If I skim the tool, the line skips and feathers, just like a piece of fine chalk.
The reason I called the artwork hand painted is that I draw it line by line, beginning with a monochrome sketch and gradually glazing in colors, just as I paint with oils. If you are interested in more information on this technique, there are some samples on our Web site which describe the process used for Jubal’s Wish:
“Hand-painted on a Computer”
“Don Wood Art Show”
Q: How do you select the style and the media for the books you illustrate? Bright and Early Thursday Evening, for instance, showcases realistic tones and themes, while The Napping House emphasizes magic, fantastical imagery. What influences your creative choices?
A: Nearly every book I’ve illustrated features a different style. This can be a disadvantage because I have to reinvent myself with each book, but each book seems to demand its own voice from Audrey and its own illustration style from me.
The how of deciding which style to use remains an absolute mystery to me. It must be an unconscious process or more likely, a series of linked unconscious or intuitive processes. Occasionally these processes work in splendid harmony, and the vision for the book slaps me right in the face after the first reading. More often the various processes go to war with one other, battling fiercely for supremacy. After twenty-five years of illustrating, I don’t know whether harmony or warfare yields the best illustrations. Like nearly everything else in art, the end result is often unpredictable.
Q: Have you taught your artistic techniques to other children’s book illustrators or to children?
A: I have never taught art to adults.
When we visit schools, libraries, or bookstores, I give illustrated talks to the children. These talks are basically art lessons based on our latest book. I enjoy it very much, and often we receive mail from children containing art inspired by those lessons.” Much of the artwork is very good, and it shows how quickly young artists learn. I have dozens of drawings that I have saved, and they are some of my most valued keepsakes.