What inspired you to write Dream?
I collect picture books, optical illusions, and quotations. There's a great quotation from Mozart that helps describe how Dream came to be: "First bits and crumbs of the piece come and gradually join together in my mind; then, the soul getting warmed to the work, the thing grows more and more, and I spread it out broader and clearer, and at last it gets almost finished in my head."
Dream came together from a number of "bits and crumbs." There was a talk I had with my mother one evening about how the mysteries of the stars had always fascinated her. She told me she had made wishes on stars from the time she was little, but that her wishes had changed over the years. That's why I dedicated the book to her. In the workshops I do with children and adults, we often talk about wishing on stars – about all the big and wonderful dreams children have, and about how sometimes as an adult you can lose sight of your dreams. Then I remember having a dream about my grandmother who lived to be 102 years old. In the dream, I got glimpses of parts of her life from her vantage point as a very old woman. And finally there was looking through my shelves of picture books and thinking how wonderful it would be to work with some of the illustrators I admired so much. I wondered about their dreams throughout their lives, and about bringing their creative energy to an exploration of hopes and dreams across a lifetime. All these pieces came together for Dream.
In Dream, there's the green page with the line, "Dreams grow like seeds." I'll always remember my graduate thesis supervisor telling me that ideas are like sperm (which is certainly a kind of seed!). He said there are millions of them out there and it's a long way from a sperm to a fully-grown human being. Dreams are like that, and creating Dream was like that – it was a long way from the initial ideas, the seeds, to the final book.
The book took five years from start to finish. There's the initial inspiration, and then there's the slogging away to get it done. My inspiration for the slogging part was Lord of the Rings. The trilogy of movies came out during the time I was working on Dream. In many ways, the themes of those movies are similar to the themes of Dream – hope, possibility, courage, determination. I remember marveling at director Peter Jackson's achievement. I see a picture book rather like a little movie between two covers. Working on Dream, I saw myself as the director, pulling everything together into a whole that reflected my vision for the book. And now that it's done? Sometimes your dreams are more glorious than the reality can ever be. In the case of Dream, the final book has lived up to the dream.
Fifteen acclaimed illustrators were involved in this book. How did you go about choosing these artists?
Our illustration "Dream Team" is made up of 15 of the top illustrators in the world, including winners of the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, Coretta Scott King Award, Society of Illustrators Gold Medal, and Caldecott Medal. Because this book has so many fantastic illustrators, each time you turn the page there's a delightful and different surprise.
Each stage of living and dreaming is distinct, which makes the use of several artists very appropriate for the themes of this book. At the same time, it was a design challenge to make sure all the illustrations worked together and the book was a cohesive whole. The book design is held together by elements that include type, layout, and the sand-and-stars background illustrations on each page done by Canadian digital artist Mike Carter (the series of page backgrounds is titled "From Reality to Dreams"). The story is also "bookended" – started and finished – by artwork by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, and the same illustrators were used for a couple of spreads that are related.
In terms of actually choosing the illustrators, I headed a review committee that consisted of educators, librarians, and booksellers. I had my favorite illustrators from the start, and in fact wrote Dream with several illustrators in mind for specific spreads. At the same time, though, we were combing through hundreds and hundreds of books to choose illustrators that would be just right for each spread. Going through that process itself was a treat. And we'd get really excited when we'd find a good match between an illustrator and a spread, just like when you start to fit the pieces in a big, complicated puzzle. Each illustrator was chosen based on their body of work as well as a style suitable for a given stage of living and dreaming.
I also wanted a variety of ages of illustrators who would bring different life experiences and perspectives to the book. On the one hand, we have two-time Caldecott Medal winners and masters of their craft Leo and Diane Dillon, who are both in their early seventies. They've been married and working together in their "third artist" collaboration for over 45 years. I desperately wanted them to do the green spreads toward the end of the book, which represent the pinnacle of living and dreaming. My feeling was that only someone who had a lot of life experience could bring the richness to those illustrations that I wanted. The day they said "yes" was one of the best days of the last five years!
On the other hand, we have rising stars like Shaun Tan and Bruce Wood, who are both in their early thirties. Shaun Tan's work is smart and sophisticated, ideal for the young adult spread in the book, where everything seems so straightforward – except it isn't! Bruce Wood is the son of children's author Audrey Wood and illustrator Don Wood. He's a fifth-generation artist. His digital art was ideal for the technology/inventions spread in Dream. I wanted something that was "cool" and reflected the energy of a fresh approach.
The idea behind each two-page spread in Dream is to feel each distinct stage of life. For example, the sensory world of a toddler is perfectly illustrated by a playful three-dimensional plasticine piece done by Canada's Barbara Reid. Famous faces from throughout history – people like da Vinci, Einstein, Gandhi, Earhart – are brought together in a character-rich library scene painted by James Bennett (widely known for his caricatures in magazines like Time and Mad, and recent children's books with Jerry Seinfeld and Carl Reiner). An interesting note about that illustration is when you look in the top, right corner you'll see African-American Harold Allen, a 75-year-old youth mentor with Experience Corps in Philadelphia, PA. I chose to include him to represent the ordinary person who can make a difference. I had heard about the great work he's doing with disadvantaged children and teens, and phoned to invite him to be in the illustration. He was thrilled! Another highlight of the last five years.
Getting the illustrators was a huge challenge because these are all top people with very busy schedules. Everyone was very interested in the project the minute they heard about it. But all the illustrators wanted to see the text before they committed. It was so great to get so many positive and enthusiastic comments about the story from these illustrators that I admired so much. It meant a lot to me.
I imagine working with fifteen different illustrators on a book can be quite challenging. What was your collaborative process for this project?
I've compared working on this picture book to being a director of a movie. Working with the illustrators was more like being a conductor of an orchestra, except each musician was playing their instrument in a separate room. The editorial and design team and I worked really hard to make sure we brought everyone together to make some beautiful music.
I had a vision for Dream, but I also wanted each artist to bring their own style and perspective to their illustration. We started by sending each illustrator a complete set of artistic notes on what I saw the book as being about, the meaning of the text on their spread, and my initial ideas for the illustration. I also made it clear that I wanted them to bring their own ideas to the table. Then I waited to see what drafts would come in.
It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience to work with these 15 illustrators. The creative energy was unlike anything I've ever done before. I really believe in synergy, that ideas brought together can be far more powerful than individual ideas. I learned a great deal.
Some of the illustrations went more quickly than others. Each person had their own way of working. Some of the illustrators preferred working in isolation, while for others the calls and e-mails flew back-and-forth. In most cases, the draft we got in was something great and just required some fine tuning. In a couple of cases, I knew right away that a draft wasn't going to work with the illustrations coming before or after. We had to give it another go. The illustrators were all great in terms of putting everything they had into making their illustration special. I think we have some of each illustrator's best work represented in Dream.
In addition to children, do you see this as a crossover book for teens and adults?
You're never too young or too old to dream! In Dream, I wanted to create a multigenerational book, a book that reaches all ages on different levels. Dream is certainly a book for children. It's also an inspiring book for adults, and a gift book for all ages for milestones from a birth to a birthday to a graduation (kindergarten to high school!).
Whether you're a child or an adult, we all have hopes and dreams. Dream is about individual hopes and dreams, and the hopes we have for our world. To be human is to hope and to dream. We can't overlook that part of ourselves. As adults, we have to remember it for ourselves and encourage it in our children.
The story in Dream begins as a traveler wandering a barren desert finds the Dream Chest at the end of a rainbow. As the traveler opens the chest, a wise old star emerges to guide the traveler – and the reader – through a colorful journey of a lifetime. The first part of the book is at the level of the individual. The story then opens up to the level of humanity with a striking series of three full-page spreads. It concludes by returning to the level of the individual within the context of "something bigger." The old star encourages both the traveler and the reader to pursue their own dreams.
For children, I wanted to create a smart book filled with thought-provoking ideas and images. The world of children's picture books is filled with impossibly cute bunnies and pigs spinning plates. Those kinds of books are fun. But I think there's an important place for books like Dream too. If you want smart kids, expose them to smart books – and then talk about them! Dream can prompt many different kinds of conversations, from parents and grandparents sharing stories about their hopes and goals to children becoming aware of what their own dreams might be.
The book has four distinct layers to it: the story; the illustrations; historical quotations at the bottom of each spread; and the page backgrounds. The colorful page backgrounds and the repetition in the book engage younger children. The familiar "make a wish upon a star" imagery is also something all children can relate to, and they enjoy hunting for the star each illustrator has hidden in their illustration. Older children are able to engage with more of the meaning of the story text, asking questions and drawing on their own experiences (even a child can feel that a certain task – from cleaning their room to doing homework – is "too big, too long, too hard"). Older children are also often engaged by the quotations throughout the book. This book should be a springboard into discussion and inquiry.
Another goal of the book is to expose children to a variety of artistic styles and approaches, and encourage their visual literacy. The illustrators have used all kinds of mediums, from watercolor, pen-and-ink, colored pencil, and oil to chalk pastels, plasticine, acrylic, collage, and digital. Each artist chose to participate in the book because they believe not only in the power of dreams, but in the power of art to inspire us to achieve those dreams. The two-page endnotes about the illustrations – which include useful questions parents and teachers can use to guide children through the illustrations – prompt a deeper exploration of the book.
But the book is getting publicity in everything from family and parenting magazines to AARP magazine – which shows you its wide appeal. Teens are drawn into the book through the images and the quotations. And for adults, it offers what I call the "core essences" of what's important in living and dreaming. It distills it all down to the basics through art and words that reach both your left and right brain. This is all based on social science research that has looked at how people achieve dreams and goals throughout their life. What parent or grandparent wouldn't want to share that with a child to help them be successful in their life? And what adult doesn't want some insights into holding onto hope in a world that can sometimes overwhelm the best of us?
In some ways, this is a sophisticated book. But it's also one with a simple message and wide appeal. When I was doing a signing at BookExpo to launch the book, there was a Hispanic woman standing shyly off to the side in her cleaning uniform. She passed a note to one of the people helping with the signing. In the note the woman explained in broken English that she didn't have any money. She had been cleaning the carpets in the publisher's booth the night before and had read Dream. She said the book was beautiful and asked if she could have one for her children. I was happy to sign a book to her children. And I even gave her three of our popular flashing "I'm a DREAMer" pins – one for each of her children, and one for her. You're never too young or too old to dream.
What authors have inspired you in your own work?
In terms of children's books, there are many authors that inspire me. Who isn't inspired by the inimitable Dr. Seuss? His brilliant use of language and the topics he tackled with flair – from life challenges in Oh, the Places You'll Go! to the environment in The Lorax to war and conflict in The Butter Battle Book – make him a role model for me. I also admire the work of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The Little Prince is one of the multilayered kinds of books that I love.
I'm inspired by the way Patricia Polacco can tell a story with heart; by the way Australian writer John Marsden brings his convictions to his writings; by the way Peter Sís brings brilliant, richly-textured layer after layer to every book he does; and by the way David Wiesner can turn a story upside down and inside out.
Keeping in mind that I'm a dreamer, two of my favorite children's books are Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney and The Tin Forest by Helen Ward. I wish someone would read them to me every night before bed.
Anything else you'd like to add that might be helpful to booksellers and librarians?
I want booksellers and librarians to know that someone loved Dream.
From the time I was a baby, I've loved books. My mother tells the story that when I was a baby I wasn't like other children. Other babies had a stuffed bear or a cuddly doll in their crib. Me? I wanted only a book. My favorite book apparently was Beenie and the Dragon. My mother doesn't remember where she got the book or what it was about – which surprises me, since she says she read it night after night after night (if anyone out there knows of the book, please do get in touch with me). After she read the story, she'd pass the book to me in my crib and I would snuggle up with it. I loved that book to pieces – literally.
Today, every time I get a new book in, I look to see if someone has loved it. Has the author loved it by carefully choosing and crafting the language? Has the illustrator loved it by creating illustrations that are alive on the page and suit the text to a tee? Has the designer loved it by pulling all the pieces together into a beautiful and cohesive whole? Has the publisher loved it, by printing it to the highest standards?
I can tell you that there was an entire dedicated editorial and design team that loved Dream. That's one of the great things about working with a small press. You want silver ink – done! You can't live without a three-dimensional emboss for the star on the book cover – done! You just have to have yet another world-class illustrator – well, okay. The bottom line is that there was a commitment to get this book done right. And that's every author's dream.
Someone – in fact many people – loved Dream. And now I hope you will too, along with children and adults across the country.