season 1, episode 4: SPECIAL GUEST – julie danielson

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Conversation started 9 June 2014, 3:25 p.m.

PHIL: Well, hello there Jules. Here we go!

It occurs to me as I’m sitting here wondering how to kick off this conversation that due to the work you due at your blog you’re probably in constant conversation with bookmakers. I suspect this is going to be weird for you though because typically you’re acting as host, not guest. There are a lot of things I want to talk about blogwise and bookwise, but before all that I’d really like to know the Julie Danielson origin story. A lot of artists have similar stories about how and when picture books took over their lives. But I’ve never asked a non-bookmaker—why picture books? And how?

JULES: Hi there.

Yes, it’s true that I’m usually not the interviewee, but I hope to string some words together here in a semi-coherent manner.

The answer to the why is simply because I think the picture book is, hands down, the most intriguing art form there is, as well as the most unique type of dramatic art. (Did you ever read Uri Shulevitz’s Writing With Pictures? He describes picture books as, like film or theatre, a form of dramatic art, since the story is told through visible action.) The way in which an illustrator can interpret and extend a text, especially when you have what Sendak called that “seamlessness” of words and art, is a fascinating thing to witness. I think it was David Wiesner (though I can’t remember where) who once said that the illustrator has such power, if you think about it – they get to tell their own story, give their own interpretation. I already said “intriguing” and “fascinating,” but well … it is, this concert between words and art that happens.

I also love art somethin’ fierce. Today, my daughters had a friend over to play. It was her first time in our house. She said, “why do you have so many pictures up? We have, like, two things on our wall, and they’re photographs.” I told my husband this later, who said, “did you tell her, I don’t have a problem and I CAN QUIT WHENEVER I WANT?” I really do think I’d wither up without the visual arts.

But also (and lastly), I love how the picture book is, as Martha Parravano once put it so well, on the side of the child. In A Family of Readers (an invaluable resource), she writes that a good picture book anyway (many picture books, sadly, don’t do this) is intended to be an experience for the child and needs to be “on the side of the child.” (I said that twice, but I love how she puts it.) It’s hard being a child. Not many things are on their side in this world. And, as I’ve said at my site before (and many other people have said this), a picture book is a portable art gallery for a child, which may very well be its best attribute. Have you ever seen this manifesto of sorts? It’s staggeringly hippie. You’ve been warned.

artischeap

Now, this is arguable in several directions. I do think art is “business” in that, for crying out loud, artists must get paid for their work. (The “cheap” makes me cringe, too, but this is a discussion for another day, I suppose.) However, this it-is-not-a-privilege-of-the-rich bit (which is this manifesto’s overriding point)? Yes. Who’d argue with that? And with good picture books children are exposed to a wide variety of mediums and styles, all within the pages of a book, which underprivileged children (not frequenting museums) can even get for free from their local library. It’s right there, like the green trees and the white clouds. And that’s excellent.

I do sometimes see confused looks on the faces of some parents I meet when my blog comes up — those who haven’t seen it, that is. You know that parent reading Dora books or Disney fairy tales to their child and those are the only books they see? When I tell them I write about children’s books, I catch a look that says, why would anyone write about those? But now I’m getting depressed about those children seeing only those books (and not the Dillons and not Marc Simont and not Julie Paschkis and not Christian Robinson … and … and …), so let’s move on.

Oh, and the how: I was busy making my living as a sign language interpreter back when I was single and rooming with my best friend, who was a librarian and would bring home gorgeous picture books and leave them on our kitchen table and I fell in love with them and that was simply that. There was no going back. I used to blog about books for all ages at 7-Imp but would get inordinately excited about picture book posts (and especially interviews where I had the excuse to share lots of art — all interviews are, in fact, just excuses for me to share as much art as possible), and then finally admitted my addiction and just made it All Picture Books All the Time.

What was the why and how for you and Erin? (Oops. I’m starting to ask questions now. Old habits are hard to break.)

ERIN: You can ask questions! This really isn’t supposed to be an interview, it’s supposed to just be a regular ol’ email exchange.

I have nothing smart to say in response to your good answer other than “good answer.”

As far as the why and how goes, I can only speak for me. The truth is, I don’t know. I can tell you what I know now, the reasons I have come to over time, when I am faced with a “how did I get here” moment. But they are grown-up logic for what is probably more like an instinct. Sometimes you just like the things you like. I like science, horses, snow (though my love this year was tested), animals, and picture books.

That being said, here is what I know now. You’re right about picture books being a portable art gallery, and that really appeals to me. There was a time when I struggled with why I was making art at all. Now, I choose to try to do it as a career. I think if I hadn’t, I would have never struggled with the why. People have come up to me before in a signing line or asked a question at an event and sort of apologetically mentioned that they paint or draw or whatever on the weekends. I am consistently confused by their meek tone. I get it, I get it, trying to be a professional artist does take a hefty amount of guts and, actually, quite a bit of sacrifice, sometimes. But, so does a pastime. You have to guard your time so you can spend it making a little bit of joy for yourself (and sometimes your friends—I’m looking at you knitters, bakers, etc.). C’mon! We should all do that. I think we’d be a lot happier and forgiving group if we all just took some time to noodle around a little bit with something.

So, I was living in the opposite of that. I have the capacity to be quite driven, and I was looking down the road in a career in the fine arts and felt very uncomfortable. It’s not that I do not think it is valid, and important, and should be protected. But for me, the goal of getting my drawings into a gallery seemed dishonest. I wasn’t much interested in it. It felt selfish. So much time spent with myself, making pictures reflecting my own emotions with the purpose of telling and not sharing. It just wasn’t right. Combine that with a profound sense of inadequacy (because people are complicated), and I was stuck. All the while, all the books on myself were picture books and I was working in a children’s bookstore.

It took me a while, and some pretty aggressive nudges, but now I get to make pictures where the audience doesn’t care about the person who made them at all (at least before the age of 5). They just know if they like the pictures or not. And they get to take them home for keeps or to borrow (for free!). And then the book is theirs, even if it’s just for a week. Books are good for people.

Phil? How’d you get wrapped up in this mess? I mean, I know, since I was there. But perhaps you’d like to share with the class?

PHIL: I can actually point to an exact moment when picture books became a single-minded obsession. I was in a high school art class and my my teacher, Mr. Mike Foye, handed me a pamphlet that detailed Sendak’s process from the making of Wild Things. It showed everything from dummy to final book. I can’t say why, but something about the bookmaking process just made sense to me. It was a moment of complete clarity and I’ve never once considered another career since.

Going through art school I became disenchanted with the whole idea of gallery art which only grew my desire to make picture books. I love that for $17 a person can purchase an entire year’s worth of art from me and enjoy it any time they like.

Working on kid’s books can be strange sometimes though because of the disconnect between the seriousness of many of the makers and the general lack of respect out there for bookmaking as an art form. Other than maybe stand-up comedy I don’t think there’s an art form less understood and more condescended to than children’s bookmaking. One of my favorite things to listen to in the studio is the podcast WTF with Marc Maron. Maron, a stand-up comedian, interviews other comedians and talks about the craft. I’m always surprised at how many elements of joke writing and delivery relate to bookmaking for kids. It’s cathartic too to hear of the small (and sometimes large) indignities inherent in the work. There’s a lot to relate to. But I digress.

Thoughts anyone?

ERIN: My only thought is as follows, and it’s in regards to the lack of respect out there for our chosen profession. I’m pretty convinced it’s 65% our fault as bookmakers. We want this thing to look and feel easy. Not easy in concept or story. I guess the more appropriate word is natural. We just don’t want you to read it and get jarred by something (the wrong word or decision) and therefore exit the story. Anyhow, because we take that part so seriously, we end up not being taken seriously.

JULES: Erin, I do think it’s refreshing that children under a certain age don’t care who made the book. They care about the story itself. I’m reminded of this every time I take my daughters to, say, a book festival and they get to meet authors and illustrators. They don’t get squealy, like a lot of grown-ups do. I used to do this, in fact, in my early days of blogging. It’s embarrassing. Let’s not discuss it.

Phil, I also enjoy Marc Maron’s podcast. Anyone who assumes it’s just about comedy would be surprised to know that … well, so many of those interviews are just about life in general, and it’s really thought-provoking stuff.

There’s a little bit of a discussion in an upcoming book I wrote with Peter Sieruta and Betsy Bird (not being released till August) about how children’s lit is condescended to. It’s a really unfortunate thing. At some point you have to just keep on keepin’ on and disregard it and continue doing good work, but I find it baffling that it happens. As we wrote in the book, I think that every profession that deals with children in this country is condescended to—teachers, children’s librarians, daycare workers, certainly authors and illustrators—as if you deserve a pat on the back for doing what you do.

New topic, but I’d like to say that one of my favorite things about you two is how you’re consistently talking about other people’s works and new books you’ve found that you love. Here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately: I feel like the longer I write about picture books, the harder it is sometimes to articulate what it is I want to see in one. I don’t know if that’s just me; I tend to do everything in life backwards. (It probably should also be noted that I struggle with insecurities sometimes and am not fond of being asked to make grand declarations about picture books. And trends. TRENDS. Shudder. I enjoy reading about them, but I’d be the worst person to consult on that.) I guess it’s because I see so many picture books on a weekly basis. I recently saw a new one whose story I found so refreshing—Mac Barnett’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by Jon Klassen—and I had to think a while about WHY I found it to be like a breath of fresh air.

One thing I’ve always loved so, so much is this (speaking of Mac Barnett): I chatted with him after Extra Yarn was awarded the Boston-Globe Horn Book Award (2012), and he said this when I asked him how it feels to always have his writing described as “quirky”:

Last month on the radio, I heard a winemaker talking about how his business had changed, starting in the 1980s. Before that, apparently, vintners took pride in the idiosyncrasies of their individual processes and the quirks of their regions. You could take a sip and know that the grapes were grown in this particular terroir, say, and there was such wide and pronounced variety that you could tell the differences between two wines grown 30 miles from each other.

But then that changed. Winemakers started aiming for received notions of the perfect Bordeaux or ideal Cabernet, and things started tasting the same. And this man on the radio was sad, because something had been lost.

Now, during the Reagan years, I was too young to even taste the holy swill in the Communion cup, but I see a similar trend in picture books—and on roughly the same timeline. The same plots get trotted out. Great ideas are shaved and sanded down until they look a lot like a lot of other things on the bookshelf. I like strange stories, shaggy stories, stories with knobby bits and gristle and surprises. And so I’m glad that people think my stories are quirky. All my favorite books have quirks. Although I think it is almost always more interesting to examine why something is quirky than to simply say that it is.

I think I literally cheered when I read that, spirit fingers and all. I also heard, just a few weeks back, the tail end of a Marketplace story on NPR where the host was talking to an author named Adam Rogers, who wrote a book called Proof: The Science of Booze. The host asked Rogers if it’s possible for him now, after many years of what was essentially researching beer, to just walk into a bar and enjoy a drink. He said he enjoys a bar that reflects some idiosyncrasies of its owner, and he enjoys being able to say to the bartender, give me something weird.

And that made me think of picture books too. Maybe it’s ’cause I see so many of them.

And wow. I sound like a lush.

I guess my question is: You all see a lot of new books too, yes? At your wonderful local bookstore? Do you feel like it’s relatively easy to just NAIL what it is you love about a picture book and am I full-on incompetent for having to think so hard about it sometimes? I do think it’s okay in life to let the ineffability or mystery of something just … I dunno … be for while. (Clearly, this is why I don’t ever describe 7-Imp as a “review blog.”)

JULES: p.s. Should I not say publicly that I sometimes struggle with insecurities when it comes to writing?

NO, NO, I AM CONFIDENT AT ALL TIMES.

Uh, that’s the ticket.

I’m not, you know, in the fetal position daily, but it’s often a challenging thing to word something just right.

But I think I’m way off the point, so carry on.

ERIN: Quickly, because I have to run, and maybe I will explain later, but I have a feeling Phil will do a better job of it anyway—if I ever really know what I consistently love about a picture book or books, I should probably bow out. I think if you know, you probably actually don’t. You know a formula. Some things you might always be drawn to. But people and emotions tend to be more complicated than that.

I feel the same way when people describe in romantic comedies why they love someone. “They’re honest and kind.” Bullshit. Well, I mean, maybe they are. But is that really why you love them? Can you really always understand why you’re so drawn to a particular person? Why they actually make you laugh? Or why you can spend so much time with them? It might be because they are kind, but it’s probably also much more nuanced than that.

JULES: Nuanced, yes.

PHIL: In general I try not to analyze too much why I love one particular book vs. another. I think it’s possible to unintentionally diminish art with over analysis. In art school you take a lot of art history courses. I was consistently vexed by the art history professors who would confuse intent with result. Non-artmakers (and many art history profs are non-makers) will sometimes look at a piece of art and try to follow the thread backwards to reveal the artist’s original intent. But good art doesn’t start with meaning and move in a straight line to end product. The meaning is all wrapped up in the act of making, and is often out of the control of the artist entirely. If a work of art is successful it shouldn’t be able to be fully explained. If it could, then why make the art at all? Explanatory plaques at art museums drive me nuts for this reason. Why bother hanging Guernica? Instead you could just hang a plaque that says: The Spanish Civil War was bad. Nuff said.

PicassoGuernica

Of course on a different day you can find me decrying the lack of critical analysis in children’s literature. So I guess I’m setting myself up for perpetual disappointment here. Don’t talk about art! Wait! Do! I suppose I wish that conversations about art dealt more with the mystery of art and less with the explanation of art.

There is one thing though that I do look for in books, and in all art, really. I look for a moment of vulnerability. Vulnerability in the story (all art is story), and vulnerability in the art maker as well. When art is too tightly controlled it is cynical and dead. I love when I see a moment in a book that seems beyond the control of the maker—as if the author/artist just threw up their hands and said, Well, fine, if this is what’s necessary then so be it! Since you brought up Mac I’ll give an example from his work that I particularly love. I would say that in general Mac is a writer that exerts a lot of control over his work. And yet, he’s always willing in just the right moments to follow the text where it wants to go. In Extra Yarn, this moment for me occurs at the introduction of Mr. Crabtree. It behaves almost like a non sequitur and yet somehow it’s this moment that makes the whole book real. If Mr. Crabtree is real, then so is the box of yarn, and so is everything else. There are sudden and unexpected layers of meaning that exist in the inclusion of Mr. Crabtree. I’d be very surprised though if Mac was fully aware of his importance from the get-go. And that is the mysterious power of art making.

JULES: That is, indeed, a very good moment in that book. It also struck me the first time I read it as very much in line with the train of thought of children. Those non sequiturs peak their interest, as their brains tend to work this way too, it seems. (What is it about growing up that squelches our inner non sequiturs?) This is something I love about John Burningham’s books. The way Marie Elaine gets through the cat door in It’s a Secret!? She just “gets small” — and that’s that. And then the story carries on. Brilliant. The fish in the deep who sleeps on a coral pillow with an alarm clock next to him in Hushabye? Also brilliant.

I like to see vulnerability in art, too, as captured perfectly in this song by the best singer-songwriter/musician on the planet, Sam Phillips. (No, really. She is the fifth Beatle.)

“You’ve been telegraphing experimental to a different way.” Crooked lines. Squeaks. Rattles. Wobbles. Bless them. It must feel nice to be in a field that embraces—and sometimes even invites—vulnerability. Today, something reminded me that I once saw a meteorologist on TV (this was years ago when I lived in Knoxville) who started giggling uncontrollably at something. Looooong and painful (for TV anyway) silences as she tried to catch her breath from laughing. The moment jumped for joy (well, I thought it was pretty great), but at the same time, I knew the poor woman would probably lose her job. Sure enough, she wasn’t sharing five-day forecasts soon after that, and I often wonder if she ever got another job telling us when we’d need to have our umbrella handy. At least in the arts both metaphorical and literal crooked lines (to lift one of Sam’s phrases from the song) are welcome.

I was ooh’ing and aah’ing yesterday over being able to see the heavy brushstrokes in an illustration, and I was thinking about why it appeals to me to see that and why I don’t tend to favor more polished works. I also re-discovered this week Robert Andrew Parker’s picture book biography Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum, published about five or six years ago, and this illustration:

tatumblue1

This depicts the older Art Tatum when “the room fills with [his] music,” as he plays and remembers the people in his life that he loves and who’ve helped him. I’ve always been so captivated by that one illustration, though the whole book is great. (I wish a print of this illustration existed. See? I have an addiction. Just yesterday I purchased an Aaron Becker print, and my walls groan at me for the nail holes.)

The loose lines. The energy. The movement. It captures a moment, a messy, very alive, perfect moment. It’s just sublime. And I absolutely love sharing that kind of thing in my little corner of cyberspace and hope others get as much joy from it.

PHIL: Okay, now for an easy one…

Name three books that you absolutely love that most people have never seen/heard of.

Also, have you heard the new Andrew Bird record? He can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.

JULES: I have NOT heard it yet and have gotta fix that. The latest I have from him is Hands of Glory, and his cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” is wonderful. I think that’s one of the best songs on the planet.

That Andrew Bird. He contains multitudes.

Okay, my three books. I’m going to sort of cheat on two of them:

There’s a picture book from 1966 by Mark Taylor and illustrated by Graham Booth, called Henry the Explorer. Here is a photo of my beloved copy, though a quick Web search shows me it actually might be in re-print in a paperback edition?

henrytheexplorer

Henry and his dog, Laird Angus McAngus, leave home and go exploring in these giant caves and get lost. He only loses his cool once. The book probably would have trouble selling in today’s world (think: helicopter parents).

Most people don’t think of Sendak when you ask about books people haven’t heard of (which is how I’m cheating in this next one), but when they do talk about Sendak, they don’t often mention Jan Wahl’s Pleasant Fieldmouse from 1964, which Sendak illustrated. The stories are wonderful (there is a talking rose, after all), and in particular I love Sendak’s illustration of Tired Fox. Years back, two children’s librarians at the public library down the road from my house were weeding books and pulled a few old Sendak-illustrated titles, and they called to see if I wanted them. They knew me well. So, my copy of it is this first-edition copy that once belonged in a library. I love those books and the way they smell.

pleasantfieldmouse

Lastly, and I cheat on this one ’cause it’s not old, but if I can take ANY OPPORTUNITY to talk this book up, I do: In 2008 Sonya Hartnett, one of my very favorite writers, released an early chapter book for children, called Sadie and Ratz, originally published in Australia (I think?). And Candlewick released it here in the States in 2012.

SadieRatz

It is an exceptionally good set of stories for young children and probably got great reviews all-around, but I’d describe it as sort of under-the-radar. (Speaking of Hartnett, one of the best novels I’ve ever read is What the Birds See, though a pick-me-up read it is not. “Haunting” doesn’t even begin to cover it. The way that woman can turn a phrase, my GOD. Also don’t miss Thursday’s Child.)

Anyway, someone named Ann James illustrated Sadie and Ratz. They are charcoal illustrations, and they are striking and beautiful and I could eat them right up. See?

Ratz

The day this book showed up in my mailbox, I read it to my daughters and a friend of theirs who was visiting, and you could have heard a pin drop as I read. So perfect, this book.

My last question for you two: What’s the last picture book you read that made you go HUBBA HUBBA WOW? If you don’t want to answer, your alternate question is: Who is God?

ERIN: First of all, woah. Have you ever had a book that you may have forgotten about until someone mentions it and you zip right back to the feeling you had when you last saw it? Enter Pleasant Fieldmouse. Library book. I loved it. Loved it. Haven’t thought about it since I was much smaller.

I’m going to take the HUBBA HUBBA WOW question on, not the other one. I can’t imagine why.

Most recently, the book that made me jealous and sad that no one sent me that manuscript—but also that I couldn’t make the pictures as well so why do I even make pictures at all?—was A Boy and Jaguar. I really really liked that book. I thought it was written so well, and the pictures were great.

Phil? Who is god?

JULES: I liked that book, too. Alan Rabinowitz’s story is powerful stuff. Also, my father stutters, and I thought the way Rabinowitz wrote about stuttering in the book was handled so well, especially the part where he says that it was the adults in his life who had a problem with it, not so much children bullying him. I interviewed Rabinowitz about this book, but I didn’t tell him my father stuttered, lest he thought that was the only reason I was interested in the book. I just thought it was a well-done book all-around and wanted to hear even more about his story.

boyandajaguarcover

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PHIL: Alright, I’ll answer the tough one—Who is god?

The aforementioned Andrew Bird is god. I am blown away by everything he makes. For my money, Orpheo Looks Back is one of the most perfect songs any musician could hope to construct. Here’s a live version, which is nice, but specifically it’s the studio version off Break It Yourself that I’m talking about. He is a craftsperson above all else and so the studio really brings out his strengths. This is not true of all musicians.

I think I admire Andrew Bird because he accomplishes with his music what I (we) hope to accomplish with our art. The work seems modern and fresh, but at the same time feels familiar and old. A lot of his songs are actually quite funny, but the laughs always sit very closely to an amorphous, but not overwhelming, kind of sadness. Combined, these two things make an emotion that’s hard to pinpoint and can only be expressed through art.

Next, I would love to score a copy of Henry the Explorer. That cover stamp is all I need to know that I’d love that book.

Your mention of Sadie and Ratz really points to one of the reasons that we find your blog so important. It’s a place to find things that would otherwise go unnoticed in an increasingly noisy landscape. Even as the internet continues to expand it seems like fewer and fewer books receive real attention. The web sometimes can be more of an echo chamber than a generator of new content. If a book is not perceived as being in the running for a major award then that book can fall out of the conversation completely. As a bookmaker this can be very depressing. What we love about Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is that it gives every book equal footing. You may have Chris Rashka one day, and an art student the next. When we meet with students interested in bookmaking we always ask them if they’re following 7-imp every day. There was no resource like it when we were in school. And there’s no other resource like it out there now either.

Now that you’re so many years in, how do you see the blog? Is it different by design? Or is its differentness just an accident of your own personality (which is how I would describe a lot of what I make)?

JULES: Do you include time stamps in these transcripts? It is after 1 a.m. as I type. I am a hopeless night owl. It’s probably not healthy, but this is how I roll.

Thanks for the kind comments about 7-Imp. It’s definitely gone through changes over the years. Once upon a time, I blogged about books for all ages, though primarily children’s and YA lit. I got to the point, though, where my reading habits became dictated by review copies, which was my own fault, not anyone else’s. I also realized I was turning every novel I read into a book report of sorts, turning around to “review” it. That got old. I lost the enjoyment of reading for pleasure. And remember: Everything I do at 7-Imp (and this is true for most, but not all, bloggers) is a labor of love. (Sometimes I question my own sanity: Some people knit in their spare time. Some people garden. I do lengthy interviews with picture-book makers.) All that’s to say: I told myself I should change things, if I wasn’t truly enjoying every second. Some people put up with stuff they don’t want to put up with for job-jobs, but this is a hobby. (In the past few years, I’ve been asked to write about picture books for people who do compensate, but everything that shows up at 7-Imp, unless I’m pointing to something I’ve written at another place, is still just me being a hopeless picture book fan who does this for fun.)

And I realized that what made me truly the happiest was doing picture book posts, especially where I could share lots of art. (I feel like the less I say, the better. Let the art speak for itself. If I could just post art and saunter away quietly, I would, but well now, I’d be really lazy if I didn’t put some thought into expressing why I like something.) I love every second of it, and it is never ever tedious to me. And so I was able to go back to reading novels for pleasure and leave the writing-about-them to the countless other bloggers who do that and do it well. This is also how I feel about awards predictions at my site. I just leave them to others. I think I tried Caldecott predictions maybe twice at 7-Imp many years ago, but I stopped. Lots of people do them, and I read them and they make me think, so I’ll read theirs. The great thing about children’s lit blogs today is there’s a little something for everyone.

I love featuring illustration students, which you mentioned. I also make a conscious effort to feature so-called midlist authors and illustrators. I remember interviewing someone a couple years back who didn’t have a response for the what-are-you-working-on-next question. Didn’t have a book deal in the works at all. And he was in that weird, in-between stage of publishing that has just gotta be hard. Not a shiny, sparkly, new illustrator on the horizon. Not a “bestselling” author-illustrator. Right in the middle of his career, still trying to keep going. And I love his illustration style and the books he’s done.

One thing that’s weird about blogging today is that people tend to leave less comments at your site (well, I should just speak for myself here), but instead they leave comments at the social media sites where I post about the post. (That’s so meta. My head hurts now.) This is just how it is now. I always worry that I go on too much at social media sites with 7-Imp this and 7-Imp that, but I feel like it’s a necessity now to share posts at these places. (Maybe I should try a year where I just don’t.) But then again, I just last week added those “share” buttons to my site, and I also wouldn’t know how to count my reader stats if you put a gun to my head.

I feel like I need to check in with myself DAILY to make sure my site is still relevant, especially in this social media age. That’s not me fishing for compliments for my site, I swear. It’s a real, true worry I have, and I wonder if other bloggers wonder about this. I enjoy posting art so much that if the site became irrelevant, I don’t know if I’d even know? Like when Drawn! closed shop? (Scroll down a bit at that link and read what he wrote, especially under “2013.”) Whew. THAT. I gotta try to stay on top of that stuff. I consider myself pretty self-aware, but it’s just hard to know as the online world keeps growing and changing.

I’m really impressed you took on the who-is-god question. And I like music-filled chats. And I gotta see Bird live one day.

PHIL: Believe me when I say that “relevancy” is something that’s always on the minds of artists as well. Self worth is attached too much to numbers in this business (and all businesses, really). But art is a one-on-one experience. And so is your site. I guarantee that some student out there will have an experience at 7-imp similar to my experience back in high school seeing Sendak’s process all laid out and described in his own words. It could be on a day when only 10 people visit the site, but one of those people will have the course of their life changed. I GUARANTEE that this will happen. If it hasn’t already.

Andrew Bird is coming to Ann Arbor on July 2nd. If you buy tickets for us then you can stay in our studio for the week!

Alright, before we go, how about you share one book, piece of art, or any other special thing from this year that you’re really excited about?…

JULES: Oh, thanks. That means a lot, and I hope the site can do that for some people. I know that some students I’ve featured have gone on to get agents and even book deals, and that makes me so happy.

As for your question, I’ll cheat again with a quick, three-part answer:

Author-illustrator Sergio Ruzzier has a new book coming out in the Fall, called A Letter for Leo. It’s dear. (DID I JUST SAY “DEAR”? But it is dear, even if I sound like I’m in my 90s now and about to offer you a cup of hot tea.) And the last page made me and my girls laugh so hard when we read it. I mean, it’s sweet but also very funny, too.

aletterforleocover

I’m so glad he chose illustration for a career and not, say, dentistry.

My daughters and I are currently reading aloud Jonathan Auxier’s novel The Night Gardener, and just this morning we read this passage. It’s a young boy responding to a grown-up, who has told him she has something to tell him that might be too frightening. He says: “I ain’t afraid. Well, I am afraid … but I’m not afraid of being afraid. If that makes sense. True is still true, even if it’s bad. That means I want to hear it.” I love this. Children are way more courageous and resilient than I think a lot of adults sometimes give them credit for, and that tiny passage sums it up well.

And the year’s best song (to come full circle with Sam):

Here’s to the beauty of chaos—in life and in art.

If you each tell me one special thing you’re excited about from this year, will this conversation be too long? I’d love to know.

Also: Thanks for having me!

PHIL & ERIN: Well, would it surprise you if we chose A Letter for Leo as well? Sergio emailed us a copy of the book and we LOVE it. We could write on and on about it, but I think we’ll wait and talk about it with Sergio instead when we get to his episode. We’d hate to scoop our guests!

So, A Letter of Leo. And, also, the new Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) book will be out Tuesday. So there’ll be some lost hours this week.

Thanks Jules!

Conversation ended 15 June 11:28 p.m.

Thanks for reading. In honor of Julie’s preoccupation with breakfast, we leave you today with 17 seconds of breakfast at Starry Skies Equine Rescue and Sanctuary right here in Ann Arbor, MI. Turn up your speakers to hear the horses munching—one of Erin’s favorite sounds. Until next time…

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