Eric Rohmann keeps amazing me. The Calecott Medal-winning illustrator (My Friend Rabbit, 2003) is no slouch as an author, either. He balances the teeter-totter of picture book creation well, finding the perfect balances of words and pictures every time. Likewise, he’s refused to be typecast. Place two of his titles side by side and compare illustrations. Watercolor? Oil painting? Hand-colored relief prints? The only thing the same is the enchantment factor.
Eric, what’s the good news about children’s literature right now?
The good news: The scope and variety of books being made. It’s a wonder that books as disparate as The Carrot Seed and Hugo Cabret have enthusiastic audiences. Some books teach, some books make us think, some books delight, some books simply make us laugh. It’s a big world. There’s enough room for books of all kinds. I am discouraged at times by movie tie-ins and books that kowtow to the most recent trends, but beyond those lazy, cynical titles are a bounty of books kids are thrilled to read again and again. Go to the library and have a look. Wasn’t it Duke Ellington who proclaimed that there were only two kinds of music: Good and bad? The books are out there, so have a look.
From your perspective, what can be done to make that “good” even better?
From the creator’s point of view, I say take risks. I realize that’s a tall order as publishers try to make a dollar, and writers and artist try to make books kids want to read. The problem is that if you try to write to a trend, by the time you have finished your book the world has moved on to the next thing. The idea of Fancy Nancy falling in love with a brooding vampire at a British boarding school for wizards might seem like a profitable idea at first, but take a breath and ask yourself what matters to you. Then write about it. The best writers and illustrators working today are making books we never knew we wanted to read. They make a book and put it into the world, and suddenly the audience wonders why such a thing hasn’t been done before.
Eric Rohmann lives and works in Illinois. He has degrees in studio art, printmaking, and fine bookmaking from Illinois State University and Arizona State University. He taught these aspects of creating art at Belvoir Terrace in Massachusetts and St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Eric’s book Time Flies was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1999. Then, in 2004, the Caldecott Committee chose his My Friend Rabbit for the highest picture book honor, the Caldecott Award. My Friend Rabbit appeared as a Saturday morning cartoon. His most recent book, Last Song, is based on a lullaby by Scotsman James Guthrie.