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Happy New Year! This week we’re celebrating the new school year and our very own April Halprin Wayland’s book, New Year at the Pier--A Rosh Hashanah Story, which is about another kind of new year--the Jewish New Year.
April, each book is a ribboned and bowed gift—for the writer as well as for the reader. What was the surprise for you when you unwrapped this book?
The best surprise were the absolutely glorious watercolor and gouache paintings outlined in pen and ink illustrations by Stéphane Jorisch—oh my!
In each of my previous books, it’s taken me a few months to set aside the images I carried in my head as I wrote.
I tell my students that occasionally it feels as if I’ve been writing a screenplay in which I imagine the main character to be Hannah Montana. On opening night, I take my seat, balance my popcorn in my lap, and watch as the movie starts…and am stunned to discover that the main character is Big Bird!
For example, my first reaction to Robin Spowart's illustrations of To Rabbittown were, “Wait…no—that’s all wrong. The illustrations should be very realistic…almost like photographs of rabbits. How could they get it so wrong?”
After a few months of listening to people ooh and ahh over his lush pictures though, I forgot my own images and embraced Robin’s. Now I can’t imagine that beautiful book illustrated by anyone else.
But from the first time I saw the cover of New Year at the Pier, I was smitten. It didn’t surprise me to learn that Stéphane grew up on the water. I can feel the roll of the waves in his pictures—they’re that real.
I also love the fact that many of his Jewish characters appear to be Asian. I haven’t asked him if this was intentional, but it’s a true snapshot of many congregations today.
The best thing about his illustrations is the amount of emotion with which he imbues each character. I fell in love with him for his illustrations of Pat Brisson’s I Remember Miss Perry, the story of a beloved elementary school teacher who dies mid-year. His ability to show the full range of emotions in this book is stunning.
I didn’t know that Stéphane had received the highest award for a children’s illustrator in Canada (Governor General's Literary Award winner) four times. He also received the 2008 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award for the most distinguished French-language book of the year, which includes one of the largest cash prizes for children's literature. Heavens—my book has been illustrated by royalty!
I think of my editor and the art director as living together on a mountain overlooking two meadows separated by a rushing stream. I live in one and Stéphane lives in the other. Only the editor and art director can see the big picture.
When the book is published, we build a bridge across the stream and finally meet—hello!
I like it that way.