Friday, July 12, 2019

Student Success Story and Book Giveaway: Vincent X. Kirsch: Illustrator-Poet-Author-Puppeteer-Amazingness

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (an original poem, the link to PF, and instructions on how to enter our drawing for an autographed picture book are below)

Look! Someone's climbed our ladder and is knocking at the door of the TeachingAuthors tree house right now!

Campers, I'm proud to introduce you to a dear friend.

But first, a confession: I feel a bit sheepish posting this interview as part of our continuing series, Student Success Stories, since he tiptoed into my Picture Book class undercover, without revealing he'd written and illustrated many wonderful picture books before landing in my class. But...he was my student...and man, oh, man, is he a success! So...he qualifies, right?

Welcome, Vincent X. Kirsch and Ogbert! (I'm sorry that the utterly adorable Scout Pippins, Vincent's other pup, couldn't join us today)

Author-Illustrator Vincent X. Kirsch and Ogbert
photo courtesy of the author
Have a glass of fresh lemonade and take a load off, Vincent, then please tell us how you found your way into writing and illustrating children's books.

One of my favorite behind the scenes story is how my first book came to be. I had been pursuing work in picture books for over fifteen years without any success. I had given up at a point in my life when a lot of my friends were getting book assignments without any effort at all. Over the same fifteen years, I had been doing a monthly illustration for The New York Times Book Review. I was told in August that the art director was leaving and the new art director wanted to start with his own team of illustrators. It was rather sad because I had been doing it so long and I hated to see that door shut. For my very last illustration, I drew two young Italian brothers on a scooter going in opposite directions. The illustration was published one Sunday in October, 2006 and the following Thursday, an editor at Bloomsbury USA called to say that she loved the illustration in The Times and wondered if I was interested in doing picture books? A new door was suddenly thrown wide open! She was thinking of me as an illustrator but was delighted to discover that I was also a writer. The result was my first book NATALIE &NAUGHTILY. So, all of that work over all those years paid off somehow. 

So, based on your experience, how would you encourage someone banging her head against writer’s block...or someone who's depressed about ever getting anything published?

Things never happen when we think they will happen. The greatest reward for working in any creative area is the work itself. To sit down and create is a treasure that nothing else in life can match. 

I often say: The greatest reward in life is to put a part of yourself down on paper. Enjoy the work. Be in the present moment.  Don’t compare and don’t compete. No one has the same life story or superpower. It’s what makes you who you are. Also, don’t forget to love as much as you can, it is all really take with you when you leave this world.

For Writer’s Block: Take a break. Take a vacation. Stand on your head. Look at the world from a new perspective. Read BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. Then, go back to work and look at your own work with new eyes.

Vincent's inspiration cork board
photo courtesy of the author
The cork board in your studio is filled with images that encourage you to dream. If you could be anything in the world except an author/illustrator, what would you dream of becoming?

An urban planner. A film director. A playwright. A scenic designer. A puppeteer. Or a job that I actually had and loved, a visual merchandiser for a line of luxury food shoppes.

(Campers...the thing about Vincent is that he will probably actually DO all these things--stay tuned!)

I know the story of how you wrote your newest book ~ could you share it with our readers, please?
I was enrolled in your class at UCLA Extension. One week you asked us to rethink an existing project that we had worked on in the past. One of my favorite books titled FORSYTHIA & ME had recently gone out of print. I loved the book but thought I could do a better job if I gave it a bit more of an emotional tug at the heart.

I went back to a list I had made of remembered things from my childhood that stood out. Two that jumped out at me were: my fear of climbing trees and the memory of how heartbroken I was when my childhood friends would move away. So, I blended the two, addressing both of these feelings that had bedeviled me and somehow comforted myself in dealing with those memories. Since the class was a poetry driven class, I first wrote the book as a poem. I surprised myself at the end, since I really didn’t know how I would end it until inspiration wrote the final sentence for me.

The book came out exactly two years after my first draft in class. It is called
 HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

I love that story (of course I do!) and also way you so beautifully intertwine two different ideas, both in words and illustrations...and so do critics!  "A primer on both getting up into the leaves and coping with the loss of someone you're attached to. Kirsch elegantly makes the connection with affirmations that work both ways: 'Hang on tight with both hands'; 'take it one branch at a time'; and, inevitably, 'letting go will be the hardest part!' . . . A well-cultivated story that plants a seed about the value of friends and what they leave with us, even when they're gone" ~ Kirkus Reviews

How can teachers and parents use HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES?
I imagine it will be a very useful book to share with listeners and readers if they have lately experienced a loss of some sort, (such as when a friend/fellow student/relative moves away, dies or in no longer near). This book shows that even though someone might not be there anymore, they have left you with something of value that can be held on to. What might that be?

Yes. I can see myself giving it to an adult friend who's going through loss. You recently spoke to my class right after your beloved mother died...and choked up as you began reading it aloud. A student continued reading the book for you. It was a very touching moment.

Tell us about your mother.

I come from a rather large family of five children. I was second and am very much a second child. I was very close to my Mom. She was my greatest fan. Everything I did amazed and delighted her. I used to love to call her with good or bad news. She was always a voice of confidence. I have a terrific family by birth and another marvelous family of close friends. They now take turns being my Mom’s voice when I need to hear encouraging words.

Dapper, young Vincent X. Kirsch. photo courtesy of the author

Did your family celebrate holidays? What's your favorite?
I adore everything about Christmas. I always have. I was Santa Claus’s greatest fan. At a very early age, my parents discovered that I was very good at wrapping packages. So, one holiday season when I was still very young, they sat me down and explained that Santa was not a real person but a very good idea. There were no elves. I needed to help. Then, they put me to work wrapping presents for my siblings and relatives. I remember crying my eyes out, that first day.

Years later, when I started as the window designer at Bergdorf Goodman, the store did very little for the holidays. No special windows. No fancy interior elements. Just a few cursory holiday touches. I was aghast and offered to take on the assignment and direction of holiday decorations. It meant much more work and planning for an already busy me. But I believed in festive holidays. I started the traditions of holiday windows, ornate interior decorations and wreaths hung on all of the windows outside the store. I did it for Santa Claus, not the person, but the idea.

You are always willing do extra work, and you're endlessly curious and multi-talented, Vincent. So, where will your abundant energy and enthusiasm take you next?

I have just begun artwork on my next picture book as author and illustrator. Hopefully it will be called FROM A. TO Z. It is about two little boys who can’t find the perfect words to express how they feel about each other. It is a very upbeat celebration of love and friendship. It will be out in Fall of 2020 from Abrams.

Then, I have started work on my second early reader/search-and-find book with Holiday House to be titled CAN PUP FIND THE PUPS? It is a sequel of sorts to the first book in the series, a Junior Library Guild selection for very young readers, 
CAN YOU FIND PUP?  about a little artist and his fun-loving, dare-devil pup. 

Wow~ I can't wait to read FROM A. TO Z. It sounds like a life-changing picture book. 

And finally, do you have a poem to share for Poetry Friday? 

Years ago, I wrote a fairy tale about a little girl on an island who is given the gift of a dragon as her teacher. At the start of the story, I wrote this poem. It expresses something that I truly believe.

Each person changes the world.
Some for the better.
Some for the worse.
Someone might build a wall
to keep others out.
Someone else might build a house
for others to come home to.
Someone may step upon a flower.
Someone may plant a garden.
A cruel word might be spoken.
A poem might be written.
Someone might start a war.
Someone else might start to sing
a song that passes
from person
to person
to person.

by Vincent X. Kirsch

poem (c) 1998 Vincent X. Kirsch. All rights reserved.

illustrations and photos (c)2019 Vincent X. Kirsch. All rights reserved.

Vincent, thank you--I needed to be reminded that each person does change the world. And thank you for passing your inspiring song on to all of us. I hope you'll come back when FROM A. TO Z. comes out. (Campers! I urge you to read more about Vincent--or at least feast your eyes on oodles of his illustrations--in this 2016 interview)
And thank you for offering to sign and send a personally autographed copy of HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES to one of our lucky Readers!
(to enter the drawing, see directions below)

Campers ~ checkout Vincent's short and sweet Wednesday Writers' Workout!

And don't forget Poetry Friday
This week's roundup is hosted by Jone at DeoWriter  Thanks, Jone! 
PS: Campers ~ there's still a seat for you in the one-day class, WRITING A PICTURE BOOK AND GETTING IT PUBLISHED I'm again teaching on Saturday, July 13, 2019 with illustrator and author Barney Saltzberg, from 9:30am-4:30pm, through the UCLA Extension Writers Program
TO ENTER THE DRAWING for a chance to win an autographed copy of  HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES written and illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsh, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment* on TODAY'S blog post below or on our TeachingAuthorsFacebook page. (If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today!)

*In your comment, tell us what you'd do with the book if you win our giveaway--keep it for yourself or give it to a young reader or a teacher (...or?) ?

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET BELOW. The giveaway ends July 26th and is open to U.S. residents only.

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address

posted with affection by April Halprin Wayland, and Eli (who loves every breathing being he meets.)


Linda Mitchell said...

Wow! What a fabulous post for Poetry Friday. One of my greatest joys in life is to watch someone do what they were born to do. Vincent X. Kirsch was born to do so many different things! How special that you got to work with him in your class. I'm sort of blown away by his talent and range of interests. I'm so glad you've given US the chance to meet him here. Thank you. Any book that I won would go straight to the kids in my school. I'm a middle school librarian. So, I have over 1,000 students I can share books's what I was born to do and I love it :)

Irene Latham said...

April, I am so glad Vincent landed in your class and that you have now brought him to all of us! I adore this post... everything everything. I need this book, and will find it, even if I don't win it. If I do win it, I will savor it, then donate it to our local library where I volunteer. Thank you April and Vincent and Ogbert. :) xo

Linda B said...

It's a marvelous interview, introducing someone I do not know & am now so happy that I do, April. If I had the book, I would share it first with my granddaughters, sometimes needing a bit of courage in their lives, although they are tree climbers! Thanks for the rich post, April and thanks for the inspiration, Vincent!

Kay said...

Thank you for introducing such a fabulous writer and artist. His work is new to me, but I'm excited to learn and read more. If I win the free copy, of course I would read it. Then I would share it. The new community I'm in has multiple Little Free Libraries to share books.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Kay ~ you will enjoy Vincent's detailed and stunning art and his crazy wild imagination in all of his books. Thank you for dropping by!

April Halprin Wayland said...

You're right... It's a joy to watch people do what they're born to, and I think one of the things I've learned from Vincent is that we maybe born to do many, many things beyond our wildest dreams. I forgot to direct people to his website, which is his full name including his middle initial. It's worth I'll look!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Irene, thank you for reading this post. I think I finally figured out how to organize an interview after the interviewee has sent me back all of their answers. This one was really fun to put together.
Vincent's books and his incredibly detailed art are worth checking out.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Linda! With his diverse world of interests, there was so much more to say about Vincent, of course. You're right... He's very inspiring. He's inspired me, too to consider running off and learn new art forms.

Ruth said...

Wow! I haven't met Vincent's writing before, but I am definitely putting him on my list. Based on this interview, I love him! Thank you!

Shirin said...

Vincent and I were students in an online course at Picture Book Academy. His creativity is pure genius (plus perseverance, patience and hard work of course!!!) I cant wait to read his upcoming books. Thank you for this inspiring blog post.

Danielle H. said...

Thanks for the post today and inspiration. This sounds like mentor text for me so thank you for the chance!

Rartenian said...

Great interview between two of my favorite children's book authors! I love Vincent’s creativity, vision and desire to grow and learn. Sometimes the world can get you down (especially these days). Vincent reminds us to notice the beautiful things, and to keep our heads up and seek out the people who make the world a better place. Can’t wait for the new book! Wonderful interview, April!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

A wonderful, honest, deep interview- I'm eager to read this book, and believe I would keep it to use and loan out the many times I'm asked to recommend a book dealing gently with loss.

Sara A. Fajardo said...

What a lovey heartfelt interview. Definitely one of the best stories I've heard about how someone got their start in the industry.

Molly Hogan said...

What an inspiring interview! I'm really looking forward to reading some of Vincent Kirsch's books now. I appreciate the introduction and the sharing of these words: "To sit down and create is a treasure that nothing else in life can match." Now that's important to remember!! If I win the book, I'll share it with colleagues and within my classroom.

Michelle Kogan said...

Thanks for sharing Vincent X. Kirsch with us April, I always love hearing about multi-talented artist and their vast interests–and especially when they are new to me, which Vincent is! I'll definitely check out some of his books. If perchance I would win the book I would share it with my Children's Picture Book Class that I teach. Thanks for all April!

Carmela Martino said...

I've been out of town so just now had a chance to read this interview. I love EVERYTHING about it, but especially Vincent's encouragement regarding writer's block:
>>Things never happen when we think they will happen. The greatest reward for working in any creative area is the work itself. To sit down and create is a treasure that nothing else in life can match. <<
HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES is a treasure! So glad Vincent found the inspiration he needed in your class, April. <3

Linda said...

Having recently lost a close family member, this book would be wonderful for my grandchildren. I love the way Vincent put two ideas together to create a picture book that will bring comfort to kids and adults. Thank you for this lovely post!

Nancy P said...

Great cover. Sounds like a terrific story.

Jone said...

Thanks for this great interview. I wish I was closer to take your class.

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction said...

This sounds like a wonderful book! In answer to your question, if I won, I would read the book myself and then donate it to Bernie's Book Bank, where it would go to a child in need!

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

April Halprin Wayland said...

Ruth ~ Yes, Vincent is easy to like.

The Namesake ~ Yes, creativity seems to leak out of every pore in his body...AND, as you mention, he works hard to get his ideas polished and out into the world.

Danielle ~ It could very well be used as a mentor text. Thanks for stopping by!

Rartenian ~ I'm glad you saw this one--since you know both of us. He does remind us to to notice the beauty around us, doesn't he?

Carol Coven Grannick ~ Yes, that's exactly how I hope to use the book, too.
And thank you for your comment about the interview itself. I think I'm finally understanding how to quilt together someone's answers to my questions into a story.

Unknown ~ Yes, Vincent's development as a picture book author and illustrator is pretty wonderful. Maybe he could make THAT into a story, too.

Molly Hogan ~ I, too, loved being reminded that creating is wonderful in and of itself.

Michelle Kogan ~ I wish I could take your class! If you ever teach it in Southern Calif...

Carmela ~ Vincent was a terrific student, and now when he comes as a guest speaker to my classes, he's an equally terrific teacher.

Linda ~ I'm sorry for your family's loss. I do hope your grandchildren find comfort in this book.

Nancy Payette ~ I like the cover, too. I love Vincent's palette (which is close to the spelling of your last name!).

Jone ~ I wish you were closer, too!

Nicole ~ Bernie's Book Bank sounds like a great place to donate this book. Good luck!