Where do you get your ideas?
Usually my stories begin with a character. First, there is a sketch, a name, and a voice, then they tell me a story that is their own. Then the fun work begins.
What was the first book you remember reading?
It was a book about a tugboat in a strange city of towers which fascinated me. The book turned out to be called Little Toot by Hardie Gramatky. The city turned out to be New York City.
What was the first book you remember illustrating?
Somehow, I managed to get a copy of Winnie-the-Pooh and pencil together, out of sight of my parents, and went at it with wild abandon. It was when I was very young! 8^)
What were your favorite books as a child?
I loved the fantastical Dr. Seuss books (The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, Horton Hears a Who). Also I had a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that had the strangest scary drawings that I loved to look at and be frightened of.
How do you work on your writing?
I start with an idea, and then I doodle a rough outline in a sketchbook. The next step is sitting down at my computer and just writing. I love catching the ideas as they land in my mind and end up on the page.
Did you always write books?
Yes, it was very odd being a kid who liked to draw so much, but I also liked making up my own stories almost as much as illustrating them. But my texts were always so full of grammatical errors that I never bothered trying to correct them and just worked on the pictures. My very first serious writing effort was a very complicated story of twins set in a time long ago.
How did you get a start in children’s books?
I had made several book dummies and brought them around to every possible publisher in the whole world. They liked my books very much but did not know what to do with so many ideas. It was not until a very brilliant editor named Jill Davis noticed my illustration work in The New York Times Book Review and thought I might be good at picture books. She noticed a teeny tiny doodle of the characters, Natalie and Naughtily, in my sketchbook and suggested that we start right there. You can see the first sketch here on this page!
What is the first picture book you remember working on?
A book about a boy, an umbrella, and the crowd that he shares the umbrella with. I keep it on my shelf as a reminder of how far I have progressed.
Would you ever want to write for grown-ups?
Yes, I think that I would, but I am in such awe of anyone who could write so many words all at once.
Would you ever want to write anything other than a book?
My first loves were theater and animated films. I would enjoy working on any sort of project in either of those areas once again.
How long does it take to write and illustrate a book?
From the first meeting with my editor until the final artwork was delivered to the art director, it took almost exactly one year.