Recently I celebrated my blog birthday by giving away a copy of Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, written by Yona Zeldis McDonough and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes.
The children’s biography was published by Christy Ottaviano Books in 2014. The Children’s Book Council recently named it to its list of 2015 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People.
One of the things I liked about the book was its “Little House feel,” and Jennifer’s illustrations helped give it that feel.
I’m excited to ask Jennifer some questions about Little Author in the Big Woods and some of her other projects, including creating maps. Welcome, Jennifer!
Deb: How does your process differ when you’re working on historical vs. contemporary or animal illustrations? What about your process when you only do illustrations vs. when you write and illustrate?
Jennifer: When I’m illustrating someone else’s story the process is pretty much the same across different types of projects. First, I want to portray the emotion and personality of the characters, whether human or animal. I’m also thinking about how to show the story setting, the composition of the drawings, and how the shapes and colors flow across the pages of the entire book. These elements all work together to add another layer the story. I’ll usually figure out the specific details I may need afterwards, though sometimes searching for photo reference can help spark ideas.
Writing and illustrating my own story means a lot more playing back and forth between the words and the pictures. It’s a lot of messy fun, and is definitely not a linear process!
I also enjoy maps. What sparked your interest in them? How are drawing and painting maps different from creating other illustrations?
Call me a map geek, but I’ve always thought there’s something wonderful about getting lost in the details of a map, and imagining what different parts of the world are like.
The maps are much more of a design puzzle to solve. I have to work within the parameters of the page size to fit the land shapes, while also placing text and visual elements in the illustration. I started out as a designer, so I love the challenge.
You’ve mentioned that you’ve been a Little House/Laura Ingalls Wilder fan since childhood. How did your illustrating Little Author in the Big Woods come about? What kinds of research did you do? How many illustrations are in the book? What media did you use?
Though I had worked with my editor before, the project came about pretty much the way most authors and illustrators are paired together– she felt my style of drawing had the right feel for the book. It was wonderful serendipity that I also happened to be a huge Laura Ingalls Wilder fan. There is so much information about Laura on the web, so finding photo reference for the drawings was fairly easy. The illustrations were done in pencil and watercolor, and I think there are over one hundred. (I lost count!)
What’s next for you?
I’m very excited to be working on a book I’ve both written and illustrated called Charles Around the World. It’s a picture book biography about Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle, and it will have lots of maps! The book is scheduled for Fall 2016 with Abrams Books for Young Readers. Right now I’m going back and forth with the editor and art director on revisions, and hope to be starting final art soon.
Jennifer Thermes is a children’s book author, illustrator, and map illustrator. Her second book as author/illustrator, Sam Bennett’s New Shoes, was a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book. Her books as illustrator have received a Kirkus starred review, been included in a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book list, and been recognized in 3×3 Magazine’s Children’s Illustration Annual. A Horn Book Magazine review for the middle-grade novel Maggie & Oliver described Jennifer’s black & white art as “warm pencil drawings reminiscent of Lois Lenski.”
When not making art, Jennifer loves to read and work in her garden. She lives with her family and an assortment of cats, dogs, and uninvited mice in an 18th century farmhouse in Connecticut.
See more of Jennifer’s work at www.jenniferthermes.com.
Thank you, Jennifer!
Readers, what literary characters were your childhood heroes? (For me, also Laura, Nancy Drew, Jo March) What books do you love, as much for the maps as for the story? (Lord of the Rings) What questions do you have for Jennifer?