For Love of the World

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” – E.B. White

Lately I have been digging into the final dummy revisions for SQUEAK, a picture book which will be published by Philomel in 2019. It is a chain-reaction story; a Rube Goldberg alarm clock that starts with the squeak of a small mouse and ends with the biggest bison’s bellow billowing out over mountains and meadows and waking everybody else.

Along the way I get to draw chipmunks, trout, elk, eagles, bears, wolves, and big horned sheep, as well. Also the landscape and the plants where they live.

You might recognize Little Wolf whose howling in SQUEAK wakes the big horn sheep.

I am illustrating SQUEAK with my sister Kate Harvey McGee. I wrote the story and will create a black and white gouache layer, like the wolves above, for the illustrations. She will provide the color, as she did for LITTLE WOLF’S FIRST HOWLING. One of the benefits of this collaboration is we talk over possibilities. For instance, tree choice.

We were hiking on the Oregon coast and came by this lovely Sitka spruce. It had the perfect opening at the bottom for a small mouse nest – and great checkered bark. But the big cast of animals in SQUEAK requires the ecosystem of a place like Yellowstone. That sent me scampering through the internet to see if there is a similar spruce in the Rockies – Yes! The Englemann spruce. I gathered screen grabs of the pine cones and needles, branching habit, etc. of this particular tree. And photos of the inside of stumps, too, for the final spread.

e spruce

For LITTLE WOLF, Kate captured the colors of the hours from evening to night, painting moonlight. But SQUEAK takes place just before the sun comes up, the whole story happens in about 15 minutes. She is experimenting with possible palettes, auditioning various pinks and oranges to suggest the pre-dawn.

To find the images and the colors to illustrate this story we tune into the beauty and wonder of the natural world: from the thick brown shag of a bear’s coat to the silver scales of trout, from grass-choked meadows to conifers hugging the bottom of rocky cliffs.

We were raised in Sonora, CA, in the Sierra foothills, and spent many happy days hiking the Emigrant Wilderness, about an hour up Highway 108. On backpack trips into the high country, we sometimes woke in the chilly pre-dawn when a few stars still lit the sky. We lay awake long enough to note the beautiful mountains, meadows and towering trees all around. Then, like the small mouse in SQUEAK, we snuggled down with our friends and went back to sleep.

How satisfying to have a project that recalls that place and lets us speak our love for the natural world.

11 responses to “For Love of the World

  1. I’m amazed at all the care, love and work that goes into your picture books. Thank you for sharing part of your journey. You are an inspiration!

  2. Lovely, Laura! And Laura is apparently too modest to share the fact the Little Wolf’s First Howling won the Honor Award for the Margaret Wise Brown Award.

  3. What can be better than writing and illustrating while also reliving with Kate treasured times of an earlier time. I so enjoy vicariously being part of processes you and your artist/author friends share, thank you, Leigh

  4. laurakvasnosky

    Thank you for reading our blog, Leigh. We have been at it 5 years now, something I am sure that would not have happened except that we work at it together.

  5. Judy Schachner

    Beautiful words and art – looking forward to this book Laura.

    • laurakvasnosky

      Thanks, Judy! I have yet to see Sarabella in person, but sure loved watching it become itself on Facebook.

  6. Your words ring so true, our natural world is fascinating without end in the smallest corners to the dramatic big ones. Thank you for telling the tale of inspirations for your new book. Our experience with your work grows richer with your sharing. And yes, trees…what wonders they are.

  7. Good Morning and thank you for writing on the steps taken to start a story for children but adults love. Animals are so like mankind in their behaviors of caring for their own species/littler/pack/nestlings…? Our animals tend to be accepting their lives with us. A joy to read you writing. atk

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