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-Steve Floyd, chief executive officer of August House books

"The interview is so amazing! I appreciate you picking up on all these aspects of what I've been doing. It's always great to talk with someone who understands what goes into these things."

- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!

1.18.2011

A Conversation with Sarah S. Brannen



Sarah S. Brannen
While I was working on a column for The Critical Masses entitled "We're Here! We're Queer! And We're Anthropomorphic!" I set out to find as many same-sex children's books as I could, talking animals a plus. Thus I discovered Uncle Bobby's Wedding, a wonderful picture book about talking guinea pigs, both written and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen.

I never conceived or wrote Uncle Bobby's Wedding with an opposite-sex couple in mind. I wanted to write a story about a little girl who got to be in a wedding, and I was still mulling over who would be getting married when I decided it would be a same-sex couple. I thought of aunts, first, but chose uncles for the sake of the tuxedos.

Do you feel that the same-sex relationship overshadows other aspects of the book?

Certainly, the nature of the wedding has overshadowed everything else in the book. It's probably why it got published in the first place and it's probably the reason for most of the attention the book has gotten. However, most readers and reviewers seem to get the point - that this is a wedding like any other, a family like any other. That's why they praise the book, and I'm pleased about that.

I don't feel pigeon-holed - I'm getting lots of jobs illustrating books without controversial content. I haven't yet submitted another manuscript with obvious LGBT content, but I'm working on one. I'd love it if I had another LGBT book published, and I'd love it if some of my other manuscripts were published too!

Uncle Bobby's Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen
How does the creative process differ when illustrating someone else's words rather than your own? Particularly with Mathias Franey, I was struck by how detailed and seemingly well-researched the paintings were.

Writing and illustrating a book of my own is particularly satisfying, of course. It's my own vision, my own story, my own idea. I love going back and forth between text and pictures, making them work as one. And it's nice to be free to toss part of the writing if the art renders it superfluous, or to change the text as needed. It's particularly pleasurable to create characters from nothing, to see them as I write them, and then bring them to life.

Illustrating the work of others varies tremendously. It can be thrilling when they are better writers than I am! In the case of educational writing, it's pretty basic work, although it's work I am very grateful to get. Mathias Franey, Powder Monkey, took a huge amount of research, but the ABC Book of American Homes actually took longer, since I had to research 26 different kinds of residences! Non-fiction usually involves a lot of research for the illustrator. It's interesting, but also time-consuming.

I'm currently illustrating The Pig Scramble for Islandport Press, so my research involved visiting farms and getting to know some piggies. My next project, later this year, will be to illustrate a book for Scholastic Press, written by Arthur Levine. I'm very excited about it! Meanwhile, I'm making sure to find time each day to write my own stories. I hope I have the opportunity to illustrate a book of my own soon.

Mathais Franey, Powder Monkey by Ellen W. Leroe and Sarah S. Brannen

On your website, you call yourself a straight ally. Why are LGBT rights important to you?

LGBT rights are important to me because we are all human beings! Everyone should have the right to be who they are and love who they love. I think this is the great civil rights issue of our time.

I’m fortunate to have gay relatives and very close gay friends. I’ve watched them grow up and I know their hopes and dreams. I know we are all the same.

When you're hanging out with all of your famous writer/illustrator friends, what do you talk about?

We worry about the future of children's publishing, discuss how digital books will affect illustrators, compare book challenge experiences, complain about the weather and, usually, gossip about figure skaters.

Part of the Conversations with Storytellers series.


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