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Showing posts with label I Dreamed I Was a Bird. Show all posts
Showing posts with label I Dreamed I Was a Bird. Show all posts

2.29.2016

A Conversation With Christopher Stanley

Christopher Stanley is the author and illustrator of the beautiful self-published picture book, The Tree Watcher, which I reviewed on the site last month. The focus of the story is the beauty of trees, as seen from the point of view of a child. It was his first picture book, but not his last!

Can you describe the day you had the idea for the book?

It was mid-summer, and there were many things on my mind. From issues at work, to dealing with simply trying to keep my house clean when four children live there, I felt very distracted and was definitely not being mindful of my many blessings.

I decided that I wanted to walk down to the park, and I took Sam along so that he could have a change of scenery. As we started walking, I wasn’t really paying attention to my surroundings. When we were down the street a bit, I looked down at Sam to see how he was doing - and that's when everything changed. You should have seen his face! Here was this baby boy, all of 9 months old, teaching me about wonder, joy, and mindfulness. The way he was looking up at the trees, I could see how amazed he was.

And he was right! I stopped to look as well, and it was really quite extraordinary. We are fortunate enough to have many mature trees in our neighborhood, and I was overcome with their beauty and just their... dignity.

As we continued along, I joined Sam in being mindful of my surroundings, and many of those questions and scenarios from the book happened on this walk. It's truly amazing what we can experience just by paying attention.

You were a fan of picture books to begin with?

Indeed! They have always had such an impact on me. I remember getting The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base when I was about 10 years old, and I was just obsessed!

In seventh grade, I read MAUS for the first time – and that changed my life! Reading this graphic novel, which really is just a fancy picture book, set me on the path toward becoming a history teacher.

As picture books were such big parts of my life, I always wanted to make my own. I made simple ones as a child, but I really started wanting to make a picture book when I was 26. I had a good idea, and even wrote an outline, but never did anything with it. It really wasn't until that walk with Sam that "The Muse" spoke to me, as it were, and I decided to actually follow through with my life-long dream.

So it took almost ten years, but I'm happy to report I'm following through. What a walk that was, huh?



I'm a fan of Art Spiegelman as well, and I like that you conflate graphic novels with picture books. Do you use picture books / graphic novels in the classroom?

I did! I used Maus quite frequently. In fact, my local comic shop has an entire section devoted to educational graphic novels on many different historical topics. I fully support the use of graphic novels in the classroom - it makes learning so much fun for everyone involved! What a great way to relate any story!

How did you create the images for you book?

My artistic medium has always been photography and digital art. For this story, I decided to capture some of the actual trees that Sam and I had encountered on our walk. So over the course of a couple of months, I took pictures. Some I had Sam pose in, others not.

The image from the cover is actually a Beech tree in my front yard! One of my favorite pages, the page with the autumn leaves, is on a street by my eldest daughter's middle school. I turned down the street and knew right away I needed this picture for the book. So after I took the photos, I started manipulating them on my computer.

Some photos took little time and effort, while others I spend a lot of time getting what I wanted.

Overall, it took about four months to get them all done.

As you manipulated them, what exactly were you looking for?

I was looking for images that were both aesthetically pleasing and which captured the essence of the message.

For the page that accompanies, "Can you feel the branches whisper with the wind?" I didn't really know what I was looking for, but knew I couldn't find it. Then one day at a park I don't normally frequent, I saw this row of trees lined up at an angle with the sun shining through the outer branches and the wind lightly blowing across. I knew I had found it!

"Can you feel the branches whisper with the wind?"

From there, I attempted to have the branches appear to be "reaching out" upon the wind - I think that page turned out well for accomplishing both goals. I was going for a surreal effect - I wanted the reader to feel a touch of magic when looking at the pictures, because it was magic that I felt that day on the walk.

What do you generally do with your graphic art, if not for picture books?

I used it a lot for teaching/educational purposes, and then mostly on items that I turned into gifts for my family and friends. This was certainly my most ambitious project, and it was quite the educational experience. I really felt like I was creating something, and putting a little bit of myself into each page. A friend suggested I should start creating puzzles out of some of my pictures, so who knows, maybe I'll add that to the list someday!

And now you have another book coming out? Is it thematically connected in any way?


I do! It's looking like around the end of February/early March and it's called, I Dreamed I Was a Bird. It's from a poem I wrote, where I imagined what kind of things a child would see and do if they had a dream where they turned into a bird. It's not thematically connected to The Tree Watcher, apart from being able to see things from a different view than we normally do.

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