The holiday season is the perfect time to connect the young reader in your life with an author who just might live next door.
When it comes to the beleaguered publishing industry, analysts point to the resurgence of independent book shops and the upward trend in the sale of books for children and young adults as two bright spots in a marketplace increasingly dominated by online retailers.
The American Booksellers Association, a trade group for independent bookstores, reported membership has grown to 1,887 members at 2,524 locations as of mid-year, up from about 1,650 indie bookstores a decade ago, while Publishers Weekly reported that sales in the children/young adult category rose 16.6 percent in the 12-month period ending July, 2019.
Taking these two trends one step further and encouraging those shopping locally for books for the children in their life this holiday season, we offer a year-end roundup of books for children and young adults by area authors. (Special thanks to Annie Farrell at Labyrinth Books in Princeton and Bobbie Fishman at The Bear and the Books in Hopewell for their assistance in curating this list.)
Both Annie and Bobbie make a compelling argument for shopping local versus trusting your book buying decision making to the algorithm of a behemoth e-tailer, particularly when it comes to selecting books for children. “I don’t rely on bestseller lists when advising a customer,” Fishman said. “We have a conversation about the child’s age and interests, and I draw on my years of experience and knowledge of thousands of titles to help us arrive at a selection that the child will treasure.”
The guide to “reading local” on the opposite page presents nearly a dozen authors of books for kids to young adults who live in our area. Their latest work is summarized and is intended only as a starting point for your search; exploration of their other work (and the work of other area authors) is encouraged.
The Illustrator’s Role
No matter how compelling the text, it’s the illustrations that initially engage children and compel them to reach out and turn the pages. The following is a (highly edited) conversation with Airlee Anderson, a successful author/illustrator for nearly two decades, on the ins and outs of illustrating a children’s book.
As an author yourself, what’s your process for deciding how you’re going to illustrate your own work?
I like the “chicken and egg” analogy; sometimes I think of a character and then start sketching it out. I used to write the whole text, as if I were two separate people, the author and the illustrator. I know that works well for some authors, for not for me. Nowadays it’s chicken and egg, back and forth, text and drawings flowing together all at once.
When illustrating another author’s work, how much interaction do you have with the author?
Most illustrators don’t have contact with the author at all. Publishers like to minimize direct contact to keep the process simple, and I think that the publisher or editor would rather that the illustrator “fly free” (of the author’s influence) for a while. The editor acts as a filter to keep the process running smoothly.
Do you have a signature style? How would you describe it?
My style is painterly but simple, bold, almost flat colors, but laid down in a ‘brushy’ way. Other people have pointed it out to me. I have trouble seeing it, kind of like being unable to see family resemblance in your own family. When you’re a young artist, you experiment with different styles, but eventually it (your signature style) naturally comes out.
What influences have you drawn on as an illustrator?
So many influences over the years! When I was growing up I tried to draw the Disney cartoons. In school we studied the classics and learned how to paint in a traditional way. After learning to paint by the rules I could then bust out and break them! Lately there are so many inspirations that it’s more scrambled than that. I’m influenced by comic artists and graphic novels, and I hope to write and illustrate my own graphic novel soon.
How long does it typically take to illustrate a children’s book?
The first draft and initial creative part is a little foggy, because I’ll leave it for a while and then come back to it, but once we nail things down with a publisher, I’d say for me typically it’s been about a year to get the sketches all polished up, finish the paintings, and get the words right.
Add Your Favorite Area Author to this List
We’re fortunate to live in an area rich with talented authors and illustrators. If you’d like to share a favorite local author of children’s books with our readers, leave their name and book title in the Comments section at the end of this article.