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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/Simona Ceccarelli and New Picture Book Momo

First, the winner of Maria Gianferrari and Maris Wicks' wonderful picture book You and the Bowerbird is:

Cindy Greene

Congratulations Cindy!


Now, I have the pleasure to talk with one of my favorite illustrators - Simona Ceccarrelli - about a very special picture book which she helped create.


Simona Ceccarelli is an amazing children’s book illustrator.

She grew up in Italy, with a passion for both art and science, a large library – which has been expanding out of control ever since – and the urge to open all doors and follow every path. She studied science and worked as a medical research scientist for more than 10 years.


Art eventually lured her back to follow “the road not taken.” She studied illustration and visual development at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University and found her happy place in children’s illustration. When she’s not drawing, she’s laughing with her kids, planting flowers, riding horses and reading books (not all at the same time). Simona currently lives with her family in Switzerland.

Simona's illustrated countless midgrade series and covers for a score of publishers in the US, Germany, and Canada, including the three best-selling series Willow by Sabine Bohlmann, School of Talents by Silke Schellhammer and Die Geburtagsbande/The Birthday Gang by Claudia Schaumann. Among her previous picture books are Fantasie lässt dich fliegen/Imagination Lets You Fly by Sabine Bohlmann (2022) The Little Spacecraft that Could: New Horizons’ Amazing Journey to Pluto and Arrokoth by Joyce Lapin (2021), My Room Is a Zoo! by Jerry Ruff (2021), Beasties Love Booties by Susan Rich Brooke (2020), This Book is Upside Down by Erin Rose Wage (2020), and If You Had Your Birthday Party on the Moon by Joyce Lapin (2019).


For more information about Simona, see our earlier interviews (here), (here), and (here).


Her newest picture book, an adaptation of Momo by Michael Ende, released on July 28th , though so far only in Germany.


Welcome back Simona! Can you describe where you work and your process of illustration? Do you have a particular method you prefer to use?


My studio is a dedicated room in my home, overlooking the garden. This is where I gather energy, boost creativity, and restore harmony even on the most hectic days. I feel privileged to have my two favorite spaces situated so close to each other, ….and to the coffee machine!


I transitioned to a fully digital workflow many years ago. However, my foundation still lies in pencil, charcoal, pastel, and oil. I'm not a "Digital Native." When digital tools became part of my toolkit, I naturally used them just like traditional media, following the same approach and thought process.


Likewise, the illustrations for "Momo" were created digitally, but with a highly traditional approach. I started with a monochromatic "Terra di Siena" underpainting and then added transparent layers of color to achieve a glazing effect. In the final stages, I crafted surfaces that resembled opaque pastels, allowing me to achieve the desired depth and texture for these illustrations.


Over the years, I've honed various digital tools and techniques to replicate the tactile feel of traditional media. This project was no exception; Here, I held these methods to the highest standards.


Your illustrations are always stunning. Thank you for sharing a bit about your process. Besides the ability to work on a story by Michael Ende (a favorite author of yours), what captured your attention or imagination and drew you to the Momo manuscript and wanting to illustrate it?

The original full-length Momo was initially published in 1973, making this year the 50th anniversary of its publication. It stands as a timeless classic that has sold millions of copies, been translated into numerous languages, and adapted into movies, animations, and stage productions on multiple occasions. The idea to create a picture book adaptation for the jubilee was a stroke of genius from the publisher, and the opportunity to illustrate it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. It's not simply a matter of "wanting to illustrate it"; rather, it's about earning the honor of being asked.


In an article by philosopher David Loy and literature professor Linda Goodhew, Momo is referred to as "one of the most remarkable novels of the late twentieth century."


For me, it was truly remarkable indeed: it belongs to a very select group of childhood books that have shaped my character, my understanding of the world, and my approach to life.


I had to jump through hoops to secure the assignment and then fit such a demanding project into my busy schedule. However, letting this opportunity slip away was never an option; the book holds too much significance for both me and the world.


WOW! I can feel how important it is to you. I am so glad you were chosen to illustrate this book! What was the hardest part of illustrating Momo? And what was the most fun?


The most challenging aspect involved navigating the stakeholder landscape. This involved not only working with the editors but also considering the considerable influence that the Ende family and their agents understandably exert over how Ende's work is interpreted and published. Striking a balance between staying true to my vision for the book and meeting the expectations of all parties involved demanded creativity, finesse, and maximizing my skillset and time. Certain pages went through as many as four redraws before we collectively deemed them "right." Some pages remained uncertain until the very end.


Interestingly, this also turned out to be the most enjoyable part. It was a thrilling journey, and I accumulated a wealth of knowledge while thoroughly enjoying every moment of it!


What a remarkable experience! And what a joy it must be to seen them side-by-side on a shelf! How long did it take to develop the unique and fun multiple panels on many of the spreads?

Text © Michael Ende, 2023. Image © Simona Ceccarelli, 2023.


The decision to use multiple panels originated from an initial conversation with the editor. I believed that showcasing seemingly insignificant details and various facets of the same scene or situation would effectively convey the depth and emotion required by the book.


This technique is frequently employed in graphic novels to convey mood through images alone. It grants the reader the opportunity to engage with the story from diverse perspectives, enabling them to discern the significance of details and unravel the complexities of the narrative.


Considering the text had to be significantly condensed to fit the picture book format (which, in any case, only covers the first part of the book), utilizing this approach was a means to reintroduce some of the lost depth through visuals.


I think it's all amazing. I love the interplay of the intense, personal look at the character with the topsy-turvy central image. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Momo? Could you share one or more with us? Do you have a favorite spread or one you are especially proud of?


"Momo" is a book rich in layers of meaning, a hallmark of all of Ende's works. Some of these layers are immediately apparent: the critique of consumerism and stress, the significance of truly listening to others, and more. Yet, beneath the surface, lie even more intricate levels that invite each reader's personal interpretation.

Text © Michael Ende, 2023. Image © Simona Ceccarelli, 2023.


Creating a picture book adaptation of "Momo" offered me the chance to express my unique perspective on the text. For instance, the spread featuring the ladybird (which stands among my favorites) highlights a theme close to my heart: the immense enrichment we gain when we direct our attention to the countless small details that compose the world, along with the wonder found even in the tiniest of beings. "Listening to the canary" here takes on a broader meaning of closely attending to the natural world.


The passage where Beppo describes his discovery on the city wall is one of the most ambiguous in the book, and each person involved had a distinct opinion about its meaning and how to visualize it. This was an opportunity for me to convey my personal interpretation, which emphasizes the interconnectedness of past, present, and future in an unbroken flow.


My personal favorite spread, however, is the final one. There was significant resistance to revealing Momo's face at any point in the book, and I take pride in having convinced the Ende agents that we could portray Momo as a real child while retaining the sense of otherworldliness that envelops her. She stands as a constant, universal presence amid an ever-changing world, and depicting the stars moving around her was my way of conveying this idea. This approach also influenced the design of the cover image.


It is so cool that a book can touch so many people in so many different ways. That is what defines a truly remarkable book. I hope it gets translated into English. What's something you want your readers to know about Momo?


Whether you're an adult or a child, if you've never read the full-length original, you should definitely do so. Even though the picture book will initially only be available in German, the original has been translated into all languages, so there's no excuse!


All right, there's our homework. I put it on hold at my library. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


There are several exciting projects on the horizon, including established and new mid-grade series, picture books, and even graphic novels. Yet, the most exciting of all is probably my very first book as an author/illustrator, set for publication in 2025.


While the manuscript was originally written in English, it will be initially released in German – a possibility I hadn't initially considered, and which has opened up a whole new realm of opportunities for the numerous ideas I have in the drawer.


YEAH! How exciting! I can't wait to learn more about this book. Last question, what is your favorite Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

I was particularly excited about my visit to Sissinghurst Castle garden in Kent. I had read extensively about it and had seen countless photos, which served as my guiding inspiration when designing my own garden (though on a much smaller scale!). Finally, in July 2022, I had the chance to visit it in person: a wonderful experience that allowed me to move beyond just pictures and descriptions.


Next on my "must-see" list are the RHS trial grounds in Wisley, near London, which unfortunately I could not accommodate in that particular trip.


I have a strong passion for English gardens. The opportunity to design and create one larger than my current garden ranks high on my bucket list.


Oh I hope you get to do that and that I get to see it. Until then, thank you, Simona for stopping back by and sharing with us. It was delightful to chat with you.

To find out more about Simona Ceccarelli, or contact her:


Introductory Peek at Momo


While I do not have a formal review of Momo - primarily because it is written in German - I decided to offer you all as much information as I can about this stunning picture book! I truly hope it get translated to English. But if not, I'll buy a German version. And I am anxiously awaiting my copy of the original MG novel, Momo, from my library.

Momo


Author: Michael Ende


Illustrator: Simona Ceccarelli


Publisher: Thienemann-Esslinger Verlag (2023)


Ages: 6 and up


Themes:

Listening, imagination, consumerism, nature, stress, and noticing small details.


Synopsis: (English description, UK Amazon) -

"At the edge of the city, in the ruins of an old amphitheatre, there lives a little homeless girl called Momo. Momo has a special talent which she uses to help all her friends who come to visit her. Then one day the sinister men in grey arrive and silently take over the city. Only Momo has the power to resist them, and with the help of Professor Hora and his strange tortoise, Cassiopeia, she travels beyond the boundaries of time to uncover their dark secrets."


German Synopsis:

Diese Bilderbuchpremiere zum 50. Jubiläum von Momo feiert ein zentrales Motiv der weltberühmten Erzählung: das Geheimnis des Zuhörens und der Achtsamkeit.


Am Rande der großen Stadt, in den Ruinen eines Amphitheaters, lebt Momo. Niemand weiß, woher sie kommt, aber alle kennen ihre besondere Gabe: Momo kann auf eine ganz besondere Art und Weise zuhören. Sie hört den Leuten aus der Stadt zu, den Kindern, ja sogar den Tieren und dem Wind in den Bäumen. Wenn Momo ihrem Freund Gigi zuhört, fallen ihm plötzlich die unglaublichsten Geschichten ein. Und Beppo Straßenkehrer, der meistens schweigt, findet bei Momo die richtigen Worte und kann seine große Weisheit teilen: Einen Weg, der einem unendlich lang scheint, den schafft man nur Schritt für Schritt.


English Translation (using a translation program - please forgive any errors):

This storybook premiere celebrating Momo's 50th anniversary celebrates a central theme of the world-famous tale: the secret of listening and mindfulness.


On the outskirts of the big city, in the ruins of an amphitheater, lives Momo. Nobody knows where she comes from, but everyone knows her special gift: Momo can listen in a very special way. She listens to the townsfolk, the children, even the animals and the wind in the trees. When Momo listens to her friend Gigi, he suddenly comes up with the most unbelievable stories. And Beppo street sweeper, who is mostly silent, finds the right words with Momo and can share his great wisdom: A path that seems infinitely long can only be made step by step.


What I LOVED about this book:

The first image I saw was the one above with Momo gently and attentively looking at the canary, while a series of panels show a ladybug stretching its wings and flying off into the sunlight as falling leaves swirl around Momo and drift off to the side, where a cat sits and watches them dance overhead. I couldn't wait to see more.

Text © Michael Ende, 2023. Image © Simona Ceccarelli, 2023.


The illustrations are phenominal! Isn't this image of the kids, the warping of space and time, and the ancient ship - the Argo - just stunning? It's so full of life, movement, and imagination. It's interesting how not being able to read the text puts us on par with the youngest readers - scouring the illustrations for clues to the story and the action happening on a page. I just love the color (seaweed or tenacles, the boat, and the blue swirl in the sky) emerging from the grey, weathered stones of the amphitheater.

Text © Michael Ende, 2023. Image © Simona Ceccarelli, 2023.


You can just imagine the tales Gigi is spinning of the chariot in the sky, whales under a foaming sea, planets, and industry (or a castle siege). I love how the floor of the amphitheater just melts into his stories. For a look at some more tantalizing illustrations, check out the book's trailer. I really can't wait to read the original MG novel and this beautiful picture book adaptation. I hope I've enticed you to seek them both out as well.


Resources:

- go outside and find something small, something others pass by without seeing. Why did it catch your eye? Draw a picture of it or write a description about it and what it is doing.

- watch a National Geographic Time lapse short film of the night sky. How would you capture the movement of the stars in your own drawing or a collage?

- try some fun games like telephone, end of the word, or a group story.

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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