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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Amy Hest and Renata Liwska

Amy Hest likes to walk. She walks along the streets of her Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City.

Author photo of Amy Hest.

When she isn’t walking, Amy is likely to be at her desk. Writing. Her books are always for children, and frankly she would never consider writing for anyone else! Amy’s a three-time winner of the prestigious Christopher Award. She claims to have absolutely no hidden talents, unless you count an uncanny interest in coffee ice cream and certain dogs in the Wheaten Terrier or Airedale family. She likes movies and reading, of course!

Collage of eleven covers of Amy Hest's books.

Amy’s the author of over 50 books, including, Sometimes It's Nice to Be Alone, illustrated by Philip C. Stead (2023), The Summer We Found the Baby (2020), On the Night of the Shooting Star, illustrated by Jenni Desmond (2017), Buster and the Baby, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (2017), When Charley Met Grampa, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (2013), The Reader, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (2012), Charley's First Night, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (2012), Letters to Leo, illustrated by Julia Denos (2012), Little Chick, illustrated by Anita Jeram (2009), The Dog Who Belonged to No One, illustrated by Amy Bates (2008), When Jessie Came Across the Sea (2003), and the New York Times bestseller Kiss Good Night, illustrated by Anita Jeram (2001).


Renata Liwska has been drawing for as long as she can remember. Her old schoolbooks overflowed with sketches and that has continued in her sketchbooks to this day.

Illustrator photo of Renata Liwska/

Renata starts a project by finding a quiet space in which to sketch, and then allowing the characters to do whatever their hearts desire. She follows her pencil to see where it goes and is often surprised and delighted where it leads her. Her books have been national bestsellers and are award winners including a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators NY and nominations for three Governor Generals awards for Literacy for picture book illustration in Canada.

Collage of seventeen book covers of Renata Liwska.

Renata’s the author/illustrator of The Little Book of Big What-Ifs (2019), Red Wagon (2013), Little Panda (2008), and the illustrator of Winter: A Solstice Story by Kelsey E. Gross (2023), Love Is for Roaring by Mike Kerr (2022), The Loud Book! by Deborah Underwood (2018), Crafty Llama by Mike Kerr (2018), Dormouse Dreams by Karma Wilson (2017), Places to Be by Mac Barnett (2017), Waiting for Snow by Marsha Diane Arnold (2016), Boom Snot Twitty This Way That Way by Doreen Cronin (2015), Boom Snot Twitty by Doreen Cronin (2014), Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden (2013), The Christmas Quiet Book: A Christmas Holiday Book for Kids by Deborah Underwood (2012), The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood (2010), Skylar by Mary Cuffe-Perez (2008), and A Puppy is for Loving by Mary Labatt (2007).


Their newest picture book, Bunny Should be Sleeping, releases on March 5th.

Welcome Amy and Renata,

 

Tell us a little about yourselves. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)


AMY - Hard as it is for me to believe, I’ve been writing children’s books for more than 40 years!

 

The toughest part is actually sitting down to do it, but once I’m in place, which is at a glass-topped desk in a corner of my bedroom, I’m ready to roll. I love writing picture books. I love writing chapter books for older kids. I love the challenge of writing a story that makes sense! Mostly it looks like this: I write. Delete. Write. Delete. Write. Delete. Day after day, month after month, year after year! Along the way, I have to figure out precisely what story I’m trying to tell, and how to best tell it. In the background, I have to be mindful of using beautiful, clear language. I have to care deeply about my characters so that readers care, too.  It can take a year to write a picture book, or more!  The chapter books? Let’s just say, it takes a long time! Quite a few years! 

 

RENATA - I have been illustrating picture books for nearly twenty years and I will work on my twentieth book this year I believe. I used to draw in coffee shops but lately I work at home. I have a desk in my living room and another in my bedroom to work on my illustrations. Although when I get nearer a book's due date, I find drawing in my bedroom has less distractions. It’s not very different from when I made art as a child, drawing in my room was a quiet creative sanctuary.

 

I know a manuscript is for me when images pop into my head as I am reading the story. My favorite is when I can see the characters and their antics within the words, and I have already started drawing the pictures in my imagination. That is when I know I found a book for me. When I read, Bunny Should be Sleeping, I saw the little bunny slipping out of bed and feeling satisfaction at the things he went about and did.

 

Thank you for sharing about yourselves and your processes. It is wonderful to get to know both of you. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?

 

AMY - Whenever I go on a journey by train, I take a notebook and pen with me. I like to write on trains, and I have no idea why!

 

RENATA - I think it must have been a little cafe in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I remember drawing a tree in front of the cafe with its own little mailbox, and I added a bird dressed as a mailman delivering some mail. I received a call from my agent asking if I would like to illustrate a short story by Margaret Wise Brown called the Noon Balloon. It was from a collection of unpublished poems that were discovered in a forgotten chest. It was amazing to learn that Margaret Wise Brown had lived in Greenpoint, and the coincidence was magical!

 

Writing on a train sounds so fun! And that truly is a magical moment, Renata! Amy, what was your inspiration or spark of interest for Bunny Should be Sleeping?

Book cover - Bunny peering around the corner, holding favorite book.

AMY – Long, long ago, when my son was a baby, we lived in a very tiny apartment. At bedtime, after the stories, after the kisses, after the last sips of water, he would always remind me to check on him. And I always promised I would. “But when?” he’d say. “When will you check on me?” “Soon,” I’d say. “Really, really soon. Now, close your eyes and go to sleep.” And he did. I know because I checked on him.

 

Ha! Bedtime with little ones was always interesting, and sometimes challenging. Renata, what about the Bunny Should be Sleeping manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Titile page - Cameo of Bunny reading in a soft glow.

RENATA - The warmth and comfort of going to sleep at the end of the day is one of my favorite things. Seeing Bunny getting out of the bed early and going about its day, it made me smile. I loved each of the little moments the bunny experienced.

 

You did such a great job with the illustrations. What is the hardest or most challenging thing for both of you about writing or illustrating Bunny Should be Sleeping?

 

AMY - Getting the words just right and making sure the tone was matter of fact and not too cutesy. Also, I wanted Bunny to have agency, to take charge, and not just sit there whining! And of course, Dad is a composite of some of the loveliest dads I have known

in my life.

 

RENATA - I find making decisions such as how things should look, or what color they could be the most challenging. I begin a book with very small sketches to plan out the pictures and transferring them to final art is difficult. There are so many possibilities, so many decisions, and so much magic in those precious little drawings that I want to hold onto in the finished art.

 

Amy, that is such a fine line to tread, and a wonderful tribute. Renata, you definitely create magic with your illustrations. How many revisions did Bunny Should be Sleeping take for the text or illustrations - from first draft to publication?

 

AMY - Hundreds!

 

RENATA - Working on Bunny Should Be Sleeping was a wonderful process and experience. We were all on the same page. The sketches just flowed onto the pages, and everyone was happy. There were quite a few revisions for the cover, which worked out well because it led to the cover sketch that was chosen, which I was so pleased to get to draw.

 

Oh my, Amy! 😊 Renata, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Bunny Should be Sleeping? If so, could you share one or more with us?


RENATA - I decided Bunny loved to draw small stories on the wall. I don’t know if this is a good idea for everyone, but they let me put little surprises drawn near the baseboards. And Bunny would leave pencils on the ledges to draw with later. One of his artworks, a watercolor of a panda is so good it is framed and hangs among other paintings, and photographs that add snippets of story and texture to the illustrations.

 

Thank you for sharing this special part of the illustrations! What's something you want your readers to know about Bunny Should be Sleeping?

 

AMY - I want readers to know how much I love and adore Renata’s pictures! They wrap you in coziness. Thank you, Renata!

 

RENATA - Home is a safe space to be in. Even at night, when it is dark, it is a place of comfort. And there are familiar places and even little lights that will guide you.

 

Renata, what a wonderful sentiment. Amy, when you first saw Renata’s illustrations in Bunny Should be Sleeping, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - bunny in crib trying to reach through bars for a book.

Text © Amy Hest, 2024. Image © Renata Liwska, 2024.


AMY - See above. When I opened the book for the first time, I was thrilled, delighted, amazed. All of it. And I continue to feel that way. There is no way I could choose a favorite spread. They are all my favorites, from start to finish.


I totally agree with you. I adore the soft tone and the coziness of Bunny's home. Renata, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Or perhaps one which is your favorite spread?

End papers - tree circle around Bunny's house.

Image © Renata Liwska, 2024.


RENATA - I love the end papers. I don’t often draw end papers actually, and they are landscapes which was a challenge to put enough detail while keeping them soft and painterly. I like how the endpaper illustrations separate the outside from the warm, safe, and quiet inside that is the Bunny’s home.

 

They are so intriguing and beautiful. Are there any new projects either of you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

AMY - I always have something that I’m tinkering with in the moment, but it will be a long time before I can say I’ve actually written a story. I love the process, though, so

I’m never actually in a rush to finish.

Book cover - animals celebrating Summer Solstice.

RENATA - I am just about to start something that I can’t talk about yet. Last fall I completed a lovely book called Summer: A Solstice Story written by Kelsey Gross coming this May. It is a sequel to Winter, A Solstice Story which just came out this winter and was well received!

 

Good luck with your projects, Amy. And Renata, what a gorgeous cover! Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Aerial photo of Central Park.

AMY - I live in New York City, and I’m a big fan of two parks here: Central Park and Riverside Park. I spend a lot of time in both, walking my dog, Martha. We walk miles every day, no matter what the weather. (In truth, Martha is not the best sport when it comes to long walks on rainy days, shhhh!!) 

Photo of trail at Nose Hill Park. © Dan Cain

Photo © Dan Cain


RENATA - I love natural parks. We live near Banff and should go there more. We have a park in our city called Nose Hill which takes several hours to walk across and has native prairie grasses. I love to bird watch and look for little animals. It is lovely to see jackrabbits in the winter when their coats are white, and in the summer when their coats are brown.


We live north of Montana’s Glacier National Park and that is somewhere I want to visit. Another park I’ve always dreamed of visiting is Joshua Tree National Park. I love the idea of the open desert. When I first had the idea to draw picture books, I was at an illustration conference in New Mexico and the colors and light of those types of places were so eye opening.

 

Thank you, Amy & Renata, for sharing with us a bit about yourselves and your new picture book.


To find out more about Amy Hest:

 

To find out more about Renata Liwska, or to contact her:

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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