The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Carin Berger and Review of In the Night Garden
Carin Berger is an award winning designer, illustrator, and author.
She has worked in London, San Francisco, and New York City. Her illustrations, cut paper collages, are made with scraps of ephemera, used clothing catalogues, and old ticket stubs. Basically, any odds and ends that she can find.
Carin’s author/illustrator of 9 books, including A Curious Menagerie: Of Herds, Flocks, Leaps, Gaggles, Scurries, and More! (2019), All of Us (2018), Good Night! Good Night! (2017), Finding Spring: A Springtime Book For Kids (2015), A Perfect Day (2012), Forever Friends (2010), The Little Yellow Leaf (2008, selected as a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book). And the illustrator of 5 books including Are We Pears Yet? by Miranda Paul (2017), Stardines Swim High Across the Sky: and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky (2013), Trailblazers by Bobbi Katz (2007), and Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky (2006).
Her newest author/illustrated picture book, In the Night Garden, releases on July 4th.
Welcome Carin, I have admired your previous books and am so honored to visit with you.
Tell us a little about yourself (Where/when do you write and illustrate? How long have you been writing and illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write and/or illustrate?)
I am an author and illustrator and designer, and have been creating picture books for about 20 years now. Gasp. It still shocks me to realize that I have been doing this for such a long time. My background is in design and I have designed everything from logos and identities to exhibitions and book jackets. I love type and ephemera, and those appear in my collages. You can probably see the design influence in my work. Being able to toggle between visual and textual storytelling is important to me and allows for great creative freedom. Working collaboratively on another author’s manuscript is also an interesting challenge. I have illustrated two books for the great Jack Prelutsky and those were extremely inspiring to work on. Most of my own books have some personal element in them and many explore themes of connection, community and friendship.
How amazing to work with Jack Prelutsky! And I love you collage style. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
I had so many beloved books as a child, many that I saved into adulthood. I have vivid memories of our weekly trips to the library and eagerly carrying my pile home to devour. Some of my favorites were: Harold and the Purple Crayon (I loved his power to create a whole universe just with a crayon!), Kay Thompson’s Eloise, Ezra Jack Keats The Snowy Day, Bill Peet’s Hubert’s Hair Raising Adventure, I loved the language play, and funny morality stories in Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle collection, and, of course, all things Maurice Sendak, including, can you guess?? (In the Night Kitchen)
What was your inspiration or spark of interest for In the Night Garden?
Many times with a book, there are several different threads that feed the idea. One starting point for In the Night Garden was the fact that my daughter, Thea, had difficulty falling asleep and a bit of anxiety around nighttime. To help her with this, we used to lie out on our porch at night and listen to all the sounds and gaze at the stars. This became a treasured time together. Another inspiration was my love of gardening and the magical transformations that happen daily, seasonally and annually in the garden. A final and deeper idea that shaped the book was about having a sense of wonder when faced with the unknown. More on that later!
I love that nighttime ritual; it sounds so fun and relaxing. What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?
Hmmm...well, we live a bit of an itinerant life so I have made my books in many different settings. I created the rhymes for my first book, Not so True Stories and Unreasonable Rhymes, while waiting, impatiently, in the dark, for my very young daughter to fall asleep. We have spent chunks of time in Japan, and that is where I developed much of the concept for my second book, All Mixed Up. I was working on the sketches for In the Night Garden while living for a year in San Francisco, in what turned into the height of the pandemic. I then created the final art in our farmhouse (an inspiration for the book) in upstate NY.
Does sound fun though. How long did it take from the first draft (or dummy) to publication for In the Night
Garden? Was this similar to your other books?
This book took FOREVER. Originally, I had planned to try a new and simpler approach to making the art for In the Night Garden. I had envisioned painting instead of focusing on collage. I wanted to do something looser and faster. Obviously, somehow, I ended up doing the opposite. The art became more and more saturated and detailed and complex, despite my best efforts. This seemed to be what the book wanted to be no matter what my intentions were. Books can be like that, with a demanding personality of their own!!!
What a great statement. And try as we might, pigeon-holing them into a design or format just...doesn't... work. Is there something you want your readers to know about In the Night Garden?
Text & Image © Carin Berger, 2023.
There are so many things I want readers to know. Some are simple and fairly obvious, for example, an astute reader will quickly notice the black cat that guides you through the book. She is the narrator and is a nod to my daughter’s cat, Cosette, even though Cosette is a much fluffier black cat. There are loads of details within the illustrations that I hope will draw a reader back again and again. Maybe they will notice the moths, or the bird in a nest, or tiny snails in the garden, upon close examination. Also, perhaps they will see that on the final spread there are objects from each of the proceeding pages. If a reader looks super closely, they may even spot my daughter’s name, Thea, hidden in the art.
Most importantly to me, however, is that I hope this book might encourage conversations about approaching things that are new or unknown to us, with curiosity and openness. This seems especially critical in these divisive times. It would make me happy if parents, librarians and teachers can use this book as a jumping off point to have such talks.
Anything which encourages curiosity and openness, instead of prejudice and fear, is a winner for me! And there are many more garden inhabitants to find; it's so fun to investigate the images. I kept finding new things. What was the hardest part of writing and/or illustrating In the Night Garden? Why?
The hardest thing about doing the art for In the Night Garden was letting go of my preconceived idea about how I would approach it, and instead allowing it to be this exceedingly complicated, ornate, and very time consuming, collage work. It was definitely not what I had planned to do, and it is always hard to give oneself over to the demands of a book, especially when they are somewhat in conflict with one’s own conception!
I'm glad you surrendered; it is beautiful! Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in In the Night Garden? Could you share one or more with us?
Text & Image © Carin Berger, 2023.
I may have already answered some of this question, but here is an additional detail: The house in the book is based on our house in upstate New York. It is an old farm house from the 1860s and I have been endlessly expanding the gardens. I grew up around talented gardeners and yet I always lived in cities, longing for some dirt of my own. These days, as soon as the weather allows, the garden tugs at me and it is a tremendous creative outlet. Sometimes it is hard to come inside and make my books!! Shhhhh....
I'll never tell but I totally understand. What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for In the Night Garden?
It is always a thrill to hold the finished book in my hand. It takes so long to create, and then to print, that I almost forget it really will become a book. Getting the book, and then realizing it will go out into the world, and hopefully touch other people, is a profound experience.
I can imagine. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I have a project that I have created collaboratively with my dear friend, Rachel Vail. Tort + Hare is an early reader series about two friends, a tortoise and a rabbit. It is not a coincidence that Rachel has a pet tortoise, and I have a pet rabbit. The proposal is currently out for submission. Fingers crossed.
Best of luck! What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one
you’re longing to visit. Why?
Interesting question. Point Reyes National Seashore is one of my very most treasured places on the planet. We have spent a fair amount of time, including many summers, living out there, and I love the wild beauty and the scale of it, which seems to put every trouble into perspective. I always feel as though I am home when I arrive there.
Such a stunning park. I just added it to my park bullet list. Thank you! Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/illustrating or not?
Don’t worry. This is advice that I struggle to heed, and I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but honestly, for me, a chronic worrier, it is useful to remember that most things do usually work out, and worrying often only gets in the way.
Thanks so much, Carin for stopping by and sharing your creativity and you newest picture book with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
To find out more about Carin Berger, or contact her:
Review of In the Night Garden
A master of intricate, delicate cut-paper collage, Carin Berger's created another stunning picture book. The addition of an unusual narrator and beautifully gentle, poetic text results in a remarkable ode to a garden at night and a tender bedtime book.
In the Night Garden
Author/Illustrator: Carin Berger
Publisher: Neal Porter Books/Holiday House (2023)
Night, garden, nature, wonder, and bedtime.
A gentle, collage-illustrated bedtime read about the often mysterious and always beautiful experiences to be found in nighttime spaces.
In the night garden, nothing is as it seems and everything is made new. Blinking stars and pale moonlight might reveal a lone cat tiptoeing across a roof, luminous flowers unfurling in the cool air, a mama fox escorting her sleepy cubs home. Listen closely and you might hear the wind blowing through the trees, the murmur of a slow stream, or the gentle song of crickets and bullfrogs, lulling you to sleep.
Carin Berger is the award-winning author of The Little Yellow Leaf, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. With soothing words and spectacularly detailed, hand-cut collage artwork, she has fashioned a bedtime book like no other. Curious readers will be rewarded when they look for the mysterious cat that appears on every page!
In the night garden fireflies look like fallen stars.
Moonflowers unfurl and release their intoxicating perfume.
What I LOVED about this book:
With a fun twist, Carin Berger uses a black cat in the illustrations to guide the reader (as the 'narrator') through a beautifully lyrical ode to nighttime in a garden. I adore the title page and love how it, and the opening page, carry a swoosh of fireflies, in their little light bubbles, from the end pages to the attention of this black cat (and the reader). Accompanying a wonderful opening line - "In the night garden fireflies look like fallen stars."
Text & Image © Carin Berger, 2023.
The cat moves through the garden - occasionally accompanied by a young girl - exploring the progression from twilight to deep dark night, encouraging readers to join it using their senses of sight, smell, touch, and hearing, to wonder and demystify the night. There are so many stunning spreads! Especially the next one where the cat's silhouette pauses behind beautiful white moonflowers and a pair of lizards.
I think because I remember hours spent with my daughter lying in campgrounds or on blankets in our yard watching stars and satelites - hoping to glimpse a shooting star, I really enjoyed the spreads of the girl and cat lying in the "cool grass" and gazing at the "millions and trillions of stars." Who, with a little patience and luck, see a shooting star (with a cat face!).
After the star gazing, the girl heads inside and the reader explores the garden with the cat. From bats swooping over the roof, to phases of the moon, and the sounds of wildlife found in the garden. One of my favorite images is the stunning, intricate one of the harvest moon. The moon alone shows how time consuming this book was. These finely crafted, cut paper, collages were impressively made from "ephemera, and scraps of paper, including ticket stubs, receipts, and ancient ledger books." I am totally in awe. They are so delicate and vibrant.
Text & Image © Carin Berger, 2023.
. . . the fiery red of a harvest moon.
I love how Carin Berger's gentle introduction to when the garden could seem scary, when it is "darker than dark and there are sounds that you don't know," shows the cat in a cute pose listening and then immediately shifts to a softer image of frolicking fox cubs and a gorgeous image of swirling ribbons of snow. Visually confirming that there is nothing to fear in the noises of the night. And I love how she uses snipped pieces of sheet music for the sounds of the crickets and bullfrog and even manages to highlight their noticeable tonal distinctions; offering readers something to ponder and wonder about.
Text & Image © Carin Berger, 2023.
Just close your eyes and listen to the song of crickets . . .
. . . and bullfrogs . . .
As this is a bedtime story, I imagine you can guess the ending. however, you don't want to miss the detailed, tender, and fun final images.. Kids (and adults) will enjoy going back through the book to spot where these images first appeared. This is a wonderfully creative, poetic ode to the night and a reminder that we don't have to fear the unknown, but instead "Just close our eyes and listen" and open our hearts.
- make your own paper bag cat to help you listen to night sounds.
- what sounds do you hear around your house at night? On a weekend, sit by a window and write down what you hear at night. Do you think the sounds change throughout the year?
- using scraps of paper, magazines, etc. make a collage of a pet you have (or wish you had). What would it find at night near your house?
If you're in the area, Carin Berger will be at:
POWERHOUSE AT IC
220 36TH ST
BROOKLYN, NY 11232-2408