The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Richard Jones and Review of Perdu
Richard Jones was born in Coventry, West Midlands, England. He studied graphic design and illustration at the University of Plymouth, in Exeter and afterwards stayed on for a few more years to complete a PhD. While completing the degree Richard started working at Exeter Central Library on a temporary contract but somehow stayed there for nearly 14 years! He worked in all departments but loved the Children’s library the most.
Richard had been painting and drawing since graduating and doing different kinds of graphic design for many years, but always had a feeling that children’s publishing was the place he wanted to be. He now writes and illustrates full time from the smallest room in my house. Across the roof tops of Exeter, and between the rounded Devon hills, I can just about make out the distant sparkling sea. In his spare time, Richard enjoys bobbing about in the sea, feeding the cat, and eating licorice.
He's the illustrator of Paper Planes (2019), Our Planet: The official children’s companion to the Netflix documentary series (2019), Whale on a Fishbowl (2018), and Winter Dance (2017).
His author/illustrator debut picture book, Perdu, released April 1st.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write and illustrate? How long have you been writing and illustrating? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write and/or illustrate?)
I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t draw! I wasn’t particularly academic at school but learned pretty early on that if I added a few drawings to my homework and made a pretty cover to two, I’d often get extra marks! I became a full-time picture book maker around 2016 after a few years of on and off graphic design work. I’d been working on story ideas for my own amusement for a while before I plucked up the courage to send some artwork to an agency. I was over the moon when they took me on and haven’t looked back since. Thank you Bright Agency!
I think my favourite type of book to illustrate is one with bold and bright story ideas that also have a deeper, more thoughtful side for those willing to find it. Perdu, I hope, has these traits - on the surface it’s a sweet story about a lost dog, but there is a message about determination and kindness underpinning it all.
It does have a couple poignant and touching underlying threads. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I once was peed on by a lion…
Well then... Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
I loved Cops and Robbers by Janet and Allan Ahlberg for the wonderful, lyrical text but the pictures entranced me, too. I’m not sure they would have made their way to the States, but I was also potty about the What-a-Mess books by Frank Muir and Joseph Wright.
I am not familiar with this one, but it does look fascinating. What was your inspiration for Perdu?
Perdu came about after talking through a few story ideas with my wonderful editor, Helen. I’d given her a sketch of a little black dog and I remember her asking if he had a story. I wrote the outline on the train home, I think!
Is there something you want your readers to know about Perdu?
The little girl in the story represents all those folk who work tirelessly in the background, selflessly caring for others and expecting little in return. Perdu might think he’s alone but the reader knows otherwise!
I love this. There are so many 'angels' in the background we should celebrate - especially this past year. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)
That’s such a difficult question to answer! I love the books of Brian Wildsmith and Eric Carle and have learnt a lot by studying their approach to story book making. I also admire greatly the work of Ben Shahn.
However, more often than not, an idea for a story is inspired by a conversation with friends, a television program or after reading a book.
All awesome ways to find inspiration. Which has been the hardest book to illustrate so far, why?
All projects seem to come with their own unique little challenges! However, I’ve been remarkably fortunate with the projects and people I’ve worked with.
For Perdu, which came first the illustrations or the text?
The story structure came first, I think, but I began to sketch out the pages before it was finished.
Is it harder or more freeing to write & illustrate your own book?
I would say it’s more creatively liberating working with one’s own story as there is more interaction between the text and the developing artwork. There’s always the opportunity to tweak the story to fit the paintings in a way that’s not always possible with another’s text.
True enough. Is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread in Perdu?
Text & Image © Richard Jones, 2021.
I think the page where the little girl ties Perdu’s scarf back on is sweet. I was happy how it turned out.
This is such a tender moment and one of my favorites as well. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Perdu? Could you share one or more with us?
A little mouse joins Perdu when he makes his disastrous way into a busy café. She’s now going to have a starring role in my next book!
I had to go back & look closely, but I found that the little mouse. What is your favorite medium to use? Is there one you don’t like to use or one you are excited to try in the future?
I love using watercolour and acrylics but I always try to incorporate a different medium into each new project. The creative process is a lot less frightening now we have Photoshop lurking in the background, waiting to help out if we make a mistake!
I'm looking forward to seeing what you do next. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
If You Were an Elephant is such a sweet story by Leslie Staub. We tried a few different approaches to the artwork before we got it just right and I’m proud of the result. It’s so bright and colourful and brimming with African sunshine! I think it’s published this June.
Little Bear is my follow up story to Perdu. It’s about a boy who discovers a teeny tiny bear in his back garden. I can’t wait to share more soon. It will be published in October.
I can't wait to read both of these books! What have you been doing to stay creative? Anything in particular that “primes the well”?
I find the best way to stay motivated is to keep going! I try and work through the difficult or challenging moments and attempt to finish the creative day looking forward to the next.
What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with. Why?
100% always and forever, dog! The companionship and unfailing loyalty of a dog is a kind of wonderful magic.
I think this magic shines through Perdu. Thank you so much for coming by to talk with me Richard. It was a pleasure getting to know you.
To find out more about Richard Jones, or get in touch with him:
Review of Perdu
Oh my gosh, how can anyone resist this adorable dog's face. Richard Jones has created a beautiful book that makes you just want to wrap this little dog in a giant hug and never let go.
Author/Illustrator: Richard Jones
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing (2021)
Kindness, empathy, finding a home, friendship, and homelessness.
Synopsis (from the publisher):
The moving, beautifully illustrated story of a little lost dog and his search for a place to call home.
Poor Perdu is all alone as he journeys from the countryside to the city in search of a home. The city is a big place when you are very small, but is it possible that someone is looking out for Perdu?
This poignant gem, with an important message about kindness at its heart, deserves to become a modern classic.
The sky was dark, the wind howled, and so did Perdu.
Poor Perdu. A little lost dog, all alone.
with no place to call home and nothing
to call his own but and old red scarf.
What I LOVED about this book:
I love that opening line! Talk about drawing you right into the emotion and plight of the main character. And this image. . . it's so heart-wrenching. Poor Perdu indeed!
Text & Image © Richard Jones, 2021.
Watching a leaf land in a stream and 'purposely' float away like "it has a place to be," Perdu wonders if he might have a place to belong. He follows the leaf through fields, woods, grasses, and into a city. With his claws, going "tip, tip, tip" across the concrete, Perdu searches for his 'place.'
Text & Image © Richard Jones, 2021.
After the initial dark illustration, the palette is somewhat muted. Perdu is the one dark spot among a sea of grey, blue, green, and sienna colored buildings and people. Only one person, a young girl, whose hat matches the color of Perdu's scarf, notices the poor dog.
Search as he may, Perdu keeps hearing "Get out!" "Go away!" "Shoo!" When Perdu sneaks into a café, Richard Jones creates an interesting symmetry between the "people growled and people barked" and the cowering, scared Perdu who growls, snarls, and barks back. Before he flees out the door.
There is a happy ending, and if you remember what Richard chose as his favorite spread (above), you might have a hint as to the ending. I won't give it away, but it is such a lyrical, sweet conclusion that wraps up all the ends into a beautiful bow. While it remains emotionally honest to Perdu's plight of homelessness - examining his loneliness, isolation, and wish to belong, the book is also hopeful - full of kindness, compassion, and a forever family. A book that might extend conversations past merely homeless animals. I hope you check out this lyrical, emotional, and delicately illustrated book.
- make your own Perdu (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPOiGpfzj4M&ab_channel=JEGOSs).
- contact a local shelter and see if they could use blankets, toys, or beds (https://comfortforcritters.org/easy-patterns).
- listen to Richard read Perdu (https://thebrightagency.com/uk/blog/behind-the-book-richard-jones).
- check out Perdu's activity sheet (https://peachtree-online.com/pdfs/Activity_Event/PerduActivitySheets.pdf).