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Drawn to Indy

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Author and illustrator David Wiesner may not have as many shrieking tweens swarming him at book signings as, say, Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, but he does command a great deal of respect with the playground and milk money crowd -- and if you're a parent, you're absolutely familiar with his work. Wiesner has spent the past 30 years crafting imaginative stories, pairing them with captivating illustrations and racking up the Caldecott Medals. And if you haven't read his newest, Mr. Wuffles!, then you should make a beeline to the closest library branch in the near future. In short, it involves a house cat, some very tiny aliens and their attempts to outwit their feline tormentor.

Wiesner is making a trip to Indy later this week to deliver the Marian McFadden Memorial Lecture, an annual author talk made possible by the good folks at the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation. Wiesner will speak April 4 at 7 p.m. at North Central High School. In the mean time, he took a moment to chat with Sky Blue Window about having a creative profession, the perks of the picture-book format and his so-called fame.

Sky Blue Window: Full disclosure here, we didn't recognize the name David Wiesner, but when we looked you up, we immediately recognized your books. Would you consider that an insult or a compliment?

David Wiesner isn't much for fame, but as a 3-time Caldecott Medal winner, he's gotten his share of recognition.
  • David Wiesner isn't much for fame, but as a 3-time Caldecott Medal winner, he's gotten his share of recognition.

David Wiesner: No, it's fine, people should know the books; they don't really have to know me. I'd just as well assume they didn't. Kids sometimes say to me, "Oooh, you're famous." [He laughs.] No, I'm not, this is publishing.

SBW: At last count, you've won the Caldecott Medal three times and the Caldecott Honor three times. Does that whole winning awards thing ever get old?

DW: Trust me, it does not get old. It's a wonderful affirmation that what I'm doing is still resonating with people. Each book is such a distinctly specific experience to make; it's not an assembly line process. So being recognized again is being recognized for a different project. And I love each of the books that I do, so it's great that other people love them too.

SBW: We've heard your work described as combining the ordinary with the extraordinary. Would you say that's true?

DW: You know, that's an excellent description of what I do. It's clearly my take on fantasy, to set it in sort of the ordinary, everyday world. And that tends to be the world I grew up in, which is suburban America in New Jersey, that kind of world. I like that kind of fantasy that is grounded in the everyday reality. Not that I dislike your dystopian futures and outer space epics, but when I come down to doing my own stories, I put them in rather mundane circumstances, and I love twisting it so that always lurking around the corner is something you might not expect. I've always been that way, even as a kid. My parents saved all my drawings, and all the themes and motifs in my art as a kid keep coming back in my books.

SBW: Who is your favorite illustrator?

DW: Oh, there are too many to name. I didn't grow up immersed in the field. I really came to it as an adult, and when I started to explore the history of it, the more you look, and if you branch out internationally, it's incredible what people have done. I just love the form of the picture book; it's a very specific and unique way to create something. It's short, which is actually one of the key things because you have to be really clear, and you have to be succinct. It may not take long to read one, but it suggests huge amounts of story and worlds that linger. Within those 32 pages, you can do anything in there, it's so cool. You can push the boundaries. So I just love coming to that 32-page format each time, and you look around at what other people have done and are currently doing, and it's remarkable.

SBW: What do you value most about your work?

DW: The work has an incredible lasting impression. It's the first art that kids see and the first stories they hear, and that's a big responsibility for someone making them. Most of the people I know in the field -- and certainly myself -- take that very seriously. You don't talk down to kids, and you don't toss it off as if it's "just" for kids. It's, "This is for kids. We have to be as careful and committed to it as if we were painters or sculptors."  Or ... we get mail! I mean it may be written in crayon, but we get feedback.

SBW: You've been illustrating for quite a long time, since the 1980s. Do you have any favorites?

DW: Oh, no. It's interesting because I know authors who have favorites, but I can't do that. Every time out, I'm starting over. They really are pretty distinct.

SBW: Do your kids think you have the coolest job ever?

DW: Well, for them, this is what I do: "Oh yeah, Dad's upstairs working." There's nothing unusual about it, because they've seen it every day of their lives. I think having an immediate concrete example of someone being creative for a living has been great. It's not unusual and it's not something they had to be awakened to, so I think as they got older and started thinking about what they're going to do, it's given them a view into a world that doesn't make [being creative for a living] so exotic; it's just, "Yeah, you can do that."

SBW: And finally, should we be looking for anything new from you anytime soon?

DW: I should have something coming out within the year, but I can't say much more than that. There's a bunch of stuff in the works. One is a longtime project that is finally coming together, and one is a short-term project that just sort of materialized and there it was.

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