Steven Kellogg has made a career of dreaming up stories that entertain, intrigue and delight. The author and illustrator has his name on more than 100 books and counting, from reimaginings of fairy tales to quirky animal stories such as The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash.
His new book, Snowflakes Fall, stands apart from the rest. Kellogg, who lived with his family in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, for 35 years, collaborated with his longtime friend, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall), to create a story that pays tribute and offers hope in the wake of the December 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 students and six staff members died.
Kellogg took time out of his busy schedule to answer questions about the genesis of Snowflakes Fall, his personal connection to Sandy Hook and a new partnership with a dear friend.
What was it like to work on a book that held such emotional heft for you—and the people who will be reading it and remembering that day??
It was very important to me to be able to deal with the depression brought on by the tragedy, and I chose the voice of the picture book to deal with the sadness while gratefully celebrating my memories of the vibrant community where, for 35 years, I lived and worked and raised my family. The events of 12/14 will always be the darkest chapter in the town's history, and, while acknowledging that deep sorrow, I also wanted the illustrations to join the spirit of the uplifting, life-affirming verses Patricia wrote by depicting the joy and wonder that children who grow up in that idyllic village and its magical woodlands have experienced ever since the town was founded in the early 18th century.
"Her lyrical verses evoked my memories of children playing in the woods, fields and streams that surrounded our old farmhouse in Sandy Hook."
Have any of your other books been as personally meaningful for you??
All of the books I have written and/or illustrated are personally meaningful to me, but Snowflakes Fall is unique in that it allowed me to utilize the picture book art form to address the dark shadows cast by a tragedy in a manner that acknowledges profound sadness, but also revels in the rich diversity of life and the beautiful changes we see all around us, in growing children and the evolving seasons.
Did you and Ms. MacLachlan readily "click" regarding your respective visions for Snowflakes Fall?
Authors and illustrators rarely collaborate during the creation of a book, and that accepted custom can allow the creative process to flow more freely for both because they concentrate on their individual contributions rather than their personal relationship. Occasionally, a book benefits from a long-established friendship between the artist and author, and that was very much the case with Snowflakes Fall. The coming together of the text and images was enhanced by the freedom we felt to discuss and integrate each other's pictorial and verbal ideas, and to make suggestions we felt would help the book put across the feelings and insights we both hoped to convey.
Was the snowflake metaphor the first thing that came to mind? And the snow angels . . . I see that, at book's end, there are 20 of them spiraling up to the sky. Beautiful.
On first reading, I loved the eloquent phrases and the images in the verses Patricia wrote, and her utilization of the diversity and beauty of the simple snowflake to establish the theme of the book. I couldn't wait to combine her poetry with the paintings I was imagining. Her lyrical verses evoked my memories of children playing in the woods, fields and streams that surrounded our old farmhouse in Sandy Hook. We had very constructive discussions about ways in which the verbal and visual movement of the book could be shaped so it would achieve the effect we both envisioned. Her mention of snow angels in one of the sequences, for example, opened me to the possibility of broadening their presence to the jacket, the title page, the last spread, and to the final, wordless scene on the last endpaper where they rise from the silent moonlit playground and fly into the healing peace of the falling snow.
Do you hope your book will help children understand that artistic expression can help us when we're grieving?
My intent was to illustrate the book as a celebration of the uniqueness of children and the joy of childhood, with a concentration on the excitement of the changing seasons, and the fascinating, celebratory and occasionally very difficult stages of life as it continually evolves. My hope is that we have created a picture book that will speak about a range of emotions and reach out to people of all ages.
Most of the 100 books you've published were created when you lived in Sandy Hook. What made it such a fertile place for your imagination and your art? ?
In addition to the beautiful landscape and congenial townships, the joy of my life in Sandy Hook evolved from the discovery of a generous old farmhouse that accommodated all of our needs. . . . It had an intriguing maze of intimate nooks and crannies that were perfect for a large family with a Great Dane and a troupe of personable cats . . . and I realized the attic rooms could be combined into the perfect space for a studio that overlooked the treetops and woodland waterfall below. We loved living in that house, and it appears in the distance in one of the illustrations in the book.
Were you ever concerned about readers thinking it was "too soon" to do this book?
I felt an urgent need to express and re-channel the concerns the tragedy aroused in me, and I hoped the book's carefully composed life-affirming and consoling qualities would be felt by people who read Patricia's verses and wandered through the pages of the accompanying paintings.
Will you be touring with Ms. MacLachlan to promote Snowflakes Fall?
I'll be doing an event for the village of Sandy Hook and the Newtown community, and select appearances in addition to ones I’ve already done for booksellers in New Orleans and Providence, RI.
Random House made a donation to support Sandy Hook, and will donate new books to national literacy organization First Book, correct?
Yes, a book donation will be made to First Book and, in honor of Newtown, Connecticut, and the village of Sandy Hook, Random House Children’s Books has made a donation to the Where Angels Play Foundation in support of The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play project. The project's goal is to build 26 playgrounds along the Hurricane Sandy-ravaged coast of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut to honor the lives of those lost at Sandy Hook Elementary.
View the book trailer for Snowflakes Fall: