Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who needs no introduction, and who landed a Caldecott Honor in 2015 among many other awards: Barb Rosenstock. Read below to see her journey creating Mornings with Monet, a nonfiction picture book, illustrated by Mary Grandpré and published by Knopf / Penguin Random House. It’s fascinating how she sifted through various facts during her research phase, and focused on what she felt a personal connection to, and what had kid-appeal.
BUT first- YAY! Barb is generously giving away a free copy of Mornings with Monet (U.S. shipping only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends March 29, 2021.
Please describe the journey to publication for Mornings with Monet.
I grew up in Chicago and have loved the Monet and his artist friends since first seeing their work in the Impressionist Wing at The Art Institute as a child. It’s easy art to love, colorful and for the most part gentle subject matter. Mary Grandpré and I have done 3 art books together: The Noisy Paint Box, Vincent Can’t Sleep and Through the Window. I kind of wanted to round it to an even number of four books. I first started looking into female Impressionist, Mary Cassatt. After a bit of research, I just wasn’t drawn to the subject. I decided to try to tackle the most famous Impressionist, the first Impressionist, Claude Monet. I thought I’d be writing about Monet and his garden, or Monet and the first Impressionist exhibition, or his Haystack series paintings, which were all big topics. But books do what they need to do, and this one needed to be a very small story.
Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I would typically attempt to start a book in a subject’s childhood, but Monet’s young years were not all that compelling. Also, as I began researching, there was a lot about Monet the man that I found unappealing. In spite of his many character flaws, his glorious art kept calling me. I decided to look into specifically how he created his art, his process. I wasn’t originally aware that at times Monet actually painted from a boat. I liked that boat more than anything else in his whole life, and so I thought I’d set myself the challenge of building an entire picture book biography that takes place in about a roughly 4-hour painting session on the boat. It worked, thanks to Mary Grandpré’s stunning art!
What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I’m never sure enough of myself as a writer that I’m at all clear on what my “writing process” is anyhow. I sit down and write, sometimes it goes well, sometimes it does not, that is the process. Every book takes the time and energy it needs and each time I sit down to do a book, I’m not sure how (or if) it’s going to work out. Basically, I just keep asking questions, first of the research and later of my own words. Questions like: So what? What does that mean? Is that what you’re trying to say really? Is that logical? What does it feel like? Will kids find this interesting? For me the process is answering my own questions. After a decade at it, it’s just a process of trusting that my curiosity will eventually shape itself onto the page.
Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Wow, maybe you should tell ME which parts are compelling. But here goes, at least this is my favorite part, drawn from my own life (as well as Monet’s):
“Anyone who creates understands—that art is not magic. It is work…and work…and work, and then…it is magic.”
What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
I have always liked true stories ever since my maternal grandfather told me “true” (or mostly true J) family stories. I liked historical fiction and history-based nonfiction the most as a child and read a ton of it at my public and school libraries. I still like true or “based on truth” movies better than anything fictional. I think the idea that a story is real makes is MUCH more compelling than anything made up.
Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I have a book on citizen science and monarch butterflies coming out next year with illustrator Erika Meza from Knopf. And I’m excited to be working with Katherine Roy again on a book about the Sargasso Sea from Norton. It was great to take a step away from history for a bit, but I’ll get back to it I’m sure. There’s a few more titles in the works, but no use talking about them so early, you know how long picture books take!
Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
The picture books that started me writing are still mentors: The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and my all-time favorite, Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann. Favorite picture book authors include: Jen Bryant, Carole Weatherford, and Candace Fleming. I have been obsessed with every single thing Cynthia Rylant ever put down on paper for almost 30 years. I have favorite illustrators too other than the ones I’ve worked with: Elisha Cooper, Kadir Nelson, Emily Sutton, Floyd Cooper, Eliza Wheeler, The Fan Brothers, Jason Chin, Brendan Wenzel, Frank Morrison, Hadley Hooper, and the late Mordicai Gerstein.
What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Get the actions right and the feelings right, and the rest will follow.
And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
A dog, because…DOGS! They are curious, loyal, loving, understanding, people feed them and they can take naps virtually any time they want.
Barb Rosenstock likes true stories best. She is the author of eighteen nonfiction and historical fiction picture books that combine deep research with playful language. Her book, The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary Grandpré, received a Caldecott Honor in 2015. Other awards include the SCBWI Golden Kite, an Orbis Pictus Honor, a Sydney Taylor Honor, and the South Asia Book Award, as well as numerous national and state recognitions. Barb loves sharing stories and inspiring students in schools and libraries across the country. She lives with her family north of Chicago.
Mornings with Monet can be purchased from:
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