Talkback: Illustrator Alison Oliver

Today, we are more than excited to have Alison Oliver, the brilliant illustrator of the BabyLit series join us for a short conversation. Take a peek. [Note, the Frankenstein app mentioned below is now available for iOS. Amazon coming soon!]

How did you become involved with the BabyLit series?  

I had been working as a graphic designer and doing a lot of book design. Gibbs Smith (BabyLit's publisher) hired me to design a few books and Suzanne Taylor (assoc. publisher and creative director at Gibbs Smith) asked if I would do a test illustration for a new project they had. What Suzanne didn't know is that I had been trying to get into children's book illustration for a long time, I even had a project that I wrote and illustrated that I'd shopped around, so I was thrilled! She told me the concept for BabyLit and wanted to start with Pride and Prejudice. I re-read Pride and Prejudice, picked a spread from the manuscript to illustrate and submitted it. I had no idea if I would get the job and was thrilled and a little nervous when I did. 

Serendipity in action. You've worked with some of the most iconic novels in the English language tradition, so how do you approach these texts? In other words, does the author and narrative guide your illustrations, or does your aesthetic take the lead? 

I would say that the I approach each one differently based on the feeling of that particular narrative, or place or time period. But also based on the direction that the author, Jennifer Adams, and creative director, Suzanne, want to go. Once the manuscripts come to me they have already decided what kind of primer the book is (color, counting, camping, etc.), so sometimes that is a jumping off point. For instance, with Wizard of Oz they wanted a color primer and I kept thinking of Matisse's paper cutouts and how they really reduced things so beautifully down to color and shape. So I started making characters out of cut paper and illustrating on top of them. One thing that is pretty consistent, though, is looking at the original text and doing some research on the time period so I can look at the fashion or textiles or objects from the story.

The BabyLit series has a definitive, recognizable style of illustration and that's one of the things we love about it here. Frankenstein is a rather dark text, what was the biggest challenge in translating that into a book for kids?

 It is a dark text, but for some reason I had a much easier time with it than with some of the others. I guess because I found it easy to be sympathetic to Frankenstein's creature. He really just wants to be loved and have friends. In some ways it seems like the "monster" character is more aware of his feelings than the "people" characters. It also doesn't hurt to have seen Young Frankenstein! Comedy can turn anything on it's head.

True enough, Alison. Thanks for your time, and we look forward to seeing more of your work.