John Himmelman's Stories' Stories
The Ups and Downs of Simpson Snail
by John Himmelman
To my son, Jeff - may your ups
greatly outnumber your downs!
I feel like this was a breakthrough book. I've had a few of those, and hope for more - they're fenceposts in my career. Illustrations evolve over time. Change freshens and recharges the outlook. Once in a while I hit upon a new way to tell a story that speaks to me at that moment.
I discovered that I LOVE telling stories and making pictures in the Easy Reader/I Can Read format.
Lucia Monfried, my editor for this, encouraged me to retell in this format a picturebook I'd submitted about this character. She told me that colors should be somewhat softer for these books. It was a point in a growing reader's life where the words in books were catching up to pictures in terms of importance. The kids were reading these books on their own.
There's a wonderful simplicity to this kind of storytelling. Sentences are short (usually under 40 characters) and lines on the page are usually less than 14 for a full page of text. Contractions were avoided. It felt a lot like writing poetry.
As I mentioned on the Talester the Lizard page, Simpson is the name of a guy I worked with in a space shuttle landing gear factory while in college. To pass the time - we'd get our actual work done quickly - Robert Emmett Simpson would crack us up with drawings made on the spot of a hapless snail named Seymour.
While the original Simpson "Snale" in Talester the Lizard really didn't have a strongly realized character, the idea of doing a series of stories about a snail sounded like fun.
And I was not wrong!!!
The picture on the left led to the first time I had a strong issue with an editorial direction. I was told that the bird should be a mother, not a father, as a mother playing with her babies sounded more natural than a father playing with his babies. (It was a marketing concern, not Lucia's)
I disagreed. I played with my kids all the time! Plus, a male Redwing Blackbird made for a better illustration than the drab female. AND male Redwings help out at the nest with their chicks.
They acquiesced. You need to pick your fights, though. The publisher is more often right, than not. This was a rare instance where it mattered enough to push back, as their reasoning was unquestionably wrong.
You can see how the art and text are spacially balanced on the page. I'm given the galleys (the text as it will appear in print) so I can organically wrap the art around it. Again, this is the evolution of the words beginning to overtake the art on the page - a progression in growth as a reader of books, leading to adult literature where readers are expected to create their own images within their own heads.
The Simpson Snail stories were often simple tales of friendship - friendship at risk, and friendship cherished.
Friendship is an important
part of our lives, but crutial
in the lives of children.
a few years later.