The Talking Tree or Don't Believe Everything You Hear
Story and Pictures by John Himmelman
This book is dedicated to Aunt Ann, who nurtured (and continues to) a growing imagination.
So this is one of the 3 books I did where the illustrations are done with color separations (see Talester the Lizard page). With the advent of overseas printing, this format was nearly out the door. And I was glad.
Because I envisioned this with just one color (red, for the apple), the publisher wanted to save printing costs and do it the old way (color separations). But they wanted me to add a another color for visual appeal. Green it was!
These separations were pretty easy, though, as they were kept at the same solid value throughout.
This was the second book I did for Viking. The editor was Regina Hayes, who had also taken on Amanda and the Witch Switch. I enjoyed working with her.
John Himmelman's Stories' Stories
Skylar, which at the time I thought was a cool name (a knew a kid with that name in 1st grade), and his dog Arf are drawn to an apple - red as red can be. Arf had to have been inspired by Arrow, the dog in Harry Nillson's animated cartoon, "The Point". And yes, any similarity to the look of this book and "The Giving Tree" is purely coincidental. Pinky swear.
So Skylar gets stuck in a tree while going after the apple. And then he gets stuck IN the tree. Yeah, I know. A bit contrived. But this book is where I start to play with shifting points of view in the art, like the bird's eye view on the left page. It's something I look to do a quite a lot now.
The townspeople believe the boy's calling for help is the tree calling for help, and they proceed to remove it to bring to Skylar's home. Again, yeah, I know... admittedly an odd turn of events, but I did make myself laugh drawing the man running with his fingers in his mouth.
I was living in East Haven, CT when I did this book, working as a carpenter during the day, and my stories at night - kind of a reverse of my older schedule. My son Jeff turned 2 the month this came out. I was still unsure about the prospect of doing this for a living, but really really wanted to, so kept at it.
And this was the right time in America to be making children's books. They were so popular, book stores that sold only children's books were opening all over! I can think of five that were just a short drive from my home in Connecticut. It was a relatively short-lived phenomenon, though, as they're a bit more scattered now.
The book evolved quite a bit from the inspiration. I was carrying a door over my head and a big gust of wind kicked up, lifting the door. For a moment I pictured of myself flying through the air with the door as my wing. I went inside to do some story brainstorming based on that idea. That lead to a plot involving a boy undergoing the same - a plank and a gust of wind - and getting stuck in a tree. But I only used that last part for the story. Stories often end up miles from the inspiration.