Monday, March 16, 2009

Jen Bryant & Melissa Sweet: A River of Words

This weekend, my sister and I went to a fabulous party to celebrate the recent Caldecott Honor given to Melissa Sweet for her picture book A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams.

What a blast! First of all, there were crazy party hats. You *have* to head over to Cynthia Lord's blog and read the story of the hats. (You can even scroll down to see a picture of me in my somewhat floppy hat.)

Second, there was a collage room. Beth and I worked diligently over a goofy collage involving plums, a flamingo, and *lots* of pink glitter (and no, I was not one of the pint-sized glitter gnomes that Cynthia mentions in her post). We were pretty satisfied with it until we looked up and saw some of the amazing (seriously, I mean frame-worthy!) pieces of art that were being created in that room.

Awed, we headed out to the main gallery area where we could partake in an activity we are much more talented at: making a mess while eating delicious cupcakes!

The best part of the party was the original artwork displayed on the walls. It was fascinating to see Melissa Sweet's collages in their original form, each intricate piece stacked on top of another, not perfectly flat and seamless like they appear in the book. Melissa signed my book and took the time to be gracious, kind, and warm to everyone in that long line.

Which brings me to the book. I was so excited when A River of Words came out because I love William Carlos Williams' poetry, and I've always thought that his use of the everyday, ordinary happenings and objects in our lives makes his work accessible to kids.

A River of Words tells the story of William Carlos Williams' upbringing, his choice to become a doctor, his friendships with other modernist poets like Ezra Pound, and H.D. The intricate illustrations merge the inspiration he found all around him (water, pastoral landscapes, roads) with his everyday life (bits of poems scratched on prescription orders, receipts, memo pads from his office).

I've always been interested in William Carlos Williams' story because he had a full life both as a successful doctor and a famous poet. It's inspiring and important to remember that we don't all fit into one neat box, as society often tells us. The "artsy" kid might just as easily also love math. The "science geek" or the "jock" might just as easily be able to create brilliant works of art. William Carlos Williams reminds us that we are all multi-faceted, and we all have the ability to see the beauty and the strangeness in the everyday world right in front of our eyes.

There's a great interview with Melissa Sweet over at A Year of Reading. Here's a sample of what she has to say about making the collages for A River of Words:

MS: This book had a woefully skimpy dummy and not many sketches. Although I had done extensive reading about WCW and visited his town, I was beginning to panic. I didn’t have a handle on how to render this book. The deadline was on the heels of Tupelo and I was feeling almost out of gas. I had saved some beautiful end boards from an old book with a subtle print and a good quality paper. I tried painting on it and it worked great. Then I tried using book boards as my canvases instead of starting on paper. It was just the thing I needed to propel me. It was new and fresh and I had such momentum from it. I’ve been buying old books, notebooks, atlases for years and for this project I used whatever I wanted—nothing was saved for another project. The collages are done like a painting. I start with a background, then add more objects and push things around until I feel it’s done. I approach it as a design problem so I’m considering the colors, composition etc. When I collect or buy collage materials I don’t necessarily know how I’ll utilize them. I just know I have to have them.


Mary Lee said...

I'm SOOOoooo jealous! I would have LOVED to have been there!!!

Josephine Cameron said...

It was very fun. Thanks for the great interview!

Amy Schimler-Safford said...

What fun... I just ordered the book a couple of weeks ago and can't stop looking at it.

Josephine Cameron said...

There's so much to see! You could open up to the same page 5 times and notice something new each time.