Dana and I picked our favorite illustrations but truthfully, THE REMEMBER BALLOONS has 40 pages of my favorites. However, I do have a favorite, favorite. At first, I was hesitant to share it because then it wouldn't be a surprise. But I also want you to read the book, and if nothing has convinced you yet, then Dana’s genius will.
This spring when I visited the S&S offices and sat around a table with Dana; Art Director Lucy, Editorial Assistant Alyza, and Cheerleader Husband, I said to Lucy, “the three-panel spread is my favorite” and she said, “it’s because Dana is … an animator.”
Usually when I start working on sketches for a manuscript, I have to read it a few times before I get a sense of how I want to approach the illustrations. But this particular image popped into my head almost immediately when I got to this part in the story.
I have a background in animation and comics, so I wanted to draw this spread as if it were a storyboard or a 3-panel comic. I think when you can see how James is almost able to grab the balloon but then loses it completely, it has a lot more impact than if it were just a single image. Many times, when I visualize a story in my head, I imagine the characters in motion, so part of my process is figuring out how to simplify that into still images on the page.
Dana's history with animation has added such movement and LIFE to these pictures. In this particular illustration, she really shows her animator’s spirit with the three panels and James’ movement across the page as he chases Grandpa’s balloon. I never would have dreamt of conveying it this way! The way Dana breaks up the text and adds these natural yet dramatic pauses. The desperation of James when he can’t catch it and Grandpa, in all his sweetness, as he plods on, unaware that his balloon has flown away. It's beautiful.
This is one of my favorite spreads because the silver balloon holds a special shared memory between James and his grandpa. It reminded me of the memories I shared with my grandfather that were just between the two of us. One of the things that I loved about Jessie’s manuscript is that even though it deals with a heavy subject, there are still moments of joy and lightness that balance it out without sugar-coating the story.
In the beginning and end of the book, I drew James’ grandpa in a rocking chair on the porch, which I imagined would be his favorite spot to sit. My own grandfather would always be in his recliner whenever we came to visit. Also, I live in NYC where nice porches are a real luxury, so maybe I’m just trying to live vicariously through this character.
In my April post, you'll have read a few words about the silver balloon. There is a beautiful spread with the memory inside the silver balloon, but you'll have to wait for that! But look! James and Grandpa share this silver balloon memory. The pride in James’ face, the kindness and love in Grandpa’s, and OH MY GOSH Dana invented a dog and gave him one balloon which is so funny, I want to laugh every time I see it. Because what dog can hold onto more than one memory at a time? I really just want to cozy up on that porch with the three of them and listen to Grandpa and James. (And I totally dig the front porch, too. My grandpa had a front porch that I loved.)
Thanks for reading! We're excited to share our book with you come August!!
Dana and Jessie
THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, written by Jessie Oliveros, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
Coming August 28, 2018 from Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers