Saturday, April 2, 2011

2011 Conference Series-Distinguished Faculty: Rollin Thomas

Happy April!!! In two weeks from now we'll all be enjoying the 20th Annual Writing and Illustrating for Children Conference! I'm so excited for the incredible faculty, the creativity in our conference planning (dance party anyone?), and time to be with fellow SCBWI WWA members. Speaking of faculty, and fellow members, we have one more Distinguished Faculty to introduce; Rollin Thomas!

Rollin is an artist, designer, author, playwright, and educator. He has designed for over 240 theatrical productions including operas, musicals, plays, puppets, and festivals. Rollin has written/adapted over thirty plays for elementary school performances, creates books for children and teaches a course in creating and illustrating for children. He also has over twenty-nine years of teaching arts and design at all levels.

As an added bonus (since we're getting SO close to our conference) I've included two illustrations that Rollin has done, and also his Faculty Q & A. He has some wonderful answers (the last one is my favorite). Enjoy reading Rollin's responses!

What is the best and worst advice you were given when you started in children's literature?

“After you have written and illustrated the best story you can, it is a numbers game and every ‘no’ is just that much closer to a ‘yes,’ so persevere. Oh,” she said, “and join SCBWI.”

What advice would you now give someone starting out in children's literature?

Same advice I received and that we get what we aim for, so aim high, and believe in yourself to keep persevering.

Where do you do your best work?

Wherever I am but I do my best work when I am consciously creating for people I love.

What are you most looking forward to about being part of the 2011 SCBWI WWA faculty?

I really look forward to being with my friends and meeting new ones—that and going dancing this year—but I don’t have to be on the faculty to go to the dance.

Attendees are often nervous to meet faculty at a conference. What, if anything, makes you nervous about being part of the faculty?

Meeting the faculty— kidding. Being certain to help and not harm new writers and illustrators and a few old ones. I believe we all have something to give and I want to help people learn to give their gift well, so many can receive it.

What do you like most about your job?

Which one? My job as a writer, illustrator, teacher, set designer, puppet designer, playwright, fine artist, or whatever job I am doing in the moment? Oh, that job. I love creating things for children, quite selfishly to see their eyes light up and smiles cross their faces. In the end, I really create things to entertain myself or someone I have in mind. My favorite question to answer is, “You really did that?” And the answer is always the same, “You can too if you give it a try.”

What do you like least?

Not working. I get anxious and restless and very unhappy. So to create for me is to live.

As you know, those who are in children's literature tend to have lengthy discussions on the important topic of snacks (usually it's a baked good). What's your favorite snack?

In the category of longest set-up & question—shortest answer:


What was your favorite book as a child? And now?

Favorite picture book was anything by Dr. Seuss but it started with MCGILLIGOT'S POOL for Christmas when I was six (published just two months before I was born). I began drawing in earnest, noodling away the hours creating Dr. Seussian worlds, funny houses and towns and strange creatures and contraptions. When I graduated to middle grade reading it was DAVID AND THE PHOENIX by Edward Ormandroyd. The first novel I read it in one sitting but I was such a slow reader then and it took me all day. Both books were pivotal adventures that lifted me away from my own world but started me on reading more. To me, any book that lifts me away is my favorite book while reading it.

Which authors/illustrators are most influencing current trends in children's literature genre, for better or for worse?
I can only speak to picture books and the over all quality is raising the bar. There is a staggering array of very talented creators being published. Worse will take care of itself because it does not last long, but for better, three people come to mind (though there are so many others) as being innovative and perhaps starting new trends or more accurately being excellent examples of our craft:

Mo Willems for his expanding Elephant & Piggie book series. Like little early reader graphic novels. While he is not the first with this idea, he is the first with a series that is trimmed down to strong emotions, simple backgrounds, and only what hand props or clothes are needed. His simplicity succeeds for me.

I really like the work of Oliver Jeffers such as THE INCREDIBLE BOOK EATING BOY and each of the books that have come after that. His spare almost European style has a nice appeal, what we need to see, we can see right away in his well composed images. He has a fun use of supportive collage for the book mentioned above but he uses media choices to fit each book.

And lastly, I really like the work of our local SCBWI’s Paul Schmid because he too uses great emotion in his characters, simple—only what is needed backgrounds and fun color. His stories are so very accessible for all readers. Check out his work in A PET FOR PETUNIA.

In all three cases, there is a wonderful use of age appropriate humor and each story is a read-it-again kind of story with wit, compassion, and discovery. They are a move away from heavily illustrated books, a move toward visually easy to read images that are actually helping the young readers to read both words and pictures. Good use of type and overall design only helps to enhance this effect. And the drawing style of their characters can be emulated by children. This is not to diminish the place for the page filled with visual opulence, saturated color, details to delight the eye, and beautifully painted characters, but simplicity might be the new trend and as a bonus, these books will translate well to electronic media.

Rollin's blog is a fun place to visit, and it even has one of the non-plotted story structures (Rollin's talk at the conference) on there to try out (good pre-conference activity). He's also rebuilding his website, so we can look forward to seeing what he has in the future! Thanks Rollin for sending the illustrations! They are perfect for Spring! Make sure you visit the event website if you haven't gotten your name on the waiting list for the conference (registration is full).

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