Fangirl moment. THE Carin Berger is on my blog today. A children’s book creator I have long admired, Berger’s cut-paper illustrations bring delightful whimsy to books by former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Jack Prelusky, as well as imbue her own stories with a joyful spirit.
When I read her newest release, ALL OF US, I thought, “This is a perfect book for today—for right now.” So of course, I had to ask her about it. Thankfully, she agreed to an interview.
Carin, ALL OF US feels so timely, however I know it can take years to create a picture book. How did you decide upon the theme (and when)?
While it is true that it can take years to bring a picture book into the world, I wrote ALL OF US, in a single burst, in response to the turmoil in our country, especially in the lead up to the election. In fact I wrote it while I was in Germany, the country that my family was forced to flee in the 1930s because of unrelenting racism, hatred and violence directed against vulnerable minorities. I had actually voted on Election Day and then flown to Germany that afternoon. I landed to the news of the election results. The juxtaposition of the events in our country against my own family’s history of forced displacement was upsetting and surreal. I wanted to do something to make a difference, to remind those that felt unbalanced or ostracized or alone, that community, diversity, inclusion and love are powerful and will ultimately triumph. This idea of wanting to do something dogged me for days. Or maybe it was months. In any case, there in Germany, with such a stew of feelings inside, I woke up in the middle of the night with the words to the book almost like a song or refrain in my head. I scribbled them down and made thumbnail drawings in my sketchbook. The next morning I took a picture of this on my phone and then emailed to my publisher, Greenwillow Books. And, in a terrific leap of faith, Greenwillow agreed to put this project ahead of one that was about to go to final art in order to get ALL OF US out into the world quickly.
You are known for your cut paper illustrations. Was there any special consideration of the paper you chose for this project?
I do think a lot about the paper that I use in my illustrations. I work with found ephemera in part because I love that each piece of paper comes with its own history…like secret stories…that inherently add another layer of depth to the books. I intentionally gather really diverse papers from around the world, so if you look closely at the illustrations in ALL OF US, you might see a bit of Chinese or Spanish or Japanese or Hindi or Russian.
I know you surreptitiously include your daughter’s name “Thea” in every book. Did you hide any messages in ALL OF US? Or is your message out in the open?
I love that you remember that I put “Thea” in all of my books.
It is true, in ALL OF US, there are some covert messages. Others are right out in the open.
Some examples of hidden messages are:
Thea’s name appears on the hand that is on the “know that I am here, as steady as stone” page.
Elsewhere in the book, my brother’s name, Daniel, appears in one heart.
Additionally, there are two self portraits in the book. One appears on the wordless “love wins” page holding a heart that says “thea”.
A second family portrait is on the lowest row of the left hand side of the 2nd “love wins” page. There you will find me, my husband, Max, Thea, and our pet rabbit, Pearly.
Finally, on all of the pages in the book that have illustrations of people, I have included images of family and friends within the crowds.
Also, if you look closely, you will find my daughter’s black cat, Cosette.
What’s more, there is a gentle, unspoken story going on in the book.
There are two characters that reoccur, the little girl in the yellow boots and the little boy with the red kite. The girl starts the book with a heavy heart and an unsure step. The little boy is on the page with the unclear path and his kite appears on the stormy past page.
They first appear together on the “hazy future” page, and they don’t notice each other.
Eventually, as we make our way through the book, they notice each other and join together as friends in part of the larger community.
(Click to enlarge spreads.)
Carin, what do you hope readers will connect with? What do you hope they will take away after reading ALL OF US?
Hope is a great word. I HOPE that the message of HOPE in ALL OF US will resonate with readers.
I HOPE that the book makes readers feel more connected, that it opens up conversations about inclusion and community and the power of HOPE and love in the face of adversity.
Children face so many challenging moments in growing up…they are figuring out who they are, and how they fit it. They are trying to make sense of the world and navigate through all sorts of new situations. I really HOPE that ALL OF US can be a tool to bring people together and to offer empathy and light and HOPE in difficult times.
Thank you, Carin, for bringing us such a beautiful book for our uncertain times. I know I will treasure my copy.
Blog readers, if you would like your own copy to treasure, plus ALL OF US bookmarks and swag, please comment once below.
A winner will be randomly selected in September.
Good luck and thank you for reading.