Publications as diverse as Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Spin, The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, Travel and Leisure, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and Business Week, among others, have all featured illustrations by Calef Brown. He is also one of the illustrators of "The Exquisite Corpse Adventure," an original story written for the Library of Congress's Read.gov website and now a book from Candlewick. Brown's new book is "Boy Wonders" (Atheneum).
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
What sparked your imagination for your newest book – Boy Wonders?
I try to write and draw every day, and have lots of sketchbooks filled with ideas, doodles, notes and poems. I noticed that I had written a few short poems in the form of nonsensical questions, and I liked the way they sounded, and the images they brought to mind. The first one was: “Do sleepwalking lumberjacks hunger for slumbersnacks?” I decided to try to write some more in that vein and weave them into a story about a super-inquisitive kid.
What artists and authors have inspired you? Are you often inspired by your everyday surroundings or dreams?
I am inspired by both the everyday, and the fantastical. I’ll give an example of something from each. First the everyday: I was at a flea market and I overheard someone inquire about an “oilcloth tablecloth”. For some reason those words stuck in my head because they sounded so musical to me. I repeated the words over and over and sort of sung them, and wrote a poem later that afternoon, which ended up in my book Soup for Breakfast:
keeps the table dry
despite the many soda spills
and coffee gone awry.
If someone sloshes orange juice
or baby starts to cry,
keeps the table dry.
Here’s an example of a poem inspired by a dream. I dreamed that I was walking in a beautiful garden on a moonlit night. It was full of very beautiful and unusual plants. I looked down and saw a gentle little creature looking up at me – a miniature golden sphinx. It was such a vivid and lovely moment I had to write about it, and it became a poem in my book Flamingos on the Roof.
Tiny Baby Sphinx
Tiny Baby Sphinx
She looks at me and blinks.
I offer bits of cat food.
The kind that really stinks.
I wonder what she thinks about
at nighttime when she slinks about
inviting other sphinxes out
to gather in the moonlight.
What tips or advice can you share with young students to encourage their creative talents?
I would suggest keeping a journal or sketchbook, and try to write and/or draw everyday, whether for a just few minutes or for several hours. Sometimes little notes or doodles can lead to larger fun ideas and stories. I frequently go back and peruse older sketchbooks and find ideas to develop. Time passing brings new perspectives, and newer ideas can unexpectedly link up with previous ones.
Can you suggest a fun writing or drawing topic to get them started?
Start with a character– it can be a person or an animal, and describe it in as much detail as you can. Then put that character in an unexpected environment. A surfer in the middle of the desert. A snail on the top of a skyscraper. Now create a backstory about how this came about. How did he or she get to this point?
If you were not writing and drawing, what do you think you would be doing?
I would probably be a struggling musician. I love music, all kinds, and it has been a main inspiration for my writing and art.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Just to try to make as much time as you can to read with your kids, and do your best to not get bored when your child wants to hear the same story over and over and over. I struggle with that one, being the dad of a two year old, but I try to keep in mind that I was the same way when I was little. I could hear my favorite books read to me a hundred times and still want more.
Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?
I’m just completing a book that concerns the swashbuckling saber-rattling world of Pirates, and a unique drawing and writing activity book that I’m very excited about.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?
Yes, please go to www.polkabats.com to learn more about my books and art!