Chris Van Dusen writes: “As a child, my brothers and I would spend hours drawing pictures. We didn’t have video games or computers to entertain us, so we drew instead. … I had no idea back then that I’d end up writing and illustrating children’s books when I grew up.” Since then, Van Dusen has been the writer, illustrator or both of many acclaimed children’s books, including illustrating Kate DiCamillo’s “Mercy Watson”. His new book is “King Hugo’s Huge Ego” (Candlewick). He is also one of the illustrators of “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure,” an original story written for the Library of Congress’ Read.gov website and now a book from Candlewick.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
What sparked your imagination for your newest book – King Hugo’s Huge Ego?
The idea for "King Hugo's Huge Ego" came from a couple of different places. As you may know, I'm a HUGE Dr. Seuss fan and a few of his first books could be considered fairy tales in that they featured a king and were set in a kingdom. I thought, I'd like to try something like that too. The other thing that lead to HUGO came from my book The Circus Ship. That was the first book in which I added a villain and I had so much fun with that character (aptly named Mr. Paine!) that I decided to challenge myself. Could I write a book where the main character is a villain? I'm not sure King Hugo is technically a villain, but he starts off being not such a nice guy!
What artists have inspired you? Are you often inspired by your everyday surroundings or dreams?
I have always liked illustrations rich in detail, so Robert McCloskey's work is a huge inspiration and Dr. Seuss' art always sparks my imagination. I also really enjoy the work of Mark Buehner, Carter Goodrich, William Joyce, Tony Fucile, Adam Rex, Lane Smith, Shaun Tan, David Wiesner, and Paul Zelinsky. But I could go on and on! There are too many artists to list.
What tips or advice can you share with young students to inspire their creative talents?
If you're interested in becoming an illustrator, draw, draw, draw! Draw anything and everything! The basis of any good illustration is the ability to draw. It also helps if you have something printed. Offer to illustrate a poster at no cost for a local event of draw something for your newspaper. Once you have a few printed pieces, you can create a portfolio that you can show around. Before you know it, people will be hiring you to illustrate something!
And if you want to be a writer, never be content with your first version. Write and rewrite! You'll be surprised how much better your story becomes if you (like Jack in If I Built a Car says) constantly analyze tweak and refine. But probably the most important bit of advice I can offer is DON'T GIVE UP!! You're going to face rejection at some point. Everyone does. But if you believe in your story or your art, keep at it. Persistence pays off in the long run.
Can you suggest a fun writing or drawing topic to get them started?
When I was a kid I loved to draw things like aliens, robots and monsters. I think you should draw what you like. But I also used to play a couple of drawing games with my brothers that were fun. Van Dusen – Tip 1: One was a scribble game. One person would draw a simple scribble on a piece of paper and then pass it to another person. They had to try to turn that scribble into a picture of something.
Van Dusen – Tip 2: Another game we'd play was to take a piece of paper and fold it into thirds. The first person would draw a head on the top third and continue the outlines of the neck on to the middle third. He'd then fold the paper over, hiding the head he drew and passed it on to the next person. He'd draw the body, fold it over and pass it to the third person who'd draw the legs. When he was done drawing, we'd open it up to see what we created! What made it fun was mixing up people and animal and monster parts.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
Since most of my books are from my imagination, there generally isn't a lot of research involved. But I do try to capture a specific time period in my illustrations and this requires some research. For my books set in the 50s and 60s, I have a few old Sears catalogs that I use for reference. There's everything you need in those catalogs! For The Circus Ship I had to do a bit more research than usual. Even though the story is fictionalized, I wanted to make sure the details in the illustrations were as accurate as possible. I used Google Images and visited my library, local historical societies and museums. Everyone was very eager to help.
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
A list of my favorite picture books would fill several pages! But a few of my top picks are Where The Wild Things Are, Swamp Angel, Horton Hears a Who, Fanny's Dream, Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man, Zen Shorts, The Wreck of the Zephyr, The Arrival and Flotsam. For teen books, Because of Winn-Dixie tops my list. I cry every time I read it!
If you were not writing and drawing, what do you think you would be doing?
If I wasn't writing or drawing, I have no clue what I'd be doing! I've been drawing all my life and I'm so lucky that I can do it for a living.
Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?
I'm working on a couple of new books. My next book will be Randy Riley's Really Big Hit and I don't want to give anything away, but I can tell you that Candlewick Press will release it in time for baseball season. And right now I'm working on a sequel to If I Built a Car for Dial.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?
My website is simply www.chrisvandusen.com