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Artist Jon J Muth is the creator of this year's art for the National Book Festival poster. He studied stone sculpture and calligraphy in Japan, and the Japanese influence is readily apparent in his "Zen" series of illustrated books. The first in the series, "Zen Shorts," won the prestigious Caldecott award for its extraordinary watercolor illustrations. The books feature a wise panda named Stillwater who teaches life lessons. The newest in the series is "Zen Ghosts" (Scholastic).

2011 National Book Festival poster by Jon J Muth

Download poster (PDF, 443Kb)

Previous National Book Festival Appearances

The Scoop

Your wonderful artwork can be seen on the 2011 National Book Festival poster. How did you decide what to draw?

The Library of Congress said they were looking for an image which would encourage the idea of reading aloud. I thought, "Who would everyone listen to if they were reading?" Abraham Lincoln occurred to me pretty quickly. He's a hero of mine.

What sparked your imagination for your newest book – Zen Ghosts?

First, it is based on a great old ghost story and I though it would be fun to have Stillwater involved in that. It's also a story which makes us think about what our hearts want. Children are challenged with issues of duality early on, and I had never seen a story which connected with those issues for children.

What artists have inspired you?

Wow! So Many! Isamu Noguchi, John Singer Sargent, Valentin Serov, Lisbeth Zwerger, Walter Di Maria, Constantin Brancusi…

Are you often inspired by your everyday surroundings or dreams?

These days, everyday life inspires me most. The people I meet. My family, my friends.

What tips or advice can you share with young students to encourage their creative talents?

I would say, draw from the world around you. Pay attention to the world you experience every day. If you want to draw, draw from life - draw from what is in front of you. Look carefully at the way light creates shapes and spaces. If you are writing a story, remember your characters will probably have some traits that are like the people you know. The natural world is the one we share. If what you make comes, at least partly, from life, it will naturally communicate.

Can you suggest a fun writing or drawing topic to get them started?

Draw someone you know wearing clothes that are WAY too big. Or WAY too small.

Write a story from the point of view of your pet, or your sibling or a stuffed animal, and try to really think of what they would say or feel.

How do you decide on themes for your books?

Themes grow out of questions or situations I want to explore. The theme generally shows itself as the story develops. I try and let the story tell me what it's about as it unveils itself.

What is your list of favorite children or teen books?

The books I love include:

  • Harold and the Purple Crayon, - Crockett Johnson,
  • The Emporer and The Kite - Jane Yolan and Ed Young,
  • The Snowy Day - Ezra Jack Keats,
  • Duck, Death and The Tulip - Wolf Erlbruch,
  • Where The Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak,
  • And all the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel

For slightly older readers:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee,
  • Tiger Rising, Kate DiCamillo
  • All the Harry Potter books - J.K. Rowling

What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?

Read aloud to your children every day. It's fun. It increases their wit and their wisdom. Listen to audio books and talk about the stories together.

If you weren’t creating children’s books, what do you think you would be doing?

I would be painting. Or I would be working in a small Asian garden, helping to care for the place.

Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?

I just finished illustrating Blowin In The Wind, from the song by Bob Dylan, and now I am working on paintings for a book of poetry with Caroline Kennedy, and the final Stillwater book.

Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?

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Zen Ghosts

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