Children’s author and illustrator Greg Foley approaches the trade from a novel perspective – with a refreshing unity of design denoting his days as a founding member and creative director of Visionaire Magazine.
Foley’s pared-down aesthetic is mirrored by clean and poignant narration, belying some seriously involved themes such as: strength of character, the nature of friendship and the power of imagination.
Simplicity is a sophisticated device. Condescension and sentimentality never taint the tales’ clean textual and visual narratives, culminating in books as insightful for parents as for children.
Kid-in caught up with the internationally acclaimed, award winning author to discuss the fine line between childhood and adulthood, and the importance of maintaining wonder.
You have been quoted as saying that we are all children. Can you explain?
Have I been quoted? That sounds important! Actually, I realized that we never stop being children only after deciding to face my interest in children’s writing. We’re here for such a short time, and there’s so much to learn – how could we be anything less than children? Staying in touch with that wonder is a great foundation for storytelling.
Does this notion challenge the conventional line drawn between works for adults and children?
There are styles and subject matter that are too specialized for both kids and adults to share. But, the fun challenge is finding a sentiment that’s true to our earliest memories and feelings.
You use the term design regarding your approach to children’s books. Are the children, or their parents, reacting to the design element?
Both! But as adults we’re experiencing more retro-culture than ever before – styles that feel familiar and authentic. For kids, retro means nothing because it’s the first time they’re experiencing things. So I’m most interested in getting to the essence of a thing instead. I admire design where all the elements, graphics, illustration, story, etc., come together in a way that the creative decisions don’t jump out at you.
Most creative adults would identify strongly with the message behind Thank You Bear. Are the messages that you convey throughout your books personally inspired?
Yes, doesn’t everything creative seem so personal? We’re all vulnerable when we’re showing something to other people. We’re looking for someone to share our experience: a friend. And most stories, even romantic ones, are about friendship.
The books have been really successful and well received. In your opinion, what makes for a great children’s book?
That’s nice of you to say. I’m grateful that some of my books have made it into foreign edition. It says something when a story can speak to different cultures.
And different generations. Why do you think parents enjoy your books as much as children?
I hope they enjoy them as much! Personally, I like picture book stories when they are understated, have a true sentiment, minimal text, adorable character drawings… and some wry humor.
You studied Child Development – what do you believe children derive from your books?
Well, I self-studied. I find cognitive development fascinating. I asked people in the field for reading lists and recommendations. What I’ve been told is that my Thank You Bear books capture the emotional landscape of childhood. And, that the Willoughby books illustrate the power of imagination. But personally, I’m not pushing any type of curriculum.
How does the experience of reading to captive audiences compare with creating the books?
The process of making books is great, but nothing compares to reading them with kids! They’re such a fresh audience that they naturally want to engage with a story. It takes skill not to let them derail a reading with interjections. But often their comments and questions are the best part… really cute. When an adult does it, it’s just called ‘heckling’.
If you could give children something integral and lasting through your books, what would it be?
A sense of wonder… and maybe self-reliance.
Following Purple Little Bird – what’s next?
I’m working on a couple of picture books. There’s a new Bear book coming – with any luck it will be out for Christmas 2012! And I’m also working on something a little longer. It’s the first book in what will be a fantasy trilogy. Although there are some pictures, the real challenge for me is shaping a story that’s hundreds of pages long. Up until now, I’ve been working on thirty to forty-page stories, so I hope it comes together. But, like one of my favorite quotes says: “Nothing is too wonderful to be true.”
More from Greg Foley here: www.thankyoubear.com