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philip stead

Interview with Author/Illustrator Philip Stead and Illustrator Erin Stead

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Interviews, Illustrators, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so thrilled about today’s interview— it’s somewhat of a fangirl moment for me, as I love their books so much. Each time I read one, I discover a new detail to fall in love with. Their newest book, MUSIC FOR MISTER MOON is stunning. We’ve been reading it at bedtime almost every night over here. I don’t think there is an intro I could write that would do them justice…so let’s just jump in, shall we?

Please welcome Erin and Philip Stead!

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Where do you live? 

We live in an old farmhouse in Northern Michigan, not too far from the Lake Michigan beach.

How many years have you been in publishing? 

13 years.

How did you first get published?

PHIL: We moved to New York City when we were just out of college with the idea of getting into children's books. I worked briefly for the Brooklyn Children's Museum as a designer/illustrator and spent my free time hitting the pavement, talking my way into publishing offices. Meanwhile Erin worked in a children's bookstore, Books of Wonder, and then later took a job in design at HarperCollins. In the end it was a friend that helped us get a foot all the way in the door. Our friend, fellow bookmaker George O'Connor, passed some of my work along to Neal Porter, an editor at Roaring Brook Press. George had worked with Erin at Books of Wonder. Interestingly enough, Erin also worked with other future authors Nick Bruel, Jason Chin, and Julie Fogliano at the same store. All of those names ended up getting their break with Neal Porter as well. After George had linked me up with Neal he also suggested to Neal that Erin might be interested in illustration work. Up till then Erin had never done illustration work. In fact, she'd barely done any drawing at all in almost three years. In the few days between George's suggestion and Erin's first meeting with Neal I wrote a draft of A Sick Day for Amos McGee, then basically pitched it to both Erin and Neal at the same time over dinner. 

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

Yep, we've been doing this full-time since the beginning, even before it made any financial sense to do so. We're just not good at multi-tasking. But we are pretty good at being broke.

What inspires you to create picture books?

Dusty, old, forgotten books, mostly. And animals.

What surprised you the most working as an author, illustrator, or author/illustrator?

We would read books (i.e. Dear Genius, by Leonard Marcus) that made it seem like all the illustrators and authors that we grew up reading were all actually friends in real life. This seemed cool, but unlikely to us. But even just a few years in it became clear to us that we all really DO know each other. We love knowing so many other bookmakers. It's one of our favorite things about the job.

What do you find difficult working as an author, illustrator, or author/illustrator?

Literally everything. We're both really hard on ourselves and we both contemplate quitting on an almost daily basis. By now though (and we say this often to each other) we basically have no marketable skills for the real world. We could be professional dog walkers maybe. That's about it.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

PHIL: Erin is always cooking when she's stuck on a problem. Sometimes she avoids her desk for weeks and just cooks, cooks, cooks. It used to stress me out, the longer she'd go without setting pencil to paper. But now I know it's all just part of the process. Neither of us are prolific sketchers. We often go straight to final art from the idea in our head. So I guess cooking is akin to sketching for Erin. I find a lot of my inspiration outside of the children's book world. Aside from my love of used book stores I don't really stay too up to date on what's new, other than what my friends are making. I love movies, especially weird ones. And I love music. All music. I'm currently in love with an album by an Ethiopian jazz pianist named Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. It's unlike anything I've ever heard and I'm sure it's trying to tell me something if I just listen to it long enough.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

Procrastination. And the making of coffee to do so.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit community?

We've done several school events through an organization called An Open Book in Washington DC. Their goal is to get books into the hands of kids who might not have access to book ownership otherwise. School events can be exhausting but we always leave our Open Book events feeling energized and in love with books again. When you see how much a book, just a single book, can mean to a kid it really puts a lot of the other troubles of bookmaking into perspective. It also helps you realize that your books don't really belong to you after they're finished. They go out and live their own interesting lives outside the studio.

Recommended reading?

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Stamaty. A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears, by Jules Feiffer, and Bambert's Book of Missing Stories, by Reinhardt Jung. We recommend these books to pretty much anyone who will listen.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far? 

Making a book about our dog (Ideas Are All Around) and then getting her picture published in the New York Times thereafter. 

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing/illustrating?

That there will be a lot of public speaking. Neither one of us really considered that getting up and talking to grown-ups would be a big part of being a children's book illustrator. For two bonafide introverts it's kind of a bummer sometimes.

Can you tell us about your newest book? 

We've been thinking a lot lately about what it would be like to grow up right now in a world that is all about over sharing and over stimulation. Quiet, alone time was essential to both of us as kids. It's still essential to us. I don't think kids are often allowed these days to do things alone—truly alone. Everything is always documented and shared. Music for Mister Moon is book about an introvert, made by two introverts. We hate to ever say what a books means, but at its core the book is meant to ask a question which is: can a thing have value if it isn't shared? 

What’s up next for you?

Our next book is actually the 10 year anniversary edition of A Sick Day for Amos McGee. It'll come in a nice, cloth slipcase and have some bonus content inside. After that I've (Phil) got a book called In My Garden. It's the first ever book that I've illustrated but not written. It was written by Charlotte Zolotow and originally published in the 1960s with illustrations by Roger Duvoisin. 

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators? 

Always be curious.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

PHIL: The Princess Bride

ERIN: Yes, definitely, The Princess Bride


Huge thank you to Phil and Erin for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited to see what you make next!


PHILIP AND ERIN STEAD are the author and illustrator of the 2011 Caldecott Medal Book, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. They have collaborated on many books together including Bear Has a Story to Tell, Lenny & Lucy, and most recently The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, a New York Times bestselling reimagining of an unfinished Mark Twain fairy tale. Philip and Erin live in northern Michigan. Someday Erin hopes to learn how to play the cello.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Erin and Philip, visit them online:

Erin Stead’s Website

Philip Stead’s Website

TO ORDER Philip and Erin’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of MUSIC FOR MISTER MOON?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, May 9th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author Sheri Dillard!