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Look! A Book-Maker!

Children's author/illustrator Bob Staake talks with Parent & Child about his latest picture book, his creative process, and the piloting skills of zebras (or lack thereof).

By Rachael Taaffe | null , null
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Bob Staake (pronounced like "stack") has illustrated more than 50 books for children, including P&C favorites Mary Had a Little Lamp and Sputter, Sputter, Sput. His latest, Look! A Book!, is a zany seek-and-find that features scenes packed full of goofy characters in action. Just peek through a hole in a page to find — a pail? A snail? A baby whale? All three and more! Staake's trademark bright colors and geometric shapes make every page pop. We couldn't resist asking Staake which character he'd most like to be (hint: beep beep boop beep).

Parent & Child: Where did you draw the inspiration for Look! A Book! from?
Bob Staake: When I was a kid growing up in the '60s, I realized that I "read" books by looking at the pictures — and that I learned just as much about my world by getting lost in a book's imagery. I really wanted to create a lush, crazy, and visual book that showed a child the importance of looking. Each time they pick it up, they'll find something new. If I were a child today, this is the book I would want to read.

P&C: If you could be one of the gazillions of characters in Look! A Book!, which would you be and why?
Staake: I have always had this weird affinity for robots. It's something about the combination of metal, knobs, dials, flashing lights, and clanging sounds. If they can fly, that's even better. The great thing about creating Look! A Book! is that I was able to draw hundreds of characters and weird vehicles — from helicopter-flying tigers to whale-shaped blimps, from grizzly bear-powered submarines to T-Rex taxis. I think I even have a zebra flying a biplane, which probably isn't too safe because they're not really known for their piloting skills.

P&C: You have a very distinctive, unique style. How did you develop it?
Staake: I've been a professional illustrator for over 30 years, so the more and more you create art, the easier it is for your own, personal visual style to develop. With my children's books, I just try to remember little 7-year-old Bobby Staake growing up in California. I try to craft scenes that would make him look at the drawings and say, "Wow, that's so cool!!!" If I can do that, then I think I can maybe inspire the kids of today.

P&C: We hear you work in Photoshop 3. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Staake: I know, it's crazy. It's a software program that hasn't been around since 1994, but it's what I use for all my picture books. I create all these characters by making circles, ovals, and squares and then removing parts of them. Then, voila! — I've somehow created a brontosaurus. However, in Look! A Book! all the creatures and scenes were created by dragging and clicking with my computer mouse. It's sort of like drawing with a bar of soap. [To see a time-lapsed video of Staake's drawing process, click here.]

P&C: What's your favorite kind of picture book?
Staake: I like picture books that take a child into an unknown world, the ones that aren't really grounded in reality. If I can find a way to transport a child into some sort of magical land where virtually anything can happen and if I can humorously impart on them some sort of lesson in life, then I think that's my most successful type of picture book. Look! A Book! is designed to show a child that anything is truly possible if you have an imagination.

P&C: What's your favorite part of writing and illustrating children's books?
Staake: What I love most is balancing the words and the pictures, finding ways to make them play off one another. If everything is there in the story, then the art is superfluous, and if the pictures tell the entire story, then there's really no reason for the words. I also really enjoy hiding things in my books — goofy things, weird little characters, odd sight gags-the things that a child can stumble on and giggle over if they really, really look deep into the book.

P&C: What's the best thing a kid ever said or wrote to you about your work? What about worst?
Staake: The best? That my book inspired them to read other books of mine. The worst? That my book would be better if it included a joystick.

P&C: What kind of advice would you give to kids who want to be artists?
Staake: Draw constantly and really look at your world for inspiration. I have a 7-year-old niece who creates such advanced drawings for her age, and I think it is because she notices subtlety. She doesn't just make her characters smile; she can draw them giving a sly wink. She doesn't just show an elephant running; she can make it look like it's gleefully skipping. It's because she really pushes herself to draw difficult things that makes her next drawing even more imaginative. In fact, she is so good that I will be using some of her drawings in my next picture book!

P&C: What about to parents whose kids want to be artists?
Staake: If a parent detects artistic talent in their children, then the best thing he or she can do is expose them to different creative tools-unique pens, colored pencils, paints, clay, construction paper, etc. — and then let the child experiment. Allow him to "figure out" how to use these tools, give him room to make mistakes, and in time he will see his art evolve in deeper and unexpected ways. Also, encourage him to understand that when you create a drawing, it's filled with information — so always remember, every drawing is really a "visual sentence."

About the Author

Rachael Taaffe is the copy editor for Scholastic Parent & Child.

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