Article, Author Interviews, Book Resources

Walter Wick

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

On November 18, 2005, award-winning author Walter Wick participated in a chat as part of the Scholastic Read for 2006 program.

Did you like to read when you were little?
Actually, no I did not. I was a very slow and reluctant reader and preferred to make things. I liked to draw and do art work instead. I could have used Read of 2006 but I suppose back then it would have been “Read for 1963” instead! I do like to read now though!

What are your favorite books for kids?
Well, obviously I like my own, or I wouldn't make them. I like that I make the books as kids would like them. I also like the works Chris Van Allsburg, David Shannon, David Macaulay, but also the classics of Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll.

Where do you get your ideas?
That's one of the most common questions I get and the hardest to answer. I’ve gotten ideas from walking in the woods and traveling in cities. One idea came from a postcard I received in the mail. Sometimes I just think really hard of what I want to do. Often my ideas come from playing with my collection of props. I'll make some quick arrangements and take some shots with a digital camera, and see where that takes me.

How do your ideas express how you feel?
They express how I feel visually, and I usually try to start with an expression or feeling of something, and try to match that. For instance, with the I SPY Mystery, I often tried to get the feeling of mystery in the photograph. In the Fantasy book, I tried to express wonder and imagination through the use of ordinary objects. In Can You See What I See: Dream Machine, I tried to express a dream-like sense of adventure. Usually, the topic I've picked for a book will dictate the kind of expression I'm looking for, I'll match that visually with a picture. That's a good question!

Are you an illustrator?
Well, I'm a photographic illustrator, which means I have to use objects as the basis for my illustration. Such pictures must be based in reality, even if they are to seem improbable. One could also say that I'm a “three-dimensional illustrator” because I create 3D scenes that are then photographed. For I SPY and Can You See What I See, my pictures also function as games or puzzles. Even when my Illustrations for those books narrate a story, they must also function as a puzzle. There's an extra burden on the illustrator if the illustration also has to function as a puzzle.

How do you hide the objects so well in different places?
Most of the time I build the scene first and than look for opportunities to intergate hidden objects into the scene. Occasionally, I'll plan a few key things in advance of building the set. So some things are planned and others are just placed in as I see fit. It's hard to know in advance what's going hide well. Generally, the riddle is written after I’ve completed the construction of the set, but before the final picture is taken in case I need to add things to accommodate the finished riddle.

Do you write the poetry that goes with your work?
I write the poetry for the Can You See What I See series. I wrote the text for A Drop of Water and Walter Wicks Optical Tricks. The rhymes for I SPY were written by Jean Marzollo.

Do you like to write stories?
The stories in my books are told with pictures, and yes, I like doing that! I have yet to write a story with text. The books I’ve written are puzzle books, a few of which contain picture-stories, and non-fiction science books.

Why are you interested in science?
I became interested in science through working with light, materials, and various proceeses in my studio. It helped me to know more about how things worked, so I began to read more about science to help me solve problems, and I realized it was fun too!

How long have you been an author?
Fifteen years.

When will your new book be on sale?
It's on sale now! It's called Can You See What I See: The Night Before Christmas.

How long does it take to write a book?
Anywhere from five to nine months. Usually I only do one book a year.

How did you come up with the title I Spy?
I didn't come up with the title. I believe it was Jean Marzollo, who based it on the classic kids game "I Spy with My Little Eye.”

How did you get the idea to do I Spy books?
The idea originated at Scholastic, but it was inspired by a photograph I had done for Let's Find Out magazine, which was edited by Jean Marzollo.

How do you set up the objects to take the pictures?
Well, it can be as simple as arranging ordinary objects on a tabletop, or it could be a complex scene that has been hand-built and sculpted. Some sets are small – an arragement on a table surface that's about 2 by 3 feet. Others sets can be built on stages up to 16 feet square. There's a wide range of complexity and techniques involved in setting up the objects.

Are the objects that you use life size or miniature?
Both. I've made miniature villages that also include life-size objects in them. I've also made sets composed of life-size objects with miniature objects within those scenes.

Is your goal for us that we discover new things?
Yes, that's part of it. I think that's a pretty good goal to have.

I have noticed that some things are so well hidden that I can't find them. It is like they are not even there!
If there's something you can't find, you could find contact information on my website, Write us and we'll send you a hint or maybe even tell you where to find the object.

What do you do with your sets after you take the pictures?
I wreck them! I save all the pieces and dismantle the sets. Each new set requires new props to populate it, so as I make more sets, my prop collection grows. I don't have room to save the sets though. They would fill up a gymnasium! I don't really feel sad about losing the sets; by the time I've worked on that set for two or three weeks, I'm usually happy to move on.

What is your studio like?
It's a dream studio! Two years ago I renovated a firehouse, and it's very spacious. It has all the workspace I could possibly need for the kinds of books I've been doing for the last ten years. There are lots of windows and lots of light, and fun toys too!

Where are you now?
I'm in my studio right now.

Out of all your books, which is your favorite?
Usually my recent ones are my favorites. That would be Can You See What I See: The Night Before Christmas. I still love Dream Machine, A Drop of Water, and I SpyTreasure Hunt.

How many books have you written?
Well, I've co-created 8 original I SPY books with Jean Marzollo. I've written and illustrated 8 original books of my own.

How many years did you go to school?
After high school, I went to a 2-year art college. I didn't hang around in school very long.

Where were you born and where do you live now?
I happen to live in the city I was born in, Hartford, Connecticut.

What gave you the idea to write A Drop of Water?
For years I had photographed water for various different reasons in the studio. I had become very familiar with the astonishing optical properties of water, and thought it would be an excellent subject for a book.

In the book I Spy Golden Challenge on pages 24 and 25, I noticed that the coloring is mostly gold. Is that why you gave the book that title?
No, actually. The title refers to the “gold prize”, or a “golden challenge”, not to any particular photograph in the book.

What was the biggest book you ever wrote?
I think the most difficult books I've done are I SPY Treasure Hunt, which was a collaboration with Jean Marzollo, and Can You See What I See: Dream Machine.

How do you get the ideas for the titles of your books?
With I SPY, we usually start with a title. The title usually refers to the subject we most wanted to illustrate and express. But on occasion, the title didn’t come until I was three-quarters through the book – when it was apparent what the book is about.

Have you ever planned to write a different kind of book?
Since I only do one book a year, it's hard to know if I'll ever do all the books I want to do. I don't know if I'll live that long! Eventually, I'll be doing a sequel to A Drop of Water called A Ray of Light. But I still have a couple more of books in the "search and find" genre due. I make each new book as different as I can, so each book seems new to me. Beyond that, I don't know where this will take me.

When you were little did you want to be something else?
That's a good question. I don't think I ever imagined being an author, and I don't know if I even had any plans to go into one profession or another. I was very industrious. When I was little, I would make my own toys, draw and paint, build forts in the woods. I was always doing something with my hands. And of course, that's what I do now as I illustrate my books. Even though I didn't imagine I'd be doing this back then, I was getting a lot of practice by doing the things I like to do.

When did you start taking pictures?
I took some in middle school, but I became serious about photography in high school.

Does someone help you make the books?
Yes, I have two full-time assistants, and I hire freelance artists to build models. They often make important contributions to the work I do.

When you set up your scene, do you use hot glue or do the objects stay on their own?
Sometimes the objects are placed in the scene just as you expect them to be, without any glue. Sometimes we use something called FunTac, which is a putty-like substance I use to adhere things to the set. Sometimes we use hot melt glue. It's a combination of different adhesives, and being very careful about balancing things.

I would like to write books in the future too. Do you have any advice?
Pursue the subjects and activities that interest you the most. Good writing comes from knowing your subject well.

We're almost out of time. Mr. Wick, is there anything you'd like to add?
Thanks for all the questions! Keep reading, writing and creating!

  • Subjects:
    Achievement and Success, Creativity and Imagination, Photography