everything grows with love

Stories about My Experiences with Writers & Illustrators Who Bring Light into the World…by Bonnie Ingber Verburg

Archive for Leo & Diane Dillon

Leo Dillon’s Birthday

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It’s March 2, Leo Dillon’s birthday, and I’ve been thinking about him all day. Seeing his photograph warms me, and I call Diane to mark the day. Their accomplishments, and what they’ve brought into our complicated, sometimes broken world, are so bright and shining. As people, nothing every stopped them from doing the work they loved; they started out on a wing and a prayer with an abundance of brilliant talent, and over five decades created paintings and books that can never be forgotten. Even as books increasingly go out of print and become unavailable, I am certain the Dillons’ art and the stories they illustrated will outlast us all and will continue to bring joy and delight to children and adults around the world.

Happy birthday, Leo. I miss you. We all miss you. But your light continues to shine, and it always will. Love, Bonfire

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Kids

If Kids Ran the World: Despite Pain and Brutality Across the Globe, People Are Helping One Another in Record Numbers

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Encouraging new statistics just released by volunteeringinamerica.gov:

Nearly 63 million Americans volunteered nearly 8 billion hours last year. (This service has an estimated value of $173 billion dollars, although that isn’t the point.) And more than 138 million Americans volunteered informally in their communities. Of course those statistics  include massive numbers of children. Congratulations again to Malala–for winning the Nobel Peace Prize at age seventeen!

Leo and Diane Dillon: Diane Dillon interviewed by Julie Danielson at Kirkus.com

I just read this lovely interview of Diane Dillon, written by Julie Danielson at Kirkus.com–and I want to share it. Thank you, Julie…especially for celebrating the enormous contributions the Dillons have made to children for more than five decades.
See the original at this link (with photos, illustrations, and nice typography):

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/making-better-world/

Making a Better World
By Julie Danielson on August 7, 2014

The dedication of the upcoming picture book with the names Leo and Diane Dillon on the cover reads as such: “In Memory of Leo, who wasn’t able to finish this one.”

The pair, who had been writing and illustrating picture books since 1970 and were twice awarded the Caldecott Medal, did indeed collaborate on If Kids Ran the World, a book from Scholastic’s Blue Sky Press, scheduled to hit shelves in late August. However, Leo died in 2012, just as they were finishing the book.

It’s a tale spilling over with unfettered joy, one that imagines a world full of peace, purity and utter harmony in the hands of children alone. A book that strikes such an unsullied and merry tone is certainly the best possible one with which to leave readers. “Leo was a very positive person and had a great sense of humor,” Diane tells If Kids Ran the Worldme. “One of his favorite sayings was: ‘Everything is going to be all right.’ The book was in its final stage when he died. The preliminary decisions had been made about the layout and what style and technique to use, and the research and many of the drawings were finished.”

The book also includes a note about the very collaborative process involved in the writing—that is, between Leo, Diane and their editor, Bonnie Verburg. This note states that the concept and multiple drafts came from Verburg, and despite protests from Leo and Diane, “she chose to be publisher rather than author.” Diane adds: “We had many conversations with [her] for nearly thirty years about how we wanted to approach the book—especially in the beginning. For instance, the underlying issues include hunger, homelessness, poverty, and war, but we wanted to illustrate the positive and hopeful actions people are taking, such as feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, and promoting equality and peace.”

It’s a book that has been met with mixed reviews, given the pie-in-the-sky view of the world with children fully in charge. Think The Lord of the Flies and turn it on its head (or, really, just altogether throw it out the window): There’s no waste, no cruelty, no war, no strife whatsoever. But the Dillons, Diane explains, had their reasons: “We feel that children want to be needed and like to be helpful. They have an innate sense of fairness and honesty and a capacity for joy. Even in the midst of the most dire circumstances, children can be seen playing and laughing. They have an innocence that we tend to lose as we grow older. It’s true that If Kids Ran the World presents a utopian world, but why not aim for the highest possibility?”

In fact, it’s to this notion of underestimating children that Diane returns when I ask about diversity in picture books today. If Kids Ran the World is an overt celebration of multiculturalism and inclusion, something the pair had championed in their long and lauded careers. In Margalit Fox’s New York Times piece on Leo’s death, she notes the “stylistic diversity” that characterized their work, as well as their dedication to portraying people of all colors. “All schools should have the same quality teachers, equipment, and books, and the expectation that all children can learn,” Diane says when I ask what schools can better do to champion diversity today. “The best way to teach children about diversity and peace is to live it ourselves as parents, teachers, and leaders of governments and religions. Too often some children are underestimated and under-challenged. This book was meant to inspire them to be their best. They have a part in making a better world.”

And what’s next for someone who spent decades working so successfully in tandem with her life partner that their work was described (again by Fox) as “a seamless amalgam of both their hands”?

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“There is something in the works,” Diane says, “but it’s too early to talk about it yet. It’s a time of introspection and reinvention for me, and right now I am enjoying a life without deadlines.”

We fans can surely wait patiently for Diane’s re-emergence and for the stories to come.

Illustrations from If Kids Ran the World © 2014 by Leo & Diane Dillon. Used with permission from The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic.

Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.

The Dillons’ Kitchen Table: A letter about making If Kids Ran the World

I was recently asked to write a letter to librarians and booksellers about IF KIDS RAN THE WORLD. A few hours ago I returned from the American Library Association Convention, where the 45th Anniversary of the Corretta Scott King Award was celebrated. It is such a warm, welcoming, loving community, and I had just received the first hardcover copy of KIDS from the printer. i slipped it into my bag and carried it with me the entire weekend, sharing it with friends who had known and admired the Dillons forever…. Lots of memories, lots of hearts touched by the splendid art as well as the generous sentiment–so typical of Leo & Diane.

Meanwhile, here’s the letter:

A Note from Bonnie Verburg, editor of If Kids Ran the World

For more than twenty-five years, it has been my great privilege and honor to work closely with Leo and Diane Dillon. In 1992, when I left Harcourt to become Editorial Director of Trade Books at Scholastic, I founded an imprint called the Blue Sky Press, and Leo and Diane drew our logo: a heart with wings. That winged heart is significant, because everything grows with love. And on January 11, 2011, when we began talking about creating a book called “If Kids Ran the World,” love was at the center that discussion—and the hundreds of discussions that followed.

Our original idea was to make a book that would introduce children and their older allies to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity; Heifer International; Doctors without Borders; and a full range of people and groups who exist to help others. What was initially difficult was to create such a book without including poverty, starvation, disease, war, racism—frightening issues that are tearing apart our world. It was at Leo and Diane’s kitchen table that we decided to cut all of that out of the book; I remember saying that when I imagined reading this book to my son, I didn’t want it to be his introduction to the horrors of war and other nightmares he would eventually encounter. So Leo and Diane instead built a book of optimism. Children feed the hungry, give medicine to the sick, build safe housing for those who need it, and keep the air and water clean. Certain issues had to be resolved—what would the children wear? It was important to the Dillons that children could wear any kind of clothing without being ridiculed. A child didn’t have to have that popular brand of $250 sneakers to be cool; he or she could wear the pair purchased at the Salvation Army, and nobody would laugh. Every detail in If Kids Ran the World was discussed at length; for a book with a very whimsical, light-hearted feeling, it was in fact planned with great seriousness. What an education I have had with each book I have published by Leo and Diane.

The manuscript was re-written so many times I lost track, and the pencil sketches and most of the finishes were complete when Leo became ill. When he decided to have surgery, it was beyond comprehension that he would catch an infection in the hospital and not return home to the studio.

Leo and Virginia Hamilton were my mentors, and Diane is one of my closest friends. The loss is profound. Yet the shining light left behind—and it positively glows in If Kids Ran the World—can never be diminished. In five decades of working together, the Dillons have changed the very fabric of what we consider to be a children’s book. And their commitment to include all people in their books— every race, religion, and socio-economic group—has not always been popular, but it has changed the lives of generations of children who were finally able to see their own beautiful faces in the stunning library of books that emphasized the beauty in each one of us…including you.

I hope you love If Kids Ran the World as much as we do, and I’m including Leo here. Every thought and brushstroke is an act of kindness and grace.

May the sun always shine upon you, may you always remember to be grateful for your many blessings, and may you bask in the pure joy that comes from helping others. Thank you for sharing the light.

 

 

 

On the wings of time….

It’s difficult to believe that on May 26, two years have passed since Leo Dillon died. After more than twenty-five years of close friendship, what can I possibly say about that? And although many years have now passed since I lost Virginia Hamilton, I still find myself wanting to call her when some funny thing happens that would make her laugh. Suddenly, after 37 years of book publishing, I no longer feel that time is an endlessly renewing river. Suddenly those years of memorable moments are beginning to ask to be recorded. When I was working with Jimmy Buffett on A Salty Piece of Land, he said, “It feels as if time is flying by because it is.”  So here is a spot for me to share some snapshots of small events along my editorial journey. I started out this crazy career wearing snakeskin cowboy boots and ridiculously short skirts, and now I’m somebody’s mother…sitting quietly at a computer while my golden retriever sleeps on my feet. All these years of publishing, I have kept what Barry Moser called “day books,” and by now I have shelves of them. They are packed with quotes and snippets of conversations and pasted-in pictures and lots of contract negotiations. They are also overflowing with love. What I feel most today is gratitude. So I hope that comes across as I try to gather a morning here, a dinner there, and wrap my arms around these brilliant, generous, highly creative people who fill my life with such abundance.

June 4, 2012

IMG_5933IMG_5717     Photo of me 1992 by Leo Dillon, taken in the kitchen; and photo of Leo…

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Going to the printer on Monday: Leo & Diane Dillon’s IF KIDS RAN THE WORLD

Going to the printer on Monday: Leo & Diane Dillon's IF KIDS RAN THE WORLD

If peace begins with a smile, then children are our greatest hope for the future. All roads lead to kindness in this warm, uplifting celebration of generosity and love. A rainbow of children lend a helping hand to make our global village a happier place, where food, shelter, medicine, and education can be had by all. Leo Dillon was working with Diane on this, their final collaboration, when he died in May of 2012. If Kids Ran the World will be published by the Blue Sky Press on September 10, 2014. (Story about the fascinating road that led to this book will follow when I get a chance to take a breath!)

The Genius Club: Memorable Remarks from Memorable Writers

Every day something enters my mind that was said to me by a writer or illustrator I’ve published. 

“There is no such thing as a bad scene–just a badly written scene.”  –Cynthia Voigt (about The Glass Mountain, adult)

(Speaking on an ALA panel) “Every time a question about race is asked, all of you turn to me to answer it. Why is that? Am I the only person here who has any kind of racial or ethnic background?” –Virginia Hamilton (followed by a long moment of silence) (Plain City; Time Pieces; Her Stories; In the Beginning; etc.)

“There is no such thing as a coincidence.”  –Leo Dillon (If Kids Ran the World; Aida; Pish, Posh; Rap a Tap Tap; The Girl Who Spun Gold; To Every Thing There is a Season; etc.)

“We know there will be always be people who won’t like the book we’re making, so we may as well make a book we like ourselves.”–Diane Dillon (about If Kids Ran the World)

“Moderation in all things, including moderation.”  –David Shannon (No, David!; Duck on a Bike; Too Many Toys; Jangles; etc.)

“That shows maturity, when you’re beginning to notice the insecurities of other people.” –Arnold Adoff (Flamboyan; In for Winter, Out for Spring)

(After I asked him the location of Hidden Valley, where he had just moved) “If I told you, then it wouldn’t be hidden, would it?” –Harry Nilsson

“Let’s make a funny blog about the worst dates we’ve ever had, and all our bad boyfriend experiences.” –Dawn Barnes (laughing) (The Black Belt Club)

(As he’s about to step on stage at Irvine Meadows, we skid up to him, late to the concert because of my young son’s Little League game.) “Bon, don’t hug me because I’m all covered with wires!  (He laughs and turns to my son.) I heard )you had a big game tonight. And you played second base. Did you catch any fly balls? (My son, looking out at 16,000 screaming fans, is speechless.) Hey, I like that Red Sox cap. I like the Red Sox, too.” –Jimmy Buffett (concert while working on A Salty Piece of Land)

“Love is the path to forgiveness.” –Audrey Wood (Blue Sky; A Dog Needs a Bone; It’s Duffy Time; etc.)

“Whistle while you work.”  –Don Wood (Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear; Into the Volcano; Jubal’s Wish; etc.)

“Look at that man’s eyebrows!”  –Karen Barbour, who notices everything (Little Nino’s Pizzeria; A Sip of Aesop; You Were Loved Before You Were Born; etc.)

“Are you sure you want to leave a toy gun instead of a tip?” –Barry Moser (The Dreamer; When Birds Could Talk & Bats Could Sing; In the Beginning)

(When I asked her how she writes such impressive speeches) “I always prepare. Always.”  –Jane Yolen (How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?)

“It’s catnip for boys.” –Mark Teague (about The Tree House that Jack Built)

(After I bragged that there was a blackout at the Algonquin Hotel, but I managed to grope through the room and find my high heels for dinner) “Look at your shoes. One is blue, and the other one is black.”  –Virginia Hamilton (The Bells of Christmas)

“Your son is the golden retriever of children.”  –Edward Gorey

(After I asked her how she was able to write an utterly believable scene where three angels appear in an ordinary American kitchen) “It’s the details.” –Nancy Willard (about The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake)

“The problem with illustrating this book is drawing and coloring all that plaid!” –Chuck Mikolaycak (about Tam Lin)

“People always tell you what you need to know about them–right away. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re willing to listen.”  –Steve Faigenbaum

(After I blurted out that I was intimidated by working with a writer who was Poet Laureate and had won two Pulitzer Prizes)  “That’s the nice thing about teaching at Harvard. You have to read the classics because you teach them. But I still haven’t read Anna Karenina.” –Richard Wilbur (adult)

“She pulled her lips back and snarled. Then she said, ‘I hate that book. It’s the only thing I ever wrote for money.'” –Barry Moser (telling me about his meeting with Miss Eudora Welty after I asked him to illustrate her long out-of-print children’s book called The Shoe Bird)

“I’d like to wear her guts for garters.” –Robin McKinley (The Light Princess)

“I don’t care what Harcourt wants me to do. I am leaving this party. Madonna’s concert is on TV.” (And when I asked her what she loved so much about Madonna she said:) “You never know what she’s going to do next. Never.”  –Virginia Hamilton (In the Beginning: Creation Stories Around the World)

(Talking about her cat, Blueberry, who had chosen to spend the night with her downstairs instead of upstairs in the big cozy bed where I had slept as the honored guest) “I was worried he would go sleep upstairs, because he’s used to that bed, but no, he came down  here and stayed with me.”  –Cynthia Rylant (my first visit, in Kent, Ohio) (Dog Heaven; Mr. Putter and Tabby; The Dreamer; Poppleton)

(Showing me a diagram he’s made on a napkin at our table at a Mexican restaurant) “Responsibility is here (he points to one end of the line), and surfing is here (he points to the opposite end of the line). I’ve spent the last two years at Art Center trying to get those surf colors out of my art.” (about the possibility of illustrating Jimmy Buffett’s first book, The Jolly Mon, which was all island, ocean colors)

“Just do the work.”  –Leo Dillon (To Everything There Is a Season)

“Bonnie, please come out from under the table.” –Dav Pilkey (The Adventures of Captain Underpants; The Dumb Bunnies; The Hallo-weiner; Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot; Ook & Gluk)

“I would love to become a member of the Hearts Club.” –Michael Rosen (A Thanksgiving Wish)

“I used paper that’s recycled from elephant dung.” –Richard Jesse Watson (The Magic Rabbit)

“It’s the way the green and red vibrate.” –Lois Ehlert (about the cover of Growing Vegetable Soup)

“We do not approve of our food product being used on your book.” (Hormel Foods Corporation, manufacturers of SPAM, which was sitting on a table in the “Good Night Moon Room” cover of Dav Pilkey’s The Dumb Bunnies.) “We deny you permission to use it.”

(After I asked him why he drew a different dinosaur on every spread of the book) “It was too boring to draw an entire book of Tyrannosaurs.” –Mark Teague (How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?; The Tree House that Jack Built; LaRue for Mayor; etc.)

“If we don’t stop putting carbon into the atmosphere, we run the risk of climate change so drastic that the path of the Gulf Stream could change.” –Molly Bang (about her five books in the Sunlight Series, which began with My Light)

(After flying me into New York on his seaplane so I could get to work on time) “It’s worse than heroin.” –Jimmy Buffett (about the addiction of flying in seaplanes, while working on Swine Not?)

“Every year my grandfather sat us all down and told us the story of how he and his mother escaped from slavery in Virginia–so we would never forget.” –Virginia Hamilton

“This manuscript has to be published exactly as it is, without a single change. If you feel the need to change anything,  I will have to withdraw it and send it elsewhere.”  –Cynthia Rylant (in her cover letter enclosed with the manuscript Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds which happily was flawlessly written and did not require as much as a comma)

“I love Christmas.” –Bruce Wood (after inflating and enormous Santa suit that made him bigger than a VW bug) (Alphabet Mystery; The Deep Blue Sea; Ten Little Fish)

“Did I tell you that my friend Debra Frasier wrote a children’s book? And Crown Publishers is interested. Their sales rep saw it and sent it to New York, and they’re going to publish it.” (my sister JoAnn, on the phone) “Why didn’t you tell her to send it to ME?” (I ask, frustrated.) “OK, I will.” (JoAnn is a photographer and very close friends with Debra’s husband, who is also a photographer; Debra created the banner’s for Jo’s wedding. So Debra sends the dummy  to me, and although Crown is making her an offer, I am nuts-cuckoo-crazy about the book and persuade her to do it with me at Harcourt. That was On the Day You Were Born. Thanks, Jo!!!)

( During an interview, Jimmy Buffett was asked about several very attractive women characters in Tales from Margaritaville who were passionate but also very kind to their male lovers–and when it was time for the male lovers to say good bye and head off on another adventure, the women understood and warmly wished them well.) “Where do you find these women???” the interviewer asked. And Jimmy, with a pirate’s laugh, said, “It’s fiction! I make them up!”

“When I was little, I always wished I had a big robot friend.” –Dav Pilkey, about Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot

 

(to be continued…)

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