Sydney Taylor Blog Tour: THE BOOK RESCUER Creators Sue Macy and Stacy Innerst
It’s the first day of the 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour (click here for the full schedule) and I’m honored to talk with the creators of Sydney Taylor Picture Book Award winner The Book Rescuer: author Sue Macy and illustrator Stacy Innerst.
Travis: Hi Sue and Stacy! Congratulations on your Sydney Taylor Award! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. How did you find out about winning a Sydney Taylor medal? What was your reaction?
Sue Macy: I was out of town and Rachel Levitan left two messages on my home answering machine. She said she was the chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards and she had news for me. I finally got home two days after the first message, and even though it was nine p.m., I called her immediately. She told me the good news with her baby crying in the background. It was surreal.
That morning I had been eating breakfast listening to jazz at an outdoor café in New Orleans, and now I was back in icy New Jersey with an award-winning book! My mind started racing, thinking about all the people I needed to tell. And then Rachel said I had to keep the news under wraps until the Youth Media Awards. I did call my mother, though, as soon as I hung up. I also vowed to forward my home phone to my cell when I travel so good news doesn’t languish on my answering machine!
Stacy Innerst: I first got the call from Rebecca Levitan at 8:43 on a Sunday evening. I let it go to voicemail which has become the custom for me in this wide world of spam. When I checked my messages about an hour later I noticed that one caller had left an actual message…not the usual 3-4 seconds of dead air. The message said, “Hi, Stacy, this is Rebecca Levitan, the chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee. Please give me a call at…” and I thought, “Wait, this could be GOOD.”
Turns out it was more than good and I’ve been thrilled, delighted, humbled and grateful ever since. I had such a strong connection to this book from the moment I read the manuscript by Sue. The whole process was such a joy to participate in and I like to think that some of that joy came through in the pictures.
Travis: Sue, what was the chain of events that led to The Book Rescuer?
Sue Macy: I had known about the Yiddish Book Center for a long time and even once sent them a Yiddish book I found at a flea market. After my dad died in 2013, our family decided to make a donation to the Book Center in his memory. As I was reading their fundraising material, I realized Aaron Lansky’s story would make a great picture book. It’s an adventure tale centered on books!
I talked to Sylvie Frank, my editor at Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, and she liked the idea. I didn’t want to co-opt Aaron’s story, though, so I wrote to him and ended up talking to Lisa Newman, the Director of Communications at the Book Center. I sent Lisa a digital file of my previous book with Sylvie, Miss Mary Reporting, and somehow that convinced her and Aaron that they could trust me with his story. From there I wrote a more formal proposal for Sylvie, went to Amherst to visit the Book Center, and eventually had lunch with Aaron. I also read Outwitting History, his wonderful account of his first 20+ years of rescuing Yiddish books.
Travis: Stacy, how do you usually approach illustrating a picture book text? How was working on The Book Rescuer the same and/or different?
Stacy Innerst: It varies, depending on the subject, but I usually start by drawing in the margins of the manuscript…whatever pictures float in front of me at first read. The Book Rescuer was so visually rich that the manuscript was barely legible after I finished all of my noodling. The next step is deciding on a medium and settling on a stylistic theme that I can carry through the book. The aesthetic of Marc Chagall became my touchstone for this book, even though I knew his genius wasn’t even remotely approachable.
After I’ve thumbnail sketched a bit in a sketchbook I like to watch films from whatever era I’m depicting in the book. I’ve always been influenced and inspired by cinematic storytelling and it helps me to think more creatively about how to depict the characters and settings. For the historical elements in this book I watched Yiddish films from the thirties like Tevye (thank goodness for subtitles!) but I also had the advantage of growing up in the same era as Aaron Lansky, the subject of the book. I had a pretty good idea of what toys he might have had as a kid, what furniture he might have had in college. I got to amuse myself with those details!
Travis: What do you wish more people knew about children’s publishing or making picture books?
Sue Macy: I once told my friend, Nancy Feresten, that picture books seemed easy to write because they’re so short. But, wise publisher that she is, Nancy said they’re actually the hardest type of books to write. That has proved to be the case for me. I came from the world of young-adult nonfiction, where my training as a journalist propelled my research and writing. But picture books are a whole different animal, closer to poetry than journalism, even when the book is nonfiction. The rhythm is so important, as is the choice of just the right words. I really owe it to my editors for coarse-correcting my writing and making me a successful picture book author.
Stacy Innerst: That some of the most gifted storytellers and visual artists on earth work in children’s publishing! The dedication to one’s craft that is required to make one these things is extraordinary. I feel very fortunate to be able to work with publishers, editors, art directors, designers and production people that are capable of bringing picture books to life. I’m still in awe when the first author/illustrator copy of a book I’ve worked on comes to my door.
Travis: Last question: What snack puts you in peak creativity mode?
Sue Macy: Diet Dr. Pepper for the caffeine and oat bran sesame chips for the crunch!
Stacy Innerst: I never had much of a sweet tooth so I’m going to say, salsa and blue corn tortilla chips. I’m not sure how far I’d get without hot peppers. I was weaned on hot peppers.
Thanks for taking my questions! The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour is going on all week – click here for the schedule.
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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