This year marks the 75th anniversary of Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown.
In celebration, I got to interview one of the most beloved illustrators in Children’s books today, Mr. Christian Robinson. His work reaches a wide audience with its beauty and remarkable way of touching the heart of childhood. Christian has a thoughtful and wonderful body of work in children’s literature including illustrated works like Harlem’s Little Blackbird, and Josephine.
Kellie: The Dead Bird was originally published in 1938 and addresses a difficult subject. Your approach was poetic and elegant. How were you introduced to this book?
Christian: The book came through my agent. I had never heard of Margaret Wise Brown and so it was fresh and I connected with it. I wanted to make it bright and light-hearted, although it touches the subject of death, it is just as much about the celebration of a life.
K: Did you learn anything new or interesting about M.W.B. that you didn’t know before?
C: I did a read a few bio’s about her online. One had mentioned that she grew up on a farm with lots of animals. She had lots of pets including rabbits, squirrels, and dogs. I read that her pet rabbit died and she skinned it, she was familiar with death.
K: I love the little boy dressed in a costume, what was the inspiration for him?
C: The book isn’t about the children as characters, but I wanted to give them depth. Children love wearing costumes and it was a way to express individuality. The boy dressed as a fox was inspired by a Jewish painter named Ben Shahn.
K: You continue to inspire us all with your incredible art and thoughtful choices in work. What is inspiring you right now?
C: I draw from everything really, even things I see on the news. If it’s really sad, I feel like I carry all those things into my art. Recently my boyfriend gifted me an instant camera and it’s been interesting to see the world that way, to tell stories through light and film.
K: Is there a future or current project you are excited about working on?
K: I work with many young aspiring artists. If you could tell your younger self anything about learning to be an illustrator, what would it be?
C: Sometimes parents want to know how to get their kids to be creative, I think it’s a hard balance of encouraging but not over praising. You want to make sure to notice and encourage the shy kids, the ones covering their art with their hands. You want to make sure that the encouragement is constructive, and not just complementary. You don’t want the art to be made for the anticipation of receiving compliments but for the pleasure.