I’m so excited to have author/illustrator Rebecca Bond here today to talk about her gorgeous book, Out of the Woods – A True Story of an Unforgettable Event (FSG, 2015). What a treat!
When I read that Out of the Woods was based on a family story passed down from Rebecca’s grandfather, my curiosity was immediately piqued. I know how TOUGH it is to do that well. I’ve only tried it once myself, and, after a lot of hair pulling, I ended up having to come at the story a bit sideways, as a direct retelling just didn’t work (that was Estelle Takes a Bath).
So when I saw Out of the Woods while browsing my local B&N one morning, I had to take a look. I pulled it from the shelf and paged through it. I started out skimming, but the pages turned more and more slowly as the story and detailed illustrations engaged me. When I tried putting it back on the shelf, it wouldn’t let go of my hand. Just that quickly, the story had crawled into my heart. Maybe because it was a Grandpa story? Maybe because it was a forest story? Maybe it was just that unexplainable story magic.
For those who aren’t familiar with the premise, here’s the flap copy:
Antonio lived deep in the woods on the edge of a lake in a hotel that his mother ran. There weren’t other children around to play with, so Antonio made friends with the hotel workers, lumberjacks, and woodsmen who lived and stayed in the hotel. What Antonio loved most of all was exploring the woods, hoping to find signs of the animals who lived there – but the animals always remained hidden, fearful of people. Then on a hot day during a very dry summer, disaster struck: a fire tore through the forest.
The people we’ve met through young Antonio run to the lake. They wade in, then stand in the shallows as the fire and choking smoke whoosh through. But the magical part of this true story? Those elusive animals emerge from the smoky forest to join them there: “Wolves stood beside deer, foxes beside rabbits. And people and moose stood close enough to touch.”
The writing? Lyrical, rich with sensory details. The art? I guess what I love best about the fabulously-detailed art is that it really makes me feel that it’s 1910 and I’m there in that forest, living the story.
Rebecca was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and share a few spreads with us.
JE: Is the story here presented pretty much intact, as you learned it, or were there holes you needed to fill?
RB: I had been told this story a number of times before I decided to write it down as a picture book, and yes, there were holes I needed to fill. I asked my mother and aunt what they remembered hearing about the hotel my grandfather grew up in and what they knew about the layout and about the men who stayed there. They filled in basic information, but some of the details I had to imagine. There are no photos that I know of of the actual hotel, so I made up what it looked like, based on what I knew.
JE: Where did you go for visual references and inspiration?
RB: I looked at a lot of reference from early 20th century logging camps to get an idea of clothing and hair styles, hats, furniture, fishing equipment. I did lots of Google image searches for these things and for each of the woodland animals, and for forest fires and burned forests. I printed out the images which I put into folders to use as needed or hung up in my studio for inspiration. I looked at lots of books with black and white photographs of this era. I love the research that goes into capturing a place and time as best I can.
For color palette, I wanted sepias and woodland colors to suggest the historical setting but also to be a nice backdrop for the reds of the fire. I looked at some children’s books with limited color palettes as I figured this direction out.
JE: What was your biggest challenge in creating this story?
RB: My biggest challenge was learning to work in this new art technique. I did the B&W line drawings first, which were scanned by the publisher. I then did many layers of watercolor washes, each on a separate piece of paper, which I scanned in myself.
Then I put all these layers together in Photoshop and erased the parts of each color layer I didn’t need. I have never created a book this way and the files were huge and cumbersome and I was not sure how the colors would work, so this was a big challenge! But fun.
Thanks, Rebecca! Reading about your art process for this book makes me tired – and in AWE of you!
Readers, I don’t know about you, but this one has me yearning to interview my elders for family stories. May we all get lucky and find a hidden gem! 😉
Visit Rebecca Bond’s website: www.rebeccabondart.com
How neat to tell a family story! This would be a great mentor text. Thanks!
I like that it’s straightforward, yet oh, so evocative.
What a lovely story about bringing a family story forward – and a peek into the process! Thank you for sharing.
You’re welcome, Mary Jane. Thanks for reading!
Thanks Jill for the interesting, behind-the-scenes story of this wonderful book! Have to admit–I LOVE Rebecca Bond, who is not only extremely talented, but a lovely person as well! (I have an original piece of her artwork hanging in my office, which makes me very happy!)
Thank YOU for the contact info, Suzanne. 😉 How lucky you are to have that artwork from your book!
Can’t wait to read this story because it sounds so interesting, but also because it will be a great mentor text for a ms I’m currently working on. Thanks for the great post!
I think so, too, Tanya. Thanks for visiting!
I loved this book! I came across it by chance at Powell’s and fell in love, just as you did. So happy to learn a bit about the making of it. Thanks!
Love discovering a book that way, Abigail. My budget is glad it doesn’t happen too often. Ha.
This looks like an unforgettable book!
Yes! That’s why I had to have it on my own shelves. I know I’ll want to share it with grandchildren.
Loved this book and reviewed and added it to the Perfect Picture Book Friday list (hosted by author Susanna Hill) last year! Thanks for sharing some of the process. 🙂
I saw Susanna’s post, Wendy. Made me love it even more. 🙂
!!! I saw this last week and am now kicking myself I didn’t pick it up. I must go back. Thanks for the great interview. What a gem.
Yeah, you’ll want to do that, Kristin. It’s definitely a keeper.
Absolutely mesmerizing! I love the richness and detail of Rebecca’s work. That seems an unusual process to create the illustrations in that manner and I really enjoyed hearing about how she went about it. Very interesting, thank you Jill and Rebecca!
I knew you’d appreciate the art talk, Jen, and thanks for helping me know what to ask! I love learning about the way you illustrators put your all into making a book memorable. I’m am often gobsmacked at the hours/weeks/months involved.
I can’t wait to get this and read it as a mentor text. Thank you Jill.
You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by, Cassie.
This sounds terrific. And definitely a book I would have loved as a child. Must check it out!
My family was big on camping. Wish the woodsy me had had this to fall into, back then.
I just read this book last week and it is amazing. A wonderful mentor text and fabulous work of art, both in words and pictures.
Glad you enjoyed it, too, Traci. Work of art = great description!
It looks so lovely! Thanks for sharing with us, Jill!
You’re welcome, Maria!
I love learning something new! What an amazing story!
Me, too, Kathy. Thanks for stopping by! 😉
Wow! Loved hearing about the story and Rebecca’s process. It sounds so challenging, but what a gorgeous result. Thank you both! (And, Jill, I’m amazed to hear that Estelle was based on a true story–you know how I love that book!)
Challenging: Boy, that’s for sure! And thanks. 😉
Lovely. I will definitely check this out. Thanks for the post.
You’re welcome, Rosi. I know you’ll enjoy the book!
Sounds like a fascinating story, and the illustrations evoke the time period so well. Thanks for sharing your process with us, Rebecca.
Yes, exactly. The illustrations put you right there.
Oh, I can’t wait to read this. I’ve read many historical fire stories, but none with this twist. Thanks for bringing it up.
You’re welcome, Susan! My pleasure.
Very interesting! What state was this fire in? I, too, LOVED Estelle Takes a Bath!!
This book shares a history story and a story of coming together in peace.
This sounds fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing!
I was so excited to come upon this book, as the author is someone I knew back in Vienna, in 1976. Rebecca was 3 or 4 years old when I was student teaching at AIS and lived in the lower level of their home. I was there only 3 months, but I remember Rebecca and her sister well, as I frequently babysat! I would love to meet her again! Nancy