Chatting with Jane Dyer about ALL WE KNOW (& Giveaway!)

I am beyond thrilled to have Jane Dyer with us today to celebrate the arrival of our new book All We Know (HarperCollins). As I write this, though, I’m struggling with which adjectives to use to describe the many books Jane has illustrated—more than fifty of them—since her first was published in 1984.  Acclaimed? Check. Bestselling? Check. Classic, beloved and just plain gorgeous? Check, check and check. Here’s a little sample (including the very first manuscript I ever sold, Babies on the Go). You can find a more complete list of titles on Jane’s website.

Jane Dyer Book Sample

Before we settle in for a chat, here’s a quick synopsis: All We Know is a recitation of things that animals, plants, and the natural world instinctively “know” how to do, just as—at the end of the story—a new mom knows how to love her baby. For more about the book, including reviews, more of Jane’s art, and two versions of the manuscript, visit my website. And for a chance to win a signed copy of the book, just leave a comment below.

And, now, here’s Jane!

How did you get started as an illustrator?

My first book was Goldilocks and the Three Bears which came out when I was 35. Prior to that I had illustrated stories for a K-3 reading series and before that I taught Kindergarten and 2nd grade.  I never went to art school.  My students’ parents, along with friends and family encouraged me to try illustrating children’s books.

While I was working on the reading textbooks, I spent an extra $25.00 at a children’s literature conference at UMass to have an art editor from Houghton Mifflin Children’s Books critique my portfolio.  She told me my work was not suitable for children’s books.  I went home and cried (partly because $25.00 was a lot for me in those days),  then spent the next few weeks working on a piece to show what I would really like to do.  I realized my work at that point had just been work-for-hire.  I chose to illustrate one scene from “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”.  When I added that to my portfolio and met with publishers in NYC, I was rejected at the first seven, but the last appointment was for a company who happened to be looking for someone to illustrate a board book of Goldilocks and the Three Bears!

Thank goodness you didn’t let that critique stop you! You’ve worked steadily ever since, and always have many projects in the pipeline. How do you choose what to illustrate? 

In the beginning of my career, I was thrilled to accept any manuscript offered to me. Some of my fellow aspiring illustrators waited to get work that they deemed more suitable. I just wanted to get my foot in the door and get working. Then I reached a point where it was clear which stories seemed to be right for my style and what I wanted to illustrate, and which I would decline. I am in a very fortunate position now to almost always be given manuscripts that I would LOVE to accept and have to turn some of those away. I am now, and have been for many years, booked for five years in advance.

I received the manuscript for All We Know in 2012, tied in a ribbon from my editor, Maria Modugno (who is now at Random House). I knew right away I wanted to illustrate this wonderful story. I make decisions purely on instinct, based on what speaks to me. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Jane Dyer. Note from Maria Modugno

I hadn’t seen this before! So, when you’re ready to begin, then what? Can you walk us through your process? 

I begin each book with what are called “thumbnail sketches” using a 2H pencil on tracing paper. These are about 2” by 2”, and I find I stick pretty closely to my original thoughts (unless an editor makes changes).   I then begin a google search for references I will need.

Jane Dyer: All We Know thumbnails

(Here’s the first spread of the book, which does indeed seem very close to Jane’s thumbnail.)

AllWeKnow_ cloud


The children and animals in the book are so adorable! Were they inspired by anyone in particular?

The image for the child was inspired by a Lenci doll, made in Italy in the 1920’s or 30’s (below center). These were made of felt and were modeled after a 17th century putti. My other inspiration was a boy whose picture I found on ebay on a site selling t-shirts (right). Some of the poses of the child were those of my grandchildren.

Jane Dyer All We Know inspiration 3

The lamb is mine. This picture was taken by Jeanne Birdsall one day when I walked “Blossom” over to her house.

Jane Dyer and Blossom 2014

Jane Dyer: All We Know seed

I love the story behind the quilt on the child’s bed, which is also used as the book’s endpapers (we’re kind of nutty about endpapers around here).

I had a quilt that my Grandmother, a farmwife in Kansas, had made for me when I was born. The reverse side had a print similar to the quilt on the child’s bed. I used the same pattern, but inside each box on the fabric, I used an element from the story in All We Know, such as the tulip, the lamb, the crab, etc.

Jane Dyer: All We Know stars

Jane Dyer: All We Know endpapers

Jane Dyer: All We Know quilt

Can you tell us about some of your artistic influences? 

Mauric Sendak once said of illustration:

“It is like a big soup…the soup’s ingredients are the pictures you loved as a kid, what you borrowed from…lots of influences. Then, if the soup tastes good AND original, that means you converted everything into yourself. If it doesn’t, then you just swiped, and everyone knows what ‘swipe soup’ tastes like.”

Many of my images are influenced from the books my mother read to me as a child, mostly from a set of twelve volumes called MY BOOK HOUSE. They were originally published in 1927 so the illustrations I grew up with were from the past. I loved feeling like I could crawl into the pages of a book.

I grew up in Northern New Jersey, but my parents sold Kansas wheatland that they had inherited and bought a farm in Pennsylvania when I was five years old. We spent weekends and summers there where we played in the woods and by the stream. We pretended to make houses under vine covered trees.  On rainy days I loved to dress my dolls and dog and cat and create my own imaginery worlds. I was a quiet child and felt safe inhabiting these places.

Today when I work, I again create my own worlds and hope that children feel they can crawl into my illustrations and share the delight, wonder, and serenity that I experience as I paint or draw.

What keeps you inspired? 

Today, it is often my three grandchildren, now ten, seven and three, who keep me inspired, along with the world around me. When my parents passed away, I used my inheritance to buy a farm in the foothills of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts where we spend weekends and summers. There we raise chickens and sheep in the summer and walk through the woods and play in the stream.

Jane's grandkids and Blossom

When my daughters were young, they and their friends were often my inspiration, and prior to that, as I said, were memories of my own childhood. In a poem, The Reading Mother, Stickland Gillian writes:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be—
I had a Mother who read to me.

And this is what began my journey.

What do you have in the works?

I just finished a book by Carol Gerber, A Band of Babies, which will be out in Spring of 2017. I am beginning work on a poem by George MacDonald, a contemporary and friend of Lewis Carroll, entitled, “Where Did you Come From, Baby Dear?” I am working on a big book of fairy tales and folk tales with Jane Yolen. I will be illustrating a book with Mem Fox (we did Time for Bed) in the near future! I have signed two contracts for undesignated manuscripts from two different publishers to reserve my time.

One last question before you go: What do you like to do in your spare time?

In addition to spending time with my grandchildren, I recently decided not to work on nights and weekends, which was new for me. I decided to think about what I would like to do, even though it seems I have a dream job. I began making little sheep, stuffed with our sheep’s wool (below left). Then I branched out and made other animals (center). And now I have been making dolls (right), which I love! I believe at age 67 I have found my gift.

Jane Dyer's Stuffed Animals and Dolls

In answering these questions, the lyrics of Louis Armstrong’s song, “What a Wonderful World” came to mind. To my surprise, the last verse seems appropriate to end this conversation about our book, All We Know.

I hear babies cry,
I watch them grow,
They’ll learn much more,
Than I’ll ever know.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

What a perfect way to wrap up our visit.  So wonderful chatting with you, Jane. Thank you so much for coming by!

* * * * * *   BOOK GIVEAWAY  * * * * * *

All We Know cover

To win a signed (by me) copy of All We Knowjust leave a comment below by May 10th.I’ll announce the randomly-selected winner on May 17th.

★ “Simply perfect.” Kirkus, starred review

“A gentle, heartwarming celebration of the continuity of life and of a parent’s love.” Publishers Weekly

P.S. If, like me, you’re wondering if Jane’s creations are available for sale, the answer is: not yet. If they do become available, Jane will post the news on her blog or Facebook.



Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 40 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a “how to” e-book for picture book writers.


  1. What a wonderful look at how the book’s illustrations came to be, but also Jane’s influences for her work! Thank you, Linda.

  2. I enjoyed the interview very much. Such beautiful illustrations! Congratulations to the both of you.

  3. I found some many aspects of this story inspiring — thank you so very much for sharing!

  4. Thank you for this peek into Jane’s work. When I was an undergrad at Smith College, Jane visited my children’s literature class, and now I often bring my Simmons College students to visit Jane’s studio. This interview felt like one of those visits. And hooray for endpapers!

  5. Linda, this book looks darling! Thanks for a great interview. I can’t wait to read the book.

  6. I’m looking forward to seeing this one.

  7. This book looks wonderful and wise. Congrats and continued success!

  8. I love seeing how an illustrator works! Thank you so much for sharing the interview with Jane, and your own writing notes.

  9. Jane was so open to sharing. Fabulous! Thank you for sharing the interview.

  10. That is LOVELY, and what a great post! Thanks for sharing!!

  11. What an inspiring interview!

  12. Thanks for sharing so many details of your long career — even how you were first told your work “was not suitable for children’s books.” I also love how at the beginning you took whatever work you were offered to get in the door. I also did many work-for-hire projects early on to gain valuable experience and learn about working with editors, which was of great benefit as I moved on to my own stories. Loved this post and your gorgeous work!

  13. I love how you were inspired to use the quilt your grandmother made for you at birth and how you incorporated elements of the story into it…and onto the endpapers. It’s so perfect for a story that “wraps up” with a new mom who knows how to love her baby.

  14. Looks like another lovely Linda Ashman book – wonderful words and adorable art. Thanks for the inspirational interview!

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    Michelle Leonard

    This is fascinating and inspiring. Thanks! And congrats to you both!

  16. Wonderful interview!

  17. Beautiful, gorgeous illustrations! I can’t imagine anyone seeing them as not “suitable for children’s books.” Now we get to enjoy them and what success they’ve found! It goes to show you–ignore the naysayers 🙂 Thank you, Linda, for sharing.

  18. Linda and Jane, I’m already in love with this book, just from these glimpses of it and your engaging interview. Going on my must-buy list immediately. And those animals/dolls! They have my fingers itching, wanting to try something similar.

  19. What beautiful illustrations! So fortunate that you didn’t quit with that first critique!

  20. What a wonderful idea for a picture book, Linda. Congrats on the starred review! So many of Jane’s books are favorites in our house. Thanks for the peek behind the scenes.

  21. I am not surprised at your talent in making those adorable critters. If your brain is creative in one area, it is often creative in many other ways as well, you just need to try… The book is adorable, too, and I am looking forward to seeing it. Thanks, and congratulations to both of you.

  22. Your interview took me on a journey back to my own childhood and books that I read. Thank you. Your illustrations are beautiful and timeless. Thank you for sharing a bit of your process.

  23. What a beautiful interview! Time for Bed is a book that I give as a gift to newborns. Our copy is tattered and torn after so many years of reading it. As a mom who adopted children internationally, I’d like the thank Jane for her illustrations in Every Year on your Birthday – this is close to our family story and it means so much to have this book.

  24. I also loved “rainy day escapes” and the “feeling like I could crawl into the pages of a book.” I certainly capture these feelings when looking at these images. I am looking forward to seeing Jane’s work and reading Linda’s words!

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    Carole Stedronsky

    Love the book, love the sheep, and love the dolls! Thank you for all the glimpses. I appreciate seeing the thumbnails. thanks. And now I will go look for Jane’s blog.

  26. This looks like the perfect book to read to my three-year-old granddaughter–who is expecting a little baby sister in the fall.

  27. Awwww, what a wonderful world indeed, especially with Jane’s illustrations in it!

  28. Looking forward to adding this book to my collection. Jane Dyer’s illustrations are a blend of vintage nostalgia and modern times, cozy human warmth and the comfort from being around animals and nature…all of which makes her the perfect illustrator for the timeless message of this manuscript about nature/human nature.

  29. Great interview! I love Jane Dyer’s art and Linda Ashman’s work too! I and am looking forward to reading All We Know.

  30. Gorgeous illustrations, Jane! I love seeing your process, and your new sheep and doll creations are lovely too. Thanks & congrats on another fine book, Linda 🙂

  31. What a great post! I loved reading about Jane’s influences and her journey to illustration. Can’t wait to read ALL WE KNOW.

  32. I love all of Jane’s work!

  33. Wow! What a gentle, lovely book! And yay for Jane Dyer and her perseverance! [I think we’ve all shed tears over rejection at one time or other.]

  34. That was such a heartfelt interview- thank you for the insight into your work. And those dolls are just gorgeous!

  35. Jane: Your story is so inspiring – Reminds me to just keep going. The illustrations and story are lovely. Looking forward to reading the book. Thank you.

  36. What a beautiful life she has lived. Thank you for a glimpse into what makes her art shine.

  37. I checked ALL WE KNOW out from the library several days ago and the book is simply exquisite. Thank you, Linda and Jane. It is a treasure.

    And what a thrill what to know what’s coming next from your studio, Jane! I can’t wait for another Mem Fox/Jane Dyer title!

  38. How very lovely…thank you for sharing!

  39. Keep doing what you love. Work the hours that work best for you. Your plan is obviously working.

  40. Jane, I want to be you friend! Your illustrations are timeless and do remind me of books I had as a child. When I look at them I feel loved. I will look for your name in the bookstore. Wonderful interview.

  41. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. It reminds me also of those I loved as a child. Thank you!

  42. I’ve been smitten with Jane Dyer’s illustrations since I bought The Three Bears Rhyme Book so many years ago. This collection of poems by Jane Yolen became a family favorite. Time for Bed by Mem Fox was another favorite. So happy she was the one to bring your book to visual life, Linda!

  43. I love the illustrations and the premise of the story. This one is a definite for my granddaughter’s bookshelf!

  44. What a lovely interview! Can’t wait to read the book.

  45. Wow! I love this insight into the illustrator’s side of things. Thanks for sharing!

  46. What a wonderful interview with Jane – and what a lovely book she has illustrated for you, Linda! I am thrilled with her sketches for my book, A BAND OF BABIES, that will be out in 2017. She is the best!

  47. Thank you, Linda and Jane, for making such a beautiful book! I can’t wait to get it!
    I love getting a peek into the illustrator’s process.

  48. Thank you, Jane. Your comments were interesting and the pictures are delightful. I can’t wait to read and see the wonderful illustrations of this book.

  49. What a lovely interview, book, images, and toys! I also began through work-for-hire, and know the delight that comes from eventually having the opportunity to put your own original ideas into your work. It is magical.
    Thank you for a delightful post.

  50. I have loved Jane’s illustrations since I was a child. Her illustrations provided me a warm and safe environment to “crawl into when I was young.

    Wonderful interview Linda. Love your books too. Can’t wait to read this one.

  51. I loved reading this post. It is so wonderful to have an inside view of the path writers and illustrators took to get where they are. And the process! Love it! Thank you for sharing with us!

  52. All We Know looks like a wonderful book. I’m looking forward to reading it. Thank you, Jane, for sharing the interesting process and inspiration behind your illustrations.

  53. This book is lovely! Can’t wait to read it with my son.

  54. Your illustration style wraps the reader right into the pages like a cuddly throw. Just beautiful. I love the personal connections you make in each one.

  55. Thank you for this interview!

  56. Such a fascinating interview! I loved all the pictures and links that accompanied it. Not long ago my preschoolers had the pleasure of hearing Move Over, Rover!, which they loved! I am looking forward to the publication of your new book. Thank you, both, for sharing your talent with the world!

  57. Thank you for a wonderful interview. Love the process throughout life.

  58. Thank goodness you didn’t believe that first editor. Your work is lovely. Time for Bed was one of my daughter’s favorites as a toddler. I enjoyed reading it over and over again.

    Thanks for sharing your process and a little about yourself.

  59. Oh, my goodness! I am overwhelmed and overjoyed and over the moon reading Linda’s interview with me and all of the wonderful comments. I must say that Linda put this interview together like a Patchwork quilt stitched with care and love. The photographs I sent in were very piecemeal.

    Linda, thank you for the beautiful manuscript and interview, and thank you all for your lovely responses.

  60. We love all your books at our library, especially the Piggins and Little Brown Bear books. Please keep more coming!

  61. Terrific interview & glimpse into the illustration process. These illustrations look Gorgeous & I love the manuscript. Thank you for posting this. Can’t wait to find & purchase All We Know.

  62. Avatar
    Victoria Bessinger

    Jane and I were childhood friends, and i recognize the house in the “Stars know how to shine” as a close relative of the house her family lived in when I first met her. I am so happy to see the great success Jane has enjoyed as an artist, and the wonderful collaboration with Linda Ashman over the years.

  63. What marvelous illustrations! What a marvelous illustrator! Thanks for sharing this interview—and for including pictures of the sheep.

  64. Captivating illustrations! Thank you!

  65. Avatar
    Kim Pfennigwerth

    What a beautiful blend of text and art – they both just tug at the heartstrings! Love this interview and all the extra pictures (illustrations and photos) – Loved this whole post and look forward to reading this book! Congratulations and so well done!

  66. Jane Dyer’s illustrations are marvelous! I can’t wait to get my hands on this book!

  67. Thank you for the post. This blog is terrific!

  68. Sounds like a lovely book 🙂

  69. I love Jane Dyer’s illustrations. Getting a peek at her process is inspiring. All We Know looks just as special as my worn copy of Time for Bed.

  70. Jane,
    What an ideal life, wrapped in creating beauty. Sigh. Thanks for letting us peak into your world for a moment. I savor every one of your books, they are so beautiful.

  71. I never realized how many of the books on my children’s shelves were illustrated by Jane! I love the simplicity of her newest book All We Know. Children learn as naturally as a seed sprouting and a lamb bleating. I truly enjoyed the interview with this talented illustrator. Thank you!

  72. What a lovely book! It looks as if it would be as delightful to read as to look at. And with such a timeless message, it could become a modern classic like Time for Bed. Thank you for a fascinating interview.

  73. Love the book, thoroughly enjoyed this interview since I’ve been a fan of Jane’s work for a long time. It was fun to see her thumbnails and reference photos. Didn’t realize she had illustrated your first sale, Babies on the Go!! Double magic! And isn’t Maria’s note wonderful? Thanks for a wonderful post and congratulations on another gorgeous picture book, Linda!

  74. More beautiful words written in a children’s picture book by Linda. Such gorgeous illustrations by Jane Dyer. You both make a fantastic team. Thank you for a great interview.

  75. Stunning! I can’t wait to hold this book in my hands.

  76. Love this look into Jane’s world. We read “Time for Bed” at least three nights a week. My 2-year-old adores it and devours the illustrations as she counts every berry and touches every star.

  77. Avatar
    Natalie Lynn Tanner

    JANE: I am a HUGE fan of your BEAUTIFUL work! You create the kinds of books where the reader does indeed feel like they can “crawl into [your] illustrations” and enter the worlds you have created. I am especially touched by the use of your baby quilt in the illustrations for All We Know. I grew up in a home with a grandmother who spent her summers making quilts for her grandchildren. I still feel her love when curled up in one of her quilts! One more thought: I would LOVE to have a sheep I could walk about the neighborhood! THANK YOU for sharing your BEAUTIFUL gift of illustrating (and now doll making!) with the world!!!

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