Collecting the extraordinary story~IN A JAR, an interview w/Deborah Marcero

Have any of you had the pleasure of reading Deborah Marcero’s stunning new picture book, IN A JAR?

I bought one for myself.

I bought one for a friend.

It is that pretty.

That precious.

That special.

Llewellyn, aside from being a darling little white bunny in a hooded sweatshirt, is also a collector of things he keeps in jars. He gathers fairly ordinary things, like flowers, feathers, and stones. One day, when he goes out to collect something a little less ordinary— the sunset, he makes a friend, Evelyn. Llewellyn gives Evelyn a jar holding the sunset and together they begin to collect magnificent and extraordinary things. They are both very sad when Evelyn moves away, but by continuing to send each other jars holding their surroundings, they feel connected no matter how many miles divide them.

The illustrations of the adorable white bunnies are brimming with details and whimsy. Deborah’s words are poetic and thoughtful. And guess what?Today, we are lucky enough to have Deborah answer some questions about her wonderful book.

Jennifer: I know it’s cliche, but I really do love to know where an author’s idea comes from and why you wanted to make this book.

Deborah: I recently dove into my journal and story draft archives and it was fun to see that I had started drawing jars filled with unexpected things in 2010. In the summer of 2013, I wrote a very early draft of this book that I shared with my writing partner, Troy Cummings, that had the beating heart of what it has became today – a story of friendship through collecting experiences in jars, the feeling of loss when a friend has to move away, and how it might be possible to still share experiences with them once they are no longer nearby – – – because, well, magic. 
I recently wrote a talk where I describe the process of how I find my ideas. In trying to describe it, I realized that my ideas are looking for me as much as I am looking for them. This story springs from many pieces of me, my life and things I care about. First, it captures my love of nature, the sense of wonder it brings and how effortless it is for me to be in the present moment in the face of natural beauty. Alongside this sense of wonder, there is another mystery inside of this for me: how sharing small moments with a dear friend can make them feel bigger somehow. Since the mid 1990s when I read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, I have been captivated by Magical Realism, and in this book I wanted to try to bring the magic of friendship to life through my illustrations, two rabbits and jars. 
Through my life, I have also often been the one moving away. Doing so, I have still maintained deep and sustaining friendships because the roots of connection were so strongly made through sharing meaningful experiences – collecting jars together. Because of this, there’s something I realized: even though we no longer live nearby, my dear friends will never not be part of me. There’s nothing that could ever take those times or memories away from me. In so many ways, those people are still with me. I am changed because of them, and this is the thing that endures and continues to connects us, regardless of distance in space or time. 
This story is deeply inspired by change and loss – big and small – that is happening all the time… to everyone. Through this story I wanted to share the hope and never-extinguishing power of connection. Through Llewellyn and Evelyn’s journey I wanted to show how friendship truly is magic. 

Jennifer: How does your book evolve when you are both the author and the illustrator? For instance, do you write the entire story and then work on thumbnails? And what medium do you use for your artwork?

Deborah: This book started with an idea of magic jars, that turned into a manuscript by July 2013 with a handful of drawings that were inspired from the words I had written. From there, I tightened the manuscript and searched for just the right illustration style to tell this story. While my illustration voice is unique to me, each book calls for a different tone and rendering approach unique to it, which is such a wonderful part of the journey of making a book for me because there is always a sense of discovery in the creating.
IN A JAR did have an interesting twist in its journey to publication, different from every other book I have made. Even though I had the arc, the plot and the heart of the story established since mid 2013, no matter how I wrote or revised, the words felt somewhat clunky to me. So I got them out of the way. I took them out completely when I drew the dummy, focusing on the visual and emotional story beats. I carved out three weeks and drew a very detailed 40 page wordless picture book dummy. However when going on submission, I received immediate interest from multiple editors who all asked if I could….  write some words. It was a beautiful and round about way to find the poetry and poetic language in the story for me. Within the space of a few days, using the illustrations as my anchor, I was able to access the lyrical language I had longed for in those early drafts. 
The mediums I use for IN A JAR’s artwork are primarily pencil and watercolor. I also use Photoshop at times to digitally collage different portions, layers or frames together. 

Jennifer: Your page layout for IN A JAR is very clever. It almost has a ‘partial’ graphic novel inserted in it where separate story boxes show detailed action and enhance the text. Is this a layout that you have used before in your work? 

Deborah: I love that you noticed this about my style and approach. I have found it is very natural for me to tell stories visually in frames. I am also a photographer and owned my own professional company for 6 years while bridging to this work in kid’s books as a full time career. I love creating drama with the still image or series of still images using composition, light, exposure, focus, depth of field, wide angle, zoom, portrait, silhouette, etc.  
I started consciously rendering books in this way with My Heart Is A Compass (LBYR, 2018). Storyboard-type layouts effortlessly mirror how visual scenes appear in my imagination. IN A JAR led to me to recognize this as part of my intuitive visual storytelling “voice” and gave me the confidence to attempt my first graphic novel series, which sold in 2019. 

Jennifer: One of my favorite spreads is the one that shows all the jars covering the walls of Llewellyn’s house. Such detail and clever symbolism. Kids and readers will have so much fun talking about them and finding hidden meanings. It’s like a treasure hunt! Was it fun to do?

Deborah: I love this spread too. It was a moment in the narrative where I could visually bring together – in one scene – all the moments and jars collected up until that spread. In addition, I was able to add more jars that weren’t shared directly in the story in order to show the depth and breadth of experiences Llewellyn and Evelyn had shared and collected over the seasons of the year they shared together. 

Jennifer: How and why did you settle on darling little white rabbits as your characters?

Deborah: The book in it’s early origins, actually started out with bear characters. I knew I had wanted them to be anthropomorphized animal characters because it added another unspoken magical element to the world building. The more the book evolved, I realized that Llewellyn and Evelyn had to be rabbits because of my personal connection to bunnies and I fell in love with using their form and shape as positive and negative space. 
My love and connection with rabbits include: I was born in the year of the Rabbit, I had a pet rabbit named Butterscotch as a kid, and my dad once caught a wild rabbit on our farm growing up – I still have a photo of me age six or seven holding this tiny quivering bunny. The Velveteen Rabbit made a huge impression on me as a girl and emerging reader. My siblings and I also nicknamed the dirt road I grew up on as the “Bunny Road” because when we would drive to the Swiss Swirl at dusk in the summer to get ice cream, my parents would drive slowly and with windows rolled down, we would easily see a dozen rabbits hopping about, their homes and families nesting in the berms on the side of the road. 

Jennifer: You are an incredibly qualified children’s book author and illustrator. You not only have a BFA in art, but you also have an MFA in poetry. I read and re-read your line, “the sunset painted the sky the color of tart cherry syrup.” What glorious imagery! How has your background helped/led you to such a successful career as an author and illustrator of Children’s Books?

Deborah: I have always loved and expressed myself through words and images. During summer vacations as a kid I would find a quiet cool spot in my grandma’s basement to write poems and illustrate them. This is how I would play. Even in undergrad when in art school I took every creative writing and poetry class I could. When I was acquiring my MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in poetry, I also took drawing and photography almost every semester. When I committed to this work of making children’s books as my vocation, it was with the hope and joy of being able to put art and poetry into the hands of kids and the parents who read to them. 

Jennifer: What is next on your board?

Deborah: I just wrapped up illustrating a nonfiction picture book, The Boy Whose Head Was Filled With Stars, A Story About Edwin Hubble written by Isabelle Marinov and coming in Fall of 2020 with Enchanted Lion Press. And on my drawing table right now is the first book of my early graphic novel series, Haylee and Comet. My agent, Laura Rennert at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, pitched the early reader title as “E.T. meets Narwhal and Jelly, and that, in it, ‘a girl wishes on a star for a friend, and one falls into her lap, literally.'” Each book is 72 pages with three stand alone stories, the first of which will publish in the winter of 2021.

Jennifer: Can you share with our readers one tiny trade secret?

Deborah: When I get stuck, I take a walk with my dog, Bear. This immediately gets me out of my head, back in my senses and all of a sudden, without fail, some new inspired thought, insight or direction always finds me. 

To learn more about Deborah and her work please visit her website at,
deborahmarcero.com



Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Jennifer is the illustrator of several acclaimed picture books. Most recently is Gondra's Treasure, written by Newbery award winner Linda Sue Park. Another recent release is Sometimes You Fly, by Newbery medalist, Katherine Applegate. Jennifer is the author illustrator of Blue Ethel and has illustrated Yaks Yak, Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park, The Inventor's Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, Rabbi Benjamin's Buttons, by Alice B. McGinty, and The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz.

47 Comments:

  1. Avatar
    Deborah A Buschman

    What a wonderful story and Deborah you are so talented. Thanks for the interview Jennifer. I am putting this on my to buy list.

  2. What a gorgeous book! I can’t wait to get a copy to pour over each word and detail. Thanks for posting such a great interview.

  3. Can’t wait to read this book. Thanks for sharing your process.

  4. I have this book on reserve at the library. I can’t wait to read it! So adorable! thanks for sharing with us!

  5. What a gorgeous book! I could get lost in those illustrations. Thank you for this interview, Jennifer, and congratulations, Deborah, on a beautiful story. ❤️

  6. I can’t wait to read this book -it looks absolutely adorable! Congrats!

  7. I adore the symmetry of Llewellyn’s name and his llovelly llong ears!

  8. What a wonderful and generous interview! Many thanks to Deborah for sharing her process and for creating such a magical work, so layered and meaningful. Thanks, Jen. This is beautiful!

  9. Wow–this book looks gorgeous, both visually and in the narration. Looking forward to reading it!

  10. Thanks Jennifer for the great post. I love the tone, patterns, and the layout.

  11. I have been eagerly awaiting this book in my library queue, and now that I’ve seen more of the art, I might just have to buy a copy right away! It looks so lovely, and the themes are ones I am drawn to too.

    Thanks for sharing, Jennifer!

  12. Just stunning! Both text and illustrations. Definitely an addition to my library.

  13. Gorgeous text and art! To me, it has the texture of the book Iver & Ellsworth by Casey Robinson, although the artwork is quite different. Something about its timeless feel.

  14. Getting ready to go out the door, so I could only glance at the above. But I had to let you know that I got goosebumps seeing the illustrations! Congratulations!
    Oh, how I love a picture book.
    I’ll read when I return home.
    I’m glad I found this group!
    xo

    • We are so happy that you found our blog, Robin. I think anyone who gets goosebumps looking at illustrations is definitely a picture book lover! I hope you enjoy the book when you see it. Again, thank you for taking the time to visit us!

  15. I love this book! The lyrical text and the illustrations work so well together to express the feelings Llewellyn and Evelyn share. Another beautiful creation by Deborah.

  16. What a fabulous book and such a fabulous author/illustrator. love the rabbits and the tart cherry syrup has left a beautiful imprint in the deepest crevices of my brain!

  17. Charming illustrations plus I love a dog named Bear.

  18. Wow. This book looks amazing. Ordering it right away!

  19. Thank you, Jennifer! Deborah is so talented–this is a beautiful story!

  20. Mercy! This is a gorgeous book!

  21. This is a lovely book. Broke my own rule about not buying a book until I’d visited it a few times first. Sometimes you just know you won’t ever stop thinking about a book.

  22. I loved this magical friendship tale so learning the story behind the story makes it even more enjoyable. Thank you, Deborah and Jennifer.

  23. This book looks so gorgeous! And I love that spread with the jars on the wall–I bet kids love it too. Wonderful interview! Thanks, Jennifer, and congratulations, Deborah!

  24. I love your artwork, Deborah. Thank you for telling us the story behind the story. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book.

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