Are your kids old enough to be fascinated by fantastical creatures, but still young enough to want to look at pictures while you read to them? We may have found the perfect solution, in local author Gregory Hofmann’s new children’s picture book, Larger than Life, which he also illustrated. Excited about his kids’ lit debut (he’s already a novelist and poet), he took the time to reveal some insights to us:
GG: What were your three favorite picture books as a child? Which three would you recommend to parents now, as an adult?
GH: The top three picture books that I remember loving as a child were Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Corduroy by Don Freeman, and Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss. I also remember when I was just a little older reading all the Shel Silverstein books of poetry over and over again. Now that I'm a parent, I've found some new favorites like Anansi the Spider by Gerald McDermott, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (which I just realized is part of a trilogy!) and the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. If it's one of those nights when Mack just won't fall asleep, I switch over to reading Pablo Neruda poetry in Spanish, and he's out like a light.
GG: How did your desire and then your decision to become a children's author come about?
GH: I've been a novelist, poet, illustrator for a long time, and I noticed that my projects can become really sprawling projects that take years to write and more years to organize, edit and rewrite. Writing this children's book was a much more concise project. It still took a lot of revision, but where editing a novel can feel like monumental sculpture, editing this book felt more like polishing a stone, or sharpening a knife. The smaller scope allowed me to really focus on it in a way that felt loving. Besides all that, I have a son who just turned five, and my girlfriend has a six-year-old, and I was able to bond with them over the writing and drawing process, which is a delightful departure from other writing experiences that have felt much more cerebral, and isolating.
GG: What about your decision to illustrate Larger than Life yourself? Was there a process?
GH: Illustrating the book was so much fun, and really grew me as an artist. All of the original drawings are done with #2 pencils, and then I built up color and contrast in Photoshop. It was a really complicated way to arrive at what looks like a colored pencil drawing, but I'm so happy with the way it turned out. My son and my girlfriend's son would hang out with me on the couch, and tell me what colors things should be (if I hadn't exercised a little veto power, most everything in the book would be gold or turquoise).
GG: One of your reviewers thought it was great to expose their kids to mythological-type creatures like the minotaur and the centaur. How do you think it benefits young minds to think about fantasy beasts, etc?
GH: I think it's fun to play around with challenging a kid's expectations. Many of these creatures have a one-dimensionally sinister, or one-dimensionally good reputation, and I don't like making things that simple for my own son. Sometimes he asks me a question like, "Dad, are there really monsters in our world?" and then I embark on a long-winded exploration of how complicated life truly is, and how fear can turn anything into a monster. I am happy to find that this book is already starting conversations between parents and kids about myth and magic and archetypes, and I was careful not to push that agenda too hard.
GG: Can you remember the original spark of an idea that eventually became the book? What was it? And what happened next?
GH: I had been reading Shel Silverstein to the kids every night, and on a particularly quiet morning, with his easy cadence on my mind, I wrote a short poem about these creatures. It came easily, and made me want to pick up a pencil and start to draw the pictures. It felt like the project was choosing me.
Find out more about Larger Than Life at www.rtribe.us/largerthanlife.html or order the book at one of your local retailers.