The Children’s Book Review | October 24, 2017
Here’s an effervescently deep conversation between beloved children’s book author Stacy McAnulty and award-winning illustrator David Litchfield. They discuss their picture book Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years—a funny yet informative book, filled to the brim with kid-friendly facts.
STACY ASKS DAVID:
Time travel question! If you could safely go to any point in Earth’s history, what year would you travel to and why?
I am so grateful that drawing the book gave me the opportunity to draw dinosaurs, which is something I hadn’t done for a good while (in fact thinking about it—oh my—probably not since middle school). But how cool would that be going back to that time and just observe those amazing creatures and how they interacted. It would be scary, but fascinating.
How much of Earth have you seen? What’s your favorite place? What place do you hope to visit?
Not enough, actually. I have seen a lot of Europe which is lovely, especially Italy and the South of France. For our honeymoon, my wife and I took a trip to New York, which was just amazing. I would love to go to Japan one day and also head back to America. My dream is to do a road trip across America in a camper van. That would be pretty darn awesome.
Your art has brought Earth to life! What other inanimate objects do you like/want to bring to life?
Hmmm…that’s a tricky one. Maybe my favourite coffee mug. It’s the thing that I spend the most time with when I’m working, and it would be good if it could chat to me and keep me company.
Can I ask a deep question? In your opinion, what’s one of the biggest problems our planet is facing?
Global warming and the damage that humans have done to our environment does actually keep me up at night. It’s so sad and terrifying to see ice caps melting and animals becoming extinct. The fact that there are people out there who will just not accept that this is happening is so infuriating. So in many ways, the single biggest problems our planet has is the ignorance and stubbornness of people who could actually make a difference.
What advice would you give to a kid who would like to become an illustrator or an author/illustrator?
Draw and write as much as you can. Every day if possible. Make as many mistakes as you can. Don’t try and develop a style of drawing (or writing). Just do what comes naturally and this, in time, will naturally become your style. If you love it, do it. And soon people will love it too. Also, the great thing about being an illustrator and/or a writer is that all you really need is a pen and paper. So just get on with it and create some art.
DAVID ASKS STACY:
If you had to describe yourself as one of the planets from our solar system which one would it be and why? I would pick Mars for myself, as I like to think I’m hot and mysterious (!!!)…(although my wife thinks I’m more like Saturn, as it’s a very gassy planet).
Off the top of my head, I’ll say Mercury. It travels around the sun the quickest and thus has the shortest year. And Mercury is named after the speedy winged-footed Roman messenger. While I’m not fast, I do feel like I’m always running around. With three kids in three different schools, we are on the go a lot. (I assume Mercury is the most tired of the planets.)
How did you find working with an illustrator who lives in a completely different part of the planet to you?
I’ll sum it up this way. Thank you, Internet! I’ve worked with illustrators across the US and now a few in Europe. The only real challenge is to remember time zone differences. Now if I was clever and sneaky, I’d say, “It’s incredibly difficult.” And I’d beg our editor Christian to send me to Great Britain. “Christian, David and I really need to work on this book together in the same country. And I’ll need a generous expense account. And tickets to Wimbledon.” Do I sound convincing?
The book covers a lot of momentous points in history. So, similar question to yours, but which period is your favorite and the one you would like to visit the most?
I’d love to visit the time of dinosaurs—either Cretaceous or Jurassic period. I’d have to bring my son because he’s a dinosaur enthusiast and I’d have to bring my camera because, obviously, this would be an epic vacation. (My son would also be a tour guide because he’s much better at identifying dinosaurs than I am.) If I couldn’t visit dino times, I’d like to go into the future. Maybe 10,000 years ahead. The first stop would be to see a bookstore or library.
I love how the book tells the history of Earth from Earth’s own perspective. What inspired you to write this book?
The idea for Earth came from another book idea that didn’t work. I’d written a story about a pet rock and his role through history. It started in a pre-human era when the rock was formed, and then the pet rock had a role in caveman times, the stone age, medieval times, on and on all the way to modern day. The story never came together, but I realized I really wanted to write about Earth. So that’s the story that came next.
Do you have a favorite Space related song? Mine is a toss-up between David Bowie’s “Space Oddity: and Ash’s “Girl From Mars.”
Good answers! The first thing that comes to mind is “Swinging on a Star,” which was made famous by Bing Crosby. My fourth-grade class performed it for the spring musical, and I played the role of a pig. I don’t want to brag, but I shined in that non-speaking, roll-around-on-the-stage performance.
You are a very successful author. Do you have any advice for any budding writers out there?
Read a lot. Write a lot. And learn a lot. Reading and writing are the obvious answers. But I like to add learning. Most of my story ideas come from interesting segments on the news, fascinating articles, or curious people. I love to learn new things. My current obsessions are the human brain, the history of ice cream, and Switzerland. (“Christian, I need to go to Switzerland for research.”)
Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years
Written by Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by David Litchfield
Publisher’s Synopsis: “Hi, I’m Earth! But you can call me Planet Awesome.”
Prepare to learn all about Earth from the point-of-view of Earth herself! In this funny yet informative book, filled to the brim with kid-friendly facts, readers will discover key moments in Earth’s life, from her childhood more than four billion years ago all the way up to present day. Beloved children’s book author Stacy McAnulty helps Earth tell her story, and award-winning illustrator David Litchfield brings the words to life. The book includes back matter with even more interesting tidbits.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Holt Books for Young Readers | 2017 | ISBN-13: 9781250108081
About the Author
Stacy McAnulty is the author of several picture books, including Excellent Ed, illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach, and Beautiful, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, three children, and two dogs.
About the Illustrator
David Litchfield is the author-illustrator of the award-winning The Bear and the Piano, as well as the illustrator of numerous picture books, including Miss Muffet, or What Came After by Marilyn Singer. He lives in Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom.
This interview—2 Picture Book Creators Discuss Earth (A.K.A. Planet Awesome!)—was conducted by Stacy McAnulty and David Litchfield. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Books About Planets, David Litchfield, Fact Books, Informational Children’s Books, Non-Fiction, Science, and Stacy McAnulty.