Debut Author Jesse Klausmeier and award-winning illustrator Suzy Lee (Wave, Shadow) share how they collaborated on the innovative and already-acclaimed (“A delightful and timely homage to reading and, more, to books themselves.” – Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review), Open This Little Book.
Where did you get the idea for Open This Little Book?
Jesse: I first had the idea when I was around 5 years old. I always wanted to read as many books as possible before going to bed, so when it came time for my last book, I would stuff other books inside a bigger one. One day, while at my grandparents’ house, I decided that I should write a book that had other books inside of it. Twenty years later I wrote the full manuscript, and five years after that, here it is!
How did you develop the concept for illustrating Open This Little Book?
Suzy: The ideas of dream-within-a-dream, mirror-within-a-mirror and book-within-a-book always fascinate me! We discussed what characters would fit, how they would interact with each other, which colors would match, which stories each page would have, and how much smaller the next page should be and… it was fun to discuss (as always) but it was not so easy to figure out how to realize it (as always).
The text seems to be simple, but the story itself is not that simple. It was a real team effort between me, Jess, our editor, Victoria, and the designer, Sara. I enjoyed the whole process and learned a lot while working on this project.
Show us your space!
Jesse: My writing area is generally well organized and pretty sparse. When I’m in the middle of research or doing inspiration boards (collages that capture the spirit of the story I’m working on) it can get messy. But when I’m focused on writing or editing, my desk is clear.
The few items that are displayed on my desk are beloved books and mementoes that inspire me. Writing is a solo activity, and surrounding myself with reminders of friends, colleagues, and the authors/illustrators that I love reminds me that I’m part of a larger creative community.
Suzy: I finished Open This Little Book just before I left Singapore—now our family has moved back to Korea. So there are many boxes around my workroom in the photo. I printed all of the double-spread pages and stuck them on the closet so that I could see how they flow.
The pencil drawing of the ladybug’s world.
This is my messy little workroom—my kids want to be next to me all the time. I worked and they did what they wanted (and, in this photo, my husband as well!). It’s a small workroom but everybody was here all the time!
What’s your routine when you’re working on a book?
Jesse: It’s a constant balance between structure and freedom. I like to take field trips for inspiration during the drafting and research stages, but then, as the story becomes more and more solid, I need more structure and fewer distractions. I also let each polished draft rest for two weeks (time permitting) before looking at it again, to keep my eyes fresh.
Did you do any research for Open This Little Book?
Jesse: I studied as many conceptual books as I could in preparation for Open This Little Book. The balance between the text and the illustrations is crucial, and most of the books I studied were authored and illustrated by the same person. As an author who is lacking in the drawing department, I knew that my text needed to be strong enough to stand alone.
Suzy: This project instantly reminded me of three of my favorite books that are “books about books.”
I loved the idea that the main character of Das Buch Im Buch actually enters into the book. That is a real reading experience: we fall into a book and when we come out of the book, our world has been changed. You may notice how colorful the ladybug’s world is in Open This Little Book after all the adventures she goes through!
This was made by my son, when he was 4 years old. He simply piled up the colored papers and bound them together and named it Rainbow Book. I don’t know if it was his intention that the papers folded unevenly so that it gave a more dynamic feeling and a great color combination. My son’s little rainbow book reminded of me Bruno Munari’s Libro illeggibile. Surely they started from the same idea!
I loved the pile of sheets of flat color that Munari and my son’s books created. The book gives you an illusion that there’s a world inside it, but in reality, it is just a pile of flat paper!
Bruno Munari’s Libro illeggibile.
What was it like when you first saw Suzy’s illustrations for Open This Little Book?
When I first saw them, they moved me to tears. I absolutely adore the characters, and the last page is one of my favorite illustrations of all time.
What was it like when you first held a finished copy of Open This Little Book?
Jesse: For the first five minutes, I just stared at the cover and stroked the embossing as I waited for my heart to stop slamming in my chest. The first time I read the book, my eyes were blurred with tears. I am just so proud of this book, and I still can’t believe it exists.
Suzy: I was thrilled to see the finished copy. Since we changed the format, design, and even story a lot, somehow nobody could really imagine what the final form would be. It was a surprise to see all the ideas actually came true, like magic!