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Click here for WAVE book info on Chronicle Books website
A Conversation with Suzy Lee
Suzy Lee’s books have been published and exhibited worldwide. She wrote and illustrated The Zoo, The Black Bird, Mirror, La Revanche des Lapins, and Alice in Wonderland. We had the chance to speak with Ms. Lee recently about her perspective on children’s books and her forthcoming June 2008 Chronicle title, Wave. Born in Seoul, Korea, she currently lives and works in Singapore.
CB: Why did you decide to do a picture book without any words? Have all your picture books been wordless? Is there an artistic philosophy behind that?
SL: My books are mostly wordless. Even the books that include text have less than 10 sentences throughout. It is not particularly intentional, but it is due to my approach of making books; I tend to think in visual images. Often a story comes in a visual form at first. And the story built by the series of pictures usually does not need to have any words added later on. Some stories are best told without words.
Except for cases when I collaborate with other writers, I believe pictures do not need to “illustrate” other things. They are meaningful as they are; wordless books have their own logic. They are fulfilled by the images themselves and work in different ways from text-oriented picture books. Wordless books are unique because only artists can make them.
When there are no words, you can see more. You cannot miss any visual clues and details in order to figure out a story. When there is no sound, you can hear better. You hear more vividly in a dream because it comes from your memory. I believe if you ever have been to the sea or lake, you will hear the sound of waves from the pages of Wave.
CB: What was the inspiration behind Wave?
SL: Dazzling cyan-colored sea/strong sunlight/a distinct shadow on the white sand/the busy seagulls/ the same sea wherever it is/the same children wherever they are/the same play with waves/the shoes already wet/a girl wearing a wet drooped dress/a smiling mom with a parasol/a day enjoyed until totally exhausted/an unexpected gift from the sea/beautiful seashells on a beach/the seashore where only the wave and I existed…
Or, I just wanted to make a book in a really long horizontal shape, and I just chose a story to fit in!
CB: You clearly like to play with the concept of what makes a book. In Wave, the use of the book’s gutter acts as a dividing line between the beach world and the wave’s world. And the use of color reinforces that aspect of the book. Do you have any thoughts to share on this concept?
SL: A book is a very interesting medium. Readers are taught to read a book in a certain way, reading from left to right and turning the pages to figure out the story. Yet most of us ignore the gutter of the book even though it clearly interrupts the whole spread. Even though there are only three colors used on the pages of Wave (which isn’t a realistic depiction of beach colors), readers take a leap of faith and believe that they are looking at the beach on one fine day. These unspoken agreements between authors and readers on how to read a book are the vital aspects to making a picture book.
I use these agreements and conventions hiding in the fictional narrative. I am interested in a story that can only be told in book form. Elements of the book form are often included in my stories. In Wave, a fold between two pages of the book is not just where the pages are tied in, but it’s also a place for the story to continue.
When the girl decides to find out what’s happening on the other side of the page in Wave, she crosses the book’s gutter. She is absorbed into the physical center of the book and then emerges from it like Alice, when she comes out from the mirror in Through the Looking-Glass. The book’s gutter can also be a psychological line in the girl’s mind—a line we all encounter when in front of a wave—knowing that if you cross the line, you’ll get soaked!
I hope readers can find something new every time they open up the book. Wave is a simple picture book, but there is a lot to find beneath the surface!
CB: Wave can be enjoyed on a couple of levels. On the one hand, there’s the surface level of it being about a day at the beach, and on the other, a deeper story of friendship. Do you have any thoughts to share on this?
SL: The seagulls find the girl and her mom, and follow them into the first page of the book. The gulls appear on every page, responding to the girl’s feelings and action. The seagulls look somewhat indifferent in the beginning, and keep a certain distance from the girl the entire time. The seagulls and the girl get closer, but they never touch each other. The seagulls and the girl finally share a joyous moment in the water, and then the seagulls disappear into the scenery of the sea.
The wave doesn’t say anything but just has a good time with the girl. And then it brings the surprising gift from the far ocean. The girl leaves the sea, and the sea remains calm. This is a certain kind of friendship. The girl and the wave touch (physically) only briefly, but each leaves with a positive memory of the other.
CB: You just had a baby boy. As an artist and book creator how do you think having a son may impact you?
SL: I finished Wave just one week before I gave birth to my baby, Sahn. So I dedicated this book to him. I guess every time I see this book, I will remember myself, with a big baby belly, working on this book and imagining what kind of baby would come to me.
I believe having my son will have an impact on many things that I couldn’t imagine. I hope Sahn’s childlike eyes affect my way of seeing the world. But at the same time, I hope I can maintain my own perspective as an artist, not dominated too much by motherhood!