A Conversation with Patricia MacLachlan & Steven Kellogg
Patricia MacLachlan and Steven Kellogg were friends long before they decided to collaborate on Snowflakes Fall, a picture book message of hope rising from tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Both author and illustrator were kind enough to answer some questions for BrodartVibe readers.
BrodartVibe: Even before the world’s eyes were on Newtown it seemed to be a close community. What made it special to you?
Steven: The Newtown-Sandy Hook townships are located in the beautiful foot hills of the Berkshire Mountains and contain an evolving combination of old farmlands, forests, and suburban enclaves. The lives of the residents center around the raising and educating of their children, and pride is taken in the quality of the schools and the state of the art library, all of which helped to persuade me and my wife, Helen, to settle there for thirty-five years while we raised our family.
BrodartVibe: How did this collaboration come about?
Patricia: I wrote the words long before I had seen any of Steven’s art. It was important to me to write a memory and celebration of the children – and all children touched by loss. It was important to both of us because we care about children and we respect them. I am a parent and grandparent and I felt the lost children should be remembered. Also, both Steven and I found the process of doing the book gave us some comfort.
BrodartVibe: Did being friends make it easier or more difficult to create a book together?
Steven: Authors and illustrators rarely collaborate during the creation of a book, and that established custom can allow the creative process to flow more freely for both because they concentrate on their individual contributions to the book rather than on their personal relationship. Occasionally a book benefits from a pre-existing friendship that exists between the artist and author, and that was very much the case with Snowflakes Fall. The coming together of the text and images was enhanced by the freedom that we felt to discuss each other’s ideas, and to make suggestions that we felt would help the book to put across the feelings and insights that we both hoped to convey.
BrodartVibe: How did you land on flowers and snowflakes for the cycle of life?
Patricia: Well, the symbol for the Newtown school was snowflakes, and quite simply, flowers became the sense of renewal after the snowflakes of winter.
BrodartVibe: The illustration of the snow angels taking flight feels still and peaceful like a fresh snowfall. Which of Steven’s illustrations brought your words to life in a special way for you?
Patricia: I think for Steven and I the snow angels became the lovely symbols of the children who were gone, but never to be forgotten. They didn’t leave spaces for others to step into – they were unique and special and individual, like snowflakes. They had families and friends and cats and dogs who loved them. Steven’s angels provided great comfort and solace for me. The angels seem to work in kinship with the absolute joy of the children who are happy with life, and with each other.
BrodartVibe: When you read Patricia’s text for the first time, what was your reaction?
Steven: On first reading, I loved the eloquent phrases and the images in the verses that she wrote, and I couldn’t wait to combine them with the paintings I was imagining. Her lyrical verses evoked my memories of children playing in the woods, fields, and streams that surrounded our old farmhouse in Sandy Hook. The first painting I did depicted the children and dogs romping across that landscape, and I chose to begin with that sequence to show her and the Random House editors the joyous feeling and the euphoric interaction of children and nature that I wanted the book to embody. [Patricia and I] had some very constructive telephone discussions about ways in which the verbal and visual movement of the book could be shaped so that it would achieve the effect that we both envisioned. Her inclusion of snow angels, for example, opened me to the possibility of using them, not only in the particular sequence in which they are mentioned, but also as an important visual presence on the title page, on the last spread, and in the final wordless scene on the last endpaper.
BrodartVibe: How do you intend for adults to use this story?
Steven: My intent was to illustrate the book as a celebration of the uniqueness of children and the joy of childhood, with a concentration on the excitement of the changing seasons, and the fascinating and poignant stages of life as it continually evolves. My hope is that we have created a picture book that will speak to people of all ages.
Patricia: Because each child is different I think adults need to know the child. One of my grandchildren didn’t want to talk about what she knew happened because other children knew at her school. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said. But she read the book and she loved the energy of the children, and saw one of my very own dogs Steven included, and loved the beauty of the snow angels in the fields. I think the book has several levels in this way – With children and adults I talk about seasons and memory. And things important to remember.
In honor of Newtown, Connecticut, and the village of Sandy Hook, Random House Children’s Books has made a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund, and is donating books to the national literacy organization, First Book.