5Q :: Tardy kids get their day in new Barber bookDuluth renaissance man Brian Barber recently collaborated with former elementary teacher Mary Evanson Bleckwehl to craft “Henry! You’re Late Again!”
Duluth renaissance man Brian Barber is back illustrating books for kids.
The Omaha native, who’s been living in the Twin Ports for more than a decade, recently collaborated with former elementary teacher Mary Evanson Bleckwehl to craft “Henry! You’re Late Again!”
It’s been a couple of years since Barber added a little color to Peggy Snow’s “My Favorite Sounds from A to Z” and “My Favorite Places from A to Z,” but the new offering is already receiving rave reviews.
“I like Henry. He’s funny. The polka-dot underwear made me laugh,” a first grader was quoted as saying on Bleckwehl’s website.
We can’t top that, so we’ll just move on to the questions:
Budgeteer: How did you end up working with Bleckwehl? Were you paired through a publisher, or do you know her personally?
Barber: The book is published by Beaver’s Pond Press, a company in Minneapolis that helps people self-publish books.
They coordinate printing, distribution, PR and find the illustrators and designers.
I had never worked with them or met Mary before this. I, along with several other Minnesota illustrators, had donated some art to a scholarship fundraising show at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul. One of the editors from Beaver’s Pond Press was at the opening of the show and liked my work. I got a call the next day asking if I’d like to work with them on some projects.
I spoke with Mary and the executive editor, Dara Beevas, on the phone several times, and then met with them in person once before starting the project.
It looks like this was Bleckwehl’s first book. What kind of advice did you have for the newcomer to the field of children’s books?
I certainly don’t see myself as very experienced in the book industry. Most of my work is done on the dark, evil side of the graphic arts: in advertising.
I’ve illustrated two other kids’ books, but they were closely related and more like one project. My input for “Henry” came mostly in the characters and layout and design of the book.
Beaver’s Pond has several people who advise their clients on the writing, editing and the business part of publishing. Mary has been a teacher and school administrator and has lots of experience working with kids, so she’s got a great feel for what they like.
When you’re given somebody’s words and asked to illustrate a book out of them, roughly how long does that whole process take? How long was “Henry! You’re Late Again!” in the works?
I think Mary has been toying with this and other stories for a few years. We met back in March of this year, we had a couple months of discussion about the characters and look, feel and flow of the book, and we sent thumbnail sketches back and forth. The illustrations were finished in September. We spent a few weeks modifying some art and layouts, and the printing takes about six weeks.
This book was printed in Mankato — most picture books these days are printed in China.
Back in your grade school days, who was your “big bad wolf”? A principal, perhaps?
Nope. The principals were nothing compared to Mr. Galardi, the janitor. He would get mad if you messed up the floors he had just swept or polished, didn’t like having kids hanging around after school and would insult kids. He was bald and stocky, about four-and-a-half feet tall, and each of his arms was about four-and-a-half feet around.
One time our class was standing in line in the hall, and he was pushing a big garbage can on wheels down the hall. A friend of mine leaned over to peek in the can, and Mr. Galardi put him in a headlock, held his head down in the garbage can and said, “You wanna see what’s in there?”
I can’t imagine any of that happening at a grade school today, but the early ’70s in Omaha were a special, magical time and place.
In the book, Henry discovers another side of the antagonist. I never stuck around long enough to find Mr. Galardi’s other side; we all figured he was on his best behavior at work, so it could only get worse.
Finally, what’s next for you? Are you working on any other big projects right now?
Yeah, actually it’s been an incredibly busy year. I have two more books I’m working on with Beaver’s Pond, and I’m talking with Tony Dierckins at X-Communication here in Duluth about a book idea.
Like I said, I don’t normally do books, so that’s in addition to the design, animation and advertising work I do for companies here and in the Twin Cities.
NEWS TO USE
Can’t find Mary Evanson Bleckwehl and Brian Barber’s “Henry! You’re Late Again!” at your local bookseller? Try the publisher’s site at www.bookhousefulfillment.com.