I am happy to have been given the opportunity to interview Mr. Wong Herbert Yee, the successful artist/author of several children's books. I admire his work, especially his art and lyrical text for "Who Likes the Rain?" and "Tracks in the Snow." His art exhibits such a wide range of styles with special attention to detail. I'm also impressed with his rhyming dialogue and interactive focus. He makes reading so much fun!
Tell me a little about your childhood/background.
I grew up in Detroit with six brothers and sisters. Our elementary school was K-6. At one point, there was a Yee in six of the seven grades. We were also the only Asian family for a time.Do you have children of your own?
I have a daughter.
What brought you to write books for children?
This is directly related to the previous question. Our weekly visits to the library got me to thinking that this was something I would like to do.I see that you graduated college with a BFA in Printmaking which is an unusual major (and one that I share with you!). How has your printmaking background helped/hindered your work?
Printmaking is a bit unusual, from the standpoint of making a living. The results are what appealed to me, and the method of working. I liked the ruggedness of it all; how you could scratch, scrape, work and rework an image. I'm referring to intaglio which was my area of concentration in printmaking. I also enjoyed the surprise element, peeling a damp sheet of paper off the printing press. Of course the first book I had published, EEK! There's a Mouse in the House was done in gouache/watercolor. Working with brushes was new. Watercolor is also such a touchy medium. The making of multiples is common to both, allowing affordability and availability.
Do you still create etchings/woodcuts/prints?No I haven't. After graduating I lived in an upper flat. I set up acid baths in an attic space, non-ventilated to keep working on my prints. The chemicals eventually drove me in a different direction, searching for less toxic ways of making art. Fortunately, enough brain cells survived . . . I think? I did do a linoleum cut sample for my next book, Big Black Bear. I liked the results, but wasn't sure I had enough control. Lately I've been feeling a need to go back in that direction. That would bring me full circle; something I strive for in my writing half.
I love your interactive website. I see that you devote a lot of space for children's play/games, why?At first the idea of a website was a way to direct teachers inquiring about school visits. After studying other sites I decided it would be nice to add something for the kids, as they are my intended audience.
Describe a "typical" work day.
I rise at 10:00 and mess around on the computer for a bit. I was an artist before becoming a writer. It would be easier for me to stay up to 5:00 am, as opposed to getting up that hour. (I've read some writers get cracking at this time.) If I'm working on illustrations I'll go until 4 or 5 before running out of gas. When doing creative things, 5 hours seems to be my limit. The time spent working is fairly intense, though. I write at anytime and enjoy it because I am not chained to my drawing table.How many published picture books do you have out?
Works published including picture books, 11; early readers, 7 and boardbooks, 4.
What do you do when you are not reading/writing?
I ride my bike, keeping an eye out for turtles, birds and such. I run; there's a 1/2 marathon on my calendar (first in about twenty years). Avoid chores.
What's the best thing about being an artist/author?
Working out of the house; not driving; having been around to see my daughter come home from school everyday (I've mentioned the morning thing). Actually having control over what you're doing, especially since I write and illustrate.
What is your latest book for 2008?
The third book in the Mouse and Mole series, A Brand New Day with Mouse and Mole.
What can fans expect next from you?
I've been happy wandering in the world of Mouse and Mole. The fourth Mouse and Mole is in the hands of my publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I've just completed the art. Fine Feathered Friends is due out fall 2009. I'm preparing to submit MM5. Also, I'll be starting work on Summer Days, Summer Night for Henry Holt/Ottaviano, the sequel to Tracks in the Snow and Who Likes Rain?
What advice would you give for beginning children's book artists/authors?
To writers: never ask what you should write about.
To illustrators: pay attention to detail and craftsmanship, don't hog the spotlight.