Can Write: Meeting Canadian Writers and Illustrators of Children’s Books
What inspires the writers of the books your students read? How does an illustrator decide what to draw? Is it true that most authors and illustrators don’t know each other? This column features a different Canadian children’s book creator in each issue and shows you the story beyond the covers.
Interview with Author/Illustrator Dianna Bonder
When I wrote a poetic picture book entitled A Pacific Alphabet, I envisioned it to have playful art with hidden letters and objects starting with the letters of the alphabet sprinkled throughout the illustrations. Generally, authors don’t have much input into who gets to illustrate their words. I submitted my manuscript to Whitecap Books and they assigned it to a brand new, young illustrator. Dianna Bonder, who grew up in Kamloops, BC, then lived in Maple Ridge. A Pacific Alphabet became the first book she illustrated and I loved her wild, whimsical and very original style. Since that first book, Dianna has illustrated many books, several of which she also authored. She now lives with her husband and two young daughters on Gabriola Island where she works in her own studio.
Margriet: You are a writer as well as an illustrator. How do the two skills come together in your work?
Dianna: Originally I began my work as an illustrator and then tried my hand at writing a few years later. I have found that combining these skills works quite well for me as I really enjoy creating the idea and then bringing it to life through both words and illustrations. I love being able to create an idea and then breathe life into it. It’s also a bit easier to approach my publisher with an entire project idea as opposed to approaching them just as an illustrator.
Margriet: How is the process of illustrating different when it is your own text as opposed to someone else’s words?
Dianna: The difference between the two is that illustrating my own text is easier for me. I know my vision and my intention and therefore it is easier to illustrate my own ideas. However, that being said, I really enjoy painting pictures for someone else’s story, too—they have ideas that I would not necessarily have had. Other writers can tell a story differently than I can tell. It’s exciting for me to illustrate for others and often it’s more fun simply because I can get worn down from working on a manuscript and editing and rough drawings and editing and creating the final illustrations. It’s a very long process and I have the grey hairs to prove it!
Margriet: How do you share your craft with children in schools?
Dianna: I really love visiting children in schools. I love sharing my work from the roughs to the final art and I thoroughly enjoy showing children how they can draw using very simple tools. I am especially thrilled when children come back to me during lunch hour to show me how they used what I taught them earlier in the day and how they applied the techniques. As a child, I always thrived when I had the opportunity to meet a professional artist or musician or writer. Watching and learning first hand inspired me as a child and I hope I can do the same for other children when I share my work.
Margriet: Where do the ideas for your books come from??
Dianna: My ideas usually sprout from something that has happened in my life or are inspired by someone I know. Every single book I have written has been inspired by a character in my life (be it a human or an animal)— it’s how I always begin working. I often come up with a title or a sentence or even a quick drawing that I will jot down in my journal and re-visit at a later date. I have more ideas than I know what to do with, so I save them and work on them as I feel like.
Margriet: Have you always known you wanted to create books for children? Or did you think you’d be something else when you grew up?
Dianna: When I was very young, I wanted to be a dancer or a cruise director (I watched a bit too much Love Boat). However, by the time I was 12 I knew with all my heart that I wanted to be an artist. When my mom, who was a teacher, expressed a desire to be a children’s writer I found myself wanting to also be a part of that world. By the time I was 13, my mom had written several manuscripts which she asked me to illustrate. She then mailed all of these submissions to publishers and, though she was never published, it certainly gave me the inspiration and confidence to move in this direction.
(Note: after Dianna’s first few books were published, we both presented at the Kamloops Young Authors Festival. There I learned that Dianna had attended this event as a child and that it, too, had directly inspired her to become a writer and illustrator.)
Margriet: Tell us about a “normal” day in your life at home.
Dianna: Hmmm… a normal day for me? Well, almost every day begins the same way. My 4-year-old rolls over in bed and demands a cup of juice. We then proceed upstairs and enjoy a cup of juice for her and a cup of coffee for me while reading books on the couch. My days are really varied though. Some days I begin my work day very early and work a full day and some days are spent with my two daughters home schooling. It’s very unpredictable and though I do try to illustrate every day, some days are less productive than others. However, I always try to sit down and have creative time with my girls and allow myself to “play” as an artist. I love to colour with my children and draw silly, simple pictures. I tend to work a great deal in the evenings once my children are in bed because that’s the quietest time of my day, though I must admit I am my most creative in the early morning. Living on a small Gulf Island allows us to be flexible in our lives and inspires a lot of creative time.
Dianna’s books have won numerous awards. The slogan on her website says “Dreaming is Believing!” Her illustrations do look like dreams that have come true. The landscape of Canadian children’s picture books is richer because of creative illustrators like her.
Dianna Bonder’s website
Books written and illustrated by Dianna Bonder
Eleven Lazy Llamas
Books illustrated by Dianna Bonder
The West is Calling by Sarah N. Harvey and Leslie Buffman
Black and White Blanche by Marj Toews
Leon’s Song by Stephanie Simpson McLellan
Digging Canadian Dinosaurs by Rebecca Grambo
Three Royal Tales by Marilyn Helmer
A Pacific Alphabet by Margriet Ruurs
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margriet Ruurs is the author of 28 books for children. She conducts author presentations in schools around the country. MARGRIETRUURS.COM
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s May/June 2012 issue.