Working in a Dream World: An Interview With Mary GrandPré and Jennifer Dewing

The Harry Potter illustrator and a children's book author talk about their personalized bedtime book, Goodnight Little Me.
Mary GrandPre (L) and Jennifer Dewing (R)

You might recognize the name Mary GrandPré as the original illustrator of the Harry Potter book covers in the United States. Her colorful and whimsical illustrations were everywhere, giving hints to each book's themes and storylines. GrandPré has a new book out, with author Jennifer Dewing, and they both stopped by the Parents offices recently to talk about Goodnight Little Me, a super-dreamy and lovely picture book published by I See Me, a line of personalized children's books that integrates names and photos in covers and pages. Read on, as both women reveal how the book came together, their thoughts on the future of children's books, and the ways they continue to stay creative. Plus, GrandPré shares her favorite Harry Potter book and characters!

What was your inspiration behind writing and drawing Goodnight Little Me? How did you both become involved and what was the writing and drawing process like?

Jennifer: Allan and Maia Haag had started the company [I See Me] back in 1998 with the book called My Very Own Name. The company's mission is all about building self-esteem in children, celebrating children, making them feel special, making them feel loved. [The company has] been expanding with all sorts of different titles for different occasions, but they didn't have a classic goodnight book, [until] I wrote it several years ago. It kind of sat around for a little while until Allan could find the right illustrator, which he found in Mary. A lot of times the authors and the illustrators don't even connect with one another at all; they're kept pretty separate in the process.

Mary: When Allen called me, I didn't know [the story] had been sitting around for a while. I loved the story because it had a sense of magic about it, and I love that kind of wonder, that kind of writing where the child is floating on this cloud and experiencing all of these things as the night falls and the moon leads the child around on this little journey in the sky. It's a beautiful way to say goodnight; it was very dreamy and light-filled and glowing, and it spoke to me as an artist and as a mother, too.

In recent years, there has been a steady decline in the publication of children's picture books, but classics and YA novels still seem to be doing well. What do you think is the future of children's books?

Mary: I think there will always be stories and pictures, whether they're digital or they're on a page. So I'm not too worried about it. You know the creative thinker will always have a place in that world.

Jennifer: What we've learned with the [I See Me] books is that [because] they are always personalized with the child's name, our customers give them as cherished gifts. [The names are] seamlessly woven through all of the illustrations and the manuscripts; the personalization is truly integrated in to the design of the books. The parents or the child will hold on to them forever because they're more of a keepsake, different from anything that you could get on an app.

What books inspired you growing up? And what books do your own kids love?

Mary: The book that I always go back to would be Peter Pan. The pictures had this glittery and magical feel, and I felt like I was falling into the story and out of the window whenever I opened a spread. That sense of flying and wonderment and mystery always stayed with me, so I kind of put that into my pictures.

Jennifer: I always loved The Cat in the Hat growing up because it was what my Grandpa Jack would read to me all the time, but my kids are into all different storybooks because they have all different personalities. My oldest one is into nonfiction, anything with a real picture of a vehicle and real cars and factual information. Now my youngest is 5 and he's into adventure, pirates, dressing up, transporting out of reality. My daughter is curious about anything.

Jennifer, since you have three kids, what have you discovered about your children's personalities from their birth order?

The youngest is definitely the most easygoing by far. He entered the world softly and quietly; [he has] a very optimistic personality. He's kind of the class clown and the comic relief of the family. My oldest one is a real thinker and analyzes everything. They're like Bert and Ernie, the two of them together. The middle one, she gets along with both of them really well and she has her own special place.

Mary, your drawing style is often described as "soft geometry." What artists influenced you growing up?

Edward Hopper was a painter that I always looked at because of his sense of light, and that sense [you get] of almost being a voyeur in a window or on a street or [in a] café, kind of people watching. Again, that mystery, that light and shadow, has always been important to my work. I grew up in a strict Catholic family, so we had to go to Mass every day, and the stained glass windows were a huge inspiration in my work because of the glowing light; they were always there for me every day. I loved looking at the windows, the glow.

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