Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is very happy to shine our Friday spotlight on children’s book author and illustrator Corinna Luyken.
Corinna, can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your work? How would you like us to introduce you?
My official bio says I am the author-illustrator of THE TREE IN ME; as well as the NY Times bestseller, MY HEART; and THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, which received four starred reviews and has been praised by Entertainment Weekly, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and more. I am also the illustrator of NOTHING IN COMMON, written by Kate Hoefler; ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE, written by Marcy Campbell; WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS, written by Carolyn Crimi; and SOMETHING GOOD (fall 2021) also written by Marcy Campbell. I live near the Salish Sea; in Olympia, WA with my husband, daughter, and two cats.
Where can people find your work?
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I’m most active on IG : https://www.instagram.com/corinnaluyken/
But you can also follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/CorinnaLuyken
and facebook: https://twitter.com/CorinnaLuyken
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you do? What can readers expect from you next, or what is the last thing you worked on?
I am an author/illustrator of picture books, including The Book of Mistakes (my first book), My Heart, and my most recent book, The Tree in Me. With each of these books I’m interested in the ability of art to alter people’s perception of the world around them in an expansive way. I’m interested in what art can make visible, that we might have otherwise missed. All of my books do this in one way or another. Often, this means telling stories that invite readers to look at the world with an open heart and an open mind.
What was the inspiration for The Tree in Me? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished piece of work?
The Tree In Me has roots in a book I read in 9th grade, PEACE IS EVERY STEP, by Thich Nhat Hanh. In that book he talks about learning to look closely at things in the world around us—things like an orange, or a table. And he guides the reader through a kind of deep looking that starts with the table, which is made of wood and nails. But once you start looking, you see that the table also wouldn’t exist without the hands of the carpenter that built it. And so the table is part carpenter, part wood, part nail. Then, if you look even deeper, you can see that the table is also made up of the wind, rain and sun that fed the tree. And also the factory, the workers, the miners who contributed to building the nails and tools that it took to build the table. And if you look even more deeply, you will see the mother and father of the carpenter. You will see the farmer who grew the food that fed the carpenter. You will see the carpenter’s teachers and friends and grandparents, and the grandparents of all the people who influenced and supported the life of that carpenter. All of these elements, all of this life was necessary to make a simple table. In this way, when you look deeply enough, you can see clearly that the entire world is connected.
As a young person, this story, this practice of looking deeply, changed the way I saw the world. And I’ve carried it with me ever since. Now that I am an author and illustrator of books for young people, I think about this perspective shift, and try to zoom out in one way or another with every book that I make. Whether writing about mistakes or difficult emotions, I see connections.
These days when I think about the big picture, I also think about the kinds of books that I’d like to make. And I’ve always thought that someday I’d like to make a book about this practice of looking deeply. It took many years and many false starts, but eventually I wrote a poem, which inspired some pictures, and that pairing became my latest book, The Tree In Me.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you create? What do you think draws customers to these works?
Picture books have a kind of magic—in the dance between pictures and words, and in the way they are meant to be shared. They are an art form that allows us to share stories—ways of seeing and thinking about the world—with future generations. And that is endlessly exciting to me.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I have another book with Marcy Campbell, called Something Good, coming out this fall. It is about something bad that is written on the bathroom wall of an elementary school. It’s a story about connection and the way in which one school community moves through something difficult and transforms it into something beautiful.
(Also, the book that I’m currently working on is Patchwork, by Matt de la Peña, which will be out Fall 2022.)
What is/are your passions when you’re not creating your works? How do you make time for your non-art based hobbies/things you love?
I also love to read, cook, garden and surf. I find that the gardening and surfing, in particular, are a necessary balance to the long hours of sitting at a desk inside all day, which comes with being an illustrator.
What does your work space look like? What do you need to have around you while working?
My studio is filled with books and plants. There are also two tabby cats who sometimes grace me with their presence.
While you’re working, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
I prefer silence or instrumental/mellow music. The whole process of making a book requires a lot of thought and concentration and any music which isn’t in the mood/world of the book can distract me from the project. But there is a point, toward the end of making a book, when I am mostly adding color, where I can listen to podcasts. My favorite is Krista Tippett’s On Being.
Artists very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your creations?
The aforementioned tabbies love to “help” by sitting on any large piles of paper that I leave around. So my studio tends to be pretty tidy.
Do you have any favorite foods or drinks that must be in the vicinity (or must be avoided) while you’re creating a piece of work?
Earl Grey Tea.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the publishing process? And how do you overcome that?
The more books I make, the more I realize that with every project, I am truly starting over from scratch. This means reacquainting myself with all of the uncertainty, self-doubt and confusion that comes with the beginning of anything. But also, with all of the excitement and potential energy. It’s a process that is equal parts wonderful and terrifying. And making friends with that process, trusting it, means learning to tune out the external noise. This means the noise of social media, and the praise as well as the criticism. It means getting quiet and empty so that I can hear the voice of the project, and what it is asking me to do.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your career as an artist/author?
That you can trust the process. You can trust the work to guide you from the beginning, when you really don’t quite know what you’re doing… all the way through to the end. Also, I’ve learned that dissatisfaction, the feeling of not quite liking what you’ve made, is a very important part of the creative process. I make a ton of work that I don’t like in order to end up with a few pieces that I do. And that is part of the journey, at least for me. There is no way around it… the only way is through.
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other artists/authors that have helped you in your career?
SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is a wonderful resource.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Corinna!