Lynne Rae Perkins is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book The Museum of Everything. Her many other books include Criss Cross, winner of the Newbery Medal in 2006. She is based in Michigan.
Q: What inspired you to create The Museum of Everything?
A: I think the answer to questions like this is often complicated. Here is some writing I did on this topic a little while back:
A few years ago, I was an artist-in-residence on Cuttyhunk Island, a tiny island off the southern coast of Massachusetts. A really tiny island: ¾ mile wide and 1-1/2 miles long. From the bump in the center, I could see the whole island, with the Atlantic Ocean all around.
When I came home to Michigan, I tried to make drawings about what that felt like.
I was there in early November. Late fall. Golds and browns, lingering greens, grasses and scrubby bushes and rusty frosted weeds. As I tried to draw it, watercolor was doing okay for the ocean, but the landscape seemed to call for embroidery. A drawing with thread. So I embroidered an island.
The Cuttyhunk students had read my book, Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea, and they had made dioramas about various scenes in the story. Coincidentally, I had just made a diorama Christmas card. So I decided to make a diorama for my embroidered island.
This got me thinking about other kinds of islands: desert islands. Snowy islands. Volcanic islands. So I made some. “Types of Islands.” It sounded like an exhibit at a museum. And it kind of looked like one. I put a painting of a child in front of it, looking in.
There were some other things I wanted to make. I wanted to make a skirt that was like a spirea bush in springtime. Which led me to dig up a little pair of bushes, watercolor constructions, that I made long ago in grad school. I was in the Printmaking department, but I kept making these little one-off oddball items. Like a “book” where the pages were layers of the sky: wooly clouds, clear blue, then velvety dark, with stars. I still liked this idea, but I thought I could make a better, more beautiful version.
I wanted to make these objects. These concrete poems. There seemed to be a thread that tied them together. But what was it?
I made the painting of the girl who had been looking at the diorama of islands, this time in a chair, looking at something she held in her hands. I do remember the fizzy feeling I had when I decided to glue a real seashell to the painting. It was small but, to me, exciting.
I felt joy when I glued the seashell to the painting of my girl. A child like I was. It occurred to me then that museums are places away from the hustle-bustle of the world, where we can look at pieces of that world, one at a time.
And so, the first paragraphs of The Museum of Everything.
Q: Did you focus on the text first or the illustrations, or did you work on them simultaneously? And how did you create the illustrations?
A: For me, it's always a bit of a back and forth process. This time, it started with the art, but I wrote the text before doing most of the art.
The art is a combination of watercolor on paper, and many, many other materials, including embroidery, clay, and found objects.
Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, "Distinctive and heartfelt, the museum is observed with a poet’s eye and an inventor’s spirit." What do you think of that description?
A: I'm flattered!
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I hope they feel encouraged to spend time with ideas of their own, and maybe to try making something.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm illustrating a middle-grade novel I wrote, with mice as the main characters.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Hmmmm . . . . this book was so much fun to make. I hope that readers have half as much fun looking at it as I had in making it.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb