Bob Staake is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book The Book of Gold. His many other books for kids include Bluebird, The Red Lemon, and Look! A Book!. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New Yorker and Time. He lives in Chatham, Massachusetts.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Book of Gold, and for your main character, Isaac?
A: I wrote the first draft of the story over 12 years ago, but it was quite different. My thought was that Isaac would find the legendary book, it would turn to solid gold, and then in old age he would give it to the New York Public Library to save it from a budget crisis.
Eventually I agreed that this angle was a bit far-fetched, and while it worked as a story, I wanted to come up with something more poetic, ironic and “full circle.” By the time you get to the end of the story you realize that a whole new story is about to begin. Isaac Gutenberg is just an ordinary boy, but his last name is a nod to the Gutenberg Press.
Q: What do you hope young readers take away from the story?
A: That taking the quest is almost always more important than arriving at the final destination. I also hope that young readers discover in the story how our lives are shaped by the seemingly random people who we meet and the odd events that transpire while we move through this world.
Q: Did you work on the text and the illustrations simultaneously, or focus on one of them first?
A: When I sit down to write a children’s book I need to at least see the cover in my mind. As I progress with the writing of the story I will often do a few little doodles just to make sure that the accompanying imagery will be compelling enough.
If those drawings bore me, then I know they’ll bore kids. I abandon many book projects because I just don’t think the symbiotic connection between the words and the pictures will be all that interesting. However, with The Book of Gold I could see strong imagery in my mind with every paragraph I wrote.
Once the final story is completed, it’s then necessary to pull it all together with pictures that are intended to make a child’s imagination soar.
Q: What are some of your favorite books that you’ve created?
A: I like The Red Lemon because it has a very important message about “don’t judge a book by its cover.” I am happy with Bluebird for being able to express a certain depth of emotion minus any words at all.
On a completely different level I’m proud of Look! A Book! and Look! Another Book! because they were technically extremely difficult to create and all the text, art and die cuts had to work independently and three different ways. I look at the dummies for those two books and I have no idea how I pulled them off.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A Seuss Beginner Book for Random House called Can You See Me?, a two book story for HarperCollins, and a middle reader series that I hope to place titled The Lost Children of Rumor.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb