Monica Wellington is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Eggs from Red Hen Farm. Her many other books include Apple Farmer Annie. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts, and she lives in New York City.
Q: What inspired you to create Eggs from Red Hen Farm?
A: I love maps. I love to travel and I love to carry maps with me. As I write this, I am in France, on a train up to Paris, and I have my favorite maps with me. I love keeping track of where I am, where I am going, and when I get lost, solving the puzzle of finding my way, all with the help of maps.
The idea for Eggs from Red Hen Farm started with my desire to make maps. I have several times included a map in previous books. I decided it was time to make a book with numerous maps - to have fun making a lot of maps!
One thing led to another… maps led to the idea of a journey. This book is about a day’s trip from country to city and back again. The idea of Ruby and Ned having a farm with chickens came later.
Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations - or both simultaneously?
A: For me a book always begins first with the pictures. I start with ideas of what I want to paint. When creating a picture book, so much more time is spent working on the illustrations.
It takes hours and hours, weeks, and months to plan out the pictures, with countless sketches and revisions, and then to paint the final pictures as perfectly as I can. I always want to make sure I am involved in a project that gives me the chance to work on pictures that will be totally absorbing during all that time.
Sometimes I have worked on writing a text first and then discover that it isn’t really giving me good opportunities to do pictures, and so I abandon that idea. Better for me to start with pictures first!
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it a “winsome interactive picture book with STEM appeal.” What do you think of that description and what do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: I didn’t know the word “winsome” until it was used in a very positive review of one of my first books, All My Little Ducklings. Because of this, it is a special word for me and I am so happy when my books are described this way!
“Interactive” is another word that makes me happy because I do hope that reading my book is not a passive experience, that it does inspire a child to participate actively.
Recently I observed some kids together at school “reading” the map pages - they were pointing and tracing with their fingers, giggling, and saying, oops, the wrong way… let’s go this way instead…having fun figuring out the numerous routes.
It is great when a book connects with curriculum. I don’t start with that idea or goal, but if the book develops in that direction I am happy because it is how several of my books have found their way to so many children in schools (Apple Farmer Annie and Zinnia’s Flower Garden are two examples).
Q: How did you first get interested in creating picture books?
A: I went to art school and at that time I wanted to be a potter, which I pursued for several years after graduating. But then I was living in New York City, and it was a very difficult place to have a pottery studio.
I started making small-sized drawings about things I remembering from when I was a child in Switzerland. I started to think these might be good for a children’s book. I took some illustration classes at the School of Visual Arts, and then I was soon on my way. I have never looked back!
I love the interplay between words and pictures, creating a world that I am immersed in for a long time with each project, and then that the book goes out into the world to be shared with children and families.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb