Monday, May 7, 2012

Minette's Feast - an interview with Chad Beckerman

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Chad Beckerman. He is here in his capacity as Creative Director for Abrams Books for Young Readers, to talk about the newly released Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, written by Susanna Reich, and illustrated by Amy Bates.

Lisa: Although I did ask to interview the editor of Minette’s Feast, I did not anticipate interviewing the Creative Director for Abrams books.  When I looked you up online, I admit to being more than slightly intimidated by your very impressive resume.  I’m interviewing the art director behind the wildly successful Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Origami Yoda series? Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes? The artistic muse behind Escape! and my new favorite, Huff & Puff?   Be still, my nervous heart.  Please forgive me in advance for my lack of knowledge in your area of expertise and allow me to quote one of my favorite lines from Mary Rose Woods', The Mysterious Howling, "all books are judged by their covers until they are read."

So, on we go …

Chad: Wow, you really have done your Designer research!  I am the evil design mastermind behind all of those books!

Lisa: Minette’s Feast– a superbly written narrative by Susanna Reich paired with the pencil and watercolor paintings of Amy Bates that exude the aura (and aroma!) of a 1950s French kitchen.   Was it you who brought these two talents together?  How do you choose an illustrator for a manuscript?  Was there ever a case where you’ve found artwork that sent you in search of a writer?

Chad: Tamar Brazis, editorial director, and I had worked with Amy Bates on two other picture books, The Dog who Belonged to No One and A Bear in the Air. We had been on the search for a picture book for Amy. When Susanna's Minette's Feast came across Tamar's desk, we knew without question this was a book for Amy. In most cases we have a manuscript and will search for just the right illustrator. Thankfully we had Amy stowed away for a rainy day.

Lisa: I understand that you have designed all of Amy Bates’ books for Abrams. You must be quite familiar with her and her work.  Does that make your job easier?

Chad: Being familiar with an illustrator's work definitely makes an art director's job easier. You know what their strengths and weaknesses are. You know where and when to push them to get better work from them. In the case of working with Amy, our first book we worked on together was The Dog who Belonged to No One. I had seen Amy's work on a few other pictures from our houses so I had an idea of what she could do. I wanted to make the books that she did with ABRAMS different than her other work. To solve that idea, we pushed Amy into creating designs and patterns that fit the content of the story; in turn giving the viewer more to look at than just full bleed or spot illustrations.  These border designs helped bring you into the time period of the story.

Lisa: Your job is to create an overall  “vision” for the book, to give it a particular “feel,” how do you affect that vision?  Within the pages of the book itself, is it primarily a matter of space and placement, typeface and font,  or is there more that you can do to achieve a particular effect? 

Chad: The first way a designer helps create his or her vision on the book is through his font choice. I feel this helps set the mood or time period for the story. Designers need to ask themselves, is this book wacky and deserves a more fun take on the typography, or does the typography need to be played down to let the art be the main star? Is this an historical book where a typeface from that time period or region might be the best choice?  This is the question I asked myself for Minette's Feast. I searched mainly for fonts that said "Paris" to me. This choice helped set the stage of where the story takes place, perhaps hinting at the atmosphere of the text.

The second way a designer or an editor helps create a vision for a particular book is working with the illustrator to shape the look of the book. For example we spent a lot of time working with Amy getting a few spreads to work exactly right.

As you can see we had to reshape the sketches so they worked better with the text and told the story better.

Lisa: How involved are you in the early sketches or color studies?  I saw the many transformations that occurred in the making of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes.  How do artists feel about going “back to the drawing board" for so many iterations? Are most cooperative?

Chad: I am very involved in the early stages. In a cover like Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, I had a idea of what I wanted the cover to be before hiring Gilbert Ford; but I also knew it might not be the right idea so I wanted to see what ideas Gilbert had.  This was definitely a long process - one that Gilbert stuck by me with.  No one likes to have to go "back to the drawing board." It helps to be very transparent about what is going on. Artists are not in the office with you; they don't hear the reasons why a cover or illustration is not working for someone. Not being part of that process can be hard since an illustrator can feel on the outside of the process. It's my job to make sure they don't feel that way.

Minette sketches
Julia sketches

Lisa: Why choose different artwork for the book’s cover and its dust jacket?  I love them both, but I am curious. Don’t picture books usually have the same cover art and dust jacket?

Chad: I find that you are correct that picture books tend to have the same case as the front jacket image. I find this a bit lazy from the designer's point of view. I say this because I am guilty of just placing the cover on the case as well. More and more, I find that designing the case with new art offers up a little something extra to help the book feel more special.

Lisa: Were the endpapers your idea?  I love the tablecloth motif.

Chad: Amy had made the end paper art for the copyright spread, I believe. The art that is now on the copyright spread was originally intended as the cover illustration. During the process of working out the pagination of the text/illustrations, we moved the tablecloth pattern to the end papers. It was just too good not to use.

Lisa: What do you feel is your greatest contribution to Minette’s Feast?

Chad: My greatest contribution is working alongside Tamar Brazis. Our teamwork is an accomplishment. We sit down, go over the sketches, and shoot ideas off each other, helping the book to grow into what it wants to be. This relationship adds to the quality of our books and Minette's Feast. But, if you are asking what is my favorite part of the book, I am quite fond of the case and endpapers, but you have already pointed those out.

Lisa: Finally, I’m curious – are those “brass knuckles” on your coffee cup?

Chad: Those are indeed brass knuckles attached to, yes, my coffee cup. Oddly, there has never been any coffee in that cup.

Lisa: Thanks so much! I've truly learned a great deal - about Julia Child, of course, and about picture books in general.  Until this interview, I never gave much thought to the art director's contribution, being more of a wordsmith than an artist, myself.  Writer, artist, editor and art director - together you've created a delicious offering in Minette's Feast,

Ooh-la-la! Magnifique!

The blog tour wraps up tomorrow at Readerkidz.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at The Swimmer Writer.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this fascinating interview with Chad Beckerman! I thought it was interesting that the first step in creating his vision is choosing the font. I really enjoyed hearing about all the steps, decisions and the collaborative process of designing a picture book. The spreads shown in the post are, in the words of Julia Child, marvelous! I can't wait to read and savor the illustrations of Minette's Feast.

  2. What a fascinating and informative read.

  3. Hi, Lisa. I've enjoyed reading several posts on this book's blog tour. It looks so wonderful that I might have to pick up a copy. I have been reading a lot of picture book biographies lately, but our local library doesn't have a lot of the newest titles. Thanks for showing us so many of the sketches from the book and teaches us more about the process of putting the book together!

  4. Glad you enjoyed it, Kerry. You'll love the book.


Struttin' with Some Barbecue - a review

Struttin' with Some Barbecue: Lil Hardin Armstrong becomes the First Lady of Jazz  by Patricia Hruby Powell Illustrated by Rachel Hime...