KidLit TV is honored to share this exclusive interview!
• Creating THE NIGHT GARDEN •
Author Rachel Vail interviews author/illustrator Carin Berger
RV: Hi Carin! I am so excited to get the chance to ask you questions about your art and how you do what you do, and especially about your new book, In the Night Garden. (Which I love.)
So, first things first: your art is so different from other illustrators…for example, you cut out and collage so much of it! Why do you do that?
CB: There are lots of reasons that I have ended up working in collage. I use found papers called ephemera, a fancy name for printed papers like ticket stubs, magazines, letters, receipts and things that are meant to be temporary. I like these materials because they each have a secret story. I also like the treasure hunt aspect of using these materials. I like that they are recycled. And finally, my background is in graphic design. When I first started working in design we did a lot of the preliminary work by hand. Drawing and cutting things out and putting our ideas on paper. But then we began to work more and more on the computer and I missed cutting and pasting and the messiness. So I really enjoy the “making” aspect of the collage work.
RV: I love that! Are you always on the hunt?
CB: I am! I’m on the prowl for materials to work with. I look for old letters and store ledgers from over a hundred years ago. I scour garage sales and flea markets and old bookshops…
RV: How do you know which bit of paper will be right for a particular flower, or star, or bug?
CB: I sort my papers into folders by colors and patterns. So I have a blue file and a yellow file and files for polka dots and stripes and plaids for example. That makes it a little easier to find that perfect piece of paper that I am looking for.
RV: That is so much organization! So you take the treasure that you find out in the world on your treasure hunt, and then sort it, and then there’s another treasure hunt you go on at home when you’re thinking, “hmmm…maybe something yellow, or something plaid, or someting like a page of a ledger?
CB: Yes! Exactly. Then I cut the shape that I am looking for out of a slightly see through paper called vellum and I place that hole over the colored paper to find the exact part that I want to use. I am trying to find the perfect area that will make the flower or cat or bear. Then I cut that piece out with a very sharp knife called an x-acto knife. Sometimes I cut many different versions of the same piece before I find the right one. It is a slow and rather silly process.
RV: Treasure hunts inside of treaure hunts inside of treasure hunts!
CB: Ha! Yes! A Russian doll process. Sometimes I have all of these pieces floating around on my work table. Tiny paper shoes and noses and shirts and petals!
RV: Right? Tiny shoes!!! When you’ve cut, say, a tiny firefly is it one piece or do you cut separate pieces that will then become a firefly or flower or…
CB: The fireflies in In The Night Garden are each made of 5-6 pieces glued together. Wings and bodies and eyes and antennae. And sometimes I LOSE them! They get stuck to my sleeve or drop on the floor…and then I have another kind of (less fun) treasure hunt!
RV: I was just going to ask that! What if you SNEEZE????
CB: Sneezing is a true job hazard! It is like a tornado when it comes to collage. Quelle desastre!
RV: Just the thought of all those fireflies times 5-6 pieces makes me want to cry.
CB: To be honest, sometimes, me too! I have to be in a very quiet, calm mood to do the work. And not have a cold!
RV: How do you get yourself into that quiet calm mood?
CB: Well, often we start our day taking a long walk together. That definitely puts me in a good mood.
RV: Oh, me too.
CB: Our walks help me clear my head. Plus, some parts of making a book can be a very solo project, so it is lucky to have a good friend to talk to about ideas and books and life and funny things. I like how you are very word oriented and I am very visual. It makes our walks interesting.
RV: YES! I feel like when we walk together I see things differently. I see MORE! Like, the way you know the names of all the plants and trees, and notice something blooming when it’s not the right time for it to bloom. Or see how our shadows pass over the tree trunks.
CB: I also like when we just spitball ideas together.
RV: YES, that is super fun.
CB: That definitely is fun and helps me get unstuck.
RV: It’s funny that we’re such good friends, and really connect with each other, and people might think we’re so similar because we both spend our lives making books for kids and we live in the same building! But we are also so very different. For example the worst kind of book report for me growing up was: make a diorama. I couldn’t do it AT ALL.
CB: And I LOVE a project that calls for glue!!!
RV: I have no idea how to draw and cutting things out is even harder! My dioramas all had to be the scene where the characters are sleeping because I could never get them to stand up. I end up gluing my shirt to my hair.
CB: Ha! I can almost picture that. While I love words, finding the heart of a story can be hard for me. In contrast, you can tell me six different versions of a story in a heartbeat. And it is usually funny and surprising and delightful!
RV: You are so poetic with your words. I think you are both word and picture oriented, which is why you can write and illustrate. Tell me what you mean by finding the heart of a story, and how that can be hard for you.
CB: I guess what I mean is that even though my books are very spare and don’t have many words, I have to work and re-work and re-re-work them to figure out exactly what I am trying to say and the best way to say it. I know that you do that too.
CB: For me though, sometimes I have an idea of what I want to write about but I struggle to figure out how to create a story around the idea. For example, In the Night Garden is a good night story. It is also a story about exploring the garden at night when most of us aren’t in the garden. But the heart of the story is about being curious and open to things that we don’t know. My hope is that readers might think about that idea…not being afraid of what is unfamiliar, including people with different ideas or from different places and backgrounds. It is about embracing new experiences.
RV: I think you are thinking in both an intellectual/psychological mode, about exploration vs familiarity, and fear vs comfort, and curiosity vs understanding…and at the same time about the magic of looking at (and perceiving, being able to take in) things differently.
CB: I love that. YES. Because newness can be thrilling.
RV: So thematically, on a deep level, there’s a treasure hunt welcoming the reader in. And giving us the lived experience, in the safetly of a lap or a story circle, of exploration and newness. A treasure hunt that welcomes us as readers, not just into imagining a garden at night (though certainly there, too; how exciting and almost transgressive, what a thrill to be in the garden after dark, quiet and full of wonder!) but also a treaure hunt for us on each page! Looking closely at each firefly to see its tiny 5 or 6 parts, each gorgeous flower made of old ledgers, the details of words and musical notes and buttons…something new to discover each time we look…
CB: Exactly. Also a less secret treasure hunt in the book is keeping an eye out for the quiet narrator: the black cat.
RV: Tell me abou that cat!
CB: The cat is a tribute to my daughter, Thea’s, cat, whose name is Cosette and who we call Cosy. She is black and very curious, but much fluffier than the cat in the book. A more sneaky thing to look for in all of my books, is my daughter’s name. It is hiding in the art of every book.
RV: What fun! So, why did you make the book cat sleeker than Cosy? And what made you want to include the cat? What is the cat’s function in this book?
CB: I liked the idea of having a guide through the garden and the book. Someone who could translate the experience a little bit for the reader. Also, cats are nocturnal and Cosy always seems curious and fearless. I made her sleeker because she seems more iconic that way. Like the quintessential cat. And, to be honest, she was easier to draw this way.
RV: I love that idea of having a quiet guide there. And yes, a model of someone full of grace and curiousity, as well as courage.
CB: I wanted her to leave some room for the reader to explore and experience the art, but to be a steadfast companion in that exploration.
RV: To be on a treasure hunt? With senses wide open. CB: Indeed. I guess that is a theme!
One of the things that I love about this book is that it does invite reader in, to look and experience and enjoy, but doesn’t command in any way. There’s a grace and an openness to the feel of it. And a hush.It feels cozy and safe while also being all about exploring someplace that’s usually off limits to a child.
CB: Thank you. That was definitely part of what I hoped to accomplish. Oh! There is another treasure hunt that I should mention. On the final spread, in the girl’s bedroom, you can find something from each of the previous pages. Have a look. Can you see fish? A nest? A lizard?
RV: I love that! Another treasure hunt! So much excitement for a night time book.
RV: Do you imagine a child sitting alone with this book, after having it read aloud, exploring it independently and finding all kinds of special treasures? Or is it more of “let’s point these things out to each other”?
CB: I would be very happy if In the Night Garden was used either way. I hope that people will spend time seeking surprises in the art and then, maybe, find a way to be outside at night sometime and take in the mystery and deliciousness of that new experience. I hope that perhaps this will inspire conversations about being curious and open to the unknown, or even things we are a little afraid of. And I would love it if maybe some readers even create their own night garden collage.
RV: I bet kids and parents and other people lucky enough to encounter the book will be tempted to do just that! I might not do the collage part, but maybe tonight I will walk outside with eyes, ears and mind open to the night.
CB: I think you should embrace a new experience and pull out some scissors and glue! After all, embracing things that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable is what is really at the heart of In the Night Garden. Let’s make a collage project our next playdate!
WATCH the book trailer for IN THE NIGHT GARDEN!
by Carin Berger
Book Trailer Credits:
Produced by Kristen Balouch
Design and Art Direction by Carin Berger
ABOUT the BOOK
• A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection •
ABOUT Carin Berger
Carin Berger is an award winning designer, and author/illustrator of over a dozen
picture books. Her cut-paper collages are made with ephemera: scraps of old books,
letters and receipts; materials that carry their own stories. Carin is also a founding
member of the Pen and Ink Brigade, a group of women artists turned activists,
who use their work to create progressive change.
Carin has received The Original Art Founder’s Award for her illustrations for Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant.
The Little Yellow Leaf, which she wrote as well as illustrated, was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book.
She has been awarded the Best of Show from 3 x 3 Magazine for the International Children’s Book Show.
Recent books include: All of Us, a celebration of the power of family, community and love; and A Curious
Menagerie which is a festive romp through collective nouns; and In the Night Garden,
a nighttime story that sparks the imagination and invites curiousity and delight of
unfamiliar things. Carin’s work has been included in numerous exhibits and she has
given talks and led art and creativity workshops for kids and adults around the world.
ABOUT Rachel Vail
Rachel Vail is the multiple-award-winning author of more than 40 books for young
people. Her most recent novels are BAD BEST FRIEND and WELL, THAT WAS
AWKWARD for teens, and the A IS FOR ELIZABETH series for kids. Her picture books
include PIGGY BUNNY and SOMETIMES I’M BOMBALOO, along with its brand-new
sequels SOMETIMES I GRUMBLESQUINCH and SOMETIMES I KAPLOOM. Rachel
lives in NYC with her husband, their two sons, and a tortoise named Lightning.