Sunday, June 22, 2014

Interview in Times Union

A nice interview for the Times Union, Albany local Newspaper.  By Elizabeth Floyd.

A memory unburied

Difficult time in author's youth inspires children's book
Published 4:19 pm, Thursday, June 19, 2014
  • Children's book author Sylvie Kantorovitz, right, with her daughter Sam Wickstrom on Tuesday, June 17, 2014, in Albany, N.Y.  (Michael P. Farrell/Times Union) Photo: Michael P. Farrell / 00027379A
    Children's book author Sylvie Kantorovitz, right, with her daughter Sam Wickstrom on Tuesday, June 17, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (Michael P. Farrell/Times Union) | Buy this photo

  • Albany resident Sylvie Kantorovitz drew on personal experience when she wrote and illustrated her new picture book, "The Very Tiny Baby" (Charlesbridge, 2014). The book traces the confused feelings of an older brother, Jacob, upon the premature birth of his sibling, when the baby must stay at the hospital and all the joy in the house has been replaced with fear.
Kantorovitz's own first child, a girl, died soon after her birth three months premature. A second daughter was also born three months early, but after spending three months in neonatal intensive care, "came home to lead a healthy life," Kantorovitz said in a recent interview. That daughter, Sam, will be a senior in college this fall.
Kantorovitz has illustrated 25 books to date. This is the fourth book that she has also written. (The earlier three were under the name she used throughout her marriage, Sylvie Wickstrom.)
Every story, she says, seems to call for a different approach to the artwork. With this book, she wanted to write from the brother's point of view and keep the artwork childlike, so that it would feel like a "story told and drawn by a child."
Q: What was it like, writing a story that was so personal for you?
A: Writing "The Very Tiny Baby" was one of the most intense things I have experienced, and this took me completely by surprise. As I was creating the first draft, I felt very emotional, the words poured out of me, I barely took breaks. I cried. What was going on?
Then something dawned on me: I was writing for myself! I was writing as the older sibling of a very premature younger brother. I was too young to remember anything, but our family story goes like this: When I was 2 1/2, my brother was born very premature and was not thriving at the hospital. He was sent home "to die," and my mother, in terror of germs, closeted herself with him in an empty white room and nursed him to life.
The story does not mention what happened to little-me. I am sure I was very well cared for, but what was I told? Was I told anything? What did I feel? Was I scared? Was I lonely? These questions are not part of the story. So I finally answered them through my story of Jacob.
Q: What is your feeling about facing up, in your writing, to kids' fears and darker thoughts? Your book depicts Jacob's jumbled feelings about this tiny baby who is absorbing everyone's attention and making everyone sad and worried for days and weeks on end. At one point, he feels resentful and actually wishes that the tiny baby would die; that page is mostly black, with just one small line at the bottom that says "I wish the baby would die."
A: The world of children is not as carefree as we'd like to think. Sometimes it can be confusing and scary. Children feel very strongly, and this intensity of emotions can itself be confusing, too. Books that depict a range of emotions may help some children recognize, understand, and accept their own feelings. It is always comforting to find out others feel the same as we do.
Children waiting for a new sibling feel a variety of emotions ranging from excitement and anticipation to anxiety, jealousy, anger, resentment.
These feelings may be heightened if a baby is born prematurely, because the danger is real and the parents are especially anxious.
I felt very strongly about the line that you mention, and I am thankful to my editor and the marketing department for letting me keep it in. Jacob is not a monster. He doesn't understand the implications of what he is saying. For him, the baby's death would mean a return to the life he knows, just him and his parents. He does know the thought is uncomfortable, shameful, terrible even. But at that moment, he doesn't fully understand why.
Another reason that line is important to me is that children are afraid of their "bad" thoughts. Will the thought come true? This can be terrifying. But Jacob's wish has no effect on the outcome. The baby comes home healthy and Jacob falls in love. Isn't that reassuring?
To me, the main theme of "The Very Tiny Baby" is emotional upheaval. It is a universal theme, whether there is a baby-to-be-born or not. In fact, I have seen many adult friends reading the book and tearing up. In recognition, perhaps?
Elizabeth Floyd Mair is a freelance writer. Reach her at

Friday, June 13, 2014

Off to production!!!

Zig is "off to production".  A phrase that sings in my ears!

Thank you, Lucia, thank you Lily, thank you Maya!!!  I enjoyed working with you all SO MUCH!  Even though I have illustrated about 25 books, this kind of team work hasn't happened much.

The good thing is that we are due for another book together.  YEAH!

And thank you to my fabulous agent, Linda, who liked Zig right from the start!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Clean Tables

Table 1 and Table 2 ready for the next project!  (On Table 1, I tend to do writing, drawing and watercolors.  On table 2, acrylics and collages.)  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

ZIG Delivered!!!!!!!

I can hardly believe it!  Zig is done and delivered!!!  Took the whole package to city myself yesterday.  I have to say, the pages looked good all spread out on the huge display tables at Dial.  Doesn't mean I'm off the hook.  Now we have to discuss type and layout.  Still I can clear my work space.  It's been covered with collage material for months!  

work space after delivery and before clean-up

Note about lost art back in the winter:  what felt like a disaster turned out to be a good thing.  On one hand, I am happier with the redone pieces.  (Hard to admit but true.)  On another hand, it pushed me to shake my tendency to inertia and go to the city to visit with my editor/art director team.  I have enjoyed meeting with them all so much!