I don't know if I've mentioned it here, but I'm a huge children's lit nerd. Obviously I'm all about Harry Potter and YA/middle grade novels, but I also adore picture books. So every so often, I'll offer you a review of a picture book that tickles my fancy, starting with Janet Hill's gorgeous Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess.
Thanks to my pal Sylvia at Tundra for the review copy!
First and foremost, Miss Moon is a beautiful book. From the lush, elegant paintings to the cameo image on the hardback, it has clearly been put together with love and the utmost attention to detail.
Apart from the first page, which tells the story of how Miss Moon came about being a governess to sixty-seven canine charges, the rest of the story is less a narrative and more a guide on how to be a good dog...or a good human. Lessons like "Be true to your adventurous spirit" (lesson two) and "With a splash of imagination, anything can be fun" (lesson thirteen) are relevant for all living creatures and you can just imagine a firm but kindly governess explaining to them to you.
My basic picture-taking skills don't do justice to how lovely these images are. They have a vintage feel that transports you to a gentler time, and Miss Moon is all poise and grace, despite being used a vehicle to share lessons. In fact, it's more than just a picture book: it's a work of art. Not just because the illustrations are so elegant, but because the simple story is enough to get you thinking about the important things in life and what you can do to be a happy, healthy, well-mannered person (or dog).
Janet Hill was kind enough to answer a few questions about the process behind the book, so read on!
How would you describe your art style? Who are some of your influences?
My style is nostalgic and whimsical with a little bit of magical realism tossed in. I’ve always appreciated Ludwig Bemelmans work as well as Raoul Dufy.
What else inspires you?
I’m often inspired by old movies and television shows. I could watch Bewitched all day. I’m also drawn to anything old fashioned and slightly eccentric looking like vintage circus pictures and showgirl costumes.
This is your first picture book. What was the process like? What was the most challenging part of the publishing process? The most fun part?
Miss Moon actually didn’t start out to be a picture book. It was a series of paintings about a dog governess imparting various quirky lessons on her canine charges. I was contacted by a French Canadian publisher (Marchand de feuilles) who saw the potential for a French language picture book. Tundra Books actually contacted me separately and they ended up publishing the English version. They tweaked the lessons so that they were a little more relevant for children. I think the most challenging part of publishing is the waiting process. I have so many ideas in my head which makes it difficult to be patient! The fun part for me is the creative part— painting and writing.
Do you have any plans for more picture books? Or would you consider writing a novel?
I have another picture book in the works for cat lovers and I’ve been working on an illustrated novel called ‘Lucy Crisp and the Vanishing House’ about a young woman who buys a house that disappears.
How long, typically, does it take for you to complete a piece of art?
I work in oils, so I tend to work on several paintings at once. Typically, it takes about 3-10 days for me to complete a painting depending on size.
What are some of your favourite projects you’ve worked on? What are some that you’re looking forward to?
My illustrated novel ‘Lucy Crisp and the Vanishing House’ has been a labour of love. I’ve been working on it for about three years and I have another year to go on it. Seeing it published will be very exciting.
What’s the creative process like? Do you start with sketches or freehand? What materials do you prefer using?
I don’t sketch (I have no drawing abilities) so I just dive right in and start painting. I love the immediacy of being a painter. I work in oils because I like the slow drying time and the richness of the paint.