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Q&A: Lucy Ruth Cummins

JanFeb_SpringPreview_BfYP_HungryLion_interior-01Having spent 14 years making other people’s work look good as a designer and art director at Simon & Schuster, Lucy Ruth Cummins is switching things up and taking on a new role as author-illustrator, releasing A Hungry Lion, or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals with S&S in March.

What prompted you to write a book after all these years of working on other people’s? One day, out of the blue, a visual came to me about how page turns and a progressively smaller number of critters could make for the basis of a mystery in picture book form. When I had the idea, I instinctively thought, “Who could I pass [it] on to?” Because, as an art director, I’ve always been most comfortable wearing that hat.

I explained the concept and showed some thumbnails of blocking for the story, without text, to a writer friend of mine, and said I was trying to think of who it would be a good fit for. She asked why I hadn’t considered tackling it myself. Without her push, I think I wouldn’t have seen the opportunity.

Has becoming a parent changed the way you approach picture books? It’s had a huge and immediate effect on me that comes from reading to my little guy, even from the time he was in utero. The funny thing is there were a lot of picture books I absolutely adored as an adult reader, but when I read them aloud to him, they fell completely flat.

The other side of it is that there were a good number of books that were very sweet in approach and effect that were given to me as gifts and that I’d looked upon as maybe … quaint, before I had my son. Now when I’ve actually opened them up and read them aloud to Nate, I find myself tearing up and really moved. It’s definitely opened a side of me that’s a little more suggestible and sentimental.

Did you draw on advice from the kidlit community? Early on I shared Hungry Lion with Jon Klassen. Jon and I had previously worked together on his debut picture book as an illustrator, Cats’ Night Out. Jon was a big help to me in honing things in my own story. It was of course very freaking intimidating to send him an initial poke to say, “Could you look at this?” But he’s absurdly gracious. A note of encouragement from someone you respect that much is worth so, so much.