A compelling tale

. February 5, 2013.

Erin Stead remembers what it was like to be a kid. That’s just one reason why she won the Caldecott Medal, awarded to the artist who created the most distinguished picture book published each year, in 2011. You can see for yourself why she and her writer/illustrator husband Philip Stead, 30, are so successful by picking up their story, A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Roaring Book Press 2010).

“It’s a picture book about a zookeeper who gets sick and the animals come to see him,” said Stead, 28, an Ann Arbor resident. “It’s about being a good friend. It’s a sensitive book.”

Her husband created the characters and wrote the story, inspired by several pictures she drew. Good writing is no secret. “It makes people feel something,” she said. “When it comes to selecting compelling stories, youngsters are just as complicated as adults,” Stead explained. Writers of young adult and children’s fiction would do well to keep certain factors in mind. ”We don’t give kids enough credit. Children can deal with and understand things.”

Creative communication

Animals have always been favorite characters in children’s books. It doesn’t hurt to tell a story about magical creatures that can communicate with humans. “It allows a child to be in a world that they have a little more responsibility in creating.

A lot of children’s lives are, ‘you have to be here now,’ and ‘do this now,’” Stead says. “Animals aren’t vocal in my book, but they have thoughts. Amos understands them without anything being said.”

Years of inspiration

While Stead and her husband haven’t started their own family yet, youngsters were always at the heart of their future plans. The pair met in their high school art class and daydreamed about creating children’s books one day. “We work in the same room all day,” she said. Stead, a former children’s bookseller and employee for the youth line of a book publisher said she never grew out of her fervor for stories written to appeal to children. Her husband shares the same passion. He once worked for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in New York. The chance to draw honest pictures is the source of Stead’s inspiration. “I’m not trying to talk down to kids or up to adults with my pictures. I try to make them the best as I can,” she said. “I do really quiet little pictures. My drawings tend to be delicate.”

In the very near future, reading stories may be a very different experience than that enjoyed by parents when they were young. “I understand the convenience of electronic books for parents running errands or traveling. But you can’t replace for a child the feel of opening a picture book and turning the pages,” she said. “I don’t think publishers have figured them out yet.” The topics that will excite children’s imagination in years to come are a mystery, as well. “It’s an unpredictable job,” she said.

To purchase A Sick Day for Amos McGee, visit Nicola’s Books, 2513 Jackson Ave. 734-662-0600. www.nicolasbooks.com
For more info on Philip and Erin Stead visit www.philipstead.blogspot.com or www.erinstead.com