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Rachael Cole

By Samantha Hahn on 10/09/17

Rachael Cole

Rachael Cole is an illustrator, author, and the art director for Schwartz & Wade Books, a children's book imprint at Penguin Random House. Her first children's book City Moon illustrated by Blanca Gomez just came out. She lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn with her husband and son. City Moon is a gentle, keenly observed bedtime book that follows a boy and his mother on a darling moonlit walk until the boy yawns and his Mama lifts him into her arms and whispers, "it is time for bed." I am very excited to chat with Rachael and give you a glimpse into her home and reading life. Photography by Nick Steever. 

QL: Rachael, I have to ask if the little boy in the book takes after your own little one and if the mom is based on yourself?


RC: In a sense, yes, but it was up to the illustrator, Blanca Gómez, to decide how to portray the characters. My son doesn't have red hair, but I still think he looks like the little boy Blanca depicted, especially how she captures his wonder and amazement for the moon. The mom has much cooler clothes than I do, but her body language feels familiar. The mom and son are always touching in the book and that particularly resonated for me.


QL: You’re an artist and art director. You see a million children’s books come across your desk. What prompted you to write your own? Did the idea to write a book come first or did the idea for this book pop into your mind?


RC: I have a life long habit of writing in a journal. One night I couldn't sleep, so I started writing all the questions my son asks me about the moon. I was struck by his primitive reverence for that big glowing thing in the sky. After I saw his questions written down, they struck me as very picture book-esque, and I started to shape a story around them.


QL: What was the process like working on your own book with an editor? You’re usually on the other side of the things.


RC: It was wonderful. My editor, Lee Wade, helped me iron out the mom and son's dialogue, which made the story feel much smoother and clearer. Annie Kelley, a co-worker of mine, was an early reader and offered helpful suggestions. I was lucky enough to be offered a contract for the book where I work, and where I knew it would be in the best hands. But yes, it's been humbling to be on the other side of the publishing table. I have a renewed sense of respect for people who do this, and how hard it is.


QL: Did you enjoy working on this book? How was it art directing images for the story you had clearly imagined in your mind?


RC: I LOVED working on the book. Blanca brought the story to life better than I could have imagined, and because she is so talented, I wasn't worried for one second about how she would bring the story to life and make it her own. Her intuitive understanding of how the boy and mom walk closely—always touching, and her natural feeling for what it's like to be in a city made the book look—and read— perfectly to me.


QL: Do you think you’d like to author more children’s books? Would you ever illustrate one of your own stories?


RC: Yes! I have another book coming out in Fall 2018 called Mousie, I Will Read to You, about a mom who begins reading to her little mouse as an infant. It's being illustrated by Melissa Crowton. I would love to illustrate my own picture book. It would need to be the right type of book for the way I draw, since every manuscript calls out for a specific type of illustration. My illustration tends to be more decorative and/or conceptual, so the text would need to be something that works with that style of illustration. Until that idea comes along, I'm enjoying working with other illustrators, since collaboration is a key component of most of my creative projects.


QL: What are some children’s books you loved growing up?


RC: What a great question. The House on East 88th Street, and Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, by Bernard Weber, and Swimmy, by Leo Lionni, stand out for me. Pickle Chiffon Pie by Jolly Roger Bradfield was a big favorite too, and I still have it, but I find it hard to believe my feminist mom read that book to me. It's pretty sexist.


QL: What are some stories you love reading with your son?


RC: I love reading anything he loves to hear (with a few exceptions). Over in the Wetlands, A Hurricane-on-the-bayou Story, by Caroline Starr Rose, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey, is a book we've come back to over and over again, throughout many years. We just started reading The Magic Tree House series, and I am happy to say I am hooked. We also keep coming back to The Three Robbers , and The Moon Man, by Tomi Ungerer. The digestible bits of evil and sadness in these books are just right for helping him to start processing the darker side of life. It's like a fun inoculation.


QL: What are some picture books you love for the visuals?


RC: There are so many, and it feels like picking a favorite child. But off the top of my head, Little Penguins, illustrated by Christian Robinson and written by Cynthia Rylant, for it's simple graphic collage with textured stamping, and Little Fox in the Forest, by Stephanie Graegin, for it's incredible detail and lush palette. I also adore the loose and lively illustrations Brian Pinkney made for Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out! (written by the late and great Patricia C. McKissack).


QL: What are your family’s reading habits? Are there any particular spaces carved out for reading in your home?


RC: We read anywhere we can sit or lie down, and actually the other day we read—standing up of course— in our elevator (it's sooo sloooowww). I've never really thought about it, but to me it feels like reading makes any space feel cozy—even an elevator.


By Samantha Hahn on 10/09/17

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