In January, a middle-grade novel written by Chris Kurtz and delightfully illustrated by local children’s illustrator Jennifer Black Reinhardt, “The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A novel of snow and courage” (Harcourt, 2013, $16.99, ages 9 and up), was released about Flora, a pig “born with adventurous hooves.”
When Flora beholds a dog sled team training on her farm, she is mesmerized and something stirs inside her upon witnessing their teamwork. She dreams of becoming a sled puller in the Antarctic and vows she won’t live forever inside of a pigpen.
As the novel unfolds, Flora is sent on an adventure of a lifetime, overcoming many harrowing obstacles alongside a few friends made along the way: a cat named Sophia, the lead sled dog Oscar and cabin boy Aleric.
This ensemble of four is highlighted on the book’s eye-catching cover with Reinhardt’s illustrations, along with a full-page frontispiece and 23 smaller interior illustrations.
Q: This is the first novel you’ve been asked to illustrate. What spoke to you in the manuscript, and how did that translate to the artwork you created?
A: “The Adventures of a South Pole Pig” is a very motivating and uplifting story about believing in oneself. Flora is naively unaware that she would ever be considered anything other than the confident and courageous pig that she believes that she is. Visually, she needed to be cute, but also spunky and a little full of herself.
Q: After meeting the illustrator of one of my picture books, I was stunned by extra steps she had taken to bring our characters to life. What might surprise the layperson about your process?
A: One of the greatest challenges for an illustrator is to create a character that you can sustain, identify and animate the whole way through the book. It needs to be more than just one great drawing of a cat. It needs to be that same cat, with the same personality from the side, front, back, happy, sad, etc. You really do have to know that character like a writer or an actor would. The same thing that a writer would bring to the character’s dialogue and voice, or an actor to the character’s mannerisms, posture and presence, an illustrator needs to understand in order to draw and animate them convincingly.
Q: What were the unexpected challenges that surprised you about illustrating a children’s novel?
A: I was given the shape and placement of where the illustrations would be on the page. So they are ‘spot’ illustrations. I think of them as happy punctuations for the reader as opposed to actually being relied on to tell/show part of the story as in a picture book. It was challenging to try to relate as much of the characters’ personality as I could in that one, tiny, little line drawing.
Q: What have been some unexpected joys?
A: I think creating a character is a powerful, amazing, exciting thing to get to do. I feel it’s a gift to get to say, “this is what I think Flora looks like.”
Q: You’re very busy these days, illustrating a picture book set for release in fall 2014 with Charlesbridge, how does the illustration process differ with a novel and a picture book?
A: In a picture book, the illustrations and the story create a whole. The author tells the reader the story with words, and the illustrator shows it. The wonderful thing about a picture book is that a talented picture book author intentionally leaves room in their text for the illustrator to enhance and expand the story by showing us even more than what we’ve been told.
Q: At what age did art come to mean more to you, and when did you know you had to be a children’s illustrator?
A: Second grade. I started drawing caricatures of myself, my brother, my friends and putting words at the bottom. For example, “My brother needs a haircut … NOW” was a picture of a little boy and you couldn’t see his face because of how hairy he was. My teacher loved them and gave me my own section — and sign — at the art show. I loved the way putting those words with my drawings seemed to tell much more of the story than either did separately.
Q: What’s next for Jennifer Black Reinhardt?
A: I’m looking forward to playing with some of my own ideas and being able to walk across my studio floor again.