I had the great fortune to “meet” Jamie Hogan through the Institute of Children’s Literature, when I was an instructor there. I don’t remember if I was helpful to Jamie, but I certainly remember how her good heart shone through her work. I’m thrilled to be celebrating her return to the author/illustrator role with her newest picture book, Skywatcher (Tilbury House). Even though I should not be surprised at how much work is involved in creating a book, I am in awe of the dedication and persistence Jamie summoned for this particular creative journey–testament to her huge respect for her young readers, as well as her professionalism. What an inspiration she is! And, lucky me, Jamie was my Write Space guest last night, a conversation you can still listen to (via replay) over at IGTV.
I’m so pleased to be here once again with Kirby, my long ago teacher in the art of writing for children! There’s a large gap between my first authored book, published in 2011, and my latest book, Skywatcher (Tilbury House Publishers). Why? I was juggling teaching illustration as an adjunct professor and my own illustration deadlines for other authors’ stories, yet still percolating nature themes for story ideas. In 2018, I quit teaching to pursue my own book projects. I joined a critique group with three amazing authors, best move I could have made! They prodded me along, knowing well that making submissions can be a slog but that one must PERSIST. The support and wisdom of Jennifer Jacobson, Maryann Cocca-Leffler, and Jen Goldfinger made the process less lonely and way more fun.
My interest in the night sky comes from contributing annually for decades to the Lunar Calendar. Watching full moon rises from the back shore of the island where I live has been a monthly ritual. When I saw a local newspaper article in 2018 about three of Maine’s national parks vying for dark sky status from the International Dark Sky Association, I wondered if this had potential for children. They’re mostly afraid of the dark. Do they know or care about seeing stars?
I researched the topic of light pollution for a few months before making a dummy to bring to my “critters” for feedback. At a New England SCBWI writing retreat in the fall of 2019 I brought a book dummy titled Dark Matters. With interest from a couple of editors, but no takers by March of 2020, I attended a virtual SCBWI Agent/Editor day. After every round of input, I made a new dummy. I had illustrated 10 of them by the time I was offered a contract for the book, retitled Skywatcher, in October of 2020.
Tilbury House’s Jon Eaton pushed my manuscript further. I began the final illustrations in January of 2021. In making the contrast between the city lights and the natural light, I limited my color palette to bright yellows and luscious blues. I worked in pastel on sanded paper, creating a texture that suggests the feel of light spreading across a face or spilling from windows.
Normally I find models and take photographs for reference. In this case, I refined the main character by redrawing over and over. He is loosely based on stellar children’s book author/illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien’s grandson, Taemin, who I met in person after the book was in production.
Skywatcher is the name of a comic book in which Tamen discovers his curiosity about the stars. On the cover, I drew a portrait of Jessica Meir, a Maine native and NASA astronaut who I’ve admired as she made history on the International Space Station. I hope young readers will want to become Skywatchers, too, looking up in wonder through our window on the universe. We need to defend our dark spaces and find the wilderness within us!
Jamie Hogan is an illustrator and author living on an island in Casco Bay, Maine. She grew up in the White Mountains
of New Hampshire and earned a BFA in Illustration from Rhode Island School of Design. She is the author and illustrator of Skywatcher and also Seven Days of Daisy, as well as the illustrator of over a dozen children’s books.
She illustrated Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, winner of the Jane Addams Peace Association Award, named on the
New York Public Library’s list of 100 Best Books and now a motion picture. She taught at Maine College of Art & Design in Portland from 2003 to 2018, and is currently a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. She loves wishing on the first star and the raw beauty that is Maine.