When I Wake Up: An Interview with Seth Fishman and Jessixa Bagley
I don’t normally do this with the books I feature alongside interviews, but let’s try something different today.
Behold! A book trailer!
Is not it cute? As you can see, we’re talking today about the book WHEN I WAKE UP by Seth Fishman, illustrated by Jessixa Bagley. The publisher describes it this way:
“When an imaginative young child wakes up before their parents, they know that they’re supposed to stay in bed until the clock says 7:00. But that’s no fun—so what should they do instead? Make breakfast? Build a city? Ride a scooter? Dig in the garden?
Each choice leads to a different path for the day. And in the end, the child makes the best decision of all—to curl up, safe and loved, between Mom and Dad.
When I Wake Up begins in black-and-white, and then each of the child’s four choices is rendered in a different color. Every spread includes all four choices, so readers can enjoy this book traditionally, reading all four colors at once, or they can choose one color to follow from beginning to end.
Jessixa Bagley’s masterful and ingenious artwork beautifully complements Seth Fishman’s lyrical text that celebrates imagination, creativity, independence, and love. When I Wake Up begs to be read over and over again—and can change every time. Both children and parents will enjoy sharing this timeless story—no matter when they wake up or what time the clock says.”
I had a discussion with Seth and Jessixa myself, to find out a bit more about this title:
Betsy Bird: Well hello to the both of you! Hard to know where to begin. Seth, let’s start with you. Can you tell me a little bit about where this book came from in the first place? What’s the origin story?
Seth Fishman: Thanks for HAVING us! And of course: this is my first picture book that wasn’t a STEM nonfiction project, so it was a whole other beast for me. But the inspiration came because I was getting rid of a stoplight alarm clock that didn’t work on my son. You know what I’m talking about? These alarms that have a stoplight on them, and they shine red until a set time (often around 7am) and then they turn green. When it’s red, even if you’re awake, the kid is supposed to NOT bother their parents. Didn’t work for us at all. But I liked the idea of my son futzing around the house for 45 min before we woke up. And that was the impetus to the adventures.
BB: And Jessixa? How about you? How did you come to this project initially? What were some of your first impressions and what made you want to take it on?
Jessixa Bagley: The manuscript was passed onto me through my agent. There was something very childlike and delicate about the text when I first read it that caught my eye. For me, it was less of a Choose Your Own Adventure story and more of a book that really captured the way a child’s mind can move from one thing to another. It was simple and had a literary bend to its simplicity that I thought was magical. I really loved the open quality to the writing, which as an illustrator gave me so much room to bring in my own ideas about the story. It was the sort of text you really hope to get because the space it leaves allows for subtle emotion to be tucked into the quiet parts of the story. That subtlety was very inspiring and let me bring in sweetness and humor in my own way to complement what was already there.
BB: I can see that. And you mentioned the Choose Your Own Adventure aspect to it that some people might see, which I can see as being appealing to both child readers and adults that remember that old series from their own youth. Seth, what, would you say, is the advantage of giving a child the power to control the story?
SF: Oh that’s a good angle of a question. Hadn’t thought that specific way, yet. I think there are a couple answers, though. One, is simply about autonomy. A book is so set in stone, and usually you can reread to reFEEL or find small things you missed before, but rarely do you get to reread and go on NEW adventures. For a child to be able to tell their parents which to read, or HOW to read (as there are options), that is an empowering thing. The other is about recognition of self. The four narratives in the book are different, but they are all plausibly the same kid. I love the idea of kids reading and recognizing pieces of themselves in each story, and not just sticking to one narrative as their own, but also am sure a number will do that. But I think this book allows a kid to NOTICE they are recognizing themselves. Most books have a recognition that appears subtly, and a reader gloms on to the book without necessarily realizing. In this book, a kid gets to say, ‘Hey, I do that. That’s me. Sort of.’
BB: I like that. Now Jessixa, one of the first things you notice when you look at the book are the distinctive ways in which you wield the colors Red, Yellow, Purple, and Green. Were these colors always written in stone? Was there ever any talk of switching them out for other colors? Or was it set from the start?
JB: The book was never handed to me as a color-coded text. It was just listed as storylines A, B, C, D. I was tasked with figuring out a way to bring the four stories to life and it was up to me to set them apart from each other. I knew I wanted to play with different page layouts to make it visually interesting and it was pretty much instantaneous that I wanted to use colors to divide up the storylines. I thought it would be a fun and easy way for the viewer to follow along with the four options and to give each one its own special attention. I wanted to use colors that were very simple and bold, so naturally I thought the primary colors (and green), but there was something a little too boring about using JUST the basic red, yellow, blue, green. (And to me it looked too much like a certain tech company’s logo…) So, I wanted to use purple in place of blue and viridian (which has more blue in it) to sort of give the illusion that a broader array of colors was present. I was grateful to get the support from everyone to use the grays as a bookend and the four colors for the split up portion of the story.
BB: That’s neat. I want to dive into that a little more. Your medium for picture books is often watercolors. Is there something about that particular kind of paint that works well for books for younger readers? Are you ever tempted to switch it up for something different?
JB: I just really love the way watercolors feel and move when I use them. I work traditionally because I get a lot out of the process (and end result) when I have a tactile relationship with my materials. I think there are so many mediums used for books and kids love them all for different reasons, but I do think that watercolors can sometimes have a bit of mystery and moodiness that comes out in the unevenness and textures that the viewer connects with on an unconscious level. I have always loved painting with watercolor because of the organic nature of the way the paint moves and leaves its presence on the paper. For me, that mark making has so much variety and unpredictability built in, it will probably always be very exciting and inspiring to use. And while I love watercolor, I am very interested in trying new mediums. As an artist, I’ve been drawn to many different materials over my lifetime- including other types of paints, drawing materials, and several forms of printmaking. Future projects will definitely use different forms of expression! I am always leaving room to grow and push myself as an artist- like I did with WHEN I WAKE UP. I had never done a book like this before with solely monochromatic colors, even though it was still in watercolor. I want to keep experimenting and trusting when a material or mark feels good, to follow that feeling, and if it’s for a book, ask myself “What does that book need?”
BB: Very cool. Seth, what would you say were some of your picture book writer influences? I mean, I know that I instantly thought of David Macaulay’s Black & White.
SF: Oh that’s a tough one. I love lots of different styles of books, but they didn’t necessarily inform this one. You even brought up David Macaulay’s BLACK & WHITE, which I hadn’t (I’m ashamed to say) even heard of when writing this. That said, I can clearly remember reading Dan Santat’s ARE WE THERE YET? and loving how he challenged the assumption of what a picture book is. That book gave me permission to try a different format. And, I suppose, the amazing DU IZ TAK? by Carson Ellis, for some of the same reasoning. Like, opening the book up and saying, WHAT IS THIS?! I do think Maurice Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE? is a study in picturebooking, and that has long had me loving writerly choices. Pages of no text, text that floats on to the next page to finish a sentence, etc.
BB: Jessixa, similar question for you. Are there any artists that particularly inspire your style?
JB: I love so many artists! That feels like a hard question for me though because while I admire other artists and view them as inspirational, I don’t feel like any one of them inspires me to create the specific type of work that they do. For example, I love Isabelle Arsenault and Oge Mora’s illustrations, but you wouldn’t necessarily see that reflected in my work. What I do try to do is to figure out what is compelling about others’ work in a broader way and find ways to bring my own version into my work. Like, I adore Akiko Miyakoshi’s work so much, and I found her books after I had already done most of my own animal books. What I see in her work that inspires me is to push myself regarding the world of animals- how/where can my animals look and exist? Same with Carson Ellis. I have always loved her limited palette, so several years ago I went on an exploration for my own limited palette- not using her colors but finding my own. I feel like internally my style is always evolving and I’m always getting inspired to push myself by other creators and their ability to take risks I don’t normally take.
BB: Finally, what are you two working on next?
SF: I’m wrapping up a book I’m VERY excited about, which is also messing around with the picture book form. It’s about a kid who is a bad drawer (me??) and how they want to tell stories but can’t ever get the drawing to look good. I have lots of guest stars in that one, including Jessixa, and I haven’t had that much fun on a book in years.
JB: I am currently working on illustrations for my next picture book, MAURICE, about an accordion playing dog in Paris! And with all this talk of mixing it up, I’m doing just that! I am entering the world of graphic novels! I have written a middle grade graphic novel that my husband Aaron Bagley is illustrating. While I can’t say much, I can say that it’s fiction but it’s inspired by my childhood. So, I’m doing lots and lots of writing these days. It’s exciting and fun to do things you’ve never done before, but have always wanted to. I’m looking forward to sharing more sides of myself as a book creator!
Well until we get to see those books on our shelves, I want to thank Seth and Jessixa for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk to me today. When I Wake Up will be on bookstore and library shelves everywhere December 14th. Be sure to look for it then!
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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