The first book I read by Elisa Kleven was The Paper Princess. I was swept away by the imaginative story of a girl who creates a paper doll that is blown from her hands by a gust of wind. The doll is carried on an adventure that ultimately leads her back home. The multi-media collage illustrations are brilliantly colorful and intricate. If not for my excitement and anticipation to see where the story led, it would have been difficult to leave each beautiful page.

I could not wait to introduce the book to the Dream Jam Book Club® kids (and their parents) and they adored it! Since then, we have read: The Lion and the Little Red Bird, The Puddle Pail, Sun Bread, Ernst, and The Wishing Ball. Each of these books is wonderfully engaging and the illustrations captivating. I am delighted to be adding Elisa Kleven's new book, A Carousel Tale to our Dream Jam Book Club experiences.

It has been a joy to interview Elisa Kleven. She is passionate about her work and concerned about the well being of our planet. Elisa's work captures this passion and concern. Her inspiring storytelling makes larger issues accessible to children. It is my pleasure to share her thoughts and ideas with all of you.

Cori: Your illustrations are so imaginative and alive that readers feel as if they are inside every page. How do you create that kind of depth?

Elisa: I build up layers of paint and add bits of three dimensional collage materials, such as wool, lace, patterned paper, anything and everything that works.


Your stories have a perfect mix of innocence and wisdom. Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

I have never lost certain childhood gifts, such as the ability to sense a kind of spirit in just about everything, even the inanimate objects around me (in the same way that children animate their toys).

I am around the innocents of the world on a daily basis, in particular children and animals. I guess the "wisdom", if I do have any, comes from having lived for a certain number of years, and from reading and absorbing everything that I can, given the time constraints of daily life.

Are you a trained artist or a self-taught artist?

I'm self taught to a large degree, though I try to learn something from everything I see. And my mother and grandmother were both artists, who I couldn't help but be influenced by.

How does being a mom impact on your writing?

Having never lost my childhood self, I don't know if my own children reawakened it, but they certainly enhance my life in every way.  Sometimes their pleasures and pains give me ideas for stories:  my daughter's experience with a new, messy but lovable, baby brother for instance, gave me the idea for A Monster in The House.

What is the influence your own mom has had on your work?

When I was a little girl I wished my mom, who was an artist and unconventional in the best way, would be more "normal"  -- bake cookies or be a Girl Scout Troop Leader, like the other moms in the neighborhood.  But there she would be in her studio, turning bits and pieces of old junk she found at the dump into fantastic animals, or making etchings of her children.

She was passionate about social justice and peace as well, and many of her works spoke to the issues of the times, such as Civil Rights and putting an end to the Vietnam War.

When I was a kid I often wished she would give me Barbie Dolls instead of clay, pastels and construction paper, for presents, but of course I appreciate her vision and gifts now.  And I sometimes wonder what she would make of my books, none of which she ever lived to see, as she died a few weeks after my fourteenth birthday.

What is your most vivid memory of childhood?

I remember watching my mom make art in her studio, and looking at her etching of a flute player and a child, shown here.

And I remember playing for hours on end in my doll house. And of waking up one morning and seeing that there was a new puppy in the kitchen -- ecstasy.

Did you keep any special doll, toy, object from your childhood?

If so, what is it and why?

I have some of the toys and dolls I made as a child in a little dollhouse on the landing of my stairs…they include a rabbi whose head is made out of a nutshell, and some little people I made out of clay.  I keep them because I like them and because they are links to my childhood.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Charlotte’s Web.

What was the turning point in your life that led to your decision to become a children’s author/illustrator?

No real turning point -- my desire to make pictures and stories simply continued on as I "grew up."  The way I played as a child -- thinking up characters. and giving them tiny worlds to live in -- has carried over into my adult work, though it has become a more disciplined endeavor.

You illustrate your own books as well as other authors’ books. Is the process very different? Describe the way you illustrate other writers' work (i.e. is it collaborative or do they send you the final text and you illustrate?). 

Editors in general like to keep the author and illustrator separate; they respect the illustrator's freedom to interpret the text as she will.  Illustrating another author's work can stretch my vision in great ways: for instance I probably wouldn't have set a story in New York City, but illustrating Abuela put me there.  And illustrating the book Wish: Wishing Traditions Around the World educated me about many different cultures and customs.

It's harder in many ways to write my own story because of course I need to generate a text, and I'm pulling everything out of myself,   but it is also more satisfying, because I love to create stories as well as pictures. 

Who are the people you most admire?

I admire anyone who does an act of kindness -- whether large or small -- to people, animals, and the planet.  I also admire the writers, artists, and musicians who bare their souls and work hard to enrich our lives.

Who is your favorite author and who is your favorite children's author?

Favorite would be Shakespeare; favorite children's would be E.B. White.

Where do you live and does where you live provide ideas and inspiration for your books?

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I wish the seasons changed more noticeably, but it is still very beautiful here, with lots of texture in the urban neighborhoods and beautiful beaches and trails and views. I love the hilly variety the geography here affords, and because I'm so inspired by it, you will hardly ever see a flat landscape in my illustrations, but rather, a lot of curves, and winding paths.

As an author/illustrator, you have the power to solve problems in your stories and resolve each situation with sensitivity, caring, love and joy. If you could apply that same power to the real world, what would you do?

I would make sure that we take steps immediately to help our abused home, the earth, by developing greener technologies. And  I would outlaw factory farming and war (one can dream!) , and use the money spent on unnecessary  wars and methods of destroying life  for things which benefit and beautify life -- health care, the arts, repairing the planet.

Tell us a little about your latest book.

It's called A Carousel Tale and it is about my little blue crocodile Ernst (of the books Ernst, Puddle Pail and Wishing Ball), who makes something happy, whole and new out of something broken. When his favorite dog on the carousel loses its tail, Ernst "takes care" of the tail by turning it into a beautiful bird. 

Describe an artistic dream you hope to accomplish in the future.

I hope to keep making books that will move children in some way.

What is the greatest satisfaction that you get from your work?

Creating little worlds that children will want to visit -- little worlds that they will depart from feeling somehow enriched, and that they will want to return to.

For more information about Elisa Kleven check out her website

You may also enjoy Cori's interview with An Vrombaut.

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