Children's author Oliver Jeffers on recycling, his Irish family and working with dead people.
Oliver Jeffers (pictured above) is an arty lad from Ireland, who quite literally finds inspiration for his picture books on the streets of his adopted home, New York. He's a fan of freecycling, where unwanted furniture and bric-a-brac are left on the streets for free.
In fact, it was on the side of the road that he found the original source of the images in his latest book, This Moose Belongs To Me. Oliver's plan was to upcycle old oil paintings, using them as background landscapes to which he would add his own illustrations. He gets full marks for innovation and imagination, but not for the finer points of publishing. The legal team at HarperCollins, as you can imagine, had a nightmare trying to secure copyright permission for dozens of old paintings, many of which were unsigned.
Perhaps it was the luck of the Irish, but they managed to track down the grandson of one of the artists (fortuitously enough, Oliver's favourite one), who happened to have a whole back catalogue of work collecting dust. So Oliver ended up doing "a collaboration with a dead guy I'd never met".
Oliver's other 2012 release is The Hueys in the New Jumper, featuring a cast of naïvely drawn characters called The Hueys who all looked the same, "Until the day one of them - Rupert was his name - knitted a nice new jumper."
The Hueys claim their fame from Oliver's grandfather, Tommy, who is as "sharp as a tack" but can't for the life of him, keep track of his many offspring.
Oliver explains that his grandmother Kathleen "is legally blind but knows by the sound of your voice which one of her eight children, 40-something grandchildren and 20-something great-grandchildren you are, and not only that, she remembers everyone's birthday."
Grandfather Tommy, on the other hand, can't remember anyone's name. "So he developed a system a long time ago where any one of them, regardless of sex, is called Huey."
You'll likely see more of the Hueys as they'll form a series of books over the coming years. Oliver says, as endearing as the childlike drawings are, many hours were spent getting the detail just right - "right down to the hues of grey that were used and saturation of the backgrounds. Because it's so simple there's zero margin for error."
Oliver's other well-known picture books include Up and Down, How To Catch A Star, and The Incredible Book Eating Boy. Each is driven by the pictures, with often sparse text.
And Oliver, married with no kids, encourages parents to share a love of picture books with their kids well into their school years.
He quotes his dad's cryptic words about the education system: "The two most important things a child will learn to do are how to walk and how to talk and as soon as they get to school they're told to sit down and shut up."
So, remember the name Oliver Jeffers. You'll be hearing and seeing much more from him (even if his grandfather does insist on calling him Huey).
Main picture: Malcolm Brown: www.malcolmbrown.net-®2012