The Magic of Home: Wildwood Illustrator Carson Ellis' New Book
Carson Ellis’s sumptuous, magical illustrations have graced many children’s books, including the wildly popular Wildwood Chronicles and Lemony Snicket’s The Composer Is Dead. Home, her authorial debut, received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, among others. We talked to her about her new book, how having kids of her own changes her work, and the meaning of home.
Home explores the possibilities of what a home could be, and what homes say about the people who live in them. But this is not a visual dictionary of houses: Home is much more personal to Ellis. “It’s weird and idiosyncratic,” she says. Ellis celebrates places that she’s visited, imagined, and loved by blending realistic, mythic, and global imagery to explore the idea of home in an apartment, Atlantis, Valhalla, or even a Russian grandmother’s kitchen.
Why It’s Fun to Read
“I tried to make the illustrations as detailed as possible, so that children will pore over the illustrations and really take them in,” Ellis says. She was inspired, in part, by illustrators who draw a whole world on every page, like Richard Scarry. In Home, children see a strange home and are asked to wonder who would live there. There are repeating patterns, objects, and elements—like a bird which appears somewhere on every page—for kids to find throughout the book.
What’s Cool About Writing for Kids
“Kids are the best possible audience,” says Ellis. Adults are critical thinkers who read or look at art with a brain full of references and past associations. “Children are imaginative thinkers. Everything is wide open for them. It’s a state of wonder that we’re sort of unable to come to as adults.”
How Having Kids Changes Her Work
Ellis has two children, ages nine and two, and their stories appear throughout the book. In one picture, the kids’ names are written in graffiti; on another page, both children are illustrated with an old woman who lives in a shoe; on another, they appear on a tour bus. “My nine-year-old is a super-smart science kid,” she says, and not so much into picture books. “I try to make him read picture books,” she says. “‘Look, I drew a terraforming planet, you love those!’”
“Home means something to all of us,” Ellis says. “We all have a home, but it can mean different things to each of us.” This book teaches that lesson very well.