Illustrator and his boys are shooting for the stars
On a tree-sheltered, enclosed deck in West Chester, 8-year-old Griffy Long presses a pencil firmly to paper. The trail of graphite juts and turns and juts again, changing direction with deliberation.
“Here, and here, and here,” Griffy mutters with intense concentration. He lifts the pencil, scrutinizes the paper, and grins.”A star,” he announces.
Griffy’s father, children’s book illustrator Loren Long, points out similar stars, lopsided and rakish, in his newest book. “Griffy did those,” Long says with pride.
The book, Long’s illustration of Walt Whitman’s poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer“, hits bookstores November 1.
It’s the first book that includes artwork by Long’s children, Griffy, who turns 9 today, and Graham, 7.
The boys’ line drawings of stars, smiling crescent moons and houses with curling smoke contrast sharply with their father’s rich, evocative paintings that bring the eight-line Whitman poem to life.
The words are part of Whitman’s acclaimed “Leaves of Grass“, and recall a visit to a lecture hall, where a “learn’d astronomer” fills the room with equations and scientific proofs and charts.
The poem was one of Long‘s favorites when he studied Whitman in high school. “I’d love to say this book is totally my brainchild, but I can’t,” Long said. “It was my editor’s.”
Long is working with Simon & Schuster editor Kevin Lewis on Long’s first effort to write as well as illustrate a children’s book. That book is still a work in progress, but Lewis asked Long if he would consider illustrating the Whitman poem for a book to be published before Christmas this year. The short poem gives no indication of the speaker’s age or a setting in time. Long set the tale in what he calls a golden era, possibly the 1950s or early 1960s.
The main character is a young boy, about 8 years old, who is the only child in the story, experiencing the scientific lecture squeezed in among adults. “I’m hoping you see this through the eyes of a little boy in a stuffy lecture hall,” Long said. “Science is remarkable and necessary, but it’s also important to go out into ‘the mystical moist night air’ with your childlike curiosity and observe the beauty of it all and imagine,” said Long.
Griffy’s drawings in the book include a crescent moon with a round nose, a telescope and a lot of stars. Graham did the houses with tall pointy roofs and a kidney bean-shaped planet encircled by a wobbly ring. “An adult wouldn’t make it that way, and that’s what we wanted,” Long said. “We’re not trying to hold them up as some kind of great artists. They’re typical kids.”
But their collaboration with dad has made this book a special family event. When Long goes to book signings, the boys may end up at the table, signing along with him at times. For Griffy, it will be the second time he’s helped sign dad’s books.
Long used Griffy as a model for the boy in “Mr. Peabody’s Apples“, the 2003 book by Madonna that Long illustrated.
His favorite among his father’s paintings in the new book is at the end. “The boy is standing on a bench, and he took off his tie and sport coat,” Griffy said. “He has a little rocket in his hand, and there’s a shooting star.”
Article by Peggy Kreimer , Cincinnati Post