Publishing Interview August 2005

An August 2005 interview with Kim Parker, author and illustrator of Counting in the Garden.

What was your favorite picture book as a child?

The first picture books I treasured most were the small sized Joan Walsh Anglund books, one in particular, “A Friend is Someone Who Likes You”. By the time I was three or four, I was filling books with little girls in colorful dresses with only two eyes, no other features, similar to hers. I also loved Maurice Sendak’s “Little Bear” books.

Later on, without hesitation, my favorite childhood book was “The Secret Garden”, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. That book left the greatest impression on me. The whole idea of a garden being off limits for so long, and harboring tragedy, and then it transforming into a magical, loving place by three curious children, must have embedded itself deeply in my psyche because all I do is paint my own versions of such gardens!

What authors have influenced you the most?

Well, as I said, Frances Burnett was my favorite childhood book author, because of “The Secret Garden”. I also loved all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books too.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

My advice is, whatever you decide to write about, or illustrate, trust it – someone will eventually see the merit in it if created from the heart. I believe that when something is created with love, it reveals itself, but not until someone else with that same inner understanding, comes along and embraces it. That can take time, but don’t be disillusioned if someone doesn’t “get it”. Stick to what you believe in.

What is your writing process like?

My first book, “Counting in the Garden” doesn’t have much of a “writing process”, as it is a counting book. However, I write seriously every single day, and have been working on a few other books presently. In my “Counting in the Garden” book, which I illustrated, the process was one of the most joyful experiences I have ever had with my paintbrushes. I am a serious textile designer, and painter, and as I set out to create this picture book, I felt so free. Scholastic had originally asked me if I would be interested in illustrating any book in the public domain, and I went home and thought about that for a while, and felt that I didn’t want to re-illustrate someone else’s already beautiful book.

When the idea of a counting book presented itself, I at first felt it was “too easy”, and “not challenging enough”, as I have a million colorful stories of my own waiting to birth themselves. But what appealed to me immediately about coming up with my own counting book, was the freedom it would give me artistically with my brushes.. that I wouldn’t be tied into words, and could simply open up and freely express my love for textiles, color, animals, and children all at once, without words. The original version I submitted had no words, just illustrations. The editors felt it would add a little something extra to incorporate a sentence on each page, so I went along with that, and had fun with that too. So in answer to your question, whether I am writing, or illustrating, the process feels very liberating.

What was your inspiration for ‘Counting in the Garden?’

The idea came to me when my mother handed me an Eric Carle book on counting. Like Eric Carle, I love to play with color, and surface design. The simplicity of entering the children’s book world with a counting book, rather than a story book, seemed like the sky was the limit for me and my brushes. I was happy to not be tied into words, and to just focus on painting. With my career as a textile designer, I knew that my book would have to involve my love for painting flowers. I had an orange tabby cat named Rudy, who was completely mischievous, always hiding under furniture and then attacking you when you least expected it. The idea to put him on the first page, hiding amid the flowers, sneakily, triggered off the concept for the book. My golden retriever Maggie, inspired page 3, where the three dogs are frolicking in the garden.

Did you have trouble with math when you were little?

I still am, to this day, mathematically challenged. I think somewhere after I learned my times tables, my aptitude for math fell off a cliff.

If you could be any character from any book, who would you be?

I would be Dickon, from "The Secret Garden". His affection for animals and his gentle, loving way with them, is something I feel we have in common. In the book, he always had animals around him and had an intimate relationship with them all - something I have with my "children" (pets). His love of nature in general and his very sweet disposition, although from a poor family, left me with quite a crush on his character.

Are you working on anything now?

Yes, I have three other books I am working on. One is a fairy story, one is an ABC Book, and one is a serious book on “Color” for my other world – the home interior design industry.