john answers some common questions
When did you write Dinosaur Train?
I wrote Dinosaur Train in 1999 and it was published in 2002. It was inspired by my son Jesse’s obsession with trains and dinosaurs. As Jesse grew older he moved on to other interests. I did write a sequel, called Dinosaur Planes, which features Jesse’s younger sister Molly. As yet it is not published.
Is the TV show Dinosaur Train based on your book?
No, it is not. Sometimes different people get the same idea. Dinosaurs and trains are two of the most popular interests for young children, so it’s natural that other creative people would think about combining them. However, I am proud to say that to my knowledge, I was the first.
What is it like working with authors?
People are usually very surprised to learn that I rarely work with an author. Even though I’m illustrating an author’s story, the person I work with is the editor who works at the book company, or with the art director and the editor.
Some editors like to include the author in the process, sometimes they don’t. When I illustrate a series of books over a period of years, inevitably I have contact with the authors. I have had the pleasure of meeting Ron Roy on a number of occasions, and I met Marcia Jones twice and Debbie Day once.
Who was the original model for Dink in the A to Z Mysteries?
The original model for Dink was my nephew Christopher (he was also Ruth Rose!). The original Josh was our babysitter’s son. But as the models get older I have to get new kids to pose (right now my nephew Christopher has graduated college!) My son Jesse posed as Dink (and Eddie and Liza from the BSK books) when he wad in 3rd to 5th grades, then he got to big, then I used my daughter Molly when she was that age. She was Ruth Rose in The Talking T-Rex, through the rest of the alphabet.
How come there are two different covers for The Absent Author and The Bald Bandit?
Those two books were the first two that I illustrated in the series. Canary Caper was the third, and I think with Canary Capercover illustration we got the “look” of the series. I was never 100% happy with the first two covers, and luckily, halfway through the series The Art Director at Random House let me make new illustrations for The Absent Author and The Bald Bandit.
Why do some Bailey School Books have cover illustrations by a different illustrator?
I was the original illustrator for The Bailey School Kids back in 1987, and over the next 15 years or so I illustrated about 70 of the books. When a book has been around for a long time, very often a publisher will hire another illustrator to create a new cover illustration. Scholastic has done this with a number of The Bailey School Kids books. My first reaction was “Hey, those are my characters! They can’t do that!” But I have come to enjoy seeing how a different illustrator chooses to portray the same stories in their own way. And, my illustrations are still on the inside of the books.
How long does it take to paint an illustration?
It varies. I usually work in oil paints, so an illustration takes anywhere from 2 days to 9 days, depending on how complicated the scene is. An illustration like The School Skeleton cover only took three or four days, because it is a simple image (only a boy, a skeleton and a locker). The Bailey School Kids covers usually took about 8 days, because they each had 5 realistic human faces in it. The cover illustration for Dinosaur Train took about 6 or 7 days.
I can draw the black and white illustrations for the inside of the chapter books much quicker. I usually can draw one to five of those drawings in a day.
What was the first book you ever illustrated?
The Temptation of Wilfred Malachy. It was a mystery story written by William F Buckley Jr, who was a famous political author and commentator. It was not my best work, and the book is no longer in print. However, I was just out of college when it came out in 1985, and it was a fun experience because the book got a certain amount of attention due to its famous author.
What was your favorite book you ever illustrated?
My favorite is the one book that I wrote, Dinosaur Train. Not just because I wrote it, but also because it’s the type of illustrations that I really like to do the most. The big word for that would be “anthropomorphic social satire”, but it’s easier just to say “animals wearing people’s clothing being funny.”