Valleycott Awards 2017

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Valleycott Awards 2017

Grade 2 library classes, recently studying Caldecott Award winning picture books (awarded as such by the American Library Association for outstanding artwork), spent January evaluating some of 2017's best illustrated picture books and handed-out their annual Valleycott Awards. The Valleycott Award winners represent what the 2nd graders felt were outstanding examples of picture book artwork. Each 2nd grade class also chose one winning illustrator to write a letter of congratulations to, and you can see the winners' email responses below, reproduced with permission...
The 2nd graders wrote to Eric & Terry Fan, The Fan Brothers, authors & illustrators of 2017 Valleycott winner "The Night Gardener."  Here are their questions and their answers:

1) How long did it take to make the book from start to finish? There is so much detail in those leaves on the trees, it must have taken forever!

I think it took about four or five months to do all the final art, but before that there were a few months spent refining the dummy. A dummy is a rough version of the book, where you work out the story and the illustrations, with the help of your editor. To give you a bit of an inside scoop into the process, I've attached an earlier version of one of our dummies so you can see what one looks like (see image at the right). As you can see, the story changed a little bit even after this stage, but the main story was in place.
2) Which one of you wrote the story and which one of you drew the illustrations?

We actually both wrote the story and did the illustrations together. It's a bit unusual for two people to work on the illustrations together, but it's something we've been doing for awhile. Each of us will draw different parts of a picture, or work on the same picture together. We actually created our first picture book together when we were kids, before we could even read. It was called Many Years Ago, and was about dinosaurs. We still have that book to this day! Our mom helped us with the words (see image to the right).
3) What inspired you to write this story? It is very unique, we've never read another story like it!

Our dad used to keep a lot of plants in the house when we were growing up. He loved trees, and used to make miniature trees called bonsai, by carefully pruning them to look like fully grown trees. Our living room had so many plants and trees it was a bit like a jungle. There was even a parrot named Jay flying free in the house. I think in some ways we based the character of the Night Gardener on our dad for that reason. Many years later we collaborated on a t-shirt design called The Night Gardener.  People who saw the t-shirt (see image to the right) asked us if there was a story behind it, and so we eventually decided to write one. Sometimes inspiration is like that, where one idea will lead to another one.
4) After starting out in black and white, why do the illustrations become more colorful as the story goes on?

An important theme of the story is how Grimloch Lane, and the people living there, are transformed by the Night Gardener. The people go from being sad and uninspired, to happy and engaged in their community. We wanted a way to show that emotional change without having to say it directly, so we thought we could show it with colour. Also, we always loved the part in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy leaves Kansas and wakes up in the colourful world of Oz, so I think that inspired us as well.

5) Some of our favorite pictures include the parakeet, the cat, and of course the amazing dragon - what is your favorite picture from the story and why?

My favourite is probably the cat tree. It was one of the first finished pieces of art we did, and when we sent it to the art director at our publisher, she loved it - so I knew we were going in the right direction, and had the art style that we wanted for the whole book. Terry says his favourite is the owl, because it's the tree that originally inspired the book, and because he's always loved owls.
6) What art materials did you use to make these pictures?

The illustrations all started as pencil drawings, which we scanned and then coloured in Photoshop. Photoshop is a computer program that photographers use to edit their photographs, and illustrators use to create art. Here's an example of what the illustrations looked like before we coloured them (see image to the right).
7) Are you happy with the way this book turned out, compared to your original plans for it?

I think overall we were very happy with the book. There's always a slight gap between what you saw in your mind and what you can create. It's the same gap that exists between dreams and reality. I think satisfaction with a book, or any piece of art, comes from knowing you did your very best to cross that gap, and get close to your dreams.

Thank you once again for the questions, and for the Valleycott Award!


The Fan Brothers, January 31, 2017
The 2nd graders also wrote to Chris Gall, author & illustrator of "Nanobots" and now a two-time Valleycott Award winner!  Here are their questions and his answers:
1) What gave you the idea to write a story about miniature robots?
I've always been interested in robots. Recently I read a story about how scientists were working on making robots on a very small scale so they could fit into places that robots had not gone before—like the human body. So I wanted to write a story about it!
2) What inspired you when deciding what to name each robot and giving them their special abilities?
I thought there might be different robots for different jobs. Just like trucks look different depending on the job they do, I thought nanobots would look different too. When I invent names for characters I like them to be fun names, and creative names.

3) Did you have to do a lot of research about robots and the future of robots in order to write this story?
Yes! Research is very important. I had to know what had been invented so far, and also what kind of jobs they would be capable of doing. Also, since nanobots are still in the very early stages of being invented, I had to use my imagination to predict what other kinds of helpful jobs they would do in the future.

4) What art materials did you use to create these pictures?
Just like my nanobots, I use the most advanced technology possible to make my art. I use my computer! I use a wireless drawing pen and tablet to draw my art on my computer screen.

5) How long did it take you to make the book from start to finish?
It took me about 6 months. It takes about a month to write my story, then I have to plan where the pictures go so they match the words. After all that is done, then I draw my final pictures.

6) Some of our favorite illustrations include the nanobot slaying the garden bugs, the nanobots working inside the inventor's nose, the nanobots cleaning gum from the carpet, and the nanobots repairing the computer. What is your favorite illustration from the story?
My favorite illustration is the picture of the nano-nanobots playing baseball. They were hard to imagine because they are so small! I liked making their heads and hands look like molecules and I liked the colors I used.
I hope I have answered your questions well. And thank you SOOOOO much for your award!
All the best,

The 2nd graders also wrote to Chris Gall, author & illustrator of "Nanobots" and now a two-time Valleycott winner! Here are their questions and his answers:

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