A Picture Book History of a House: Author/Illustrator Jennifer Thermes'' When I Was Built (Henry Holt and Company)

reprinted from 2002 Children''s Writer''s & Illustrator''s Market
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Writing a book is challenging and time-consuming. Add layers of drawing and illustrating to the project, and you may have set yourself up for exhaustion before presenting it to an audience. Writer and illustrator Jennifer Thermes confirms that the rewards of enduring the hefty schedule may even be worth doing it again.

"When I was invited to read the book to my son''s second grade classroom, I was on razor edge all morning," says Thermes, who wrote and illustrated her first book, When I Was Built, published by Henry Holt. "As every student in that room became entranced by the story and lifted all my anxieties, I was overcome by inspiration and happiness."

Thermes, a professional illustrator with a credit list longer than a full address book (The Wall Street Journal, Modern Bride, Trinity Communications, and Spectator, to name a few of her accounts), was warmly influenced by her house enough to give it a voice. While the house was built around 1720 and owned by the acclaimed poet Louis Untermeyer, its narration in the book is contemporary and dexterous. Addressing subjects such as the evolution of transportation, fashion, recycling, and electricity, for instance, When I Was Built teaches history from the house''s point of view. Through clever illustrations and uncomplicated language, the book invites kids to examine the differences between old-fashioned survival and modern amenities.

As the book idea was proposed and Thermes sketched some images, Henry Holt accepted the concept within two weeks. "I was overjoyed that someone else could relate to the idea with enthusiasm," says Thermes. "With a unique personality and perspective, I wanted to share the many renovations of the house and of the world."

While designing illustrative maps for a variety of corporations, Thermes imagined stories to accompany them, but this was the first idea she brought to fruition. After her proposal was accepted, she collaborated with an editor for approximately a year. Thermes soaked up every suggestion their critiques offered, eager to explore her newfound career in writing. She says she fell in love with the possibility of creating a whole world within in a book, using her experience in visual application. As it was difficult to maintain a balance between writing and illustrating the book at first, Thermes insists the visual concepts were primary. Once she applied the images, she wrote the complementary sections. Overall, Thermes maintains the process was most trying when she took a break from generating ideas. Simultaneously, she read about the technical process of writing and how to structure a story, while also drawing motivation from other creative professionals around her.

As humble as it sounds, expresses Thermes, the most imperative thing she remembered while juggling tasks, attaining small goals and adhering to a deadline was that she was constantly a beginner, vulnerable but always aware, open to more possibilities each day-and her muse was a house.

This article appeared in a previous edition of Children''s Writer''s & Illustrator''s Market. Check out the current edition.


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