Wednesday, June 15, 2011: Kids' Maximum Shelf: The Man in the Moon

Atheneum: The Guardians of Childhood series from William Joyce

Atheneum: The Man in the Moon by William Joyce

Atheneum: Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce

Atheneum: The Man in the Moon by William Joyce

Editors' Note

Maximum Shelf: The Man in the Moon: The Guardians of Childhood

In this edition of Kids' Maximum Shelf--the monthly Shelf Awareness feature that focuses on an upcoming title that we love and believe will be a great handselling opportunity for booksellers everywhere--we present The Man in the Moon, the first picture book in The Guardians of Childhood series, by William Joyce, which goes on sale on September 6, 2011. The review and interviews are by Jennifer M. Brown. Atheneum, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, has helped support the issue.


Atheneum: The Man in the Moon by William Joyce

Books & Authors

Book Brahmin: William Joyce

On your nightstand now:

I don't have a nightstand. I have a disjointed pile of history, nonfiction, fiction, art books and an old paperback about people who spontaneously combust, which I think can qualify as any of those aforementioned genres.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Where the Wild Things Are

Your top five authors:

Today, May 19, 2011, I'd have to say:

Crockett Johnson
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Michael Chabon
E.B. White
Mark Twain
P.G. Wodehouse

Your top five artists:

N.C. Wyeth
Beatrix Potter
Maxfield Parrish
Glen Baxter
Winsor McCay
Van Gogh

Book you've faked reading:

I enjoy pretending that I've read The Collected Works of Sarah Palin, and then make up insane quotes from them and people always believe they're true. And Ulysses by James Joyce, 'cause we have the same last name and nobody else has read it either.

Book you are an evangelist for:

I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! by Fletcher Hanks, the mad forgotten genius of comics. And its sequel, You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!

Book you've bought for the cover:

Too many to name. At least a thousand--many designed by Chip Kidd. I believe unshakably that you can, in fact, tell a book by its cover.

Book(s) that changed your life:

With a quick perusal of my life I'd say:

Where the Wild Things Are
Mad magazine's "snappy answers to stupid questions"
The Edward Gorey Anthologies
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Great Gatsby
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
War of the Worlds
Roget's Thesaurus

Favorite line from a book:

"Shut up, he explained."--Ring Lardner


Book(s) you most want to read again for the first time:

The Jungle Book
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
War of the Worlds
Stuart Little

What fictional characters in literature would you most want to be?

Well, there are several:

The crayon from Harold and the Purple Crayon--it has such a clean elegant line.
Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby--the guy dreamed big and tried so hard.
Jeeves the Butler from P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories. Jeeves knows all, is totally at ease and always gets his way.

Are there any genres of writing that you feel are underappreciated as literature?

Yes. Songwriting. I believe that Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter are just as good as Tolstoy; but they get the job done faster and have a better beat. "One for My Baby" is three minutes long, but you get a full, complete story, with flawless prose that'll haunt you till you die.


Get an event kit for The Man in the Moon

Behind the Scenes with Caitlyn Dlouhy

"It's almost like things ripple forward," said Atheneum editorial director Caitlyn Dlouhy, describing the process of editing a manuscript by William Joyce. With most authors, she receives an entire completed manuscript. But, she said, Joyce thinks in movie frames. "He has this brilliant way of seeing the entire arc for one chapter, and he needs to stay with it until it can't get any better," she said. "As he's finessing, he's bringing in better ideas for what the future is going to be."

This is not the first time Dlouhy has worked with Joyce. She and Laura Geringer (whose imprint appears on the title page of The Man in the Moon, and who co-authored the first chapter book in the Guardians series, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King, with Joyce) worked with the author-artist on The World of William Joyce Scrapbook. "I marveled at how, when Bill had his pick of where he could have done the Guardians film, he wanted to keep the books separate," Dlouhy said. "These are inception stories; they're not even prequels. Here's something that explains why these mythologies are important."

As for Joyce's artwork, Dlouhy said, he delivered all of it digitally. She explained that nowadays all art that is not digital is called "live" art. Part of Joyce's artwork is "live" and part is digital. So he had to scan the "live" part. " There's one piece of art that's completely handpainted except for one small section where he had to do it digitally to achieve the effect he wanted," Dlouhy said, "so it has a hole in it!" The saturation of the art is more akin to The Leaf Men than to Santa Calls, which is more delicate in palette. "I would be hard-pressed to find any part of that art where I could tell he did not handpaint it because he's gotten so good at the digital art," Dlouhy added. "He's not going to sacrifice quality for quickness. He wouldn't have started working like that unless he could get [the process] to achieve what he wants it to achieve."

The trajectory of the series includes six chapter books and seven picture books. Each picture book will focus on a different Guardian and their early stories. The next picture book is the gathering of all the Guardians, timed to come out when the movie is released. The first chapter book, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King (9781442430488, 176p., ages 7-11, October 2011), establishes the origins of Santa Claus. There's also what Dlouhy calls a "sneak peak" at how Mother Goose comes to be Mother Goose, but "you may not find out in full until book three or four," Dlouhy teased. "You can tell I'm a little excited."

Each of the Guardians has what Dlouhy called "temporary wins and temporary losses" against Pitch. "If you think of it as a chess game, it's like putting the king in check, but he's not in checkmate yet,” suggested Dlouhy. "There are other moves he can make. It takes all of them together to fully conquer him."


Bill Joyce: Keeping the Course

You've said that The Guardians of Childhood has been 20 years in the making. Weren't you working on Santa Calls right around then?

Absolutely. Santa Calls was supposed to be the first in this ongoing series. At a certain point, the plot of Santa Calls was going to intermingle with the Sandman and the Man in the Moon, but it felt like I needed to pull back and introduce each myth.


The illustrations for your books are so cinematic that it's almost as if you design a movie set and then the characters walk onto them. Do you "meet" the characters first and then create a setting for them?

The mythologies for the individual Guardians have evolved and changed a lot over the years. The Man in the Moon is the closest to my original idea of what his world would be like and how his story would play out. There was a long gestation where I was figuring out what each of [the Guardians'] story arcs would be like. As I began to figure out their intermingling, their personalities took on a life of their own. Santa was the wild Cossack warrior in his youth, and the most accomplished bandit in all of Russia, but he has a fundamental change of heart. I got into early Russian architecture for his origins adventure. The Man in the Moon is watching over these guys long before they come into their own, and sometimes helps guide their lives to help them become the icons they would become.


Were you working on the film Rise of the Guardians (due out fall 2012) and the books simultaneously? Did one act as a catalyst for the other?

Virtually every studio had bid on the Guardians idea at one time or another. I wanted to do the books first, then have the movie come out. And to control the publishing. Books are my first love and I wanted the freedom to tell the stories fully. I didn't want this to be a movie with one tie-in book. All of them said, "That sounds good, but we can't let you do what you want to do. That's not the way we work." DreamWorks was the only studio that trusted that we share a vision. So we made a deal. Then I thought, "Now I have to do the books!" It was the catalyst that got me started after 20 years of developing the idea. These first books are about how the Guardians came to be, and the movie will be about who they are once they've become Guardians. They come together to fight Pitch. I've given them proper names that echo who they are: Nicholas St. North, E. Astor Bunnymund, Sanderson Mansnoozy. None starts out heroic. They're all goofing around, but they need to channel their energy somehow--they each have a weakness and an inner struggle.


Tell us about your media.

I used virtually every medium I'm good at. The undercoats were often done in acrylic, and the detail work in oil. Then we'd scan that. I'd scan the images and do the last bit of color and detail work digitally. I've learned to love painting on the computer. There are some things that are easier to do, to get luminescence for instance, on the computer. I can put a thin wash of color over the whole painting, which is what I've always done, but it would take four to five hours to prepare the paint, and get the linseed oil to get the coating just right. It was a real crap shoot to see if it worked, and sometimes it didn't, and you had to wait for it to dry. Digitally, you can do something and experiment endlessly. You can zoom in with a closeness that's impossible to do with the human eye. It's perfect for someone who's anal like I am. There are a few pieces that are totally digital, and you really can't tell the difference. It took me probably a year to get halfway decent at using the tools that appear in these compositions. I miss the tactile thing of having a finished painting that exists as something on canvas. Now I have printouts; I loved painting the old way. I miss that. It bugs me. But it frees me up in ways. I thought, "It's going to take me two years on each book, how am I going to manage that?" This way I can keep to a publishing schedule that makes sense.


You have these very concrete aspects of life, such as the normal routine for MiM, and then these otherworldly aspects, like the Moon Clipper, the Lunar Moths and the fabulous lunar landscape.

I'm saying, "This guy had a life, just like yours, dear reader. He was small once, and these are the things that happened to him. He had bedtime, and food, just like every kid." It seems like that would make him more real, along with all the splendor and the fantasy. Someone told me that they'd never talked with their kid about the Man in the Moon. Even the main guys, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, were getting diminished. One of the things I say a lot is, we have a mythology for Superman and Batman, but we don't have a mythology for the guys we actually believed in, and that seems wrong. I wanted to make them real, make them feel like they had troubles and triumphs.


What was the inspiration for balloons as the carriers of children's dreams?

I'd just watched The Red Balloon, the movie from the 1950s. There's a haunting image at the end of the movie when the balloons are floating down to the boy. You see a balloon floating and you think, there's a kid somewhere who's really bummed out because his balloon got away. But what if something cool happens to it? I wanted kids to think when you lose your balloon, it doesn't go pop, it goes on an amazing journey, and the Man in the Moon knows who you are and what you're thinking. I love making those everyday things in life magical and mystical.


In that fabulous wordless spread where MiM's reacting to the blast, he doesn't look afraid.

Babies don't know what's scary yet. That's why they fall off the edge of the bed and reach for the scissors and don't know that fire hurts. That's what that expression is about. There is also an MGM aesthetic there, which comes from Munchkinland. One of my main influences is the costume designer named Adrian, who did the costumes for MGM musicals. He's probably been as big an influence on me as Sendak or Beatrix Potter.


There's a lovely echo of familiarity in the closing lines of the oath Nightlight repeats about guarding MiM, "For he is all that we have, all that we are, and all that we will ever be." It's reminiscent of the motto in Toyland in Santa Calls, "The best of the old. The best of the new. The best that is yet to be." Both suggest a faith in the future. Is that an important message to impart to children?

Absolutely. I watched too many Frank Capra movies growing up. I'm obsessed with the optimism of the 1939 World's Fair, where they thought in the future everything's going to be great, but by the end of the fair, World War II had begun. There's something delicate and sad about that. It echoes back to Dorothy, who's been through this amazing and horrible stuff, and she returns to Kansas and things are worse than they were at the beginning. But she's like, everything's going to be okay. Her attitude is heartbreaking. She knows she has to cling to optimism or she can't go on. For kids, I like to give them pure optimism. There's a ton of stuff in the stories that show the Guardians in trouble, but if you're a kid, after you've read a story you should think, yeah, it's tough, but if we keep the course, we'll be okay. It's something you need to hold onto.



Children's Review: The Man in the Moon: The Guardians of Childhood

The Man in the Moon: The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce (Atheneum/S&S, $17.99, 9781442430419, 56p., ages 4-8, September 6, 2011)

William Joyce invents a breathtaking landscape for his history of the original guardian of childhood: the Man in the Moon. As a baby, the little Man in the Moon, or MiM, as he is called, travels the intergalactic skies in the golden-sailed Moon Clipper with his mother, father and Nightlight, a kind of fairy godfather. Each night, the vessel transforms into the Moon. With the aid of a telescope, MiM's father introduces him to "the wonders of the heavens," while MiM's mother reads to him by the light of giant Glowworms, as Moonmice join the audience. Nightlight watches over the baby as he sleeps. With his open face and single perfectly placed curl, MiM resembles an otherworldly Gerber baby.

One day, chaos strikes the young hero's idyllic world. Pitch, the King of Nightmares, hunts down this legendary child who has never had a bad dream and tracks him to the Moon. The villain embodies a nightmare vision with his jet-black hair in up-floating coils as menacing as Medusa's snakes, and rendered in the shadowy shades of night. MiM's parents ask Nightlight to swear to guard their son, and he whisks MiM away to safety, but Pitch captures MiM's parents. As Nightlight plunges his diamond dagger into Pitch's heart, an explosion results. In a wordless spread of baby MiM, Joyce perfectly portrays a child too young to process the flash of brightness and sound. His wide-eyed wonder and surprise contrasts with the fear on the faces of the nearby Moonmice. When MiM later reaches the Moon's surface, he sees the image of his parents etched in the stars. Their constellation offers MiM comfort, and the moon creatures rally around to educate and protect the baby. Toque-topped Moonbots that call to mind gingerbread men bring his meals, he sleeps soundly on the back of a Lunar Moth with fluorescent wings, and the nattily dressed Moonmice in sailor suits hold him securely during flight. As the boy grows up, his angelic, trusting expression follows him into adulthood, as if to suggest that we all carry that childlike openness within us.

Fans of Joyce's oeuvre will note the parallels with his earlier tour de force about a mythic man in a magical land, Santa Calls. Santa rides in his sleigh; MiM flies on his moth. The Dark Queen and her Dark Elves threaten Santa's mission, just as Pitch and his Nightmares pose a challenge to MiM's utopia. Santa learns of children's wishes through letters; their hopes and dreams travel to MiM by helium balloons. The author-artist makes brief reference to the Man in the Moon's team of helpers on "the little green and blue planet" (the other Guardians, who will get their own spotlight in upcoming books). When MiM comes up with a solution to children's nighttime fears, he enlists the aid of the Moon's minions and his team of earthling Guardians (in addition to Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, etc.). What happens to Pitch and Nightlight remains to be explored in subsequent episodes, but this first adventure offers a visual feast and a complete mythology of the Man in the Moon, and his mission to dispel the nightmares of the children on earth.

The idea of the Man in the Moon chasing away children's fears of the dark will be reassuring to young readers, but perhaps the story's greater gift will be the seeds of imagination as youngsters picture an entire world run by a protective gentleman whose face is etched on the moon's surface.


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