From illustrator to author: Giuseppe Poli

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Giuseppe Poli began his career in the picture book industry as an illustrator. However, with a keen interest in writing the words as well as creating the images, he’s now released his first book Young MacDonald as an author.

Tell us what Young MacDonald is about

If Old MacDonald has lots of animals what would Young MacDonald have? Young MacDonald is a super fun read for young kids with big imaginations. Kids aged 2 to 5 years old who love animals, love vehicles and love exploring will adore this book.

How did the idea come to you?

The idea came to me around the time my son was four years old and obsessed with diggers. I love playing with words and ideas with my kids and I love taking things on completely different tangents. It’s amazing how quickly kids can extend these ideas and make them their own. It was that feeling of fun and play and looking at how my son was enjoying the world that led to me thinking what would Young MacDonald do? And what adventures would he have?

What came into your mind first – the words or the pictures?

Words. They have so much potency. Being an artist it seems strange but a lot of my stories come from words first. I love the cadence words can have. The challenge then is trying to illustrate it. For me stories form so much faster in words than with pictures and I love how spontaneous a phrase or piece of dialogue can generate a thousand images.

How many drafts do you think you did for this book?

For the first idea, I didn’t have many drafts. The concept came very quickly and it was really a matter of trying to fit the experience into 32 pages. Back then I was trying to break into the industry and I knew that I had a lot to learn. Creating story after story was my goal and so as soon as I had the concept and the storyboard completed I quickly moved on to create the next picture book.

The second phase of this book occurred about three years later. At that time I had recently been published and was meeting a new publisher to discuss illustrations for my first book with them, Olivers Grumbles written by Yvonne Mes.

My wife encouraged me to bring along some of my other stories and when I showed them Young MacDonald, they loved it. I couldn’t believe it because I wasn’t really expecting any success with it. After the euphoria settled down, I then felt the story was a little thin and so I started investigating ways to make it more wholesome.

This process took me a very long time. I explored lots of different options, playing with words and sounds, characters and endings. I didn’t want to ruin the charm of the book and eventually came to the conclusion to keep the words and incorporate so much more storytelling in the visual narrative.  

I was really happy with this approach because as a read-aloud the joy is still there, but when kids spend more and more time with the book they will discover lots more to the characters and story. I love how we can create this experience with picture books.

You started your career in publishing as an illustrator, what were the main challenges when you decided to write the book as well?

Fortunately for me the cadence of the Old MacDonald rhyme dictated my choice of words and given that it didn’t take long for me to settle on what Young MacDonald would experience, writing this story wasn’t too difficult.

That’s certainly not the case for my other stories and I generally find writing very tricky. My natural strength is in art and I wasn’t a big reader when I was a kid. I’ve been reflecting on what exactly is challenging with writing.

Apart from the structure of characters and stories which I love learning and playing with, the biggest challenge for me comes from the power a single word can have.

When I draw I generally have an idea of the shape I trying to produce so any stray lines I can ignore. But when I write and I’m just letting the words come out, a stray word can easily appear and that single word can suddenly open up completely new unexpected ideas.

I can judge more readily what is lacking in an image and hone in on an appropriate correction but with words I often find an appropriate choice of word elusive.

I can easily change the shade or hue or style in a drawing but it’s a lot trickier with words. I can’t slightly change a word, I have to add a word near it, change the phrase or write a completely different sentence – purely to hone in on an exact experience that I’m trying to create.

Truthfully, I’m not concerned about my ability to place words after words. For me the pursuit is the story and the feeling of the story when it is read aloud. My ability to craft with words is a finishing skill and just like my art, something that I never get right the first time and something that I know I will eventually refine after many many attempts.

You have a day job in IT. How do you fit it all in?

It is still nestled in the bookshelf of 24 hours. Same spot, just that the other ‘creative’ books on either side are starting to get wedged in. I would love to make children’s picture books full-time. It’s easy to look ahead fondly to times of wafting hours but I’m not there.

I’m here… squished in this wonderful sandwich of life. As with all things, there is a positive. Firstly, my situation forces me to keep positive! If I don’t have much time, then I don’t want to waste it being angry or negative.

Secondly, it forces me to focus on being present and productive today – an approach I’m being more thankful for especially with the manic nature of our lives these days. A stable income also helps.

What’s the most rewarding part about creating picture books?

The most rewarding part? Just one? Well it would have to be …  when a reader is moved enough to say ‘thanks so much’ or ‘I just love this book’ or dress up as one of my characters. That’s the most rewarding thing. Knowing this book that you have poured all your love into, that has called you into an unknown and challenged you and beckoned you to reach further and dig deeper… has captured the hearts of others.

There are so many other rewards. Picture books are super challenging because they are so limiting eg: 32 pages, 500 words, etc. These limitations force you to get better. Picture books are unlimited because there is so much you can do with words and pictures and then there are so many ways your readers further experience it.

As a picture book creator I am so delighted to work with awesome people such as teachers, librarians and parents that work hard for our kids helping them experience a full life of learning, creating and imagination. Lastly, picture books can be timeless and can touch the soul. With all these rewards I feel incredibly privileged. Who doesn’t love being able to create something that makes a people feel wonderful?


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