Today’s interview is very special because we will be chatting with illustrator Kelly Hill on the making of her Anne of Green Gables concept books. Fresh off the press are two additional books to this series: Anne’s Feelings and Anne’s Alphabet. What is special about these books is that the illustrations are hand crafted with fabric and embroidery to create beautiful landscapes with depth. You can almost reach out and feel the textures of the story!
* Be sure to also check out Kelly’s Behind the Scenes video at the end of this post for more on the making of this series.
Grayce: Thank you for doing this interview, Kelly! Before we start, can you please tell me a little bit about yourself?
Kelly: I’ve been reading books and making things as long as I can remember. For almost 20 years now I’ve worked as a book designer, which happily involves more reading and making. I live a couple of hours north of Toronto with my two daughters, husband and a large yellow lab. These Anne board books are my first books as an author and illustrator.
Grayce: How did you fall in love with reading?
Kelly: As a kid I always borrowed the maximum number of books from our small town library every week. I remember poring over Richard Scary books, Where the Wild Things Are, and lots of Little Golden Books. And then later, even though I could read myself, my mom would read to me at bedtime: Anne of Green Gables was one of those books. The Narnia series was also a favourite of mine.
Grayce: How did you come up with the idea of sewing illustrations for a board book?
Kelly: I’ve worked on many children’s books as a book designer, so I knew that I couldn’t compete with pencil, pen, ink or paint on paper, but happily, there are other ways of making pictures. I had made many gifts for friends’ babies, sewing simple shapes and words onto fabric. My initial idea was an Anne of Green Gables alphabet book, but Tundra had bigger ideas of multiple concept books to round out their Anne publishing program for all ages.
Grayce: There are so many small details captured in your books, from each strand of Anne’s hair to the butterflies and leaves in the garden – what was the hardest part of the book to make?
Kelly: The hardest part for me is perfecting the sketches: because I use them as patterns for the fabric shapes, the more defined the sketch, the easier the process. Then the fun part is choosing the fabrics, sewing the picture, adding the embroidery details, and seeing it all come together.
Grayce: If I were to give you a ball of yarn, some fabric and a sewing machine right now, what would you make?
Kelly: Oooh! So I would likely ask you a few questions about your new baby boy (congratulations!) and make a welcome sign for him, framed in a little embroidery hoop.
Grayce: That would be so cute! He will love it for sure 🙂 Are there any other tales or stories you would love to illustrate for?
Kelly: I’m thinking about something original for my next project, but I’m a fan of so many stories – I love the scene in the Sound of Music where Maria makes all the children outfits using her bedroom curtains. I think that would be fun to do in my style. And I’d like to do a project where I reproduce well-known logos, since the hard lines and precise colours are very much the opposite of what I make. But I’d likely get in all sorts of legal/proprietary trouble so that might remain just an idea. I’d also love to do a Christmas book.
Grayce: That’s actually one of my favourite scenes in one of my favourite movies! Anne’s dream was to become a teacher, when you were a little girl, what did you want to become?
Kelly: I remember wanting to be a cashier (I was obsessed with my cousin’s toy cash register), a detective (the Nancy Drew influence), and a teacher (my sister and I set up our dolls in rows and lectured to them regularly). In grade 8 I wrote and illustrated a children’s book and sent it to a list of publishers for a school project. I got a few rejection letters in return, but it seems that I had dreams of publishing a book, even back then.
Grayce: Wow – and here you are! It goes to show that rejection is just a stepping stone to success. As long as you keep trying after getting rejected, your journey towards your dream is not over! Is there anything else you’d like to tell your readers?
Kelly: Besides “Thank you!” – I hope to inspire my readers, both the kids and the adults, to make something. In fact, kids are very easy to convince, whereas adults need a little more persuading. I think crafting is experiencing a revival as a fun, even meditative, activity. From painting rocks to hooking rugs to sewing pictures, there are so many things to try. Just make something.
For more Behind the Scenes on Kelly’s journey in creating these books, watch the video below!
Looking for more kids reading recommendations?
Check out my list of Kids Books Written by Famous Authors!