(How) Can we read? Interview with Beth Krommes
I can’t remember whether my family’s introduction to Beth Krommes was her incredible 2011 title, Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman, or Before Morning, from 2016, also by Joyce Sidman, both which combine two of my favorite children’s book creators with magnificent results, but it hardly matters, does it? Once we found Krommes, we we hooked.
We proceeded with Grandmother Winter by Phyllis Root, probably my all-time favorite interpretation of the Mother Holle story and one we include in our winter Morning Time every year without fail.
We went on to Blue on Blue by Dianne White (look for my interview with her in December!), which we read every summer.
We arrived at The Sun in Me: Poems About the Planet edited by Judith Nicholls, and suffice it to say: can’t stop, won’t stop.
We’re here for anything and everything Beth Krommes.
Here’s a lightly-edited biography, written by Krommes, from her website:
I have loved art since my early childhood in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. I earned a BFA in painting from Syracuse University and an MAT in art education from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Before turning to editorial illustration in 1989, I taught art in a public school, managed a fine handcraft shop, and art directed a computer magazine. I've been a children’s book illustrator since my first book, Grandmother Winter, came out in 1999. I’m still amazed and humbled that in 2009 my sixth book, The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, won the Caldecott Medal.
I’m proud to have recently earned an AAS degree in Textile/Surface Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. It is my hope to license designs for fabric, wallpaper, and more — as well as to continue illustrating for children.
My husband and I live in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where we raised our two daughters. My mission is to create art that is joyful in spirit, universal in nature, and that is accessible and affordable to others.
I’m thrilled to share my interview with Krommes with you today.
How long have you been writing and illustrating for children? What called you to this work?
In the early 1990s, my college friend, children’s book illustrator Salley Mavor, encouraged me to try illustrating for children. I loved to visit her studio and see her interesting book projects.
Once I had my children a few years later, I became even more fascinated with children's books. I joined the SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and attended their annual New England conferences, learning as much as I could about the industry. I paid extra to have one-on-one portfolio interviews with an art director at the conferences. Ann Rider, an editor at Houghton Mifflin, noticed a Cricket magazine cover I illustrated of an Inuit mother and baby. She asked to see my portfolio and offered me the manuscript “Grandmother Winter” by Phyllis Root, my first illustrated children’s book, which came out in 1999.
You’ve illustrated nine books (including one that won the Caldecott award, The House in the Night, in 2009) but you’re not only an illustrator of children’s books.
Can you tell us a bit about your other work as an artist?
I was a painting major as an undergraduate and an art education major in grad school. I had a variety of art-related jobs, including teaching junior/senior high school art, managing a fine handcraft shop, and art directing a computer magazine. I’ve always worked in a lot of mediums. I made wheel-thrown and hand-built pottery for years. (I'd love to get back to that.) When my children were young, I worked on a series of wood engravings based on the theme of motherhood. More recently, between book projects, I've completed about 60 casein paintings based on meadow landscapes, particularly close-ups of milkweed. I sew, make rug-hooked pillows, and during the pandemic, I learned how to needle-felt.
After taking my daughters on college tours, I decided to go back to school myself. In 2018, I completed a degree in textile/surface design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. I lived with friends on Long Island and commuted by train into the city every day. I learned weaving and screen printing, painted patterns in gouache, and worked in repeats on Photoshop and Illustrator. I was part of a group of about 20 students from around the world in our one-year intensive program. There was so much talent in our group — I learned a lot from my classmates ( I miss them so much) and the wonderful professors at FIT (miss them, too). It was the hardest and best thing I ever did!
Now in my home studio, I'm focusing on wrapping paper and fabric design, in addition to the book work.
You have two daughters, now grown, and write on your website that reading to your children at bedtime was the highlight of your life as a parent.
What was something about your family reading life that you feel you really did right? What was something that, if you could go back, you’d do differently?
When our two girls were little, at bedtime my husband would read to one and I would read to the other. I loved the one-on-one conversations we would have about details in the pictures while lying side by side. Dave also read aloud to all of us often in the living room in the evening. He read all the books from The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (though we did get a little bogged down in The Long Winter), the Joey Pigza books by Jack Gantos, the Harry Potter books, many of Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events books, and Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder.
The girls loved that reading-aloud time, but at around 3rd grade, they started to prefer reading chapter books alone. (My advice is to grab that family reading aloud time when your kids are young.) Both girls read a lot all the way through high school. They grew up in that sweet era before all kids had their own phones and laptops. We are grateful for that.
This is a question I ask everyone I interview: what are a few titles, recent or otherwise, that have stood out to you as being so excellent you wish they were on the shelf in every home and classroom?
My favorite picture books are everything by Barbara Cooney, especially Miss Rumphius; all of the brilliant Diana Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long books, such as A Seed is Sleepy and An Egg is Quiet [ed: there is a whole series]; anything illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger, anything by the funny and quirky James Marshall, especially the George and Martha series and the Cut-ups series.
My very favorite dreamy picture book for bedtime reading was And If the Moon Could Talk by Kate Banks and Georg Hallensleben.
Oh, and how can I forget the wonderful books about Frog and his friends by Max Velthuijs. Living in New Hampshire, I can relate to A Frog in Winter and have often quoted, “I'm freezing, I’m only a bare frog.”
What’s next for you? Are you working on anything new you can tell us about?
I recently finished a two-year book project about branching patterns in nature with Joyce Sidman, which will be out in the Spring of 2023. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a used loom and am looking forward to weaving. I am designing wrapping papers and fabric right now, too.
(Trust me when I say that when I read that Krommes is making another patterns-in-nature book with Joyce Sidman, I actually squealed out loud.)
Thank you so much for Krommes for taking the time to grant me this thoughtful interview. For more information about her work, visit her website. And be sure to seek out her books at your local library and bookstore (or order them online). They’re nothing short of stunning, every single one.
Thanks for reading today, and always,