Creator Corner: Maggie Knaus
Welcome to Creator Corner, a blog series where we interview the creators of our latest books. For this post, we’re interviewing Eleanor’s Moon author Maggie Knaus!
Owlkids Books: How and why did you begin writing and illustrating children’s books?
Maggie Knaus: I have been a professional photographer for the past 30 years, but have always been intrigued by painting. I tried to paint with my camera by shooting abstracts of junkyard cars and using various alternative photographic processes, both in and out of the darkroom. It wasn’t until I took my first painting class that I realized there was no substitution for the real thing. I had also run a book fair at my children’s school for five years. We had visiting authors and readings, and our family was exposed to the joy of reading firsthand. I had written a story when my daughter was little, and it sat on the shelf for many years, and so eventually I decided to see if I could make the story come to life by painting it.
OKB: What themes or topics do you enjoy exploring in your work?
MK: So far, it is family. I watched a lecture by Roy Henry Vickers who said that we should “speak from the heart.” I was happy to hear him say that, as this book is very much a love letter to both my father and my daughter. I have two daughters, and my second story is about my other daughter and her first love, her cat, Gatsby.
OKB: What was the inspiration for this book?
MK: This is my first children’s book and it was based on the true relationship between my daughter and my father. Many of the events in the book actually happened, and as many of them are centered around the moon, I decided to try my hand at writing a story about them using the moon as the binding agent for the story. That was 20 years ago. Many years after that, I took my first painting course. And it was many years after that that I attended some lectures at the Osborne Collection and, in listening to other authors and illustrators, was inspired to try and illustrate the story myself.
OKB: What was the most enjoyable part of bringing this story to life? What was the most challenging part of the process?
MK: The most enjoyable part of bringing the story to life was painting scenes that were created from a variety of my photographs. In one painting, I might have used different parts of four or five different photographs to create a scene. And all those parts are memories of places I have been and shared with my family and friends. For example, the car scene was originally taken from the back of our first car at night. I subsequently took similar photos from our current car so that the console had a more current feel. The winter scene outside the window was from a trip we took to the States for Thanksgiving one year. And Eleanor always wore those little red Converse which she used to put on the back of my seat when we were in the car.
The most challenging part was coming up with new ideas based on changes my editor had made to the story arc. While I think her changes made it a better book, it was a different approach to create paintings based on someone else’s sense of how the story should flow. I was still given incredible support and freedom to produce the paintings but the editorial process identified the need for some other images to extend the story visually.
OKB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
MK: I knew that I would always love my children, but I didn’t take into consideration how many other people would love them as well. That love has been a gift to me and to my children. These people bring such a variety of experiences and ways of looking at the world. So I would say that if you are lucky enough to have family and friends nearby, love them and share your lives with them while you have them right in front of you.
OKB: What’s a fun fact people may not know about you?
MK: I removed all the grass from my front yard and planted a pollinator garden. I now have all kinds of butterflies, bees and birds flying around my house.