WILL HILLENBRAND is a celebrated author and illustrator whose published works include over sixty books for young readers. In addition to his own self-illustrated titles, he has illustrated the works of writers and retellers including Verna Aardema, Judy Sierra, Margery Cuyler, Judith St. George, Phyllis Root, Jane Yolen, Karma Wilson, Maureen Wright, Daniel Pinkwater and Jane Hillenbrand. Will has lived almost all of his life in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he grew up as the youngest of four boys. He now lives in Terrace Park.
What is the best part about being a children’s picture book author/illustrator?
The very best part is my audience. When I see the faces of young children who are engaged with books – my books – it delights my heart. To think that I might play a part with their becoming readers and thinkers is an additional benefit.
Have certain authors and illustrators influenced your work?
My favorite illustrator is Ernest Shepherd. I just love his work; it touches me so deeply. The first illustrator/storyteller that I remember from my childhood is Beatrix Potter. My grandmother read The Tale of Peter Rabbit to me; that book was my welcome mat to the world of children’s books. I have met and known so many talented and wonderful picture book creators that my list would be longer than Santa’s Christmas list, too long to share with you here.
What was your inspiration for the Bear and Mole series?
My inspiration was my relationship with my son, Ian. When he was little, my wife (Jane) and I read a book to him that he fell in love with – The Mole Family’s Christmas by Russell and Lillian Hoban. Ian loved that book so much that he role-played the boy character by digging everywhere like a little mole. For his third birthday, I drew a picture of him as if he were a mole and we transferred that picture onto a couple of t-shirts and a book bag.
A month or two later, Ian tried to wake me up early in the morning to play (Jane was at school teaching Kindergarten). I was very sleepy and he tried everything to wake me up but nothing worked until he came up with a specific plan. He went to the foot of the bed, untucked the sheets, climbed underneath and tunneled, like a little mole, until he found my big fat toe which he then gave a gigantic tweak. That is what I call A MOLE ALARM CLOCK with no snooze button.
After making him breakfast that day we drove to his favorite playground where he played and played. When he was tired/sleepy, we drove home. Then he asked me to tell him a story. I told him that I couldn’t think of any. That made him very unhappy which in turn made me unhappy. So, I thought about the main character being a little mole. He then perked up, knowing that the coming story would be about him. I then said that the Mole had a best friend … and Ian suggested a bear. I thought, now I have two characters but no story. What to do? Then I remembered what had happened between us that morning and with a little embellishment I retold the morning’s events adding sound effects including an enormous snore for the bear. Ian loved the story. I sketched out the story in my journal so I could remember it. Many years later I made it into the book, Spring Is Here.
The first book was so successful that the publisher wanted to make it into a series. Spring Is Here was followed by Kite Day and Off We Go!
What’s your next project?
I’ve completed a fourth Bear and Mole story entitled All for a Dime! and Bear and Bunny written by Daniel Pinkwater. It’s a companion book to Bear in Love which was published two years ago. Both books will be out later this year. Currently, I’m working on the illustrations for Me & Annie McPhee which was written by Olivier Dunrea. It’s a fun, cumulative rhyme featuring an ever-crowded tropical island and is set to be released in Spring 2016.
Will has generously created a video for us that shows his process.
Please check it out!