A Chicago native, Brian graduated from California’s Art Center College of Design with an honorary ninth term before co-founding National Television, a design and animation company. Brian’s awards include the Silver Medal by the Society of Illustrators and the Mentorship Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. He currently lives in southern California with his wife and young son. (extracted and adapted from author website)
You’ve mentioned in prior interviews that the phrase “Hooray for Hat!” came from your young son. How did this exclamation develop into a storyline about generosity?
The idea for the book came from my son running down the hallway shouting, “Hooray for Hat!” which was something he heard from an episode of Blue’s Clues. Thanks, Steve and Blue! He was 4 years old at the time and having a difficult time sharing toys with schoolmates. My hope was in making the book the joy of sharing with friends would come through. He still won’t share his fries with me.
When I read Hooray for Hat!, I’m always struck by how effortlessly your characters connect with my toddler children. How did being a parent to a young child influence your character development?
My son and I used to watch the early stop-motion Thomas the Train animations, and I liked with how the train characters were neither good nor bad. Thomas would have his kind and naughty moments, which my toddler personally connected with. Being a grump is not a character flaw, it’s just one of many parts of who you are. The other day right before school my son asked, “Can you be more joyful in the mornings? I’m joyful. Why can’t you be?”
One of my favorite features of Hooray for Hat! is the use of palette to express emotion— perhaps most notably when comparing the endpapers from the beginning and end of the book. Can you say a little about how you developed your palette for this book?
I enjoy using color to do some of the subtle storytelling that can’t be expressed with text. I did tons of explorations with my editor, Jeannette Larson, and each hue/saturation change would then have to be changed in the typography and illustrations. I love the color combination we ended up with and it’s a happy contrast to the starker limited color palette of the first two “grumpy” spreads. Over the course of Hooray for Today!, the backgrounds change from dark, night-time blue to light, dawn pale purple to mimic night turning to morning.
Currently I don’t have any plans to extend the stories further but I do have a seed of a story idea for Hooray for Birthday! dealing with the stress of getting the perfect birthday present for a friend. It’s your presence not the presents that make the gift special.
On your website, you mention a series of previous job roles prior to creating children’s books. How did you end up making picture books?
I have had many jobs over the years and I look back fondly on all of them. Like most college students, I was super broke and did a lot of odd jobs to cover the cost of living and tuition. My favorite was shelving books at the college library. I would put headphones on, push carts, and shelve for hours. It was very zen to memorize long strings of dewey decimal numbers 714.1314569
I ended up making children’s books inspired by the books I was reading to my son when he was a toddler. We would borrow stacks of books from the local library. Rediscovering these books with my own kid reignited a love for storytelling and illustration.