Author and illustrator Jonathan Bean, a native of Fleetwood, made a full circle with his newest book, “Building Our House.”
Bean presented his newest work for children at Firefly Bookstore in Kutztown on Jan. 12, followed by an open house tour of his family’s home in Fleetwood.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for children to meet an author and illustrator of books they have or will read,” said Firefly owners Rebecca Laincz and Matthew Williams. “More importantly, he is from the area and the book is about his childhood experience of his parents building the family’s house in Fleetwood.”
Bean had attended Firefly’s Grand Opening in September, and immediately suggested that Firefly would be an ideal location for the January launch of his new book. Laincz and Williams had known of his work from his book “At Night” and the Christmas book he illustrated, “One Starry Night.”
“We love his deceptively simple style. The details he chooses to include with just a few ink marks or brush strokes creates a depth that is a joy to examine closely. For example, in ‘Building Our House,’ the illustrations appear cheerfully cartoonish but there is no mistaking the hills around Fleetwood!”
They said that Bean’s newest work, released Jan. 8, would be particularly interesting as he shows the process of building a home from a child’s perspective.
“We always want to engage younger members of our community in reading,” said Laincz and Williams. “Author events, particularly for children, can provide a memorable opportunity that brings a real human connection to the books they read. Stories and art come from other people and that understanding can be very inspirational.”
The event included activities for children and a personal appearance by the author and illustrator.
After signing 60 copies of his books, Bean, fans, family, and friends headed over to the now famous Bean home. His sisters had lit 144 luminarias lining the lane leading up to the house where his father had started a welcoming bonfire for toasting marshmallows. There were glowing orbs suspended from branches and the aroma of barbeque greeted guests as they arrived.
“Christmas’s were always incredibly exciting as a child. It was great to be in such a warm cozy house in a big snowstorm and enjoy it in the country,” said Bean. “I hope it stays in the family. I hope we children are able to keep it in very good health as a home. People have commented over the years that my parents have made it a very welcoming feeling place and I would certainly hope that it could continue to be that.”
Bean talked about how the book came about.
“Since it was a personal family experience, the idea was kind of always there. I just thought a house-building book would be a lot of fun to draw,” said Bean. “For me the best part is always the drawing and in this case it was a lot to really get into the nitty gritty process of different parts of the construction process and draw those as sequences.”
Bean’s father, John, said they welcomed the book.
“It was basically part of his artistic work. He was looking for subjects and things that he would write on so this was one for him to write on,” said John.
Because he was only two years-old at the time, Bean couldn’t remember a whole lot about the building of the home. After consulting with his parents for details, he told the story through the perspective of his older sister, Andrea.
“I was six when it was completed so a lot of the major construction was between when I was one and four. I remember moving in and I have some vivid memories of particular places I was at in the house while it was under construction.
Bean recalled walking from one board to another at a time the stairs weren’t in yet, only scaffolding.
“That of course was pretty frightening and so I think that’s why it sticks in my mind; I remember that set up of getting from one floor to another.”
What would normally take Bean a year to write a book, this one took longer for various reasons with part of it being somewhat complicated. The hardest thing was figuring out how to get the whole process of building a house into the given space a children’s picture book allows.
“You normally have 32 , this one is 48 pages long, but even so, there’s so many details that I actually had to leave out that would normally be a part of building a house.”
The Firefly Bookstore owners said writing and illustrating children’s books presents a unique challenge.
“In some ways, a picture book is much like a short work of poetry or a haiku. There is an elegance and precision in building the right turn of phrase that perfectly expresses the story you are telling,” they said. “Likewise, illustrating a picture book should draw the reader in, illuminating the story and capturing the imagination. Bean is excellent at both, which is not typical; many children’s books are collaborations.”
As an illustrator, Bean often collaborates with writers, such as the Mokie & Bik series by Wendy Orr and the Emmy series by Lynne Jonell.
“As an illustrator, we love his clean, light and straightforward line drawings that are beautifully colored evoking a rich, detailed and vibrant atmosphere. ‘At Night,’ his first published work that he also wrote, is a simple story that connects the reader to a small child who leaves the comfort of her bed to find sleep under the stars. The story is magical as it portraits the young protagonist and her yearning for the stars and breezes of her makeshift rooftop bed.”
After receiving his undergraduate degree from Messiah College he moved to New York City in 2003 to attend the graduate program at the School of Visual Arts. His first job illustrating for children’s literature was for Cricket in 2004. Since then he has worked for numerous publishers and his illustrations and writing have received widespread recognition. Bean currently lives in Harrisburg. His parents still live in the house the family built outside of Fleetwood.
His first book, “At Night”, won the 2008 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and he is also the illustrator of two acclaimed picture books by Lauren Thompson, “The Apple Pie That Papa Baked” and “One Starry Night”. He is also the illustrator of the “Emmy” series by Lynne Jonell.
Bean plans on drawing from personal experience again for his next book, but not necessarily a sequel to, Building Our House.
Future events at Firefly include artist showings every month. January’s artist is a Kutztown painter, Doris Sell.
Also, Firefly will be joining the party with World Book Night, an annual event in April that asks volunteers to hand out free books to light or non-readers. The sign-up deadline is Jan. 23. Contact Firefly for more information.
They also want to host a big “poetry slam” in April which is National Poetry Month. Poetry has been a popular subject at Firefly. The slam would involve readings and other events.
The owners also hope to be hosting a signing of The Beauty of a Diamond, Through the Eyes of a Coach by local author Dan Clouser and an event with Robin Jasko, author of Home Sweet Homegrown.