Thursday, May 3, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Mira Reisberg

My beautiful post about Mira Reisberg was sucked into the Blogger black hole. What has worked before, did not work today. An unexplained mystery. Argh!  I sincerely apologize for the delay. =(

Friends, countrymen, lend me your ears...shhhh....we are SO incredibly lucky to have the Picture Book Whisperer, Dr. Mira Reisberg on the blog today. I love Mira and her passion for children's literature. I faithfully watch her blog series, Mondays With Mira: Pleasurable Picture Book Reviews each Monday morning. Monday mornings are now just as exciting and entertaining to me as an instant Netflix Friday Night Lights marathon!

Can I tell you that I will be participating in Mira's ecourse, Hero's Art Journey? Come join me! Writing and art go hand and hand. Both creative, both cathartic, healing even the deepest of paper cuts. In fact, if you are a banana peeler, Mira is offering half off her course! Lucky dogs! Please join me and become part of a creative community of learners!

Please help welcome the wonderful and wise, Dr. Mira Reisberg!

Mira Reisberg’s Very Own Confessional Slip Ups
Hullo all,
Having been involved in the picture book field for a long time, I’ve managed to make quite a few slip-ups, perhaps more than my share and definitely humbling. And, being a long-time teacher, I am going to share 3 of them, despite the accompanying embarrassment that comes with admitting what some refer to as f*$%-ups, messes, boo-boos, or slips. I’ll just call them “growth experiences” for now.
My first growth experience occurred in 1988 when I was asked to illustrate my first book. Uncle Nacho’s Hat was a book about change and it came just as I was quitting a bunch of bad habits and undergoing many changes myself.
So here I was illustrating a picture book about change and going through a whole bunch of changes myself and by the time I got to one particular painting, I was totally pooped. I tell you these details as a bit of an excuse or as background as to why I messed up and created what I now call my “Painting of Shame.” You see, when I did my research on cows in Nicaragua, where the story is set, I found that they had Brahmins, which are somewhat strange looking animals. But my cows were way stranger than that. Mine were weird pink mutant pig/cows. And even though I knew I should re-do this painting, I was just so tired – so I said “screw it,” or something like that.
Well, of course, it’s now over twenty years later and when I look at that book and that painting, you can imagine what I think.
Fortunately, despite the weird mutant pig/cow thingies, the book received a citation for a UNICEF Ezra Jack Keats award, was featured on Reading Rainbow and read aloud by LeVar Burton (yay!) and reprinted in many languages around the world, selling well over 200,000 copies. And the really good news is that it’s being re-released by Lee and Low in July (yay again).
So lessons learned: Always revise, revise, revise! Whether it’s text or art, and if you get too tired, take a break and come back to it because it might be 20 plus years later and you still have to live with that embarrassing painting of shame.
Growth Experience #2
Years later, I was in graduate school studying for my MFA, working 5 jobs to pay for it and I was asked to illustrate a book for another publisher. Needing money, I said yes. Even though I liked the story, it didn’t thrill me the way my other books had and when the story switched hands to another editor and changed completely, I was less than gracious in my responses to lots of major changes in the art. Coming from an expressive culture of Eastern European Jews who even have an affectionate word for complaining, “kvetching,” I kvetched quite eloquently about my displeasure with the changes and was never hired by this publisher again.
Lesson learned: Always be super gracious with editors and art directors and just say yes to whatever they want. Save your complaining for your family unless you have real ethical or narrative concerns with the book you are working on.
Growth Experience #3
Even more years later, I’m invited to do some school visits as an illustrator/author and present at the local university. While there, I’m talked into moving there and doing a PhD. By then, I’ve done lots of school visits empowering thousands of kids and teachers with my Painting of Shame and stories about immigration, being weird, and how creative people often get their creative ideas by paying attention to what’s  around them. I’d also been teaching children’s book writing and illustrating at UC Berkeley Extension and SF City College and many of my students had been successfully published, so I decided, why not!
It was the hardest thing I ever did writing a 370 page dissertation on children’s picture books and learning about them on a whole other level. This was the good part. Then I got a job in the Midwest and that was the bad part. I hated the systems of surveillance, having to write using obtuse language and publish or perish, the meanness that went on in the institution, and the constant grading to rubrics that left little room for those who were wildly creative but unable to reach the benchmarks. I had no time for writing kids books or making art and I hated who I was becoming.
We’d left a fabulous rent controlled apartment in San Francisco and a fantastic community of friends and even tho we couldn’t afford to move back to SF, we did move back  to Northern California. All in all I took a seven year detour from doing what I truly love teaching for learning rather than the grade, and making art and picture books. I’d followed the illusion of potential financial security with a “real job” and buying a house and then lost it all after realizing that I was not an institutional type of person. During the 9 years that I was not actively in the field, my main publisher went out of business (and was recently sold to Lee and Low) and the industry has gotten much harder to get into to.
I still miss San Francisco and am working on some exciting picture books of my own. I also began independently teaching picture book courses in Sacramento and doing picture book consulting via Skype (ooh and I’ll be launching the Picture Book Academy in August ). But sometimes I feel like I messed-up leaving San Francisco and making that long detour into academia, following my head rather than my heart.
Lesson learned: Always follow your heart and if you have a passion for making children’s picture books - don’t give up on it no matter how enticing something else may look.
Mira Reisberg is the award-winning illustrator of six picture books and co-author of two award-winning anthologies of stories and art. Mira received her MFA from Mills College in Painting and Digital Art. She received her PhD in Education and Cultural Studies from Washington State University. Mira is also an editor, instructor/mentor and picture book consultant whose students’ award-winning books, including New York Times best sellers, have sold over a million copies. Mira has also exhibited nationwide and internationally.

She now teaches online courses including the Hero’s Art Journey, which explores the archetypal hero’s arc underlying most plot driven books and mythology. To find out more visit And for Banana Peelin readers, Mira is extending the half-off special for the next course starting June 4th - simply email her at miraguy AT If you are in the Northern California area, Mira also has 2 spectacular upcoming picture book offerings also in June. To find out more and receive special gifts, join her newsletter tribe here or email her directly.

I love this woman! What else could you want from a teacher?! Hope to see you in Hero's Art Journey! Thanks so much Mira for your contribution to the series!


  1. This was a great interview, of learning about Mira. Good tip: follow your heart, not your head! Thanks, Mira and Elizabeth!

  2. Thanks for sharing another great interview, Elizabeth! And Mira - quite a journey, and excellent advice to follow your heart!

  3. Mira, I hope you make it back to SF someday! Thanks for the reminder about following your heart. It's a decision I need to re-make every day.

  4. Mira, YES! I love and believe so much in this advice Thank you so much for another fabulous interview, Elizabeth! Mira, good luck with all your present projects!

  5. You wouldn't hate the midwest if you were my neighbor, Mira! C'mon over to Green Bay. :) Everything's better on the water, anyway.

    Thank you so much for sharing, especially your Picture of Shame story. It really puts everything in a grand perspective!