February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Message of Hope: Patricia MacLachlan, Steven Kellogg on ‘Snowflakes Fall’

Acclaimed kid lit creators Patricia MacLachlan and Steven Kellogg have collaborated on a new picture book, Snowflakes Fall  (Random House), a celebration of life and a moving tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique. It’s a lyrical message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events that took place in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. On the eve of the anniversary of that fateful day, School Library Journal caught up with the book’s creators to discuss their connection and collaboration, why they felt compelled to create the book, and the inspiring themes they hoped to evoke for readers.

Can you tell us more about your friendship?
MacLachlan: Steven and I have been friends for a long time. We have, for years, sat on the board of the NCBLA—the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. We are dedicated to finding ways to provide good books to the children who need them.  It is no surprise that we created SNOWFLAKES together. I was stunned at the tragedy at Sandy Hook School in Newton, Connecticut. Steven had lived for many years in Newtown. He had a very personal connection.

Kellogg: My friendship with Patricia predated the time when we began serving on the board of NCBLA, but it was during the board meetings that our rapport grew, and I recognized her as a kindred spirit.

How did your collaboration on Snowflakes Fall come about?
MacLachlan: After the tragedy I wanted to say something, do something. I wanted the heroic teachers to be remembered. I wanted the children to be remembered. ‘All I have is words,’ I said to one of my sons. ‘Then use them,’ he said. I was also moved by Steven’s comment that he felt he had lost the optimism to do what he does. When I visited a school soon after the event a little boy asked me, ‘Are you scared?’ It took me a moment to realize that he meant scared to visit his school.  ‘Are you scared?’ I asked him. He leaned against me. ‘Sometimes,’ he said softly.  And I realized that he was losing the optimism that is the essence of childhood.  So I began Snowflakes Fall.

Kellogg: After I heard the news of the tragic event in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, where I had spent 35 years raising a family and creating a hundred books, I wanted to deal with the shadows that descended on me by finding a way to respond in the voice of the picture book. Those shadows began to lighten when a collaboration with Patricia got underway—after being suggested by our mutual friend and agent, Rubin Pfeffer who proceeded to place the project with a wonderfully supportive publisher, editor, and art director at Random House.

Can you tell us more about your creative processes for this book?
MacLachlan: Since Steven had lived in Newton he had pictures in his heart and head. I wrote the book using snowflakes, which were the symbol of the school. Steven and I talked on the phone. There were things I wanted to leave out, but Steven liked them and made a case for keeping them. We both had incredible support from everyone at Random House. It was, in my experience, an unusual and heartfelt collaboration.  In many ways, the book turned out to be much about the joy, energy, and happiness of childhood. And it became about memory and renewal.

Kellogg: Patricia produced an inspired manuscript of lyrical verses that resonated with emotion and evoked images of the woods and fields, the changing seasons, and the joyous romping children and dogs that had enriched my life during the decades that I had lived and worked in the rural farmhouse near the river that wound through Sandy Hook. From the outset, Patricia made it clear that she would welcome any suggestions about the wording and flow of the manuscript, and I was equally open to her responses to the visual concepts and details that I hoped to combine with her verses.

We had a number of very productive telephone conversations discussing the form and movement that we envisioned for the book. It is unusual for authors and illustrators to be in contact with each other during a book’s development, but in this instance the coming together of the words and images was enhanced by our sharing of ideas to help the book resonate with the feelings that we hoped to convey. Patricia encouraged me to supply some localizing details, which was the impetus for the page depicting Newtown’s center, with its ancient meeting house, its famous flagpole that was once the mast of a clipper ship, and its vibrant library, in which I had been very active while I was a resident. In another painting, where the children play in the swirling clouds of falling snow, I placed on the distant riverbank the old brown farmhouse with the red doors that my family and I had lived in and loved.

Patricia, what is your favorite image from the book?
Maclachlan: I love the joy of the children in Steven’s pictures. But I particularly love the spiritual paintings, the light coming through trees in the end papers and how Steven uses the light to create a kind of ethereal atmosphere.

Steven, which is your favorite passage?
Kellogg: It is difficult to single out a favorite passage in Patricia’s text because the entire piece is skillfully orchestrated to move seamlessly through the seasons, and amongst the joyful activities of the children, and then through the poignant changes that are an integral part of nature.

I chose several themes from her text to emphasize in the illustrations, particularly the snow angels. They appear in the playful sequence in which they are mentioned, but I also included them as an important visual presence on the jacket, the title page, and the spread with the closing lines. They last appear in the wordless and memorializing scene on the final endpaper where twenty of them rise from a silent, moonlit playground and fly into the healing peace of gently falling snowflakes.

Illustrator Steven Kellogg and author Patricia Maclachlan present the book to librarians.

Have either of you been to Sandy Hook since the tragedy?
MacLachlan: I have not been in Newtown since the book came out, but Steven and I will be visiting the town library, some schools, and some bookstores.

Kellogg: I return often to the villages of Newtown and Sandy Hook, and Patricia and I will be presenting the book at a program scheduled in the Newtown Library early in December, as well as in a number of local bookshops.

How would you like people to use this book?
Maclachlan: I rarely talk about how someone can “use” a book. I think each child is different—like snowflakes—and I think children understand winter turning into spring. Some children may respond to the joyful scenes of children playing…and the dogs. One of my own dogs is there! And children know how to celebrate childhood. I would like to think that a child can find what he and she wants to find in the book. At last, one hopes that they see that after winter, then spring, then summer, then fall, winter will come again. Snowflakes will fall again.

Kellogg: In considering how readers will relate to, and share, the book, I am sure that there will be a variety of individual thoughts, as happens with all creative work.

Our goal in orchestrating the duet of words and images was to celebrate the uniqueness of children, the poignancy of change and loss that is inherent in nature, and the continually renewed hope, joy, and fulfillment that children bring to our world.

Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.